As has been the case so far, my only rules for this subjectively greatest album of all-time are that each song must appear in its original album track position, and the same artist can’t appear twice.
Honourable mentions: Shangri-La – The Kinks, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright – Bob Dylan
The Kinks had two kinds of songs; the Beatles-esque pop songs about girls and life and their darker, scornful attacks on society. With Shangri-La they managed to achieve both – Ray Davies letting us decide if the statement, “you’ve reached your top and you just can’t get any higher” is meant as attaining perfection or admitting to the emptiness of life. It was one of The Kinks’ lesser-known songs as both the single, and its album, Arthur, were huge commercial failures.
Meanwhile, as is the case with many of Bob Dylan’s romance songs, Don’t Think Twice gives the otherwise stale genre a twist. Like The Kinks’ Shangi-La Dylan’s lyrics are dripping with false sentiments; underneath the veneer of aloofness from Dylan’s narrator is someone who knows their relationship was never going to last, and his titular line is there to appease himself as much as her.
Track 7: (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) – The Beastie Boys (Licensed To Ill, 1986)
Fight For Your Fight is perhaps up there with Born In The USA as the most misunderstood songs; it was original written as a parody of party songs in the vein of Twisted Sister’s I Wanna Rock or Motley Crue’s Smokin’ In The Boys Room, but has instead gone down in history as one of the definitive party rock anthems, with its arrogant cry of “you gotta fight… for your right… to paaaaarty!”
Along with No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn it’s one of the more rock-infused songs on the band’s debut album while still managing to capture the band’s iconic white-guy rapping sound.
Honourable mention: Where You Lead – Carole King, Silent Lucidity – Queensryche
Is there a better songwriter than Carole King? Probably, yes. But with Tapestry, King recorded one of the best pop albums of all time. Where You Lead, like the previous track on the album, You’ve Got A Friend (made famous by James Taylor’s version) covers the entirely wholesome topics of friendship and “being there,” but the former gets the nod for it’s superior lyrics and being perfectly epitomised in the greatest TV show of all-time – Gilmore Girls.
On the other end of the spectrum, heavy metal band Queensryche recorded Silent Lucidity, their take on the slow metal ballads that were popular in the 1980s with songs like Love Walked In and Dust In The Wind. The lyrics are surprisingly sophisticated, and the music more so; Brahm’s Lullaby is audible near the end of the song. It still manages a Kenny Loggins Top Gun-esque guitar solo, though.
But as good as either of these two songs are, neither of them can live up to:
Track 8: Jungleland – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (Born To Run, 1975)
I could’ve had Atlantic City at #2. I could’ve had Racing In The Street at #5, or indeed The River at #11. But I didn’t, I plumped for Jungleland. Why? There are no words to describe why this is not only the best Bruce Springsteen song, but perhaps the best song of all time.
There is only music.
Nine minutes of a haunting violin, delicate piano, rumbling vocals and a silky saxophone solo.
While Springsteen’s early work detailed life as a lower-class Jersey boy in all its adolescent charm he has since grown up, and Jungleland finally gives us the big-picture; an epic love ballad set amidst a gun fight in the suburbs of New Jersey, covering all the same themes – the obsession with cars, youth angst, fantasies of violence and struggling musicians.
A year in the recording, Springsteen shows us that he realised how lucky he was to have escaped a world of inner-city crime and reflects on how, had he not become a musician, this may well have been the life he would go on to lead. The lyrics are at times colloquial, at other times poetic, but you can listen to this song a hundred times and hear a different song every time. Along with his Nebraska howls and cries of “One, two, three, four!” right before the highways are jammed with broken heroes in Born To Run, Clarence Clemons two-and-a-half minute saxophone solo is up there with the greatest Springsteen moments. The lyrics aren’t bad either, Springsteen’s career, from struggling musician into icon, summed up beautifully in this passage:
Kids flash guitars just like switch blades,
Hustling for the record machine.
The hungry and the hunted
Explode into rock and roll bands
Honourable mentions: Sunday Girl – Blondie
While Parallel Lines might not be the most musically accomplished of albums, it’s one you can listen to time-and-time again without getting bored. With the exception of I Know But I Don’t Know, every song on the album is a classic, but Sunday Girl stands out as it verges closer to pop than rock, a territory in which I always preferred Blondie.
Track 9: April Come She Will – Simon & Garfunkel (Sounds Of Silence, 1965)
I’ve always preferred the lyrics of Homeward Bound, which I think is Simon & Garfunkel’s best song, but April Come She Will Comes close – not least because I find it synonymous with that sequence in The Graduate where Benjamin descends into adolescent languor.
April achieves the simple beauty that the nauseating Bridge Over Troubled Water lacks, while Sounds Of Silence and Mrs. Robinson have suffered from overplay (and Scarborough Fair has been ruined by Futurama’s Cylon & Garfunkel cover version).
Next time – the exciting conclusion! Tracks 10-12.