Tag Archives: Ranked

I’m outta here as soon as I fix the flux capacitor: The best of MF Doom

A storyteller whose couplet-by-couplet sequences conjure realities as bent as Julio Cortazar’s, the late Daniel Dumile was a world-class rapper and first-rate producer. Only RZA matches him in the fluency with which he weaves musique concrète and samples of Fantastic Four and other cultural detritus. And as with other garrulous musicians like The Minutemen distinguishing songs from textures and attitudes is a mug’s game. You may not be able to tell the difference between tarragon and thyme at a good restaurant, but you’ll remember how rich the chicken tasted. Continue reading

Ranking #14 singles, U.S. edition: 1974-1978

Although I join the crowd in dying to hear what Donny Osmond covering “Are You Lonesome Tonight” sounds like, it’s worth remembering the song made famous by Elvis’ committed cover was less than fifteen years old. Like Bryan Ferry, Donny and his handlers already saw pop as pop standards. Oh — and it sucks. One day, should I continue to peak behind the nicotine-stained curtains of Nixon-era pop, I must assess the Osmonds. Why did their songs suck? Imprisoned by handlers who courted the parents of pop-buying kids and those kids, Donny and Marie released variety show renditions of songs they would help make standards or new material so dangerous in their vanilla levels that I wonder if their handlers had the Jackson 5 in mind — a white Jackson 5, a law and order Jackson 5. Beside them the Carpenters were subversive, and, yeah, they kinda were: Karen embodied a yearning so pure and confident that it chills rather than reassures. A compliment, by the way. Continue reading

Ranking #17 singles, U.S. edition: 1978-82

I can praise Boz Scaggs’ pre-Avalon peak, or submit two paragraphs on Evelyn King’s “Love Come Down,” one of the sharpest of post-disco singles because it goes ALL. THE WAY. DOWN; but Steve Martin got this high on the top forty with a valentine to DISCO TUT.

I will, however, well on Billy Joel, who might own #17: three hits, surpassed only in 1983 with a long residence of one of his most poignant singles (tune in tomorrow!). My least favorite is more contemptuous of women than any veiled Dylan blandishment.

The discovery? Greg Guidry’s intense simulation of Doobie Brother’s worried-beard mania.

The Hague

Chris Thompson and Night – If You Remember Me
Kansas – Play the Game Tonight
Art Garfunkel with James Taylor and Paul Simon – Wonderful World
Cliff Richard – A Little in Love

Meh

Billy Joel – She’s Always a Woman
Poco – Crazy Love
Asia – Only Time Will Tell
Santana – Winning
Neil Diamond – September Morn
Paul Davis – Sweet Love
Survivor – American Heartbeat

Sound, Solid

Steve Martin and the Toot Uncommons – King Tut
Greg Guidry – Goin’ Down
Kool and the Gang – Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It)
Billy Joel – Say Goodbye to Hollywood
Gerry Rafferty – Days Gone Down (Still Got the Light in Your Eyes)
Electric Light Orchestra – Sweet Talkin’ Woman
France Joli – Come to Me
Kenny Loggins with Steve Perry – Can’t Fight It

Good to Great

Evelyn King – Love Come Down
Boz Scaggs – Jojo
John Cougar – Ain’t Even Done with the Night
Billy Squier – The Stroke
Billy Joel – Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
Quincy Jones Featuring James Ingram – Just Once
Pat Benatar – Fire and Ice
The Atlanta Rhythm Section – Spooky

Ranking #19 singles, U.S. edition: 1982-1986

My second favorite .38 Special churn, Diana Ross’ Daryl Hall-Arthur Baker-assisted tuneful twaddle, and the only Fixx single to mean something besides semi-attractive syllables stretched like chewing gum over post-Rodgers rhythm guitar — imagine their former client Tina Turner covering it, and I’m not joking.

The Hague

Howard Jones – Life in One Day
REO Speedwagon – One Lonely Night

Meh

Julio Iglesias & Diana Ross – All of You
The Outfield – All the Love in the World
Journey – Still They Ride
Air Supply – Just As I Am
Michael Martin Murphey – What’s Forever For

Sound, Solid

James Ingram (with Michael McDonald) – Yah Mo Be There
Night Ranger – Four in the Morning (I Can’t Take Any More)
ELO – Rock ‘n’ Roll is King
Karla Bonoff – Personally

Good to Great

The Pretenders – Middle of the Road
.38 Special – If I’d Been the One
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – (Forever) Live and Die
Diana Ross – Swept Away
John Cougar – Hand to Hold On To
Timbuk 3 – The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades
The Fixx – Secret Separation

Ranking #30 singles, U.S. edition: 1978-1981

How could the best song be anything other than A LOVELY DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYY, the first version of which I heard on The Bodyguard soundtrack when a Clivilles-Cole-produced girl group called The S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M released a splendid house version that added to Bill Withers’ millions? But a few tunes on his rundown I didn’t know. David Gates of Bread — what a word combination! — had a solo career. Eddie Rabbit wrote a song for Clint Eastwood’s forgotten blockbuster about a cop’s friendship with a chimp. His song “Goodbye Girl” appeared in the execrable 1977https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzazgG-y7uM Oscar winner. I knew the name “John ‘Moon’ Martin” and his Robert Palmer associations, but not the terrific new wave-adjacent “Rolene,” nor had I heard The Rockets’ cover of Fleetwood Mac’s cover of Peter Green-era chestnut “Oh Well.” Continue reading

Ranking #15 singles, U.S. edition: 1972-1975

Imagine choosing between Zep, ABBA, and The Four Tops — different levels of hysteria and cultural ubiquity. David Bowie makes his first American top 40 appearance competing with John Denver and Bread, the latter of whom are responsible for a concentration on mush so severe that I wonder if David Gates could’ve worked with Quaker Oats.

The Hague

Pete Wingfield – Eighteen with a Bullet
B.J. Thomas – Rock and Roll Lullaby

Meh

Cheech and Chong – Basketball Jones
Bread – Aubrey
Lamont Dozier – Trying to Hold on to My Woman
The Honey Cone – One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show
Mac Davis – Rock ‘n’ Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life)
Bread – Diary
Paul Anka with Odia Coates – I Believe There’s Nothing Stronger Than Our Love

Sound, Solid

The Doobie Brothers – China Grove
Daniel Boone – Beautiful Sunday
The Rolling Stones – Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)
Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods – Who Do You Think You Are
George Harrison – Dark Horse
Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes – Bad Luck
Johnnie Taylor – Cheaper to Keep Her
Leon Haywood – I Wanna Do Something a Little Freaky with You

Good to Great

ABBA – SOS
The Four Tops – Are You Man Enough?
Led Zeppelin – Black Dog
David Bowie – Space Oddity
War – Me and Baby Brother
The Spinners – Love Don’t Need Love
Charlie Rich – Behind Closed Doors
Ohio Players – Funky Worm
The Jackson 5 – I Am Love (Parts 1 & 2)
Helen Reddy – Keep On Singing

Ranking #20 singles, U.S. edition: 1978-1982

Listening to “Without Your Love,” I wondered what Roger Daltrey singing “When I Wanted You” or “Ships” might’ve sounded like, or, better, Barry Manilow singing “Who Are You,” ranked so high because the production shows forethought; it stomps, not clomps. Once I abandoned these fetid environs, which almost included Paul McCartney and Billy Joel’s clomping-not-stomping attempts at ola nueva (note to Paul: the Damned or whoever would not use “salamander” as a rhyme in their “angular” recordings, though Wire might’ve [or might]), I took no-brains-required pleasure from the somnolent stylings of Poco and, wow, one of REO Speedwagon’s few listenable songs because it harnessed itself to the same Happy Days nostalgia but without Jeff Lynne’s synths and harmonies addling them up. Continue reading

Ranking #14 singles, U.S. edition: 1988-1991

Here’s a song at my top 40 peak I don’t remember, like, at all: Hispanic triplets, seeing, I guess, a novelty tot their status during peak Poppy Bush Interzone, released a single that sounds like Wilson Phillips playing Nelson songs. This may excite some of my readers.

I’d rather spend time on the good tunes. The longevity of Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere,” especially in the late ’00s when it popped up at rooftop parties Balearicized and ready to go, still impresses me, as does Erasure’s most endearing, uh, straight love song. One of Coog’s freshest singles sneaks in a line about a guy telling his best friend that he loves him. “Dressed for Success,” the only Roxette before 1991’s say-goodnight-folks “Spending My Time” not to peak at #1 or #2, offers the same enticingly tuned guitar as “The Look” with a call-and-response vocal from Per Gessle and the late Marie Fredriksson celebrating — what, paisley ties? At least “Dangerous” offered the line YER MOUTH IS ALIVE. Let me praise two freestyle classics: Sweet Sensation’s flamenco-flavored “Sincerely Yours” and Cuban-American rapper Mellow Man Ace offering a PG-rated “Poison”; the latter went gold and rated in 1990’s year-end countdown, so it mattered in this pre-Soundscan era. Mañana otra cosa.

The Hague

Glenn Frey – True Love
U2 – Angel of Harlem
Nelson – More Than Ever

Meh

Icehouse – Crazy
Anita Baker – Just Because
Kyper – Tic-Tac-Toe
Tony Terry – With You
Triplets – You Don’t Have to Go Home Tonight

Sound, Solid

Sweet Sensation & Romeo J. – Sincerely Yours
Mellow Man Ace – Mentirosa
Pebbles – Love Makes Things Happen
Lisa Stansfield – You Can’t Deny It
Roxette – Dressed for Success
Keith Sweat – Make You Sweat
Natalie Cole & Nat King Cole – Unforgettable
Cher – We All Sleep Alone
Brenda K. Starr – I Still Believe

Good to Great

Fleetwood Mac – Everywhere
Soho – Hippychick
John Cougar Mellencamp – Check It Out
Erasure – A Little Respect
The Belle Stars – Iko Iko
Babyface – Tender Lover
The Rembrandts – Just the Way It Is, Baby

Ranking #14 singles, U.S. edition: 1983-1986

Although I wouldn’t place it in my top hundred of the decade, “Digging Your Scene” has gained poignancy over the years. Thanks to thwhack-drums and Dr. Robert’s wide-eyed vocal, this #14 hit is one of the few queer-friendly songs to land on the American charts — a chronicle about loving gay life by a straight ally even if I misheard ‘I’d like a permanent friend’ as ‘I need a bourbon and friend’ for years, yet it still works. I’d next hear them covering “You Don’t Own Me” on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, striking the only — the necessary — queer note on that blockbuster album.

I love these #13s because they look beyond their ken, from the yachting exercise of “Rio” to Peter Schilling’s reminder of why Bowie seduced a generation of boys and girls. Still not lost in a coke fog, Stevie Nicks replaced Lindsey Buckingham’s guitars with a Maginot Line of synths protecting her from love. Jackson Browne found a (mild) sense of humor. On the eww end, GTR burned a candle for the AOR of 1981 and Simple Minds snuffed the candle on what made them interesting. I mean, Glenn Frey’s proto-Miami Vice script and Eurythmics’ offensive AOR incursion survive. Continue reading

Ranking the singers in “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

Friends know I’m not a fan of this tinselly twaddle. The “feed the world” chorus boasts Kool & the Gang, Jody Watley, and Bananarama — didn’t Midge Ure and Bob Geldof give’em a line or two? At least USA For Africa’s “We Are the World” included women and people of color, most of whom understood basic pitch. I guess Simon Le Bon stands in front of a mike, but does that string of gargled, squeaked syllables constitute singing? At least he could make his own gibberish into something resembling sense (Sting, standing beside him, looks as if he’s locked in a room with mustard gas). Disappointed God didn’t make him Placido Domingo, Tony Hadley pours syrup ‘n’ gravy over his two lines as if his inner ham wasn’t enough. By contrast George Michael pulls off overstatement as naturally as breathing.

Continue reading

Ranking ‘Songs in the Key of Life’

The culmination of a remarkable hit streak, Songs in the Key of Life coalesced Stevie Wonder’s vaporous one-world banalities and funk touchstones in a double-album-plus that became a world-conquering smash. It’s not his best album, nor the album to which you’d introduce a skeptic, but the space allows him occupancy of certain corners of black American life in the Carter era. A world-historic singer-instrumentalist had to offer tracks as loose-grooved as “Black Man” and “Joy Inside My Tears,” both of which acted as summa for twenty years of advances and as tombstones for thirty years of stasis. Pieces like “Sir Duke” don’t get beached on their nostalgia, nor do talks with God get obnoxious; only the instrumentals do.

If these rankings rankle, know that I recoil from insistent joy (“Isn’t She Lovely”).

Meh

Isn’t She Lovely
Ebony Eyes
Contusion
Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call)
Summer Soft
If It’s Magic

Sound, Solid

Another Star
Love’s in Need of Love Today
Ordinary Pain
All Day Sucker
Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing
Have a Talk with God
Pasttime Paradise

Good to Great

I Wish
Black Man
Joy Inside My Tears
As
Knocks Me Off My Feet
Sir Duke
Saturn