The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1990s – 110 to 101
110. “100%,” Sonic Youth. Songwriters: Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley.; Did Not Chart; 1992. On the early 1990’s albums “Goo” and “Dirty,” Sonic Youth started applying their massive guitar assault formula to more traditional rock band song structures. “100%,” a Modern Rock hit in the U.S. and a pop hit in the U.K., validated their approach, which still sounded aesthetically uncompromising. Rolling Stone, “Thurston Moore may be the one singing ‘100%,’ but its lyrics – which pay tribute to the band’s murdered friend Joe Cole and feature the immortal line ‘I’ve been around the world a million times and all you men are slime’ – were penned by Kim Gordon.” Rock critic Marc Masters, “For all the grimy riffs and gritty imagery (knife stabbings, gunshots to the head), ‘100’ sounds less like Mudhoney or Nirvana than a stoned, slo-mo version of a Ramones classic. Which makes it a Sonic Youth classic too– the band has always filtered its punk and post-punk heroes through avant-garde sounds, and as primal and rocking as ‘100%’ is, only these veteran era-straddlers could have made it sound so 90s, so 70s, and so timeless.”
109. “Violet,” Hole. Songwriters: Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson; Did Not Chart; 1995. Hole’s “Violet” is a winning combination of power chords, the infamous 1990’s soft/hard songwriting formula, and Courtney Love using her lungs like she’s leading a primal scream therapy session. Journalist Mark Richardson, “Courtney Love is living inside this song and we’re compelled to watch as she thrashes around and tries to break out.” Judy Berman of FlavorWire, “A mess of contradictions: it’s furious and pensive, sloppy and pointed, perfectly constructed to sound like utter chaos.” What more could you want from a rock ‘n’ roll song?
108. “My Hometown,” Charlie Robison. Songwriter: Charlie Robison; #65 country; 1998. Charlie Robison, the brother of singer/songwriter Bruce Robison and the former husband of Dixie Chick Emily Erwin, worked in Austin bands for several years and became a solo artist in the mid-1990s. His 1998 album “Life of the Party” includes “My Hometown,” an autobiographical look at Robison’s life, including his time as a college football player and life on the Austin and Nashville music scenes. Despite those dreams of fame, the narrator’s real goal is to get back to Bandera, Texas. Robison released five major label albums, but only scraped into the country Top 40 once, oddly enough with a cover of NRBQ’s power pop tune “I Want You Bad.” Robison on his major musical influence, “I grew up in South Texas, and I grew up on Doug Sahm. He was my guy because he could play the most traditional country song, then an amazing blues song followed by a conjunto tune and a German polka and do it all perfectly in one concert. I loved that stuff.”
107. “Santa Fe Thief,” Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Songwriter: A.B. Strehli, Jr.; Did Not Chart; 1993. After twenty plus years of recording, Jimmie Dale Gilmore had his first major label album with 1993’s “Spinning Around The Sun.” Artistically, he took the opportunity to relocate Elvis to West Texas with his cover of “I Was the One,” and included songs by his long time Lubbock associates Jo Carol Pierce and Harry Porter (“Reunion,” a duet with Lucinda Williams), Butch Hancock (the dismissive “Just the Wave, Not the Water”), and two selections from A. B. Strehli, Jr. (“So I’ll Run” and “Santa Fe Thief).” I have no idea what the lyrics to “Santa Fe Thief” might mean, but sonically and vocally, it’s one of the best representations of Gilmore’s beautiful, almost ghostly, cosmic Texas twang tenor sound. The “Rolling Stone Album Guide” correctly asserts that “Santa Fe Thief is “the finest marriage of song and voice in Gilmore’s career.
106. “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y),” Pete Rock & CL Smooth. Songwriters: Corey Penn, Peter Phillips; #58 pop/#10 R&B, 1992. “First off say peace to Pine Ridge”…wait, wait, wrong song. Pete Rock & CL Smooth was a collaboration between producer Peter Phillips (a.k.a. Pete Rock), who specialized is using obscure jazz and soul samples, often with horn driven hooks, and rapper Corey Penn (CL Smooth). Pete Rock used a bass and saxophone sample from Tom Scott’s 1967 cover of Jefferson’s Airplane’s “Today” for the hooks of “They Reminisce Over You.” Rock, “I had a friend of mine that passed away, and it was a shock to the community. I was kind of depressed when I made it. And to this day, I can’t believe I made it through, the way I was feeling. I guess it was for my boy. When I found the record by Tom Scott, basically I just heard something incredible that touched me and made me cry. It had such a beautiful bassline, and I started with that first. I found some other sounds and then heard some sax in there and used that. Next thing you know, I have a beautiful beat made. When I mixed the song down, I had Charlie Brown from Leaders of the New School in the session with me, and we all just started crying.” From the website Ambrosia for Heads, “C.L. Smooth’s buttery vocal, conversational flow, and songwriting from the heart resonated perfectly right alongside the samples and drum programming.” Rolling Stone, “CL Smooth spins a tribute to his fallen friend into a vivid celebration of family (literal and metaphorical) that’s as much free-roaming backyard-barbecue toast as somber funeral speech.” Also, that drum sound slams like a screen door hit by a twister.
105. “Evie’s Tears,” Freedy Johnston. Songwriter: Freedy Johnston; Did Not Chart; 1994. “Evie’s Tears” sounds like typical melodic guitar rock from a production standpoint, but the lyrics are positively heart wrenching. The song is about a woman who has been so traumatized after being sexually assaulted by a priest that she’s unable to have a normal relationship with a man. Saddest line ever – she “begs the moon to disappear.” Fellow ace songwriter Marshall Crenshaw provided 12 string backing support.
104. “Longview,” Green Day. Songwriters: Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, Tré Cool; Did Not Chart; 1994. This “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.” alternative rock hit was the first exposure to Green Day for mainstream audiences. Mike Dirnt on his bass line that carries the song, “When Billie gave me a shuffle beat for ‘Longview,’ I was frying on acid so hard. I was laying up against the wall with my bass lying on my lap. It just came to me. I said, ‘Billie, check this out. Isn’t this the wackiest thing you’ve ever heard?’ Later, it took me a long time to be able to play it, but it made sense when I was on drugs.” Armstrong, “It’s about boredom, and smoking dope.” Billboard, “’Longview’ proclaims the presence of each of its members one at a time — Tré Cool opening with those shuffling, popcorn drumbeats, Mike Dirnt strutting in with the instantly recognizable walking bass line and Billie Joe’s guitar and vocal sneer rising out of the minimalism into slacker catharsis. It’s a template for how the most basic rock band setup can use its simple parts to create a powerful whole.”
103. “Low,” Cracker. Songwriters: David Lowery, Johnny Hickman, Davey Faragher; #64 pop; 1993. Singer/songwriter David Lowery on hearing “Low” at professional baseball games, “That still freaks me out because we’re definitely the geek-band nerds, not jocks. But that’s what a hit song really is. It becomes less your song than a cultural artifact, a part of the social fabric that you no longer control. It’s kind of subversive, this song that rips off Baudelaire and romantic poets and ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ mixed together for some stoner-humor cultural artifact. Zooming way back, that’s probably a good outcome for the big picture.” Guitarist Johnny Hickman, “We were soundchecking in Portland, all a little bit hungover, and I was just making noise. I started looping that riff over and over, and David and Davy got up and started playing it, too. We kept playing until we had four chords and David asked the front-of-the-house guy to record it. I probably would have forgotten that riff if it had not been recorded.” The strangest place Hickman heard his Modern Rock hit? “I was going around to garage sales in Virginia Beach and came upon a teenage band playing it in a garage. So I walked up the driveway, smiling. One of them recognized me, put his guitar down and started apologizing. ‘Please don’t stop,’ I said. I walked in, got a guitar, and showed them the riff. ‘It’s three notes, simple, but you’ve gotta bend it right here.’”
102. “Tennessee,” Arrested Development. Songwriters: Todd Thomas, Aerle Taree; #6 pop/#1 R&B; 1992. The Atlanta based rap group Arrested Development mixed recognizable elements of hip hop, soul, and funk to help sell their Afrocentric progressive political message. “Tennessee” is about a spiritual journey with a haunted past: “Walk the roads my forefathers walked/Climb the trees my forefathers hung from.” Journalist Stacie Proefrock, “One of the most deeply personal and spiritual rap songs of all time, ‘Tennessee’ resonated with a sacred power that helped bring Arrested Development both commercial and critical success. Inspired by the closely timed deaths of leader Speech’s brother and grandmother, the song tells of a epiphany that Speech (born Todd Thomas) had where he came to understand that his ancestral home in Ripley, TN, held the keys to resolving his deep feelings of grief. Speech manages in the song to deal not only with his own sense of grounding and past, but weaves in the troubled history of African-Americans, showing a great sense of wisdom and understanding.” Speech in 2013,” Gangster hip-hop became a caricature of itself. Our music was a juxtaposition to that. It was life music. And we purposefully called it ‘life music’ for that reason.”
101. “(Gotta Get Some Action) Now!,” Hellacopters. Songwriters: Hellacopters; Did Not Chart; 1996. If you think Sweden is all about ABBA, IKEA, and meatballs, the Hellacopters will change that perception faster than a random riot. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a band that combines the spirit of classic rock and punk rock as well as the Swedish band the Hellacopters, who replicate the energy of the New York Dolls and the MC5 on “(Gotta Get Some Action) Now!” Eduardo Rivadavia of the All Music website, “’(Gotta Get Some Action) Now!’ is simply brilliant, roaring like a Harley down the highway, shredding eardrums along the way.” Also, there’s a nice opening quote about punks raising hell from the 1986 slasher flick “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.”