Songs of the New Millennium

Back in 2004, Philadelphia-based public radio station WXPN came up with a novel idea: have the listeners each vote for ten songs that would be compiled and played back in a countdown of the top 885 songs of all-time. The weighting was simple: the song that you voted for as number 1 got ten points, number 2 got nine points, and so on down the line. Whatever song got the most points in the end, was the number 1 of the countdown. (And that year, it was “Thunder Road,” by Bruce Springsteen.) And every year since then, they’ve done a different 885 countdown.

Last year, it was the Greatest Rock Songs, and after the countdown finished, I posted my history of the events along with what I voted for and how everything turned out.

This year will be the tenth countdown since they started, and it promises to be very different in content from all of the ones that preceded it. That’s because they’re asking for the greatest songs released since 2001.

The world is a very different place than it was in the year 2000. You could argue that the events of September 11, 2001 had far-ranging impact to us, personally, emotionally, culturually, socially, and politically, and the music of the following years might reflect that somewhat. (You could argue that the last decade has had more motivated art from current events than any decade since the 1960’s. How many of the artists that will get played in this countdown were even alive at any point in that decade?

So I thought about it and decided on the ten songs that I would vote for. They are as follows:

1. Love and Bandaids, by Karen Kosowski
Such a beautiful, haunting melody. I’ve been a fan of Ms. Kosowski since she broke from mp3.com and started her own site to help promote female musicians back in the 90’s. Her 2004 album, Out Here At Sea placed second on my list of favorite albums that year, only missing out on the top spot because I felt it could have been longer. And this is a gem from a great album.

There is no YouTube video for this song, but you can read the lyrics and hear the song in its entirety here.

2. Confessions, by Tim Minchin
Not much here to disagree with…

3. Heaven Must Be Boring, by George Hrab
The drummer for the Philadelphia Funk Authority is an exceptionally talented musician and podcaster, and he hit a grand slam with this track from 2003’s Coelacanth:

4. Hurry Up Sky, by Jen Chapin
A sad, haunting, beautiful song, made all the more beautiful when you know that it was written for a friend of hers who lost her life on September 11, 2001. A great track from her 2004 album Linger.

5. Sing, by the Dresden Dolls
We need more brash, outspoken, and unashamed public figures like the lead singer of the Dresden Dolls, Amanda Palmer. This song, which caps the band’s 2006 album Yes Virginia speaks so much to the world we live in and has such a beautiful intensity, how could I not include it?

6. When the War Came, by the Decemberists
I knew I wanted a Decemberists’ song on my list, but I wasn’t sure which one I wanted. Strong candidates included this one, from their 2006 album The Crane Wife, “This Is Why We Fight,” from the 2011 album The King Is Dead, and “On the Bus Mall,” from their 2004 album Picaresque (which, for those keeping score, snatched the number 1 spot on my best albums list that year from Karen Kosowski above…). All three are worthy choices, but I decided to go with the song that, a couple of years ago, I put on my list of Songs to Hear Before You Die.

7. Gravity, by Vienna Teng
So many good songs by this artist! Her 2002 debut, Waking Hour was one of those albums that you listen to over and over again. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the songs from this album, but in the end, I could only vote for one, so I chose this one…

8. Hasa Diga Eebowai, from the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon
If there is one cultural change that followed the September 11 attacks, it’s people are much more willing to criticize religion. From bestselling books like “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins or “God Is Not Great,” by Christopher Hitchens, to popular entertainment like this 2011 broadway musical, criticism of religion is both coming to a forefront and long overdue. So how about this catchy little tune?

9. Breathe Me, by Sia
The HBO series Six Feet Under, which ran from 2001 to 2005, changed the way we look at television dramas. Among other things, it proved that you can have compelling drama surrounding professions other than healthcare, law enforcement, and lawyers. And the way they ended the entire series is a monument for how to do it right. This song, which actually came from the 2004 album Colour the Small One closed out the entire series beautifully…

10. Float Away, by Marah
Philly local band Marah should have probably been propelled to national attention with the 2002 release of their album Float Away with the Friday Night Gods and I honestly don’t know why it didn’t. This album is more “poppy” than their earlier and later releases, but it’s a good album all the same. Listen to this song and see for yourself…

Five songs that nearly made my final list include:

“Saved,” by Shelley Segal
“A Rational Response,” by Greydon Square
“Holiday,” by Green Day
“Soul Meets Body,” by Death Cab for Cutie
“Float On,” by Modest Mouse

Now let’s just wait and see how my numbers turn out.

Hilary in 2016?

I like Hilary Clinton. Back in 2008, when the nomination for the Democratic candidate for president seemed to be a toss-up between her and Barack Obama, I remember thinking that I liked them both, and would have no problems voting for either one of them. (In the end, in the primaries, I voted for Obama on the basis of a few of his campaign speeches.)

Irrespective of how my personal vote went five years ago in the primaries, I thought then — and still think — that she’d make a good president.

But the more I think about it, if she gets the Democratic nomination in 2016, the odds of her actually winning the presidency in November against whomever the Republicans decide to nominate, are not good and that history would not be on her side. I have a couple of reasons for saying this, so take this to mean whatever you want it to mean:

1. Her age. The election will be just over a week after her 69th birthday, and thus would make her the second oldest president in history to take the oath of office for the first time. (Only younger than Ronald Reagan.) Whatever you might think about Reagan personally or politically, it can’t be denied that Reagan’s age certainly cost him votes in 1980, and it had the potential to cost him the entire election. Hilary will not have the benefit of running against an incumbent president who was perceived as ineffectual. Furthermore, although there have been many instances where a newly elected president was older than the preceding president, the age difference between Hilary and Barack Obama would be the greatest age difference in history. You can pretty much guarantee that whoever the GOP nominates to run against her would make age an issue for her.

2. The track record of the Democratic Party. The Republican Party, for whatever it’s worth, tends to nominate candidates with wide name recognition, often rewarding the runner-up from an earlier set of primaries as their candidate each time around. (Mitt Romney was the nominee in 2012 and runner up in 2008. John McCain was the nominee in 2008 and was the runner up in 2000. George W Bush, the nominee from 2000 had name recognition from his father, and so on… We can actually go back to the 1952 election — if not further — and find that the Republican nominee had some serious name recognition from long before they ever declared an interest in being president. And their track record hasn’t been bad. (It’s not perfect, but it hasn’t been bad…)

The democrats, on the other hand, have fared much better when the candidate didn’t have widespread name recognition. The last non-incumbent president with widespread name recognition who was nominated by the Democrats and who would go on to win the general election, was Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. (He was the democrats’ vice presidential candidate in 1920, plus he had name recognition from his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt). But let’s look at the non-incumbents since then:

1952 and 1956 — Adlai Stevenson, Jr., well-known through his father, who had been vice president under Grover Cleveland‘s second term. Lost both elections.

1960 — John F Kennedy. Any name recognition he might have had before he sought the nomination would have been through political junkies and maybe the clout of his father, Joseph P Kennedy. There’s a famous scene in the movie Back to the Future, when Michael J. Fox has traveled back in time to 1955 — a mere five years before Kennedy was elected — and gets confused over directions to get somewhere, because a street in question had been renamed after John F Kennedy. His grandfather says “Who the hell’s John F Kennedy?” Not an uncommon sentiment in the mid 50’s.

1968 — Hubert Humphrey. Gained name recognition in the 1948 Democratic National Convention and was chosen as the vice president under LBJ after Kennedy’s assassination. Lost the election.

1972 — George McGovern. The first person in congress to argue that maybe our involvement in Vietnam wasn’t a good idea. Sought the nomination in 1968, didn’t get it, but got it in ’72. Lost the election.

1976 — Jimmy Carter. His name might’ve been known to political junkies, but beyond that, I don’t think anyone knew who he was until he got the democratic nomination this year. And he won the election.

1984 — Walter Mondale. Well known because he was vice president under Carter. Lost the election.

1988 — Michael Dukakis. Not exceptionally well-known before he got the nomination but better known than Carter because he was (1) the longest serving governor of Massachusetts, and (2) recognized because of the way he handled an weather emergency in his state. (Also not to be discounted is the fact that he had chosen the well-known Vietnam Veteran who would be an outspoken critic of the war, John Kerry, as his lieutenant governor.) Lost the election.

1992 — Bill Clinton. If anyone outside of the state of Arkansas knew his name before he announced that he’d seek the democratic nomination for president in 1992, it was because he gave a lengthy speech nominating Michael Dukakis four years earlier. Won the election.

2000 — Al Gore. Very well known senator who had been vice president under Bill Clinton. Had name recognition since his wife started campaigning against explicit rock lyrics in the 80’s and even sought the nomination in 1988. Lost the election.

2004 — John Kerry. Very well-known. (See my comments on Michael Dukakis above). Lost the election.

2008 — Barack Obama. Prior to his 2004 election to the US Senate he was a state senator in Illinois. He gained name recognition with a rousing speech during the 2004 democratic convention. Won the election.

It seems pretty clear to me that the democrats tend to find more success in presidential elections when their nominee isn’t very well-known, at least since FDR. The best known victor in that time period is JFK, and the least-known loser, is Dukakis.

Hilary would undoubtedly be the best-known nominee for the Democrats in a long time, should she actually gain the nomination. (Possibly since FDR). For the democratic party, that’s not a good thing.

So if not Hilary, who within the democratic party might fare better in the general election? I can think of a few names right now (me being the political junkie that I am…) The first names that come to mind are Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren.