A top ten list of Ben Folds

I’m not ashamed to admit that, unlike many, I actually really really like Ben Folds. Both his solo stuff and with the Five.

There. I said it. Take away my cool kid badge.

(Or wait. Is it cool to like him? Or not cool? He, like Sufjan Stevens, Death Cab for Cutie and any other indie singer/songwriter/group that caters to a more sensitive side, are often reviled in popular culture. Which would make them perfect for indie rock. But then indie rockers are, at times, tired of their cuteness, which makes them perfect for popular culture. Help, I don’t know if I’m supposed to like or hate him! What’s Pitchfork claiming this week?)


As happens with some of my favorite musical artists, I have had a slight renaissance with Ben Folds. You know how it is – one of his songs popped up on my iPod, and I remembered, “Hey, I really like this guy,” and then I listened to an entire album and BAM, there you go, I was back in the thick of it, getting to know the EPs that I only barely listened to and making new judgment calls on songs I didn’t care much for a few years back.

But why? Why Ben Folds? Admittedly, he’s a little too cute at times. He’s overly sarcastic, and 85% of his songs are about the meaningless lives of people you don’t care about and never would remember if you met them.

And maybe that’s what I like about it. Those people. Those situations. Ben Folds writes snarky songs that at times are touching. He’s not a piano player looking for heart strings – he’s a comedian that happens to be great at writing songs, and at times those songs are nearly heartbreaking.

Look through his catalog. There are a lot of names, there. Old friends and fictional characters and people you wouldn’t expect outside of an episode of Arrested Development. There’s an entire cast of craziness and longing and friendship and nostalgia wrapped up in those songs.

Nostalgia. That’s it. Every song is emotional, whether funny or clever or sad. And every song brings another tale. Ben Folds isn’t a songwriter – he’s a storyteller. Which is, to say, he’s a songwriter who tells stories. Which is, to say, he’s the best kind of songwriter there is.

My top ten Ben Folds songs, whether with and without the Five (in no order):

1. “Army (live)”Ben Folds Live
The only really great song off of The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner is made better without the rest of the band by enlisting the help of the crowd to stand in as the horn section.

2. “Best Imitation of Myself”Ben Folds Five
We all have a façade, and “Best Imitation of Myself” describes it.

3. “Eddie Walker”Naked Baby Photos
My favorite of Ben Folds’ characters, “Eddie Walker” takes a look at his life, seemingly validating his existence.

4. “Evaporated”Whatever and Ever Amen
Every Ben Folds album has a sappy closing song that makes you think that, yes, the guy has bad days. This is the best of them.

5. “Fred Jones, Part 2”Rocking the Suburbs
A company newspaperman, forced out after 30 years, takes a long look at himself and realizes that he’s viewed as nothing more than dead space. A classic tale of experience being trumped by fresh, upstart talent, Fred Jones comes to terms with the fact that he’s “forgotten but not yet gone.” Shades of About Schmidt.

6. “Landed”Songs for Silverman
This is just a nice song. That’s all.

7. “Late”Songs for Silverman
About Elliot Smith. The first time I heard it was at a Ben Folds concert in Sioux Falls a few months before the album came out. He announced it as a song about a friend, and we all figured it was Elliott, who had just passed away. And then, he sang “Elliot, man, you played a fine guitar. And some dirty basketball.” And we knew. And I’ll disclose, with the song played live and the emotion in the room and great lyrics about a great musician, I had to fight back a tear or two. They didn’t come out, mind you. But there were there. Stinging.

8. “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces”Whatever and Ever Amen
The first song I ever heard from Ben Folds, “One Angry Dwarf” is a tale of comeuppance. Those people who thought they were so cool before? Well fuck ‘em.

9. “Philosophy”Ben Folds Five
I also think this is a really nice song. It’s the “Brick” of the first album – the song everyone knows and everyone wants to hear.

10. “Zak and Sara”Rocking the Suburbs
It’s scary how similar this couple – Zak without a “c,” Sara without an “h” – is to other couples I’ve met in real life. That is, until Sara turns out to be crazy.

And an honorable three-way mention, as well:
11. “Bitches Ain’t Shit”Supersunnyspeedgraphic: The LP
12. “Get Your Hands Off My Woman”Super D
13. “Twin Falls”Naked Baby Photos
Two hilarious, yet beautiful covers (of Dr. Dre and The Darkness, respectively) followed by a cover of Built To Spill.

This was lovingly handwritten on July 10th, 2008