My birthday is Tuesday. So in honor of me this week’s column theme is… me.
That’s right, rather than picking five songs I like with a common theme, I’m just picking five songs I like. Not necessarily my five favorite songs, because that would be like asking Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to pick his five favorite children, but five of my favorite songs.
Except the first two. They’re my favorites.
Metallica — “One”
Yeah, this is my favorite song. Because it’s perfect.
The beginning is a great soulful, bluesy ballad. It’s a heart-wrenching retelling of the 1971 anti-war movie “Johnny Got His Gun,” which means it’s also got a message.
Then, at around 4:15, it starts to turn into the hardest metal song. The sort of song that can be hazardous to your health if you listen to it while driving or at the gym. And, when performed live, it’s a downright transcendental experience.
You should watch the video with the movie clips, and listen to the album version without. Several times.
Gordon Lightfoot — “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”
And this is my second-favorite song.
Originally commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1966 in celebration of Canada’s centennial, it was rerecorded in 1975 for Gord’s Gold. You see, when putting together the greatest hits album, he realized his pre-1970 output didn’t actually sound anything like his earlier stuff, so he just recorded new versions of the early stuff.
The result, my aforementioned second-favorite song, is far richer and more complex than the original. The orchestration gives it a cinematic depth befitting the historical epic, trilogy theme.
I listened to it twice while writing this entry. It doesn’t usually take 14 minutes to write one of these up but I kept getting distracted by how good the song is.
Devo — “Beautiful World”
This is where it gets murkier, since there’s dozens of songs essentially tied for third place and the rankings change minute-to-minute based on my mood and what other songs I’ve heard recently. So why not take the opportunity to shout out one of the most under-appreciated songs I love.
Everyone knows “Whip It” because it’s a good song with an especially weird video, but it’s not Devo’s best song. This, however, absolutely is. It perfectly balances on the line between upbeat and melancholy, mirroring America’s tendency to focus on the prosperity to hide the widespread suffering.
Look, I never said this list was gonna be cheerful. I like depressing songs too.
Fleetwood Mac — “The Chain”
I definitely wanted to include either “Landslide” or “The Chain,” and today I like “The Chain” more so it makes the list. Hopefully that holds out until the column runs.
The best track off Rumours, one of the best albums ever recorded despite the fact the entire band hated each other the whole time it was making it, it should be on any best songs list. If you don’t understand why, put on a good pair of headphones and listen to the whole song with your eyes closed and you’ll get it.
That’s not metaphorical. Do exactly that. Right now.
George Michael — “Careless Whisper”
In 1838 a time traveler from the distant future lands in Paris. Frantically she searches for the workshop of a Belgian musician who has been experimenting with new types of woodwind instruments. When she finally met Adolphe Sax she explained that she comes from a ruined future full of nothing but radiation and death, and that the calculations of their scientists say he and he alone can save the world. Then, her mission complete, she fades away.
Sax was startled by this but took his task very seriously. Assuming she must have meant that he invents a new instrument he creates the saxotromba, saxhorn, and saxtuba before finally achieving his life’s work in 1846, the horn to end all horns.
One hundred and thirty-eight years later a call comes in to a remote missile base in Siberia. Konstantin Chernenko, the leader of the Soviet Union, was facing economic ruin, military failures and an increasingly hostile United States. Fed up and desperate for a show of strength, he unilaterally ordered a nuclear strike.
Knowing the global destruction that would follow the men at the missile base hesitate. Should they follow orders, or should they save the world? Just then their radio picks up an unusually strong transmission. The song that plays is “Careless Whisper,” and the stirring saxophone solo convinces them that there’s beauty in the world that must be preserved.
And thus, the world is saved. Or I just made all that up. Either way it’s a great song.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.