Rant of the Week

Five Perfect Songs and Broken Radios

 

There are five perfect songs.  Here they are:

Sam Stone (John Prine)

All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan)

Anchorage (Michelle Shocked)

I Fought the Law (Bobby Fuller Four)

You Don't Own Me (Leslie Gore)

That's it. 

About Sam Stone:

But life had lost its fun
And there was nothing to be done
But trade his house that he bought on the GI bill
For a flag-draped casket on a local heroe's hill

"Suspicion" (Elvis Presley) comes close, but no cigar.

Other Honorable Mentions:

"Reelin' in the Years" (Steely Dan) A truly awesome recording but I can't overlook the pettiness of "the things that pass for knowledge I can't understand..." 

"Homeward Bound" (Simon and Garfunkel) a fine, fine song, but "all my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity" is a little precious. 

"Four Strong Winds" (Ian & Sylvia)  is a bit slight, so you have to repeat the chorus and that gives it a bit of a sense of aimlessness and repetition and violates the rule of economy.

The Beatles' best song is "Girl":

Was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure?
Did she understand it when they said,
That a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure
Will she still believe it when he's dead?

But "Eleanor Rigby" is also very nearly perfect.

"Go Your Own Way" (Fleetwood Mac) is too slight.

"Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits is very, very good.

"Echo Beach" (Martha & the Muffins)  Actually, this song is darn near perfect as well.  Darn near. 

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (The Band) Great, great song, but a bit murky, and the Band's own recording of it is not as perfect as the song.  As is "This Wheel's on Fire" and "Tears of Rage".  I do actually like the cover version of "Dixie" by Joan Baez, featuring crack Nashville session musicians.  It's from an album that appeared to be an effort by Baez to reach out to the alienated silent majority of Americans who seemed to despise her. 

"Satisfaction" (Rolling Stones)  Okay.  So this one is perfect too.  Six perfect songs.  But it has to share with "Light My Fire" (Doors).

"Like a Rolling Stone" (Bob Dylan) Violates rule of economy, but also a great, great song.  "Tangled up in Blue" might actually be a better song.

"Thunder Road" (Bruce Springsteen)  Can't sustain that great take-off, "you can hide 'neath your covers and study your pain"  though he tries, brilliantly.  In the end, it's just a trifle indulgent, a trifle too self-consciously monumental.  A trifle.  On some days I prefer "Jungleland".

"Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" (Bob Dylan) is as good or better than any other song on the list.  All right, seven.

"One of These Days" (Emmy Lou Harris) Lovely, enchanting piece, reminds me of "As I Went Out One Morning" (Bob Dylan): both are elegantly economical, tight, balanced.

"Someday Soon" (Judy Collins)  Okay-- another one.  Eight.

All right: 9-- "The Hammond Song", by the Roches. Actually, this song is obviously flawed, but there are moments when it does sound just perfect to me.  So 8.  Wait -- 9.  I forgot about one of the most perfect, crystalline, renditions ever: "Wayfarin' Stranger" by Emmy-Lou Harris with that absolutely wonderful lead by Tony Rice and mandolin by Albert Lee.

All Contents Copyright Bill Van Dyk
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