Top Five Songs ... 07.01.2020
DFM Masthead Disenfranchised FM Cuckoo's Eleven Top Five Songs Armchair Producer Music MD Tin Cans Scratch Take Life and Times Input


Damn it. I was doing so well ... six straight months of posting my top five song themes on time, and then everything went to Hell. Well, not really. Or not at first, at least.

In May of last year, I took a job at a different company. That's not where things went to Hell - so far, so good - but it did make for a busy first few months. Before I knew it, July had blown by, so I decided best to pick up where I left off, in July of the next year.

Damn it! Nobody expected a year like this: a shooting at my company placed team members in lock-down, only to have a pandemic a few weeks later flip our lives upside down. Over the last nineteen weeks, my better half and I have struggled with what so many of us have: taking care of the kids, standing in as educators, adhering to quarantine guidelines ... all while trying to work. It's odd to look back at how rapidly these changes took place: in March, we waited in denial before reaching acceptance and cancelling our spring break trip. We thought this would be over in a hot minute, watching New York struggle to to flatten its curve and thinking, "at least everywhere else will learn from this and avoid the same mistakes." Eighteen weeks, a murder hornet scare, and approximately 90,000 dishwasher cycles later, I'm convinced we're all living an entire season of Black Mirror.

DAMN IT. Ahmaud Abery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Rayshard Brooks. What's sickening is these names just scratch the surface of what goes on all day, every day, for years, decades, centuries. I've listened to people of color - my co-workers, teammates, and friends - share how they navigate institutional racism on a daily basis, and how they adapt their behavior for activities that should be as ordinary as going for a jog, taking out the trash, or running to catch up to their significant other. Companies talk about bringing your whole self to work, but are we saying that because it's trending, or do we really mean it? And how can we expect our co-workers to bring their whole selves to work, when so much of their lives involve adapting their behaviors to avoid conflict in acts as arbitrary as changing lanes?

I'm ready to turn the page on all of the craziness, but I don't want to lose my experiences and lessons. And [clears throat] in these uncertain times, talking about music seems downright trivial. I hope you'll grant me some latitude to talk about music, though, because we need it more than ever. It's math to some, poetry to others, but above all else: it's expression, it's hope, it's love. And damn it, we need all three of those in massive quantities right now. Let's move on to the flip side.

Does "see you on the flip side" have meaning anymore? As far as listening goes, probably not (unless you're rocking the hipster pretentious, "vinyl is just warmer" vibe. I used to find the idea of flipping a record over to continue music annoying and archaic. I've since grown to appreciate the symbolism: something was created, and for better or worse, there's a blank slate of opportunity on the opposite side; to leave it untouched would be unforgivable. The second side will never fully separate from its twin but carries its own story. As soon as we think of albums as playlists or tracks, we lose the magic. So what are the songs which artists had the audacity to place on the back side of their albums?

Or ... should we instead think about the top five songs released as b-sides, the extra oomph to make the consumer feel like it was worth buying the single? Not only am I maintaining my exile of all Beatles and Stones songs, but I'm also excluding all double-a-side releases. There's no sense arguing about which Paul or John single is better (there is, actually, but we'll get there eventually). To be among the best b-sides, the track has to surpass its counterpart in artistry, popularity, or importance. Maybe that's the better approach for the flip side?

You know what? Fuck it. This month is a double issue. Let's do this.

Top Five Songs

Side Two, Track One


NUMBER FIVE: Stevie Wonder - "Higher Ground" [1973]

NUMBER FIVE: Booker T and the MGs - "Green Onions" [1962]

"World, keep on turning / 'cause it won't be too long."

Whenever I've played this record, I've defaulted to playing this side first. It wasn't until much later that I realized I had been playing the sides in reverse order. Now that's a sign or a great side two, track one. If you can't hear the Hohner clavinet while reading this, I'm not sure we can be friends..

You know you've got a killer b-side when the record company releases it three months later as an a-side.

NUMBER FOUR: Led Zeppelin - "Misty Mountain Hop" [1971]

NUMBER FOUR: Them - "Gloria" [1964]

"Walking in the park just the other day, baby / What do you, what do you think I saw?"

"She make ya feel so good, Lord / She make ya feel all right."

It's entirely unfair to ask any song to follow "Stairway to Heaven," even if on the flip side. I guess I'm a lover of the Hohner sound, because the opening notes on the Electra really kick side two into high gear.

It's hard to believe that a song covered so many times was itself a b-side to a cover. Never a hit on the UK charts, but it's now on most lists for greatest rock and roll songs ever recorded.

NUMBER THREE: The Beach Boys - "God Only Knows" [1966]

NUMBER THREE: The Beach Boys - "God Only Knows" [1966]

"I may not always love you."

"If you should ever leave me."

How great is it that a song can open up with a lyric like this and be considered one of the greatest love songs of all time? To think that Pet Sounds' vocal harmonies were recorded on eight track is mind-boggling. This is an album full of great tracks, so to place it as the top track on side two feels perfect.

And how great is it that a song can follow-up the first verse with a second verse like this? A song so great, we might as well consider rewriting history and labeling "Wouldn't It Be Nice" as its b-side.

NUMBER TWO: Prince - "When Doves Cry" [1984]

NUMBER TWO: Ritchie Valens - "La Bamba" [1958]

"How can you just leave me standing / Alone in a world so cold?"

"Se necesita una poca de gracia."

There's no way that Purple Rain could start with any other song than "Let's Go Crazy". And yet, Doves was the first single off the album. The opening guitar riff is a reminder of how Prince is likely the most underrated guitarist of our time.

Before it inspired a movie (and a terrible Don McLean song). Before we learned the lyrics in Spanish class. And certainly before "Macarena" or "Gangham Style", this Spanish folk song was paired with a teen-love ballad. If you don't remember that the name of that song was "Donna", that's the point.

NUMBER ONE: Bruce Springsteen - "Born to Run" [1975]

NUMBER ONE: Pearl Jam - "Yellow Ledbetter" [1992]

"But I gotta find out how it feels / I want to know if love is wild, babe / I want to know if love is real."

"Make me cry."

Only The Boss would have the guts to place the title track in the middle of the record, but that's also a tribute to how strong Born to Run is. Also: New Jersey legislature briefly considered selecting it as the state song. Nothing says how much you love your state like, "Oh, baby this town rips the bones from your back / It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap." Unintentional comedy gold.

Released as a b-side to "Jeremy" and later as a live version b-side to "Daughter" - two songs arguably their greatest commercial success - there is no plausible explanation why Yellow Ledbetter is their greatest song. Perhaps it's due to scarcity, released a decade before stealing and streaming ushered in an era of musical omnipresence. Perhaps it was the perfect time to drop a guitar riff so heavily influenced by "Little Wing" without sounding like a complete rip-off. Or perhaps it's due to the mystique behind the lyrics, recorded before sites like Genius crowd-sourced definitive interpretations. Whatever the case may be, it's perfect and I love it.

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