7. Guilty of Being White by Minor Threat: Racism is a pretty typical subject in the hip-hop and punk world. It’s so relevant that the genres’ lyrical thesis statement can begin to feel redundant: racism is typically a Caucasian thing. “Guilty of Being White” reminds us that racism is not limited to a single race of mankind. It’s a bravely written and enduring song—especially when a sweaty bald punk is on a stage screaming it into a microphone like a war rally—and it’s been interpreted in many different (and terrible) ways. It doesn’t boast any racial superiority, it doesn’t put one race on a pedestal above another, it just says, “hey, we are a collective society and we’re all guilty of racism.” Minor Threat took a huge risk on this song and oh my, did it pay off.
6. 1979 by The Smashing Pumpkins: As soon as that swooshing guitar sound starts chugging, your head starts bobbing. “1979” is adolescent in feeling—Corgan’s lyrics refer to teenage ostracism—and mature in sound. The syncopated kick drums work wonders with the dreamy, nostalgic guitar work of “1979,” forming a starry-eyed sound that no other band will ever be able to replicate. Its ability to work as a zeitgeist is also quite extraordinary; the title of the song itself is a hint at its retrospective effectiveness. Teenage angst has never (and probably will never) be this real.
5. 3 Stacks by Lil B: Only the based god could pull off a Titanic sample. “3 Stacks” is sort of like a bible for nonbelievers. The internet deity that Lil B has created for himself is beyond present in this song; it is the song. You can’t listen to this song and not get goosebumps. Lil B may have the worst rapping/singing voice in musical history but his positivity is so earnest and encompassing that it’s impossible not to feel loved after playing this track. Lil B’s best and most inspiring line: “and when you bounce back, make sure you dunk. Don’t miss the layup, make sure you dunk,” is complete ingenuity. If you’re feeling alone, distraught, depressed, Lil B loves you. 😉
4. Life’s a Bitch by Nas: A human’s vulnerability is never as high as it is when they’re reminded of their mortality. Will Ferrell cashes in on this idea in Wedding Crashers when he goes to pick up chicks at a funeral. It’s sad and scary acknowledging one’s inevitable death. We spend so much time working, relaxing, laughing, etc. that we forget about our last chapter. “Life’s a Bitch” is a casual reminder of the grim reaper’s unavoidable visit. What’s so great about “Life’s a Bitch” is that Nas doesn’t give in to fear or trepidation; he stands above death and raps like there’s no tomorrow. “Life’s a bitch and then you die, that’s why we get high, cause you never know, when you’re gonna go,” Nas rhymes over a chilled beat, providing the song’s most powerful existential punch. “Life’s a Bitch” is ironic in the fact that it scares and comforts at the same time. Each listen is like a bittersweet stomach lurch. Genius.
3. Bastards of Young by The Replacements: Like “1979,” the opening riff of “Bastards of Young” is unforgettable. Its youthful, energetic guitar shreds are like tightly clenched fists of blue-collar grit. It’s a tune that most will find fitting for their ‘service industry days.’ Paul Westerberg growls about “graduating unskilled,” “picking cotton,” and being the “sons of no one,” illuminating that grueling decadence that goes along with being a twenty-something. Waking up early, going to a shitty job, then staying out drinking ‘til the wee hours of the morning—that is what this song is. And no other band has been able to capture that feeling so perfectly as The Replacements.
2. No Future by Titus Andronicus: During the wonderful era of life known as youth, life changing decisions will be made. Education, careers, marriage—, these daunting aspects of life have been instilling existential dread in the minds of young people for years. “No Future” is a perfect account of a man stuck at the fork in the road, unsure of which direction to take, trapped in a game of unrelenting pickle. If Titus frontman, Patrick Stickles chooses to take the path toward medical school, he’ll go as a ‘cadaver’, but inarguably end up wealthy. If he chooses to take the different path, he’ll live a fun yet unfulfilling life downing brews in Jersey basements with his friends. Sometimes the choices of youth can be so intimidating that apathy feels comforting. Instead of facing the future, we stagnate in the present and party our troubles into the ground. Yet, twenty years from now, will the bottle still be as friendly as it is today?
1. All My Friends by LCD Soundsystem: If you have seen The Comedy, then you know James Murphy has trouble wrapping his head around aging. And we shouldn’t judge him. After all, time is our world’s most heinous serial killer. “All My Friends” begins (and ends) with a staccato, repetitive piano riff that builds and builds like a person’s age. It starts out sequestered, just the ivory keys pumping over and over again, like a person just coming into the world. It gradually meets new acquaintances like a pounding sixteenth note beat, anthemic guitar riff, and James Murphy’s soaring, puppy dog-eyed voice until cascading into THE greatest musical climax in the history of modern music. In a way, “All My Friends” embodies a person’s lifespan; it begins alone and weary but gradually builds into a massive investment. Murphy’s nostalgia is heavy; Pink Floyd is referenced, friends’ parties and drug trips are thought about, but the frontman never throws in the towel. Murphy is well aware that his hip life of urban bohemia is coming to a close, but he doesn’t fling a white flag into the air, he reminiscences. He’s lived a great life. He’s made great friends. Yea, he’s getting older and things are changing, but dammit, he’s lived.