It’s so weird to think that when it came out in 1994, “If I Only Had A Brain” by MC 900 Ft. Jesus was unlike anything else I had ever heard before. It was rap, but went against every connotation the genre had. It felt like it had skipped a bunch of evolutionary steps. We knew it was theoretically possible, but we didn’t think it would actually exist any time soon. It never made a splash because we never figured out what to do with it.

Now the world is lousy with nerdcore rappers who sound just like this. And the guy who made it? Never recorded again. Quit the biz to become an amateur pilot and then a clerk at Borders. He had done what he wanted to do.

"Little Bird" by Annie Lennox

Not the greatest song— spreading wings, flying, etc.— but one of my favorite videos of all time, as Annie Lennox is joined on stage by her past selves from her old videos.

It’s a fun gimmick, but there’s so much more going on here. For one thing, it’s real— these are lookalikes, not CGI. It’s the scene in Being John Malkovich when he goes inside his own head, except it’s happening.Annie Lennox was on a stage with a bunch of people dressed like everybody she’d ever been. Imagine being surrounded by all your past selves. Imagine looking over and there’s high school you and there’s college you and you start dancing with them. Annie Lennox did that. I want to do that.

It’s also a metaphor. Everyone Annie Lennox had ever been still lived on inside her mind; she’s taking every aspect of her personality and letting it escape the confines of her brain and roam free. Every piece of Annie Lennox gets to be its own full Annie Lennox, and they can all co-exist harmoniously. And when the video’s over, she can recincorporate them into herself— except now that they’re more than fragments, they can join together into one cohesive Annie Lennox, with every aspect of her psyche at full strength. It’s integrative Reichian therapy in music video form. Crisis On Infinite Annie Lennoxes.

There have probably been a lot of music videos that tried to reject someone’s past image and create a new one, or reconnect with an old one. But in “Little Bird”, it’s all true and it’s all now.

Some of the highlights of Iggy Pop’s ridiculous 1993 cover of “Louie Louie”:

  • awkwardly updated lyrics with shoehorned references to Gorbachev and the Berlin Wall
  • name-dropping of Dostoyevsky
  • the bit around 2:40 when he just starts naming current events
  • the way, in that bit, he draws out the pronunciation of “AIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDS”

"Do It Better" by Imperial Teen.

Only a band composed entirely of water signs could make doling out compliments feel so wistful, or resigned self-reflection feel so joyful. “It’s time to show me how you do it better”— the titular line is complimentary toward others, self-deprecating toward yourself, and eagerly determined to bridge the gap. It’s hard to put all of that into one line; Imperial Teen do it without sounding at all self-contradictory. They make it sound like a natural fit. And they also do it without a shred of resentment; they’re never anything less than sweet. What a clever bunch of Scorpios.

"Oblivion" by Grimes. 2012.

I love this song (and this video), but it took me a while to notice the lyrics. It feels like a song I listen to purely for music and not for words. I like how the song feels, not what it has to say; I’m not in it for logic. It took weeks of obsessively listening to this song over and over, plus googling the lyrics, for me to appreciate that she made “you’ve got to watch your health” sound like the sweetest thing you can say to someone.

"Just Fine" by Mary J. Blige. 2007.

The best songs about happiness feel like they’re coming from someone who’s intimately familiar with unhappiness. Things have been bad before, so when they’re good, that’s a big deal. There’s an excitement and an exuberance that you can only find when happiness is a welcome change, when a seemingly half-hearted description like “just fine” is something worth celebrating.

"See And Don’t See" by the Afghan Whigs. 2012.

The only song they’ve recorded during their recent reunion is this cover of a Marie Queenie Lyons song from 1970. Lyons recorded one album on James Brown’s label and then disappeared forever, and her original version is exactly the kind of funk song you’d expect from an early-’70s James Brown protege. The Afghan Whigs picked up on the bleak hopelessness of the lyrics and brought it to the surface, turning the song into a desperate, regretful plea. Perfect hangover soundtrack.

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