Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Decade of Music That Will Change Your Life (or at least your Attitude)

Just like that, a decade has passed.
Come on. seriously.  Did it really seem like 10 years?
From Napster to Friendster to MySpace to FaceBook.
We ran the gamut from targets to victims to aggressors to…targets.
A lot of year-in-reviews are calling it an average decade. The technology curve
was cool, but everything else…meh.   Meh?  Did I really just use that word?
First and last time. Promise. I think it was a fine decade.  And at least it ended the way it
began, with the Yankees hoisting the World Championship Trophy.

To quote my good friend Michael Waddington, the best way to look back on the highs, the lows, and the in-betweens is through music.  There are myriad lists out there. Decades’ Best Albums!  Best singles of the 2000’s!  The beauty of music is that there is so damn much of it.  And for as many new artists as I discovered in the ‘aughts,  I spent nearly as much time with old, comfortable friends on my iPod.  Joni. Shostakovich. ‘TraneOl’ Blue Eyes. The Crows.

But, nonetheless, lists are what we do to recap years, and groups of years.  While I do not claim this list to be definitive in any way…they are the songs that, looking back, I remember most from this last ten years.  Some are definitely Life Changers. Some fall a bit short. But hey, that’s what pop is all about. Sometimes it sucks, yet it sticks.

Have fun listening to these tracks.  And feel free to add your own. That is, after all, what lists are for.

Bonne Annee. Feliz Ano Nuevo.  Happy New Year, y’all.


20. Jerry Jeff Walker “Texas On My Mind”
    My relationship with country music has endured most of my life. It began at age 7, when I got a cool looking transistor radio for Christmas.  The AM stations came in the clearest.  AM 670 in Chicago was WMAQ , all country, and the occasional White Sox broadcast.  So I cut my musical teeth on Crystal Gayle, Mac Davis, Eddie Rabbitt, George Jones, Waylon, Willie, and Merle.  In later years, I dug John Michael Montgomery, Alan Jackson, Chesney, and Diamond Rio..but had to keep it on the down-low. The missus didn’t like the twang. She’s come around, fortunately.  And this ballad reminds me of old Country songs.  Plus, it was written by Jerry Jeff’s son, Django.
The old dog shows the young buck how it’s done.  Love the art/life parallel, in that it's become one of Alec's absolute favorite songs in the world, too.  Generation Gap? Nah.  Pop a cold Shiner Bock and emote.
If your eyes get misty, just pull your cowboy hat down a bit, son.

19. Randy Newman “ A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country”
     So apropos of this decade.  The master satirist delivers more of his trademark social commentary.  “Now the leaders we have/While they’re the worst that we’ve had/Are hardly the worst this poor world has seen”  I’m surprised that Fox News hasn’t blackballed ol’ Randy for lyrics like  “The end of an empire is messy at best/And this empire is ending/Like all the rest”

18. Arctic Monkeys “ Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor”
   Contender for band of the decade. At least in the top ten.  A sassy, fun, romp.
And sometimes in life, you just gotta shake it.

17. Norah Jones “Don’t Know Why”
      I always joke about having “discovered” Norah and Dido.  And the fact that a song is
overplayed does not make it a bad song.  It just makes it far too familiar.  The lilting piano, and her smoky voice always takes me back to the bar at the Old Town Ale House.
It’s 2 am.  You have things to do tomorrow. Just  a few more songs on that great old jukebox…and before you know it, the wine has turned to glue.

16. Bill Murray “More Than This”
     Just making sure you’re paying attention.  More a movie moment than a song, but
Murray’s karaoke rendition of the Roxy Music chestnut is so pitch-perfect for his character. His entire performance is one of my favorites of all time, and this moment defines this film.  The legend is that Bill stayed awake for three straight days before filming this scene, to perfect the raspy, up-all-nite-and-half-in-the-bag tone.  The aging film star shows his self awareness for just a moment while grabbing the mic – “This is hard”…but soon he is swept up in the newness of the moment with Scarlett Johannson, and he reminds us that, truly, there is nothing…more than this.

15. Dixie Chicks “Easy Silence”
     Produced by rock master Rick Rubin, this song may be the most underrated Chicks song of all.  Touching lyrics, sparse guitar, and strings.   You had me at hello, Natalie.
Especially when you sing “Children lose their youth too soon/Watching war made us immune/I’ve got all the world to lose/But I just want to hold on to the/Easy Silence that you make for me/It’s ok when there’s nothing more to say to me”  Most great love songs are about unrequeited love...but this is the rare song about being IN love and it being reciprocated that stays with you, that sums up a long, constant, comfortable relationship, and the crazy state of this country at the time. If you haven’t seen SHUT UP AND SING yet, shut off the Glenn Beck and go watch it.
Then we can talk.
14. Rihanna “Umbrella”
   With apologies to Beyonce and Shakira and Missy and Pink, this is the definitive dancey chick tune of the decade to me.  Ella, ella, eh, eh… 

13. Justin Timberlake “Like I Love You”
    I wanted so badly to hate this album by the former N*Sync idol.  But it was so damned good.  Awesome production, flawless vocals, and this song takes me back to holiday time at Gap Michigan Avenue, holiday shoppers dancing on the stairs while my friend and former White Sox cameraman Andy Lock shot them with a wireless camera, which we projected on giant screens in the store windows.  We had a ball that weekend, and never stopped laughing. And, just before the parade started, snow began to fall.  Andy passed away, sadly and unexpectedly, in 2008. doing what he loved – preparing to shoot a White Sox game.  Sail on, Andy Lock. You are missed.

12. Modest Mouse “Float On”
   How much Talking Heads did these guys listen to growing up? Seriously? I always am
intrigued at the songs that filter down to our children. One of my favorite moments of 2004 was waiting in line at a Starbucks in Manhattan, observing a four or five year old little boy, totally into it, full-body in his snowsuit, singing the chorus of this song.  Love the clip, I miss Craig Kilborn almost daily. Craiggers..where have you gone? Miss you, pal. Mean it. Proud.

11. Coldplay “Fix You”
    I remember sitting on the beach in South Haven somewhere on the thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning with Michael Waddington and listening to this track
and looking at the full moon and when it ended, he said, “ that just doesn’t happen, man”.
Which is so true. Coldplay may be well-packaged and a Huge Worldwide Band but Chris Martin just slays me when he writes lines like “ignite your bones”.  Reminds me of car trips with NiCole and Chloe.

10. Stars “Your Ex Lover is Dead”
      When there's nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire...The ultimate F.YOU! song.  Hell hath no fury like a spurned lover. Especially when you bump into each other unexpectedly.
“And all of the time you thought I was sad/I was trying to remember your name.”

9. Lady GaGa “ The Fame”
      Just when we stopped calling up and comers “ the new Madonna”, along comes the new Madonna.  Are you wondering what happened to all the rockstars?  It’s simple…
The Fame Killed Them.

8. Jay Z & Danger Mouse “99 Problems”
    Inane. Profane.  And a guitar loop that embeds itself in your brain. As I get older, each year it feels harder and harder…there’s just too much….stuff.  I can relate to Hova, as lately I feel like I've got a few people tryin' to make sure my casket's closed...Luckily, though I got 99 problems, but bein’ a bitch ain’t one. Hit me!

7. Amy Winehouse “Love Is A Losing Game”
   Yes, she’s a mess.  But the girl can SING.  Underrated track, at least in this country.
Breathtaking production.  If you’ve had your heart broken, pour a nice tumbler of Johnnie Walker Blue, look out the window at the city lights, and wallow in the pain.  Just for a little while.  Get ‘em next time, champ. Awesome live version HERE.

6. Duffy “Warwick Avenue”
   Played back to back with the Winehouse track, this is a one-two punch for cocktail hour. I listened to this song 1,232 consecutive times last summer, and never tired of it.
And, the Chlo-Bug does a mean rendition of it, too.  Love love love it.

5. R. Kelly “Ignition (Remix)"
   So much about this track is so genius that you forget for a second how controversial
Kelly is.  And while it sure looked like him in that video, I’ve also learned that, so often,
the media gets it wrong.  Besides, if we start delving into everyone’s personal lives, we lose all of our popstars, atheletes, politicians, and neighbors.  What are we left with then?
“It’s the freakin’ weekend, Baby, I’m about to have me some fun!  Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounce…”

4. Dido “White Flag”
    I am an old romantic and a sentimental sucker for ballads sung by chicks with guitars.
It goes back to being 12 years old and obsessed with Joni Mitchell’s BLUE album which I discovered under my dad’s stacks of Beatles, Motown, and Olivia Newton-John records. This song makes stalking sound so…romantic.  And her voice…it’s like, New Orleans, Marie Laveau-style haunting. Seriously haunting.  I discovered Dido here in America and am so glad to have brought her to so many of you.  For real. LOL.  And when Trader Vic's closed for good in the wee hours of New Years' morning in 2006, after rushing there just past midnight after work for the last Suffering Bastard at my favorite watering hole and lingering at the bar, far too long, trying to hang on to that last night there, I went upstairs, got in the car, and this song was playing on the radio, and I could definitely relate to going down with the ship, to lost love... There's a new Trader's now. But I'm sure it ain't the same.  It never is, is it?
3. Kanye West “Flashing Lights”
     Artist of the decade? How about the century? Does anyone get that he’s in character? Will the real Kanye West please stand up?  How can his lyrics be so insightful, so sensitive one moment and so danceable…so….DOPE the next?  Was hard to keep TOUCH THE SKY and  CHAMPION and HEARD ‘EM SAY off this list, but this track just makes you want to move.  Slowly. And very close to someone else. And the social commentary…”She don’t believe in shootin’ stars/but she believes in shoes and cars.” The version he did on STORYTELLERS was great, too.
and resulted in one of my favorite quotes of the decade…”I apologize for actin’ like a bitch at awards shows…but come on, they’re AWARDS SHOWS.”

2. Phoenix “If I Ever Feel Better”
    French. Poppy. Fun.  So many reasons to hate this band.  You could interchange 1901 or LISZTOMANIA here, but this track is so 2000’s to me.  Sing about pharmaceuticals and daily affirmations.  A dance track the generation can relate to. And it sounds incredible at full volume, top-down in a rented SL500, cruising through the Hollywood Hills. Depression has never been so danceable.

1. Jay Z featuring Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind”
  It’s not just because I wish I lived in Neeeeeew Yoooooooooork.  It’s not just because it was the soundtrack to the Yankees’ march to the pinnacle of the Fall Classic.  The production, the vocal bridge and chorus, the classic Jay-Z spittle….it just….works.
It gets in your brain.  It doesn’t go away.  I picture myself at the bar atop the Peninsula Hotel on Fifth Avenue, out on the patio despite the winter weather, bourbon in one hand, both hands in the air. This is New Yooooooooooooooork…

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