The Perfect Songs, Part X
Time for another installment – the tenth! – in my never-ending series* of occasional looks at songs I would gift with the label "perfect" – whatever that means in my wacky little cerebrum. They're "perfect" because they manage to combine beat and words and emotional ballast into whatever it is that makes songs matter to us. Here's three more to groove to:
28. The White Stripes, "The Hardest Button To Button." I love Meg White. She may be the object of disdain among lots of drumming afficionados, but what she might lack in polish she provides in pure thudding stomp, and this track is a marvelous showcase for the rhythm and racket a band can make with just two people. The Stripes excel at serving up a post-millennial stew of the blues – an unbeatable wild mercury groove, Jack White's greasy lyrics and delivery are redolent of the juke joint, his guitar chords combine Muddy Waters with a hint of Ramones, and Meg – well, I just love Meg's sturdy drumbeat. And she drums barefoot. I find that oddly appealing. As marvelous an ode to the unforgettable stomp of the Delta blues as we've had since the Stones' heyday. And there's Meg, banging along with all her heart. "Now it's easy when you don't know better / You think it's sleazy? Then put it in a short letter."
29. Elvis Presley, "Mystery Train." For way too many folks, Elvis is a joke these days. I'll admit, he was to me too; even though I lived within spitting distance from Graceland for years the King was mainly a source of played-out humor for me. It wasn't till I actually visited Graceland a year or so before I moved away from the South that I started to develop a sense of what the man meant, who he was and his tragic little story. "Mystery Train" is one of the early Sun singles – Elvis at his most unpolished, honest and open-hearted, I think – and its bluesy little shuffle may not be terribly profound, but it's the rail line that opened up a whole genre of music. In the hollow echo of its swing, you can see that train, the baby comin' round the bend. Here's where it all begins. "Train I ride, sixteen coaches long..."
30. Journey, "Don't Stop Believin'" It's an accepted truism among the cultured that Journey suck. But in fact they do not always suck. They do what they do extremely well – it's just that their ultra-sappy, heart-on-my-sleeve power rock kinda went out of fashion post-1985 or so. But I will gladly confess that sometimes, a Journey song is all you need in life, and this one sums up their approach perfectly, from Steve Perry's broad-but-universal lyrics ("Just a small town girl / living in a lonely world") to the sprinklings of power ballad guitar riffs. It builds into a life-affirming anthem that is so cheesy it somehow goes beyond cheesy and into something true again – then again, maybe you just had to be there in 1983 to have it stick. (And would you believe someone out there on the Internets has done an awesome academic analysis of the lyrics? Of course you would.) Journey: Deeper than you thought? "Some will win, some will lose, some were born to sing the blues."
(*To recap: parts one, two, three, four; five; six; seven, eight and nine.)