Words by Phillip Mottaz
Next week we'll get back to exploring new obsessions, but this week is a look back. So join me, won't you, on a trip into the self-infatuated past as I put my body and brain to a weird and unnecessary test: I will review all 48 G.S.A.T.M.'s of the past year in a strange, ill-advised contest to determine which one is the "Best" and, consequently, "Wins."
I'm excited to re-experience "Smell Yo' Dick". A vast majority of the songs covered by this column over the past year were either part of my collection for a while or held some sort of vested interest (genre, artist, cool sounding name, etc.). This majority did not include "Smell Yo' Dick", a fun diversion I defended as a legitimate song nearly nine months ago, and now I again face the task of legitimizing the song once more in this self-created contest format. Many other songs and artists have been off my playlist since they first gained "Greatest at this Moment" status, so I've been jonezing to experience them again and see how they hold up, if at all. Looking down the line-up, I thought I could handicap the winners pretty easily, but I'd forgotten that each one of these songs owned a full week of my 2008. Most people listen to music they enjoy pretty much all of the time, but this re-hearing is something beyond mere fanship. It's as though I've fasted for months and now I'm being served my 45+ favorite dishes, one after another. I often use the "This Song Can't Possibly Be Topped" criteria to choose my subject, but this week has been something entirely different. How could I pick a winner when my shuffle goes from "Dracula's Wedding" to "(Ghost) Riders In the Sky" to "Summer Nights?" Now I'm charged with deciding if "Smell Yo Dick" could really exist in my everyday playlist, or if it was just a one-time thing in my life, like smoking or wearing sweat pants every day in junior high.
Initially I just loaded my iPod with only the songs I'd covered, but this was way too daunting. Though it did make for interesting song-to-song transitions ("Optimistic" to "If I Could Turn Back Time"), I couldn't wrap my brain around anything long enough to compare them objectively. I started making notes of the first song to give me chills ("C'mon Everybody"), the first song to get repeated plays ("Mama Kin") and the first song to get skipped ("Ramble Tamble," but mostly because it's so long). And while it may be worth noting that "Summer Nights" was the first song to surprise me at how well it held up, I couldn't find a direction to take.
I decided to get organized. In the spirit of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, I arranged the songs into a handful of categories. Organization being a keystone of my success, I assumed putting like with like would help me better compare the songs. Like the powers in charge of that crazy mollybang* of excitement and competition known as the Final Four, I found I had to make a few concessions. Sometimes Maryland just has to end up in the West bracket, you know?
And so, in a strange mix between American Bandstand and March Madness, I arrived at the following categories, all in an effort to make art competitive.
Soundtracks and Cinema
"Age of Consent"
"The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning"
"If I Could Turn Back Time"
"Spectacular Spider-Man Theme,"
Covers, Live Covers and Concert Influence
"We're Going to Be Friends"
"Listen To Her Heart"
"You Dress Up For Armageddon"
"(Ghost) Riders In The Sky"
"Blow Up The Outside World"
"Smell Yo' Dick"
This was something my inner Dick Vitale could handle. Looking down the line I could foresee great things for "Drug-Stabbing Time" in the Cinematic Category, with a good showing from "Paper Planes". I could also see that the Live Covers and Concert Influence bracket would be the toughest, not only in song quality, but in legacy. These were some of my favorite artists doing some of my favorite songs. In the Kinetics category -- a group of songs built around momentum and tension -- I could see the fundamentals getting played up. I was tempted to disqualify the late-arriving "Black Mirror" in favor of a joygasm like "Girlfriend", but that's why these things get played on the court/my ears, and not on paper. Uh... yes. The Loud Dancing category seemed like a catch all, but its leanings to the heavy could either smother the more jamming tunes ("River Deep", "Honky Tonk Women") or make them stand out better. The tribute to great Bridges seems like it would lend itself to the direction of "Rollercoaster", but "Voices Carry" could surprise me.
At least I was sure "Smell Yo Dick" would be tops in its bracket.
I started my experiment within an experiment and found I'd made my life more difficult. I was protective of certain songs, and then tried to be too cool with others. I'd start listening to "12:51", and realized it felt like the Big Ten entry to this particular tournament: I'm inclined to say everyone underrates it, yet deep in my heart I know it's probably going to loose to some Big East powerhouse. And it did. At the very least, I could admit that some songs truly were grown out of a particular time in my life when planets aligned, stars alighted and everything gained harmony. And for this, I am thankful. Songs like "Shadowboxer", "We Are Going To Be Friends" and "Single Ladies" were just the right songs at the right time, and that's what it's all about. I may never play "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning" again, but I'm happy and thankful for that pre-release moment when it made the "Watchmen" movie seem greater than it would eventually prove to be.
This being my own competition, I decided to do the right thing and apply a little more of "The Bachelor" and/or "Flavor of "Love" to this equation, sans hot tubs: I would go with my heart and see what came out. After much hair pulling and semi-sleepless nights and even more repeat plays of "Starman" this Bachelorization gave us the Final Six. Now we were getting somewhere. What was formally 3 hours is now just over twenty-two minutes. I could work with this crew, trim it down to the best 4.5 minutes of the pack. I activated the shorter playlist and drifted into audio heaven. This was my personal Grammys and I wasn't going to award some old dude who teamed up with a younger artist just because the old dude was once a cool young dude. This was mine. Here now, in reverse order, are the Greatest Songs of this Moment At This Moment.
"River Deep, Mountain High"
Already, I'm qualifying things, but isn't this just a 6-way-tie for first? I mean listen to this song. These are the kinds of songs that baffle me because I don't hear them everywhere. I want to meet the person who wouldn't shake their hips to this monster.
Perfect. Aimee Mann's heart-pouring at the end gets to me every single time. It's blatant 80s-ness production proves that people who qualify songs as "timeless" don't get it. It's perfectly in touch with its time, thereby giving it the power to pull us all into its own time.
"Me In Honey"
The biggest surprise -- as far as word count of the original article goes. I think it was one of my shortest articles, but maybe that's helped it in this competition. And maybe I was wiser than I thought, because the song is so simply and obviously beautiful that there's not much to say about it that it can't say for itself, and much more elegantly. But it really surprised me here because it not only beat out some songs I would've considered "better" or more my favorites, but it handily. It's just the same two chords over and over again, but it's the right two chords over and over. Combined with one of my musical Kryptonites (female backing vocals -- and apparently lead vocals, as evidenced by these finalists), and we have a dark-horse we can believe in.
"Smell Yo Dick"
The moment of truth, and it's great. Don't take yourself so seriously, America. I can't say it's a fantastic song, or better than some of the other songs not in the finals, but when I think back on the 2008 GSATM Season -- and I will -- "Smell Yo Dick" rises as a weird highlight. Also weird, I remember more of the words than I'd care to admit. And even though it had an easy bracket to get through to reach this point, I would still argue the sing-ability of this chorus is as catchy and fun as any of the final six.
For someone who claims to not be much of a Clash fan, I sure do love the Clash. And with good reason. Give this song one listen while you're driving on the highway, and you'll see what I mean. It's like a cousin of our top song, only losing out because I believe I can dance better with the other one. This one makes me run. And at the risk of repeating myself, the near-outro section of this song sets a gold standard for what rock songs should be all the time.
But of all this hullabaloo and self-examination and self-awareness, I hereby award the First Annual Greatest "Greatest Song At This Moment" At This Moment to "Timebomb", the jam of jams. From the shouted intro, it's the best collection of noises I obsessed over the entire year. It's a throw-away single, which are usually the best kind anyway. No consequences, no rules, just do it. And it's done. For me, this song arrived in the summer thanks to a Beck concert, and I consumed the song so hard that even after giving it a full examination, I still played it the following week, even though I was supposed to be "obsessed" with whatever song I was supposed to be obsessed with ("You Dress Up For Armageddon"). Beck may have many, many... many signature songs, but for a classic example of his something-from-virtually-nothing style, nothing quite reaches "Timebomb's" levels. Pattern = music. "Timebomb" fits the Best of the Pack criteria in two very important categories. The first being "The Repeat Instinct," alluding to my finger's reflex toward the repeat button every time this song winds down. The second criteria being that to me, "Timebomb" makes such sweet love to my brain that I can see no faults with it. I sometimes say I feel bad for people who don't like this song or that song, but at this point in my life I can't imagine anyone not enjoying "Timebomb".
*This is my PG-13 version of "clusterfuck." But once you become friends with someone named Molly, it gets really awkward.