The Older I get, the less interested in new artists I am. I never thought I would ever say that, but it’s become my reality the last few years. That’s not to say that I can’t get into new music, but I’m less interested than I used to be. Having said that, a strange thing has happened: as I get older – I’ve started discovering or revisiting music of the past. Bands that I never thought I would have any interest in now find themselves regularly playing on my iPod.
I thought about doing a list of the best songs from 2014, and while there were a lot of good songs (most of my favorite artists put out new albums), I’d rather write about the music that’s ten, twenty, thirty years old. Some of the songs are songs I’ve just forgotten about or didn’t pay any attention to – some of the songs are songs I didn’t know existed until this year. But there’s a lot of them! Way too many to not write about.
So, without further ado, here’s twenty songs I discovered (or rediscovered) in 2014.
1. Teen angst (what the world needs now) – Cracker – 1992: This song was discovered as a direct result of my 20 year High School Reunion. My friend Dave made a playlist to mark the occasion, and this song was on it. I knew it already – in fact the same Dave and I used to sing it in his car as it blared on the radio. I remember one time this almost caused us to slam right into a semi-truck, but that’s a story for a different time. Ultimately I had forgotten this song altogether till I heard it on the playlist – and now, now I can’t get enough of it. What the World needs now is more songs like this….and a new Frank Sinatra.
2. Halo – The Cure – 2004?: Unless you’re a hardcore Cure fan, you’ve probably not heard this song. It’s a B side / Rarity, but why it was not released as a full on hit, I’ll never know! My girlfriend played it to me one day and it was love at first sound. Since then I’ve declared it to be “our song,” though I should probably ask her about it. To be fair – the fact that my girlfriend did introduce it to me probably ups my value of the song by like 900 percent, but still, I’d like to think that everyone who listens to this song will fall for it just as I fell for it.
3. Photograph – Def Leppard – 1983: If you played Grand Theft Auto V, you’ll know they included like a thousand songs on the different radio stations. Many of these songs on this very list, including this song, were introduced to me by this game. This song in particular turned me onto Def Leppard as a whole. Did I mention that the station on GTA V that this song plays was hosted by Kenny Loggins? Yeah – Kenny Loggins basically made me love Def Leppard.
4. Waveforms – Djanogo Django – 2012: This is another song from GTA V, though not from the Loggins station. The song itself is rather a simple song, almost a love song to music itself. However, the emotion this song projects is amazingly complex. This song describes in both lyric and music how much music means to an audiophile like myself. The very title, waveforms, suggests that music is alive. And sometimes, sometimes I think music is indeed alive…
5. Bohemian Rhapsody – The Flaming Lips – 2005: Ok, to be fair – I’m very familiar with the song Bohemian Rhapsody as I’m sure most of you are. But I was not aware that The Flaming Lips did a cover of this song. I feel almost gypped to be honest. It was a bonus track on At War With The Mystics, which I bought – bought evidently my copy, my early copy of this fantastic album, did not include this song. But I digress. Back to the song, this might be one of the best covers of Bohemian Rhapsody ever produced – and I tend to be a connoisseur of covers (look for an upcoming article all about covers of Bohemian Rhapsody by the way).
6. Valley Girl – Frank Zappa with Moon Unit Zappa – 1982: Like, Ohmygod, how did I like, not know this song existed? Seriously – I grew up in the 80s. I remember all sorts of movies and television shows with the typical Valley Girl. I didn’t know if I was supposed to like these girls or hate them. I didn’t know if they were supposed to be pretty, or pretty repulsive. I think this song answers any questions I had. Thanks Frank (and daughter). I wish I knew you better. You were truly ahead of your time.
7. Truckin’ – The Greatful Dead – 1970: There’s a joke I’ve always said: What does a deadhead say when their drugs wear off? This music sucks! To be fair, I’m not too familiar with the Dead’s massive catalog, and honestly, what I’ve heard doesn’t suck (that much), but this song in particular made me take a new look at the band itself. I heard it on satellite one day and was quite surprised. To be fair, it’s a typical 1970s traveling band song, but I have a soft spot for 1970s traveling band songs – so there’s that I guess. Besides, it’s an interesting look at the Dead’s life of constant touring.
8. Love is the Protest – Jars of Clay – 2008: I’ll be honest, I kind of lost interest in Jars of Clay sometime in the late 90s. Still, I do love their first couple albums and one day curiosity got to me. So I decided to see what they’ve been up to. I was shocked, floored, and other clichés when I heard this song. The message really symbolize a few thoughts I’ve had in my own head recently. It questions what one who is dedicated to love thy neighbor should do in times when changes must be made. This is not a political article, nor is it a religious article, but I encourage all of you to listen to this song’s message. Maybe what the world needs now is not more of the first song in this list – maybe we need more songs like this…
9. One Piece at a Time – Johnny Cash – 1976: Spotify played this for me one day while I was in the grocery store. I have no idea how I didn’t know this song before then, but the important thing is I know it now. The song itself is pretty darned humorous, the man himself was the great Johnny Cash. It makes me sad – I saw Mr Cash once. He played at a Billy Graham rally. I didn’t really understand the big deal, as I was just a 17 year old kid at the time. Now…now I look back and wish I could relive that moment again. I saw the great Mr. Cash play live…wow!
10. California Girls – The Magnetic Fields – 2008: Somehow I skipped the Magnetic Fields’ “Distortion” album. In my “quest” to rectify this situation, I discovered this song specifically. It’s full of every bit of wit, humor, and cynicism that makes the Magnetic Fields one of the best bands (as far as lyrics at least) of the last twenty years. No offense to any actual California Girls I happen to know.
11. The Fox (live from the Freight and Salvage) – Nickel Creek – 2000/2006: This song is a bluegrass standard, but as I don’t really know too much Bluegrass, I didn’t really know that. It’s a humorous and fun song. So why did I include this specific version? Well, for one, there’s a part of it where Nickel Creek forgets they’re doing this song, and starts playing Subterranean Homesick Blues. I’m still trying to piece how the two songs interact.
12. One Tin Soldier – The Original Caste – 1969: My earliest memory of this song is singing it around a campfire at summer camp. I didn’t know the lyrics, and thought it was odd hearing the adults singing “Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend, do it in the name of heaven you can justify it in the end…” Of course I didn’t realize they weren’t really saying this – but rather the opposite! I re-discovered the song via the 1960s satellite radio station. I won’t say it’s ever going to be one of my favorites, but as an adult it’s interesting to compare it’s real meaning to the meaning I brought from it as a kid.
13. Phil Keaggy – Good Vibrations – 2002 This song is, of course, a cover, but not a garden variety cover. Of the three versions of the song I’ve heard, (this one, the Brian Wilson Smile version, and the Beach Boys version), I have to say this is a solid number 2 (the smile version is my favorite). That means that this version, in my honest opinion, is better than the version we’ve all heard time and time again on the radio. How many covers can say that?
14. White Stag – 2nd Chapter of Acts – 1980: This song is the last song on a concept album about C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” I remember my parents playing it back in the early 80s, and this song seemed to be out of place – almost as it was a separate tale from the world of Narnia. I recently decided I needed to read the books again, and realized, oh…this song is all about the return of the four children to our world! Regardless, I was right – this song does stick out. While I love the album, this song seems to be my favorite of the bunch. The emotion, the adventure, and even the feeling that all good things must end. Even musically, this song feels a bit more orchestrated, and on a different level than some of the songs on the album. That isn’t to say, the album sucked. I mean, it featured guitars from Phil Keaggy for gosh’s sake…but this song was a real high point. I like it when an album is ended on a high point.
15. Doctorin’ the Tardis (The Timelords) – 1988: The first time I heard this song was the homecoming dance my freshman year of High School. The DJ played some pretty trippy (ie not mainstream) stuff and we were all like… what? Oh well, let’s dance. I kind of forgot about the song until several months ago, then I went on a major search to find the song – and find the song I did – and dance to the song I do again, on a regular basis. To be fair, the lyrics aren’t anything special. Mostly someone saying “Dr. Who, and the Tardis” several times, interlaced with clips of Daleks saying they are the superior beings…but the best songs are always more than the sum of their parts.
16. Abolish Government / Silent Majority – TSOL – 1997: Again, I was introduced to this song because of Grand Theft Auto V. At first it sounds as though it’s just a typical speed metal, neo-punk song. Nothing special. Then the tempo shifts…the drums beat….and you hear them shout “America, land of the free. Free to the power of the people in uniform!” At that point I just needed to know what exactly this song had to say. To be honest, it doesn’t say much; typical punk anti-government anarchism. But I still love the song.
17 Lost for Words – Pink Floyd – 1994: The Division Bell is often seen as a vanity project by two former members of Pink Floyd who chose to use the name’s moniker (Kind of like when Roland Orzabal did a couple Tears for Fears albums without Curt Smith). So of course, I ignored the project as a whole. Then I heard Lost for Words. The first thing that really drew me to it was the astounding resemblance to U2’s Moment of Surrender. Still, the more I listened, I heard a song about persecution, about a lack of empathy, about a cold world that just cannot relate to the speaker of the song. This is classic Pink Floyd! This very same attitude is what made Another brick in the wall such an amazing piece of art! Say what you will about Division Bell, but Lost for Words is maybe one of the best Pink Floyd songs ever recorded.
18. I’d rather be With You – Bootsy Collins – 1976: I’ll admit – I’ve never been fond of funk. While the music is, well, funky, the lyrics have often felt lacking. This song, might not be the most poetic song, but it kind of made me understand what funk did with the lyrics. Funk is not necessarily the lyrics, but rather about the feeling the entire song brings to one’s self. This song makes me want to dance and maybe write poetry to my girlfriend. Bootsy himself said the funk is making something out of nothing. I think I’m beginning to understand…
19. You and the Music – Donald Byrd – 1975: Probably what drew me into this song the most is the string section. I know I’ve heard it a thousand times before, yet I can’t find any record of it anywhere else but this song. Like the Bootsy Collins song I just talked about, the lyrics aren’t the most important thing, but rather a component of the song. And again, the song is more than the sum of it’s parts. I was sad to find out that Mr. Byrd died a few weeks after I heard this song. I can’t judge his trumpeting ability, but anyone who could write this song has my eternal respect.
20. 10538 Overture – Electric Light Orchestra – 1971: ELO is one of those bands that, if I hadn’t been paying attention, could have totally been absent from my musical knowledge base. I remember listening to the Traveling Wilburys and asking, who the hell is Jeff Lynne? Even though I knew the songs Mr. Blue Sky and Don’t bring me down and I was even familiar with the soundtrack from Xanadu …yeah, I knew their music – I just didn’t know them. Eventually I found out who they were, but I still didn’t know 10538 Overture until I heard it in the movie “American Hustle.” The song starts out with an amazingly jubilant guitar part, and then you hear the story of a friend falling from glory. The song leads you on a journey, and you wonder – what’s going to happen to this friend? Should I help them? Should I distance myself from them? Should I thank God that I’m not them? Or should I just go about my life, living for me? I can see why they used the song in the movie, as both are describing morally ambiguous situations where there really isn’t a best answer. The wrong thing might be more beneficial to the listener, the right thing might bring the listener down into the mud with everyone else. The song isn’t a call to do what’s right – the song is a call to make a decision, for better or for worse.