Yes! We’re headed towards the end of 2016, which means the start of the Top 2000! Ever since its first edition in 1999 I’ve been hooked to this 6-day radio event. Even though the list is nearly the same each year, the feeling never gets old. I’m so grateful for all the music I have discovered thanks to the Top 2000. And for this year’s vote I decided to do something special. I’ve made my own little awards show, and assigned a song to each of the 30 different categories. In our latest show, Louis, Kasper and I talk about our votes and we pick 1 of them to elaborate on.
You’ll find my official voting list here, but in this blog I added a short explanation why I think each of the songs are special. Although musical taste is very personal, I hope it will inspire you or lead you to discover new music. Or maybe just leads you to listen to these songs in a new way. Enjoy! And don’t forget to share your favorites with me!
Dr. Dre – The Next Episode
My respect for Dr. Dre is bigger than Aretha Franklin. There is too many rap and hip-hop produced by engineers without knowledge of music theory, which leads to melodies of samples in a different key [Felix – Don’t you want me] or even samples that are not exactly 8 beats [[Naughty Boy ft. Sam Smith – La la la]. Makes me cringe. But Dr. Dre understands music, and particularly funk. What he did with G-Funk, combining gangster rap with funk deserves him a place in the Music Hall of Fame. Or at least in my Top 2000 chart list. ‘The next Episode’ is one of many examples, but as it features my favourite rapper Snoop; Two birds, one stone.
Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms
You might not expect this song winning the ‘Best Ambience’ category, but for me that is what best describes why this song is so special. The beauty of it lies in its silence. It’s so peaceful, so quiet. It’s slow. The guitar of Mark Knopfler sounds so pure, you can hear he plays so softly that his distortion doesn’t even fire because of low gain. Amazing. A ground rule among musicians is that you should always play with full energy. This song proves otherwise.
Donny Hathaway – I love you more than you’ll ever know
I’m not a huge listener of soul, but I can appreciate it. And good Soul for me is all about the voice. Only two people come to mind in that respect, which are Marvin Gay and Donny Hathaway. This particular song is beautiful because of its very low tempo. 93 bpm in 6/8, so 31bpm from 1 to snare. Again, the silence in the song is the best part of it.
Best Movie Soundtrack
Hans Zimmer – Time
Am Em G D. Repeat from start to end. Sounds so simple, but this is a true masterpiece. The way it builds up (and returns) is beyond words. And I love that chord progression. In essence it’s i-v-VII-IV, if you think Am is the root and the D sounds very Dorian, at least to me. But Em can be root as well. Doesn’t matter. What’s interesting is the voicing – the notes of the chord that are played, and those which are left out. They’re just perfect. I can sit at the piano and play this progression for hours, it’s so beautiful.
The Doors – Light my Fire
After hearing one of the live versions’ organ solo I fell in love with psychedelic music. Repeating Am Bm for a few minutes but it never becomes boring. Ray Manzarek is a huge influence for me and according to my Last.fm, The Doors is my most scrobbled artist – their songs never become boring. Typical blues essentially, but the lead role for the organ changes everything. Oh, and they didn’t have a bass player, that was done by Mr. Ray as well. Amazing band.
Tame Impala – Let It Happen
As The Doors already won the Best Psychedelic award, I had to create an award for Best Neo-psychedelic for Tame Impala. And actually, it is a different kind of psychedelic. For me, Tame Impala is the discovery of the new century. I’ve talked about it at length in the show, but the way they experiment with sound makes me very excited. I’m happy there is a band like this again.
Best Symphonic Rock
Pink Floyd – Shine on you crazy diamond
This award could have been called ‘Best Song’ as well, but I just can’t call this 25 minute piece a ‘song’. Shine on you crazy diamond, in particular the live version on ‘In The Flesh’ DVD by Roger Waters, was the tipping point for my interest in making music. It all comes down to that moment, somewhere in 2003 at my fathers house. Right from the beginning of the song, I was hooked. The intro is captivating, the richness of that first Gm that you hear for more than a minute is huge. It’s like you enter a room with a very strong perfume. You get immersed. And then, at the perfect moment in the guitar solo, it suddenly changes. Dm. The most touching progression of all, i -> v, in such a strong way. Perfection. If the song stopped here, it would still make this list. To be honest, I don’t like the verses and chorusses too much. But again, the middle section (‘part 6’) is just insane. Different time signature (4/4), same chords as the intro. Great lap steel guitar solo. Then the main theme (which was in 6/8), played in 4/4 shuffle. And back to 6/8. Damn. And then the outro, ‘part 9’. You won’t hear this part in the Top2000, but in my opinion the song is incomplete without it. So take a listen if you’ve never heard the full version. Let the Gm -> Bbm surprise you and enjoy the final Picardian 3rd.
Pink Floyd – Time
Pink Floyd has been my main musical influence since that DVD I saw in 2003, but surprisingly the song with the ‘Best Lyrics’ is from Pink Floyd as well. Dark Side of the Moon is just an amazing album, with songs about fears and issues of the society at the time (1973, although I don’t think it has changed much). Being born without reason (Breathe), pressures of life and carreer (On the run), fear of aging (Time), fear of death (Great gig in the sky), temptation of power (Money), tolerance (Us and Them), illusion of choice (Any colour you like), fear of insanity (Brain Damage) and handling presence of bad human behaviour (Eclipse). Time is my favourite in this list. Possibly because my personal fear of mortality is so strong, and the lyrics describe this feeling so clearly. Especially the final section (‘reprise’) about how people fool themselves with religion and stories of afterlife to surpress this fear is so powerful. Oh, and nice guitar solo as well.
John Lennon – Jealous guy
What made Lennon/McCartney so powerful in my opinion is that Lennon wrote the beautiful melodies, and McCartney the great songs around them. It’s abundantly clear when you listen to their solo tracks, no exception with ‘Jealous guy’. You can hear the melody came first – without it, the chords don’t make any sense. And that’s special. Most songs are recognizable by chord progression. So yes, John Lennon, master of beautiful melodies. Rest in peace buddy.
Best Vocal Harmonies
Simon & Garfunkel – Scarborough fair/Canticle
Sixties protest song at its best. Take a folk love song from the 18th century, and sing a war statement right through it, in the same soft and sweet voice. This version with Andy Williams is the best rendition I’ve ever heard, and the reason why it’s awarded Best Vocal Harmonies. Make sure to check it out. Oh and praise to the Dorian mode, which is so remarkably present in this song.
Lakeside – Fantastic Voyage
For a long time I thought Chic was the unprecedented master of funk, but I must say this relatively unknown band from Ohio blew my mind when I heard this song. First thing that struck me is the backing vocals singing the 9 (supertonic) instead of the 1 (root) (“come along and ride..”), awesome. Second thing is the sudden change from a very funky , in front of the beat feel, to a strict Disco like melody and rhythm in the chorus. It surely is a fantastic voyage.
David Bowie – Absolute Beginners
Of course, David Bowie has to be awarded this year. Actually he’s been in my list almost every year. For many years I voted ‘Space Oddity’ for its great methaphoric use of space travel for drug use. But this time I picked a song which I like for its composition. Bowie always surprises with chord progressions. I like the diminished chord arpeggio in the verses and the D C Bm progression, which make me think of other Bowie songs with descending chords like China Girl and Changes.
Best Dutch Act
Ronde – Run
The vocals on this track can really touch me. I like how it builds up – the chords are A and C#m so from that you would expect the key of A, but the melody gives away we are actually in E. When after two verses and pre-chorusses we finally reach the chorus, that E feels so strong – the song really unleashes at that moment. Also, the rhythm of the piano is extremely contrasting with the one from the vocals. Challenge: try to play this on a piano with left and right hand together. Good luck.
U2 – Magnificent
I’m one of those who think U2 only got better over time. Although Bono’s voice can’t reach the same notes as he used to, it’s still a crazy good voice. I once saw a documentary where their producer Brian Eno explains how nice it was to work with Bono, as almost no vocal editing was necessary after recording. I understand how the layered approach of The Edge makes U2 to be U2, but I just never liked it. Magnificent is different. All those sixteenth notes on guitar create a nice spacey feel. Also, that major to minor of the same chord, I love it.
Best Folk Rock
Midlake – Roscoe
I discovered this song because of Leo Blokhuis’ Top 2000 list and it’s been on mine ever since. Listening to it, I wonder what makes it so special. It’s a very normal progression (6-5-4-6), no unusual instruments, good but not outstanding vocals. Sometimes you just can’t explain.
Yes – Mind Drive
Genesis – Home by the sea
I’m a big fan of progressive – it’s a candy shop for musicians interested in theory – so I picked two songs for this award. The first one, ‘Mind Drive’ by Yes is as progressive as you can get. 7/8 time signatures, pitch bent organs, recurring themes, synthesizer solos, modulations. The song is on their 90s album Keys to Ascension II which I discovered on Last.fm. And come on, what can beat a progression like F B7 D B7 G. Mozart would turn in his grave. Insane.
The other song, which is a whole different kind of progressive, is Home by the sea by Genesis. Or actually I should have picked the last part, which has its own title ‘Second home by the sea’. That electronic drum beat which would become so defining for Phil Collins and the lovely synthesizer. The absence of structure. I love songs which don’t have a usual verse/chorus structure. ‘Second home by the sea’ feels like a journey rather than a song – you never know what’s coming next but it fits all together very well. In the outro, the melody of the first part is sung over different chords, an idea which is usually only heard in classical pieces.
Best Arena Rock
Boston – Smokin’
Like many other people, I guess, I discovered Smokin’ when playing GTA: San Andreas – it surprised me it was a song by Boston as I’ve known them only from their famous ballad ‘More than a Feeling’. But Smokin’ is some serious rock and roll with heavy guitars. And being a keyboardist, the organ solo makes me salivate.
Faithless – Insomnia
I hope I’ll ever get the chance to meet Rollo and Sister Bliss. I would ask them how they did it. How do you come up with this stuff? We mortal songwriters start our songs from melodies and chords, but it seems like they work from an experience. “Let’s really feel what Insomnia means and find sound (not chords and melodies) that expresses it”. Really cool. Most remarkable part of this song for me is the B Bm B5 b progression, especially where the B major chord clashes with the ‘D’ sounding hit on the first beat.
Best Guilty Pleasure
Madonna – Vogue
Madonna is one of the better songwriters in my opinion, sometimes with really interesting musical ideas (like the chords in “Like a Prayer” Dm C Gm F Bb F C Dm). I like Vogue because of the verse in major and chorus in minor. And it’s just a nice song, it’s not always just theory that hooks me 🙂
Beach Boys – God only knows
This song will probably rank highest in the final charts of the Top 2000 (top 20 usually). So that means a lot of people like this song, and I can understand why. The lyrics and ambience of the song fit together very well. There’s a kind of flow in the song, which is strengthened by the vocal harmonies. But I wouldn’t be me if I put a song in my list only for those reasons. Of course there are interesting chords as well. In many parts of the song actually, but my favourite part is the return after the bridge – they sing ‘God only knows what I’d be without you’ in a different key, namely D instead of A. But the progression, D A/C# Bm D/A ends with the same chord as the start of the verse: D/A. Brian Wilson must have realized this as well as he immediately continues with the verse – it skips 1 measure. I always wonder how many people notice this brilliant idea of one of the best composers ever lived.
Snarky Puppy – Lingus
Louis and I went to see Snarky Puppy last year in Utrecht. I consider them the best band currently alive. And I define ‘Best Band’ by looking to the quality of the worst player (weakest link), the way they play together, and their openness to new ideas and improvisations. The solo in Lingus is just bizarre. It’s been written out, so if you like to give it a try.. there you go. (This girl already did).
Best New Age
Talk Talk – Such a shame
If it’s not obvious yet that I’m in awe of interesting chord progressions, I’m happy to reinforce that statement once again. The song opens in Dm, sneakliy introduces the b with an Am9 and then modulates to the key of Em for the chorus. I like sneaky modulations. Also, the end of the chorus has this famous C D Bm C progression on a synth of which I have no clue how to reproduce. That’s what makes Talk Talk so special for me, their synth sounds are so unique and defining – even though they used a DX7 and Jupiter like anyone else at that time. Amazing band.
Herbie Hancock – Cantaloupe Island
Great pianist, nice melody. Fm Db7 Dm9 Fm, sick progression. The guitarist in this video is amazing too. Makes me want to catch up on my Jazz scales.
Cuby & the Blizzards – Somebody Will Know Someday
This Dutch band offers a kind of blues that is so pure. Every time I listen this song it aches. You can feel its depressed state. Shouldn’t listen it too much but it’s so great, especially the piano played by Herman Brood.
UB40 – Food for Thought
This reggae song of 1980 is actually a Christmas song, according to guitarist Robin Campbell. A cynical one, because the lyrics are about the hipocracy of feasting while African children are starving. Although you might consider Bob Marley the king of Raggae, I chose UB40 because I like the more pop sounding instruments instead of the soul that comes with Jamaican reggae.
David Guetta & Sia – She Wolf
It’s the combination of those suspended chords in the verse, leading to that beautiful resolution with G at the start of the chorus, and the beautiful voice of Sia. I think it’s very powerful, and I’m amazed how many hit songs are written/produced by David Guetta. A huge talent.
James Blake – Retrogade
Oh my. The first time I heard this song – the pitch bent synthesizer in particular – was an incredible moment. This song feels so dark, and a bit weird thanks to the minor melody right above the major chord. G Cm Gm/D C D7 – if you’d strum those it sounds like a really bad progression. The trick is to use them as little as possible, just enough to get their quality through. That’s what is done on this track and it really made me realize that such a technique could work.