Continuing the chronological presentation of my 25 favorite songs…
‘Fox in the Snow‘ – Belle and Sebastian (1996)
Belle and Sebastian’s ‘Fox in the Snow’ has shown up every time I’ve done some sort of “desert island discs” feature on this blog, and I wasn’t about to exclude it now that I’m coming up with my definitive list of favorite songs.
As with several songs on this list, ‘Fox in the Snow’ is my favorite song on my favorite album by one of my favorite bands. That status doesn’t apply to about two thirds of this list, but when it does the song in question is usually a key reason that artist became a favorite.
1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister was my first Belle and Sebastian album, and I instantly took to their sound. But when I got to this song at track five, I knew I’d found something truly special.
I love that feeling when you realize a new musical artist is one you will treasure forever.
‘Emaline (Live)‘ – Ben Folds Five (1996)
Here’s an example of a very specific version of a song landing on my favorites, when the “official” version wouldn’t get anywhere close. This is also the only live performance on my list of 25 favorites.
This performance of ‘Emaline’ by Ben Folds Five was recorded in 1995 at a bar called Ziggy’s in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It was released as the B-side of the ‘Where’s Summer B?’ single from the band’s self-titled debut album.
The studio version of ‘Emaline’ includes an acoustic guitar, and the decision was made to keep it off of the album because it would be the only track not restricted to piano, bass and drums. It was later released on a compilation of odds and ends called Naked Baby Photos.
That recording is fine, though unremarkable. But this one — the live performance at Ziggy’s — is sublime. I love how the crowd noise blends with the opening piano notes, putting you right there in the room as Ben, Darren Jesse and Robert Sledge lay down what would become their signature sound.
At this point in their career, this can’t have been a very big venue. I was lucky enough to see Ben Folds Five at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. and the Carefree Theater in West Palm Beach, two rather small spots. But that was after the release of their well-received sophomore album, so they had amassed a modest following.
This song was recorded before their first album was released, meaning it was a local, word-of-mouth crowd. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing two of my favorite artists — Josh Rouse and Tift Merritt — in very intimate settings, but in both cases they were performing solo, mostly acoustic sets.
I love the idea of seeing a raucous band like Ben Folds Five in a local bar, pounding out a great song with all the joy and creativity they would bring to their studio recordings. This recording captures that experience just beautifully.
‘I Know‘ – Fiona Apple (1999)
Fiona Apple’s ‘I Know’ is the song on this list I blogged about before any of the others, way back at Song of the Day #13. Twelve and a half years and 4,563 songs ago, I knew very well what it meant to me.
I wrote this back then: “If I were forced at gunpoint to rescue only ten songs from my collection and have the rest go up in flames, I would pull my hair out trying to decide on nine of them. But without a doubt one of the ten would be Fiona Apple’s ‘I Know.'”
The closing track of 1999’s When the Pawn…, ‘I Know’ is a torchy masterpiece of passion and regret. Backed by stately piano, upright bass and brushed drums, Apple delivers one of her most gorgeous vocal performances, a tour de force that should have won her a damn Academy Award, let alone a Grammy.
Apple has released only five albums in 25 years. Last year’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters was a ramshackle masterpiece of do-it-yourself ingenuity and a great reminder of what an exciting, vital artist she is. But my opinion of Apple was forged 21 years ago in the bright fire of this triumph.
To find something you could eat?
Cause the word out on the street is you are starving
Don’t let yourself go hungry now
Don’t let yourself grow cold
Fox in the snow
Girl in the snow, where do you go
To find someone who will do?
To tell someone all the truth before it kills you
They listen to your crazy laugh
Before you hang a right
And disappear from sight
What do they know anyway?
You’ll read it in a book
What do they know anyway?
You’ll read it in a book tonight
Boy on the bike, what are you like
As you cycle round the town?
You’re going up, you’re going down
You’re going nowhere
Its not as if they’re paying you
Its not as if its fun
At least not anymore
When your legs are black and blue
It’s time to take a break
When your legs are black and blue
It’s time to take a holiday
Kid in the snow, way to go
It only happens once a year
It only happens once a lifetime
Make the most of it
Second just to being born
Second to dying too
What else would you do?
Fox in the snow…
While I have always appreciated the B&S songs you have featured, I really can’t differentiate one from another. I feel like at least one criteria for my top 25 favorites would have to be some level of uniqueness either from anything else the artist has done, anything else on my list or both.
The choice of a particular version or live recording of a song, especially from a fave like Ben Folds who has so many great songs that work in every incarnation, is interesting. Your rationale here is the opposite of what it is for “Take on Me,” in which alternate versions, particularly the more recently released acoustic recording, have enhanced your appreciation for that song generally.
And as for Apple,, as I said TWELVE YEARS AGO on your blog, this is a great song by a great artist operating on a different level than nearly any other artist. However, if one of her songs were to make my list, it would likely be something more upbeat/less melancholy like “Shadowboxer” or “Criminal.”
Pretty sure I have that B&S song on a compilation tape you made me at some point. It’s lovely. I’m intrigued by your selection of a particular live recording. I could see feeling that way about one of the Central Park songs by Simon and Garfunkel.
That hits all the right notes for me and in me. Wistful, profound, melancholy. Loved it.