THE WOOF 200 FOR 1993
Ranking songs (or albums, or movies, or anything really) is kind of a silly proposition, as the line that separates one piece of greatness from another is so ridiculously thin that it might as well not exist. In fact, it doesn’t exist, as most of the time what separates one from the next is the nature of my mood when I’m putting said rankings together. That point was hammered to home to me while putting this run of 10 together as I constantly wanted to rearrange the order and move whatever song I was working on up, until I realized I had no desire to move the subsequent songs down. In other news we’re inside the top 40 now and this is really, really difficult.
Beautiful power ballad which features vocalist Donnie Vie giving one of his most blatant John Lennon imitations on record. Unlike a lot of the hairbands they were often lumped in with, Vie and songwriting partner Chip Z’Nuff (ugh) fancied themselves pure pop songwriters first and foremost and it tends to shine through on tracks like this. They meld together a nice balance of melody and dynamic along with better-than-average lyrics to create a tune that has plenty of the sugary sweetness we’re used to from them while still displaying appropriate power when needed. Derek Frigo’s guitar solo is quick but ripping, and the whole thing has a sense of pop grandness to it that shows off what the band does best.
No album in 1993 produced more top 40 entries into my countdown than Big Head Todd’s Sister Sweetly, which is weird considering I gave the album an 8/10 and currently have it residing at #9 overall for the year. The explanation of course is that the songs I love I *really* love whereas there are a number of tracks on there which I don’t really care for. Focusing on the one’s I DO like, we start with this simple acoustic number that shows off the lower and upper reaches of Todd Park Mohr’s surprising vocal range. He starts things deep and low in the opening verse and chorus, then climbs to an upper mid-range for the second verse before pushing to the a pure falsetto for the chorus that follows. I also dig the slight organ that runs underneath it all (at least that’s what I think it is), as well as what appears to be a light mandolin echo which combine to give the otherwise sparse guitar instrumentation the tiniest bit of edge. Some wonderful subtly at work here.
Tom Petty’s ability to stay relevant as the 90’s musical changes took hold is pretty impressive, especially considering his 70’s stuff sounds right at home and his 80’s stuff is part of what defined the decade. For this track released as part of his first Greatest Hits album he pulls a move similar to what John Hiatt did by dirtying up his sound in just the *slightest* way, keeping his core song-writing and vocal styles in tact while giving the guitars a, dare I say, grungier feel. This song takes a basic, plodding drum beat, and manages to turn it into one of those tunes that you always finding yourself bopping along to. Bit of a Neil Young feel to it, that sort of countrified dirge that Neil pulls off better than almost anybody else. The Dylan styled harmonica is a nice touch too.
One of the few times I’m willing to cheat the facts, as this song was actually released in 1990 on the band’s Sunshine On Leith album, but of course came to be a huge success in the US in ’93 after being included on the soundtrack to Benny & Joon. I’m not really sure I need to explain why it climbs this high on the countdown, especially if you know of my love of thick Scottish accents in my rock’n’roll. That incessant marching beat became one of the most instantly recognizable things to come out of the 90’s. Then you’ve got the fun, singable lyrics and the mob-mentality call-and-response “Ta-da-DA-da!” of the after-chorus and it’s nearly impossible to hate this song if you have any sense of fun in you. Simply one of the greatest one-hit wonders of all time and only falls to #37 for me because let’s face it, it’s all kind of silly.
Glenn Danzig is a giant asshole and I don’t really care for most of the music he’s produced over the course his somewhat surprising career, but like a lot of MTV viewers in 1993 I fell under the spell of this updated version of one of his namesake band’s earlier tracks. Again sort of cheating as there is almost no discernable difference between the ’93 version and the original, but whatever, I associate it with ’93 so deeply that I felt it had to go here. It’s really a crap shoot as to which is the more ridiculous Glenn Danzig video performance too. As a song it’s all low-slung guitars and macho metal posturing, which I say as a compliment. Such a killer riff and a song with tremendous build. Also noted for being Red Sox closer Keith Foulke’s entrance music during their 2004 curse-breaking World Series run, which I suppose only adds to its appeal for a guy like me. But I swear I liked it just fine before then.
I had the Goo Goo Dolls back at #44 with their pseudo-breakout radio hit “We Are The Normal”, but at the end of the day it’s this album track from that same Superstar Carwash album that I prefer. Once again John Rzeznik manages to set aside his punk instincts and craft a catchy song that manages to show a bit of musicianship to boot, at least when compared to the bangin’-n-crashin’ style of old. Vocally I’ve always enjoyed the slightly strained quality to his voice which allows it to be ragged without being annoying. Really though it’s his song-writing that improved over time and the first prime examples of that come on this album.
I’ve pumped the tires on Winger’s ’93 album Pull about as much as any one man can over the course of this countdown, and yet here I am again with one final nod to perhaps the most-unappreciated album of the year. Another acoustic based song – at first – it starts off sounding like an acoustic rendition of some other song, until the 1:45 mark where the electric portion kicks in and the song grows teeth. Structure-wise its way outside the norm for a pop metal act and shows just how creative Kip and Company were if you were willing to look past their MTV era posing. He’s also a underrated vocalist, here showing equal parts gentle crooner and full-on belter. I really love this album’s sound, in case you haven’t noticed.
Speaking of albums whose overall sound I really love, re-enter The Devlins, the Irish rockers who managed to worm their way into my consciousness for one album and one album only. I love damn near every track on this record even though I only managed to squeeze three on the countdown. Here they do their best to deliver a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on U2’s The Joshua Tree, which is about as high as praise gets. Truth be told I actually prefer Colin Devlin’s smoky delivery here than Bono’s sometimes forced theatricality, but I don’t want to incite the wrath of bitchy U2 fans everywhere, so let’s just say they both have their place. I love the dreamy atmosphere they are able to layer on top of the steady driving beat of the rhythm section all while the guitars keep sneaking in with some interesting little bits of their own. These guys really knew how to craft a song.
(Rather unintentionally I had Devlins/Winger at 52/51 and then Winger/Devlins here at 34/33. Odd.)
Can we talk for a moment about what an underrated guitarist Neil Giraldo is? He’s not the kind of flashy burner that is going to leap to mind when you’re thinking of the greatest shredders of all time, and maybe he doesn’t noodle up the solos like say Clapton, but when it comes to knowing his place as a rhythm guy and really giving a song something to sink its teeth into, Neil was the man. The tune manages to rock pretty righteously even while he’s mostly doing this stutter-stop thing that can’t even count as a riff. Meanwhile this song has an awesome build and a killer little up/down bass riff that leaves a lot of room for Pat to do her hard rocking thing all over the top of it. I particularly love when she drops down low for parts of the verse before unleashing that trademark Benatar wail come chorus time. I even like the thinness of the snare drum here (a production technique I often loathe), as it emphasizes the stripped back nature of the rest of the track. Another tune that is structured in a really unique way for a rock song and yet never sounds pretentiously “inventive”.
Having this song at #31 feels wrong. It should be higher. It should be much higher. Hell, James Hetfield of Metallica once said it was “the perfect metal song”, and if HE thinks so, I can’t see what earthly reason I have for leaving it here. The arrival of John Bush to the mic allowed Anthrax to leave behind the somewhat niche-sound of the Joey Belladonna-era for something a little more mainstream. Yet to me there was never a whiff of “sellout”, as they were still delivering ferocious metal riffs and I actually found Charlie Benante’s drumming got better. His kickdrum beats here are awesome. I also really love what they accomplish here with the “rhythm” guitar, as they create this constant din of churning metal underneath the main riff that gives the song a heightened feel. That part alone keeps my heart racing as it feels like its keeping the song suspended and the moment it stops the song and all its listeners are gonna plummet back to earth. I’m not %100 sure I agree with Hetfield that it’s a “perfect” metal song, but it’s damn close, and a sight better than #31 for sure. Guess I was just in a much mellower and somber mood in ’93.