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"Top Five" Songs You Shouldn’t Live Without

It seems many of your sarcasm detectors weren’t working as the last installment of the Top Five in the April 1 issue (Greatest Songs of All Time) was met with a wave of disgust and disdain. It was April Fools Day! Anyway, this swan song edition of Top Five celebrates the end. For some of you, the end of the semester marks the beginning of drinking your way through a part-time job for the summer. For others, it’s time to hand out pieces of paper with an exhaustive list of accomplishments to greedy corporate types in hopes of breaking through in a dismal job market. Either way, this list is the equivalent of a lead singer spiking a microphone on stage and breaking it apart at the end of an energetic performance. The squealing sound of broken feedback is unpleasant but satisfying and definitive – you know damn well the show is over. As Rob Gordon said in “High Fidelity:” “what really matters is what you like, not what you are like … books, records, films; these things matter.” That’s what this list has been all about. And with that, here are five songs you absolutely shouldn’t live without. Consider yourselves beneficiaries in the Top Five’s will and accept these songs as a parting gift for your ears. Thanks for reading!

“Roadrunner” – Modern Lovers
With a jangly organ, three chords and lyrics about driving fast and loving rock ‘n’ roll, this song makes rock ‘n’ roll lovers drive fast. It can’t be stressed enough that this is the perfect song for a windows-down-in-the-hot-sun road trip or a summer afternoon drinking binge; just don’t mix the two. From the unorthodox countdown of “One, two, three, four, five, six …” at the start of the song, Jonathan Richman and his band of merry Massachusites chug through one of the most original straightforward rock/pop songs ever recorded. Perfectly imperfect like a good garage band should be. It’s impossible to get sick of this song.

“Mote” – Sonic Youth
A mote is defined as a small speck or particle, usually of dust (see the Sylvia Plath poem “The Eye Mote” from which this song is apparently partially based), but it really seems to be more about the confusion about a love interest resulting from recreational drug use. Lee Ranaldo’s lyrics “I’m down in the daytime out of sight/ Comin’ in from dreamland I’m on fire/ I can see it’s all been here before/ Dream a dream that lies right at your door/ When the seasons circle sideways out of turn/ And words don’t speak just fall across the carpet/ You’re just in time to watch the fires burn/ It seems a crime but your face is bright, you love it/ All the time,” might defy any concrete interpretation, but this is one powerhouse of a song. Though the Sonic Youth trademark of four minutes of feedback to end the song can either be really cool or really distracting, depending on your mental state, this is a college radio classic. The video is pretty damn cool too. Crank it up and rip off the knob.

“Jump Into the Fire” – Harry Nilsson
John Lennon said Nilsson was his favorite American tenor. If that isn’t enough of an endorsement, the thumping bassline and Nilsson’s infectious vocals make this song the highlight of the infamous helicopter scene in “Goodfellas.” Not to say you should go Henry Hill on everyone and mastermind the biggest heist of all time, get in deep with a Pittsburgh cocaine connection, piss off the mob, rat out your friends and enter witness protection; but if you were so inclined, here’s your soundtrack. The album version clocks in at around eight minutes, and the pace of the song is perfect for a reckless drive when you’re running late and weaving through traffic. It’s a must for any lengthy commute.

“Hold On, I’m Comin’” – Sam and Dave
Released in 1966 on the famed Stax Records label (maybe the best record company ever), it quickly shot to the top of the charts. Rumor has it co-writers of the song Isaac Hayes (later “Shaft” and “Chef” from “South Park”) and David Porter penned the song in 10 minutes after Hayes called to Porter, who was in the bathroom responded “hold on, man, I’m comin.’” And it also helps that the Stax house musicians backing the song were Booker T & the MGs. Check out the live seven-minute version on YouTube from 1966, and be thankful this tune invaded your day.

“Rapper’s Delight” – Sugar Hill Gang
Call it cheesy, call it lame, call it dated – it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter that these guys essentially stole all their lyrics from a gritty MC named Casanova Fly and beat him to the punch recording this single. This song captured the vibe of New York in the early ‘80s when disco was all but dead and hip-hop was still two turntables, an MC and a dance party in the park during the summertime. Plus you’ve got to give credit to a song that spawned the lines “Hotel, motel, Holiday Inn/ If your girl starts acting up, then you take her friend” and “I don’t mean to brag, I don’t mean to boast/ But we’re like hot butter on our breakfast toast.” There’s no excuse not to play it at your next party.

Compiled by Jason Yurgartis.

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  • T

    that guyMar 17, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Mote is probably a biblical reference. It’s the symbol of a hypocrite.
    A man points out the mote in another man’s eye while failing to
    deal with the plank his own.