The Greatest 500 Songs of the 1990s – 330 to 321
330. “Dance the Night Away,” The Mavericks. Songwriter: Raul Malo; #63 country; 1998. Van Halen may have the more popular song with this title, but The Mavericks scored a Top Five U.K. single and minor U.S. country hit with “Dance the Night Away,” the lead track to their 1998 “Trampoline” album. Moving further away from a neo-traditional sound, Raul Malo sings about his happiness after ending a bad relationship while being accompanied by Latin horns, a ‘60s rock organ sound, and a “96 Tears” inspired groove. Raul Malo, “I remember picking up the guitar and just strumming in that very sort of straight way, with the E and the B and the B7. I remember immediately thinking, ‘Oh wow, this sounds like a song,’ and it just kind of wrote itself as I messed with it. I started adding parts, like the now famous horn part, which is really just the notes of the E chord. To the frustration of many a horn player who’s tried to make it all difficult and be all cool and jazzy, it’s just ridiculous in its simplicity! It’s almost a nursery rhyme, so it’s really fun to have horn players suffer a little bit at the hands of a non-horn player.”
329. “A Rolling Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays,’” De La Soul. Songwriters: Kelvin Mercer, Paul Huston, Vincent Mason, Kamal Fareed Rodney Mathews; Did Not Chart; 1991. The Mighty Ryeders were an obscure Florida funk band who released an album titled “Help Us Spread the Message” in 1978. De La Soul took the groove from their song “Evil Vibrations” for the foundation of “A Rolling Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays’” and in 1998 RZA of Wu Tang Clan sampled the Mighty Ryeders song “Star Children” for his updated take on “Love Jones.” This De La Soul song is a return to simpler times, weekend skating in the park with a boombox. Of course, boys being boys, there’s a sidebar of weed and sexual awakening. The sample from Frankie Valli’s “Grease” is equally obtrusive and hysterical.
328. “911 Is a Joke,” Public Enemy. Songwriters: Flavor Flav; Keith Shocklee; Eric “Vietnam” Sadler; Did Not Chart; 1990. “911 Is a Joke” was a #1 rap hit in 1990 and an anti-public service announcement, equating the 911 emergency response system with death in minority communities. Kevin EG Perry of NME, “The song is a classic example of the symbiotic writing relationship between the group’s two frontmen: Chuck D wrote the incendiary title and then passed it to his partner to build a song around. ‘It took a year, but Flavor was saying he had a personal incident that he could relate that to. At the end of the year when it was time for him to record he was ready. Keith [Shocklee, Bomb Squad] had the track, and it was the funkiest track I heard. It reminded me of uptempo Parliament/Funkadelic.” Keith Harris of City Pages, “Flav’s greatest hit, and the moment where he distinctively stepped out of Chuck’s shadow. Finally he got to claim for his own one of those indelible bumper-sticker phrases of a song title that made PE not just a great rap group but an inescapable cultural presence.”
327. “Song 2,” Blur. Songwriters: Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, Dave Rowntree; Did Not Chart; 1997. Woo-Hoo! Woo-Hoo! Chris DeVille of Stereogum, “The band conceived it as a tossed-off grunge parody, its semi-sarcastic posture undercutting this once stridently English band’s newfound embrace of America. Who cares if it’s satire when it functions so spectacularly as the genuine article? Its charms are simple but bountiful. Dave Rowntree’s spare, simple drumbeat lulls you into Blur’s vicinity before the rocket-launch power chords arrive to blast you to infinity, conducted with slapdash vigor by Albarn as he tops off the clamor with a rousing, ‘Woo-hoo!’ It sounds fantastic blaring across a sports arena.”
326. “Caught Out There,” Kelis. Songwriters: Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo; #54 pop/#9 R&B; 1999. “Caught Out There” isn’t your everyday breakup song. On this one, Kelis seethes with anger, repeating on the chorus, “I hate you so much right now” and then screaming when she runs out of words. NME, “’Caught Out There’ didn’t just perfectly crest a wave of emancipated divas, it was the breakout hit for The Neptunes (songwriters/producers Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo). The duo, who would go on to dominate pop radio, created a unique audio world full of sparse beats, sci-fi styled keyboard sounds and spluttering rhythms. Kelis’s honeyed vocal, which broke into unfiltered madness, was the thing that took this track over the top.” “Caught Out There” was a Top Five U.K. hit, a success she replicated in the U.S. in 2003 when she made the world’s best “Milkshake.”
325. “Yellow Ledbetter,” Pearl Jam. Songwriters: Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder; Did Not Chart. Pearl Jam brought the vibe of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” to grunge music while Eddie Vedder provided vocal in some language tangentially related to English on “Yellow Ledbetter.” Blogger Don Stuart on the throwback to classic rock in Mike McCready’s guitar playing, “We had gone through about 10 to 15 years of rock guitarists intentionally not sounding or playing like what McCready was doing. It was like there was some kind of Guitar Police forbidding anyone from sounding like the 60’s or 70’s. McCready was a Hendrix and SRV fan and just went right ahead and channeled his love of those guys right through a Strat and a vintage wah pedal. It was nose-thumbing at current rock guitar convention and just saying, ‘This is the music I love and now I’m gonna play it.’ The solo was a total throwback and a breath of fresh air at the same time.”
324. “Ball and Chain,” Social Distortion. Songwriter: Mike Ness; Did Not Chart; 1990. Mike Ness formed the L.A. hardcore outfit Social Distortion in 1978, but they had moved to a more roots rock direction with their 1990 major album debut, cleverly titled “Social Distortion.” The lyrics are the type of hard luck story that is Ness’s specialty, backed by a tough, tight rock ‘n’ roll band. Ness, on the song being inspired by his drug addiction, “That one is almost like a hymn or a prayer. It’s asking for someone to remove something from you that you’re struggling with, whether it’s an addiction or pain or fear. I didn’t want to write a preachy song. I just wanted to write one that was an accurate look at where I had been at times in my life, and still am sometimes.”
323. “Shades of Gray,” Robert Earl Keen. Songwriter: Robert Earl Keen; Did Not Chart; 1997. Robert Earl Keen has always had a knack for penning adventure stories and “Shades of Gray,” involves moonshine, weed, a lapsed Christian, and cattle rustling. A detail that the modern listener may miss is that the timeline matches up with the Oklahoma City bombing in April of 1995. Keen, “I was there the day after the bombing, and I wanted to write a song about it, but not some folk song or anthem. So I took the facts of the bombing, threw in some that’s entirely fabrication and used some of the problems of my own friends and family to tell the story.” After the protagonists are left shocked by police looking for bigger fish, they decide to reevalute their lifestyle.
322. “Caryatid Easy,” Son Volt. Songwriter: Jay Farrar: Did Not Chart; 1997. In case you are wondering, caryatids are sculpted female figures that were used as architectural supports in ancient Greece and lyrically I couldn’t understand this song less if it were sung in the Chinese Sozhou dialect. However, as Dele Fadele of the NME notes, “’Caryatid Easy’ kicks in at a gallop, with Farrar emoting like an older Michael Stipe with guitar jangles all over the shop.” Kevin Boughton of Farce the Music, “’Caryatid Easy’ comes hard out of the gate with the same frenetic, stop-go pacing that made Son Volt’s ‘Drown’ such a hot hit. Heidorn’s drum strikes don’t drive the beat; they fill space in a song loaded with the tempo changes that were an Uncle Tupelo trademark.”
321. “Sister Havana,” Urge Overkill. Songwriters: Urge Overkill; Did Not Chart; 1993. On “Sister Havana,” the Chicago hard rock band Urge Overkill updated the kind of stadium hard rock that made KISS ubiquitous to every 12-year-old boy in American during the late 1970s. The brilliant Mark Deming from All Music, “’Sister Havana’’s lyrics relate a typically improbable tale of the band’s adventures with a beautiful woman in Cuba (where they spied her making out with Fidel Castro, no less), but Nash Kato sings them with enough mock sincerity that it almost passes for the real thing on the verses, and once he hits the chorus (which is dumb, but dumb in a truly inspired way), he’s transformed himself into the rock belter he’s always wanted to be. Elsewhere, guitarist Eddie ‘King’ Rouser is in rare form, laying down superb leads and chunky rhythm parts, and producers the Butcher Brothers give the track the thick and glossy analog varnish this band always needed.”