12. King Crimson, Starless: A five minute guitar solo built on one note that—seriously—will make you wonder why every other guitar player uses so many.
13. Thelonious Monk, Well You Needn't: Monk plays the piano like it's another kind of drum. Monk's chords and offbeat strikes make you realize that our hearts probably speak in angular chords played at weird intervals too.
14. Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows: For me, pretty much the best lyric ever written. Cohen's lyrics are like the best guitar solos you've never heard. Amazing to think that his great moment of enlightenment was "I have to sing." You could imagine his superego responding "you fool, with that voice?" leading to an ego versus superego brawl like two poets on a bender ending with the ego triumphant; years follow playing folk clubs and dodging beer bottles and eventually the result is this song. This is the voice of a brilliant frog. (A great song when someone else sings it, too.)
A respectable rendition by Concrete Blonde here.
15. Steely Dan, Black Friday: Maybe it's true that only absurdity can properly describe our tragedies ("...with nothing to do but feed all the kangaroos"). Black humor also helps. And Fagen's voice serves both masters perfectly.
16. Jacques Brel's If You Go Away: I don't care who sings this—Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield, Cher (Hell, even Sonny couldn't ruin this)—it's a song that (nearly) transcends the singer. (Streisand covered it first.) It's also the most elegant exploration of psychotic obsessive-compulsive love stalking you'll ever hear. A real weeper out of the right mouth.
17. XTC, Dear God: Beautifully uncomfortable stabs of one person's truth that pretty much captures my religious views as well. Try this attitude at your next sales meeting or job interview: People will be too scared of you to say no.
18. Velvet Underground, Venus in Furs: An amazing combo of a bondage lyric, eerie slurring viola, a beat that chugs like a room-sized cloud of bong smoke, and a primitive oiled-up-around-the-campfire vibe that works even though it sounds as if it was recorded with a mic stuffed into a tooth filling. Listening to this you might think you could make music like this too. You'd be wrong, of course, but it does give one hope.
19. Blue Oyster Cult, Hot Rails to Hell: A favorite band of mine in high school which exploits the Satisfaction riff again (sort of inverted) but what else should a hot rail to hell sound like? A perfect song for the drive to my teenage hellhole minimum-wage pot scrubbing job.
20. Roxy Music, Song for Europe: Bryan Ferry's vibrato is like your hands on ten cups of coffee following a week-long fast at gunpoint. I love how this song kind of explodes at the end. People with better ears than mine say he sings a little sharp. I say we should all be so sharp.
21. Jeff Buckley, Grace: Somewhere in the song's last minute Buckley's voice trips off into insanity: Not the insanity of the homeless guy cursing outside my window at three in the morning, but the kind of genius insanity that only comes from deep breaths of the infinite blowing out a voice that was thousands of years in the making. There's an old rabbinical tale of a man who gets his wish to see the face of god. Afterwards, his friends come to visit and find him hiding under his bed for the unspeakableness of what he saw. There's a moment in Grace where Buckley sounds like he saw it too. Even the most disillusioned cynics may get chicken skin on this one.