I saw this piece as an interview. MAGNET chose these songs for me, and someone at the magazine really knows what I like. I mean, there are many others—“Heart And Soul,” Joy Division; “I Cover The Waterfront,” Billie Holiday (live at the Storyville Club); “Never Be That Tough,” Simone White; Digital Gardens, Big Sir (the whole fucking record). And on into infinity. But I was very happy to talk about abstract songs that don’t need huge choruses to make time disappear. —Mark Eitzel
Bird Of Youth, “Bombs Away, She Is Hear To Stay” from: Defender
The undefeated Beth Wawerna writes an anthem for empowerment that has no chorus. It doesn’t lecture, there’s no argument—it states simply that she is not moved (though, of course, she is), that it will take an army to move her (and it will), and I would gladly go into battle to defend this song.
Buzzcocks, “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” from: Love Bites
Basically the soundtrack for the early “Mark”—and also to a slightly lesser extent for the later one. Its genius is simplicity and honesty and teenage bounce.
Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” from: You Want It Darker
I guess what it comes down to is this: You balance on a beam, and some teeter and totter, and some beat gravity. LC could balance on a toe. I saw him once, and it changed my life. Later, I got thrown out of the festival. This song is made of smoke. It’s like something from that Christian station off the 5. But that’s all such fakery. This is the way a believer actually speaks.
Elvis Costello, “Lipstick Vogue” from: This Year’s Model
“I wouldn’t worry/I had so much fun/Sometimes I almost feel just like a human being.” Come on. It’s just one of the best songs ever written. This lyric is one of those brilliant pieces of confetti the gods drizzle on our little meat parade. It’s bitter youth, injured pride and that great glittering knife where irony becomes anger. Listen to this song—you don’t have to listen to me. Elvis is such a genius.
Giant Sand, “1972” from: Chore Of Enchantment
I love this band. My favorite Howe Gelb story is how many years ago he tried to beat jet lag in the U.K. once by doing a hit of acid every day—and this song sounds just like that. Not sure what happened in 1972, but it was quick and not without a little pain.
Rickie Lee Jones, “Chuck E.’s In Love” from: Rickie Lee Jones
So this song was a big hit with my friends in 1979 —and really is a perfect expression of the liberated hipster—absolutely individual and rare. You can’t fake the joy in her voice. She was part of the zeitgeist and also right there on her block. It’s the kind of song the world triangulates around. Me? At the time, I was all self-important youth. It was all Magazine and Joy Division and the Raincoats and Iggy. I listen to this more honestly now than I ever could then. I love her, and I wonder if she is sick or happy to sing this song now. Probably happy.
Elvis Presley, “Suspicious Minds” from: single
I grew up with a healthy distrust of Elvis. Maybe I read the NME too much at the time. This is iconic because: 1) You can see him singing this coke bloat, sweaty and karate kicking way on the other side from sunlight; 2) You can hear it in the BVs and the way the producer lowers and raises the volume at the end just like the live show to really make them cheer; 3) He sings it like Job. This song could be his actual life. Who could he possibly trust? He made his brand, and now it’s king-sized, in a mirrored room, and he can yellow those sheets railing against a justice that will never answer him back.
R.E.M., “Nightswimming” from: Automatic For The People
The great thing about this song is that it is no metaphor. There really was a postcard on the dash. They really did vanish into the night in a van. There is a sad acceptance. I never thought it was actually about swimming—though I’m sure that did happen. We all make up stories about the song, and the best ones are evocative without imposing the story on the listener. No one cares what you know—they wanna know if you can take them somewhere. This is simple as love.
Judee Sill, “Jesus Was A Crossmaker” from: Judee Sill
A flawless person. I really think she wrote from such a pure place. If she were an artist, all her paintings would be skies with perfect rainbows with smiling souls rising through the clouds to a heavenly reward, yet somehow you know they are crying inside and the whole thing made with crayon. She’s the god above greatly amused. This was a live performance, though she plays so perfectly you can’t tell until 2:00 or so, people applaud at the end. Almost nothing beats her song “The Kiss” (see the version on The Old Grey Whistle Test), because she lets herself into those tonalities that are of the spirit. It ebbs and flows just like hope.
Patti Smith Group, “Pissing In A River” from: Radio Ethiopia
It’s been years. Dammit, I love her. This track is ambitious and American and simple. Makes me feel stupid to write about it. It sounds sculpted and also improvised. It’s a piece of art from artists. It’s generous. Sometimes in songs I can hear applause lines written in, and though I’ll applaud almost anything, it’s kinda bullshit. This thing takes you over and leaves you gasping for air by the end. “Should I grow the length of the river?” Wow.
Songs: Ohia, “Hold On Magnolia” from: The Magnolia Electric Co.
The version I have is from a show in Atlanta. You can tell there are 50 people in front entranced. The rest are talking. It’s an amazing recording, like hearing something from the broken heart of America. He sounds like an angel. A song of forgiveness and beauty. Still they talk and talk. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to this without actually knowing what’s going on. All I see is the light shining. Such a great songwriter. Check out the live concert on YouTube from Columbia, S.C. A perfect show.