Thursday, August 20, 2015

Top 200 Favorite Songs, Part 14

(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!)

Like a lot of people my age, the first time I ever heard Joni Mitchell was not while strumming a guitar or putting on a record, but instead while Emma Thompson cried.  Yes, my introduction to one of the most poignant and original female singers of the past century was through a cheesy British Rom-Com, but it might be the best way to realize something about Joni Mitchell.  In the film Emma Thompson's character, after realizing that her husband has cheated on her, goes into a room, shuts the door and communes with the only thing that makes sense, Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now."  At the time I had had that sort of experience with songs, specifically, but nothing quite like it with a specific artist, someone to go back to even on their non-hits and just collect all of their albums, as all of the music was something I wanted to be a part of-Love Actually opened my eyes in that regard, and one of the first artist's who got that sort of free pass was Joni Mitchell.  I started looking into not just her best-known work, but every song.  I had her albums playing throughout my dorm room, and I got to see her journey as an artist.  This started to translate over into film, into literature, into sculpture and painting; one of my favorite aspects of study in art, the concept of the "body of work" came about for me, something that would continue to fascinate me as I delved deeper into my artistic sensibilities.  And I have Joni Mitchell (and Emma Thompson) to thank for that.

70. "Stand By Your Man," Tammy Wynette (1968)

One might call it anti-feminist, but the slow drive toward those final notes is catnip for me (if we've learned anything from these write-ups it's that I'm a sucker for a slow crescendo on a song), and it catches its critics in the end with a reminder that "after all, he's just a man."  Tammy Wynette-always clever in her country.

69. "Silver Wings," Merle Haggard (1969)

The Okie from Muskogee has always been a bit of a perplexing situation for me.  Perhaps it's because my grandmother, the greatest champion in my life of classic country, couldn't stand Merle Haggard (though I'm convinced that's because she thought the name Merle was ridiculous), but I arrived very late to the Haggard train.  Still, this haunting song, fixed on his classic 1969 breakthrough, is one that everyone should try.

68. "Homeward Bound," Simon & Garfunkel (1966)

The folk duo's fourth entry in this list, "Homeward Bound" is a conundrum for me.  I didn't really like my hometown growing up, and had less-and-less nostalgia for it as I grew older, but there's still feelings that only that place of your origin can elicit, which Paul Simon so wonderfully finds in these heartfelt lyrics.  "Home, where my thought's escaping."

67. "Chain of Fools," Aretha Franklin (1967)

We kind of are on a late-60's role here.  Aretha Franklin's probably never had a song that just laid back, but the closest of her great hits that she ever came was "Chain of Fools," a cheeky look at a woman who is just one more notch in the bedpost in the life of a man who is just too addicting to let go-who can't relate to that?

66. "Delta Dawn," Tanya Tucker (1972)

"Delta Dawn" has been listened to me countless times, but I almost always (if I'm with someone else) will point out one of the best aspects of it, the best line in country music: "she's 41 and her daddy still calls her baby."  With that, Tanya Tucker paints as clear of a portrait of this woman as we were ever going to get.  Tucker may have been too young to understand "Delta Dawn" when she first sang it, but that didn't stop that vibrating voice from finding her truth.

65. "Colder Weather," Zac Brown Band (2010)

One of the newest songs on this list, the Zac Brown Band is definitely an act I've come to love in the past few years.  This song, with its lush melodies and poignant, aching lyrics is a wonderful counterbalance to the increasingly one-note "buds, trucks, and girls in jeans" pseudo-machismo of today's male country stars.

64. "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana (1991)

Kurt Cobain's moment in the sun was far too short, but this is a pretty impressive epigraph.  With lyrics that become more poetry than actual sentences and a raw, slurred voice on the front, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is about bursts of emotion, passion, and rebelliousness trying to get out through song.  You don't have to have been part of the punk scene to see why there was something so special here.

63. "Lady," Little River Band (1978)

Possibly the first time I ever learned what love was while listening to this song.  It wasn't because I was dreamily pining away for a crush.  No, this is the song I remember my dad, when it would come on the radio, whisking my mom away in our tiny little kitchen and dancing because it was "their song."  As a result, it will eternally have a special place in my heart.

62. "Blue," Joni Mitchell (1971)

"Blue, songs are like tattooes" is one of my favorite opening lines from a song.  Joni Mitchell's lyrics are so raw and personal it's hard to try to decipher them on paper, but they express themselves in the way that you are feeling, the way that you want to interpret them; she's more of a poet or bard than a singer, but with that haunting soprano I'm so glad she took on both tasks.

61. "He's a Rebel," The Crystals (although actually the Blossoms) (1962)

Phil Spector may be a horrible man and murderer, but it cannot be said that he didn't know music.  That incredible Spector "Wall of Sound" is on full-display in The Crystals' "He's a Rebel," where this group romanticizes in incredible harmony the man they want to be with (and look here for an explanation on the singer confusion).

And there you have it-did I catch some of your favorites (or perhaps a song you're unfamiliar with)?  Do you have any special memories with these songs?  And what is your own relationship with Joni Mitchell?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

If you've missed any of the past installments, go ahead and click: Part 123456789101112, 13

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