(For an explanation, click here)
1. "I've Got A Theory/Bunnies/If We're Together" off Once More With Feeling, by Joss Whedon & the cast of Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Back in 2001 I had a friend who loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was one of those people who heard the title of the series, rolled my eyes and gave it no further thought whatsoever.
Then he showed me the Musical episode.
Once More With Feeling was, to my knowledge, the first episode of network television to attempt a musical since Stephen Bochco and Randy Newman's ill-fated Cop Rock. Nowadays they're almost common - and that's entirely because of Buffy's success in pulling something that audacious off so well. It's an extraordinary hour of TV, and I don't use that word lightly. Once I'd finished watching it for the first time I promptly went out and bought all of the then-available seasons - maybe the best DVD purchases I've ever made.
The music and lyrics, written by Whedon, affectionately mock and simultaneously pay tribute to everything from Andrew Lloyd Webber to Jonathan Larson to Lerner & Lowe to Stephen Sondheim. It's uniformly catchy stuff, and it's so smart and so well-performed by the cast (who are, largely, completely untrained singers if they're singers at all) that its almost scary.
If you've never watched an episode of Buffy, you owe it to yourself to try this one (and the similarly audacious-and-amazing "Hush").
2. "Rise" off Vulgar Display of Power by Pantera
Ah, memories: Nassau Coliseum. The 1990s. My brother and I watching as Pantera threatened to level the arena with their sound; lead singer Phil Anselmo tossing open cups of beer into a near-riotous audience as "Dimebag" Darrell shredded mercilessly on the guitar. I'll never forget that - nor the way in which the dude directly behind us drunkenly relieved himself all over our (thankfully empty) seats.
Beer, bad behavior and angry guitars - that's Pantera in a nutshell as far as I'm concerned.
These days I'm far more likely to pop in Deftones when I'm in the mood for something cathartic and aggressive, but I'll always keep Vulgar Display of Power around. It recalls long-ago summers and psyching myself up before football games; it reminds me of my youth.
3. "Falling For The First Time" off Maroon by Barenaked Ladies
One of my prouder moments in college involved my acapella group performing a Barenaked Ladies song FOR the Barenaked Ladies. They'd just come off stage at our school's annual Spring Weekend, and they were ANGRY. A group of meatheads and jackasses had spent the entirety of the band's set throwing drinks on the stage and on the musicians, catcalling, and generally being world-class, Grade A @$$holes.
Needless to say: when the school's Student Activities coordinator popped his head in after the fact to see if they'd be willing to hear us sing they were...less than enthused. Then-singer Stephen Page (now no longer with the group) was so ticked off that he opted to stay in the band's improvised dressing room and I honestly can't say I blame him (it was bad). To their enormous credit however, the rest of the group emerged and dutifully listened as we made our way through one of their tunes.
Hearing a band you respect tell you that you've made their day is one of the better feelings I've experienced. I highly recommend it.
Barenaked Ladies has a reputation as a "joke" band, and while they've certainly earned the appellation it's far from all they are - they're also a superbly-tight group that cranks out sparkling pop gems. Falling For The First Time is a prime example of this - a Summer-driving-song if ever there was one replete with a terrific, driving beat and catchy melody, an insanely-hooky/busy piano riff, and some cute/poignant lyrics.
On a sidenote: That video is AWFUL, yes?
4. "Angels of the Silences" off Recovering the Satellites by Counting Crows
Counting Crows gets a bad rap, overall.
Sure, Adam Duritz's vocals can sound a little whiny but so what? Conor Oberst doesn't get flack for that. I'll trade a little whine for a lot of great lyrics any day of the week, and Duritz delivers like UPS on that front - the man is a poet of sorts. This track is an attempt to weld Counting Crows' jangly folk-rock to the then-ascendant Grunge movement. It works surprisingly well for me, and the band would revisit the harder edges of their sound again to great effect on 2008's "Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings." I recommend checking that one out (try "1492" for another harder-edged number).