150 Favorite Songs, #141: Kiss, Scout Niblett feat. Will Oldham
That feeling of wondering whether something you remember is remembered the same way by the other person who was there, and whether this song that seems like it was written precisely to accompany that memory, only a few years later, might remind them of the same thing and evoke the same fuzzy antiquated feelings that hang out in a box in the secret attic part of your brain.
This fool can die now
With a heart that’s soaked
150 Favorite Songs, #143: Not The Girl You Think You Are, Crowded House
A boy I didn’t know put this song on a tape for me and sent it in the mail. Everything I feel about this song is an oxymoron: I find it very pretty, but incredibly discomforting. I relate to it intensely but I have no idea how to explain exactly what it’s about. I think it is optimistic, but it makes me incredibly sad. I guess that’s just the way things go.
Come on, believe you have one in a million.
150 Favorite Songs, #144: Take Off That Dress For Me, Micah P. Hinson
I miss you already, boys with southern drawls.
150 Favorite Songs, #145: I Want You To Hurt Like I Do, Randy Newman
It blows my mind that a lot of my peers think Randy Newman is just a goofy old dude who wrote the songs in Toy Story. I grew up listening to Newman constantly. From Marie to Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear to Sail Away, Newman is one of the most empathetic, funny, heartbreaking, smart songwriters in history. I love this song because it’s one part winkingly clever and one big part incredibly sad and incredibly truthful. I think that “misery loves company” is the truest truism ever to true, and this song takes that idea to its natural extreme with a story of a father abandoning his family and explaining that he just wanted them to feel as bad as he always has. Honest I do, honest I do, honest I do.
150 Favorite Songs, #146: She’s An Angel, They Might Be Giants
They Might Be Giants’ third studio album was Flood, a masterpiece from beginning to end. It came out in 1990, when I was eight. If I remember correctly, my mom heard it on NPR, bought the cassette, and I promptly claimed it as an eternal favorite. I brought Particle Man to a third grade P.E. class where everyone was supposed to bring their favorite dance song. Of course, everyone else brought, like, New Kids On The Block, and (of course) no one danced to Particle Man (because 1. who are They Might Be Giants?! 2. I was a weirdo and 3. even I have no idea why I thought anyone could dance to that song), so my teacher thought I was fucking with her and made me dance to it by myself.
It was a few years later when I went to go see my first show ever — a double whammy of geekiness because it was They Might Be Giants AND I went with my D.C. dialup “internet” friends from the BBS I frequented, International House of Kumquats. When I went to the show, I’m pretty sure I was still wearing out my copy of Flood and had barely scratched the surface of earlier and later TMBG. But hearing songs like Ana Ng live convinced me that I needed to dive headfirst into the entire discography of my then favorite band.
So I did, and She’s An Angel became my favorite song of the entire TMBG oeuvre pretty much as soon as I heard it. This song summarizes everything great about this band: Yes, it’s funny, quirky, and surreal. It’s also poignant, self-effacing, and romantic. TMBG actually does bittersweet love songs very well — on Flood, there’s Lucky Ball and Chain, an uptempo diddy about a long-suffering wife walking out and leaving her husband realizing how much he took her for granted. That song is cute on a casual listen; if you focus on the words it may actually make you cry.
She’s An Angel is another hard-hitter from a band that most people think just sings songs for kids. She’s An Angel is Side A Track 1 for a mix tape I’ve been building in my head for a decade that’s comprised of all the songs I ever wished were written by/about/for me. She’s An Angel is one of the most romantic songs my thirteen-year-old self had ever heard, and it’s also one of the most romantic songs my thirty-year-old self has ever heard.
The story of the song is: Boy meets girl at a dog show. Boy and girl fall in love at first sight. Boy and girl "race up and down the sidewalk twenty thousand million times." Boy realizes girl is an actual angel. Like, a real angel. Boy panics. "These things happen to other people. They don’t happen at all, in fact." Boy tries to visit God to talk about it. God is too busy. "When you’re following an angel does it mean you have to throw your body off a building?"
If anyone ever wants to call in to the radio station and dedicate it to me, I will marry them on. the. spot.
150 Favorite Songs, #147: Designs On You, Old 97’s
"I don’t mean to get you all worked up. Except secretly I do."
This fucking song. I’ve watched a lot of movies that romanticize adultery, and I’ve read a lot of books that romantize adultery, and I’ve seen TV shows that — you get the idea. But there is not a single thing in the world that makes betraying someone you love sound more singularly appealing and fun and sexy and sweet and NBD than Rhett Miller singing about it. Obviously, in real life, it doesn’t work out like this song at all. I’ve known dozens people who have (what’s the verb? adulterated? adultercized? adulted? okay, fine,) betrayed and/or been betrayed… And it is decidedly never as awesome as this song makes it seem like it could be. Not even close.
But when I first heard this song, I was nineteen and I guess I hadn’t really figured all that stuff out yet. My first boyfriend was about to break up with me because he liked other girls more, and this drawly little lust letter sounded to me like exactly what I needed someone to whisper in my ear, sweeping me away to a fantasy-land where everything is bitey-kisses and pretty dresses and faux-ccidental footsie and the good kind of secrets that don’t actually ever hurt anyone.
"I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have designs on you."
150 Favorite Songs, #148: He’s Got The Power, The Exciters
I first heard this song on a Girl Groups box set (one of the best presents I’ve ever received) and it stuck in my mind ever since as one of the most irresistible movers and shakers I’ve ever heard. It’s painful to listen to this song while sitting at a desk because all I want to do is jump up and start kicking my legs around and shrugging my shoulders and shimmying and clapping and twirling and smiling. It’s the very best of the Sunday Sock Hop. It’s got the power, the power of dancin’ over me.
150 Favorite Songs, #149: Prodigal Daughter, Michelle Shocked
This album came out in 1992, when I was ten years old. My parents listened to it (and all Michelle Shocked) a whole lot, but the only song that really got stuck in my consciousness was this one. The story of the “prodigal daughter,” pregnant by some version of the celebrated prodigal son, “bringing such shame to the family name” while her male counterpart is thrown a party. It aludes to the “Cotton Eyed Joe” as a synonym for the prodigal son, and then segues into a rousing fiddle version of the classic tune.
Sure, it’s a simplistic way to talk about gender inequality, but for a kid it was incredibly effective and affecting. I am pretty sure that contemplating this song was the very first time I really thought about feminism. It served as a kind of Aesop’s Fable for double standards, and I remember thinking, while listening to it, “I will never put up with this.” Thanks, Michelle!
150 Favorite Songs, #150: Thinking Of A Dream I Had, The Walkmen.
And when you’re coming around you’ll be sorry for the things you said.
I think sharing music with someone — listening to songs together, making tapes, going to shows, and even just talking about your favorite songs — is probably the second most intimate thing two people can share, and the most important, for me, when it comes to memory. When I look back on former relationships and closest friendships, the first thing that comes to mind in pretty much every case is “what music did we share together?” I’ve loved The Walkmen for almost ten years, but in my memories they now live very firmly five years ago, when I decided to forego adulthood for awhile and spent an entire summer eating boxes of sugar cookies, wrestling, and talking about superheroes. We listened to The Walkmen in his shitty car, saw The Walkmen play and shook our heads violently around, and we would sit in the almost-completely-unfurnished apartment he lived in listening to songs like “Thinking Of A Dream I Had,” staring at the ground, probably both thinking about other people a lot of the time. It was the only relationship (and later, friendship) I ever had where the other person seemed as aware of music’s place in our legacy as I was, and the music we listened to together felt very intentional, as if we both knew that we were creating a story for our brains to tell us later, and we wanted it to be sure it was a good one. We listened to My Bloody Valentine, Explosions In The Sky, Dinosaur Jr, Gillian Welch, Neil Young— things that were romantic and pretty and cryptic and much, much deeper than our relationship really was. But even though we did it on purpose, this song still makes me think of a dream I had.
Maybe you’re right.