“Mystery Dance” – Elvis Costello
A burst of punk energy mixed with ’50s rockabilly, “Mystery Dance” is one of the highlights off of Costello’s debut My Aim is True. It’s also a great showcase for Costello’s biting lyrics which fly off his tongue at lightning speed. In Costello’s world it’s often been written that the word dance is euphemism for sex. And “Mystery Dance” is filled with sex. There’s Costello admitting that to his girl that “both us were willing, but didn’t know how to do it” in the second verse. Later when he’s under the sheets looking at magazines he wonders, “what’s the use of looking when you don’t know what they mean.”
“Fell in Love with a Girl” – The White Stripes
A lofty claim, but I think that “Fell In Love With a Girl” is the closest that the 2000′s had to a song like “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Its biting guitar riff cut through everything else that was on the radio at the time, destroying everything in its path. Its wordless chorus is still infectious 13 years later. Before the song was even over, you could tell that there was a change in the air and the White Stripes were on their way to start a musical revolution.
“Sister” – Prince
Dirty Mind is full of dirty songs, but “Sister” takes the cake with its tale of a teenager who sleeps with his sister. The subject matter would be dirty enough, but Prince naturally pushes the boundaries with his explicit lyrics about blow job and whips. Its shock is enhanced by its length. By the time you have a chance to really ask yourself if that’s what the song is really about, it’s over.
“Lukin” – Pearl Jam
This 1 minute song pretty much tells the entire story of Eddie Vedder’s stalker problem that occurred in the mid-’90s. Much of No Code was inspired by Neil Young and finds Pearl Jam experimenting with all kinds of musical styles. But “Lukin” stands out in contrast to the rest of the album: its direct, fast and loud. Pearl Jam play the song fairly often, usually at twice the speed of the recorded version making it nearly impossible for Vedder to scream out the lyrics. On occasion, he’s been known to just yell, “Fuck it!” when he realizes he can’t finish the lyrics.
“There Goes My Gun” – The Pixies
I chose this over “Something Against You” because it’s a great showcase for the vocal harmonies between Black Francis (or Frank Black, whatever) and bassist Kim Deal. When people talk about the Pixies, they usually refer to the noise that they make. But “Here Comes My Gun” show another side to them that is rarely talked about: the use of space. The openness of the song allows for Black’s hallowing scream to take center stage. When I saw the Pixies on their Doolittle Tour in 2009, and “There Goes My Gun” was definitely one of the highlights.
“Here She Comes Now” – The Velvet Underground
Technically this song’s length is 2:03 but it fades out at 1:56, so I’m going to include it. ”Here She Comes Now” is probably the prettiest song in the Velvet’s catalogue and acts as a bit of relief from the onslaught of noise that permeates the rest of White Light/White Heat. It’s album full of dirty sex and “Here She Comes Now” is the Velvet’s at their sexiest.
“White Riot” – The Clash
Which version of “White Riot” you like better is kind of superfluous. The version included on the US version of The Clash (with the siren at the beginning) is the most well-known while the original version is even more ragged. Either way, both versions of the song are a rallying cry and a punk manifesto.
“Ingrid Bergman” – Billy Bragg & Wilco (Woody Guthrie)
I’ve always wondered what this song would have sounded like if Guthrie had recorded it. The lyrics show a different side than the Guthrie most everyone knows. He’s not admiring Ingrid Bergman for her acting skills. “You´d make any mountain quiver,” Billy Bragg slowly over his acoustic guitar. “You´d make my fire fly from the crater.” Hey, even activists have a sexual appetite.
“Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” – The Vaccines
It’s very rare that a song comes along and the first time I hear it I think it’s a classic. ”Wreckin’ Bar” is one of those songs. It’s impossible not to get caught up its mix of punk energy and infectious hooks. The fact that’s it’s over so quickly only adds to the song’s charm: it leaves you wanting more. I first discovered the song during the credits during an episode of Girls. Thank Lena Dunham.
“Hit the Road Jack” – Ray Charles
“Hit the Road Jack” is probably one of the best examples of the vocal interplay between Ray Charles and the Raelettes. When Charles pleads to let his girl him stay, vocalist Margie Hendricks rebuffs with him with the famous line: “don’t care if you do, cause it’s understood, you ain’t got no money, you just ain’t no good.” For his part, Charles makes his signature “what you say?” line seem angry, hilarious and demanding all at once.
“Cretin Hop” – The Ramones
No list of short songs is complete without the Ramones. (Surprisingly, “Blietzkrieg Bop” is actually over 2 minutes long.) Leave it to the Ramones take an insult and make it into something worth celebrating. The song is signature Ramones: Johnny’s buzz-saw guitar, absurd lyrics and a mid-song count off from Joey.