Simon & Garfunkel - Scarborough Fair/Canticle
Quite possibly the most ethereal and beautiful song the duo ever recorded. Its brilliance comes not wholly from the guitar, but from the interweaving vocals that deliver two combined songs. It's a song that's captivating all the way through, from the picked drone that opens and Art Garfunkel's choirboy voice, to Paul Simon giving his own song in the midst. Despite all of this going on, it never feels cluttered, everything is exactly in its right place. As I listen to it, I notice that the words and vocals dominate, but are not meant to be heard as they create a music in their own right. Then it's over after three minutes, never ceases to amaze.
A very good version can also be found on The Concert in Central Park, where the duo perform only the Scarborough Fair part (understanding really, I wouldn't want to try and recreate what they did in the studio) and keep all of its original beauty.
Radiohead - Nude
My favourite from In Rainbows and a contender for top 5 if I were ever to do a list. This is a song that for me could never be long enough, I could listen to those strings and Thom's haunting vocal for forty minutes. Unfortunately Nude is only four minutes and the only problem I have with it, it's just not long enough. That said, what Radiohead do here is something that really they haven't done too much of before. To me it always seems to startin the middle, there is a slight fade of some noise that then flowers into those strings and gentle moans before settling into its groove. If Radiohead spent ten years working on all their songs, maybe they'd end up with the album to end all albums. Once the vocals come in, everything is impressively understated, it doesn't so much as build, it...swells to the shape that it inhabited at the start. And the delivery of the "you're going to hell..." line is choked with so much menace for such a beautiful song. Once the outtro begins it's almost as if Thom never even sung it.
Then it's over, and it really only felt like two minutes.
Pulp - Sunrise
From We Love Life
The closing song from a very strong and underrated album, it is also one of their most positive numbers, which is quite an achievement seeing how it really isn't that upbeat. Sunrise has its narrator looking at a sunrise and knowing that things will be better. Although for someone as Larkinesque as Jarvis, it's never all positive. "I used to hide from the sun, tried to live my whole life underground. Why'd you have to rise & ruin all my fun? Just turned over, closed the curtains on the day." The lyric in this way contains a double meaning, both positive and negative.
However the lyric is not why I love this song, what I love is the extended outtro where the producer Scott Walker lends his own trademark. There are singers and textures so fine you can see them, it builds, falls and then builds again before fading into feedback and an acoustic guitar. A wonderful song.
Blue Oyster Cult - Astrology
I've never really listened to BOC before so I thought I'd give this a shot on a recommendation and just review it as I go. The first thing that really comes to me is the repeating piano pattern with the singer's voice that ever so slightly reminds me of Robert Plant. For the first two minutes it sounds like it could come from any time (something that always deem to be a good thing), then the guitar kicks in, but not in a forceful way, in fact I pretty much expected it. I love the shuffling drums, they give a very slight jazzy undertone. The song seems to work in two different sections for the first four minutes, a dynamic between piano and the guitar mixed in with the organ. I do like the dynamics, it makes for an interesting listen, how it keeps falling back. It's a very restrained song I think, even when the last punch comes it appears tasteful rather than exciting. Perhaps not wholly my thing, but not a bad track by any means.
R.E.M. - Time After Time (Annelise)
In many respects this is early R.E.M. by numbers, there is the insistent and wonderful melody, Stipe's murmured vocal and lyrics that really could be anything at all. However there is just something very special about it and is probably my favourite of their IRS years. It exhibits a strange beauty that really isn't beautiful...but is. I think it's the chorus that does it, and the bridge with the audience cheering that they would revisit in Orange Crush. This is actually one of Stipe's favourite songs of the band too.
Also, check out the live version of this that's added as a bonus to Document, strips it down to such fragility that it sounds like it could fall apart any second.
The Jesus and Mary Chain - Reverence
From Honey's Dead
"I wanna die just like Jesus Christ. I wanna Die on a bed of spikes." Thus goes the opening lines of Reverence, one of the Mary Chain's best songs and an opener that's as fierce as Just Like Honey is sweet (bad pun, I know). It was banned from the radio don't you know? Anyway from the start it drags you in with it's vaguely dancey rhythm (this was the early 90s after all) that underscores the layers of riff and feedback. This however is not a Psychocandy out-take, no this was something new for the band. Two minutes in has the breakdown where the drums get louder and the feedback squals and pierces into your ears, but it's always restrained, never overtakes the song. Many people could call the song moronic with a lyric just out to provoke, but somehow it always seems smarter than that, maybe the Reids had their tongues firmly in their cheeks. Considering the blissed out ecstasy of the times in Britain, this is in stark contrast. It seems far more at home across the seas where grunge was already in full swing and the lyrics about self-loathing were pervading. The Jesus and Mary Chain were either making a statement, making fun, or doing what they loved. I like to think it's the latter.
Tom Waits - Alice
What makes a song perfect? Is it when an artist tries something utterly new and unexpected and achieves it with magnificence? That could be said of many of Waits' songs from the eighties and early nineties, where he did strange and wonderful things with anything you could find at a junkyard. The other kind of perfection is just when someone does the same thing that he's always done, but does it with such skill and precision that it cannot help but achieve a level of songwriting that takes your breath away. This can be said of Alice.
Inspired by Lewis Carrol and his obsession with the said girl. The lyrics are both tortured and romantic, passionate but cold, cold perhaps as the ice that Alice skates on. As for the music, it does yearn back to his time in the seventies, leaning against a barstool and telling his tale of woe. Now though he's old and his voice is even more cracked, but this just adds to the dusted delivery. If this were sung by anyone else but Waits, I can only imagine that the magic would be lost entirely. It's so simple, but so complex in the words that flow along so peacefully, I would claim it to be his greatest lyric and perhaps go further to call it as the most utterly perfect thing that he has ever recorded.