100 Favorite Songs - #s 51-60
60. "Trying to Get to Heaven" - Bob Dylan
This companion piece to "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" is clever in the way it approaches its end-of-life theme from behind a pretty upbeat, happily settled groove. From Dylan's late period, it features his trademarked late froggy growl of a vocal style, a style that lends itself particularly well to this kind of song. "When you think you have lost everything/you find out you can always lose a little more." Indeed.
59. "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" - U2
One of the U2 songs people will always think of when they hear U2. I have many versions of this song, but my favorite is probably the live version from Rattle & Hum, sung right after a bombing in Ireland. It mixes a spare, acoustic fell for the first half, with just the Edge playing that classic figure, with a full-and angry rocking version in the second half - best of both worlds. For years I thought that high-pitched yelp towards the end when Bono sings "no more" was him; it is, of course, just some feedback.
58. "I Hung My Head" - Sting
Sting doesn't do story songs often; he should do more. This spare, haunting song about a man who kills a lone rider for no real reason, in a fit of boredom almost, has been covered by Johnny Cash, but Sting's original version deserves credit - his almost flat delivery, without histrionics - makes the song.
57. "Extraordinary Machine" - Fiona Apple
Just talked about this song. I said: "We start with a great opener, a puckish, impish song that's propelled by a wonderfully coy arrangement by Jon Brion. I love how Apple sings this song - listen to the way she adds a bit of silly slyness to the second syllable of "extraORDinary," or the way she adds a bit of breathiness as she makes vocal leaps - "every DAY." But what I might love most about this song is how it doesn't sound like any other song I've ever heard." Ditto.
56. "Train in the Distance" - Paul Simon
A wonderfully mellow and melancholy Simon song about divorce with one of my all-time favorite lyrics: "The thought that life could be better/Is woven indelibly into our hearts/And our brains." I think this song is about Carrie Fisher.
55. "Nightswimming" - REM
Great, great use of piano anchoring a beautifully plaintive melody.
54. "Original of the Species" - U2
An open-hearted song about being a parent that the band never quite perfected live. Something about the heavy use of piano, I think. "You are the first one of your kind" is a sentiment that rises to mind every time I look at my kids - it can be hard to get over the incredible fact that these are unique individuals, and the immense promise of that fact. This song gets that emotion across really well.
53. "Wake Up Dead Man" - U2
A sad/angry rant at an unlistening Jesus to "wake up." One of U2's darker (darkest?) Christian songs, with a bitter, defeated opening sung over an almost listless guitar part - "Jesus/Jesus help me/I'm alone in this world/And a fucked up world it is too/Tell me/Tell me the story/The one about eternity/And the way it's all gonna be/Wake up/Wake up, dead man."
52. "Obvious Child" - Paul Simon
I simply adore the South American percussion on this song, especially the big percussion break in the middle. One of those Paul Simon songs that's not a "classic" song you'd hear on the radio, but a great one nonetheless.
51. "Hallelujah" - Jeff Buckley
One of the most extreme examples of a cover becoming the definitive version of a song. Buckley's patient, understated passionate delivery is what makes this work as well as it does - that and his simple-yet-emotive guitar work of course.