Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Top 200 Favorite Songs, Part 13

(If you're just tuning in, I'm doing a rundown of my Top 200 Favorite Songs-see the bottom of the page for previous entries and welcome!)

I remember the summer after I graduated from college my grandmother and I went to Washington DC.  My grandma and I have always been close, and I wanted her to see the Capitol for the first time.  While she adored stretching out her inner-history nerd in the Senate chambers and at the Lincoln Memorial and the Smithsonian, I was far more fascinated by a jazz bar that we had found.  Each night we'd go back to our hotel, legs tired from walking, and we'd have a drink while listening to a series of jazz musicians play.  It felt like one of those times where you don't think about the past or the future, but are caught up in a moment that you're going to remember.  I could never find jazz music that made me feel that same feeling, of living in an exact moment until the first time I heard Sarah Vaughan.  Vaughan, a singer with an impossibly large range (check out the video below for proof), always felt so clear and relevant in her songs.  I was moved by the way that she could find not only great singing but that performance aspect of her work; she's one of those singers that seems to always have been perfect live, and just sort of falling into the song.  Whitney Houston, David Bowie, Elton John-they're all mesmerizing and vibrant, but if I could choose any sort of one-night of great singing, I would happily take Sarah Vaughan, a martini, and a DC bar any day of the week.

80. "Then He Kissed Me," The Crystals (1963)

I remember that incredible scene in GoodFellas where Lorraine Bracco and Ray Liotta walk their way through a restaurant after they both admitted their mutual attraction to each other.  Admittedly the technical virtuoso of the scene (the extended tracking shot) was what made it famous, but it has to be said that The Crystals wonderfully sweet romanticizing of a kiss was the cherry on the sundae.

79. "Sweet Dreams," Patsy Cline (1963)

Many songs on these lists first came to me while watching a movie.  "Sweet Dreams," on the other hand, is perhaps the only song on the list I love because I wanted to put it in a movie.  Like any young film fan, I would write little synopses of films that I loved, and my favorite involved a young man looking through photos of his crush while listening to Patsy Cline's "Sweet Dreams."  To this day I picture that movie that doesn't exist every time that opening run starts to play.

78. "Your Song," Elton John (1970)

We're weirdly getting into the final heats here as even some many-time repeat offenders like Sir Elton are hitting the end of the road, as this is my favorite of the Rocket Man's ditties.  "Your Song" continues the theme of music from beloved films, but I liked this song long, long before Christian brought it to Satine-it's singular romance (this is your song) could not be denied by my hopeless dreamer.

77. "Dancing Barefoot," Patti Smith (1979)

And now for something completely different.  Patti Smith is lightening, something that you can never quite contain or explain, but just marvel toward.  Look at the words in this masterpiece: "she is benediction...makes me come on, like some heroin,"-it's intoxicating and wholly original.

76. "We've Got Tonite," Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band (1978)

My dad used to play "Old Time Rock and Roll," when we were really young and he would dance with my mom, brother, and I around our living room, knowing we were giddy over it.  As a result, Bob Seger has always been dear to me, and as I got older I became enchanted by his desolate ballads, perhaps none more elegant than this one for those who "don't need tomorrow."

75. "Georgia on My Mind," Ray Charles (1960)

Earlier on in this list we went through the official anthem of West Virginia, but now we head south for the Peach State.  Ray Charles melodic, soothing ode to not only Georgia but to a world that probably doesn't exist except in memory is sophisticated and maybe a little bit sappy, but whenever I hear it start to play it remains "moonlight through the pines."

74. "Send in the Clowns," Sarah Vaughan (1972)

Stephen Sondheim's song has such a simple register anyone can sing it, and boy have they (everyone from Glynis Johns to Elizabeth Taylor to Judi Dench to Catherine Zeta-Jones), but for me it's best with Sassy behind the microphone.  By the time Vaughan gets to her upper register toward the end of the song, you're just agog that anyone can sing so powerfully, so richly, and so damn high.

73. "Piano Man," Billy Joel (1973)

It has to be a pretty good song for the title to become your nickname despite dozens of hits throughout your career.  And yet that's the case with "Piano Man," Joel's lonelyhearts recollection of a bar where the waitress is "practicing politics."  "New York State of Mind" may have be more iconic, but for me this will always be Joel's finest tune.

72. "Wise Up," Aimee Mann (1999)

Here we have a rare instance where I unabashedly adore a song from a movie that I couldn't stand.  Yes, Paul Thomas Anderson and I have always been a bit hit-or-miss (though his later stuff has generally been more hit) but perhaps he'll never do something quite as good as bringing Aimee Mann's spare soundtrack for Magnolia into our lives.

71. "I'm Easy," Keith Carradine (1975)

We finish off with appropriately a song from arguably my favorite movie we've chronicled in this set.  Nashville is about as perfect as they come, and while it's a crime that the Academy didn't just fill Original Song to the brim with its music, I will say that they got the best song in the movie for the trophy.  Keith Carradine's sexy lothario and the way that he singles out to the one woman he actually wants is so beautiful, particularly when he does it by singing a song about her innermost self.

Another ten down-we're getting closer to the finish line!  Until we reach it, what are some of your favorite songs from the movies?  And do you have a favorite Sarah Vaughan performance?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

If you've missed any of the past installments, go ahead and click: Part 1234567891011, 12

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