My Personal Top 20 Songs (Part 2)

Continuing with the list. Keep in mind that these are in semi-random order…

6. M – Pop Muzik (12″ Mix) – source: 12″ single (1979)
A friend of mind had this single when we were around 9 or 10, and the whole concept of it blew my mind. Here was a full-sized 12″ record, but you played it at 45 RPM, and there was only one song. The idea of an extended remix was also new to me, since Duran Duran wasn’t a thing yet. Two things in my life probably came from this particular song. First, becoming a DJ a few short years later, collecting my own 12″ singles and playing them in front of hundreds of people. Second, deciding that saxophone was my instrument of choice in school band. There are so many odd connections in my life to this particular song that I could write a book. The short version: This song is at the start of side one of the first blank cassette I bought, the first song I burned to CD-ROM, and the first track transferred to blank MiniDisc. The reason I bought a MiniDisc recorder was to bootleg U2 shows when I knew I was finally going to see them, after totally missing the ZooTV tour. I saw (and booted) 4 shows on the PopMart tour, in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Minneapolis, and Montreal. Guess what the opening “hype music” for that whole tour was, as U2 came on stage? U2 – PopMart Intro (Mexico City) What an awesome song too, by the way. I never, ever get tired of it.

7. Mark Snow – The X-Files Theme – source: too many to list (1993, 1996 extended version)
If you’ve seen my CD shelf, you might notice that down near the end, there a whole section for ‘X’ that has tons of versions of X-Files theme remixes, and X-Files music. To my knowledge, I have all the X-Files music that’s ever been released, even the rare, numbered multi-CD box sets with hours and hours of score queues. Music in movies, tv shows, and video games has always been something I pay extremely close attention to, and everything Mark Snow creates raises the bar for what “background music” could be. I’ve done a number of covers of the X-Files Theme itself, but generally, I often find myself thinking “how would Mark Snow approach this?” when I’m working on particular types of composition. Asides: Whenever I get my hands on a keyboard with a good piano sound, one of the first things I do is set up a stereo delay on it, so I can play the theme on it. Also, I love songs that have a strong 12/16 meter superimposed on top of a standard 4/4, which this song is a prime example of.

8. Nazareth – This Flight Tonight – source: Loud ‘n’ Proud (1973)
This is one of the first songs I loved as a little kid, and if you’ve read my Intro post on this blog, you know that story. It was my introduction, specifically, to what I call the “galloping bass”, which is simply playing on the 1st, 3rd and 4th 16th notes in every quarter measure. That galloping bass kills me every time, and I love most songs I’ve ever heard that use it. I also love the total meter change at around 2:15 (the “doo-wop” section), the haunting guitar wailing, and the relentless hi-hats.

9. New Order – Bizarre Love Triangle (Shep Pettibone Remix) – source: 12″ single (1986)/ Substance 1987
Surprise! This song has that “galloping bass” too. I loved playing this song as a DJ, and it was what I call “intelligent dance music”. I’ve covered this song, and what a project! This song taught me a lot about drum machine programming, synth sound crafting, sequencing, and especially the importance of stereo placement. Every sound in this song moves. And those sounds! This song has the best use of a vocoder I’ve ever heard, and I almost convinced myself to build one (I had schematics for it) just because of it. An interesting thing I discovered about this song is that the chords in the chorus, while seemingly simple, are definitely not. There are two sounds playing entirely different chords that should clash horribly, but don’t. When I was figuring out that part of the song, and just playing those chords together by themselves, I kept thinking “that can’t possibly be right, can it?”…but it is. Last, but not least, my singing voice, as I’ve been told, and honestly believe, is extremely similar to Bernard Sumner, so I can sing this and other New Order songs very well.

10. Peter Frampton – Do You Feel Like We Do – source: Frampton Comes Alive! (1976)
Once of the greatest concert performances/recordings of all time. I have a surround sound mix of this on DVD-A that is even more incredible. Of course, the talking guitar is the biggest highlight of the song. I also love the decision to fully integrate the sound of the crowd into the recording, making it so immersive. The keyboard solo, by Bob Mayo, from around 4:10 to 5:35 is, well, inspiring and depressing at the same time. After years of trying, I know that I’m just physically incapable of playing that well. Still, it gives me something to strive for.

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My Personal Top 20 Songs (Part 1)

This is my current personal list of top 20 songs. These are the songs that have had the most impact on me, shaping my taste in music, and in some ways my whole personality. This list hasn’t needed to change much in the last decade or so, since these songs have had incredible staying power with me. Of course, I have a top 100 list as well, that is even more diverse, and includes an insane range of musical genres, and spans centuries. But these are the ones I go back to time and again, because of both the quality of the songs themselves, and the personal connections I have with them. I’ll be describing a bit of this in the next few posts. So, in no particular order:

1. Afro Celt Sound System & Peter Gabriel – When You’re Falling (album version) – source: “Volume 3: Further In Time” (2001)

This one has the least definable reason for earning a place on the list. Of course, the production is stellar, and especially the recording quality of ACSS’s vocals has a clarity and presence that is unusual for a group of vocalists of that size. But for me, this is an exercise in raw emotional connection with a song that goes beyond any technical reason. I first heard/saw it used in an IMAX presentation called Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk, in 2002, and have loved it ever since.

2. Enya – Storms In Africa (Part II) – source: Bonus track on some versions of Watermark album, b-side of original 7″ single (1988)

Specifically part II, which has lyrics in English. The brightness of this version is unlike anything else released at the time. So many crystalline layers of treble in the vocals, strings, and percussion. The prominence of the African drumming in this version, coupled with the field recordings of rain and thunder give it a power that elevate it above the other popular Enya songs, in my opinion. I spent a long time (successfully) perfecting my own cloning of the arpeggiated synth sound that runs through it, and I spent hours playing that part by hand. This was one rare time where I specifically walked into a record store and bought a 45, just for the b-side. It became a “road trip tape standard” for years.

3. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Welcome To The Pleasuredome (including all intro sections) source: Welcome To The Pleasuredome (1984)

This is a bit of a cheat, because I’m including “Well…”, “The World Is My Oyster”, and “Snatch Of Fury (Stay)” in this (which the link above misses), as I consider them all intro sections of the song. This is a flat-out masterpiece. Ostensibly a dance track, it has so many different things going on, it defies any genre pigeonhole. A perfect example of the determination and perfectionism of Trevor Horn, one of my personal idols for his contributions to the world of studio production. Every note and sound in this work was clearly painstakingly created and placed. Particularly noteworthy are the insanely complex bassline, backwards hi-hat loops, various layers of field recordings, brilliant guitar effect work, and sound palette encompassing so many different types of sounds (I tried counting once, and got lost after 100 ). This song never fails to make me feel awake and alive, no matter how I’m feeling before I listen to it.

4. Front 242 – Headhunter V1.0 source: Front By Front (1988)

Hey, I just discovered while looking for a link that “COMA Music Magazine ranked “Headhunter” as the greatest industrial song of all time in 2012.” Well ok then! Yes, I have the 4 CD set that has nothing but remixes of this song. But Version 1.0 is where it all started for me, and I had already been a pretty big Front 242 fan for at least a couple years before it was released. The way they proved that the Yamaha DX-7 synth, a staple of 80s synth pop, could be tortured to produce some really harsh sounds directly informed my own FM synthesis creation process for years. As a DJ at the time, putting this track on and watching the entire dance floor go ballistic was always deeply satisfying. Even 10-15 years later, I would still occasionally be in a club when this got played, and clearly there are a lot of people who still remember (or freshly discover) how perfect this song is for jumping around like a maniac. Also, I think I may have suffered a little bit of permanent hearing damage watching them perform it live during the Reboot tour, one of the best concert experiences of my life.

5. Imagine – John Lennon source: Imagine (1971)

What can you say about the quintessential song about world peace? Yes, I remember exactly where I was on the night of December 8th, 1980, and it had a profound impact on me. I could write a whole separate essay on how it changed my perception of the adult world, and how I felt connected to the adults in my life at the time because they were all as shocked and devastated as I was. I still stop what I’m doing on that day every year, and spend some time listening to John Lennon. I’m a decent keyboard player, and a decent singer, but I’m rarely coordinated enough to do both at the same time with any success. This song is one notable exception. If I ever had to perform live by myself somewhere, this is probably the only song I’d feel confident I could do some justice to.