Sunday, November 09, 2008

Just because: The top five rock songs of all-time

Not that you asked for it, but I've been thinking about my all-time top five - hey, the drives can be long and the mind wanders.

So, take it for what it's worth.

5."Far From Over," Frank Stallone
OK, OK, I couldn't resist as wiseass line to start off. But still, you can listen to the tune if you want. Not that I like it or anything. Nah, never. But I could've sworn the first time I actually heard it was in this video, where Martin Short and Christopher Guest try their hand at synchronized swimming.

But seriously, folks...

5. "Estranged," Guns 'n' Roses
Of course, it was nowhere near the hit that some of the other songs on Use Your Illusion I & II were. But there was something different about it, something foreboding. The structure was unconventional, the lyrics too. The song took twists and turns, from intense to mellow, from Slash's blistering guitar to a soft piano/guitar duet. Halfway home, there's a redemptive, more upbeat feel to the tune; then, in an instant, it turns intense again: I see the storm's getting closer/and the waves, they get so high/Seems everything we've ever known's here/why must it drift away and die. And it kicks ass over the final few minutes, leaving you feel like you've been on a roller coaster. The tune takes me back to when I was in high school; I had Use Your Illusion II forever in the CD player, always ready to hit this track. For some reason, I associate it with winter, sitting in my room doing whatever, wishing I was out skiing - back when I did such things - and thinking that the snow must be pretty sweet down at Blue Mountain. Oh well.

4. "One," Metallica
This was the best of times for Metallica, when their music had matured and got polished but before money mattered and they turned everything into a soulless, four-minutes-and-done abomination. The mournful opening bar sets the tone; the reserved music serves as a prelude to the intricate ass-kicking. The production is tight and the music is meaningful - to say nothing of the absolutely haunting video they shot for it.

3. "Dazed and Confused," Led Zeppelin
It's a damn shame Zep couldn't get any higher than three on this list. But, in one song, there's everything you've come to know and love about the band: Robert Plant's piercing vocals, Jimmy Page's mastery of the guitar, John Bonham's sometimes-melodic, sometimes-driving drumming, and John Paul Jones' incredible gifts of arrangement. It wasn't as popular as "Stairway to Heaven" - which, in retrospect, failed to demonstrate all that these four could do together - and for the life of me, I can't understand why.

2. "Under Pressure," Queen & David Bowie
I love how the music plays off the title. Several times, the music builds to a crescendo and someone cracks the valve to let off the steam, leading to the iconic bass line (later shat upon by Vanilla Ice). Each time, the steam seems to take a little longer to rebuild, but the release is no less satisfying. It's a wonderful song; at the times when the pressure is highest, if you will, the instruments and vocals work in such harmony that every last part just seems to fit perfectly. There's no needless verbosity or overwrought loudness. Love it, love it, love it. But not quite as much as...

1. "Nights in White Satin," Moody Blues
First off, I'm sorry you get the short version on the video; no poem reading or anything. Justin Hayward's vocals make this No. 1 for me. Each verse starts understated and dramatic and ends on a fever pitch. Add in the philharmonic to create instrumental cascades - something no band would consider doing today (and no, I don't count Metallica's stunt, a live album with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra nearly a decade ago). Unfortunately, lost in the video, is that the symphony provides a most dramatic ending after the poem. It's a series of peaks and valleys that leaves you exhilarated.

So there you have it... I know you'll think I'm batty, especially for the No. 1 song, but I can take it.

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