A couple of weeks back, I posted a week’s worth of songs that fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff listed as essential in the Rolling Stone Guest List column.
Naturally, I wondered which five songs I would pick if asked to contribute to the same sort of list. This week I’ll give my answer.
There is no such thing, for me at least, as a top five, top ten or even top fifty “favorite songs” list. My favorites are fluid depending on my mood. A burst of pop adrenaline might sound like perfection one day and overkill the next. So I wouldn’t consider this a list of favorites.
Best Albums of the 90s – #2
When the Pawn… – Fiona Apple (1999)
The highest ranking sophomore album on this list, Fiona Apple’s When the Pawn… (the full title is a 90-word poem) totally caught me by surprise. I was a fan of Apple’s debut record, and had even seen her in concert opening for Counting Crows, but nothing on the first album prepared me for this one.
On her debut, Tidal, Apple’s voice was rich with a depth and maturity that belied her age, but many of her actual songs revealed her as the 19-year-old girl she was. She was tentative and prone to languid ballads that put her and her piano at center stage.
Fiona Apple became one of my very favorite artists on the strength of one album, 1999’s When the Pawn… (that’s the commonly used title, anyway… the official title is a 92-word poem that appears on the album cover).
Apple’s 1996 debut, Tidal, made a fan of me. Her singing, writing and piano playing displayed a maturity well beyond her 19 years. But even featuring such great songs as ‘Shadowboxer,’ ‘Criminal’ and ‘Never is a Promise,’ that album didn’t hint at the greatness to come.
Top Ten Female Vocalists – #1 – Fiona Apple
Not too much suspense about this pick. Those who know me or follow this blog regularly probably guessed Fiona Apple would occupy the top spot the minute I announced the countdown.
Indeed, if I were to combine the male and female lists, Ms. Apple would hold on to the crown.
I don’t know whether Apple is a brilliant performer or somebody who simply lives through her music, and I don’t expect the distinction matters much in the end. Whether or not the passion and pain she exudes in her singing is being lived in the moment, it certainly feels like it is.
I love Fiona Apple’s work for many reasons. Primary among them is her voice. And not just the quality of her voice (which, she’d be the first to admit, is not technically perfect) but the way she uses it to convey the passion and pathos in her songs.
I also love her choice of instrumentation. The production on her albums is top-notch and she always manages to surround her piano with strings, horns, interesting percussion… all kinds of sonic goodies that feel somehow old-fashioned and ahead of their time all at once. Jon Brion deserves a lot of that credit, I think, but he’s actually produced only one of her three albums and they all share a similar vibe.