The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1990s: 480 to 471
480. “Giving Him Something He Can Feel,” En Vogue. Songwriter: Curtis Mayfield; #6 pop/#1 R&B; 1992. “Something He Can Feel” was originally recorded by Aretha Franklin for the soundtrack to the 1976 film “Sparkle,” an African American period piece inspired by the Supremes with music written by Curtis Mayfield. Aretha Franklin scored a #28 pop/#1 R&B hit with her mid-70’s single. Producer Thomas McElroy, “We wanted to bring back that big girl group. Denny (co-producer Denzil Foster) was big on having soulful harmonies and bringing in more lead singers that you could switch around on different songs. It was like a vision of having an all-star group of women that came together.” Foster, “We heard Aretha Franklin’s version, but I felt like the movie version of the song was more intimate. I told the girls that’s the way we were going to approach the song. They were happy because they weren’t trying to compete with Aretha vocally.”
479. “I’m Free,” Soup Dragons. Songwriters: Keith Richards, Mick Jagger; #79 pop; 1990. The Rolling Stones released “I’m Free” as an album cut/b-side in 1965 as a change of pace folk rocker that presaged the free love hippie era by a few years. The Soup Dragons, a Scottish alt-rock band, peaked at #5 on the U.K. pop chart with their funk/reggae infused dance rock cover. Junior Reid of Black Uhuru even makes an appearance on “I’m Free,” rapping about being free from prison and debt. (It’s been a matter of discussion of whether Reid sings he’s “free from the lock up” or “free from the Loch Ness,” which both have a certain amount of appeal.) The lyrics aren’t tied to the Stones original. Singer Sean Dickson, “I just sort of guessed the lyrics and made it up as we went along.” With what became their signature song, the Soup Dragons had transformed their sound from jangly guitar act to a rave culture sensation. Sean Dickson in 2017, “It opened a lot of doors but also closed others. Sometimes the hits hurt.”
478. “Something to Talk About,” Bonnie Raitt. Songwriter: Shirley Eikhard; #5 pop; 1991. Canadian singer/songwriter Shirley Eikhard was fifteen years old when she penned her first hit – Anne Murray’s 1971 ballad “It Takes Time” went to #6 on the Canadian country chart and was a #26 crossover pop hit. The husky voiced Eikhard became a north of the border teenage star in her own right, hitting #1 on the country charts in 1972 with “Smiling Wine” and going Top 40 in 1976 with a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Say You Love Me.” Anne Murray had passed on recording Eikhard’s gossipy/flirtatious “Something to Talk About” in the mid-1980s, yet still released an album with that title. Raitt, on this playful number about either falling in love or having an affair, “I waited until I recorded the song, to call up the number on the cassette. I said ‘Hey, Shirley, it’s Bonnie Raitt, listen to this.’ I pushed play and played her own song back and hung up the phone. It went over to voice messaging. She called us back and couldn’t have been more delighted. The rest is history. That song is the gift that keeps on giving.”
477. “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next,” Manic Street Preachers. Songwriters: Nick Jones, James Dean Bradfield; Sean Moore; Did Not Chart; 1998. The Manic Street Preachers had their first #1 U.K. single with “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next,” an atmospheric, foreboding song that was a last minute addition to their 1998 “This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours” album and was originally intended as a b-side. Songwriter Nick Wire, “It sounds quite odd and futuristic for us. The guitar is very restrained; a really complicated lyric to shoehorn in, too. It’s Welsh social history, the Spanish Civil War, and to try and get all of that into a song is not easy. I love how it just glides and drifts, too. And it’s one of the slowest songs we’ve ever done.” Brian Boyd of the Irish Times, “In many ways, ‘If You Tolerate This’ tells you everything you need to know about the Manic Street Preachers: their absorption in and preoccupation with gallant socialism. And the bald fact that the song itself was written as a ‘tribute’ to a song called ‘Spanish Bombs’ by the band who made the Manics want to make music in the first place – The Clash.”
476. “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” Green Day. Songwriters: Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, Tré Cool; Did Not Chart; 1997. If you had a high school graduation during the 1990s, you may have strolled out of your gymnasium to the sounds of Semisonic’s “Closing Time” or Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” The first ballad that Billie Joe Amstrong had penned was inspired by a girlfriend who was leaving the country. His song of spite became translated as one of poignant nostalgia and it became so ubiquitous, it was even used in the penultimate episode of “Seinfeld.” Armstrong, “It took on a life of its own. I was definitely not thinking about weddings and graduations when I wrote it. A girl just sent me a message on my Instagram (saying) she had a brother that just passed away, and that became the song her family would listen to that they related to their experience. It’s really beautiful when you think about it.”
475. “I’m Over You,” The Silos. Songwriters: Robert Ray, Walter Salas-Humera; Did Not Chart; 1990. The Silos have been a long running project for singer/songwriter Walter Salas-Humera, a Floridian who formed the first version of this band after relocating to New York in the mid-1980s. Their sound is a stripped down version of folk/alt-country and “I’m Over You” sounds like it could have been a hit later in the decade with more radio friendly production. Lyrically, “I’m Over You” is about taking a day off from missing a former lover: “Driving down Highway 441 with the windows down/A beer in one hand, the radio blasting/My old needs I won’t recognize/I’m Over You.” Still, the narrator knows he will be calling her in the future. Robert Gordon of Spin, “I’m Over You’ contrasts driving rhythms with pensive breaks, combining the band’s best attributes.”
474. “Jailbird,” Primal Scream. Songwriters: Bobby Gillespie, Andrew Innes, Robert Young, Did Not Chart; 1994. Primal Scream is a Scottish band that formed in 1982. They originally trafficked in jangle pop, but moved to a more commercially successful psychedelic/garage rock sound in the 1990s. The band released seven Top Ten U.K. albums between 1994 and 2008, with five of those being certified gold or platinum. “Jailbird” is an old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll sex number, although lyrics like “I’ve got horse hoof tea to buzz you like a bee” might not impress a woman outside of Glasgow. Rock critic Tim Sendra, “’Jailbird’ has a stomping, mid-’70s Stones groove, powerful drums, growling guitars, and the usual so-dumb-they-must-be-good lyrics.” The band mined the same Rolling Stones influenced territory for “Rocks,” another single from their 1994 album “Give Up But Don’t Give Up,” that became their first U.K. Top Ten hit.
473. “I’ll Give You Something to Drink About,” George Jones. Songwriters: Hank Cochran, Mack Vickery, Jerry Laseter; Did Not Chart; 1996. George Jones didn’t crack the country Top 40 with any singles from his 1996 album “I Lived to Tell It All,” but he got a nice shot at Nashville’s promotion of soulless country music with the Bobby Braddock number “Billy B. Bad” (“He just tested positive for Branson” may be the best unknown lyric of the decade). Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music noted that the album contained, “several novelties that rank among the most clever and self-deprecating that Jones has ever recorded.” The cream of the crop is the relaxed, mariachi horns number “I’ll Give You Something to Drink About.” Lyrically, George trades his woman for juice and sounds perfectly at peace with his decision.
472. “Lump,” The Presidents of the United States of America. Songwriter: Chris Ballew; Did Not Chart; 1995. Rhyming “pajamas” with “piranhas” while singing about a promiscuous, dim bulb of a woman who is in his head and might be dead, Chris Ballew joined Sir-Mix-a-Lot of “Baby Got Back” fame in letting us know that Seattle wasn’t all about flannel and murky grunge. Ballew on his inspiration, “No matter how many times we play it, it is as fresh and as alive as if I just wrote it that afternoon. I am not sure what it is, but I am never bored playing that song. In the beginning, it was me trying to write a Buzzcocks song. I guess I still channel them a little bit whenever I play it.” “Lump” was also perfectly timed to serve as the basis for the Weird Al parody number “Gump,” as in Forrest. And, that’s all I have to say about that.
471. “Born Slippy .NUXX,” Underworld. Songwriters: Rick Smith, Karl Hyde, Darren Emerson; Did Not Chart; 1996. Welch musicians Karl Hyde and Rick Smith have been performing together since 1979 and formed the original version of the electronic band Underworld in 1987. They had their biggest pop hit in 1996 with “Born Slippy .NUXX,” a #2 U.K. single that was used in the 1996 British film “Trainspotting.” Karl Hyde on the unusual lyrics, “We used to go out drinking in Soho and I ended up in the Ship on Wardour Street. All the lyrics were written on that night. A drunk sees the world in fragments and I wanted to recreate that. Rick (Smith) came up with a rhythm and I started singing over it. The vocals were done in one take. When I lost my place, I’d repeat the same line; that’s why it goes, ‘lager, lager, lager, lager.’ The first time we played it live, people raised their lager cans and I was horrified because I was still deep into alcoholism. It was never meant to be a drinking anthem; it was a cry for help. Now I don’t mind. Why ‘Born Slippy’? It was a greyhound we won money on.” Surprising to my ears is that the tribal, booming drums were electronic. Rick Smith, “It’s heavily driven through a console and processed but it’s a 909 (drum machine).”