66: Jane’s Addiction – Stop! (1990)
Jane’s Addiction were always at their best experimenting with tempos, pushing the pace to the breaking point and then dialing back; it’s why their last two records 2003’s Strays and 2011’s The Great Escape Artist were both absolute slogs. “Stop!,” the raucous opener to their seminal 1990 album Ritual de lo Habitual is the band at their finest and most frenetic. It’s the purest connection singer Perry Farrell and guitarist Dave Navarro ever had. Navarro’s thunderous fretwork is an excellent contrast to Farrell’s drawn out, reedy vocals, while Stephen Perkins’ tom-heavy percussion feels like he’s perpetually about to break into a solo. Farrell’s voice is far from conventional, and there are other Jane’s Addiction tracks that are hard to stomach as a result, but he’s at his best here delivering lines that sit atop the electrified power chords.
But it’s the breakdown on “Stop!” that is truly stunning. It’s loping and sun-scorched, with Farrell’s cryptic lyrics giving the whole scene a kind of Mad Max-ian apocalyptic drama (“One come a day, the water will run / No man will stand for things that he had done”). The breakdown works so well because it’s a sudden deceleration, and because it precedes the track ramping back up into something 10 times more gloriously chaotic. Navarro’s ensuing solo is a marble sculpture crafted with a sledgehammer, a showing of tremendous skill done in the most brutal and reckless manner possible.
Unlike the Red Hot Chili Peppers (who Navarro played with from 1993-1998) Jane’s Addiction never found much success with a softer, more melodic sound post-Ritual, but at their peak perhaps no band better embodied the gleeful anarchy of alternative, hard rock and funk than them. “Stop!” is the kind of track that is still genuinely surprising even if you’ve heard it dozens of times; all of the sudden instrumental dropouts and kick-ins are impossible to memorize, and even if you could you’d just wind up ruining the fun. – Grant Rindner
65: 2Pac – Hail Mary (1997)
After Tupac Shakur’s tragic death in September of 1996, nothing could erase the pain of his family, friends and fans. But this third and final single from The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, the last album he recorded, was a balm of sorts, its message of faith in the midst of a violent life offering some comfort for those who loved the legend.
“Hail Mary” has continued to assert itself in the years since Shakur’s death, particularly in the rap community, where it is frequently performed in tributes. It has been remixed and covered in various forms by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Eminem and Busta Rhymes and has been sampled in songs by J. Cole, Monica and Lil Wayne. The song has played a significant role in a number of films, most recently Creed, where it served as Adonis Creed’s entrance music, and Straight Outta Compton, which depicted its composition.
The song was reportedly written, set to a beat (by 2pac collaborator Hurt-M-Badd) and recorded in under an hour, a quickness that belies the profundity of its lyrics, which include Biblical references, brilliant rhymes and an infectious chorus. In fact, some fans have taken the song’s fast production, its message and its closeness to the rapper’s death to mean that it was sent to 2pac directly from God, calling the song the rapper’s Last Supper. In “Hail Mary,” they say, he is both anticipating his death and continuing to live life in spite of his fate.
Fan theories aside, the slow, mesmerizing “Hail Mary” has a sweeping vision, rhymes flowing over tolling bells denoting the passage of time. Shakur’s forceful voice is a warning and an invitation as he sings about crowded prisons, alcoholism and gun violence, but also about being free like a bird in a tree. This bloody, despairing song is tinged with undercurrents of faith and hope, and much like Shakur himself, it’s both easily accessible and filled with mysterious genius. – Mike McClelland