Song of the Day #214: ‘Best Imitation of Myself’ – Ben Folds Five

bff1Welcome to another single-artist theme week, this one focusing on the wonderful but short-lived Ben Folds Five as well as Ben Folds’ solo work. As usual, I will tackle the songs in chronological order.

That means I’m starting with Ben Folds Five’s self-titled debut album, which could very well be my favorite album of all time. Honestly, if I was in that desert island scenario and was allowed only one CD, I’m pretty sure this would be it.

Start to finish, not only isn’t there a weak track but there isn’t a track that doesn’t excite me to the core of my being in one way or another. This album has it all… astounding musicianship (not just by Folds on the piano but by bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jesse as well), alternately poignant and hilarious lyrics, melodies that don’t quit. And it’s all performed with an energy worthy of a live show but enough finesse to reward careful listening.

Any song on this album would have been a perfect start to Ben Folds Week. I went with this one mostly because it was one of the only studio versions I could find on YouTube. It’s also Alex’s favorite song on the album, and it’s always nice when our musical tastes overlap.

This is an excellent exploration of insecurity and conformity in the guise of a catchy 2 1/2 minute pop song. For me, the key line comes in the bridge: “Maybe I’m thinking myself in a hole, wondering who I am when I ought to know.” And “I do the best imitation of myself” is such a clever way to describe the process of trying to fit in.

I feel like a quote out of context, withholding the rest
So I can be for you what you want to see
I got the gestures and sounds, got the timing down
It’s uncanny, yeah, you’d think it was me
Do you think I should take a class
To lose my southern accent?
Did I make me up or make the face ’til it stuck?
I do the best imitation of myself

The ‘problem with you’ speech you gave me was fine
I liked the theories about my little stage
And I swore I was listening but I started drifting
Around the part about me acting my age
And now if it’s all the same, I’ve people to entertain
I juggle one handed, do some magic tricks and
The best imitation of myself

Maybe I’m thinking myself in a hole
Wondering who I am when I ought to know
Straighten up now, time to go
Fool somebody else
Fool somebody else

Last night I was East with them and west within
Trying to be for you what you want to see
But I cant help it
With you the good and bad comes through
Don’t want you hanging out with no one but me
Now if it’s all the same, it comes from the same place
And if my mind’s somewhere else
You won’t be able to tell
I do the best imitation of myself
Yes it’s uncanny to see
You’d really think it was me
The best imitation of myself
Do the best imitation of myself

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #214: ‘Best Imitation of Myself’ – Ben Folds Five

  1. Dana says:

    Well, I am certainly looking forward to this theme week, and a very splendid way to kick it off. Great song from a great album.

    As for the desert island issue, are you saying that this falls into the solo rather than group artist category? I thought you would be taking Belle & Sebastian on the island, or was that only if you could take 1 artist as opposed to only one album from an artist?

    Anyway, i know the YouTube search is getting difficult, but I’m not sure this video does anything for the song…certainly not the images that come to mind when I hear it:). Also, let us not let this theme day go by without calling out some of the best songs on this album: Jackson Cannery, Philosophy and, of course, Alice Childress. I can’t help but think you might have gone Childress if you could have found its YouTube companion. That song remains a standout over nearly anything Folds has ever done.

  2. Clay says:

    As always, I recommend not watching the videos for the Songs of the Day (unless they are relevant to the selection, as with last week’s songs). Much of the time, the only videos I can find are weird fan videos that don’t do the songs any justice.

    I agree that ‘Alice Childress’ is among Folds’ finest songs, and you are correct that it would have been my selection today if I could have found a damn video of it. This album is truly remarkable… consider, you mentioned three great tracks in addition to ‘Best Imitation of Myself’ and still there has been no mention of ‘The Last Polka,’ ‘Sports and Wine,’ ‘Video’ or ‘Where’s Summer B?’ And that still leaves four more excellent songs unmentioned.

    That’s why I call this my Desert Island Album… it is flawless and peerless from start to finish, and covers such a range both musically and emotionally. The Desert Island Album is distinct from the Desert Island Artist, and Ben Folds was eliminated from the latter race only because he has a relatively smaller discography than the other candidates (REM, Belle & Sebastian, Elvis Costello).

    • Bob says:

      …Critiquing the critics…
      You guys sure spend a lot of time thinking about what talented people produce. Why not spend that time creating your own work? I personally liked the youtube video–at least they made an effort to produce something new. It’s easy to judge and write how you feel about something. Creating something new and presenting it to others to be judged, however, is much more difficult. Stop wasting your time trying to convince everyone you have good taste–instead make something worthy of people’s attention.

  3. Amy says:

    I have to admit I have just a passing familiarity with this song, while I know and adore “Alice Childress,” “Philosophy,” and “Jackson Cannery.” Wonder what that’s all about? Just selective listening on the iPod? Track skipping on the CD? I’m not sure. I just know that I quickly developed an affinity for those three songs, and they are pretty much the first (and second and third) songs I think of when I think of Ben Folds Five.

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