1971: “Life on Mars”- David Bowie
1972: “Bein’ Green” by Kermit the Frog
1973: “Desperado” – The Eagles
1974: “Louisiana 1927”- Randy Newman
1975: “Born to Run”- Bruce Springsteen
1976: “Blitzkrieg Bop”- Ramones
1977: “Dreams”- Fleetwood Mac
1978: “The Man With the Child In His Eyes”- Kate Bush
1979: “Boys Don’t Cry”- The Cure
1980: “Los Angeles”- X
1981: “This Town”- Go-Go’s
1982: “I Confess”- The English Beat
1983: “If You Believe”- Thompson Twins
1984: “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”- The Smiths
1985: “Bring on the Dancing Horses”- Echo & the Bunnymen
1986: “Sometimes”- Depeche Mode
1987: “The Holiday Song”- The Pixies
1988: “Ocean Size”- Jane’s Addiction
1989: “Here’s Where the Story Ends”- The Sundays
1990: “Birdhouse in Your Soul”- They Might Be Giants
1991: “One”- U2
1992: “Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns”- Mother Love Bone
1993: “Stratford-On-Guy”- Liz Phair
1994: “X-French Tee Shirt”- Shudder to Think
1995: “Wonderwall”- Oasis
1996: “Be Mine”- R.E.M.
1997: “Between the Bars”- Elliott Smith
1998: “Life in Rain”- Remy Zero
1999: “Via Chicago”- Wilco
2000: “Everything In Its Right Place”- Radiohead
2001: “New Slang”- The Shins
2002: “The Way We Get By”- Spoon
2003: “Jesus the Mexican Boy”- Iron & Wine
2004: “Warm and Sunny Days”- The Dears
2005: “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”- Sufjan Stevens
2006: “The Funeral”- Band of Horses
All of us music geeks can relate to that magical scene in Almost Famous. You know the one, where a young William Miller inherits his sister’s records and starts flipping through the incredible titles one by one. I certainly felt a pang of recollection. I too inherited records from my sister, even if she didn’t move out of the house and become a flight attendant. I was inspired to create a list of my favorite albums from when I was thirteen or fourteen, but I had somewhat done that already in my look at the music of 1985. Then I thought of looking at the best music from the year of my birth, but with our survey of the best of the ’70s, that had already been covered. Then I remembered a mixtape I had made in college. As a graduation `project,’ I wanted to compile one meaningful song from every year of my life. My roommates thought it was such a good idea, they made their own tapes. What you see here is the same concept, twelve years later. This will be the first in a series of some very special “Best Songs Ever” features. Each member of Treble will compile their own song biographies, picking songs that mean something personally, whether it’s just a personal favorite or inspire vivid memories. Some was music I heard at the time, some was heard far after the fact, but all shaped who I am today, and so this list is a sum total of me. This was difficult in that I could write and speak for hours about the songs I `didn’t’ pick, but ultimately, decisions had to be made. In the weeks to come, you’ll see and hear songs that make up the rest of the talented Treble staff, but for now, here is Once in a Lifetime: A Biography Through Song:
I certainly wasn’t listening to David Bowie in the first year of my life, and if I was I’d be completely shocked. But “Life on Mars” was somewhat an anthem for me at a certain point in my life. “Bein’ Green” reflected that same feeling of taking pride in not just `fitting in’ while also displaying my love of all things Jim Henson. I would have chosen “Rubber Duckie,” but that song was released one year before my birth. I distinctly remember the sounds of the Eagles and Randy Newman on the radio airwaves during my childhood, but it took me years to begin to appreciate Bruce Springsteen. I think you almost have to be older and more wistful to fully understand “Born to Run.” Stevie Nicks was one of my first boyhood crushes (along with Olivia Newton John), and thus “Dreams” became much more than just a pop radio hit. I wasn’t an instant fan of the Ramones. I didn’t know too many six-year-old punk rockers, but their rocket-fueled rock really captures that time for me, specifically the last 4th of July with fireworks that I can vividly remember. Kate Bush and the Cure round out the decade for me with a pair of songs that sum up personal feelings, and the idea that I’ve never quite grown up.
X’s “Los Angeles” and the Go-Go’s “This Town” describe the same locale, one that I moved away from in 1981. I would move back in 1990 and have a love / hate relationship with that particular city. These two songs always remind me of that time, in a way that only maybe Swingers, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chinatown and L.A. Confidential can duplicate. “I Confess” blended ska and jangle-pop in a way that would, if not revolutionize, then at least inspire bands for years to come, and was a personal favorite of mine from that year. The Thompson Twins song isn’t one of their big hits, but is instead from the closing scene of Sixteen Candles, a John Hughes film that would begin a long stretch of films that I felt truly captured teenage life in the ’80s. “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” and “Bring on the Dancing Horses” both featured on the soundtrack for Pretty in Pink, and both were sublimely beautiful, two bands at their creative peaks. “Sometimes” isn’t my favorite Depeche Mode song, nor is it from my favorite DM album. But it does represent a time when that band spoke to me in a way that few other bands could. DM’s middle albums period found them experimenting with song structure and veering away from the straightforward synth-pop single. Martin Gore’s bluntly honest songs, “Somebody” and “Sometimes” were the best examples of songs that I didn’t necessarily put on repeat, but that was only because I might have connected with them `too much.’ The Pixies and Jane’s Addiction shook my world and my normal taste in music, the two examples being some of favorites from the groundbreakers. Closing out the decade found me looking for something a little more soothing as I transitioned from the small pond of high school to the big sea of college. Harriett Wheeler’s voice was a light on the horizon.
Some of They Might Be Giants’ earlier songs might have been quirkier, but finally found the perfect blend of wit and song construction with “Birdhouse in Your Soul.” Plus, the band was a huge favorite of my friends at school and mine. 1991 would be too easy to give over to Nirvana, but truth be told, I was more into U2 at the time. Sometimes the song choices are just too obvious as is the case with “One,” one of the most sublimely beautiful songs ever written. “Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns” struck me in a way that few other songs at that time did. I know it’s from 1989 originally, but I didn’t hear it until its release on the Stardog Champion compilation and the soundtrack for Singles. I would move to Seattle years later, always wondering what it was like `back then.’ One fault of mine, that my wife is always so quick to point out, is that I often don’t often prefer female artists. Two albums in 1993 blew me away, P.J. Harvey’s Rid of Me and Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville. The song from the latter is a personal favorite. Shudder to Think is one of the more underrated bands of the 90’s, and “X-French Tee Shirt” one of their best songs. “Wonderwall,” like “One” is another obvious selection. There was no escaping this song in 1995, but then again, who wanted to? The next four songs that close out the ’90s are some of the sweetest songs in my collection and four bands I hold in high esteem. “Be Mine” is a hidden gem from one of R.E.M.’s most underappreciated albums. “Between the Bars” and Elliott Smith need no explanation. If you’re a fan, you understand. “Life in Rain” did for me what “Fair” must have done for Zach Braff. Cinjun Tate’s vocals are some of the best in rock, and this band was unfairly tagged as a Radiohead rip-off. Finally, summerteeth brings back too many memories to deal with all at once, but “Via Chicago” still stirs up dormant feelings.
It’s difficult to place recent songs into any kind of perspective, as time hasn’t really told what will become of these artists and songs. So most of my picks in this decade simply have to deal with standout songs from particular years. With a new decade and a new millennium came a new Radiohead, and “Everything in Its Right Place” heralded that change like no other band could. This song as their live closer is stunning. “New Slang” is another obvious one, but just like Natalie Portman said, it changed my life. Okay, not really, but it’s an incredible song. Britt Daniel continues to impress me with everything he does, and “The Way We Get By” is one of those songs that just reminds you of how good music can be. To me, Sam Beam is at his best alone and whispering into the microphone softly playing his guitar. “Jesus, the Mexican Boy” is the perfect example of this. The Dears are one of the few current bands that can impress me with something new and also make me hyperaware of times gone by. “Warm and Sunny Days” is a song from 2004 that I just couldn’t get out of my head. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a Sufjan Stevens song to represent 2005 as it was hands down my favorite album from that year. And what better song to choose than the one that gives me goosebumps every time, “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” Finally, to round out my life in music, I’ve simply chosen the song that is my current favorite, Band of Horses’ “The Funeral.” Unless it’s unseated by some late upstart in the remaining months of 2006, it will surely top my list of singles at year’s end.