Usually this column is the top five songs of each year. Sometimes, in an especially good year, I bend that and make it the top 10.
This week has nine.
The reasons for this are threefold: First, the longlist has 23 songs on it and that’s hard to cut to five. Second, the songs are good enough that I found myself trying to decide between 2Pac, Snoop and the Wu-Tang Clan, and I can’t cut any of those in good conscience. Third, because of my profound lack of organizational skills, I originally left Rage Against the Machine off 1992 and the addition made it a top six, and it will drive me crazy to have a non-round number of songs on The Master Playlist.
Also it’s my column and I can do what I want.
2Pac — “Keep Ya Head Up”
There are two positions I will stand by to the bitter end: Tupac Shakur is the greatest rapper of all time, and he’s one of the top five lyricists in music history. And that’s being conservative; he may be top three. As great as he was as a musician, he was better as a poet.
“Keep Ya Head Up” especially resonates just as well today as it did 25 years ago, which speaks as highly of Shakur’s writing as it speaks poorly about a society that hasn’t addressed these issues in two and a half decades and counting. He’s not even talking to me and I still end up inspired.
Radiohead — “Creep”
I’ll be honest: I think Radiohead is a little overrated. They’re a good band, maybe even a great band, but they aren’t the transcendent all-time band their fans and many music journalists make them out to be.
That said, “Creep” is an amazing song. It’s not easy to blend an indie sensibility with a catchy enough hook to achieve mainstream success but this song pulls it off in spades.
This entry may get me as much backlash as the Pink Floyd Incident.
Naughty By Nature — “Hip Hop Hooray”
This spot was going to go to either “Hip Hop Hooray” or Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain.” Both are great songs! In fact I may like the other even more than the one I included. But “Hip Hop Hooray” does a great job of highlighting the transition in its genre.
Naughty By Nature’s song is very much a throwback. It fits far better in the 1980s than the rest of the hip-hop on this year’s list. But here it is, released right alongside second-wave mainstays like Snoop Dogg and Wu-Tang. And they all sold a ton of records and get radio play to this day.
Change can be fun.
Tool — “Sober”
As a person who wore a lot of black in high school, yes, I’m a Tool fan.
This won’t be another Metallica thing, I promise. Just give me this one.
The Breeders — “Cannonball”
The ’90s were a golden age for women who rock. Following L7 in 1992, and just before Veruca Salt’s debut in 1994, we have The Breeders.
It’s not often that a side project overshadows an artist’s primary band, but it seems these days more people know Kim Deal from this than from The Pixies, which was her main job at the time. And as great as the Pixies are, that’s OK with me.
Nirvana — “Heart Shaped Box”
This is, tragically, the last studio song by Nirvana on the list. As legendary and genre-defining as the band was, it only released three studio albums, three live albums, and a compilation by Seattle indie label Sub Pop.
There will obviously be a song off Nirvana Unplugged in a future edition (Spoiler alert!) but this is the last studio track from the incredibly bright, incredibly brief light that was Kurt Cobain.
Salt-N-Pepa — “Shoop”
Don’t forget that it’s a great song by itself though. Deadpool helps of course, but it was great before too, even if I’m not 100% sure what it’s about. I mean, I get that it’s about sex, but half the metaphors and euphemisms are so veiled they go over my head. And I love euphemisms!
Wu-Tang Clan — “C.R.E.A.M.”
If you didn’t see the name of the song and immediately have “Cash rules everything around me/ CREAM/ Get the money/ Dolla dolla bills, y’all.” flash through your head, we clearly have very different heads.
It shouldn’t have been easy to pick a track off Wu-Tang’s seminal 36 Chambers, but it inexplicably was. The album as a whole is a masterpiece that launched half a dozen careers, inspired some of the greatest voices in hip-hop, and revitalized the New York rap scene. But among the individual tracks, “C.R.E.A.M.” does the best job of standing alone.
Of course if you disagree, I probably wouldn’t have a good argument, so let’s just agree that Wu-Tang is awesome.
Snoop Doggy Dogg — “Gin and Juice”
It’s Snoop’s first album! With the awful cover! Before he ran a youth football league, was pals with Martha Stewart and had a fan in the actual Queen of England, he was just some dude from Long Beach.
Some may argue that the fact “Gin and Juice” has pretty much the same sound as his recent releases shows a lack of evolution, but I disagree. Snoop is a man who knows his sound, knows his strengths, and perfected it early in his life and career. And that’s to be applauded. The man burst onto the scene fully-formed and that’s amazing.
Snow — “Informer”
Duran Duran — “Ordinary World”
The Cranberries — “Linger”
Lenny Kravitz — “Are You Gonna Go My Way”
Aerosmith — “Cryin’”
Janet Jackson — “That’s the Way Love Goes”
Haddaway — “What Is Love”
Cypress Hill — “Insane in the Brain”
The Smashing Pumpkins — “Disarm”
Meat Loaf — “I’d Do Anything For Love”
Mazzy Star — “Fade Into You”
Weird Al Yankovic — “Bohemian Polka”
Pearl Jam — “Dissident”
Counting Crows — “Mr. Jones”
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.