Well, the number of people scratching their heads and looking at me funny has slowed to a trickle, so I guess it’s time to reveal the answers, to better help you run off to iTunes and try to figure out what I’m talking about. If you still want a crack at the lyrics before looking at the answers, click here.
1. Down by the river, the water’s running low as I wander underneath the trees
Kate Wolf – These Times We’re Living In
Ah, Kate Wolf. One of those great songwriters that almost everyone knows a song by, but few have actually heard. Her songs have been covered by Nanci Griffith, John Gorka, Eric Bogle, Emmylou Harris, and our own Mary Ellen Wessels –and for good reason. Her lyrics are pure poetry, and she herself has a lovely voice that was taken from us much too soon.
2. As I walk through this wicked world, searching for light in the darkness of insanity
I’m a huge fan of Elvis Costello, and this song, penned by Nick Lowe (extra points to bikergeek), was one of the first of his I learned to play myself. If you’re not familiar with Costello’s work, I recommend picking up his “Best of…” CD, but don’t miss a couple of album gems: Spike, which features the heartbreaking Paul McCartney collaboration “Veronica”, and The River In Reverse, a masterful collaboration with New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint.
3. The fly on the coachwheel told me that he got it and he knew what to do with it
Manchester’s Stone Roses were never very big in the US, but their songs are infectiously catchy. This track comes off their second (and sadly final) album, Second Coming. Both of their albums are well worth picking up.
4. They made up their minds and they started packing. They left before the sun came up that day
This mysterious melodic song from Austin’s Fastball appeared out of nowhere in 1998 and zoomed up the charts. I love the surreal dreamscape imagery of the song, and how you never quite figure out if what is happening is real, or a metaphor, or what exactly. Fastball continues to release albums, though nothing has quite gotten the attention of this, their breakthrough hit.
5. Politicians preaching on TV saying nothing but vote for me.Everybody everywhere, we got a love
ABC was a huge part of the early 80s New Wave, and 80s New Wave is a genre very dear to my heart. This particular track is from after their peak, but does satisfy the worlds long-standing need for a folk protest song that you can dance to.
6. Gonna take a chance on her, one bullet in the cylinder
Ah, the Ramones. The Beach Boys of Punk. How can you not love a band whose first album had 12 songs and clocked in at justa hair over 29 minutes? One of the great things about this band is how melodic it was, in a genre that tended to favour dissonance. This particular track isn’t one of their best, but it’s still a rocking little tune, and, like most Ramones songs, if you don’t like it, wait a moment and it’ll be over
7. Whatcha gonna choose the poison or the lines? Lived with crazy pain in all your life
Tears for Fears was another huge 80s band that I was really into in high school. Songs From the Big Chair was a masterpiece, and the Beatles pastiche “Sowing The Seads of Love” is pure pop gold. This track is from their 2005 reunion album Everybody Loves A Happy Ending, which I enjoyed thoroughly, even as it more or less disappeared without a trace in the US despite a reasonably successful tour.
8. You don’t have to take the bar exam to see what you’ve done is Ignoramus 103
REM – Star 69
Athens, Georgia’s most successful band, REM has successfully reinvented itself a number of times. While my own preference is for the bands earlier indie-label work (Life’s Rich Pageant may be their best album ever), this track came off their much more mainstream rock effort, Monster. The songs off this album have a raw, edgy energy that is very enjoyable if you like music with more sharp corners.
9. Kelly is raising her son; his dad left just after the birth
Edwin McCain – Write Me A Song
I was pretty sure aiela would get this one, since she’s the one who turned me onto South Carolina singer/songwriter Edwin McCain. McCain is a rocker with folk lyric sensibilities, which makes him very enjoyable to listen to. He plays Atlanta a fair bit, so I really ought to catch a show one of these days.
10. So you think you’re a Romeo playing a part in a picture-show?
This is the one that most people got, and is probably the biggest radio hit of the 20 songs on the list. Most people identified it with Supertramp, the band which originally made it famous, but this particular cut is off of former ‘tramp frontman Roger Hodgson’s superb 1997 live album Rites of Passage. I’ve always wanted to cover this one. I just need to find a pianist and a kick-ass harmonica player to play with me. 🙂
11. The Tupamaros got a platinum card, all right. I got a heart of gold and it’s time to get hard and I like it
Scritti Politti was started out in the British punk scene, and then suddenly said “Hey, let’s make, yknow, a perfect pop album.”. And they did, with the ineffable Cupid and Psyche ’85, one of the best albums of that year. This song wasn’t as big a hit as the amazing “Perfect Way”, but it’s still a great vibe.
12. He left a card, a bar of soap and a scrubbing brush next to a note that said “use these down to your bones”
Australian Missy Higgins contributes this lovely, heartfelt piano pop song with lyrics that do, in fact, hit close to home. She’s kinda pretty too, which, I admit, doesn’t count against her.
13. Tears fill up my eyes I’m washed away with sorrow, and somewhere in my mind I know there’s no tomorrow
Sugar’s Copper Blue was possibly my favourite album of 1994. ex-Hüsker Dü frontman Bob Mould’s new band had everything I was really digging at the time – great guitar, strong melodies and meaningful lyrics. This was the best song on that amazing album, and in more recent times has even more personal resonance than when I first heard it. Another one I keep meaning to learn to play.
14. It don’t matter what you do, I don’t care what you say, It don’t matter where you go, honey
Louisiana native Buckwheat Zydeco (Stanley Dural) is an awesome musician, and this little gem off his 2005 album jackpot shows off why. Its hard to listen to this song and not smile. (Hey, katyhh: accordion!)
15. I was trained in Arizona in a secret desert camp where we did night manoeuvres without a lighted lamp
Hawkwind – Secret Agent
vila_resthal introduced me to Hawkwind, and I’ve been a big fan ever since. This is a rocking number off their 1993 Electric Tepee album.
16. Here I go, going down, down, down; my mind is a blank, my head is spinning around and around
The Jody Grind – Funnel of Love
Oh, for what might have been. The Jody Grind was absolutely one of the best bands coming out of the Atlanta music scene in the early 1990s. They made two albums, all full of their weird fusion of jazz, rock, and R&B. They were just starting to catch some attention when two of the members of the band were killed in a car crash. Singer Kelly Hogan is now living in Chicago and still making music, these two splendid albums from her former band will always stand as my favourite of her work.
17. What may I ask is never enough; It’s never too sweet and it’s never too rough
This is a fantastic song from Los Angeles’s Mellowdrome. There’s something delightfully nostalgic about this 2006 track…it has a poppy psychedelic vibe that gets it stuck in your head. Good stuff.
18. Peter said to Paul you know all those words we wrote are just the rules of the game and the rules are the first to go
This is the first song that I heard by Idaho-born songwriter Josh Ritter, and it utterly blew me away. Since, I’ve collected more of his work, and none of it has let me down. This is the sort of song I hear and thing “I wish I’d written that.”
19. Floating in the summer sunshine, we are flying, we are blue; Falling like a summer raindrop, like a teardrop, like the dew
Just a clip of the song, sadly. The October Project is one of those bands that is really hard to describe, but they’re utterly awesome. Musically lush, with Mary Fahl’s gorgeous ethereal voice floating over the top of rich orchestrated music…this is Grade A Goodness. Since I can’t find a full clip of this song, have another: Return To Me.
20. Lost track of what i had to get done, not meeting anyone, stuck in one place while the snowflakes all come down
Back when I used to randomly surf through the mp3 newsgroups on Usenet, I’d sometimes download music from a band simply because I liked the name of the band. This is how I discovered Swedish garage-pop band Suburban Kids With Biblical Names. This song came off their first full-length album, titled simply “#3”. Their music is silly, catchy fun. (The linked clip is a live bootleg video. You can hear a much cleaner version of it on their MySpace page.
And that’s the list. Aren’t you glad you asked?
Just because I want to share as much as I can with you, I dug up as many online links as I could so you can hear this stuff for yourself. Enjoy!