“Blank Generation” boasts one of the best opening lines in rock: “I was saying let me out of here, before I was even born.” “Blank Generation” is pure-punk, but played with a sophistication and a lyrical introspection rarely seen in punk’s first wave. In a moment of brilliance, Hell omits the word “blank” from the chorus – “I belong to the blank generation” – pausing for a moment where the word should be.
The second song off Costello’s debut is one of his most biting and scathing. After the punk-attack of “Welcome to the Working Week”, Costello turns it down slightly with “Miracle Man” but comes spitting with venom. It’s the perfect combination of his rockabilly meets punk. A friend of mine once suggested Elvis Costello has a song about every girl you’ve ever dated or ever liked. This song is about the girl who you are friends with and love, but has no clue. Instead of wondering what’s wrong with him Costello views her as the problem and muses: “everybody loves so much girl, I don’t know how you stand the strain.” Though the song doesn’t really fit my life at the present – it’s one of Costello’s finest performances. The songs ends with Costello shouting “Miracle Maaaaan!” but just as the chorus suggests, even walking on water won’t do him any good.
U2 – “Out of Control”
U2’s debut album Boy tends to get overlooked due to the rest of their career, but it’s actually a pretty good post-punk album. According to Bono who has mentioned this several times in concert, “Out of Control” was written on his 18th birthday. “Out of Control” has a rare energy for U2. Larry Mullen plays with the fire of Keith Moon but a little more restraint. Adam Clayton‘s bass never sounded so loud and commanding. The Edge offers one of his best riffs and a unique and melodic solo. Bono wonders about his own mortality – “One away I’ll die, the choice will not be mine” – but he sounds like he’s having the time of his life singing this song. On another note, I once gave a drunken play-by-play of this song to a friend of mine.
Kanye West – “Power”
There are some classics that become instant classics. “Power” is for me, one of those songs. Much of West’s first album was based around gospel and soul samples, but with “Power” he takes it a whole new level with the looped chant that runs throughout the entire song. On paper, it sounds like a risk. Somehow, the background vocals add to the drama to the song and pull you in. West also offers some of his best verses that are boastful, hilarious and self-reflecting.
Neko Case – Deep Red Bells
Neko Case has one of the best voices in music right now and “Deep Red Bells” is her vocal masterpiece. The music is slow and foreboding giving Case room to sing her heart out. It’s the sound of a country revivalist conjuring up the ghosts of the Carter Family and Patsy Cline while adding her own spin. Only a person steeped into this tradition could sing with the power of Case does when she gets to the chorus. When she hits the word “deep” she goes deep into her soul, her body, and the American Country tradition.
Talking Heads – “Road to Nowhere”
I remember reading somewhere that this song was described as “one of the happiest songs about death.” Whether that metaphor is true or not, on a literal level “Road to Nowhere” makes sounding lost seem joyous and fun. The harmonies of the group declaring “we’re on a road to nowhere” suggest a camaraderie that wasn’t always apparent with the Talking Heads. As the song build to a crescendo, David Byrne seems to enjoy every second of it as he hoops and hollers like a man possessed.
The Rolling Stones – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
The Rolling Stones has so many great songs, but for me this is their masterpiece. So what if it’s sometimes seen as The Rolling Stone’s response to “Hey Jude”? It’s actually better, I think. The song manages to sound melancholy (especially the first verse) and also uplifting (the last two minutes). Jagger’s lyrics are among his best, and The Stones never sounded so soulful. On “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” The Rolling Stones proved they truly understood American Soul and Gospel while also still retaining their own style in the process.
(More to come, I think.)