Here is finally the next installment of my top 10 songs of all time after a break of a couple of days. This time I will be discussing the numbers 4 to 2. Some of these entries will be quite long, as I will go more into the lyrics in a couple of cases. The number 2 song especially is very strong in its literary quality, so that will require some space to discuss. Well enjoy, and don’t forget to check back for the number 1 song later!
I’ve never been a huge fan of grunge or alternative music, but for some reason I’ve always liked Nirvana. I’m not too crazy about Smells like Teen Spirit, but I liked songs like Lithium, In Bloom or Heart Shaped Box. But it wasn’t until their legendary performance in MTV Unplugged that I felt there was potential for true greatness in their destiny. Kurt Cobain’s raw, unpolished voice seems to gain much in emotional impact in this acoustic setting (or semi-acoustic), heightening the sense of depression Nirvana usually evokes with their music.
The show started out strong enough although they avoided playing many of their most popular hits. The best performances however were towards the end when the band started playing covers from other bands. Two songs in particular stood out for me, and it was a very close call which one would make it on this list. In the end, Lake of Fire (cover of a Meat Puppets song) narrowly prevailed overWhere Did You Sleep Last Night (which is originally an American folk song according to Wikipedia, but apparently Cobain referencedLead Belly’s 1944 blues version). These two songs represent for me the epitome of the aforementioned raw voice of Kurt Cobain, and hearing him sing in this unbridled way gives you the feeling that you are finally allowed a real glimpse into his tortured soul, a foreboding of his tragic suicide just a couple of months later.
Coldplay is a vastly overrated band in my opinion (not saying that they are bad, but just overrated), and as a result I have myself vastly underrated the Scientist and have left it out of my personal top 10 for the last few years. Ironic, huh? I listened to it again when I set out to make this list, and I was shocked by how good this song really is, very similar to the feeling I had when I first heard the song, and I realize that I should never have left it out in the first place. Now it finds itself back in the top 3. Maybe I am overrating it slightly again now (the irony never stops, does it?), but right now I feel that this is its deserved place.
It is really a quite simple song. There is nothing fancy or epic about it (like I’d Do Anything For Love or the next song). There are no explosions of emotions in the song (like Always). But it is precisely this simplicity where its greatest strength lies. The whole song just feels so honest, so open, so heartfelt, so… pure. All this is further strengthened by the touching lyrics. Just hearing the first two lines is enough to make me emotional, as the way the main character phrases his love in a form of an apology is exactly the way I often feel.
Come up to meet ya, tell you I’m sorry
You don’t know how lovely you are
Also, the way he describes the relationship as a puzzle and himself as a scientist is perfect. It illustrates his tendency to over-analyze the situation (again very similar to me), although he seems to understand this looking at the latter two lines.
I was just guessing at numbers and figures
Pulling the puzzles apart.
Questions of science, science and progress
Don’t speak as loud as my heart.
The main difference between the song and my own experiences is that the song seems to involve a break-up. So instead of “going back to the start”, I would replace that with ‘going forward’ in my personal case. Other than that, if I have to choose one song to describe my emotions, his would be the one. Hmm… did I really mention earlier that I might be overrating The Scientist? Now that I am listening to it for the 20th time again, I have to seriously consider putting it in the top 2. Maybe next year.
N.B. I just realized a shocking tidbit about this top 10 list. The Scientist is the only song of which I have bought the album around the same time as it is released, even though I used to buy loads of CD’s! I now own a couple of the other songs as well, but I only bought them years after their release. Has my taste in music really changed that much over the years?
What madness is this? November Rain not in the top spot? I might need to check if hell has frozen over next time I happen to be in the neighbourhood.
Having said that, November Rain remains an amazing song despite its tumble from the throne of course. If there is one song that can even hope to rival the epic nature of classical music, then this is it. It’s not only the length of the song or the repertoire of music instruments which reflects this, but it’s also in the storytelling quality and the wide range of emotions it manages to evoke throughout the entire song. When people start discussing a song by its literary quality, you know it is something special.
November Rain starts out a bit sad and melancholy, a sort of realization that things may be coming to an end, and even the realization of the inevitability of it:
‘Cause nothing lasts forever
And we both know hearts can change
And it’s hard to hold a candle
In the cold November rain
However, there is a feeling of hope pervading throughout the song. In fact, the first part of the song seems to alternate between this sadness and hope, the doubts whether he should let go or hang on, and how difficult it is to love someone. The lyrics in the entire song are really quite amazing, but here are a few lines to illustrate the conflict:
So if you want to love me
then darling don’t refrain
Or I’ll just end up walking
In the cold November rain
I know it’s hard to keep an open heart
When even friends seem out to harm you
But if you could heal a broken heart
Wouldn’t time be out to charm you
Towards the middle of the song, when Slash performs his iconic guitar solo, the feeling of hope grows stronger and stronger, and slowly drives away the feeling of desperation, even if they need to separate for a while (Sometimes you need some time on your own…). The hope culminates into the following lines.
And when your fears subside
And shadows still remain,
I know that you can love me
When there’s no one left to blame
So never mind the darkness
We still can find a way
‘Cause nothing lasts forever
Even cold November rain
I love the last two lines especially, not least because of the literary quality of it. It revisits two important phrases used earlier in the song (Nothing Lasts Forever and November Rain), but uses these phrases to give them the complete opposite meaning as in the beginning of the song. It now uses the same theme of inevitability to tell us how important hope is. No matter how dark things may seem, there is always a better future available if we can just make it through the rain. And this is again underscored by the music. When Axl Rose finishes singing these words, the music suddenly turns into something much more hopeful, even happy. If the song had ended here, I would have been a happy end. Instead the song takes on a decidedly darker tone, and I am left wondering what to make of it. After going through all these feelings of how hope can conquer all, I refuse to believe that this song would end on a sad note.