Tuesday, July 12, 2016

I ranked a bunch of songs called "Wrecking Ball"



By Jarrett Bellini | @JarrettBellini
Apparently This Matters: The Column

According to Gary Trust of Billboard magazine, the most common reoccurring song title on the weekly Hot 100 is "Hold On."

In fact, he found sixteen different versions of "Hold On" that have graced the list since it began in 1958. The highest ranking of which was the 1990 number one smash hit by Wilson Phillips.

(Remember them? Chynna Phillips used to make me hold on to something. Still does.)

I stumbled onto Gary's expert research because I was recently thinking, "Boy, there sure are a lot of songs with 'Wrecking Ball' in the title."

So, I half-assedly (and rather unsuccessfully) sifted through Billboard's website, searching for an exact number of top 100 hits by this particular name. And, in doing so, soon discovered his article about "Hold On."

So I reached out to Gary for help:
Gary and I were soon trading emails, and it turns out there's only one artist who's ever had a song called "Wrecking Ball" on the Hot 100.

Miley Cyrus.

Sixteen versions of "Hold On." Just one "Wrecking Ball."

Which (quite accurately) suggests that most versions of "Wrecking Ball" are positively terrible. Seriously. I found twelve of them, and only four are good.

So, for the benefit of pretty much nobody, I wasted an unprecedented amount of time ranking these twelve songs titled "Wrecking Ball."

Before I go into greater detail about the top five on my list, here are the bottom seven - the really bad ones - each described in only three words.

Because that's all they deserve.

And we start with one of the worst songs I've ever heard.

#12 Gary Allan - Blood from ears



#11 Aubrey O'Day - Factory produced hellscape 

#10 Lifehouse - Douche rock fiesta

#9 Terri Clark - County fair encore

#8 Five Finger Death Punch - Prison riot soundtrack

#7 Joe Walsh - Camaro joy ride

#6 Mother Mother - Indie studio disaster

And now the top five. Which actually starts on a sour note.

#5 Neil Young



I love Neil Young.

Lately, in fact, I've been listening to him more than any other artist in my iTunes.

But, even at number five on this list, his "Wrecking Ball" is an absolute dumpster fire.

The song was originally released on the 1989 album "Freedom" which, truthfully, wasn't a bad collection of new tracks. It gave us classics like "Crime in the City" and two versions of "Rockin' in the Free World."

But, good lord, just try to get through "Wrecking Ball" without wanting to slice off your genitals. 

(Pro Tip: Measure twice. Cut once.)

Amazingly, Emmylou Harris liked this pile-of-poo song enough to cover it on her 1995 Grammy-winning album of the same name. Though critics rightfully praised her new LP, the title track was largely ignored.

Because it was Neil Young's "Wrecking Ball." And it's awful.

#4 Dead Confederate



Like several of the aforementioned versions of "Wrecking Ball," the Dead Confederate recording wasn't even on my radar until I started writing this list. I had never heard of it. Or them.

But I'm a serious journalist with literally hours of experience. So I read a little bit about the band and gave their song several listens.

And I'm glad I did. Because it's pretty good.

Thus begins the remaining four "Wrecking Ball" tracks that actually have merit.

In a complimentary way, this one sort of sounds like the miracle offspring of a drunken one-night-stand between Wilco and My Morning Jacket. Which gives us a lovely still-frame image of Jeff Tweedy and Jim James in compromising positions.

Discuss.

#3 Bruce Springsteen



Essentially, this song is one giant man-boner for New Jersey. Which, to be fair, is basically every Bruce Springsteen song.

But "Wrecking Ball" is particularly proud when it comes to Jersey boners - the kind you admire in the mirror and then post on Snapchat.

It isn't a great song. Hell, Bruce rhymes "balls" with "ball." And that's just lazy.

But it's also not bad. Not by any stretch. It's just ... pretty good

And, all things considered, "Wrecking Ball" is probably a decent hype song before instigating a bar fight during football season.

Which makes sense considering Springsteen originally wrote it as a tribute to Giants Stadium prior to its demolition.

If nothing else, at least it checks (almost comically) most of the requisite boxes for a Springsteen song.

Steel. Rust. Blood. Beer. The shore. Hard times.

It's just one state trooper reference away from hitting for the cycle.

#2 Miley Cyrus



I. Like. This. Song.

There. I said it. And I'm not ashamed.

Do I enjoy Miley's entire catalogue more than that of Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen?

No.

Is her "Wrecking Ball" better than their versions?

Yes.

Is my overall opinion perhaps swayed by the fact that in the music video she licks a sledge hammer?

Maybe.

But I'd at least like to think I can judge this song based purely on its own quality. Because it's good. Really good.

It has tension and release. Emotion. Melody.

All the key attributes of a well-constructed pop ballad.

Don't be fooled by the fact that she seems like someone who might smell her own farts. Miley has talent.

#1(A) Gillian Welch



Without question, this is the best song of the bunch.

Lyrically. Thematically. Musically.

This is the "Wrecking Ball" at the top of the mountain. The one that wre-eh-ecks all the others.

Mind you, I'm completely biased to the collective genius of Gillian Welch and her music partner, Dave Rawlings. However, despite my admiration, I think most reasonable people would agree that this song is an absolute masterpiece.

And, lucky for us, there's actually another version of this very same song that is just as good.

#1(B) Hard Working Americans



Here, again, maybe my appreciation comes from bias. I've long thought Todd Snider is an American treasure, and the most talented song writer on the planet since Dylan.

His new band, Hard Working Americans, is the best thing out there today. And their arrangement of "Wrecking Ball" is simply amazing.

Though the song is written from a woman's perspective - largely autobiographical to Gillian Welch - Snider on vocals somehow seems completely authentic. Almost like it was penned for him, just as much as it was for her.

My favorite line muses: "I'm standing here in the morning mist / I got a Jack and Coke at the end of my wrist."

For some reason, those words just crush me every time.

Like a wrecking ball.

##

Update: In addition to a few spirited eff you's, I've received lots of great messages and comments. And here, as I get them, I'll share links to the "Wrecking Ball" songs I missed:

Grace Slick
The Knitters
The Latenight Callers
The District Attorneys (Gillian Welch cover)

Update 2: A few other people asked about versions where "Wrecking Ball" was a part of the title. But not THE title. They don't count. No extra words. My rules. Love, King Jarrett of the stupidest castle in all the land.

Ryan Adam - "My Wreckinbg Ball"
Eric Church - "Like a Wrecking Ball"