Wow! It is so much easier to make a list like this when the decade in question is nearly 20 years in our collective rearview mirror. In the pre-blog, pre-internet days, I would make these lists for my eyes only. Two things would happen. One, with the music fresh in my mind, I would make emotional choices for songs that would not stand the test of time (Anybody remember the Bus Boys? They used to be all over my ’80s lists). And two, I would not have heard all the music on my lists. Back then, we would have to buy the records or hope a local radio station would play a particular song. Now, with streaming, one can access nearly any song he or she wishes to hear. So, I am no longer dependent upon a critic’s opinion.
Now, I have heard every song in my countdown. Additionally, I worked on these countdowns, one after another until I had them complete. By doing so, I noticed that my lists were strong up to and including the Nineties. After that, the lists are weaker. It’s not the music’s fault. No, I simply believe less music is being released at this time. And, because of that, the public latches on to a song for longer periods of time. Think about how much terrestrial radio STILL plays Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” from five years ago or “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon that is a couple of years old now. In the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, thousands of cases of music were being pushed out for consumers throughout the world. Now, since Napster was unleashed, the music industry has kept only proven moneymakers, and then hope their young bands can score one monster hit in order to keep that artist around. Otherwise, the artist is cut loose. The industry has no time for artistic development. All you can do is hope that an independent band can quietly develop, then have its first couple of hits on an independent label before the companies swoop in and steal the nearly finished product.
It will be interesting to see how music develops. Bono once said in a late-Eighties interview that when kids finally tired of electronics, that the kids would be turning to acoustic instruments. Are we beginning to witness that, with the rise of Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers? Or, was that simply a passing fad, not unlike the Swing Revival of the late-Nineties? I do not know. Then again, maybe we will find out in couple of years. Regardless, it will be interesting to listen to the change. Personally, I continue to hold out to how things develop.
Today, in the countdown, we venture into the Top 30 of my list. As Casey Kasem used to say, “The numbers get smaller, and the hits get bigger. Now, on with the countdown.” Here we go…
21. Beck – “Loser” (1994). Here it is, the song that was considered Gen X’s anthem. At the time, our generation was considered to be slackers, when we were much more than how the Boomers defined us. When Beck released this song, it was yet another statement of our collective disaffection with society. We embraced the “Loser” label and ran with it.
22. R.E.M. – “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” (1992). This is the song that R.E.M. never understood its appeal to the fans. It could have been a huge hit for the band if they had simply released the song as a single. The song’s genius lies in the lyrics’ cut-and-paste layout.
23. Phish – “Bouncing Around the Room (live)” (1995). The heir-apparent to the Grateful Dead, who had a hit single in 1987, had their own fluke hit with this buoyant song that the band perversely leaves this song out of their setlists more times than not.
24. Green Day – “Longview” (1994). Okay, after what I said what I said about “Loser”, up comes this ode to slacking off. But, who didn’t slack off around the house while in their twenties? But, this song is full of humor that breaks through the cliches of a generation.
25. Jane’s Addiction – “Been Caught Stealing” (1990). On Jane’s first album, critics were calling them an alternative version of Led Zeppelin. Since they were a punk band at heart, they were more than Zeppelin. Yes, they knew the blues, except they were much more succinct and not as “jammy”. “Been Caught Stealing” was their punk song that had arguably the strangest low-budget video ever.
26. The Verve – “Bitter Sweet Symphony” (1997). This is one of the finest Britpop songs ever. It is also the song that was involved one of biggest screw jobs ever in rock history. The song has a sample from a Rolling Stones song, which was owned by sleazy rock attorney Allen Klein. Check out the story online. I thought we had heard the last of him in the Seventies. You just can’t keep a bad sleaze down. Still, this song is fantastic, and the band, not some parasite, should be reaping the benefit of writing a timeless song.
27. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds with Polly Harvey – “Henry Lee” (1996). A beautifully dark vision of love between the literary genius of Nick Cave with a female counter-point from guest Polly Harvey of the band PJ Harvey. Cave’s music has a Gothic beauty to it, but when Harvey sings, the song transcends the time-space continuum.
28. Paul Westerberg – “Dyslexic Heart” (1992). The former Replacements leader hit a homer with his first solo single that was brilliantly included on the classic soundtrack to the Gen X movie Singles. You can tell from the song who was responsible for the Replacements’ sound.
29. Stone Temple Pilots – “Plush” (1992). Sure, STP had the ability to sound like any alternative band from Pearl Jam to R.E.M. Still, the band was original enough to add their own sound to the grunge sound that was so popular at the time. This song has become one of their classics.
30. Jamiroquai – “Virtual Insanity” (1997). This English band was lead by a singer who sounded very much like Stevie Wonder. What better way than for an alternative band to be in touch with its “soul”. Plus, the video was mind-blowing.
Well, there you have it! We are ready for the Top 20. So, hang on people! The end of this countdown is near.