Music

The 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the '90s - Part 1 (100 - 81)

The first part of our examination of the 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the '90s, starting with 100 through 81.

100. 311 - "Down" (1995)

311 released their self-titled third album during the summer of 1995, but it really blasted off the following year thanks in large part to its audacious second single, "Down". It's a slice of hyper-kinetic rock, the restless groove of youth in the form of three potent minutes of radioactive spunk. 311 blends genres seamlessly, incorporating elements of rock, hip-hop, metal and even reggae into their sound. They do it so naturally it sounds effortless. "Down" is meant as a 'thank you' to 311's fans who helped carry the band from small-town midwestern obscurity to multi-platinum success.

"Down" is built on hot-wired guitar, skittery drumwork, turntable scratches that zip around like ninja knives, and a brash dancehall-inspired vocal by Nick Hexum. The band recorded the song live in the studio and delivers a knockout performance bristling with swagger and energy. 311 is the type of skater-rock band critics love to hate, but sometimes folks forget what rock and roll has always been about: attitude. 311 delivers plenty of that, with impressive musical chops to back it up.

"Down" spent four weeks at #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart during the fall of 1996, well over a year after the album's release. Along with the two other singles "All Mixed Up" and "Don't Stay Home", "Down" helped 311 move over three million units -- the band's biggest selling album by far.

99. Heather Nova - "Walk This World" (1994)

The lead single from Bermuda-born singer/songwriter Heather Nova's second album Oyster is "Walk This World", a dramatic acoustic rocker bleeding with desire. It opens with a quick snarl of guitar before launching into a descending bass pattern that forms the backbone of the verses, sometimes anchored with a subtle cello (which I was hearing as a baritone sax all these years).

Nova's breathy vocals intensify the sense desperation in her search for meaning and connection -- for someone to help navigate life's unpredictable maze of travails. It's not easy to trust, as she's obviously been scarred by past experience and has built up a wall: "I'm sucked in by the wonder / and i'm fucked up by the lies / and I dig a hole to climb in / and I build some wings to fly". She's taking a chance, laying herself bare, willing to try again -- perhaps some of the desperation comes with the thought that she might not get another chance.

Nova weaves a deft melody during the chorus, her multi-tracked vocals simmering with urgency as she sings, "I'm not touched, but i'm aching to be". The song doesn't have a bridge per se, just a dreamy instrumental interlude with a double-tracked electric guitar that bends subtly, as if underwater. The atmosphere is turbulent and uncertain as Nova grapples with an unrequited need.

Although Heather Nova has continued to release one solid album after another, "Walk This World" was her only substantial hit (so far) -- it reached #13 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart. Her most recent album released just last year, The Way It Feels, is well worth a good listen.

98. Butthole Surfers - "Pepper" (1996)

Veteran fringe-rockers Butthole Surfers scored a surprise hit with "Pepper", an oddity in the band's mostly experimental hardcore catalog. It's not difficult to understand why "Pepper" connected with a large audience -- it's a wonderfully surreal slow motion acid trip that blurs the lines between "Strawberry Fields Forever" and Paul's Boutique. Gibby Haynes deadpans the spoken-word lyrics during the verses, gusting wind audible in the background, and then jolts us back to attention during the hard-rock chorus. "Pepper's" sonic universe includes backwards guitar, tremolo effects during the chorus, weird vocalisms and other bits of inventive reality-twisting.

The lyrics deal with random chance, as Haynes relates an oddball cast of characters and their sometimes deadly foibles (inspired by his youthful memories in the Texas punk-rock scene): "Another Mikey took a knife while arguing in traffic / Flipper died a natural death he caught a nasty virus / then there was the ever-present football player rapist / they were all in love with dying, they were doin' it in Texas."

"Pepper" was a breakthrough single from the band's Electriclarryland album, spending three weeks at #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart during the summer of '96. Self-destruction and record company troubles prevented the band from building on the song's momentum, and "Pepper" remains a solitary bubble that somehow floated to the surface of a backwoods Texas swamp and popped onto the airwaves.

97. Morphine - "Cure For Pain" (1993)

Nobody sounded quite like Morphine. The Boston-based band, led by singer and bassist Marc Sandman, followed their own rules about what rock and roll should be. They perfected a sound in which electric guitar is not the driving factor. Sandman was famous for his oddly-tuned two-string bass guitar, which he often played with a slide. The main instrumental hooks and solos were handled by Dana Colley's deep and resonant sax. Two drummers played for the band at various times: Billy Conway and Jerome Deupree. The band's unusual bottom-heavy sound thrilled critics but never lifted them beyond cult status in the US, although they did enjoy some degree of commercial success in Europe.

The woozy "Cure for Pain" is the title track from the band's superb second album. The song is relaxed enough to have popped a few Xanax, but the necessity for self-medicating to numb whatever pain Sandman is experiencing is laid out starkly. Even in this darkness Sandman never loses his acerbic sense of humor: "I propose a toast to my self-control / you see it crawling helpless on the floor". The wry couplet makes clear that the prospect of quitting drugs is painful enough to justify continuing on his destructive path, but he understands it is what it is.

Sadly, Morphine would cease to exist in 1999 when Sandman died suddenly of a heart attack at age 46 while on stage at a concert in Italy. Morphine left behind a tremendous musical legacy, with "Cure for Pain" a good first dose for the uninitiated.

96. Soul Asylum - "Somebody to Shove" (1992)

"Somebody to Shove" is a searing garage-rocker from Minneapolis-based Soul Asylum's sixth album Grave Dancer's Union, by far their most successful release. Dave Pirner's restless vocals ride along with the churning guitar riff before finally ripping free during the raucous chorus. The performance is tight -- drummer Grant Young (or more likely Sterling Campbell, who producer Michael Beinhorn brought in because he was dissatisfied with Young's performances) amps up the energy and provides a rock-solid foundation.

Pirner's lyrics jive with the song's fidgety tone, as he sits in despondent boredom yearning for someone to stir him into some kind of action that will tear through his sullen malaise. Long days that fade endlessly into one another with nothing ever happening, a life spent watching the clock turn day after day after day -- Pirner perfectly captures the frantic need to escape the incessant tedium. "Somebody to Shove" rocks and grooves with manic abandon, a runaway train of pressure that finally bursts into a fit of frustration. His desperation heats to a boil as the song hits its climax: "And I'm waiting by the phone / Waiting for you to call me and tell me I'm not alone / Yes, I'm waiting by the phone / I'm waitin' for you to call me, call me / And tell me i'm / tell me i'm not alone!" It's hard not to be struck by the strong suspicion that the call ain't ever gonna come.

The first of four major hits from Grave Dancer's Union (along with "Black Gold", "Without a Trace" and "Runaway Train"), "Somebody to Shove" hit #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart in December 1992. Soul Asylum's killer performance of the song on MTV Unplugged remains one of the best moments in that series' history.

95. The Jesus and Mary Chain - "Reverence" (1993)

Jesus and Mary Chain's fourth album Honey's Dead was so named because the Scottish duo wanted to serve notice they had expanded beyond the boundaries of their breakthrough single "Just Like Honey" from their landmark 1985 debut Psychocandy. Ironically, there are strong echoes of that classic song in the distorted guitar and electro-rock of "Reverence", the edgy and provocative first single which became an improbable Top 10 hit in the UK.

With its repeated calls of "I want to die just like Jesus Christ", "Reverence" incorporates a gritty industrial vibe, heavy electronic beats and dense snarls of reverbed guitar. Jim Reid's tense vocals are deep in the mix, almost buried by the abrasive sonic machinery as if he's coated in grime from crawling on a factory floor. The song is a call to go down in a blaze of glory, to be mythologized in death like Jesus Christ and JFK. Reid equates those two fabled figures with rock stars whose deaths bring near deification and a reverence that becomes, in some cases, bigger and more substantial then the music itself.

"Reverence" is caustic and razor-sharp, the Reid brothers casting white-hot knives at pop culture saints and the adherents who deify them. The lyrics spooked alternative radio programmers in the US who blithely ignored the song in favor of its follow-up, the less taboo "Far Out and Gone".

94. Rancid - "Time Bomb" (1995)

Amped with fitful energy, the ska/rock alloy "Time Bomb" was the second single from Rancid's greatest album, ...And Out Come the Wolves. Rancid rose from the ashes of Operation Ivy, an influential ska band that never broke through to a wide audience but helped shape the thriving '90s ska scene with bands like Pietasters, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish and others.

"Time Bomb" is a compact little pill that you swallow and suddenly feel like bouncing around like a haywire kangaroo. The song describes a guy who is unpredictable in all the worst ways, waiting to explode as he slides in and out of a life of danger and crime. Tim Armstrong's husky vocals are so slurred sometimes that you can barely make them out without a lyric sheet, but it only adds to the song's bedraggled realness. It's clear these guys would know a time bomb when they see one.

Everything on "Time Bomb" moves with supercharged velocity. The infectious rhythm is bolstered by rolling whirls of organ, and the simple guitar solo cuts through the bedlam briefly before we dive quickly back into the implacable groove. Clocking in at only 2:24, "Time Bomb" is a tight musical punch, and one catchy enough to pogo around in your brain for days. It hit #8 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart, Rancid's highest ever placement on that survey, and the track sounds as fresh and alive as the day it was baked.

93. Jars of Clay - "Flood" (1995)

Spiritual pain and doubt can result in deeply compelling art, whether through music or another medium -- even if one doesn't subscribe to the beliefs being espoused. Religion can consume one's heart, mind and soul. If you believe down to your bones that you are an inherently flawed sinner in need of a jealous God's forbearance, you might indeed consider yourself "one with the mud" as Jars of Clay singer/songwriter Dan Haseltine does on the band's epic single "Flood". The song is clearly wrenched from deepest despair: "Downpour on my soul / splashing in the ocean, I'm losing control / dark sky all around / I can't feel my feet touching the ground."

Taken from the Tennessee-based contemporary Christian band's self-titled debut, "Flood" became an unlikely hit on alternative radio. The song is a torrent of the type of guilt upon which religions flourish. The chorus, rich with vocal harmonies, hangs on a single note -- ratcheting up the tension while we await relief that never comes. "Flood" finds Haseltine on his knees, begging for redemption, beseeching his God to save him from "drowning again". It's one of two tracks (along with superb "Liquid") from the band's debut masterfully produced by the great Adrian Belew. From the subtle effects on Haseltine's vocal, to the glistening string section in the song's middle, to the hard-driving acoustic-guitar riffs which ring like heavy sheets of black rain on the pavement, "Flood" is musically evocative of the emotional tumult Haseltine expresses in the lyrics.

Jars of Clay would go on to score numerous hits on Christian radio while often straddling the line between secular and spiritual, but "Flood" was their only substantial crossover success -- it reached #12 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart.

92. Indigo Girls - "Galileo" (1997)

We go from beseeching an all-knowing spirit to entreating a symbol of science and rational thought who was persecuted for teaching beliefs that contradicted religious dictates, but has since been vindicated by history. The beautifully lush "Galileo" was the second single from Indigo Girls' fourth album, Rites of Passage, and has become one of the highly influential duo's signature tunes. Emily Saliers wrote the song and sings with graceful poignancy, while partner Amy Ray provides exquisite harmonies (also joined by rock legend David Crosby).

Produced by Peter Collins, a well-traveled rock veteran who was at the helm for many of Canadian rock titans Rush's greatest works, "Galileo" builds to a stirring climax with a swirl of harmony vocals over the syncopated rhythm. The bridge glows with pulsing strings and then a lovely dual acoustic guitar solo leads into the final verse and chorus. The ending is a whirlwind of sound that closes the song with an enchanting flourish.

"Galileo" is a daydream about reincarnation, a query as to when "my soul will get it right", and a call to the famed astronomer and truth-seeker Galileo for celestial guidance. It's a fantasy that's sparked by that all-too-human impulse of imagining a different and better life in the wake of failures and troubles that seem to weigh down our current existence, and our innate wonder about the mysteries of the afterlife and where we fit in the universe. "Galileo" is an expansive song that asks big questions, but is performed with intimate sincerity and beauty. It became the iconic duo's highest ever chart showing in the US, reaching #10 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart.

91. Sparklehorse - "Sick of Goodbyes" (1998)

Mark Linkous had a gift for sweet melodies swaddled in dark swirls of melancholy. Good Morning Spider was the second album Linkous released under the Sparklehorse name. It was written and recorded after his near-fatal overdose caused by mixing alcohol with the medication he took to battle his crippling depression, and the album unquestionably bares those scars.

Good Morning Spider radiates otherworldly beauty, fragility and an undercurrent of despair. "Sick of Goodbyes" is one of its most immediate and compelling tracks. Linkous co-wrote the song with fellow Virginian David Lowery of Cracker, whose comparatively drab recording of the song appeared on their 1993 album Kerosene Hat. Linkous was wise to take it back and get the most out of it. The Sparklehorse version is melodic and engaging with an insistent groove, a chiming wall of sound from the fusion of acoustic and electric guitars and, weaving through it all, a thick alien drone pulsing from an old analog synth.

The lyrics are poetic, but relentlessly bleak: "The night comes crawling in on all fours / sucking up my dreams through the floor," Linkous sings at one point. There's an almost wry resignation to the song, no spark of hope that change for the better is in the cards, at least on this "vampire planet". "Sick of Goodbyes" is wrenching sadness wrapped in a glow of a heartbreaking beauty that you somehow know is temporary.

After years of trying to cope with debilitating depression and addiction, Mark Linkous took his own life in March 2010, another in the seemingly endless string of casualties to depression and addiction that has been such a blight on society, in the '90s and beyond. It's hard to hear him sing, "I'm so sick of goodbyes, goodbyes," and not think, "so are we".

90. New Order - "Regret" (1993)

New Order released a string of classics in the '80s after rising from the dust of Joy Division following the suicide of Ian Curtis. Their first offering of the '90s came three years into the decade with Republic and its lead single "Regret". It was a shrewd choice, as "Regret" is instantly recognizable as New Order, but is also a progression of the band's sound for a new decade. Unlike many of their contemporaries who emerged in the '80s, New Order was able to maintain their relevance and success after that decade collapsed under the weight of its own glittery scrapheap of excess. "Regret" spent five weeks at #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart, their biggest ever hit in America.

"Regret" has a dense rock sound compared with the generally sparse and mostly electronic arrangements on their prior album, Technique. Peter Hook's bass rumbles in the midst of a simple guitar pattern and one of Bernard Sumner's smoothest vocals. The lyrics are inscrutable and open to interpretation, but despite its upbeat nature it closes with a fatalistic stanza: "Just wait 'til tomorrow / I guess that's what they all say / just before they fall apart." The word "regret" is only used once, in the first verse, as Sumner insists "Maybe I've forgotten / the name and the address / of everyone I've ever known / it's nothing I regret." It's not uncommon to hear someone claim no regrets when in fact the reverse is true, and the song does possess the wistful aura of someone looking back with a certain sad nostalgia.

Peter Hook told MTV news in 2013 that he considers "Regret" to be the last great New Order song, and he was right -- until 2015 when the Hook-less incarnation of the band unleashed Music Complete, easily the band's best album since Technique.

89. Bush - "Everything Zen" (1994)

"Everything Zen" was the first single by British rockers Bush, whose debut album Sixteen Stone yielded five major hits and became one of the signature albums of '90's alternative rock. Gavin Rossdale's stiff sandpaper voice cuts through the massive waves of guitar, croaking out anxiety-choked lyrics of a world run amok.

Everything is turned on its head -- "Everything zen? I don't think so". The lyrics are littered with pop culture references. For instance, "Minnie Mouse has grown up a cow / Dave's on sale again" is an allusion to David Bowie's "Life on Mars?", and "Rain dogs howl for the century" refers to Tom Waits' brilliant 1985 album Rain Dogs and Allen Ginsberg's famous poem Howl. Rossdale also slides in lyrical references to songs by Alice in Chains ("Try to see it once my way" is nicked from their 1992 single "Would?"), and he reverses lines by Jane's Addiction ("Your sex is violence!" from the epic "Ted, Just Admit It" becomes "There's no sex in your violence") and Living Colour ("Elvis is Dead" was a key track on their 1990 album Time's Up, and Rossdale flips it with the repeated litany of "I don't believe that Elvis is dead!") before launching back to the chorus at the 3:43 point with guitars all barrels blazing.

It's pretty easy to figure that, in fact, nothing is zen, the title is bitterly sarcastic and that roiling turmoil is felt in a song practically quivering with angst. It fit well the zeitgeist of its era, although some critics claimed Bush was nothing but a wan imitation of other, better bands of the period. Utter nonsense. "Everything Zen" hit #2 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart and endures today as a '90s alt-rock essential.

88. Everclear - "Heroin Girl" (1995)

The Portland, Oregon based trio Everclear rose to alt-rock prominence with their second album Sparkle and Fade, easily the strongest of their career. "Santa Monica" was the bigger hit, but the harrowing "Heroin Girl" packs a much more potent sonic and emotional wallop.

The connection between musicians and heroin, of course, is not something unique to the '90s. It's a co-dependence that has persisted for decades, and seems to be worse than ever now as America struggles in the midst of a ghastly heroin epidemic stemming, in part, from rampant over-prescription of opioid painkillers. The scourge of smack addiction is part of the fabric of '90s alternative rock, with many artists battling it, writing about it, and dying from it. Everclear frontman Art Alexakis has his own nightmares to tell, as the raging bitterness in "Heroin Girl" makes clear. The song mixes a fictional character (Esther), who ends up dying alone in a field, with elements of Alexakis' real life. The line about the cop saying, "Just another overdose!", which Alexakis sings in a barely controlled fury, was actually something a policeman said following the heroin overdose of Alexakis' brother George. Alexakis was 12 at the time, and would endure his own struggles with addiction.

The shock and outrage over the police treating his brother as less than human is palpable, and there is little reason to believe this is an isolated case. "Heroin Girl" is about the co-dependency not just with the drug, but with those who supply, enable and participate in that world of addiction, as well as the often callous way those trapped in its grip are treated. Riveting and unflinchingly honest, "Heroin Girl" was perhaps a bit intense for many alternative radio programmers as it only reached #34 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart -- but as we know, the highest charting songs are not always the greatest.

87. The Church - "Ripple" (1992)

Although best known for their 1989 classic Starfish, the Church's 1992 release Priest=Aura is arguably the Australian band's artistic pinnacle. It's an expansive, trippy collection that drifts from one shadowy dream to another. Priest=Aura was the band's first album with former Patti Smith and Waterboys drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, and he brings a flowing groove to the mix that adds a bit of swing to the band's dark psychedelia. "Ripple", one of the album's two singles, is a hypnotic late-night song, richly layered and lush. Steve Kilbey's dusky baritone is in particularly fine form as he navigates the cascading guitar and strings that give "Ripple" its shadowy grace.

The lyrics are abstract and dreamlike, romantic and riven with pain. The narrator seems to be caught in the throes of love with someone who seems locked in the grip of addiction: "I lent you some collateral to buy new clothes / it went out the window and up your nose / and that's the end of the honeymoon". Of course, Kilbey could be indirectly referring to his own struggles with heroin during this period, about which he has been very open.

Regardless, it's an intense and mystical song that feels like it should be played with some nice incense burning and a few candles. "Ripple" reached #3 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart and is definitive proof for the more casual fans out there that the Church is far more than just "Under the Milky Way". The die-hard fans already know.

86. Screaming Trees - "Nearly Lost You" (1992)

Not many bands that rose to prominence in the '90s can match Screaming Trees' top-notch musicianship. On "Nearly Lost You", the band plays with wild abandon, barely restrained. The track was propelled on to alternative radio thanks in part to its inclusion on the highly popular and influential soundtrack to the film Singles, which also included tracks by Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and Alice in Chains.

There are nods in "Nearly Lost You" to '70s-era psychedelic-tinged classic rock in the blistering jolts of guitar by Gary Lee Conner and relentlessly dynamic drum work by Barrett Martin. Mark Lanegan's gruff voice is an instrument powerful enough to stand up to the musical hurricane that buffets him from all sides. The track seems to be about a relationship nearly derailed by some "sin" that the narrator is struggling to resist: "Did you hear the distant cry / calling me back to my sin? / Like the one you knew before / calling me back once again / I nearly, I nearly lost you there / and it's taken us somewhere." Drugs? Perhaps. Addiction is such a constant struggle documented by many alternative rockers in the '90s that it's easy to see references everywhere, even when it might not be the case.

"Nearly Lost You" stormed up to the #5 slot on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart, by far the Screaming Trees' highest placement. Unfortunately, the song's success couldn't procure the band a wider audience, and they were not long for this world. Screaming Trees released one final album, 1996's Dust, before drifting away on the winds.

85. Stereolab - "French Disko" (1993)

Stereolab are one of the most innovative and endlessly fascinating bands of the '90s. They developed their own unique sound, a hodgepodge of sorts that borrowed from alternative rock, new wave, krautrock and '60s influences, and they infused it with their unique beauty and weirdness.

The British band's French vocalist Lætitia Sadier has a distinct voice, oddly mannered and almost atonal -- reminiscent of Nico but with a lighter touch. One of their finest tracks is "French Disko", a piece of hard-driving space-rock. During the verses, Sadier's monotone vocal oscillates over the rhythm like licks of blue flame wafting above a raging pyre, with a vocal countermelody weaving sinuously throughout. During the chorus, her voice alights with furious intensity for the heated exclamations of "La resistance!"

The song flatly rejects the inevitability of violence and the abject acceptance that the world is doomed to perpetual warfare: "I've been told it's a fact of life / men have to kill one another / well I say there are still things worth fighting for." Instead of retreating, Sadier urges us to engage in "acts of rebellious solidarity" that "can bring sense in this world." The "La resistance!", obviously a slogan borrowed from the French Resistance to the German occupation of World War II, in this case refers to a different kind of human resistance -- "French Disko" is a call for peaceful resistance to war.

Stereolab originally recorded "French Disco" for the 1993 EP Jenny Ondioline before revamping and improving it later that year, slightly changing the spelling to add the "k", and releasing it as a limited edition vinyl and CD single. "French Disko" was later included on Stereolab's stellar 1995 collection of stray singles and rarities, Refried Ectoplasm: Switched on, Vol. 2 and again in 2006 on the compilation Serene Velocity: A Stereolab Anthology.

84. Whipping Boy - "We Don't Need Nobody Else" (1995)

Irish rockers Whipping Boy are one of the great unsung bands of the '90s. Their 1995 album Heartworm, a seething collection of viscerally intense hard-edged rock, deserves a much wider audience than it received upon release.

"We Don't Need Nobody Else" is a brutally chilling narrative from the point of view of a violent sociopath. The verses are spoken with cold malevolence: "I hit you for the first time today / I didn't mean it / it just happened… / Christ we weren't even fighting, I was just annoyed / silence / and you started to cry / 'that really hurt', you said / Yeah, and you thought you knew me!" The chorus is a savage repetition of "We don't need nobody else… just you and me!" over bracing squalls of guitar. Normally a line like this would be in the midst of a tender love song, but here it's deliberately cruel and obsessively controlling. It's a nightmare scenario for the woman in the song, as she is awakened for the first time to the brutal nature of her lover.

The narrator's dissatisfaction and bitterness at the world drips from every line, like in his disdainful reaction to his countryman Bono's success, "They build portholes for Bono / so he could gaze out across the bay and sing about mountains / maybe / you are what you own in this land / you can be King and it all depends on the view and what you can see". We are privy to the caustic asperity and rage of a man who feels the world has passed him by and he's been cheated by life. He flexes his power over someone he can (or thinks he can) control. It's a powerful glimpse into a disturbed mind, and vocalist Fearghal McKee convincingly and fearlessly inhabits the manic rage and obsessive need for control that his character exhibits.

83. Veruca Salt - "Seether" (1994)

Veruca Salt was the hot band of the moment when they emerged from Chicago at the very peak of alternative rock's popularity in the mid-'90s. Led by vocalist/guitarists Nina Gordon and Louise Post, who each sang lead on their own compositions, Veruca Salt's mix of ragged garage rock and strong melodic hooks was a natural fit for alternative radio. "Seether" was their first single, a frazzled rocker sung by Nina Gordon about a sorta Jeckyl & Hyde scenario.

The "seether" is an aspect of her personality that is irrational, with a vicious temper, quick to anger and self-destruction. It flexes its power without warning and whenever seems appropriate (which can be the worst possible moment), and is nearly impossible to hold back. Gordon tries to keep it down, but doesn't seem to be able to: "I try to keep her on a short leash / I try to calm her down / I try to ram her into the ground, yeah."

"Seether" reached #8 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart and helped launch the band's debut album to significant success and acclaim. Other key tracks from American Things include "Forsythia", "Victrola", and "Number One Blind". Veruca Salt released one more album with their classic lineup -- 1997's Eight Arms to Hold You -- but Nina Gordon soon left and Louise Post carried on the band for years with a revolving cast of musicians. In 2015 that all changed as the original lineup reunited for the album Ghost Notes.

82. Live - "Lightning Crashes" (1994)

Live's earnest brand of emotional rock is the kind that critics enjoy bashing, but there is no denying the power and impact of their 1994 smash "Lightning Crashes". As the third single from their album Throwing Copper, "Lightning Crashes" became by far the band's biggest hit. It was a spectacular smash on alternative radio, spending an incredible nine weeks at #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart starting in February 1995.

Produced by former Talking Heads' guitarist and keyboardist Jerry Harrison, "Lightning Crashes" gains much of its power from Ed Kowalczyk's impassioned vocal. He begins in a half-whisper then builds intensity as the song winds to its epic climax. On the surface it's simply about the circle of life, but it goes deeper than that. The lyrics are carefully considered. In an instant -- like a flicker of lightning -- a new child is born, just as an elderly woman takes her last shuddering breath. One family is jubilant and full of visions of hope and the future, one family grieves and remembers. Life can change for us all in the flash of an instant, something we all know and don't often appreciate when the rigors of day to day existence leaves us wan and drained. We're all in this together, sharing humanity's innate confusion.

After the song was written, Live dedicated it to Barbara Lewis, a friend who was killed by a drunk driver, whose organs were donated to save the lives of others. "Lightning Crashes", with its blinding sincerity, has become a song of healing and understanding grief as part of a never ending process of which we are all a part.

81. Slowdive - "Alison" (1993)

British "shoegaze" pioneers Slowdive released their second album Souvlaki to mostly uneven reviews in 1993. It's a great example of an album that takes time to digest and appreciate. Over two decades later, Souvlaki is nearly universally hailed as a masterpiece of its genre.

The languid drifts of melody married to dense guitars is exemplified in the album's only single, "Alison", a gorgeously narcotized piece that bestirs slowly like a hazy dream and builds to a glowing beauty. The album's opening lyrical passage could describe the song itself: "Listen close, and don't be stoned / I'll be here in the morning / cause I'm just floating". Neil Halstead is indeed floating, but no need to suggest we not be stoned. After all, if there was ever music perfectly suited for drifting in an altered state of consciousnesses, this is it. Halstead's lead vocal is leisurely and sedate, and during the chorus Rachel Goswell joins to harmonize in a luscious wall of sound that blends with the woozy guitars to create a glorious swell.

It couldn't be mixed more perfectly -- the vocals blend with the guitar like they are all the same instrument, the same river of sound. There's a detached solemnity to it, like you can never quite penetrate its secrets, but that only adds to the song's msytique. "Alison" fades out like a half-forgotten dream, solemn and airy.


Go to Part 2 (80 - 61)

Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2018 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.