The beginning of every CD, the start of every tape – before things could be easily arranged digitally, music was served for consumption in a specific order. Whether it was LP or cassette tape or compact disc – the first song off the first side of an album was meant to set the tone for the rest of the aural experience. It usually didn’t work out that way, because by putting the good songs in the middle of a side it forced you to listen to the not as good ones from the beginning and end.
This is my favorite Top 5 list from High Fidelity, and since it captures the spirit of beginnings I thought it only appropriate that it be my first list of the new year. To make my task easier, I’ll stick with albums that I currently own. Before I get into mine, let me remind you of how Rob voted:
With the exception of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” I enjoy all of the songs on his list. None of them are on my list, however. I ignored songs that come from albums that I think suffer as whole as well, or that don’t feel like they fit with the rest of the album, because I think part of the criteria for inclusion should be a high-quality introduction for a high-quality whole.
1. “Boys Don’t Cry” – Boys Don’t Cry – The Cure
I would say I’m sorry if I thought that it would change your mind, but I know that this time I’ve said too much. How could I, in good conscious, put a Cure song at the top of a list like this?
Because it’s a great fucking song off of a great fucking album. I don’t care if Robert Smith is gloomy-Gus or you think that song from The Crow was the last good thing they did – lists like this aren’t objective. I love this song and I played this tape until it broke, then I went and bought another one and played it until I bought the CD. Having an argument about whether they are good or not now, or still relevant, or when they quit being relevant or when they quit being good is ridiculous because this album was fucking gold.
Boys Don’t Cry, the album, was a repackaging of The Cure’s first release at home, Three Imaginary Boys. Robert Smith was disappointed in the first, so five songs were dropped and replaced for the US release, resulting in a tighter album that really showcased who The Cure was before they dropped into the morose, goth/alternative rock that would go on to define their career.
2. “Finest Worksong” – Document – R.E.M.
There are many who would skewer me for saying this, but I’ll say it anyway – remember when R.E.M. was amazing? Not when they were legendary but mediocre hard workers with a spectacular past, but when they were spectacular as all get out right here in the now?
I still have trouble remembering that time, too, but I can always remember by just putting in Document and letting it play. Finest Worksong is one of R.E.M.’s greatest songs, on one of the best albums of their collection.
3. “Out There” – Where You Been? – Dinosaur Jr.
I’m so ignorant of how instruments work I couldn’t tell you what J. Mascis does to his guitar to make it sound the way it does five minutes after you’re done explaining it to me in detail, with graphs and pie charts and a projector. I do know that I like it, which is surprising because I usually loathe it when people mess with their instruments. A lot of people I know loathe the way this sounds, but I could care less because I like it. A lot.
This was the first Dinosaur Jr. album I owned, I think, even though I listened to Whatever’s Cool With Me whenever I was in my buddy’s car. Way back then we didn’t have some streamin’ download automatically type thing, so we built our collections one hard plastic case at a time. It shouldn’t have taken me so long to actually purchase on of their albums considering how much I liked them, but Where You Been? was a great first choice and to this day when ever I hear his guitar kick in at the beginning of the song I smile inside because I know how much joy there is to follow.
4. “It’s Over” – Tails – Lisa Loeb
The reason the mid-90s was filled with solo female pop artists competing for coveted spots on the charts wasn’t because everyone went and saw Reality Bites and Singles and decided Lisa Loeb and Juliana Hatfield were amazing because they were on the soundtrack, it was due to the fact that the mid-90s was when the recording industry decided to open the floodgate (having seen Lisa Loeb kick it in) to these talented young women.
“It’s Over” makes my Top 5 because it’s a quintessential song of the times – in style, substance and everything else. And it bookends an amazing album with “Stay (I Missed You)”, a song that immortalized Lisa Loeb in music history.
5. “No Introduction” – Life Is Good – NAS
Ever since I got this CD, this song has been one of my favorites and merely hearing it makes me want to listen to the whole album. That’s exactly what a first song should do, so even though it doesn’t have nearly the nostalgic value that the other songs and albums on the list do, it has a play count on my playlist that backs up the choice.
This is a new album, but from the introduction of this all the way through the last beat of the last track, new musicians of any genre should pay attention to the sheer craftsmanship used to create this gem.
Some honorable mentions I considered adding to the list, in alphabetical order: 10,000 Maniacs – “Eat For Two” – Blind Man’s Zoo | Ani Difranco – “Both Hands” – Ani Difranco | Buddy Guy – “Done Got Old” – Sweet Tea | Concrete Blonde – “Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man” – Walking In London | Counting Crows – “Round Here” – August and Everything After | Cracker – “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” – Cracker | Fugazi – “Waiting Room” – 13 Songs | Ingrid Michaelson – “Be OK” – Be OK | Lenka – “The Show” – Lenka | Slow Club – “When I Go” – Yeah, So | The Sundays – “I Feel” – Blind | The Sundays – “Summertime” – Static & Silence | Tori Amos – “Pretty Good Year” – Under The Pink | The Unicorns – “I Don’t Want To Die” – Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?