The Top 100 Songs (20-1)

20. “The Watermark High” – Elliott
(If They Do, 2000)

Elliott was a decent band that wrote less than memorable music; that is, except for this song. “The Watermark High,” a song that starts off at a whisper until the band takes over moments after the first verse, was released on a 7” single – a single that our friend Cody bought and instructed us to fall in love with. We did.

“Feel this heaven pours over me/Carries me backwards as I await/And then I feel I’m going back again and I feel this way.”

19. “Guns and Cigarettes” – Atmosphere
(The Lucy Ford: The Atmosphere EP’s, 2000)

“Guns and Cigarettes” is the first Atmosphere song I heard, thanks to a mix-CD given to us by our friend Mary. It’s the first time I’d heard a self deprecating style of rap that didn’t relay solely on money, women, and guns – well, not guns in the way you’d expect. Instead, it’s just a few words on how Atmosphere is good, and why they’re good, and why if you don’t think so, you’re dumb.

“I’m suprised more of y’all don’t get hit by cars/Missing your surroundings, staring at the stars/I’m lonely without a woman that wants to spar/That’s why I spent so much time in these bars.”

18. “16 Military Wives” – The Decemberists
(Picaresque, 2005)

This is a newer Left of Center favorite. The Decemberists layer the words on, and so it’s literarily appealing to me. “16 Military Wives” rolls through its verses by counting, though it has enough of a political slant to it to make it worthwhile. It’s nerdy, but it’s not the kind of nerdy that, say, They Might Be Giants made famous.

“Fifteen celebrity minds/Leading their fifteen sordid, wretched, checkered lives/Will they find their solution in time?/Using fifteen pristine moderate liberal minds.”

17. “Trouble” – Ray LaMontagne
(Trouble, 2003)

LaMontagne’s voice is as soulful as a white guy can get, and his title track, “Trouble,” is about as good as singer/songwriters get (that is, aside from Damien Rice). LaMontagne’s got the ability to become more renowned than Rice, though; his style straddles more genres and his music is just original enough to leave a lasting impression on new listeners without completely leading them astray.

“I’ve been/Saved by a woman/She won’t let me go/She won’t let me go now.”

16. “You Had Time” – Ani DiFranco
(Out Of Range, 1994)

The first of two songs on the list that were included in Nick Hornby’s Songbook, “You Had Time” is one of the most heartfelt and beautiful songs in DiFranco’s repertoire. I preferred “Swandive” initially – a very “turgid” song, according to her and Greg Brown – but I appreciate DiFranco’s darker, more melodic songs much more.

“How can I go home with nothing to say/I know you’re going to look at me that way/And say what did you do out there/And what did you decide/You said you needed time/And you had time.”

15. “Napoleon Solo” – At The Drive-In
(In Casino Out, 1998)

At The Drive-In was a great live band. They were also one of the few bands that could capture that live spirit on their album tracks. “Napoleon Solo” takes the sullen recitation of Cedric Bixler’s lyrics and slams an exclamation point on each line with its screamo chorus. It also mentions New Orleans, so I like that too.

“March 23rd hushed the wind, the music died/If you can’t get the best of us now/It’s cause this is forever.”

14. “A Minor Incident” – Badly Drawn Boy
(About A Boy, 2002)

The first of the three soundtrack songs from Nick Hornby written movies in the top 20, this song was also included in Hornby’s book Songbook. I’m not sure why I like this song so much, I think it’s the idea of leaving the small things to the side, of not letting trivialities bother with your piece of mind – a mindset that I’ve tried to adopt, however successfully it has been, over the past few years.

“I’d be a better person on the other side I’m sure/You’d find a way to help yourself/Then find another door to shrug off minor incidents/Make us both feel proud/I’d just wish I be there to see you through.”

13. “Dry The Rain” – The Beta Band
(The Three E.P.’s, 1997)

An infectious song from High Fidelity, my favorite movie, “Dry The Rain” is the driving force behind one of the greatest scenes in modern movies – a cocky record store clerk bets he can sell the CD almost instantly after playing a few notes. “It’s good,” one man exclaims. “I know,” Rob Gordan replies. Well, it must have worked – I went out and bought it.

“This is the definition of my life/Lying in bed in the sunlight/Choking on the vitamin tablet/The doctor gave in the hope of saving me.”

12. “3rd Planet” – Modest Mouse
(The Moon And Antarctica, 2000)

This, the opening song from my favorite CD, is one of those songs that instantly bring happiness within hearing the opening notes. It’s as familiar as any song I know, and there are too many memories to go through – giving my only burned copy of the CD to Kerrie in England, listening to it nearly every day that summer, discovering it a year earlier before it had even been released and latching onto Modest Mouse like a drowning man to a lifesaver.

“Your heart felt good it was drippin’ pitch and made of wood/And your hands and knees felt cold and wet on the grass to me.”

11. “I’m A Loner Dottie, A Rebel…” – The Get Up Kids
(Post Marked Stamps, 1999)

The ultimate in emo-pop, “I’m A Loner Dottie, A Rebel…” (the title taken from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure) is a song about saying goodbye. It was part of the great Post Marked Stamps 7” collection, and said a lot in the way of long distance lovers. The remade version for Something To Write Home About is a far cry from the original – it seemed to have lost its edge when it was remade.

“One night doesn’t mean the rest of my life.”

10. “Delicate” – Damien Rice
(O, 2003)

Damien Rice’s debut came to me through our friend Sara – the same one who gave me Ray LaMontagne. Rice’s voice is full of sorrow at all times, and for that his music feels heartfelt. This song, the first on the CD, mixes some great wordplay with some beautiful guitar and, regardless of how new it is to me, has become one of my favorite songs – one that is redefining how I look at the singer/songwriter genre.

“And why do you sing Hallelujah/If it means nothing to you/Why do you sing with me at all?”

9. “Barnacles” – Ugly Casanova
(Sharpen Your Teeth, 2002)

A Isaac Brock side project named after some weird bum he’d met at a Modest Mouse show, Ugly Casanova picks up where The Moon and Antarctica left off, seeming more like the link between Moon and The Lonesome Crowded West than anything else. Because of that, “Barnacles” could very well be a Modest Mouse song – in fact, it sounds more like Modest Mouse than their new CD ever does.

“I don’t need to see/I don’t see how you see out of your window/I don’t need to see, I’ll paint mine black.”

8. “In My Life” – The Beatles
(Rubber Soul, 1965)

I like “In My Life” more than other Beatles songs because I like the idea of nostalgia – and this song pulls it all out with force. Basically, it’s a song about growing old and appreciating what life has been, and there’s really nothing more nostalgic than that. Johnny Cash reworked it on his final CD, and it’s equally as good.

“All these places have their moments/With lovers and friends I still can recall/Some are dead and some are living/In my life I’ve loved them all.”

7. “I Typed For Miles” – Jets To Brazil
(Orange Rhyming Dictionary, 1998)

“I Typed For Miles” is another in a long line of Blake Schwarzenbach misery-fests. This one is my favorite, though, because it includes some of his best lyrics. It’s followed, on Orange Rhyming Dictionary, by the first of Blake’s “finally I see a light at the end of the tunnel” songs – songs that are so philosophically different from his usual that it’s a rush of freshness.

“They’re playing love songs on your radio tonight/I don’t get those songs on mine/You keep fucking up my life.”

6. “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” – Stevie Wonder
(Talking Book, 1972)

I believe this to be the most romantic song ever written – and I discovered it by watching High Fidelity. Maybe that shows how media driven my life can be, but it’s true. Mr. Wonder pulls out all the stops in this song, a not as well known but just as brilliant song as his more widely-acclaimed works.

“The many sounds that meet our ears/The sights our eyes behold/Will open up our merging hearts/And feed our empty souls/I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever.”

5. “A Jack With One Eye” – Texas Is The Reason
(Do You Know Who You Are?, 1996)

This was one of the first songs I ever learned to butcher on guitar, and for that I’ve always held it in high regard. It’s a perfect ending song – the best end to a CD that I know of – and it brings me back to high school without feeling too nostalgic every time. The song has spanned three eras of life, and I’ve never tired of it.

“Your place is still at the heart of my everything.”

4. “The Simple Life” – Split Lip
(Fate’s Got A Driver, 1995)

I overuse the word “haunting” when it comes to music, but “The Simple Life” is just that: haunting. It’s a mellow and emotional song that’s accentuated by the rest of the band coming in at full speed near the end. Seeing Chamberlain (what Split Lip became) play this song was a dream – singer David Moore sat alone, and as he worked his way to the crescendo, the band snuck in and fired away.

“Dark streets carry me home now/I’ve stayed too long.”

3. “Cursing Concrete” – Rumbleseat
(…Is Dead, 2005)

Whenever I hear this song (and I’m feeling a little morbid) I imagine it to be the song they play at my funeral – a song that sums up life while still staying true to some kind of rustic roots. My best memory of this song, however, isn’t of the actual track, but of my friends Eric and Andy singing it in Eric’s parents’ living room one late night.

“And I hope that I make a mark/And stand strong even when I’m gone/Before I’m done/Before I lay down/I’ll go off/But I’ll be on.”

2. “Sorry About That” – Alkaline Trio
(Goddamnit!, 1998)

The greatest sing along song of them all – a great drinking song, and a great “feel bad for me” song, but most of all, a great acoustic song that was designed to be belted out at the top of your lungs. As Kerrie said, it’s all about New Years Eve drunkenness with “Sorry About That.”

“And maybe I just set aside/The fact that you were broken hearted/In my own special selfish way/And if I hadn’t set aside/The fact that you were broken hearted/Hell knows where your heart would be today/Maybe with me.”

1. “Trailer Trash” – Modest Mouse
(The Lonesome Crowded West, 1997)

My personal favorite song, obviously – I love the lyrics, and I love the rhythmic acoustic beginning, and I love the crazy jam-out at the end. It’s awesome live, and it’s long – so it gives me a little more enjoyment than the average song – and it’s witty and funny and kinda sad. It’s good – and really, that’s the only reason I need to like a song.

“Short love with a long divorce/And a couple of kids of course/They don’t mean anything.”

This was lovingly handwritten on March 31st, 2006