The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1990s – 320 to 311
320. “The City,” The Dismemberment Plan. Songwriters: Travis Morrison, Jason Caddell, Eric Axelson, Joe Easley; Did Not Chart; 1999. The Dismemberment Plan were a Washington, D.C. based punk band who varied the sound on the hardcore scene by adding elements of R&B and hip hop. “The City” opens with some wonderfully open tuned guitar chords and includes a synthesizer riff that any new wave act would have beamed with pride to have written. I will include this blurb from Brent DiCrescenzo of Pitchfork because it’s partially on point and partially because it’s so comically overwrought, “The beautiful, yearning hum that hangs over ‘The City’ like purple-orange sky pollution emotes more than a bruised diva– it simultaneously aches and uplifts. The tumbling drums pleasantly propel like public transit. Frustrated guitars chime like flashes of streetlights in passing puddles. The alienation and excitement, the desolate and the bustling – the title simply envelopes the themes. By the time Travis Morrison begins crying, ‘All… I… ever… say… now… is… good… bye,’ angels are spooning out your stomach with ladles and visions of your distant past are punching you in the face.”
319. “Adam’s Song,” Blink-182. Songwriters: Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge; Did Not Chart; 1999. Blink-182’s radio friendly version of pop punk gained hordes of fans and detractors in the late 1990s. They hit the Top Ten of the pop charts with the rocking love tune “All the Small Things” and their sophomorically titled 1999 album “Enema of the State” sold over 15 million copies worldwide. “Adam’s Song,” with its lyrics about depression and suicidal ideation, was significantly different than the lighthearted material that brought the band fame. Blink-182 bassist Mark Hoppus, “I remember the day I played ‘Adam’s Song’ for Tom and Travis, and they were like, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty heavy song. It’s really good.’ There was never even a question of whether or not to put it on the record, or was that a ‘real’ Blink song, or was that the right direction for us to go. Whatever song we write, if it’s a good song, we’ll put it on the record. If we wanted to write a song about — I don’t know, people starving somewhere, we would.” Katy Kroll of Billboard nailed the vibe, “A good old-fashioned depressing song with mainstream flair.”
318. “Say Goodbye,” Cheap Trick. Songwriters: Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, Tom Petersson; Did Not Chart; 1997. Cheap Trick righted themselves artistically with their second album titled “Cheap Trick” and had one of their most Beatle-esque moments with the lead single “Say Goodbye,” which did little in the U.S., but was a Top Twenty hit in Japan. The intro is reminiscent of “Feel” by Big Star, but quality recycling has always been a major part of Cheap Trick’s appeal. Eric Melin of Ultimate Fakebook, “’Say Goodbye’ would have been a huge hit if back then if it was coming from a new band. Bands with five decades of relevant songwriting are few and far between and there’s no way for taste-makers to wrap their head around a track brimming with that much heart and that many hooks.”
317. “There’s Your Trouble,” Dixie Chicks. Songwriters: Mark Selby, Tia Sillers; #36 pop/#1 country; 1998. The Dixie Chicks originated as a quartet in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in 1989, taking their name from the Little Feat song “Dixie Chicken.” They evolved into their famed trio lineup when Natalie Maines, the daughter of Texas producer/musician Lloyd, joined the act in 1995. The group had released three albums on an independent label in the early 1990s, but quickly became a major commercial force after signing with Sony Records and releasing the 1998 “Wide Open Spaces” album. The Dixie Chicks went Top Ten with “I Can Love You Better” and had their first #1 single with “There’s Your Trouble,” which merged the bluegrass instrumentation of Emily Erwin and Martie Seidel with a contemporary country sound, while Natalie Maines instructs an object of her affection on his poor relationship decisions. Songwriters Mark Selby and Tia Sellers described the song as about “two people who can’t seem to figure out they should be together.” Five years after platonically penning the song, the two were married.
316. “Somebody to Shove,” Soul Asylum. Songwriter: Dave Pirner; Did Not Chart; 1992. Soul Asylum’s “Somebody to Shove” was a ‘90s angst response to Jefferson Airplane’s hippie era “Somebody to Love,” as well as maybe a longing for a mosh pit. From The Daily Guru Blog, “It is perhaps due to this overwhelming amount of attitude coming through on the song that enabled many to link the group to the grunge movement, yet it is impossible to deny that there was far more going on musically on “Somebody to Shove” than on almost any other recording of the time. Though the song is unquestionably one of the bands’ finest musical moments, there is no question that the key to the mood is the voice and lyrics of Dave Pirner. Across the entire recorded catalog of Soul Asylum, it is the powerful, yet somehow gentle voice of Pirner that defined the bands’ sound, and “Somebody to Shove” is unquestionably one of his finest performances. There is a nervous, almost frustrated tone in his vocals on the song, and it is this element that helps to highlight the same feeling coming forth from the music.”
315. “Somewhere in My Heart,” The Volebeats. Songwriter: Jeff Oakes. Hamtramck, Michigan was once known for its sizable Polish population and was frequently mentioned in Creem Magazine when punk rock acts played at Lili’s bar circa 1980. The Volebeats, an alt-country act who have released ten albums on independent labels, formed in Hamtramck in 1988. “Somewhere in My Heart,” the lead track from their 1997 “The Sky and The Ocean” album, blends ‘60s inspired folk rock with ‘80s jangle pop and has just enough twang to shake hands with Americana. Guitarist Matt Smith on how their environment shaped the band, “I can’t overemphasize the fact that we grew up on (radio station) CKLW. All through the ’60s and ’70s, it broadcast across Canada from Windsor and it was the guiding light of pop music culture then. You’d turn on the radio and hear Gordon Lightfoot next to Alice Cooper next to the Carpenters next to T-Rex, and then all the R&B and Motown stuff. Our whole perspective on music comes from that.”
314. “Lithium,” Nirvana. Songwriter: Kurt Cobain; #64 pop; 1992. Religion serves as a mental health drug substitute on the horny, death threat soft/loud rocker “Lithium.” Kory Grow of Rolling Stone, “At its heart, ‘Lithium’ is a curled-lip condemnation of blind faith and the born-again Christians Cobain knew in his youth. According to biographer Everett True, Cobain said the character in the song ‘decided to find God before he kills himself.’ The frontman went on to say, ‘It’s hard for me to understand the need for a vice like that, but I can appreciate it, too. People need vices.’” Robert Christgau describing Cobain’s singing in 1992, “Kurt Cobain yowls like John Hancock crosses his k’s.”
313. “Someday Soon,” Suzy Bogguss. Songwriter: Ian Tyson; #12 country; 1991. Homecoming queen Suzy Bogguss is a native of Aledo, Illinois, a small town close to the putative “Quad Cities” of Iowa and Illinois, aligned with the Mississippi River. After graduating from Illinois State University, with the unusual degree of metalsmithing (she would later make jewelry), Bogguss started working as a traveling folk singer. Bogguss eventually set her sights on Nashville, not before being hired as a singer at the Silver Dollar City theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, a tourist destination that later morphed into Dollywood. She had her first hit with the 1989 #14 single “Cross My Broken Heart,” but her 1991 platinum album “Aces” was her true breakthrough effort. “Someday Soon” was released by Canadian folkies Ian and Sylvia Tyson in 1964 and had been covered over a dozen times before 1991, including a #21 country hit for Moe Bandy in 1982. It’s a tale of young love, tinged with sadness – the man who has Suzy’s heart loves that damned old traveling rodeo circuit as much as he loves her. Bogguss is a smart singer, she hits the right emotional notes with her clear soprano voice but never oversells the material.
312. “Denise,” Fountains of Wayne. Songwriters: Chris Collingwood, Adam Schlesinger; Did Not Chart; 1999. “Denise,” of course, rhymes with “weak in the knees” in power pop land and Fountains of Wayne alternate between sharp and sweet on this sha la la la la rocker. Morgan Enos of Billboard, “This carbonated 4/4 jam with wheedly synths has a sneaky way with detail about its titular love interest (‘She drives a Lavender Lexus/ She lives in Queens/ But her dad lives in Texas’) and her day job (‘She works at Liberty Travel/ I hear her heart’s made of gravel’). As a character study, ‘Denise’ is more silly and whimsical than substantial, but it’s a great example of how Adam Schlesinger, with seeming effortlessness, could write a power-pop melody that made you weak in the knees.”
311. “Fade Away,” Oasis. Songwriter: Noel Gallagher; Did Not Chart; 1994. “Fade Away,” originally a b-side, is a simple, fast, guitar rocker that has the energy of late ‘70s punk rock. Author John Shammas, “The central charm to Fade Away is how it transports us back to simpler times. We can imagine it being rehearsed in The Boardwalk, long before concerns such as orchestral compositions or ponderings on how a song would work for a sold-out stadium troubled the band. This is reflected in the chorus as Liam sings: “While we’re living/The dreams we have as children fade away.” Alex Niven, the author of “Oasis’ Definitely Maybe,” catching a connection that I wouldn’t, “’Fade Away’ was a roaring punk adaptation of Wham!’s ‘Freedom’ that contains the archetypal melancholic Noel Gallagher chorus lyric. It carries over the sense that the party Oasis were throwing was also somehow a wake for a lost existence.”