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The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1990s – 130 to 121

130. “Vogue,” Madonna. Songwriters: Madonna, Shep Pettibone; #1 pop; 1990. Madonna updated 1970’s disco with late 1980’s deep house elements for “Vogue,” a song that cemented her status as not just a pop star, but an innovator. Rolling Stone on this tribute to New York’s “gay ball culture,” “The 1990 smash is Madonna’s most audacious manifesto, a roll call of old-school Hollywood glam with lavish house beats that went to Number One in over a dozen countries. She celebrates the politics of dancing, where anyone can become a star just by striking a pose, because ‘beauty’s where you find it.’” Author Laura Barcella, “’Vogue’ pulls in every trick that made the late ‘80s/early ‘90s house so fun: the funky bass line, the drum machines and synthesizer creating complex layers, the steady hi-hat and regular hand claps, the prominent piano, and even a pseudo-rap that flirts with hip-hop without actually incorporating it.”

129. “1000 Dollar Car,” Bottle Rockets. Songwriter: Brian Henneman; Did Not Chart; 1994. “1000 Dollar Car” is an infinitely droll Bottle Rockets number that wryly and wearily describes a penny wise, pound foolish investment in a cheap auto. A few of the expert low budget lifestyle observations: “Replace your gaskets and paint over your rust/You’ll still end up with something that you’ll never trust/A 1000 dollar car’s life was through/About 50,000 miles before it got to you.” Years later, Brian Henneman noted, “I have a confession to make. My 1000 dollar car was actually $975.00. Didn’t fit phonetically. All this time, I’ve been bad mouthing the 1000 dollar car, when, in reality, 25 extra dollars may have purchased me a fine vehicle.”

128. “Fantastic Planet of Love,” Marshall Crenshaw. Songwriter: Marshall Crenshaw; Did Not Chart; 1991. Marshall Crenshaw rarely stretches past the five minute mark, but “Fantastic Planet of Love” moves so breezily with its smart guitar passages, finger snap interludes, and layered vocals that it feels like a much shorter song. Crenshaw, “With me, it’s always the music first. I was just trying to fool around with these chords. I was thinking about Louis Prima, and certain kinds of jazzy rock music. That was the idea of it. Although it doesn’t sound anything at all like Louis Prima. It’s in a minor key. Lyrically, that’s a theme that’s in a few of my songs, about somebody who feels bombarded sometimes, overloaded, and relies on a particular person to keep them sane. ‘It’s only by your side that I ever dream of a fantastic planet of love.’ That idea is in a lot of my songs.”

127. “Can You Forgive Her?,” Pet Shop Boys. Songwriters: Neil Tennant, Chris Lowe; Did Not Chart; 1993. On their 1993 international pop hit “Can You Forgive Her?,” the Pet Shop Boys sing about a young male being verbally abused by his girlfriend. The subtext is that she knows he is gay, even if it won’t admit it (key lyric – “Remember when you were more easily led/Behind the cricket pavilion and the bicycle shed/Trembling as your dreams came true/You looked right into those blue eyes and knew”). Musically, the song contains all the bombast and drama that the Pet Shop Boys apply with fine-tuned expertise. Author Tom Ewing, “You don’t come to the Pet Shop Boys for bite, but still: this sinks its teeth deeper than any other song the band has written. Every grand orchestral stab is an accusation, a slap in the face; every lull a threat, and the band’s disco throb has never been so unforgiving.”

126. “Your Favorite Thing,” Sugar. Songwriter: Bob Mould; Did Not Chart; 1994. Bob Mould, pretty much writing the review before the 1994 “File Under: Easy Listening” album was released, “It’s pretty punk rock. Not real fast, just pretty basic. A lot of it’s really vocal-y. Really beautiful and really harmonic, but it’s real piledriving… Weird chord changes underneath real traditional vocal lines. Also, I’m really starting to hate guitar solos, so I’m trying to avoid them. I’m bending a lot of strings, starting to sound like Johnny Thunders again.” Rock critic Bill Kopp, “The song weds melody and gale-force guitar sonics to create a memorable piece of music. Subtle chord changes show that Mould has a level of sophistication that towers above his contemporaries. ‘Ooh’ vocal harmonies only add to the pop values of the song, which reached #14 on Billboard‘s Modern Rock tracks chart. Malcolm Travis’ inventive drumming on the track deserves special praise.” Sugar reached the Top 40 of the U.K. pop charts on two occasions, with “Your Favorite Thing” and their 1993 single “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.”

125. “The Boy with the Arab Strap,” Belle & Sebastian. Songwriters: Stuart Murdoch, Stevie Jackson, Sarah Martin, Chris Geddes, Stuart David, Mick Cooke, Isobel Campbell; Did Not Chart; 1998. The name Belle & Sebastian sounds like a duo, but it’s a full band, who combine elements of folk music and indie pop, that formed at a college music program in Glasgow. “The Boy with the Arab Strap,” was written about a member of another Scottish band, one named after a sex toy, and has a musical feel similar to Paul Simon’s upbeat 1970’s work. Author Fraser McAlpine, “It takes a certain attitude to combine a barbed lyric about a rival lover and his sex aid with a recorder solo, and yet they sit next to each other rather well.” Belle & Sebastian biographer Paul Whitelaw, “Some happy songs are so ingratiatingly unctuous that they achieve the opposite of its desired effect. ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap doesn’t tell you to be happy, it just is. Please the lyrics are caked in cynicism and trenchant detail, such as ‘the Asian man with his love/hate affair with his racist clientele’ or ‘you’re constantly updating your hit-parade of your ten biggest wanks,’ the kind of lines you’d be loath to find in your average party classic.

124. “The Concept,” Teenage Fanclub. Songwriter: Norman Blake; Did Not Chart; 1991. It’s hard to imagine a better tribute to Big Star than “The Concept,” with its chiming guitars, dreamy outro, and the character study of a Status Quo loving girl whose drug of choice is birth control. Author Peter Lee finds another welcome influence, “The way Norman Blake hits that ‘yeah,’ going down an entire sixth — people just don’t do that in songs. And only groups such as the Beach Boys produced harmonies of such quality at such a young age.” Norman Blake on the lyrics, “I think I just made it up about 20 minutes before recording the song. I just wanted to write something with a narrative, actually. And really, I’d come up with the first couple of lines and that really informed the rest of the song.”

123. “Bright Yellow Gun,” Throwing Muses. Songwriter: Kristin Hersh; Did Not Chart; 1994. Throwing Muses, an alternative rock band that formed in Rhode Island in 1981, originally was fronted by stepsisters Kristin Hersh and Tonya Donelly. Donelly left a decade later, soon thereafter forming Belly of “Feed the Tree” fame and Throwing Muses continued as a trio. On the Modern Rock hit “Bright Yellow Gun,” Hersh, who suffered from bipolar disorder and had an alter ego known as “Rat Girl,” sings about needing a little poison as relief from “the circus in my head.” “Bright Yellow Gun” begins as a traditional sounding guitar based rocker, but the intensity builds continuously and, by the end, it sounds like a swirling psychedelic drug song, leaving the listener to decide if the mood is celebratory or tormented. Rock critic Heather Phares on the “University” album, “A collection of songs, like the album opener, ‘Bright Yellow Gun,’ that are as ferociously kinetic as they are insinuatingly melodic.”

122. “My Name Is,” Eminem. Songwriters: Marshall Mathers, Andre Young, Labi Siffre; #29 pop/#18 R&B; 1999. Eminem debuted as a mainstream rapper with “My Name Is,” a witty combination of humor and hand grenades that went after authority figures with a viciousness that the Coasters never imagined. I mean, he was even sued by his own mother over the line “My mom smokes more dope than I do.” Eminem in 2013, “I understood that ‘My Name Is’ was funny and that it was a little kitschy. The whole record was tongue-in-cheek. I still do a lot of records like that. That record was almost my anti-pop song. It was my ‘hello’ and ‘fuck you’ to the world at the same time. I never understood how that became a pop song.” Author Thomas Hobbs, “Em played the role of pop culture’s Dennis the Menace ever so well, mocking the misguided idea that rappers should be considered role models.” Robert Christgau in 1999, “He shows more comic genius that any pop musician since – Loudon Wainwright III?”

121. “Welcome to Paradise,” Green Day. Songwriters: Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, Tré Cool; Did Not Chart; 1994. Green Day’s major label debut, the 1994 “Dookie” album, was a major success, eventually selling over 20 million copies worldwide, even if many critics considered the band’s pop punk sound to be objectionable by definition. Given Armstrong’s melodic gifts, perhaps it’s not surprising that the first album that he bought was “The Monkee’s Greatest Hits.” AJ Ramirez of Pop Matters on “Welcome to Paradise,” “An exhilarating listen, a sheer roller coaster of musical momentum that knows how to deliver at the right spots. Opening with a verse riff that vaguely recalls The Clash’s “Complete Control”, the band then launches into a sharp drop at the start of the chorus, rising up and down as the chords change, and ultimately screeching to a halt for a brief instrumental pause. The highlight of ‘Welcome to Paradise’ is the interlude section, a demented surf/punk breakdown centered on chromatic chord progression that builds up in intensity until all three musicians in the band are blazing away on their instruments at full charge. That section alone made ‘Welcome to Paradise’ my favorite song on the album for years.”

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