Billy Joel once sang “Don’t go changing, to try and please me. You’ve never let me down before.” Someone needs to force him to listen to “Uptown Girl,” and ask him: “Was it worth it Billy? Was it really worth it?” There are plenty of great artists that make tragic missteps when they step outside their comfort zone (The Beatles’ migraine inducing “Revolution 9″ and Kanye West’s attempt to be the next R. Kelly on 808s & Heartbreak are just a couple that spring to mind). However, not every time an artist branches out is it necessarily a bad thing. In fact, sometimes an artist can pull out a song so different and bold from their normal sound, it eclipses anything else they’ve ever done. These are those songs that an artist produces that are in a league of their own.
5. “Here’s Looking at You, Kid” by The Gaslight Anthem — appears on the album The ’59 Sound
When The Gaslight Anthem appeared on the music scene, one thing was for sure: punk-rock music sung with near Springsteen-like vocals sounds even better with aged pop culture references sprinkled throughout. Brian Fallon cannot hide his love for all things nostalgic. I don’t think anybody could have predicted though, that the best song on their first full-length album would be a slow-moving bar stool ballad, that is as touching as it is sad. Perfectly tying into Fallon’s love for the past, “Here’s Looking at You, Kid” is a nostalgic trip alright, but it is filled with sorrow and bitterness as the singer looks at what could have been…
4. “Train in Vain” by The Clash — appears on the album London Calling
Although unintentional, there’s something quite ironic about the fact that “Train in Vain” was the only song on London Calling without mention in the lyrics and on the track listing (it was created quickly after they printed out the album cover and liner notes and tacked it on as the last song of the album). It’s a bittersweet love song, bouncing from one pop-fueled melody to another, differing wildly from all the Brit-punk slashing songs before it. The Clash’s most recognizable song to mainstream audiences is one that was simply just an afterthought.
3. “Human” by The Killers — appears on the album Day & Age
The Killers were the alternative band to look out for at the start of the last decade. Their eclectic taste in influences brought Springsteen choruses, Vegas glamor rock, and modern day guitar anthems together in a unique blend matched by no other band at the time. As the years went on though, Brandon Flowers kept pushing the band’s sound to new heights, wanting the sound to be bigger and better each time. It all culminated on their third and latest album Day & Age with “Human”: an enormous dance anthem centered around existential questions… Not since Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest has there been such a public case of mistaken identity. It’s the same Brandon Flowers vocals; it’s just that the band is hiding in plain view behind a perfectly executed dance anthem.
2. “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass — appears on 70s Music Explosion: Miracles
The debut album from Looking Glass included a lot of Grateful Dead influenced tracks, and one radio-ready pop single simply called “Brandy.” On an album full of mellow rock, “Brandy” rose to the top for being surprisingly different from the rest of the album, and shamelessly the same as everything else on the radio in the early ’70s. If “Brandy” hadn’t caught on, who knows what style the band would have landed on next?
1. “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by The Hollies — appears on Greatest Hits
The Hollies lost Graham Nash in late 1968. He was tired of the fandom, and Nash disliked his group’s identity as a “pop group.” He left the British pop group to go form Crosby, Stills, & Nash, one of the most celebrated American acts. The Hollies (minus Nash) went on to create the song “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” in 1972, a very American sounding rock song, as if to say: “now that Nash is gone, out with our Beatles persona, and in with Creedence Clearwater Revival influences!” But none of that stops “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” from being one of the best songs from the ’70s, or from being incredibly annoying to type out.