Song of the Day #1,153: ‘Battle of Who Could Care Less’ – Ben Folds Five

Best Songwriters – #3 – Ben Folds

Ben Folds could easily have been #1 on this list. It’s only his relative youth compared to the two songwriters to come that slipped him to the third spot. Twenty or thirty years from now, if he continues to produce the sort of music he has thus far, he’ll be pretty much unbeatable.

In 1995, Ben Folds Five released their self-titled debut, an album that I have often called my favorite of all-time, and to date the only record I’ve ever covered in its entirety on this blog. That album alone earned Folds a spot on this list.

It introduced me to Folds’ style of alternately aggressive and delicate piano virtuosity — I’d never heard the instrument played with such passion or finesse. And it gave me my first taste of Folds’ lyrical ingenuity. I consider him one of the finest lyricists writing songs today.

Folds is the opposite of Elvis Costello — you don’t hurt your head trying to decipher the meaning of his lyrics. They are straightforward, even conversational, but often profound.

Take these opening lines from the beautiful ‘Alice Childress’: “Some summers in the evening after 6 or so, I walk on down the hill and maybe buy a beer. I think about my friends, sometimes I wish they lived out here, but they wouldn’t dig this town.” Those could be lines from a letter yet they work so beautifully in a song. And they perfectly evoke the lonely life of the song’s protagonist.

Folds’ discography is full of moments like that — lives observed and lost souls understood.

He also possesses a biting wit not unlike that of one of his idols, Randy Newman. Take today’s song, ‘Battle of Who Could Care Less,’ in which Folds calls out an aloof hipster. “I know it’s not your thing to care,” he sings, “I know it’s cool to be so bored.” And later he finds the perfect detail to put the jerk in his place: “See, I’ve got your old I.D., and you’re all dressed up like The Cure.”

Folds occasionally indulges his inner frat boy, letting infantile humor shadow his inherent sensitivity. I expect he’ll outgrow that over time. But he is without a doubt one of the finest craftsman to ever throw a stool at a baby grand.

Do you not hear me anymore?
I know it’s not your thing to care
I know it’s cool to be so bored
It sucks me in when you’re aloof
It sucks me in, it sucks, it works
I guess it’s cool to be alone

Will you never rest
Fighting the battle of who could care less
Everyday you wake up late
Sometimes I wish I was that way

And you think Rockford Files is cool
But there are some things
That you would change
If it were up to you
So think about your masterpiece
Watch the Rockford Files
And call to see if Paul can score some weed

Do you never rest
Fighting the battle of who could care less
Unearned unhappiness
Well, that’s all right, I guess

I’ve got this great idea
Why don’t we pitch it to the Franklin Fucking Mint?
Fine pewter portraits of
General Apathy and Major Boredom singing…
Whatever and ever Amen

Oh well, maybe not, try again
This should cheer you up for sure
See, I’ve got your old I.D.
And you’re all dressed up like the Cure

Will you never rest
Fighting the battle of who could care less
Unearned unhappiness
You’re my hero, I confess

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,153: ‘Battle of Who Could Care Less’ – Ben Folds Five

  1. Dana says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Folds is wonderful and deserves this high ranking on your top ten songwriters (and mine). I’m not sure I would personally put him above Costello, mostly based on the longevity and diversity of Costello’s career as compared to Folds, but I understand your rationale.

    I suspect I will have more to quibble about with regard to your ranking of at least one of your top 2 if my guess is correct, but I’ll leave that for another day:)

  2. Amy says:

    Couldn’t agree more, part 2.

    The line you cited is one of my all time favorites. But how about… “The world is full of ugly things/ That you can’t change/ Pretend it’s not that way/ It’s my idea of faith”? Sheesh – that song is so profound and so simple at the same time. Just amazing. And, of course, it’s the way these lines are set to Folds’ music, that sometimes crashing, sometimes melodic piano, that make the whole thing work so powerfully.

    Yes, he will definitely be on my list of favorite songwriters, despite the odd foray into frat boy territory. One “Gracie” or “Alice Childress” absolves him of quite a few of those crass and silly songs.

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