1. Three Dog Night – “Joy to the World”
My eighth grade crush told me this was her favorite song. So obviously I had to act like it was also my favorite song. It actually turned out to be a really fun song though because of the way the interplay between the singer and the band at the beginning and the underlying groove throughout. Plus I’m a sucker for early 70’s keyboards.
2. New York Dolls – “Personality Crisis”
This song may not be as wild as it was in the 70’s before heavy metal and punk really took loud distorted guitar music to its extremes, this still stands a good song to rock out too. It’s got a frantic singer and some rockabilly sounding piano playing. Combine it with lyrics about identity issues and this song takes everybody bake to their angry teenage years.
3. Leonard Cohen – “Dress Rehearsal Rag”
Leonard Cohen may most famously be known for composing the “Hallelujah” song in the sad part of the Shrek movie, but going through his album Songs of Love and Hate will show just how dark his lyrics can get. Just like “Hallelujah”, the instrumentation is extremely simple: He strums his guitar chords in a straight rhythm and has backup singers sing only a handful of lines at the end. There is some light string arrangement, and he does vary in volumes with his playing and singing depending on how desperate the lyrics need to sound, like when he sees his second personality (in this case a bloody a Santa Clause) slowly approach him with a razor blade. The whole song is about how he went from a life of a celebrity to this very dark hour of contemplating suicide. That theme is dark enough to be remembered forever as some of pop music’s saddest, but Cohen also really brings you into his mind, especially in the second verse when he starts drawing parallels between his mental state and the living conditions of his cheap apartment.
4. My Chemical Romance – “Welcome to the Black Parade”
It’s easy to pick on emo Mateo when he thought this was the emotionally rawest thing there was in the world back in 2006. That aside, it’s a great song compositionally. It’s got parts you can’t really label as verses or choruses in the traditional way. Each part could make a good pop song on its own, but instead we have five minutes somehow making ballad playing, marching band music, punk rock, and a climactic ending that rivals the epic arrangements of classic rock all sound like a cohesive unit of a song.
5. Gorillaz – “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head”
This is still one of my favorite Gorillaz song. The narration of a good children’s story a funky beat is relaxing in several ways. The story itself is predictable and plays to surface level ethics but that ending is done perfectly, diminishing musically and in narration. The singer in the chorus keeps things from getting monotonous but does not interrupt the groove.
6. Danger Mouse, Daniele Luppi, Jack White – “The World”
Okay so I really like Danger Mouse. In case you didn’t know he’s the producer genius behind the Gorillaz album Demon Days, Black Keys’ Turn Blue, and was one half of both Gnarls Barkley and Danger Doom. So yea, you probably already love him without knowing it. Here we see him still playing with trippy tones and playing with rhythms to really separate the parts of the song. The guitar bends in the back adds on a cool Western feel while still having the song as a whole sound alien. Also, Jack White’s singing clicks in with this type of music as expected.
7. Sweet – “Ballroom Blitz”
I still don’t fully understand how sexual they intended the start of this song was supposed to be because of how everybody talks. Either way, the drums really get things kicking and rides on that momentum throughout, really making the drum part my favorite part. However whenever they do mix the drums down, the singer makes up for it with stadium sized intensity.
8. Joan Baez – “Mary Hamilton”
Joan here covers an old Scottish ballad about a woman named Mary Hamilton. Mary is a servant to the Queen who ends up pregnant with the King’s baby. It goes as well as expected, with Mary, putting the baby in a basket to float away in a lake, “That he might sink or he might swim/But he’d never come back to me.” The story is simple but engaging enough for you to really appreciate and get caught up in Baez’s beautifully bird-like singing.
9. Jimi Hendrix – “All Along the Watchtower”
Arguably the greatest Dylan cover, Jimi Hendrix really dips this song in his red hot acid guitar tones. By the time you hear the first guitar solo, you’re just impressed that he managed to take an acoustic song and successfully electrify it. This song also showcases that by now Jimi Hendrix was not only exploring what the electric guitar can do, but also what he can do with at the studio, creating an ambience that feels like a large world you can step into the center of. That being said, the guitar solo is still the best part. I should really say the guitar solos because he markedly goes from twangy hot Texas blues to quiet, chill slides, to a wah wah solo that foreshadows Vodoo Chile later on the album, and finally brings it back to exciting blues rock.