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The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1990s – 150 to 141

150. “Free Range,” The Fall. Songwriters: Mark E. Smith, Simon Wolstencroft; Did Not Chart; 1992. The Fall have been English singer/songwriter Mark E. Smith’s musical vehicle since 1976, generally described as one of the U.K.’s premiere “post punk” bands. Chasing commercial success hasn’t been part of the agenda, but The Fall nudged into the U.K. Top 40 in 1992 with “Free Range,” a dance number with a keyboard riff reminiscent of 1970’s funk with Smith spitting out words in a stream of consciousness fashion about an ailing Europa. Journalist Alexis Patridis, “How odd a state of affairs that was is highlighted by ‘Free Range,’ a Top 40 single that had a hook big enough to end up on a TV advert for cars, but also had as impenetrable a lyric as any hit in chart history: a scholarly annotation online finds references to Nietzsche, Arthur C Clarke, a second world war anti-aircraft gun, Shakespeare, a Nazi-era German hit song, as well as a classic bit of Smith advice: ‘It pays to talk to no one. No one!’”


149. “Troubled Times,” Fountains of Wayne. Songwriters: Chris Collingwood, Adam Schlesinger; Did Not Chart; 1999. “Troubled Times” is a particularly empathic song from Fountains of Wayne, a look at a broken relationship, but with a hope of reconciliation (“Maybe one day soon it will all come out/How you dream about each other sometimes”). Will Layman of Spectrum Culture, “For all its punch, the ‘Utopia Parkway’ album also features some great songs with a gentler feeling. The best is probably ‘Troubled Times,’ with its strummed acoustic guitars and surging chorus harmonies. There is something about Collingwood’s vocal tone, bashful but insistent, that works with these lyrics about a romance that begins as just imagined, that falters, that perseveres. Like a lot of great pop songs, it is just vague enough to open itself up even as it pulls at your heart.” Mark Grassick of NME, “‘Troubled Times’ is an ode to persevering through rough patches and saying how you feel while you still can. How it never soundtracked the big romantic denouement in a ‘90s rom-com is a mystery.”


148. “Angry All the Time,” Bruce Robison. Songwriter: Bruce Robinson; Did Not Chart; 1998. Bandera, Texas native Bruce Robison grew up admiring Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson and, in a lower key fashion, has joined their ranks as a respected Texas singer/songwriter. Robison documented the pain of an irreparable long term marriage on “Angry All the Time.” The couple’s love for each other hasn’t died, but they can’t find a way back to happiness. Kelly Willis, Robison’s wife and sometimes professional partner, performed backing vocals on the track. Similarly, Faith Hill accompanied Tim McGraw on his cover version, a 2001 #1 single. Robison received a voice message from his publisher on the McGraw recording right after having a family emergency. Robison, “We kept listening to it, and I kept telling Kelly, ‘He knows this wouldn’t be a funny joke right now, doesn’t he? He wouldn’t screw with us, would he?’ It’s not something I ever imagined or planned. I honestly never imagined anyone with the commercial potential of Tim and Faith cutting one of my songs. It wasn’t in my business plan.”

147. “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” The Notorious B.I.G. featuring Puff Daddy and Mase. Songwriters: Christopher Wallace, Sean Combs, Steven Jordan, Mason Betha, Bernard Edwards, Nile Rodgers; #1 pop/#2 R&B; 1997. The editor of RockNYC has argued repeatedly that Biggie Smalls, the hip hop version of Barry White, is the most important pop star of the 1990s. So, you may agree with him that Biggie is terribly underrepresented on this list. “Mo Money, Mo Problems” sounds like a house party on the block that Chic built. Ismail Muhammed from The American Experience website, “It sounds as if Puff Daddy produced it so that audiences would dance the instant the song’s initial hi-hat and jangly guitar riff came through the speakers. Built on a sample of Diana Ross’ ‘I’m Coming Out,’ and a refrain sung by the R&B artist Kelly Price, ‘Mo Money’ was an exuberant nod to hip-hop’s roots in black dance music, and it harnesses disco in order to transit that genre’s insistence on rapture, the possibility that utopia can be found on the dance floor.”


146. “Holland, 1945,” Neutral Milk Hotel. Songwriter: Jeff Mangum; Did Not Chart; 1988. “Holland 1945” moves at a pace reminiscent of the Buzzcocks, but with the fuzzed production values and instrumentation that includes trumpet, trombone, saxophone, euphonium, singing saw, and Uileann pipes, it is clearly its own singular animal. Songwriter Jeff Magnum, on penning “Holland” after reading “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “I’d never given it any thought before. Then I spent two days reading it and completely flipped out… spent about three days crying. It stuck with me for a long, long time.” Grant Rindner of Spectrum Culture, ““Holland, 1945’ is simply lo-fi perfection. The track feels like its percussion, guitars, strings and horns were all run through one of those junkyard car crushers so that it’s all one frenetic, mangled creation. While you can spend hours trying to parse obtuse lyrics like ‘Now she’s a little boy in Spain/Playing pianos filled with flames,’ this is a track that perhaps works best when you simply let the emotion engulf you and bury you alive.”


145. “Sour Times,” Portishead. Songwriters: Geoff Barrow, Beth Gibbons, Adrian Utley; #53 pop; 1994. The U.K. band Portishead had a dark approach to trip hop, exemplified by the fatalistic infidelity of “Sour Times.” Sasha Frere-Jones summing up the sound, “Sepulchral music that sounded like a warm, thick reduction of hip-hop, flecked with samples of soundtracks and dominated by the heady cry of a female singer who sometimes became so unhinged that it seemed as if the music itself were scaring her. ‘Nobody loves me,’ she wailed over and over in “Sour Times.” The band succeeded as miserabilists with high production values and a knack for the gorgeous and the odd—the booming, plangent bass and the sophisticated lady singer.” Rock critic Chris Gerard, “There is a gothic loveliness to Gibbons’ passionate yearning. Her vocals are beautiful but haunted, like Billie Holiday trapped in a dank underground cell, singing woeful blues to the cold cement walls encasing her.” “Sour Times” was covered, with just the right balance of trauma and desperation, by The Civil Wars in 2014.


144. “Honey,” Moby. Songwriters: Moby, Bessie Jones, Alan Lomax; Did Not Chart; 1998. Southern Georgia native Bessie Jones performed with the folk group the Georgia Sea Island Singers and had a personal mission to preserve African-American history through song and dance. She was recorded by musicologist Alan Lomex and her repertoire included “Sometimes,” a short, rhythmic hand-clapping number about hard times and physical longing for sex. Moby sampled a piano riff for a hook from Joe Cocker’s 1972 single “Woman to Woman,” then added additional instrumentation such as drums and slide guitar to Jones’s vocals. Frank Owen of the Village Voice, “The unadorned foundation—stripped-down hip-hop meets infinite mechanical blues—gradually builds into a mesmerizing floor-filler, arousing memories of Hamilton Bohannon’s hypnotic ’70s metronome funk. The song’s sexual urgency feels like earthy awakening, especially when you grasp that Moby is sampling a woman saying she’s going to fuck some other guy across town now that her boyfriend’s away.”


143. “Summer Babe (Winter Version),” Pavement. Songwriter: Stephen Malkmus; Did Not Chart; 1992. At the time “Summer Babe” was recorded, Pavement was a garage/basement project, but this is the song that got Pavement’s low-fi production values, enigmatic lyrics, and Sonic Youth with better melodies sound noticed by rock critics. Rock critic Jim Connelly, “’Summer Babe (Winter Version); is practically mono, especially the guitars, and the contrast between the prettiness of the tunes and the squall and compression of the sound was truly fascinating.” Stephen Malkmus, “It’s just three chords, if you can call them that, so musically, it’s all about what you can wrestle from those chords. How far can you go? The lyrics are kinda silly. It mentions ‘Ice Ice Baby.’ There’s some imagery from Stockton, California, where we recorded it, mixed in with a cryptic story about a girl and a guy. I don’t think it makes all that much sense, but it’s got some cool imagery. We didn’t know how to record. We used reverb on the drums – the cheapest, worst reverb ever.”


142. “Stutter,” Elastica. Songwriters: Justine Frischmann, Elastica; Did Not Chart; 1993. “Stutter,” the first single by the U.K. band Elastica, slashed in all directions, from the exploding guitar work to the lyrics about impotence (“Is there something you lack/When I’m flat on my back/Is there something that I can do for you?”) Michael Danaher of Paste, “’Stutter’ is a incredible punk-pop song that chugs along thanks to pummeling drums and ambitiously distorted electrics, punctuated with a calculated verse-chorus arrangement.” NME, which listed this single in the Top 100 of the decade, “Of course there was a lot of chat about Wire and The Stranglers, but on debut single ‘Stutter’ Elastica’s spiky allure sounds brand new, Frischmann belittling some poor fellow to the strains of their most killer chorus.”


141. “Cold Turkey,” Cheap Trick. Songwriter: John Lennon; Did Not Chart; 1995. Cheap Trick weren’t a hot commercial property in 1995, but got the call to perform “Cold Turkey” for the album “Working Class Hero: A Tribute to John Lennon.” It wasn’t the band’s first association with Lennon’s song on withdrawal pains from heroin addiction, it was part of their setlist early in their career. When Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos were doing session work for John Lennon in 1980, Lennon reportedly said, “God, I wish I had Rick on ‘Cold Turkey.’ Clapton chocked up.” Rolling Stone, “The performance recasts the schizoid 1969 Lennon original as a more conventional quiet/loud hard rocker, and in doing so, transforms it into a chilling and ferocious beast, much like the excruciating withdrawal it addresses.” On an album with contributions from Candlebox, Blues Traveler, and Collective Soul, Nielsen admitted at the time of the record’s release the Cheap Trick “was not anybody’s first choice for the tribute, but we sure know how to play it, don’t we?”


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