Wednesday, November 26, 2008

1. Blink-182 vs. Nirvana vs. Splashdown

vs. vs.
"Adam's Song"
by Blink-182
from Enema of the State
  "Pennyroyal Tea"
by Nirvana
from MTV Unplugged in New York
  "Mayan Pilot"
by Splashdown
from Redshift

"Adam's Song" (1 play at, unranked): When I first heard this song I knew Blink-182 for "Josie" and "What's My Age Again?," which are both enjoyable but completely by-the-numbers examples of the skate-punk that dominated early Warped tours. This was before it came out as a single and I was really surprised by both the musical and lyrical depth of the song (which were pretty obviously revamped for "Stay Together For the Kids" on their next album). It's a rare example of an explicitly post-teen angst narrative in a teenagers' genre and it paints a really effective picture by focusing on the space around the narrator and the hole that he leaves. Musically, it foreshadows a lot of what they would do on their self-titled break-up album, with more layering and piano, less chk-chk-chk-chk pop-punk.

"Pennyroyal Tea" (6 plays, unranked): I imagine that there is a substantial group of people like me, who get a bit of a chill hearing Kurt Cobain ask his bandmates, "Am I going to do this by myself?" before launching into his solo version of "Pennyroyal Tea" on Unplugged. It's such an anomaly in the set -- of 14 songs, six are covers and three are quiet Nirvana songs. There are no other songs whose studio versions carry the menace and noise of this one, particularly in the super-secret Steve Albini mix. That Kurt screws up his last run through the chorus makes it even a little bit better -- it caps the stand-out track from maybe the definitive Nirvana document; just as it's done, Dave Grohl compliments him, and Kurt tells him to shut up.

"Mayan Pilot" (8 plays, tied for #395): When I discovered Splashdown in 2000 it was a revelation of what the Internet could do for a music obsessive like myself. Here was an excellent band producing a sound that seemed difficult to market in the late 90's and getting screwed by their major label deal. It seemed at the time that I was discovering great new bands every week, but Splashdown were one of the few that stuck, and a big part of it was this funky but light track built on the sweet vocals of singer Melissa Kaplan. Their whole catalog is full of solid pop songwriting and creativity, but this is the tune that's consistently gotten lodged in my head over the past eight years.

VERDICT: Not a close call, really. I liked "Pennyroyal Tea" a lot when I first heard it on In Utero, but the details of the Unplugged performance have been seared into my brain for nearly 15 years. As much as I love the music itself, it's really the significance of it to my cultural upbringing that makes it so tough to beat it in the first round.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What's Your Favorite Song?

A couple days ago, a post at raised an impossible question: What's your favorite song? It's a question I couldn't even begin to think of an answer to. I've got 500+ songs rated at five stars on my iPod and if I have one favorite song, it's in there somewhere. But how to distinguish it among flash-in-the-pan recent loves and other tunes that are great but not GREAT? Could it even be done?

Well, maybe. I thought about a series of head-to-head comparisons of 128 songs, widdling them done to one champion. So I took the list of fivers from the iPod and started striking songs that weren't legitimate contenders. Newer stuff got kicked. Almost all local songs were out, on the idea that part of what makes the favorite is a sense of a large community of fans existing somewhere out there. And in any case in which one album had multiple fives I tried to pick my favorite from those (e.g., Radiohead's "Just" knocked "My Iron Lung" out). And I was still left with over 200 tunes. So I took another whack at the list, got it down to 192 and decided to do three-way trials in the first round. I put them all in random order then grouped in threes for 64 sets. For each set, I'll listen to the songs, figure out which I like best, and write it up. In 127 posts I'll have a favorite song, just in case this ever comes up again.