Saturday, June 03, 2006

Let me fall out of the window with confetti in my hair

Paste Magazine recently compiled a list of what they consider the 100 best living songwriters. (Thanks to Stereogum)

100 Best Living Songwriters
1. Bob Dylan
2. Neil Young
3. Bruce Springsteen
4. Waits/Brennan
5. Paul McCartney
6. Leonard Cohen
7. Brian Wilson
8. Elvis Costello
9. Joni Mitchell
10. Prince
11. Randy Newman
12. Jagger/Richards
13. Paul Simon
14. Stevie Wonder
15. Willie Nelson
16. David Bowie
17. Holland/Dozier/Holland
18. U2
19. Patty Griffin
20. Van Morrison
21. Lou Reed
22. Lucinda Williams
23. John/Taupin
24. Jeff Tweedy
25. Chuck Berry
26. R.E.M.
27. Radiohead
28. Robbie Robertson
29. Tom Petty
30. John Prine
31. Carole King
32. Leiber/Stoller
33. Pete Townshend
34. John Fogerty
35. Steve Earle
36. Beck
37. Smokey Robinson
38. Kris Kristofferson
39. Led Zeppelin
40. Bacharach/David
41. Ray Davies
42. Loretta Lynn
43. Ryan Adams
44. Al Green
45. Jackson Browne
46. David Byrne
47. Sufjan Stevens
48. Welch/Rawlings
49. Cat Stevens
50. Public Enemy
51. Penn/Oldham
52. Paul Westerberg
53. James Taylor
54. Aimee Mann
55. Dolly Parton
56. James Brown
57. Morrissey
58. Sly Stone
59. Jack White
60. Jimmy Webb
61. John Hiatt
62. Sting
63. Richard Thompson
64. Andy Partridge
65. Bill Mallonee
66. Charles Thompson
67. Conor Oberst
68. Allen Toussaint
69. Merle Haggard
70. Alex Chilton
71. Vic Chesnutt
72. Michael Jackson
73. Julie Miller
74. Over the Rhine
75. Ron Sexsmith
76. Will Oldham
77. Bruce Cockburn
78. Robert Pollard
79. Stephen Malkmus
80. Pink Floyd
81. The Flaming Lips
82. John Darnielle
83. Fleetwood Mac
84. They Might Be Giants
85. David Bazan
86. Sam Beam
87. Lyle Lovett
88. Parliament
89. Victoria Williams
90. Nick Cave
91. Drive-By Truckers
92. Alejandro Escovedo
93. Joseph Arthur
94. Sam Phillips
95. Patti Smith
96. Jimmy Cliff
97. Josh Ritter
98. Jay Farrar
99. Outkast
100. T. Bone Burnett

They got #1 and #2 right, that is for sure. As for the rest of it, there are some great picks and some terrible ones, but I suppose that's to be expected for a list like this. Floyd and Stephen Malkmus should be higher, Sufjan Stevens and Bruce Springsteen lower, and Josh Ritter and Drive-By Truckers not on the list at all. But what this list nailed that others would probably miss is Waits/Brennan at #4.

I've slowly been wading through Tom Waits' discography in the last few months and have been blown away by most of it. The guy has a style that has slowly changed over the years, but remained uniquely his - often imitated, but never duplicated. From the 70's singer-songwriter-ish Closing Time to the down-and-out jazz crooning of Nighthawks at the Diner to the dark, rhythmic, going-to-a-carnival-on-acid Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs to the even darker, guttural, tribal-sounding Bone Machine and Blood Money, Waits' music varies enough to stay relevant and interesting and never get stale. The list of artists that have covered him is impressive: Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart (who had a hit single with Waits' "Downtown Train"), Violent Femmes, Tori Amos, The Ramones, Neko Case, Hootie & The Blowfish, Cat Power, Tim Buckley, T-Bone Burnett, Nancy Griffith, Pearl Jam, Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, and (the one-and-only) Meatloaf.

The awesome thing about the music of Waits and his wife and co-songwriter Kathleen Brennan is that underneath the strange instrumentation and sometimes alienating vocal delivery are some incredibly well written, well constructed and perfectly executed songs. The lyrics are often stellar and just about perfect for the sad bastard sound of the music. (I am a connoisseur of good sad bastard music.) Yet underneath the layers and layers of foreign sounds, gravelly vocals and sometimes sinister lyrical topics, there is a gentle, enduring optimism in much of the music. "That Feel" from Bone Machine, "The Day After Tomorrow" from Real Gone and "Come On Up To The House" from Mule Variations are good examples of this.

I don't have my music handy right now, so once again this is an MP3-less MP3 blog, but we'll have a Tom Waits smorgasbord sometime this week. Until then, here's a couple pieces of media, thanks to YouTube, which is an amazing tool for killing massive amounts of time, by the way.

"Chocolate Jesus" (Live on Letterman?)

"Hoist That Rag" (Live in Amsterdam)

This is one artist that I must see before I die (or he dies, whichever comes first).


At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in the day, Tom Waits concerts were one in a lifetime events, it was a stage comprising only a piano, a bottle of jack daniels, tom waits chain smoking and a spotlight. unmissable. However a recent Dublin show sold out in 60 seconds. I think its a record.

I personally think that the top 4 is perfect, although id switch Young and Waits, all 4 have a brilliant grasp on their personal lanscapes, Waits dive bars and brothels or Springsteens land of broken american dreams, they are doubtless the best living songwriters.

sorry about the length.

At 1:52 AM, Anonymous The Copy Reaper said...

Although I generally agree with the list, I'm surprised Paste snubbed Ben Gibbard. Do you know the magazine's criteria? Did it include instrumentation or production in addition to lyrics?


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