So, here we are at the top of the mountain. Or maybe the #2s were the top of the mountain and these are just my personal favorites. Tough call.
There is a Light That Never Goes Out - The Smiths
And if a double-decker bus crashes into us
To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten-tonne truck kills the both of us
To die by your side, well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine
Yeah, I know it’s the fourth song from The Smiths in the countdown. Sue me - they’ve been one of my three favorite bands for almost 35 years.
I hadn’t heard of the Smiths until late 1987, when a friend of mine that was attending boarding school in Michigan mailed me a copy of Strangeways Here We Come
. The band had already broken up, which I wouldn’t even learn until seeing a solo Morrissey video on 120 Minutes. I managed to find two earlier records (Louder Than Bombs
and The Queen Is Dead)
at Camelot Records, and pretty soon I was transcribing Moz lyrics in my journal entries.
One of my favorite critics, Rob Sheffield, put There Is A Light...
atop his rankings of all 73 Smiths songs. Rolling Stone ranked it as the 226th best song of all time. NME goes even further, naming it as the 12th best song of all time. I’ll end with Johnny Marr:
A Long December - Counting Crows
I didn't realise that 'There Is a Light That Never Goes Out' was going to be an anthem, but when we first played it, I thought it was the best song I'd ever heard.
This time last year, more than a few “reconsiderations” of A Long December
got published, where cynical critics came around and admitted how they had grown to love it since the pandemic started. I always did. Still, at first I felt a little unsure about naming such an unhip song as the best track of the year. Then I saw that my beloved new favorite podcaster Yasi Salek tweeted twice in the past week about her love for A Long December and I felt free.
For me, it’s personal. I was at a low point in December 1996. I had finished grad school back in May, left a serious girlfriend in Gainesville, and moved back to rural Maryland to live with my parents while looking for a real job. Every Sunday I would read the big city papers and fax off resumes from the local Kinkos. Nobody wanted me. Even my parents were getting sick of me.
Maybe the most hopeless I’ve ever felt.
We did a Secret Santa at the restaurant where I was working and someone gave me a gift card to Waxie Maxie. I had liked the Counting Crows earlier record well enough so used the card to buy their latest release, Recovering the Satellites
. The second-to-last song, A Long December,
became my sad anthem.
Then everything changed. The week after Christmas, I got a phone call offering me a “real” government job in Philadelphia - I’m still with the same agency 26 years later. A couple of days after that, a girl from a class that I TAed at UF emailed me out of the blue to tell me she just got selected for a summer job in DC and would love to hang out when she got there - we were engaged 18 months later and still married today. Hell, my Gators even won a national championship the next week.
So even if it’s trite, I can listen to A Long December
in my lowest moments and remember where I was when I first heard it and be thankful for where I am now. And that’s the power of music.