It's my birthday, my b-b-b-b-birthday! Yes, boys and girls, I turn the big 36 today and so in my honor I'm counting down my favorite 36 songs of the past 36 years, one song per year. I had to do some math on this one. I was born in 1973 but picking a song for 1973 when I was 0 years old would lead me to pick 37 songs, not 36. The theme for today is 36, so there won't be a selection for the year of my birth saving me from having to pick from Aerosmith's debut or one of the first two Springsteen records, or Dark Side of The Moon, etc. It feels wrong to ignore 1973, but them's the brakes. Stupid numbers. Anyway, we pick up with my first birthday and continue counting up until today.
It would be so cool if I could license these 36-tracks into a glorious 2-CD compilation. Some of these are songs I was listening to at the time, others were discovered years (even decades) later. I don't know if this "compilation" tells my life's story, but I suppose it gives you a little glimpse into who and where I've been. If I could put time in a bottle, it might look something like this.
1974: "Rebel Rebel" – David Bowie: I was fighting TheMan from an early age. Great guitar riff.
1975: "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: I know. This isn't even the best song on Born to Run, but all my life all I ever wanted to know is what is a Tenth Avenue Freeze Out was. 30 years later, I find out Bruce doesn't know, either. He says it's important, though.
1976: "Right Place, Wrong Time" – Otis Rush: Title track from my favorite electric blues album of all time. I wonder how many times I've felt that way over the course of 36 years and counting…
1977: "Heroes" – David Bowie: Raise your hand if you thought Bowie would be first to get 2 songs on the chart. Some fraction of 1 percent of art attains true perfection. This is one of those songs.
1978: "The Promised Land" – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: It's God's favorite song. How can it not be mine? Tough not to pick something from the Stones' Some Girls, but "TPL" stays with you your whole life.
1979: "Blow Away" – George Harrison: One of my most vivid childhood memories is listening to this song in our family Suburban, driving to my grandparents' farm. This puts a smile on my face every time.
1980: "Romeo & Juliet" – Dire Straits: We mentioned perfection earlier. The greatest love song no one but me ever talks about.
1981: "Something Big" – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: First heard this one in the mid-'90s when I bought the 6-CD Playback box set. The liner notes tell us Dylan likes this song. Make that two of us.
1982: "Wolves, Lower" – R.E.M.: I have no idea what this song is about but it's a keeper. I can't wait to hear it on the upcoming R.E.M. live package.
1983: "Photograph" – Def Leppard: There were hair metal bands and then there were rock bands who had long hair. Def Leppard had better pop instincts than many more celebrated hitmakers of any decade. This one is still a classic.
1984: "Glory Days" – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: I still remember the first time I heard this song and saw the video. That's a story for another day (mental note). This prophecy comes true for us all, doesn't it?
1985: "Your Love" – The Outfield: Musical options were pretty restricted during the days of my youth, my parents being pretty well convinced MTV put you on the express lane to Hell. It was around this time I got an alarm clock with a radio, now responsible to get myself ready for school. I remember when this one came out. I loved the harmonies and some nifty guitar. I still love this underappreciated slice of power pop.
1986: "Fall On Me" – R.E.M.: Revisionist history! I wasn't allowed to listen to much music at this time and it wasn't R.E.M., it was hair metal. I've repented (mostly). There aren't many songs I enjoy singing along to more (loudly) and there aren't many I sound worse singing with than this one.
1987: "Crushing Day" – Joe Satriani: Time for truth in advertising. I love U2's The Joshua Tree…now. I hated it and them in 1987. I still listen to Surfing and have been for more than half my life. One of the first 5 CDs I ever owned.
1988: "One" – Metallica: This isn't the song that introduced me to Metallica, but it went a long way towards converting me into a fan around this time. This is still one of Kirk Hammett's greatest guitar achievements.
1989: "Runnin' Down a Dream" – Tom Petty: I used to have to sneak watching MTV when I was a kid and loved the video to "Don't Come Around Here No More." Even in the throes of hair metal obsession, I had a soft spot for Petty. Every single from this album was huge for me yet I didn't buy the CD until years later. I defined guitar god different then. I now realize just how great this slice of genius from Mike Campbell is.
1990: "Sister" – Steve Vai: Passion & Warfare was a bit too out there for me. I didn't know about the Zappa side of his personality, knowing only his work with David Lee Roth and Whitesnake. Still, I listened to that album a lot and this was and still is my favorite track from it.
1991: "Come As You Are" – Nirvana: I moved from Seattle months before Seattle's music scene presented itself to the world. "Come" is my favorite song from an album that changed a lot of our musical directions for years to come.
1992: "Them Bones" – Alice in Chains: Of all the Seattle bands, Alice was always my favorite. Dirt is one of the most vital, brutal records of the decade.
1993: "Stay" – U2: I still hated U2 in 1993, but Zooropa has become one of my favorite records and this is my favorite song from that. If we were being historically accurate, we'd give "Heart-Shaped Box" a nod with an honorable mention to Sting's Ten Summoner's Tales record.
1994: "Live Forever" – Oasis: I'm an unapologetic Oasis fan and this is still one of the best things they or anyone else has ever done. "We see things they'll never see…" A very close second is Toad The Wet Sprocket's "Something's Always Wrong" from Dulcinea, an underrated masterpiece.
1995: "Vow" – Garbage: I was really coming into my own as a music fan at this point in my life and choosing one song is next to impossible. So many great songs from the early/mid-'90s. I vividly remember buying this record and falling in lust with Shirley Manson. Classic debut.
1996: "Halo of Ashes" – Screaming Trees: Discovered a lot of great records after the fact from this year. I remember buying Dust on my way to Colorado. This song, album, and band made a lasting impression and contribution to my life.
1997: "Airbag" – Radiohead: I annoyed half of UNA talking endlessly about Radiohead and OK Computer. This is a signature album and moment in my life.
1998: "Baby Britain" – Elliott Smith: I knew Elliott by name at this point but didn't discover his music until years later. It's a good thing. I was a bit of a wreck as it was. I'm not sure Elliott would have been good for my mental health.
1999: "Get Born Again" – Alice in Chains: Ah, yes, the famous Alice in Chains box set featuring the last new recordings from Layne Staley, Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, and Mike Inez. I drove from college in Florence to Huntsville (90 minutes) to get this one the day it came out. Despite his downward spiral into addiction, Staley could still master the moment.
2000: "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of" – U2: Big year for me. I graduated college, got married, and started the phase of my life I now find myself in. How do you pick one song that encapsulates all that? You don't. That's a bit of a bastardized interpretation of this song, but it works. Sort of.
2001: "Low" – Mark Lanegan: My favorite Lanegan solo record has to be represented on here. I could have chosen 10/11 songs for this, but "Low" has probably been my favorite most of that time. Today I'd probably nod to Gillian Welch's "Dear Someone" but Lanegan's music has meant too much for too long not to give it the edge.
2002: "Clocks" – Coldplay: I can honestly say I got in on these guys early, as far as American audiences are concerned. I will always love Parachutes best, but I never saw the colossal progression from there to A Rush of Blood To The Head and "Clocks." Even if this wasn't the best song on a great record, the title alone makes this a fantastic song to have on a list like this.
2003: "7 Nation Army" – The White Stripes: The greatest riff of the 21st century. It took me awhile to get Jack's voice but there was no denying the riff. This was my entry point to the The White Stripes.
2004: "Afterlife Architecture" – Barrett Martin:I didn't hear The Painted Desert but that discovery has impacted my current listening as much as any album I've bought since then. There are a lot of honorable mentions, including Black Keys' "The Lengths."
2005: "The Alternative To Love" – Brendan Benson: Oasis' Don't Believe The Truth and Doves' Some Cities were my top two albums of the year at the time, but "Alternative" goes down as one of the most clever and catchy pop songs ever. Classic.
2006: "One Man Wrecking Machine" – Guster: There were two artists that mattered for me in 2006: Guster and Tom Petty. I've fallen for lots of artists over the years, but very few as deeply as with Guster. Even at 33, I could still get that excited and passionate about music. Like Coldplay's "Clocks," this is also a great thematic song.
2007: "I Understand" – Peter Karp: Like "Wrecking Machine," "I Understand" comes from 2007 Album of the Year. This is a brilliant singer/songwriter record and because there was no single, just about any song would have worked. I like this clever way of expressing the mysteries of women and love.
2008: "So He Won't Break" – The Black Keys: I couldn't narrow it down to just one when I did my wrapup last year and I still had a damn difficult time choosing just one. Any of those could have worked. To break the logjam, I gave Black Keys the nod because they narrowly lost to Barrett Martin for 2004.
2009: "Nightingale" – Howling Bells: I'm not going to tip my hand on my Album of the Year this early, so I'm going to pick a band that has been one of my happiest discoveries of the year. Juanita Stein's voice is both haunting and alluring in this atmospheric anthem.