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Okay, so like most lifelong music fanatics and failed musicians, I was never good at expressing my feelings about life stuff -- at least never as good as a musician could in just one song. Break-up, make-up, loss, love, lust -- musicians always got it more right than I did. I’ve spent my career in and around music, and yes, I still dig it. Music makes you better, and once you’ve connected with a song, you can’t really shake it. So every couple of weeks I’m going to highlight underappreciated songs that got those emotions just right; some are sloppy, some polished, but they all leave you a different person.
"Notice" by Gomez (How We Operate)
Gomez are a British collective whose members Ian Ball and Ben Ottewell have gone on to create rich solo albums, each with a folkish reggae groove. I can’t believe “Notice” hasn’t been used in a soundtrack yet, because who hasn’t dug someone and gotten crushed when the other person didn’t even notice them? Okay, I'm not even sure that’s what the song is about, but there’s no way you won’t be singing, “I can tell you’re in denial/ Get over it” after this song leaves you hanging at the end. Link this one up. Oh, and it starts slow, so give it a sec.
"Street Lobotomy" by Body Count (Born Dead)
This has got to be one of the greatest punk songs ever, and it just so happens that hip-hop/TV icon Ice-T sings it, backed by the rest of the Body Count crew. Sometimes the simplest lyrics can bring out the most raw, most vibrant emotions. You can’t go wrong with a chorus of “Drugs! Liquor! Drugs!”
"You Won’t Let Me by Rachel Yamagata (Chesapeake)
Can a dude really convey unexpected heartbreak the way a woman can? No need to answer that. And, also, damn Yamagata can sing. I’m so glad she found her way back to the core on her latest album, Chesapeake. She deserves the love.
“Guess I’m Doing Fine” by Beck (Sea Change)
Beck is a hip-hop pioneer that none of us knew could achieve such mellow gold with pedal steel and a Mazzy-Star-like melody. This album has songs like that from beginning to end. I’m ready for the Sea sequel, Mr. Hansen.
“Let Somebody Love Me” by Solomon Burke (Make Do With What You Got)
I got into this late soul singer only recently; I found this song hunting in a pile of soul compilations. I don’t know if he suffered in his life, but suffering never sounded so good, with a chorus that literally begs someone (down here on earth or up in heaven above) to love him. If anybody knows any other Solomon Burke songs as potent as this one, pass them along.
“Come Pick Me Up” by Ryan Adams (Heartbreaker)
Maybe this one is appreciated enough, but I don’t give a crap; it’s that good. I take back what I said about that Rachel Yamagata song. If Adams is so desperate to see his ex that she can “steal all his records and screw all his friends,” then that epitomizes despair and heartbreak. This is as good a song as I’ve come across. If you don’t know it, you should.
Van Toffler is President of MTV's Music & Logo Group. He's a fan of sugary cereal, a good tequila and watching TV late at night, without the audio.