One of the comments I received was a statement that I did not include songs from some of my favourite artists. This is indeed true, although I unapologetically enjoy all the artists included in my top ten. Sometimes I find to many great songs by an artist, but in all honestly, despite my constant ravings about an artist, they do not meet my desire where I put the record on simply for this song or that. Most of the songs on this list, again, no more than one song per artist, are imbedded in great albums but with many great songs and the particular song rises to the top and always provides great feelings as I listen.
11) Safesurfer – Julian Cope from the album Peggy Suicide. This song is in the similar format as the song “No Trains To Heaven” by Be-Bop Deluxe. The lyrics are almost strictly another instrument to the music as except for the first spoken word part, they keep to a repeating chorus of – “You don’t have to be afraid, love, ‘Cause I’m a safesurfer, darlin’, You don’t have to be afraid, love, ‘Cause I’m a safesurfer, darlin'”. Over this chorus is the amazing guitar work of Julian Cope that is more than mesmerizing. Again, with my penchant for lead guitar, to me, the song sparkles. This long track, clocking in at over eight minutes begins with feedback guitar that morphs into the lead guitar melody of the song. It is not until well into the third minute of the song when the narrator provides his commentary, of what, I am not really sure, but when it comes to Julian Cope, does it really matter. There is an interesting patter of piano in behind the repeated chorus and as the last repetition of the chorus comes to its final breath, the keyboard comes streaming in and then upon the last line, the lead guitar explodes onto the scene and drives us to the musical climax.
12) Fascination Street – The Cure from the album Disintegration. When I first purchased this Cure album upon its release in 1989, I could not believe the progression of the Cure from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me to this superb album. Of course, I am a big Cure fan and that prior album had rarely left my CD player in the past year (good thing I had a five disc player), but Disintegration would replace it and become my go to album for many years. This album is awash in hits and this includes songs that were used for HP commercials (Pictures Of You) and songs that were copiously covered (Love Song). But, for me, the song that struck me immediately on the album was “Fascination Street”. The song on the album comes in at over five minutes, but I love the extended mix that came in a box set of singles which came on four CD’s. I have always enjoyed songs that have long intro’s and this song does not disappoint as the intro comes in a 2:18. Then Robert Smith takes over with his unmistakable vocals pressing the listener to take a journey to journey with him to fascination street. I once had a friend complain that Robert Smith always sang off key, but that is not an issue with him at all. It is his vocal stylings and the unique style that he brings to the bands’ music. The singing is not off key if it fits with the music. If all artists sang the same way, music would be very boring indeed. One of the things that makes pop/rock music so interesting is the different singing styles, from the high pitched wail of Brian Johnson or Bon Scott of AC/DC, the screaming of George Petit of Alexisonfire, to the clean singing of Dallas Green from the same band and City and Colour.
13) Grace, Too – The Tragically Hip from the album Day for Night. The Hip have been for over thirty years and despite their demise due to Gord Downie succumbing to cancer, they will continue to be one of my favourite bands. Their first six full length albums may be the finest set of first six albums since any band after the Beatles, my opinion of course. Their fourth, Day For Night and their sixth, Phantom Power stand out for me, but it is the radical sounds of Grace, Too that really sets the grade for great composition and performance. The simple drum beat followed by the incoming rhythm guitar and bass, then Rob Baker gives a gentle lead. Gord Downie slips into his role as narrator and seems to entice a friend to feel safe with his approaches. The great thing about the song is the vocals, as the backing vocals reiterate the statements made by the singer. The back and forth seems to be perfect and the music grinds its way as the main melodic theme. The lead guitar, though subtle, is captivating. When the band played this song during the final concert in Kingston, you could hear the passion in the screams that Downie emitted as he knew, well he just knew and it was killing him, no pun intended. Other great songs from this album include, well every one is great. The album Phantom Power also had two of my faves, “POETS” and “Fireworks”. If you are not familiar with the band, I assume all of my Canadian readers are familiar, but this is a band worth hearing. Although the bias of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will doubtless never recognize the Hip as HOF material, they are. They are the second finest band to ever emerge from Canada and they set the tone for hard rock leaning into ballads at one end and punk at the other.
14) Starless – King Crimson from the album Red. Well, it was meant to be, a return to the long songs and the anthemic plunderings of Robert Fripp and his crew. The song starts son beautifully with the mellotron building the song to go along with the lean guitar. Mel Collins on saxophone and Ian MacDonald on Alto saxophone. John Wetton sings the opening lyrics, which includes such great lines like “Starless and Bible Black” which always makes me think of a dark windowless room in a basement. the song trips through the song and arrives at the typical junction of a long King Crimson song as it starts to explore the louder and more intense rhythms of the prog rock that it intends to be. Coming in at over twelve minutes the song builds to a fury as it gets into its eighth minute. Mr. Fripp ploughs the guitar field as we start to enter the climactic final stage of the song with Bill Bruford pounding in his jazz-rock style accompanied by Mel Collins on sax. When I saw King Crimson in September of 2019, this song provided me with the climactic event of the concert. There is an awful lot going on in this song and this truly is a song that requires active listening, as the musical theme continues to present itself right to the triumphant end.
15) Space Oddity – David Bowie from the album David Bowie. David Bowie released an album in 1967 called David Bowie, so the this similarly titled album had the name Space Oddity added to it in 1972 differentiate it from the earlier album, but this was originally released in 1969. This song may be the most influential song in creating the music listener that I am today. Most of us are readily aware of the song. It was a hit in Canada before it gained popularity in the States. Whether this was a backlash from the general population due to the happiness that was being derived from the moon landing is something that can be debated. The song itself tells the symbolic story of an astronaut who is so blown away by what he is experiencing that he decides to make this his permanent and final journey. There has been considerable debate about what Bowie was trying to actually put across, is it alienation, is it depression at the thought he he has to face people because of his fame, or is it really about what the song is saying. I tend to see deeper meanings in the story and the idea of fame as an alienation appears to seem very understandable. The musicianship on this song is stellar. There is the constant feel of the mellotron, played by Rick Wakeman is so perfectly placed within the song and gives it a very spacey feel. Terry Cox of Pentangle fame played drums with Mick Wayne adding guitar and Herbie Flowers adding Bass. As the song reaches its climax, with ground control failing to contact the astronaut, the mellotron fixes space and time and slowly we fade away with the astronaut and feel the dream of floating. I had other choices that were high om my Bowie list including “Rock and Roll Suicide” from Ziggy Stardust, Station to Station from the album of the same name, the excellent final production of “Lazarus” Blackstar. The most interesting rocking runner up for me is “Black Country Rock” from the Man Who Sold the World.
16) The Ballad of the Night the Clocks All Quit (And the Government Failed) – Tonio K. from the album Life in the Foodchain. There may not be a better side of music for story telling than side one of this very interesting album. But, of course, this is the long song on the side, but it is a lyrical dynamo. The story tells the story of a group of friends who went on a adventure to watch as authoritarianism was coming down on top of society. This is a song that is all about the lyrics and steady rhythm that gets broken down near the end as the climax reaches for us. I have listened to this song so many times trying to completely understand what he is trying to say. There seems to be religious anti-theme as the supreme leader/being is watching the mayhem that is being brought upon the world, from the leading of destruction by the Austrian son (Hitler) and Attila the Hun. The USA does come away unscathed in this blistering attack as Uncle Sam gets name checked several times. In the end the boss (God) takes down the breeders of violence against society. It really is a shame that this is only a parable and violence continues in the world to this day. But Tonio K. wanted us to know that he abhors violence and built this lyrical track around the musings of ridding the world of war. He also seems to want to insist that behind all of the violence is religion and how it is part of the issues that cause war. There is a lot of hard drumming and slide guitar going on in the background, but as I stated this a song filled with intense imagery and the actual musical construct is not the main thing going on in the song.
17) Paradise/The Spell – Uriah Heep from the album Demons and Wizards. Back to my favourite song style, a long story in multiple parts. This another song that clocks in at over twelve minutes and it begins with a great strumming guitar from Mick Box. The bass and drums fill the background and give the song its mellow beginning. David Byron sings during the first part about a relationship that seems to be disintegrating. As we move into part two, the musical theme continues to drive the melody as the protagonist of the song seems to be talking and answering himself as he tries to decide where to go from here. He is looking for paradise, an ideal that may not even exist. The song transforms to a fast song mainly filled with the keyboard of Ken Hensley. This very melodic middle section implores the listener to believe that they can find happiness deep within as long as there is no pretending. But, it becomes a dark song, as we transition with the piano and guitar that bring the mood to a more bleak outlook. As the song moves into the second last transition, it brings the listener to a bleak place and out look, but all is not lost as we again transition to an up tempo section where we find that the protagonist can follow his heart which has been placed in a spell that may provide happiness as long as we follow our heart as our heart will be watching us. My interpretation is definitely out there for debate. But it is a great song in many parts with a strong melodic theme meandering around the different paces of the song. Other great songs from the Heep include “Bird of Prey” from their first album, “Rain” from Magician’s Birthday and “July Morning” from Look at Yourself.
18) La Villa Strangiato – Rush from the album Hemispheres. I think that Rush was the hardest band for me decide which song would make it to the top of my list. In the end, I decided that this astounding instrumental from Rush’s sixth album was the track that I appreciated the most. There are so many perfect musical themes running through this song. Rush also found this very complex song a struggle to play live, but they worked incessantly at it until it became perfection. The song has an incredible run of Spanish guitar to open it up before the guitar theme comes in along with the keyboards/synthesizers as it slowly builds along with the quiet drumming of Neil Peart. They slowly build along with the guitar to meet the main theme that pulls this song into a strong centre. Alex Lifeson gets his guitar into the melodic middle section solidly dragged along by Geddy Lee’s bass and the drum theme. The fact that the band could pull this off shows the kind of musicianship that exists with these three great artists. Rush would go the instrumental route several times in their career, and this track sets up the template for them. This song also compliments the album which only had three other songs, one of which I contemplated for this list, “Trees”. Lifeson has a great guitar theme for this song and the rhythm is astounding, as Geddy and Neil keep Alex honest in the over riding melody. Rush was one of the greatest musical outfits in my estimation. Many people are down on the band because they did not appreciate the style of singing by Geddy Lee, or because progressive rock which requires active listening is not their forte. If you are one of those who just don’t like Geddy’s voice, give this track a listen and you will appreciate the musicality of the band.
19) 2000 Light Years From Home – The Rolling Stones from Their Satanic Majesties Request. This was the first album I ever purchased and this song has always been a favourite of mine. I have actually owned this album four times as the first copy I had (Boy imagine a first pressing and how much it may be worth) I had to sell it to my babysitter, I was twelve and did not have enough money collected to pay paper route manager. However, this song is the second last on the side two of the record and starts with a very spacey feel. From what I have learned, this album took a long time to record. The band were not getting along well and Brian Jones made this album his pet project and when other members of the band would drop in from time to time, they would add their parts to the song. This song does not have a lot of similarities to other Stones” songs, but if you listen carefully, you can hear the makings of “Gimme Shelter”. There is some wonderful throaty guitar in the song as well lots of spacey sounds that back up the spacey nature of the song. There are other good songs on this album that is so far removed from their prior album, Between the Buttons and their subsequent album, Beggars Banquet. Songs like “She’s a Rainbow” which was recently featured on Ted Lasso. Also, “2000 Man” and “In Another Land”. As I had this longstanding grudge against the Stones, it did not allow me to see some of their other great songs until recently. I always liked “Gimme Shelter”, but I have to add “Sympathy For the Devil” and “Midnight Rambler” to the list of songs I admire by the Rolling Stones. I now give them adequate space in my collection and am able to readily listen to many of their seventies’ albums. However, do not play “Start Me Up” in my presence. To me, this is one of the worst and simplistic pieces of musical trash on the airwaves.
My good friend Doc, indicated to me that a top ten is difficult to contemplate, and asked about some bands that I omitted, but this is a list of songs that I deem to be essential for me and I do believe that of you may find a few of these as so obscure or unknown that it is hard for you to understand their ramifications to my musical life. But they are my choices and I do agree, there are so many songs that I love that this actually just scratches the surface. So with that being said, let me get to the last song on this ten song list, again only one song per artist, so here we go.
20) Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd from the album The Wall. I probably had as hard a time on deciding my Pink Floyd song. I originally put the song “Echoes” from the album Meddle, but as a lay in bed thinking about it, I knew I was wrong and had to change. “Echoes” is a wonderful piece of music, but for sheer musical perfection, nothing in the Pink Floyd catalogue really comes close to musical strength that this song provides. Clocking in at over six minutes, this powerful rock documentary seems to have very little to do with the main lyrical theme of the album, but that is fine as it stands alone as a great progressive rock tune. The lyrics, written by Roger Waters, were sung by both Roger and David Gilmour as the song also contains some of the best lead guitar solos ever performed. There are actually two solos, the last of which is the outro and is simply stunning in its musical perfection. This song is great to just lay about and enjoy on a mellow Sunday after noon played at high volume. Although many consider The Wall to be a masterpiece, I feel that without this song, it would simply be another concept album offering some good music, but nothing over the top, until you hear this song.
So there you go, another ten songs and some honourable mentions for you to either discover or have further appreciation for. I have more songs and bands to talk about, but I will go back and continue with my top three songs by artist from the ’80’s to the ’90’s. So many songs, so many decisions, but I am sure I can illuminate some other new music for you.