Tuesday, June 19, 2007

An Ear for the Perfect Song

I enjoy few things in life more than music.

It’s almost always around me. Whether it’s in my car, while I’m working, when I’m playing, and occasionally during my slumber, I’ve got music playing.

But much of it disappoints me.

I’m not saying that I could do better than your average musician. But almost universally, songs fail in at least one way that my ears have the curse of picking up.

At times it’s a vocal line that goes on too long … or cuts off too early. Or it’s a mix that isn’t quite right—too little bass or too much keyboard, for example. Often it’s unnecessary filler vocals or a missed chance for a great drum fill. Whatever the reason, at least 99 times out of 100 I can identify one or more parts of a song that the artist could have done better.

Even very, very good songs usually leave my wanting just a bit more.

I’m thinking here of The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” which goes on a few bars too long. Iron Maiden overlooked an opportunity for a killer intro into “Powerslave,” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” faded out instead of coming to a more fitting, crashing end.

Bono’s overly whiny tone ruins it for me in a few parts of, among others, “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Peter Gabriel utters something incomprehensible after the first verse of “Solsbury Hill” that continues to distract me. And the Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” is marred by Klaus Meine’s screeching “Are you ready, baby?” and “Come on, come on, baby” during the choruses.

I know, I know … I’m being picky. Trust me, this hurts me more it hurts you.

Despite my keen ability to detect minor disturbances in the audio Force, I have heard some songs—across diverse rock and pop subgenres—that I consider candidates for the “Perfect Song.” These are not my favorite songs of all time; they often aren’t even my favorite songs by the artist that recorded them. I simply cannot think of a single thing I would do to improve them.

Without further ado, here is my partial list of perfect songs:
  • “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead
  • “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers
  • “Anthem” by Rush (other candidate: “Freewill”)
  • “Back in Black” by AC/DC (other candidate: “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”)
  • “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty
  • “Behind Blue Eyes” by the Who
  • “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath (other candidate: “Paranoid”)
  • “Burnin’ For You” by Blue Öyster Cult
  • “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles (other candidate: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”)
  • “Entangled” by Genesis (other candidate: “Firth of Fifth”)
  • “Everloving” by Moby
  • “Family Snapshot” by Peter Gabriel
  • “Fortress Around Your Heart” by Sting
  • “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys
  • “Kickstart My heart” by Mötley Crüe
  • “Kiss” by Prince (“Gett Off” only misses because of its anticlimactic fade)
  • “One” by Metallica
  • “Paradise City” by Guns N' Roses
  • “Machinehead” by Bush
  • “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden (other candidate: “The Number of the Beast”)
  • “Run to You” by Bryan Adams
  • “Spectral Mornings” by Steve Hackett
  • “Synchronicity II” by the Police (other candidate: “Wrapped Around Your Finger”)
  • “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
Take your shots. I’m all ears.


At June 19, 2007 11:16 PM, Blogger BeckEye replied to my musings ...

I'm with you on "Kiss" and "Burnin' For You." Two of my faves.

I don't know if I can think of a truly PERFECT song offhand. Maybe "Corduroy" by Pearl Jam? Or "25 Miles" by Edwin Starr? Ah, possibly even "Another Nail for My Heart" by Squeeze. "Thunder Road" by Bruce? "In My Life" by The Beatles?

You didn't have any Zeppelin on your list. Even though "Night Flight" is my favorite for reasons that I can't even explain, I think "Over the Hills and Far Away" might be a pretty perfect song. Well no, I take that back. I'm not sure I love that whole fade out/fade in part near the end. Hmm, maybe "Houses of the Holy?"

At June 19, 2007 11:40 PM, Blogger Layla (aka Barbara) replied to my musings ...

I'll be back to answer after I get recover from reading the words "Pink Floyd" here. I did not go to Roger Waters Friday, please don't ask why.

I love this list and will link to it on Layla's (but I think my 5 readers already read here!)

The first song that comes to mind is Jungleland by Bruce but I will have more after I wipe my eyes and pull myself up off the floor.

At June 19, 2007 11:49 PM, Blogger dschalek replied to my musings ...

"Angel Of Death" by Slayer.

At June 20, 2007 3:06 AM, Blogger dragonflyfilly replied to my musings ...

i not a big fan of Brian Adams, but all the rest in your list i like, and particularly Pink Floyd and The Police.

BUT, I don't recognize a song by the words without the music, most of the time, --- what would be great on your Blog would be music.

Have you ever gone over to "meow"'s blog? her "theme song" is Tom Jones singing What's New Pussycat, it's fab. check it out.
Can you put some music in your Blog? - that would be great!

come over and see me sometime now that my computer is up and running, i was very lonely without it! *sarconic chuckle*

At June 20, 2007 6:20 AM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Beckeye: I love the Zep, I really do. But in thinking about this, I couldn't come up with a single song that didn't have a guitar lick or one of Plant's extended wails that I wouldn't change.

Layla: Sorry about the Waters gig. As I commented on your site several weeks ago, I am so turned off by him that I wouldn't have gone either (different reasons, I know). Hang in there!

DS: I considered a few Slayer songs, but that one's vocals don't hit perfect for me, and "South of Heaven," one I came close on, had some riffs I'd expand on.

DF: I'm not a BRyan Adams fan, either. But I can't think of a single thing I could do to "Run to You" to make it a better song. Thanks for the suggestion on the music--because this blog is stolen time from my other efforts, I can't say I'll take the time to set up music on it. But I like the idea ... and I will stop by your site soon.

-- david

At June 20, 2007 8:58 AM, Blogger Mike replied to my musings ...

"Baker Street" is a great song. Never would have expected that from you. I'll have to say that the first perfect song that comes to my mind is Steely Dan's "Aja". I think that The Beatles "Hey Jude" goes on a little long myself.

At June 20, 2007 10:05 AM, Blogger goldennib replied to my musings ...

I'm very picky about songs, too. I can't think of any that are perfect. The slightest thing throws me off. I think old classical music comes close to perfection on most occasions.

At June 20, 2007 12:50 PM, Blogger Perplexio replied to my musings ...

Here are some of my "perfect songs":

Twilight Zone and Radar Love by Golden Earring
A Long Way There by Little River Band
Hush by Deep Purple
Home by Dream Theater
Introduction and Beginnings by Chicago
I'll Be Over You by Toto
Don't Fear the Reaper and I Love the Night by Blue Oyster Cult
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant and Captain Jack by Billy Joel
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Madman Across the Water by Elton John
Things Are Gettin' Better by the Sons of Champlin
Spinning Wheel by Blood Sweat and Tears
Kashmir by Led Zeppelin
Pour Some Sugar on Me by Def Leppard
In My Room and Wouldn't it Be Nice by the Beach Boys

And I've got to add that I agree on many of the ones you listed-- Ain't No Sunshine, Baker Street, Burnin' For You, Eleanor Rigby and While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Good Vibrations, One, Paradise City, Spectral Mornings, Wrapped Around Your Finger, and Wish You Were Here in particular!

At June 20, 2007 1:01 PM, Blogger Mike replied to my musings ...

what about the version of Baker Street by the Foo Fighters (I think) about 10 years ago? Or Communication Breakdown by Zep? I'm talking one of the versions on BBC Sessions, not the mainstream version. I also like a version of Travelin' Riverside Blues off that album. 18 Till I Die by Bryan Adams is one of my favorites, but only the acoustic version with a string ensemble of Juliard Students. Enough of my obscure versions of perfect songs...

At June 20, 2007 4:42 PM, Blogger cube replied to my musings ...

I think I'm musically-challenged because my favorite songs never end up on anybody's list of best songs... evah!

At June 20, 2007 5:48 PM, Blogger Etchen replied to my musings ...

Great list!

At June 20, 2007 5:57 PM, Anonymous Bruce replied to my musings ...

That's a good list, and I'd have to agree on most of them.
I seriously love "Baker Street". If I had written and/or recorded that song, I would've quit afterwards, because I knew I couldn't have done any better. "Ain't No Sunshine" falls into that category, too.
Another song I'd put on that list is "Dust In the Wind". It just flows so smoothly from start to finish.

At June 20, 2007 6:37 PM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Mike: If I can surprise you after all this time you've been reading here, I'm impressed with myself.

GN: There are a few movements in a few symphonies I could probably see as "unimprovable," but I'd have to really give them a serious listen.

Perplexio: Ahhh, where to begin. I warned you I was very picky ... "Kashmir" is great but I'd shorten it; ditto for the trailout on "Beginnings." The organ on "Hush" is mixed just a bti too loud for my tastes, and if I were in Def Leppard, I would've insisted on spending at least 3 more minutes to come up with a better line for "Pour Some Sugar On Me" than "Livin' like a lover with a radar phone."

Mike: I loved the FF version of "Baker Street," but it really highlighted how good the original was. Giving up "the booze and the one night stands" rings just as true today, but giving up "the crack and the one night stands," as the Foos reworded it, was reaching too hard. A lot fo Zep songs come close for me, but I haven't found one that's there. "Since I've Been Lovin' You," original recording, might be closest.

Cube: Remember--these aren't my favorites ... just the ones I can't think of a way to improve!

Etchen: Credit the artists--they made magic with these.

Bruce: Gerry Rafferty also had a fantastic pop song with "Right Down the Line," which also comes close to perfection by my definition. I hadn't considered "Dust in the Wind," let me listen to that again and post in my next comment reply about it.

-- david

At June 20, 2007 8:45 PM, Blogger :P fuzzbox replied to my musings ...

Korns, 'Y'all Want A Single' does it for me. It is a perfect anthem for a song that defies radio playability crap.

At June 21, 2007 10:56 AM, Blogger Mike replied to my musings ...

I forgot one of the more pure songs: Better Things by the Kinks. I just can't find a way to change it and make it better.

At June 21, 2007 12:23 PM, Blogger Phats replied to my musings ...

You seriously put a bryan adams song on here?! ok ok summer of 69 was good.

I love aint no sunshine good song

At June 21, 2007 12:48 PM, Blogger Linda replied to my musings ...

This is soooo hard.

Here is a short list...

Pink Floyd - Fearless (again very hard for me)
The Beatles - A Day in the Life or Here Comes the Sun (The Beatles being one of my favorites have many that I consider perfect, so I would have a hard time choosing)
Led Zeppelin - Out on the Tiles
U2 - One
Temple of the Dog - Hunger Strike (I love Chris Cornell's voice)

I can't think of anything else right now. I could spend days on this task, though.

At June 21, 2007 2:53 PM, Blogger Shannon A. Long replied to my musings ...

I've always thought "Eleanor Rigby" had to be one of the most perfect songs ever written. Glad you agree.

And, What?!? No Ashlee Simpson?!?!

At June 21, 2007 4:00 PM, Blogger Godwhacker replied to my musings ...

Great list! I'd add a few that are hopefully off the beaten path:

• "Meat City" ~ an obscure rocker from John Lennon's underrated Mind Games album.

• "The Great Curve" ~ "Once in a Lifetime" was the big hit from Remain in Light - but this little neo-funk rant take the groove up a notch with some biting guitar. "Love the curves of a woman's hips!"

• "Kid Charlemagne" ~ Aja from "The Dan" was a great suggestion from an obvious musical connoisseur, but this track provides the pop, rock, and jazz fusion Becker and Fagen made famous with quirky and politically-incorrect lyrics "all those dago freaks who used to pay the face, they've joined the human race" (I can say "dago" 'cause I'm half Italian ;)

• "I And I" ~ From Bob Dylan's Infidels album has some of his trademark lyrical wit with guitar from Dire Straight's Mark Knopfler. "The world could come to an end tonight, but that's alright with me, if she's still there sleeping when I get back." Too sweet!

At June 21, 2007 5:11 PM, Blogger The Phoenix replied to my musings ...

"25 or 6 to 4" by Chicago
"You Oughta Know" by Alanis

Not my favorite songs, but two that are perfect the way they are.

At June 21, 2007 10:04 PM, Blogger Godwhacker replied to my musings ...

Oh, and if you (or anyone) wants music on their


offers a cool little blogger-compatible widget that's free and quick to set up.

At June 21, 2007 10:13 PM, Blogger Godwhacker replied to my musings ...

whoops that's

At June 22, 2007 5:35 AM, Blogger ChickyBabe replied to my musings ...

We share some favourites. I'll add Boys of Summer - Don Henley to your list.

At June 22, 2007 7:26 AM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Fuzz: It doesn't make it for me, but that's the joy of thinking about these things--we can celebrate diversity without politics getting involved.

Mike: That's a song I don't know. I'll have to pick it up on my next iTunes shopping spree.

Phats: I can recognize well crafted songs even from artists I don't like. For example, "Beautiful Noise" by Neil Diamond is damn close to perfectly desgined and executed, but it sure isn't on my top 100 (or 1000, or 10,000) list.

Linda: I ruled those Beatles songs out because the end chord in "A Day in the Life" fades too fast (!) and "Here Comes the Sun" would be better without the "do do do do" part. Just sayin'.

-- david

At June 22, 2007 7:33 AM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Shannon: Perhaps someday I'll do an "anti-perfect song" post, the Bizarro-world perfect tunes list of all the songs that I would cahnce EVERYTHING. Ashlee Simpson might make that one ... but I"d hhave to actually listen to something she's created to do that honestly, and I'm not ready for that.

GW: I don't know "Meat City" or the Dylan tune. Something in David Byrne's vocal delivery almost always makes me unhappy and prompts me to want a change. But "Kid Charlemagne" may qualify, as may "Deacon Blues," two beautiful, well produced songs. And I'll check out if/when I have time ...

Phoenix: I told you I was picky, so here goes. I really love these songs (in different ways, of course), but I don't like how Peter Cetera trails his vocals out on the second chorus of the song and I think "You Outta Know" deserves a stronger opening, perhaps just a louder mix instead of the crescendo. Yes, I nitpick.

CB: That one is close--damn close. The drums, bass, and guitar solo are perfect. I would change one thing, though--Don Henley's "I can see you" line sounds a bit stretched a couple of times ... I'd have him back in the studio for a few more takes.

-- david

At June 22, 2007 1:14 PM, Blogger ~d replied to my musings ...

I enjoy few things in life more than music.

(I could have written that statement. I am not a musician of any sort. I do not play anything-except an iPod, I do not sing-well, I DO, but it is waay out of tune, I do not write lyrics.)
this being said, I do plan to come back and offer at least ONE song I think is perfect. Today. I do not allow myself to be held responsible for what I say today...tomorrow. (get it?)
*I'll be back.

At June 22, 2007 7:30 PM, Blogger Lee Ann replied to my musings ...

So many good ones you have listed.
I am in total agreement with you on Eleanor Rigby.
I like the Beatles fine, not my most favorite group, but excellent song!

Have a great weekend.

At June 23, 2007 2:29 PM, Blogger Godwhacker replied to my musings ...


I was noticing the serious lack of female performers on the list.

How about,
• "Free Man in Paris" by Joni Mitchell
• "Brass in Pocket" by The Pretenders
• "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac
• "Give Me One Reason" by Tracy Chapamn
• "Lady Marmalade" by Patti LaBelle
• "Constant Craving" by k.d. lang

At June 26, 2007 10:22 AM, Blogger bob_vinyl replied to my musings ...

I have to admit that "Back in Black" may in fact be a perfect song, but I've never heard a good version of it. It took me a long time to filter out Brian Johnson's horrible vocals and the AC/DC's bar-band quality to recognize that there really is something to the song itself. It just seems that no one wants to do right by it.

At June 27, 2007 7:03 AM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

~D: So I'm not the only one. Whew.

Lee Ann: I feel the same--not my favorite group, but they created some amazing pop songs.

GW: Some of those come close, but none of them make it for me. Maybe "Rhiannon" by Fleetwood Mac.

Bob: For some reason, Brain's vocals--which normally bother me--work perfectly in that song. I can't imagine it being better for that song with any other presentation. But I'm strange like that.

-- david

At July 09, 2007 8:57 AM, Blogger rock_of_ages replied to my musings ...

How nice is it to see While My Guitar Gently Weeps listed on something like this - absolutely perfect. Another George Harrison composition from this time, Not Guilty, rates highly with me as well but never got released for years.

I'm going to offer up a couple of Zeppelin tunes that do it for me...
Gallows Pole and the superb Thank You


At July 12, 2007 1:47 PM, Blogger An80sNut replied to my musings ...

I give you much credit here as I agree with almost half of them. "Fortress Around Your Heart" and "Synchronicity II" haunt me in a good way. "Run To You," "Good Vibrations," "Burnin' For You" and "One" each while entirely different have true centers and don't lose interest in themselves. Quite a diverse and versatile list.


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