Today's post is a barefaced ripoff from a longer, more clever post by my pal Declan Hughes, whose books you should be reading. But I have some things to do today, and I'm not feeling very creative, and it's a brilliant idea for a List of Five, so here we go. I'll be fascinated to see your own lists of most-played songs; leave them in the comments section.
1. "Alex Chilton," The Replacements. From Pleased to Meet Me (1987). Far and away the most-played track in my iTunes library, beating #2 by 19 plays. No matter how bad my day is, this song is an instant mood lifter; the opening chords make me smile. "Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes round . . ." I actually saw Alex Chilton live at the Birchmere, in one of the strangest and most disappointing performances I've ever attended. He was sullen and uncommunicative, and chain-smoked through the entire set, storing his burning cigarette under the strings on his tuning pegs during songs. But that doesn't matter; he lives forever in Paul Westerberg's imagination.
2. "Bizarre Love Triangle," New Order. From The Best of New Order, 1994. I bought this CD at the going-out-of-business sale of the late, lamented Serenade Records Store, which used to be at 1800 M Street NW in Washington, DC. The lyrics are a plea from someone in a committed relationship who's fallen in love with someone else, and I should disapprove of that. Yeah, yeah, yeah, adultery is bad, but something about this song just feels head-bustingly optimistic: "Every time I think of you I feel shot right through with a bolt of blue," is how it starts, and this version distills everything great about that first feeling of falling in love. I love the Nouvelle Vague cover, which turns the song into something much more wistful, and like the heart-wrenching Frente! version as well, but this is the original, and still the best.
3. "Birdhouse in Your Soul," They Might Be Giants. From Flood, 1990. A song of devotion from the point of view of a blue canary nightlight, and do we have enough of those? I think not. "Not to put too fine a point on it/Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet/Make a little birdhouse in your soul."
4. "It's a Shame About Ray," The Lemonheads. From the album of the same name, 1992. I just noticed that all of these songs come from roughly the same era, and that era was approximately 20 years ago. I am now as far away from my favorite music as my parents were from 1950s rock-and-roll when I was a little kid. How does this happen? I do have new tracks on my playlist; there's a song from 2006 ("Roscoe," from Midlake's Trials of Van Occupanther) in my Top 25. Although when you average that out with tracks from the Monkees ("I'm a Believer," #20) and The Tams ("Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy," #23), it does still even out to the late '80s/early '90s . . . sigh. I am who I am. And that is middle-aged.
5. "Fisherman's Blues," The Waterboys. From the album of the same name, 1988. Although this record came out in 1988, I didn't hear it for the first time until February 1989, on a weekend visit to my friends Scott and Nancy, who were in graduate school in Williamsburg. This album became part of my soundtrack for the year that followed, a year that seemed infinite with possibilities. All I have to do to bring that feeling back is listen to this song. That link goes to video of a live performance of this song; if you ever get a chance to see The Waterboys live, don't miss it.