Friday, July 21, 2006

Best Songs Ever, Anyone?

I'm thinking (to let you in on how deep we teachers think and meditate during our summer breaks) that there are two classes of greatest songs. First, there's the type of song where it doesn't matter who covers it, who sings / belts / screeches it out, it still grabs you by the collar and makes you hum / sing /belt / screech it out alongside - as best you can. Heck, even after Michael Bolton tries to steal it, you move along and that song still screams to you, "Sing me. You know you want to." Second, there is the type of song that was produced and performed in such an incredible way that it left an indelible imprint in your mind that the performance cannot be duplicated or excavated. No one, not even Frankie himself coming out of the grave with coolness (and flesh) intact could trump it.

Now here's my challenge. What are some of those commonly agreed upon songs. Following is a short list of my own; tell me what you think (add, subtract, come up with your own, etc.).

Of the first order:

1) Be My Baby (originally by the Ronettes) Check it out on iTunes; There's tons of less-talented singers, arrangers and all sorts that covered this classic. But the foundation was already laid in those larger-than-life drums that laid down the foundation for the Wall-of-Sound, that it's hard for someone to mess up in re-recording the song. Of course, no one else could sound like Veronica Spector (not Brian Wilson nor Joey Ramone even), but you can't blame 'em for trying.

2) In Your Eyes (Peter Gabriel) I've heard this in coffee shops sung and strummed by fairly competent players and just dropped my breath. Obviously, it gets me every-stinkin'-time. And since my fiancee has the largest, most beautiful eyes this side of anime cartoons, this is one even Bolton can try and fail to mess up. I could go on in my life without ever hearing his version, but still...

3) Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper) In a fruteria I heard this performed on the spanish radio. Sang right along, well, with the chorus - when I could figure it out. Sang along to this chorus with many people of many cultures and colors many times. Heck, sing along. I dare you not to. "If you're lost, you can look and you will find me / Time after time / If you fall, I will catch you, I will be waiting / Time after time." What is it about this ditty that keeps tugging at the heart?

Of the second order:

1) Good Vibrations (the single done by the Brian Wilson-led Beach Boys) I know Wilson tried to redo it on his SMiLES album. No. No good. I just don't think anybody this side of God himself could top this version of this song.
2) A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like) (The inimitable but never duplicable Aretha Franklin) Actually, probably just about anything put out by this woman in the mid-60s through the 70s (including covers of well-known hits, like "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" and some Beatles songs) is probably a gimme on this list. But this song sticks out to me, for whatever reason. Heck, I think it makes me feel like a natural woman.3) You Are My Sunshine (No version even comes close to Ray Charles'.) "Ray
Charles does country?" People were also upset about Dylan doing country, but much like him, Charles never belonged to a subset, genre or particular pocket. However, Bob's the songwriter everybody else made famous, Ray's the dam*ed genius, unfolding for the world what Cash, Haggard, Nelson and Williams (the eldest) had been resigned to the underground for - the soulfulness of country music. God rest 'em all.


  1. You need to hear the JEffrey Gaines version of In Your Eyes, just him on his guitar and his raspy voice. It is awesome. Cyndi Lauper just did an acoustic version of time after time. Quite beautiful.

  2. yeah, i heard my share of acoustic versions of those two songs, and they always delight me. which is rare.

    thanks for hitting me up, cubicle reverend.

  3. Wow. How to even narrow it down. There are probably 20 Beatles songs that could go on the list, if not more. All Along the Watchtower. Stairway to Heaven.

    Hmmm, that's all that come to mind this early in the morning.

  4. which list, though?

    i would assume that hendrix's version of 'all along the watchtower' would go on that second list (though i probably prefer his version of 'voodoo chile' over any other, incl. one done by a famous texan).

    'stairway', on the other hand, has never left an indelible mark on me. i wouldn't even recognize it if i heard it today.

  5. With the Beatles it would probably depend on the song. There are a lot of great Beatles covers floating around. I came across a podcast of all Beatles covers the other day, in fact. I love Over the Rhine's version of Blackbird. But some of their songs (Day in the Life, etc.) need no covers.

    Hendrix undoubtedly does the definitive All Along the Watchtower cover, with Dave Matthews Band in second place. I'm pretty sure I actually heard their versions long before I ever heard the original.

    I like Stairway. I've never heard it covered. Might be interesting to hear someone's elses take.

  6. bluegrass beatles, i'm telling you...

    i haven't heard DMB's take of any dylan song, but there's no doubt that hendrix - with his howling gospel vocals, his frentic and frenzied fretwork - drenched in reverb, the military-like percussion as funneled through rhythm&blues&rock&roll, the reworking of the whole song in such a way that dylan had to change his version. yeah, pure genius. much better than u2's version, which was largely a retread.

    but i still like 'voodo chile' better. that'd go on my list for performance, although i think any decent performer could cover it decently. i think it's that type of song.

  7. Sigh. I'm gonna have to go to the library and pick up some Hendrix albums now.

    All Along the Watchtower is a DMB live staple. I'm too lazy to check, but it's probably on a lot of their live CDs. I seem to remember Waterdeep doing a cover of that song, too, but I don't really remember what it sounds like.


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