Sunday, November 16, 2014

10 of My "Favorite" Things: ABBA to John Lennon

What's your favorite song by [insert popular band/singer] here?

As ice-breaking music-related questions go, I actually like that one more than my long-time standard: What are your Top 3 favorite bands/singers of all-time. For one thing, I tend to find the specifics of someone's taste (favorite songs, movies, cities, etc.) to be far more revealing than more general preferences (favorite singers, actors, countries, etc.).

An example: When I recently posed my Top 3 question to someone, his inclusion of Prince didn't say nearly as much about him as when he later named Purple Rain as his all-time favorite movie. His cool cred suddenly skyrocketed.

For another thing, as long as you stick to popular artists with massive discographies, everyone is likely to have an opinion.

Or so it seems every time my Facebook friend Dan J Kroll poses another "$2.99/gallon KROLLSTION" (that's Kroll + question). His latest one was Lionel Richie themed. To make things more interesting, Dan allowed Richie songs, tunes by his old band, The Commodores, and Richie compositions for other artists, like Kenny Rogers' No. 1 smash "Lady".

My picks: "Zoom" (The Commodores), "Love Will Conquer All" (solo) and "We Are the World" (songwriting -- but mainly for the Ray Charles parts). Had I been able to pick from songs that Richie produced but didn't write, Rogers' "I Don't Need You" would have been my one and only choice. I may not love it quite as much as I do "Lucille" or "Love Or Something Like It," but at this very moment, I'd rather listen to "I Don't Need You" than anything Richie ever wrote or sang, with or without The Commodores.

Inspired by the Lionel Richie-themed KROLLSTION, I've decided to do a mix-tape blog post featuring my favorite songs by 10 of my favorite bands/singers, A to J.

How can I possibly choose one song when there are so many great ones by each act? I think of it this way: If I were on my death bed, and I was told that I could hear one song only by each act before I die, which track would it be? A morbid thought, yes, but at least I'd kick the bucket with a kick-ass soundtrack.

ABBA: "When All Is Said and Done" On a different day, it very well could be "Waterloo" or "Take a Chance on Me" or "Voulez-Vous". But on most days, it would be ABBA's final U.S. Top 40 hit, possibly because it's one of the group's few singles that haven't been overplayed to death in the various ABBA revivals over the decades.

Billy Joel: "The Longest Time" We all know Joel is an excellent songwriter, but for me, this is the one song that proves without a doubt what an amazing singer he was during his peak years. And he performed it entirely a cappella. Those impossibly high notes at the end still give me the goose-bumpy chills.

Chicago: "Old Days" Chicago doesn't get enough credit for being musically daring. Aside from probably Three Dog Night, I can't think of another band from Chicago's creative-peak era (1969's "Questions 67 and 68" to 1976's "If You Leave Me Now," which kicked off the band's still-musically remarkable but considerably more predictable era of Peter Cetera-sung mellow ballads) that offered so many singles that were so distinct and un-cookie-cutter. "Old Days" might not be the best one, but it's the one most likely to make me press "repeat" because its ever-changing mood always makes me think I've missed something. As the clip below shows, even a band as great as Chicago and a singer as skilled as Cetera struggled to recreate the complex and intricate sound of the single live.

Depeche Mode: "Barrel of a Gun" Normally I would have gone with David Bowie (and "Sound and Vision," of course) or, like a recent KROLLSTION, Donna Summer (and "The Wanderer" or "Lucky") for "D," but I was just raving about "Barrel" to my friend Dov (speaking of D's) on a straight tequila night. The video is everything, one of my all-time favorites, and it's a large part of why I've never been able to get enough of this song for more than 17 years. Still, even without the odd clip, this still would deserve a spot in the band's pantheon of greatness.

Electric Light Orchestra: "Telephone Line" I'm a sucker for a fairly mainstream band going Top 10 with a strange-as-fuck-song. Will someone please tell me when ELO, The Moody Blues and The Steve Miller Band will finally get nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We're already onto '90s acts like Green Day and these seminal bands from the '60s to the '80s have yet to score even a measly nomination.

Fleetwood Mac: "Tusk" See above. Though Christine McVie has always been my favorite FM vocalist ("Think About You" would probably be No. 2), and Stevie Nicks my favorite FM solo act, Lindsey Buckingham actually sang/wrote more of my favorite FM songs. Honorable Lindsey-sung/penned mentions: "The Chain," "Walk a Thin Line," "Empire State" and "Big Love".

Grace Jones: "My Jamaican Guy" Too bad I didn't know this song back when I was a kid and certain people would erroneously peg me as being from Jamaica and mean it as an insult. Now Jones's classic makes me prouder to be a Caribbean queen than Billy Ocean ever did.

Hall and Oates: "Sara Smile" As huge a fan as I am of Daryl Hall and John Oates in the '80s, nothing they did that decade -- not "One on One," not "Say It Isn't So," not "Out of Touch" -- can touch the sublime timelessness of the duo's breakthrough hit from 1976.

INXS: "Heaven Sent" At a mere 3:18, proof that size doesn't always matter. Sometimes the best things come in unusually short packages.

John Lennon: "#9 Dream" Look, I'll probably never live this down, but Lennon was never my favorite solo Beatle. That honor would go to Paul McCartney. Lennon wasn't even my second favorite. That honor would go to George Harrison. And neither McCartney nor Harrison nor Lennon recorded what is my favorite solo-Beatle single. That honor would go to Ringo Starr, whose "Photograph" I'd rather listen to over and over and over than any Beatles song I can think of. But in a solo career that wowed me intermittently and, from "Just Like Starting Over" to "Nobody Told Me," consistently (albeit posthumously), "#9 Dream" probably would always be the last Lennon song I'd want to hear. Doesn't it actually sound like something Harrison would have done around the same time?

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