The 40 Best Alternative Rock Songs Ever, 1976-2000, Pt. 2 (20-11)

[Edit, 2013: Spotify playlist below ]

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Contains a story about why one shouldn't use illegal drugs. You may want to forward this post to your adolescent relatives.

To listen to some of the songs, go here and click on the "play" button next to the first song. Alternatively, you can use the player at the bottom of this post, but it will fade some songs out after 30 seconds.

20. Fugazi: Waiting Room
Dear aspiring young rap musician,

it is true that I am somewhat ignorant about rap music, but why on earth have I not come across at least ten rap songs that sample the bass intro to this song, the one that goes de-de-de-dem, dee dee dee dee deeee. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Once you've had your no. 1 hit, please forward me appropriate amounts of money.

19. The Psychedelic Furs: Pretty in Pink
The most flowing song I can think of. If you think that sounds boring, you've never properly watched a river after staying up all night.

18. The Undertones: Teenage Kicks
The Undertones also did a cover version of "Under the Boardwalk". My mother once told me when she heard earlier versions of this song, she kept understanding "Under the Walrus". When you think about it, the words don't sound that similar. And, I mean, under the walrus? Goog-goog-go-juub!

17. Frank Black: Thalassocracy
"Hey guys, I really need to go to the loo, so for the next take, can we double the speed? Thank you!"

One minute and thirty-three seconds. For the life of me I couldn't explain why this doesn't qualify as punk, but it doesn't.

16. Alice Donut: Mother of Christ
Don't buy the album! I would call Alice Donut a one-hit wonder if it weren't for the inconvenient fact that "Mother of Christ" was never a hit.

There is a common device used in the genre we're talking about here: Have low-volume passages followed by very loud passages and vice versa. Kurt Cobain once said he learned this trick from the Pixies, and he may well have. (Sidenote: Adressing young women, "Hello, little pixie" may be a very bad idea.) This song uses a somewhat different trick: Combining very flowing passages (if you don't know what I mean by flowing, think of The Byrds' version of "Mr. Tambourine Man") with extremely rhythmic passages: ones that go hack-hack-hack. Phrase it better and put it into the songwriting textbook!

15. The Cure: Killing an Arab
It was a close call between this one and the more popular "Boys Don't Cry", but there you go. Fun fact no.1: The lyrics to this song were inspired by Albert Camus's L'Etranger (hence, "I'm a stranger, killing an Arab"). Fun fact no. 2: The lyrics were misconstrued by many to be anti-Arab. For this reason The Cure did a concert the profits of which went to some Arab organization. So now you know.

14. Ash: Girl from Mars
In a Jim Morrison biography I once read, there is a hilarious scene in which he, of all people, is ushered into a studio to record an anti-drug message to America's youths. He is completely loaded and comes up with slogans such as, "Kids! Don't smoke marijuana! Try LSD!" That spot never aired.

But there is one set of musicians who actually helped to curb drug use: Ash.

There once was a young man who went to a multi-band concert which featured Ash as third billing. He had never heard of them (this was before they got fairly famous); he was there mainly for a band which may appear at no. 2 on this list. He was being visited by a friend in the city he had recently moved to, so to celebrate the reunion, they had a reefer in the afternoon before the concert. Or maybe two, this little bit of information got lost in the depths of history. It was very hot outside, so they were feeling very thirsty: Clearly the consumption of multiple bottles of beer was also in order.

And then they went to the concert. The club was very crowded. The heat, the intoxication - pretty soon our young hero had to sit down on the stairs. That summer, dresses with very short skirts were in fashion. If the man said that he didn't use the opportunity to conduct an observational study on the latest trends in female underwear, that would be a lie! Very soon, he was feeling rather aroused. Another way to put it is to say that he was extremely horny.

Now comes the part of the story for which the reader must try very hard to suspend disbelief and put some a lot of faith in the honesty of the narrator.

He was then approached by a very beautiful and sexy young lady who was clearly very interested in getting to know him better. Our hero learned that she was there because of Ash. His problem was that given his intoxication his contributions to the conversation were along the lines of, "Er, um, er. Oh, I think I have to go to the loo."

Naturally, no getting-to-know-each-other-better was forthcoming.

When he left the concert, he said to himself, "[expletive], [expletive], [expletive], [expletive], I'll never smoke dope again before going out!" And he never did. Today, he doesn't use any illegal drugs at all.

Oh, the song? Imagine one of Phil Spector's masterpieces, but with lots of loud and distorted guitars.

13. Blur: Song Two
Unfortunately fell prey to the Teen Spirit Effect. Another fun fact: The beginning of this song is played whenever second division German football club St. Pauli score at home: Whoo-hoo!

12. Ramones: My Back Pages
Starts with the sound of an explosion. Then intensifies. I wonder what Dylan thinks about this one.

11. Throwing Muses: Not Too Soon
Is it rock? Is it alternative? Two very small checks in my book, but checks nonetheless. And anyway, it's incredibly beautiful. Hands up anyone who also thinks that "She / Coulour-blind / Tired eyes" are magnificent opening lines for song lyrics. Oh.


The first installment

The first two installments of the list which inspired this list


Thomas said...

I am with you on the Furs, but Pretty in Pink? Please--How about anything from "Forever Now" instead? And I gotta think that something by Echo and the Bunnymen should definitely be here--The Killing Moon? Maybe that will show up in the top ten. Though, as you don't define alt rock, it's hard to say.

Like your work if not always your music...

LemmusLemmus said...

"Please"? That's bordering on the impolite.

Although this is an alternative rock list, I have not tried to be particularly original, or "underground". The top 10 will be even more conventional. More generally, arguing about tastes is, of course, pointless, but as JAC said earlier, anyone is invited to come up with a better list.

No Echo and the Bunnymen forthcoming. That band never did anything for me.