From the Archives: Five Poppiest Art Rock Songs

Recently came across my archival stash of Top 5 lists from the early (pre-blog) days of If there are no objections from the cheap seats, I’m going to re-post a bunch of them here, starting with what was one of my Five Favourite Topics Ever Submitted.
I’m posting each list as is—no editing or re-formatting (tempting as the latter may be), though I’ve removed email addresses and website links, which some respondents provided. Latest posts are at the top, earliest at the bottom, etc.

01:  the entire first side of freak out, zappa + the mothers
02:  ”
03:  ”
04:  ”
05:  ”

did someone actually put sister ray on their list? that’s 17 plus minutes of divine noise channeled from the spirit of the marquis de sade himself. i really like i talk to the wind by kcrimson, but note the lack of commercial appeal in that song, too, which is of course what this is all a-boot. i suppose one would be inclined to put some radiohead or the velvets or floyd on this list too. does teenage riot or bull in the heather count? let’s roll with aqualung.
HANDLE:  steve lester
Saturday, August 09, 2003 at 14:20:02 (PDT)

01:  “Sunday morning,” Velvet Underground
02:  “She don’t use jelly,” Flaming Lips
03:  “Cut your hair,” Pavement
04:  “Sing your life,” Morrissey
05:  “Detachable penis,” King Missile

All of these songs are tuneful and unique in their own right: great art work!!! Buddy Holly would be proud. : )
HANDLE:  Mateo
CITY:  Brooklyn
Sunday, July 06, 2003 at 22:40:53 (PDT)

01:  ” Heroin ” The Velvet Underground
02:  “Climbing Up The Walls” Radiohead
03:  ” 30 Seconded Over Tokyo ” Pere Ubu
04:  “Terms of Psychic Warfare” Husker Du
05:  ” Glue Man ” Fugazi

I had trouble finding the right song by Radiohead for this list. It’s hard to choose when every song is excellent. If you don’t have OK Computer you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s the greatest album out in the last 10 years, and one of the greatest of all time. another album you don’t want to miss is FUGAZI (13 Songs). If you’re into art punk and don’t own this record. I truely fell sorry for you.
HANDLE:  Tommy Mattheisen
CITY:  Minneapolis, MN
Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 14:26:11 (PST)

01:  Pirates/Emerson, Lake and Palmer
02:  21st Century Schizoid Man/King Crimson
03:  Revealing Science of God/Yes
04:  Karnevil # 9 /Emerson,Lake and Palmer
05:  Heat of the Moment/Asia

there are so many others but i had to narrow it
HANDLE:  EdithPiaf
Wednesday, November 27, 2002 at 17:00:33 (PST)

01:  “Non-Alignment Pact”, Pere Ubu
02:  “Ping Pong”, Stereolab
03:  “Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road”, Robert Wyatt & Henry Cow
04:  “Let’s Eat (Real Soon)”, Hatfield & The North
05:  “Der Interimsleibenden”, Einstuerzende Neubauten

01 Chosen for it’s weird take on an occurrence that most of us have felt when getting into a relationship that looks like it might turn into a power struggle. 02 Chosen for its bizarre use of economic theory and lyrical reason why political and economical change is futile. 03 The version on Henry Cow’s Concerts album. This was a shock the first time I heard it, in comparison to the rest of Cow’s rather severe repertoire. 04 Chosen for its extraordinary take on something everyone does. If it weren’t so wordy it might be a hit but you can’t sing along to it. 05 Another rude shock, this time plumb at the start of the album. I was expecting the sort of severity one comes to expect from them. I stayed away from “high school” prog, and stuck with those groups that one has to search out. Pink Floyd, Yes, ELP, Genesis, etc. all remind me of all the high school kids who were so awkward they didn’t know how to relate to each other, nevermind relating to an actual DATE. For a picture of the most stereotypical one, check out Mr. Bradley Smith on the rear cover of “Billboard’s Guide To Progressive Rock.” Then toss the book into the nearest fireplace as it’s a load of crap.
HANDLE:  Keef Rob
CITY:  Yonkers, NY
Monday, October 14, 2002 at 23:33:55 (PDT)

01:  “V-2 Schneider”- David Bowie
02:  “IT”- Genesis
03:  “Underwater Moonlight”- Soft Boys
04:  “Ex-Lion Tamer”- Wire
05:  “Cloud 149”- Pere Ubu

Bowie is a staple. The perfect fusion of art-rock and pop. Genesis is a tough pick, pretty much anything by them would count. Robyn Hitchcock has to be on this, and the Soft Boys’ “Underwater Moonlight” is a great song as well as a great album. Wire and Ubu make it by default. Honorable Mention(s): Where’s the Syd? “See Emily Play” and “Octopus” and “Gigolo Aunt” oughta be on here somewhere, dont’cha think?
HANDLE:  Justin
CITY:  Madison,Wisconsin
Sunday, June 16, 2002 at 20:51:54 (PDT)

01:  Close to the Edge – YES
02:  Karn Evil 9 – ELP
03:  Eldorado (the whole lp) – ELO
04:  Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (the whole lp) – Genesis
05:  Treasure Hunt – Red Jasper (the most under-rated prog band – bar none)

from a prog head from way back who also likes head banging music too – Black Sabbath, Rush, Led Zep, Tool, Bush, etc.
HANDLE:  wally panda
CITY:  east virginia

01:  “Abacab,” Genesis
02:  “Breakfast In America,” Supertramp
03:  “Roll The Bones,” Rush
04:  “Babe,” Styx
05:  “Owner of A Lonely Heart,” Yes

I’m sorry if my previous list offended any of you art-rock snobs. If it didn’t, you’re all right with me. To make amends,here’s a list of real poppy Art Rock Songs. 01/Came from their pop period, but that jam segment belied the band’s progressive orgins. 02/Supertramp recorded so many pop songs that it wasn’t funny. This one makes the cut only because it’s my fave. 03/I will say this and say this and say this, BUT IT SOUNDS LIKE FUCKING INXS!!! 04/Actually, this is the only REAL dog on my list. Styx try another power-ballad, and end up sounding like a re-heated outtake from the Eagles “Long Run” album. Not that Styx could do any better. 05/I’m sure numerous dyed in wool, old-school Yes fans blew chucks when this came out, and isn’t that what we should expect for a reaction for any progressive group-gone-pop?
HANDLE:  Dr.Clay

01:  “Pablo Picasso,” The Modern Lovers
02:  “Salvador Dali’s Garden Party,” The Television Personalities
03:  “Painter Man,” The Creation
04:  “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” Bob Dylan/The Band
05:  “(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures,” The Rezillios

There for your reading and oral recitational pleasure, I’ve presented a list of five (count ’em) five poppy-rock songs about art and the people who make and/or appreciate and enjoy it.
HANDLE:  Dr. Clay
CITY:  Stafford, TX

01:  “Damaged Goods,” Gang of Four
02:  “12XU,” Wire
03:  “Sister Ray,” Velvet Underground
04:  “Wish Fulfillment,” Sonic Youth
05:  “Oscillations,” Silver Apples

These bands are too good to be called art rock, and yet, here we are.
HANDLE:  Elisa

01:  Rush – Tom Sawyer
02:  Jethro Tull – Aqualung
03:  Nine Inch Nails – Closer
04:  Smashing Pumpkins – Bullet in Butterfly Wings
05:  Pink Floyd – Another Brick in The Wall (part 2)

I think the last guy needs to look up the definition of “art rock”
HANDLE:  mootdak

01:  you got it bad , usher
02:  dont take the girl, tim mcgraw
03:  where the green grass grows, tim mcgraw
04:  if i lost you, travis tritt
05:  wrapped up in you, garth brooks

thats all i know do i have to have more from brandon p.s can i buy them to
HANDLE:  brandon
CITY:  greenville

01:  “Long Distance Runaround”, Yes
02:  “I Know What I Like,” Genesis
03:  “Closer to the Heart,” Rush
04:  “Heartbeat,” King Crimson
05:  “Sowing the seeds of Love,” Tears for Fears

All catchy as hell.
HANDLE:  Kevin Caffrey
CITY:  Lindenhurst, NY

01:  See Comments and List below…
02:  ” ”
03:  ” ”
04:  ” ”
05:  ” ”

P.S.– I just heard the greatest jazz/bossa nova version of Roxy Music’s “More Than This,” I think it was on a Charlie Hunter CD, but I forget the singer’s name… exquisite.
CITY:  Buffalo, N.Y.

01:  “Heartbeat,” King Crimson
02:  “Dream Weaver,” Gary Wright
03:  “Matte Kudasai,” King Crimson
04:  “Rock On,” David Essex
05:  “(You Just) Keep Me Hangin’ On,” Vanilla Fudge version

There are way too many runners-up in this category [for example– “(All Gone To Look For) America,” Yes version; “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” Yes, “Heat of the Moment,” Asia; lots of Talking Heads, Beatles, and quite a few of the progressive things… what about “Ice,” Crack The Sky???? Man, so many… Re: the songs listed above– Bill Bruford stated that number 1) would have been a top-ten pop hit if it had been done by the Police… I agree and ditto for number 3). Number 2)? Is it a poppy art-song, or an arty pop song? I dunno, but it still blows my mind, dude maaaaannnnn. Same for number 4); where did _that_ come from? Number 5) was a very cool, heavy/progressive rock take on a motown pop song, and I still like it… Speaking of the Police, a lot of their stuff is arty pop, or poppy art, or something– “Spirits in the Material World,” “Invisible Sun, ” etc. By the way, Giant Hogweed is our Mage… Klaatu, Barrada, Nicktoe…
CITY:  Buffalo, N.Y.

01:  “Wonderous Stories” — Yes
02:  “Sledgehammer” — Peter Gabriel
03:  “Lucky Man” — E.L.P.
04:  “That’s All” — Genesis
05:  “Dust in the Wind” — Kansas

Posters: How can you nominate an 8-minute song, or one whose outstanding feature is whistling over metallic orchestrations, as “poppiest”? (1) “Owner of A Lonely Heart” is another fragrant attempt at a pop hit. That sucks. This one is actually a decent-if-sappy song that should have been more of a pop hit. (2) Only “Red Rain” and moments of “In Your Eyes” redeem that album. The rest of it almost descends to Quincy Jones-produced levels. (3) Truly bad, from a band whose pomp i really enjoyed. (4) This was the last time Phil Collins sang a song I could stomach. Infinitely better than “Misunderstanding”: but what isn’t? (5) I confess: I like it; And every song from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” should get a special “Crummy Pop Song by an Art-Rock Group” nomination.
HANDLE:  alistair wentworth
CITY:  toronto

01:  “Roundabout”, Yes
02:  “Non-Alignment Pact”, Pere Ubu
03:  “Tuesday Afternoon”, Moody Blues
04:  “Lorelei”, Styx
05:  “Games Without Frontiers”, Peter Gabriel

Revealed: An alternative-rock hipster-wannabe’s shameful past as a prog-rock fan! 1.I’m sure a lot of you agree 2.Pavement can only dream of doing a track this complex; they can’t EVEN dream of one this catchy! 3.I still love “Days of Future Passed” (‘cept the pomes) so screw you guyz! 4.Not that I love em, but these guys don’t deserve half of the unrelenting vicious critical scorn they’ve gotten. I wholeheartedly recommend about 70% of their “Best Of” CD, although nobody will ever surpass Eric Cartman’s “Come Sail Away”cover. 5. One of approximately 4 Gabriel songs with an actual melody. Inevitable honourable mentions: “Dreamer”, Supertramp; “The Spirit of Radio”, Rush; “On the Loose”, Saga
HANDLE:  Vonbontee
CITY:  Mississauga, Ontariariario

01:  Love Will Find A Way, Yes (Big Generator, 1987)
02:  Spirit Of The Radio – Rush (Permanent Waves, 1980)
03:  Analogue Rock, Stereolab (Transient Random Noise Bursts With Announcements, 1993)
04:  Third Uncle, Brian Eno (Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy, 1974)
05:  Changes, David Bowie (Hunky Dory, 1972)

First submission.
HANDLE:  Neophite
CITY:  Morristown, NJ

01:  Heaven – Pere Ubu
02:  Love is the Drug – Roxy Music
03:  Femme Fatale – Velvet Underground and Nico
04:  Love > Building On Fire – Talking Heads
05:  Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles – Captain Beefheart

You can add just about any David Bowie song from the period.
HANDLE:  Captain Doctor

01:  Free Design: “Kites Are Fun”
02:  Stereolab: “John Cage Bubblegum”
03:  United States of America: “Garden of Earthly Delights”
04:  Brian Eno: “Burning Airlines Give You So Much More”
05:  Silver Apples: “I Have Known Love”

All from the late ’60s and ’70s except for the Stereolab song. “Lo Boob Oscilator” is actually poppier, but I chose “John Cage Bubblegum” for its title’s thematic appropriateness.
HANDLE:  Mike Appelstein
CITY:  Seattle

01:  “needles in the camel’s eye” eno
02:  “outdoor miner” wire
03:  “virginia plain” roxy music
04:  “i’m so green” can
05:  “heaven” pere ubu

“ambition” and/or “stop that girl” by vic godard and the subway sect should also be on this list. as well as most of the who’s singles pre 69. plenty of the velvet underground too.
HANDLE:  william
CITY:  austin

01:  “St. Elmo’s Fire” / Brian Eno
02:  “Teen Age Riot” / Sonic Youth
03:  “21st Century Schizoid Man” / King Crimson
04:  “Heaven” / Pere Ubu
05:  “Perfect Day” / Lou Reed

I’m not sure if #2 counts, but screw you guys.
HANDLE:  wino
CITY:  phoenix

01:  Satellite of Love, Lou Reed
02:  Abominable Snowman in the Supermarket, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lover
03:  And She Was, Talking Heads
04:  Everything is Green, Essex Green
05:  the Benefits of Lying With Your Friend, Apples in Stereo

I know Talking Heads is a little too predictable, but I’m too tired to be concerned with cred right now.
HANDLE:  alipharmy
CITY:  Burlington, VT

01:  Pink Floyd – Money
02:  or
03:  ANY
04:  Pink Floyd
05:  Single

Pink Floyd are really really really over-rated. Personally, I think they suck, they try too hard, but ‘Dark Side…’ was a good album. Division Bell? Puhleeze.
HANDLE:  SpecialKay
CITY:  San Francisco

01:  “Final Solution,” Pere Ubu
02:  “I Heard Her Call My Name,” the Velvet Underground
03:  “We Love You,” The Rolling Stones
04:  “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” the Temptations
05:  “Trans-Europe Express,” Kraftwerk

I’m the guy who claimed in an old Radio On that there was a difference between “pop dance” and “dance pop,” so I’m not going to grouse about this category, except to say that I added the word “good” between “poppiest” and “art” and I defined “art” as anything that a significant hunk of the prime audience was willing to categorize as “art” or “arty.” (Def’n provided by the department of tautology department.) But here are my candidates for the much richer category, Artiest Pop Songs: “Friday On My Mind,” the Easybeats; “Nann,” Trick Daddy and Trina; “Black Dog,” Led Zeppelin; “Try Me,” Aaliyah; “See My Friends,” the Kinks; “Be My Baby,” the Ronettes; “Laughin’ Louie,” Louis Armstrong; “I Feel Love,” Donna Summer. I’ll admit that the two categories scrunch and mush into each other, and that a whole slew of other songs seem just as relevant while falling off the continuum altogether: “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses,” anything by Will To Power, “I Am the Walrus,” “Looking for the Perfect Beat,” the half million Miami Sound and Miami Bass records that imitated “Planet Rock” and “Looking For the Perfect Beat,” “Set It Off,” “Anarchy in the U.K.”! anything by Timbaland & Magoo, anything produced by Kevin “She’kspere” Briggs, anything done in the last 40 years that has a harpsichord and that isn’t already classified as “art rock,” “They’re Coming to Take Me Away,” “Theme from *Shaft*,” and all the r&b/hip hop on the radio right now that has faux Chinese accompaniment (a significant trend, epitomized by Ja Rule’s “Between Me and You,” though don’t ask me what the significance of this trend IS).
HANDLE:  Frank Kogan
CITY:  Denver

01:  “Outdoor Miner” Wire
02:  “Sunday Morning” Velvet Underground
03:  “The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure” The Magnetic Fields
04:  “Interesting Drug” Morrisey
05:  “Queen of Eyes” The Soft Boys

Pure pop for art people.
HANDLE:  Matt Kirkland

01:  “Watcher of the Skies,” Genesis
02:  “Lo Boob Oscillator,” Stereolab
03:  “Baba O’Riley,” The Who
04:  “I’m So Green,” Can
05:  “Good Vibrations,” Beach Boys

“Watcher of the Skies” is pretty much the only Genesis song I can name as well as hum. There was one other Genesis song I liked but I can’t remember what it’s called or even any telltale lyrical fragments, just some pseudo-majestic guitar chords and something resembling a melody. “Lo Boob Oscillator” starts out like “Sugar Sugar” (really; I’m sure it’s quite intentional)and ends with a droney “Krautrock”-style jam. Maybe you don’t consider “Baba O’Riley” an art-rock song but, as its title obliquely suggests, it was partly inspired by minimalist composer Terry Riley, which is arty enough for me. “I’m So Green” is pure pop by a band considered by many to be art rock (Kraut division). “Good Vibrations” took 30 years, 98,000 session-musician man hours and 500 tabs of acid to assemble and only sort of sounds like it. I was going to list “Autobahn” and “Tubular Bells” and decided to bump them because they go on too long to be considered mere “songs” (as does “Inna Gada Da Vida”). I was also going to list “Carry On My Wayward Son,” but I can’t remember who did it. (Kansas? Asia? Toto? I think it was Kansas.) Plus, it’s sort of an embarrassing song to put on a list, so I’m “copping out” by mentioning it down here instead.
HANDLE:  Tim Powis
CITY:  Toronto

01:  “She Loves You,” the Beatles
02:  “Substitute,” the Who
03:  “I’ll Come Running,” Eno
04:  “Can’t Truss It,” Public Enemy
05:  “Found a Job,” Talking Heads

You asked for it–five very poppy songs by musicians who attended art school. In no particular order
HANDLE:  Michaelangelo Matos
CITY:  Manhattan

01:  “Solsbury Hill,” Peter Gabriel
02:  “Babys on Fire,” Brian Eno
03:  “Heroes,” David Bowie
04:  “Imperial Zeppelin,” Peter Hammill
05:  “Wuthering Heights,” Kate Bush

Judging by the other entries on this list, “art rock” and “progressive rock” appear to have a large domain of mutual intersection. While I’m as tempted as anyone to draw upon Genesis, Kansas, Tull, Queen, ELP, etc., for my list, I decided to focus on individuals who have (deservedly) made for themselves an “artistic” reputation.
HANDLE:  Stone
CITY:  Toronto

01:  “Roundabout,” Yes (1971)
02:  “Teacher,” Jethro Tull (1970)
03:  “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” Electric Light Orchestra (1974)
04:  “Tubular Bells,” Mike Oldfield (1973)
05:  “Back in N.Y.C.,” Genesis (1974)

I was going over candidates for this list a couple of weeks ago with my friend Brent, one of seven people in the world who owns the Kansas album from last year (assuming everyone in Kansas has a copy too). Of course, right away you have to contend with the age-old problem of what does and doesn’t count as art rock. We were very inclusive: “Yeah, that’s sort of art-wave.” “I guess you’d call that art-glam.” “The Feelies? They’re art-jangle.” In the end, we decided that everyone who’s ever made a record counts as art rock, with the possible exception of Freddie & the Dreamers and Pink Floyd. There may still be a few bugs to work out in the eight-step screening process we used…#1’s easy, although the chorus of “I’ve Seen All Good People” might even be better (dragged down by the “Your Move” prologue). Picking one Jethro Tull entry is difficult: “Fat Man,” “Living in the Past,” “Nothing Is Easy,” they’re all castaways from some medieval version of THE FABULOUS BUBBLEGUM YEARS. I limited myself to pre-A NEW WORLD RECORD for Electric Light Orchestra, after which it’s like shooting giant hogweeds in a barrel. With “Tubular Bells,” I’m voting for the last five minutes or so of side one–the part where Mike Oldfield does his roll-call of instruments, a surprising homage to Sly & the Family Stone. And I hadn’t intended to vote for Genesis until the list below reactivated long-dormant memories of that synthesizer…Which still leaves lots of also-rans unacknowledged, so let me hereby issue the first-ever shout-out to Gentle Giant.
HANDLE:  Phil Dellio
CITY:  Toronto

01:  “Warszawa,” David Bowie
02:  “The Fat Lady of Limbourg,” Eno
03:  “Radio-Activity,” Kraftwerk
04:  “Motoroller Scalatron,” Stereolab
05:  “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby,” Smiths

Define “poppy.” Define “art rock.”
HANDLE:  Luc Sante
CITY:  Marbletown

01:  Roundabout – Yes
02:  Carry On Wayward Son – Kansas
03:  Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
04:  Tuesday Afternoon – Moody Blues
05:  Livin ‘ Thing – ELO

Also, Whiter Shade Of Pale, Love Is The Drug, From The Beginning.
HANDLE:  Tom Lane
CITY:  Marina

01:  “Back in NYC,” Genesis
02:  “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Procol Harum
03:  “Heartbeat,” King Crimson
04:  “Roundabout,” Yes
05:  “I’m Not in Love,” 10cc

1. Somehow, it remains as weird as everything else on “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” but it still is catchy and you find yourself singing along. I think it’s that children’s TV show-like keyboard melody that cascades between each verse. 2. Yeah, it’s a Bach rip off and it sounds like a classic soul song but it doesn’t make it any less POPular. Just gorgeous. 3. This is from the early 80s incarnation — Fripp, Bill Bruford, Tony Levin and Adrian Belew. Probably the catchiest song (a ballad) on this list from a concept album about Jack Kerouac and the Beats. 4. Full of complex chord changes and the kind of musicianship that gives prog a bad/good name. But it’s been played so much on classic rock radio, we all know it by heart. And when it gets down to it, it’s sticks in our heads for other reasons beyond repetitive airplay. 5. These guys are SO art rock. The gigantic wall of sound that whooshes at the end of the track — thick keyboard chords and what sounds like thousands of layered voices — could only be called art rock. Big boys don’t cry. NOTE TO SCOTT WOODS — You just knew I would fill out this life first, didn’t you.

HANDLE:  Steven Ward
CITY:  Gonzales, LA

2 thoughts on “From the Archives: Five Poppiest Art Rock Songs

  1. I’m surprised I didn’t respond to this on the first go-round, so, off the top of my head (and, to keep it simple, sticking to the “art rock = prog rock” formulation, else I’d be at this all day):

    1. “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” Genesis (side one of the entire album, really, though is it as good as the Drifters? maybe)
    2. “Yours is No Disgrace,” Yes
    3. “Spirit of Radio,” Rush
    4. “Overture,” ELO
    5. “Living in the Past,” Jethro Tull

  2. 01: “Roundabout”, Yes
    02: “Non-Alignment Pact”, Pere Ubu

    Reading through these lists, I’m starting to hear these as the same song.

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