There’s a long list of topics that lyricists will continue to cover as long as the medium exists. There are an infinite number of love songs and probably an equal amount about the fallout from that emotion. Hell, there’s been a vast amount of songs written about letting your hair down and partying with your friends. While these topics are often covered with one’s heart-on-their-sleeve, there’s been a choice few that take something inanimate and give it life.
10. Superchunk – Driveway to Driveway
The Chapel Hill quartet spent the 90s writing up-tempo indie-rock, but even on slowed down ballads like “Driveway to Driveway,” the band shined. Implementation of subtle and engaging rhythms lends itself to vocalist Mac McCaughan’s higher octaves. When McCaughan sings, “My hand on your heart had been replaced/And I thought it was you that I had chased,” he turns a concrete slab into a letter of lost love.
9. Paul Baribeau – Tablecloth
Throughout Baribeau’s self-titled debut, the singer-songwriter toys with convention. With rough songwriting and an even rougher voice, Baribeau’s lack of polish becomes his charm. On the album’s opening track “Tablecloth,” Baribeau never plays a string, opting to turn his guitar into a makeshift snare drum. He tells the story of a former beau playfully converting a tablecloth into a skirt. With the line, “That was long before everything went wrong,” he invites you in to his despair.
8. Metallica – Battery
The mid-80’s saw Metallica become one of America’s premier thrash acts. On 1986’s Master of Puppets the band refined the aggressive qualities found on its previous efforts and constructed its best album. “Battery” opens Master, offering the listener everything in Metallica’s arsenal. Huge riffs, shredding solos and monstrous vocals collide to make a head banger’s dream a reality. Who would have thought in five years they would have gone to shit?
7. Pearl Jam – Spin the Black Circle
The vinyl record is one of the greatest things on the planet, a notion Eddie Vedder not only understands, but promotes. By releasing Vitalogy on vinyl two weeks before the CD, Pearl Jam was already pushing the format. Choosing “Spin the Black Circle” to be the album’s first single drove the point home. When Vedder sings “Pull it out/A paper sleeve/Oh, my joy/Only you deserve conceit,” he extols the beauty of a ritual worth performing.
6. Jawbreaker – Shirt
Blake Schwarzenbach’s poeticism is held in high regard by the punk community. “Shirt,” a song recorded during the Dear You sessions, encapsulates his lyrical prowess. “I wanna be your shirt/So I can hug you while you work,” creates a sugar sweet chorus, while the verses boast two of Schwarzenbach’s best uses of irony, “You’re like a simile, like totally/You’re like a metaphor for something else.”
5. Elvis Costello and The Attractions – Radio Radio
“And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools,” was first sung by Elvis Costello in 1978 and still rings true today. Taken at face value, “Radio Radio” seems like nothing more than a feel-good New Wave tune, a testament to Costello’s skilled satire. “Radio Radio” is not only pure pop-goodness but also one of the best indictments of corporate media ever penned.
4. Run-D.M.C. – My Adidas
Run-D.M.C. was the first hip-hop group to cross over into the mainstream by integrating rock-influence into Jam-Master Jay’s beats. Simmons and McDaniels were able to craft rhymes that reached out to new audiences without alienating the group from the fans that first embraced them. “My Adidas” brought hip-hop, and its fashion sense, to the suburbs without watering down the trio’s power.
3. The Replacements – Answering Machine
The Replacements discography, comprised of hardcore punk rage, blues-inspired jaunts and downtrodden ballads, is beautiful in its all-consuming ambition. Let It Be saw these factors converge to create one of the 80s’ best rock records. Paul Westerberg’s ode to this lifeless technology is crushing. “How do you say ‘I love you’ to an answering machine.” And with it being the album’s climax, there’s no resolve from Westerberg’s pain.
2. Queen – Bicycle Race
Freddy Mercury’s time spent as Queen’s frontman proved his ability to transform the mundane into the extraordinary. While consisting of immensely talented musicians didn’t hurt, Queen reached arena-rock heights with the help of gigantic record production. “Bicycle Race” is a testament to Queen’s ability to never take itself too seriously and always challenge its audience. Plus, riding bikes is pretty rad, too.
1. Descendents – Clean Sheets
This list could have consisted exclusively of Descendents songs. “Coffee Mug,” “Van,” “Statue of Liberty,” “M-16,” and quite a few others are all good enough to be on this list, but “Clean Sheets,” from the hit-or-miss album that is All, trumps all the rest. Sure, it’s about a girl, but that doesn’t make vocalist Milo Aukerman’s delivery any less moving. “And now I want to hold you/Gotta hold my pillow instead/Cause my pillow will never lie/Or be with a stranger in my bed.” It’s poppy, it’s punk and it perfectly summarizes all the great things the Descendents have to offer.