The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1990s – 300 to 291
300. “No Myth,” Michael Penn. Songwriter: Michael Penn; #13 pop; 1990. One of Sean’s brothers and the husband of Aimee Mann, Michael Penn has released six studio albums, but has only had commercial success with the breakup number “No Myth.” Author Mike Boehm, “’No Myth’ was a wistful bit of Beatles-influenced pop about a guy who gets dumped and begins to wonder whether it takes the romantic charisma of a Romeo or a Heathcliff to succeed in love.” Penn, “I think the song’s a lot more cynical than most people got from it, which is perhaps my fault in not being more specific. I censored myself (on the key chorus line), ‘Maybe she’s just looking for someone to dance with. My instinct was that ‘dance’ has always been a great metaphor for ‘fuck’.”
299. “MmmBop,” Hanson. Songwriters: Isaac Hanson, Taylor Hanson, Zac Hanson; #1 pop; 1997. Hanson, a trio of brothers from Tulsa, Oklahoma, became teen sensations in 1997 with “MmmBop,” which mixes the lyrical theme of The Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty Four” with an updated Jackson 5 pop sound. Zac Hanson in 2004, “MMMbop represents a frame of time or the futility of life. Things are going to be gone, whether it’s your age and your youth, or maybe the money you have, or whatever it is, and all that’s going to be left are the people you’ve nurtured and have really built to be your backbone and your support system. The first music that we got into was ‘50s and ‘60s music. If anything, ‘MMMbop’ was inspired by The Beach Boys and vocal groups of that era – using your voice as almost a doo-wop kind of thing. It was something we almost stumbled upon.” Mike Simpson of the Dust Brothers, “When I first heard the demo tape of Hanson, it took me back to my childhood. I would come home and lip-synch Jackson 5 songs every day after school as a little kid. I heard Hanson and thought, ‘Oh my God, this sounds like really cool music.’”
298. “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” Oasis. Songwriter: Noel Gallager; #55 pop; 1995. “Don’t Look Back in Anger” is the type of arm waving, arena rock anthem that made Oasis impossible to ignore during the 1990’s – merging lyrics inspired by John Lennon with a huge McCartney like chorus. Noel Gallagher, “We were in Paris playing with The Verve, and I had the chords for that song and started writing it. We were due to play 2 days later. Our first-ever big arena gig. At the sound check, I was strumming away on the acoustic guitar, and our kid (Liam Gallagher) said, ‘What’s that you’re singin’?’ I wasn’t singing anyway, I was just making it up. And our kid said, ‘Are you singing ‘So Sally can wait.’’ And I was like – that’s genius! So I started singing, ‘So Sally can wait.’ We wrote the words out in the dressing room, and we actually played it that night, in front of 18,000 other people. On acoustic guitar. Sat on a stool. Like an idiot. I never do that now.” Gallager on the recorded version, “The opening piano riff’s ‘Imagine.’ Fifty percent of its put in there to wind people up, and the other fifty percent is saying, ‘Look, this is how songs like ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ come about – because they’re inspired by songs like ‘Imagine.’”
297. “Here’s Where the Strings Come In,” Superchunk. Songwriters: Superchunk; Did Not Chart; 1995. This 1995 album track is proof that even if you’re a punk, love still hurts. The song is buzzsaw mid-tempo rocker reminiscent of later period of Husker Du. Lyrically, Mac McCaughan sings of a breakup where the details have been lost and he feels miserable about the entire experience. It’s easy to imagine this song is about his romantic relationship with long time bandmate Laura Ballance (“Now we’re two trains on the same track/The conductor passed out drunk”). Perhaps matching singer songwriter lyrics with an aggressive hard rock sound makes complete sense for a punk band from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
296. “Novocaine for the Soul,” Eels. Songwriters: Mark Oliver Everett, Mark Goldenburg; Did Not Chart; 1996. “Novocaine for the Soul,” a plea for pain treatment, was the biggest charting single for the Eels, peaking at #10 on the U.K. pop charts and being a U.S. #1 Modern Rock hit. Author Tim Grierson, “Kicking off with the sound of a needle on vinyl and a beat that harkened back to the 1961 Fats Domino tune ‘Let the Four Winds Blow,’ ‘Novocaine for the Soul’ was radically different from anything on E’s (songwriter Mark Everett) solo records. ‘Novocaine’ taped into the alienation expressed in so much alt-rock of its era, although the agony was undercut by self-deprecating sarcasm.” Songwriter Mark Everett, “It sounds detached because it’s about detachment. That’s what I think is so great about that song, and on that level I think it’s almost genius. It’s detachment personified. I’m singing about numbness and I’m numb. It’s about having too much feeling.”
295. “Thunderstruck,” AC/DC. Songwriters: Angus Young, Malcolm Young; Did Not Chart; 1990. Seventeen years into their career, AC/DC had their biggest hit in the homeland of Australia with “Thunderstruck,” a song that returned the band to the arena rock energy of their “Highway to Hell/Back in Black” era. Paul Elliott of Louder Sound, “The intro has Angus playing at lightning speed: he said recently that he’ll retire when he can no longer play it. The chant of ‘Thunder!’ has an echo of Bon-era yob-rock bruiser T.N.T. Brian Johnson’s singing is so ball-tighteningly high, it’s no wonder than Angus once described him as sounding like a guy who’s just had a truck dropped on his foot. And when the main riff kicks in, at around three minutes, it’s a moment of pure exhilaration.”
294. “Alive,” Pearl Jam. Songwriters; Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard; Did Not Chart; 1991. Pearl Jam created a new sub-genre of music during the early 1990s – introspective arena rock. Stevie Chick of the Guardian, “Its lyric suggests an incestuous affair between the hero and his mother, while its hookline, ‘I’m still alive,’ was intended as a rueful statement of fact from a homicidal/suicidal teen. However, delivered in Vedder’s heroic baritone over Gossard’s incandescent riff, and gifted one of the most unabashedly classic-rock guitar solos in recent memory (courtesy of Mike McCready), ‘Alive’ was interpreted as an inspirational message by the thousands of fans who sent Pearl Jam’s debut single into the UK top 20. The song’s true charm lies in its uplifting power, Vedder’s impassioned delivery (within a year countless rock frontmen would be mimicking his hearty burr) and that solo, which could move a corpse to play along on air guitar.”
293. “How to Fight Loneliness,” Wilco. Songwriters: Jeff Tweedy, Jay Bennett; Did Not Chart; 1999. Jeff Tweedy was going through marital problems and fighting with his record label during the recording of the “Summerteeth” album and he sounds like a man with no country on the pensive “How to Fight Loneliness.” From the blog “So Misunderstood: The Songs of Wilco,” “This haunting minor-key tune evokes a mesmerizing melancholy. Tweedy tells us that the best defense against loneliness is to ‘laugh at every joke’ and ‘smile all the time,’ but he sings it with such a resigned weariness that you doubt he’ll ever crack a genuine grin again in his life. How sad is that? The spooky tone carries on as the song fades through an outro of very Beatlesque backwards-Mellotron.” The perfect tune to run off visitors who overstay their welcome.
292. “She Cries Your Name,” Beth Orton. Songwriters: William Orbit, Beth Orton; Did Not Chart; 1996. “She Cries Your Name” sounds like a mixture of lush chamber pop crossed with the chords from Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Bille Joe.” Orton’s vocals are anguished, as though physical separation from a lover is a slow death. Author Eric Harvey in 2009, “Even more than a decade later, ‘She Cries Your Name still sounds great, especially the way the cello’s low-end signals the entrance of the chorus like stage curtains parting.” Gary Crowley of the BBC, “’She Cries Your Name’ is a fantastic piece of mood music, like a singer/songwriter with a club feel.” Beth Orton on the 1996 “Trailer Park” album, “This was my first record where I broke away. I didn’t even know I was going to make another record. I thought my trajectory in music was just making that record with (producer) William Obit, which was his vision. And then I went away and put together my own band and got the producers I wanted, like Andrew Weatherall, who is one of my heroes. I made this record that was a blueprint for the music I liked. I tried to make music that I wanted to listen to.”
291. “Mr. Jones,” Counting Crows. Songwriters: David Bryson, Adam Duritz; #5 pop; 1993. With a vocal hook borrowed from Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” and a lead singer who would evolve into the human equivalent of Sideshow Bob from “The Simpsons,” the Counting Crows had their breakthrough hit with the late 1993 release “Mr. Jones.” The song was inspired by a moment of insecurity, after Adam Duritz saw a successful musician chatting with three women at a bar. Duritz, “We couldn’t even manage to talk to girls. We were just thinking if we were rock stars, it would be easier. I went home and wrote the song. It’s also kind of cautionary because it’s about how misguided you may be about some of those things and how hollow they may be too. Like the character in the song keeps saying, ‘When everybody loves me I will never be lonely,’ and you’re supposed to know that that’s not the way it’s gonna be. I knew that even then. And this is a song about my dreams.”