(Enter overly dramatic intro set to a backsplash of LMFAO). It all started harmlessly enough. An innocent tweet sent by yours truly claiming that the 1990’s was the pre-eminent decade of upbeat music whose lyrics are sad. Yes, I said: “The King of Wishful Thinking” by Go West is a classic example of this principle. Deep down inside, I knew this tweet would go out into the ether with no response. Oh how you surprised me Internet
Rather than let my tweet stand for the un-researched claim for which it stood, there was lash back. Angry, angry tweets followed (I would not testify to this statement), and I was forced to indulge the notion that I was incorrect. Let it not be said that we at Down the Tunnel don’t listen to our fledgling readership. While those other blogs may ignore you, keep you on task with Notre Dame football, or flat out pretend they’re better than you, we leave no stone unturned.
It’s been a labor of love, time…and outsourcing to bring this to you. Faced with the possibility of being wrong, I did what any good writer would do…deflect blame. I asked others to embrace a decade and give me 10 songs to make this the ultimate offseason competition of “Which decade is best at making upbeat songs that have surprisingly sad/depressing lyrics?” If you find this topic overly esoteric, then you’re on to something. However, I find it a much more worthwhile endeavor than spending 6 months discussing the state of Notre Dame’s playing surface. It’s shocking, but true. We’ll still see football in the fall regardless of playing surface, but without this post, there’d be no answer to the question “what decade reigns supreme?”
Initially, this was to be a four decade debate between the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s. However, as the one tasked to do the 70’s, I failed. First of all, I was born in 1983, which brings about a problem of knowing the music well enough. I was cool with that. However, my contributors (pronounced “victims”) came up with far more nuanced lists that made me feel like a sell out for taking the 70’s without adequate knowledge. I’d have stuck to the Billboard Top 100’s and been done with it. I had some good ones too. Among them, “Cecilia” by Simon & Garfunkel, “The Hurricane” by Bob Dylan, and “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5. I was, however, being commercial.
The men I recruited used whatever means necessary to make their cases. More importantly, they demonstrated a vault of knowledge about their decades to make me feel guilty about submitting more well known tunes with less substance to the debate. As such, I submit to you the entries for the contest.
The criteria is simple: IT’S A DECADE COMPETITION. No one song gets to win the day. The lists are not in order but rather a compilation of that decade’s music. The goal: “Which decade produced the greatest number of songs that sound upbeat but are actually depressing (if you listen to the lyrics).” Omissions are their own fault. However, direct your ire towards me. These guys dutifully filled their roles to get me top 10 lists, and I’m quite appreciative of that. It was up to them whether they wanted to add commentary or let their selections speak on their face. I add no commentary, as this is for the people and not subject to commentary or editorialism. No need for further delay, it’s time to snap back to reality:
The 80’s – Brought to you by @HLS_BayouIrish
1.) The Smiths “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” The video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRtW1MAZ32M
The Smiths were the most important band in a decade that mostly threw the musical lessons learned to that point to the curb in favor of soul-less synth-pop. This song, is a glorious celebration of the anxiousness and jangled-nerves that accompany the moments before the first kiss — and of the preservation of pre-kiss perfection thanks to a ten ton(ne) bus.
2.) The Pogues “Fairytale of New York.” The video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9jbdgZidu8
This is the greatest Christmas song ever written. It swirls like snow and captures what New York City is for the rest of us better than any Macy’s window ever could. The duet between two of pop’s most poignant voices is beautiful. One voice, cut short by a tragic boating accident, is angry and sad. The other, cut short by purposeful poisoning-by-pints, is pleading.
3.) The Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star.” The video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iwuy4hHO3YQ
Don’t tell me this song doesn’t qualify because it came out in 1979. This was the first video played by MTV, a network that, in its time, was as life-changing and important and iconic as ESPN eventually became twenty (?) years later. This is a thumping dance track that survives intact to this day, as good as, and certainly better than, most any song written since.
4.) Depeche Mode “Never Let Me Down Again.” The video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xq428DZI-eg
“I’m taking a ride with my best fried.” “I hope he never let’s me down again.” The video, a live version from Paris in 2001, gives an idea of how well this song has fared over the years — how full of exuberance and life it is. Juxtapose Dave Gahan qua Mick Jagger against the lyrics.
5.) Depeche Mode “Everything Counts” The video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1t-gK-9EIq4
This is an early-80’s track that bemoans the “greed is good” mentality for which the decade is so well-known.
6.) The Smiths “Panic.” The video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMykYSQaG_c
Any song that tells you to “burn down the disco, hang the blessed DJ” is a winner. It’s got a children’s chorus.
7.) Nena “99 Luftballons.” The video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8Q2VOU4tmY
This song could have been relegated to history’s proverbial dust-bin, if it were not for Vladimir Putin and his Crimean gambit. If you’re of a certain age, you had air raid drills at school and knew that you were a blinding flash of light away from nuclear vaporization at any given moment. You felt so much safer than we do today.
8.) Bruce Springsteen “Glory Days.” The video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vQpW9XRiyM
This is every Notre Dame fan ever. The ones who are still alive who remember multiple championships are miserable and those who never knew them are even worse. Don’t mistake the upbeat tune, folks. You’ll be miserable at the end of the bar soon enough, recounting your past to people who aren’t really listening and who don’t really care.
9.) Peter Gabriel “Shock the Monkey.” The video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnVf1ZoCJSo
The artist says this is a song about jealousy. I don’t know. I just think it fits this list’s criteria really well.
10.) Public Enemy “Fight the Power.” The video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PaoLy7PHwk&feature=kp
Over time, it’s easy to chalk this song up to a summer dance classic or Flava’s antics to his nuttiness. This is an angry song that gets white kids lip-syncing along to words that encourage civil disobedience and talk shit about Elvis and John Wayne.
The 90’s – Brought to you by @oaknd1
1. “Gangsta’s Paradise” – Coolio
2. “November Rain” – Guns ‘n Roses
3. “Spiderwebs” – No Doubt
4. “Jeremy” – Pearl Jam
5. “Long View” – Green Day
6. “Losing My Religion” – REM
7. “Waterfalls” – TLC
8. “Everlong” – Foo Fighters
9. “My Name Is” – Eminem
10. “Bittersweet Symphony” – The Verve
The 00’s – Brought to you by @andrewinn
10. Her Space Holiday – “The Good People of Everywhere”
Suggested by: Mike Steedle ND ’03 (@theTopsider):
His comment: “I thought it was just a story of kids poisoning their parents to be free, then simply doing all the bad stuff their parents did anyway. It’s catchy, though, right?”
My comment: RIGHT.
9. The Mountain Goats – “No Children”
Suggested by: Melissa Green ND ’03 (@magreen17).
My comment: You put your arm around your friend’s shoulder as they lock arms and shoulders with their friends. Everyone is drunk. Everyone is swaying to this song. And then the lyrics start. GUT PUNCH. THANKS A LOT, MOUNTAIN GOATS.
8. The Format – “Dog Problems”
Suggested by: George McKay (@JorgesHome):
His comment: “All about coping with a bad break up”
My comment: …as told by hand puppets.
7. Dashboard Confessional – “Again I Go Unnoticed”
My pick. I literally had a decade’s worth of emo to choose from, but this one always made me laugh. A song that has become a sing-along for fans of Dashboard Confessional…is about unrequited love.
6. The Gaslight Anthem – “The ’59 Sound”
Suggested by: George McKay (@JorgesHome).
My comment: Hey! These guys sound like Springsteen! What a great sound! What a rocking tune! Hey, what’s this song about anyway? WHAT? The best friend that died when the band was out of town? Bummer.
5. Death Cab for Cutie – “The Sound of Settling”
Suggested by: Matt Nania ND ’02 (@mjnania)
My comment: That drum beat. It gets butts wiggling. And yet…this song is about having regrets for not taking chances in life.
4. Ben Folds – “Zak and Sara”
Suggested by: My sister
My comment: Well, she actually suggested “Annie Waits” from the same album, but I think “Zak and Sara” fits our theme even better. Driving piano, handclaps. Very light, very fun song about…a crazy girl who has a dumb ass for a boyfriend.
3. MGMT – “Time to Pretend”
Suggested by: High school friend Jay Wyatt.
My comment: A song I once considered the 2000s version of #yolo, Jay set me straight: “He spends the first verse being sarcastic about coming of age and the second verse talking about everything he misses from childhood. It’s really sad.”
2. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside”
Suggested by: Lisa, the Lovely Librarian.
My comment: A danceable tune about the time Killers frontman Brandon Flowers found his girlfriend with another dude at a bar. (I offer the link to the remix, because it’s one of the best remixes ever done IMO.)
1. Outkast – “Hey Ya”
Suggested by: Cracked.com
Cracked writes: “At its core, ‘Hey Ya’ is an incredibly sad song. The lyrics are basically an indictment of the entire idea of being in a relationship. Not just getting married, but being in a relationship at all. The ‘hero’ of the song has found himself tied down to a woman that he no longer loves, and to make matters worse, it’s pretty clear she’s lost that feeling for him also.”
Oh yeah, I also said I wouldn’t add in, but @oaknd1 both impressed me and disappointed me. Some of his selections were inspired choices. His omissions of “The King of Wishful Thinking” and “Semi-Charmed Kind of Life” made me weep. I’m being harsh though, and it’s not for me to decide. It’s for you to decide. Tweet your votes for best decade to @Downthetunnel and let the anger flow freely.