1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: The Black Crowes – “Remedy”

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Year: 1992

Album: The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

Last week, one of the great southern rock bands of our time called it quits, though many of you will likely disagree with my definition of “great”.

I’m sure there are a few people who intentionally hate this band, but, for the most part, the Black Crowes are a band that seems to be met with passionate indifference. They have about three songs you’ve heard a million times but don’t know the titles to, and you probably can’t name any of the band members, but you wouldn’t dare turn the radio station from “Hard To Handle” or “She Talks To Angels”. They’ll probably be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame when their time comes, and they”ll probably become a go-to example to showcase what’s wrong with the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Can you name any (good) bands that have been inspired exclusively by the Black Crowes? Me neither.

All of this makes sense though, considering that the Black Crowes don’t seem to have a clear place in music history yet. Are they a trashy 90s rip-off band that only had a few annoying hits? Are they one of the few brilliant rock bands of the 90s that took different influences across the musical spectrum and mushed it all into their loud and funky Bourbon-soaked interpretation? Are they trashy and brilliant?

These questions are fair, since the Black Crowes were all about contradictions, and they must have frustrated anyone who tried to denote their music into one genre, which was a major hobby for 90’s music journalists. They were playing funky southern rock in a time dominated by Nirvana and grunge. Their first major hit was an Otis Redding cover. They all looked (and danced) like Led Zeppelin (except for Steve Gorman, he looks like the drummer of your local new-wave cover band). Lead singer Chris Robinson sounded like a strung out southern Rod Stewart in the best and worst way possible.

With all this said, I really believe that the Black Crowes are one of the great (surely one of the most under appreciated) bands of rock & roll for all their contradictions. 1992’s The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion is a worthy entry into the southern rock canon along side Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Second HelpingBefore The Frost was one of the best albums nobody listened to in 2009. Brothers and band leaders Chris and his guitarist brother Rich Robinson played the part of Jagger and Richards well to their Exile On Main Street influences. All in all, they were a solid band that could write the heaviest of jams and the softest of ballads.

“Remedy”, the major hit off Southern Harmony, is probably the best song that showcases all of the band’s contradictions and is also a thrilling rock anthem that demands to be played in dive bars all across America. And there’s gospel here, not gospel influence but actual gospel singers. What more do you want?

R.I.P. the Black Crowes. Y’all will be missed dearly.

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1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: The Sugarcubes – “Birthday”

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Year: 1987

Album: Life’s Too Good

The international debut single from Iceland’s The Sugarcubes, in addition to being a great song, is important because it introduced to the world a young female singer named Bjork, and we’ve never been the same since.

Even at the young age of 22, she was a strong singer who had an incredible range from innocent softness to intense howl, which is demonstrated a minute into the song. But if you’re put off by Bjork’s strangeness, this song is much more accessible than her later solo work. Who knows, you might like this song so much that you’ll be excited about the new Bjork album.

Don’t bother trying to sing along with the song though (“I can’t understand what ‘Birthday’ is about. I always write the melodies, then the words come later. I’m not a poet…I just translate feeling into words.” she told Exposure).

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1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: Peaches – “Fuck the Pain Away”

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Year: 2000

Album: The Teaches of Peaches

This song raises so many questions. Are you supposed to go clubbing to this music? Is this satire? Is this hip-hop? Is this electronic? Why the Andy Griffith Show?

When Billboard asked Peaches mastermind Merrill Nisker about her song’s seemingly out of place directness, she said that, “The music must first be good, then I can offend, make people think and make them dance…artist like Busta Rhymes and 50 Cent get away with so much more lyrically, without being questioned. But, because I’m a woman, there’s that double standard.”

The song has been featured in many popular movies and TV shows, including Lost in Translation, and Thom Yorke has claimed that this song inspired him to write “15 Step”.

Fun fact: Nisker used to be a school teacher before becoming a musician, so she’s serious when she’s saying, “Stay in school, cos it’s the best”.

Another fun fact: There is actually no official music video for this song – below was just a fan-made video, though I’m sure Nisker enjoys it.

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1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: Small Faces – “Tin Soldier”

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Year: 1967

Album: N/A

This Mod-Soul anthem, with some of rock n roll’s finest swirling keyboard playing (R.I.P. Ian McLagan), was actually intended for soul singer P.P. Arnold to perform, but Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane loved it so much that they kept the song for themselves and had Arnold sing backup. In a 1997 Mojo readers’ poll, the song was voted as one of the top ten best singles of all time, ahead of any songs by The Rolling Stones or The Who.

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1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: Pulp – “Common People”

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Year: 1995

Album: Different Class

Though Oasis and Blur might have been the heavyweight bands of Britpop, Plup’s most famous song might be the quintessential song of the genre. Voted by Pitchfork as the second best song of the 90’s behind Pavement, it’s a story of a working-class man’s encounter with a wealthy art student (“she studied sculpture at St. Martin’s College”) who wants to spend her time hanging out in the all the wrong parts i.e. the “authentic parts” of London’s East End.

It’s easy to take this song at face value as a silly Jarvis Cocker rant against one wealthy girl’s glamorization of low-life (and at face value this is the most enjoyable song from one of Britpop’s great bands), but read between the lines and it’s a mock of class tourism that’s very much relevant now even in the United States.

 

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