The Forever Songs Pt.1
Being asked what my “favourite” of anything is usually is sweat inducing question. Favourite film? Not a clue. Favourite song/album/artist? Forget it. Its just not possible, its all dependent on what side of the bed I got up on, and whether I’m feeling like staring out of the bus on a rainy day, or whether I’m riding around on a summers day feeling like I’m quite literally invincible.
So, I decided to challenge myself and pick out tracks that aren’t necessarily “favourites” but are as close as I can get them to be. They must all share the same quality of timelessness. I don’t mean that in the sense of being a product of their eras, but I mean I can put them on at any time and all the time, and every time their potency is never diluted.
There is only one rule: no two songs from the same artist (almost impossible).
This is, in no particular order, the first ten.
My Song – Labi Siffre (1972)
The first time I heard this song was actually in a Kanye West sample in his equally brilliant song “I Wonder” off Graduation. The vocal was just so charming and beautiful, but it was only recently that I made the effort to dig out the original song, which lead me here. It’s a wonderfully optimistic song that starts with a very mellow and simple piano line, with Labi Siffre claiming the song simply by saying “This is my song, and no one can take it away”. The concept of exploring a song’s immortality in the lyrics themselves is fascinating to me, and the way he starts to project his voice as he progresses is borderline euphoric, and the listener experiences him basking in the liberating joy that no matter how his life turns out, this is his song, and it can never die. The instrumental that comes in after the first verse is astoundingly pretty, layered in sweet strings and a light drumming collaborating to produce a perfect song.
The Whole of The Moon – The Waterboys (1985)
There are certain songs that are as integral to one’s childhood as any playground, friend, birthday and tooth fairy. Some songs are just a part of someone’s makeup and DNA, and for me this is one of the best examples of that. This song was always playing whenever I got into the car with my parents, and every single time it comes on it’s a transportation device to a simpler time, steeped in a warm sense of nostalgia. Certain events, memories, sights and even smells can come back to me when listening to a childhood classic, its truly bizarre. The song itself is brilliant. It’s a joyous collision of dancing pianos, staggering drums, and ricocheting synths, as the lead singer explains the depths of his awe of a girl that “saw the whole of the moon”, while he could only see the crescent. Its one of the happiest songs in my library, and a go too whenever I feel a mood to match it, or I want to revisit my childhood.
Dream Catch Me (Acoustic Version) – Newton Faulkner (2012)
Another childhood classic, this song just played too much of a role in my early life for it not to make the list. I remember my sister came home from seeing Newton Faulkner live, and the CD remained in our car for absolutely years. This acoustic version of an older song he had done was the one I seemed to latch onto, and I remember when I was 11 I would sit and try and play along to the song (and fail, miserably) on my acoustic guitar. I can’t really explain why, but when I was younger I just played the hell out of this song, and from there I grew a real obsession with acoustic music and found other artists that I listen to more than I do Newton these days. The song writing itself is excellent, it’s a classic realization-of-falling-in-love song over some gorgeously warm and electrified acoustic arpeggios.
Weird Fishes / Arpeggi – Radiohead (2007)
Did someone say arpeggios? Radiohead. THE KINGS OF MUSIC. YOU ARENT A FAN? YOU CLEARLY DON’T UNDERSTAND THEIR MUSIC!!!!!! ITS TOO INTELLECTUAL FOR YOU.
Nah, I am just kidding, as much as the Radiohead stan culture reaches almost absurd levels, I lie somewhere in the middle. I love some of their music, I like a lot if it, and dare I say it, some of it isn’t for me. But this song is an example of one that I am borderline obsessed with. The tightly wound rapidity of the drums that break the silence, are then completely juxtaposed by a silky-smooth arpeggio line that’s sonic lusciousness knows no bounds to create a truly out of this world sound. The guitar arpeggios seem to almost take no notice of the drums at all as they spiral on, and Thom Yorke’s vocal control is so perfectly executed. He uses it as an instrument early in the track, only to break through at the peaks of the track with powerful performance making for a dramatic outcome. The instrumental build up and burst scenario after “edge of the earth” is so ridiculously cathartic it has more in common with an atom exploding, a spaceship launching into outer space, or even a fish breaking through the surface of the water.
Sign ‘O’ The Times – Prince (1987)
Prince was one of the hardest artists to narrow down to one song, and it took some painstaking thinking. With a discography as legendary as it is eclectic, there is no real way to have one Prince song to rule them all, so I went with a personal favourite on the day and called it quits. The title track off of his legendary double album of the same name, saw another sonic departure for Prince after his run of commercial grandeur with The Revolution. He took the reigns entirely for this album, producing and playing all the instruments on nearly every single song, delivering an album with no real signature sound or vibe, but one that covered every era/side to Prince that there was. This song kickstarts with programmed drums, reminiscent of the hip hop wave that was beginning to sweep across America, and then the iconic bassline comes with nasty aggression. It’s a minimal, dark funk broken up by cutting and excellent guitar riffs that slice through the mix like a chainsaw. Prince paints an apocalyptic, hopeless world of gang violence, AIDS, and drug addiction with gripping lyricism, making for a stone cold classic that provides a mirror into the underbelly of the world Prince describes.
Racing In The Street – Bruce Springsteen (1978)
This was the artist that I struggled to narrow down the most. One of my all-time favourite artists, Bruce’s music is packed to the brim with emotion and storytelling, and this track has both. I think deep down I have always known this to be my favourite in his vast catalogue, because it’s just so poignant. In one of his many depictions of small-town American depression, Racing In the Street is the ballad to end all ballads. The lyrics follow a man whose engulfed by a town whose residents have given up living, and are dying “little by little, piece by piece”, whilst his passion for his car is the only thing that seems to be stopping him from joining them. He races through the night as a means to feel alive, to cleanse himself from the hardships of his life. He dabbles in a relationship with a girl, who then withers out of his life with heartbreak and hatred. So he turns to his car, and invites all the other “shut down strangers” to join him in washing “these sins off our hands”. The instrumental behind is a piano led wonder, joined by a thumping baseline and killer drums, and as Bruce’s character drives off into the night, the instrumental is left to play out the song in heavenly balladry.
The Light – Common (2000)
I already covered this song in my piece on J Dilla, but it’s a favourite, so it’s making the list once again. The song is one of the many timeless collaborations between legendary producer J Dilla and rapper Common, but to me it’s the best of them all. The way Dilla flipped the Bobby Caldwell sample is as beautiful as it is hypnotic. Its one of his simpler beats, but that doesn’t negate its brilliance. The jumpy piano licks fall on top of the mix like snowflakes, and the ground below is a classic low-end beat that has a deep thump on the way in, and a slapping knock on the way out. This is broken up by an occasional aquatic guitar line that trickles over the verses. It makes for an instrumental that I could never ever tire of, its so human and so gorgeous it causes almost an envy that someone can be that good at an art form. Common pens a love letter type song to his partner at the time, Erykah Badu. The lyrics are sharp as usual, but he doesn’t try to overdo it in some sort of lyrical miracle burst of character. Instead, he speaks from the heart, laying bare his faults and his nerves about approaching such a tender love. It’s the perfect marriage of producer and rapper.
Knocks Me Off My Feet – Stevie Wonder (1976)
This album needs no introduction, it’s an absolute monster of a classic. But this song is to me by far the most gorgeous song on an album famously for is lush sonic tapestry. It’s a very straightforward declaration of love, but its just musical butter, and the song itself is far from generic. First and foremost, to me its one of Stevie Wonder’s best vocal performances. His voice is like a ray of sunshine in the “summers day” he talks of, and the layering of the instrumentation is mind blowing. The drums themselves effortlessly switch between at least three distinct stages as the song waxes and wanes from verse to pre chorus to chorus, and the latter is so catchy and liberating it takes hold of your subconscious fast. After an immense build up the song then drops back into its lowkey, buttery verse that’s led by a tinny drums, rolling pianos and a cushion bassline. It’s just a sonic masterpiece, the musical equivalent of a rainforest.
Shook Ones, Pt. II – Mobb Deep (1996)
A drastic vibe u-turn from Stevie’s Songs in the Key Of Life, but no less of a classic. Perhaps the most famous and revered New York Hip Hop beat ever made, this song is excellence. Two teenagers (Havoc and Prodigy) from Queensbridge New York had a flopped album under their belt, and in a market as cut throat as Hip Hop was in the early to mid-90’s, their reputation was destroyed in their desperate attempt to rap about money, cars, clothes and a lifestyle they didn’t lead. They were given one more chance by their record label to produce something of substance, and they rose spectacularly to the occasion. Havoc, the producer and rapper for the duo, set himself the goal of carving his own lane in East Coast hip hop by producing a minimalistic, dark and excessively gritty soundscape that mimicked the environment in which they grew up in. The result was their revered classic album “The Infamous”, with the lead single being this song. The beat is compromised of the most famous riff in the industry, and even the sound of a New York train was thrown into the mix, and the end product was a beat so infectious, so dark and sinister it made them legends of their crafts. Prodigy, slightly more so than Havoc, is considered one of the greatest emcees, and he leaves this on full display with an arsenal of quotables and vivid, raw lyricism.
Over My Dead Body – Drake (2011)
Drake. The Damaged rapper. The emotional wizard. The most clowned on person in the music industry right now. In some regards, that’s probably fair. His last few albums have been pretty god awful, and this strange drill vibe he seems to be going on at the moment is again, god awful. But, I am not afraid, I AM NOT AFRAID, (I’m a little bit afraid), to admit that I love pre 2016 Drake. Take Care, Nothing Was the Same, and If Your Reading This It’s Too Late are really solid releases that increasingly get lost in all the Drake hate. I am happy to admit the guy comes out with certain verses and tracks that are eye wateringly soppy and terrible, but the greatness is still there, especially in Take Care – his best album. This intro track to Take Care is probably my favourite Drake song, for several reasons. The instrumental is vintage 40 and that’s why I love it. Drake and his producer 40 crafted a lane for themselves with mellow, late night, ambient hip hop that occasionally crosses over into RnB and I task anyone to listen to their stuff whilst driving at night and not get anything out of it. Over My Dead Body is the quintessential Drake song. It has the aquatic, soft, low-end drums pressing away in the background, supporting some spacey piano chords and a whispery female lead singer. Already the irresistible late night, Smokey vibe is there. Then Drake comes in with his game changing (yes, it is) singing/rapping delivery, which is relaxed, but he’s in his confidence bag, declaring his imminent grip over the rap game without breaking a sweat.