On Wednesday night, San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain made baseball history — and totally helped my fantasy team — by tossing a perfect game against the Houston Astros.
For those who have no idea what that means, Cain faced the minimum of batters — 27 — and didn’t allow a single base-runner. That means no walks, no hits, no anything over nine innings (with 14 strikeouts to boot). If that sounds impressive, well, it is: Only 22 pitchers have ever thrown a perfect game in the 143-year history of Major League Baseball, and somewhat surprisingly, the list of those who’ve accomplished the feat reads less like a who’s who of MLB greats as it does a who’s that?
For every Hall of Famer (Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter) to reach perfection, there are just as many pitchers who made history and then were history. I’m talking about the likes of Len Barker, Mike Witt and Charlie Robertson, each of whom were perfect for one glorious game and never again came close to matching that perfection.
And yet, that’s what makes the perfect game so special. On any day, anyone can throw one; all it takes is the right mixture of luck, skill and, well, more luck. And yet, of the thousands of men who’ve toed the rubber in the majors over the past century-plus, fewer than 2 dozen have actually done it. The perfect game is the ultimate mythologizer: Pulling it off automatically earns you a permanent place in baseball lore — and for most, it will be the unquestionable highlight of their professional career.
So, in honor of Cain’s feat, I’ve spent the majority of the day trying to figure out what the musical equivalent of a perfect game might be. Certainly, it has to be historic: an album or song that came out of nowhere to define a time or an era to such a degree that it has become the stuff of music legend. Secondly, it has to be the crowning achievement of an artist’s career, especially since the overwhelming number of pitchers who have tossed perfectos are basically the MLB equivalent of one-hit-wonders (I’m looking at you, Philip Humber). Sure, the Beatles, Radiohead and Jay-Z have probably all been perfect, but, like Young or Koufax or Hunter, what’s one more accolade to any of them? And finally, well, it has to be perfect: the perfect album for the time, the perfect song for the moment, the perfectly recognizable riff or sample — we’re talking history here, people.
Anyway, here are my picks for music’s 10 perfect games — and if there’s an album or song I’ve missed, let me know in the comments below.
The Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols
Lean and mean, sneering and snotty, it’s not only one of the most perfect albums of all time, it may very well be the most perfect debut in history. When it was released in 1977, it shocked pretty much everybody, and its historical status was only secured when the Pistols would implode following a disastrous U.S. tour in ’78. In the years since, it’s become a touchstone of punk, not to mention a lesson to any band that dares to fly too close to the sun. Hope you’re paying attention, Dallas Braden.
The Knack, “My Sharona”
Released as a single from the band’s Get the Knack debut, “Sharona” quickly surged to the top of the Billboard charts, where it would remain for six weeks (and be named the #1 song on the publication’s year-end pop chart). The song’s iconic guitar line (dunna-nunna-nuh-nuh!) has since become a thing of rock lore, the soundtrack to a million bar mitzvahs and just as many stadium rally chants, and though the Knack could never replicate its success, for one brief, shining moment, they were perfect.
The Sugarhill Gang, “Rapper’s Delight”
It’s the song that brought hip-hop out of the rec rooms and into the masses, crossing over to both the pop and R&B charts when it was released in 1979. Chances are, in the years since, you’ve heard its iconic bass line (sampled from Chic’s “Good Times”) and can probably recite its lyrics verbatim (“I said a hip hop, a hippie, a hippie to the hip hip hop … “). Not too bad for three dudes from Englewood, New Jersey.
Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock, “It Takes Two”
One of the most sampled (and revered) hip-hop tracks of the pre-breakout era (like 1988), merely reading the “It Takes Two” title is probably enough to conjure up the sound of the wailing diva belting out the hook (or those “Woo-Yeahs”). It swept the streets and crossed over to the clubs, and has since become a staple at weddings and dance parties — and no, the dynamic duo could never match its success. But they don’t have to; they’re in the perfecto club.
Young MC, “Bust a Move”
The biggest hit from Young’s breakout Stone Cold Rhymin’ album, it not only won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance, but made the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and paved the way for the rap takeover that would follow in the ’90s. Oh, and Flea plays bass on it. One of the greatest hip-hop tracks of all time and probably one of the first ones you ever saw a video for on MTV. Don’t just stand there, bust a move!
Alanis Morrissette, Jagged Little Pill
Buoyed by the Dave Coulier-baiting “You Oughta Know” (or any of the five smash singles that followed), Morrissette’s debut sold a staggering 33 million copies worldwide and basically brought the roiling, riot-grrl spirit to the mainstream. Not surprisingly, Morrissette never again reached the heights she did here, but if you’re making a list of albums that unquestionably defined the 1990s, well, this had better be on it.
Craig Mack, “Flava in Ya Ear”
The song that basically put Bad Boy on the map, it featured a cameo by a then up-and-coming Notorious B.I.G., not to mention Puff Daddy. It’s stark, black-and-white video is equally iconic, though the song is perhaps best known for the fact that Mack all but disappeared following its release. Still, “Flava” is so of a time and a moment in hip hop that it’s subsequently earned classic status, meaning that somewhere, Mack can rest easy.
The Verve, “Bittersweet Symphony”
Breakout, genre-defining smash from Brit-rock lifers the Verve, “Bittersweet” — and its accompanying music video — were smashes on both sides of the pond. Too bad the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and Mick Jagger caught wind of it and sued the band for royalties, effectively ending their run just as it was beginning. But legality aside, you cannot deny the song’s thrilling, chilling rush, which, 15 years after it debuted, still raises goose bumps — kind of like watching a perfect game, really.
Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
When it was first released in 1998, its sparse production and spine-tingling emoting confused many — though, in the decade since, it’s become a touchstone of American indie, a harrowing, haunting rumination on life, death and reincarnation (and Anne Frank) that mastermind Jeff Mangum has yet to follow up. And who knows if he ever will; pitching a second perfecto has proven impossible to date.
The Postal Service, Give Up
One of the most unlikely success stories in recent memory, it started as a project between Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard and electronic musician Jimmy Tamborello, and thanks to gently bubbling hits like “Such Great Heights,” it went on to become the best-selling album released on Sub Pop since Bleach, the debut from some band called Nirvana. Since then, neither man seems willing to embrace the idea of recording a follow-up, and really, why would they? Perfection usually only comes around once.
Cee Lo Green, “F— You”
A song so huge it not only managed to make Green into a solo star, but helped launch the career of Bruno Mars too. It went from Internet sensation to the Billboard Hot 100 and has since become Green’s signature song — which, given his time in the Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley, is certainly saying something. He’ll probably never be this perfect again, but you can never take this smash away from him.
What are you musical perfect games in your book? Let us know in the comments!