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100 Best Songs of the ’90s (#80-71)

These are the best songs of the 1990s.

72: Wilco – Via Chicago (1999)

Initially, “Via Chicago” bears many of the hallmarks of the alt-country sound that Wilco had honed to perfection on Being There; the real shock comes from the lyrics. That opening line (“I dreamed about killing you again last night/ And it felt alright to me”) still sends chills down the spine, accentuated even more by Jeff Tweedy’s deadpan, near-emotionless delivery. Slowly, this mournful acoustic number fills out, the band slowly assembling verse by verse, only to collapse under the cacophonous weight of squealing guitars, shambling piano and crashing drums fading in and out at random. Through it all, Tweedy’s inflection never changes; he remains the eerily calm eye of the storm around him, the band representing the chaos in his mind as he projects a veneer of normality. If there was ever a perfect summation for what Wilco achieved on Summerteeth, this is it.

Funnily enough, though, Wilco inverted their songwriting formula on “Via Chicago.” Most of Summerteeth is sugary sweet pop with a barely disguised darkness, such as the references to addiction on the otherwise emphatic “A Shot in the Arm.” Here, that dark, ugly side of Tweedy’s soul is laid bare for everyone, presented in as straightforward of a manner as possible. The conflict comes from the music, a sort of orchestrated madness unlike anything that Wilco had ever attempted before. Sure, the band was far from a tight, well-oiled machine in the late ‘90s, but Being There showed that messiness as a raucous, rockin’ good time. Here, it becomes an expression of anguish, an exorcism of demons both real and imagined. There’s a clear separation from what Wilco once was and what they eventually became, and the roots of that eventual evolution from alt-country into a (surprisingly) more successful experimental bent has its roots in “Via Chicago.” Essentially, you don’t get Yankee Hotel Foxtrot without coming here first. – Kevin Korber

71: Faith No More – Midlife Crisis (1992)g

By the time Faith No More’s fourth album, Angel Dust, was released, Mike Patton was in full-on confrontational mode. The band had brought Patton on for the recording of their third album, the platinum selling The Real Thing, after they fired original vocalist Chuck Mosley. The music was already written and recorded and Patton wrote the vocals and lyrics for the record in just two weeks. Angel Dust was the first time Patton would be involved in the writing process from start to finish.

The sessions were fraught with tension. The band had toured in support of The Real Thing for two years, and they were clearly burned out. The record label was pressuring the band for another “Epic”-style hit and guitarist Jim Martin was checked out for most of the writing process. A 1992 MTV documentary on the recording features a scene where keyboardist Roddy Bottum and bassist Bill Gould nitpick over a keyboard sound while drummer Mike Bordin, clearly annoyed, lazily fills out a crossword puzzle in the background. The tension is thick as Gould and Bottum bicker back and forth; if it weren’t for the cameras in their faces, their voices might be a couple decibels higher.

Prior to Faith No More finally releasing the album in 1992, they led with single “Midlife Crisis.” The band had a habit of giving songs working titles that often stuck even when the song gained a “real” title. Originally titled “Madonna,” Patton claimed that “Midlife Crisis” was indirectly about the pop star and her ubiquity and the fact that she seemed “like she’s going through some sort of problem.” Obviously, Patton saw the road to success as a potentially soul-deadening experience, one that he strenuously wanted to avoid. In a delightfully stand-offish interview on the show “Hangin’ with MTV”, Patton, Gould and Bottum are accused of bringing smoke machines with them. Patton gleefully corrects them, “That’s part of this cheesy set.” Faith No More were willing to play the game, but they were going to do it on their terms. – Eric Mellor

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