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Best Songs Ever #13 – ? and the Mysterians “96 Tears”

“96 Tears” by ? & the Mysterians–a song from almost 50 years ago–still sounds raw and exciting whenever I throw it on.

Recorded in a living room on a 4-track recorder in 1966, “96 Tears” became a blueprint for punk and garage rock. The organ–deliberate and basic–delivers the song’s signature sound, tapping forward as ? threatens, “And when the sun comes up, I`ll be on top. You`ll be way down there, looking up.”


Best Songs Ever #12 – ELO “Four Little Diamonds”

Everyone has a favorite ELO song (unless they’re unfeeling monsters), and most will tell you that the band’s 1970s singles were best.

Forget “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Evil Woman.” “Four Little Diamonds,” a less-successful single from 1983, hits all the right notes.

And if the law don’t get her, then I will…

Best Songs Ever #11: Sugar “Changes”

Here in Chicago, when it’s pushing 40 in February and the sun is out, it may as well be San Diego in August.

I cracked my windows a little as I was driving today and let this one wail. Bob Mould’s body of work has been undervalued by the world at large for decades running, and it’s the world’s loss. Sugar was a monster fucking band.

Best Songs Ever #10: Buddy Holly “Rave On”

About as pure as rock and roll gets, from a time when it was just beginning.

Best Songs Ever #9: Lou Reed “Romeo Had Juliette”

Now that the Metallica/Lou Reed collaboration Lulu has zipped to the top of 2011’s “worst of” lists, it seemed like an appropriate time to remind the world that Lou is still the man.

I remember seeing Lou on the Kansas City stop of his New York tour back in ’89. It was my third and favorite time seeing him live, and “Romeo Had Juliette” was the best of the new songs he played that night.

Forgive the ponytail. Forgive Lulu. Here’s Lou Lou.

Best Songs Ever #8: Iron Maiden “Flight of Icarus”

When I was a kid, I loved reading Greek mythology. It was the blueprint for comic books, which I’d already sworn my undying allegiance to.

The cautionary tale of Daedalus’ impetuous kid Icarus was one that captured my imagination early on. Daedalus made wings out of feathers and wax … and they worked! Well, kinda.

My junior high school mind was blown in 1983 when NWOBHM pummelers Iron Maiden committed the story of Icarus’ doomed flight to song for their Piece of Mind release (still my favorite Maiden album). Metal and mythology combined: it was everything awesome, all in one place.

Great heavy metal makes you physically respond to the music. Legendary heavy metal tells a great story you want to sing or yell along with. I’ve been screaming and yelling along with “Flight of Icarus” since I first heard it in 1983.

Best Songs Ever #7: Alice Cooper “Ballad of Dwight Fry”

I was thrilled to buy tickets this week for Alice Cooper’s return to the area in December. In his advanced age, he continues to outperform buzzbands whose members are a third of his age. I can’t stress enough that Alice is the rock frontman’s gold standard. Please believe me when I insist that you see him before he goes off to the Great Back Nine in the Sky.

Alice’s Love it to Death album, released 40 years ago, was his first truly important album. “I’m Eighteen?” Classic. “Is It My Body?” Amazing.  The standout track, however, is the “daddy’s in an insane asylum,” six-plus minutes long epic, “Ballad of Dwight Fry.”

I think I spent every day of eighth grade playing the vinyl version of “Dwight Fry” into a grooveless, scratchy, muted shadow of the original track. I’ve never stopped listening, though in the years that followed, I upgraded to Love it to Death on CD, which eventually got converted to MP3.