6. Fall Back – Big L w/ Kool G Rap
I believe in conscious hip-hop, and I could listen to Talib Kweli , Common or Pharoah Monche for hours. But sometimes you eat food that you know is bad for you, and sometimes you listen to stuff that is less than enlightened. Big L was the pre-Jay-Z, and on any other song his verse would have been great, but Kool G Rap EXPLODES on this song. I don’t know if he didn’t take his medicine, if someone cut him off in traffic, I don’t know what happened, but this is verbal viciousness. If I was going to explain to someone what hip-hop was, this would be one of the songs I pick.
Side story, I’m playing this in the car with my wife who had never heard it before. She always gets quiet for a long time before she gives me a classic line. The song ends and it turns out she really likes it. I didn’t expect her to go for gangster rap, so I asked her why.
“The horns make the song sound happy,” she said. “I think this is a happy song.”
- Everything is Free – the Holmes Brothers
Gillian Welch wrote this song as a quiet, introspective, almost sulky acoustic piece about file sharing. The Holmes Brothers somehow make the same song a celebration. They animate it, like they do everything else. Drummer Popsy Dixon has one of the greatest voices I’ve ever heard, and here he is at his best. The last two minutes is a virtual clinic on vocal fills. But me saying that is a cop out. It’s a beautiful song, sung wonderfully.
- House of Jealous Lovers – The Rapture
The first time I heard House of Jealous Lovers, I was listening to college radio, and I almost crashed my car. I’d never heard anything like it. Rock is a lot of things, but up to that point, I’d never thought of it as danceable. Echoes is a great album, with surprising versatility, but there is a rollicking section in the middle that few albums have matched, and House of Jealous Lovers is the best of the lot. At some point on the island, I figure there will be a party (mostly delirium from drinking poorly filtered salt water) and this song needs to be playing.
Sad footnote, for some reason, producers listened to this band and their propulsive rhythm section, and decided to minimize them in favor of Luke Jenner’s wailing vocals. The Rapture quickly went from exciting to irrelevant. It was a terrible miscalculation.
- How Does it Feel? (Untitled) – D’Angelo
This is a really sexy song, but lots of songs are sexy. Untitled is bigger than that. It’s hard to listen to the radio and find any echoes of the rawness of the great soul singers like Otis Redding or Teddy Pendergrass. It’s not to say that there aren’t good singers out there, but with modern production, among other factors, what we have out there isn’t that gritty.
D’Angelo captured lightening in a bottle. The entire album is great, and it sounds like a living room jam. But Untitled is a masterpiece, a slow build until its exit when D’Angelo for the first time in his recorded career just lets loose with a primal scream, and the song ends with him absolutely giving everything he has, until it cuts off abruptly, almost embarrassed. I know the video was infamous at the time, but it was the song that was naked.
10. Search and Destroy – Iggy and the Stooges
Sometimes stuff has to get punched. It’s an ugly truth. And you need music to punch stuff to. Like if we were on the island, and maybe on the other side of the island there was cannibals, or pirates or Ron Paul supporters and we had to defend against them, you play this song. And someone gets punched.
Insane Iggy vocals, one of the greatest codas in the history of anything, the raw guitar sound I haven’t heard on records since maybe the early 80’s, and an outro that’s so intense, that the silence after the track (and before ‘Penetration’) is almost a relief.