This certainly isn’t the first time I’ve professed my undying love for Counting Crows, the band who always seem to have the perfect song for just about any occasion. I doubt it will be the last, either.
But it will be the first time I’ve used Counting Crows as a writing prompt, simply because I haven’t blogged in the longest time and need something to motivate myself back into action.
Why five of the best Counting Crows songs ever? Because, dear reader, if I made this list any bigger, I doubt I’d be able to contain myself. You’d find me going on at length about the top ten, or twenty, or thirty. Heck, given the time, I imagine I could sit here and tell you about how each song offers me something, whether that’s a particularly poignant lyric, or simply a feeling, some sort of intangible, undefinable option, something that can’t be expressed but only felt.
But that’s just the thing, i don’t have time. At least not right now. That said, I have been in a rut as of late, staring at empty blog posts, knowing I need to write, but somehow finding myself incapable. So, the only way out of this non-writing rut its to write something, and since Counting Crows have always been there to get me out bad spots in the past, I figured there’s no reason they can’t do so again.
Here then, are my picks for the best five Counting Crows songs ever, and no Mr. Jones in sight.
- Also read: Me, My Crutches, and Counting Crows
5. Anna Begins (from August and Everything After)
“You try to tell yourself the things you try to tell yourself to make yourself forget…”
I can’t think of many Counting Crows songs that have had a bigger impact on my life than Anna Begins.
Back in the day, I met a girl on Myspace (remember that?). From reading her Myspace profile, I noticed two things about her:
1) She liked Counting Crows
2) Her name was Anna.
“You must like the song Anna Begins,” I said.
“Yes,” she said.
Three years later, that girl on Myspace became my wife. Just under two years later, that girl became my ex-wife, all for reasons that I won’t go into here.
For the longest time afterwards, I just couldn’t listen to this song. It hurt. I mean, it physically hurt.
“My friend implores me,” a painful knot would tie up in my stomach, and I’d hate myself.
“For one time only,” my skin would ache, my brain would spin…I just couldn’t do it.
Eventually, that became the song I skip. I believe the sign that a band is one you truly love is when you never want to skip even a single song, not even those mid-album fillers that even the band themselves seem to have largely forgotten about. Make no mistake, I didn’t want to skip Anna Begins, I just had to. It was too painful.
Then, roughly five years after the divorce, I reached out to Anna. I felt we made peace, and today, I’m glad to say I can listen to -and enjoy- this truly beautiful song as much today as I ever did in the days before Anna began to change my mind…
4: Mercury (Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow version, originally from Recovering the Satellites)
“This is not a song about love, it is a song about addiction.”
The original version of Mercury, from Recovering the Satellites is a great song in itself. Yet for the longest time, it was just one of those good songs, the type that helps an album flow, that sounds good without ever being particularly special.
Then, then Counting Crows released Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow, and everything about the way I felt about Mercury changed.
Suddenly, this song was sexy. It had a certain swagger about it, an allure that was missing in the studio version. As if that wasn’t enough to help me develop a whole new love for the song, Adam had to go and sing that line:
“This ain’t a song about love, it’s a song about addiction.”
Just that, repeated, over and over again, it’s hypnotic, enchanting, mesmerizing. That one line, coupled with the way the intro just seems to ooze a certain sense of self-assurance, it turned Mercury into
3: Up All Night (from Hard Candy)
“I’ve been up all night, I might sleep all day.”
Honestly, the number one spot was the hardest for me to pick. With my top two definitely locked in, choosing from the countless Counting Crows songs I adore to fill this one remaining spot seemed impossible. Then I went back through the songs I listen to the most, and it occurred to me, it could only be this one.
This is my late night song, the one I associated with being so lost in a sense of flow that hours drift away unnoticed, the one I associate with those soft, gentle feelings that come with the tiredness finally starts to seep in, and just like those lost hours, I begin to drift away.
Tomorrow might suck a little, but tonight, tonight was just wonderful.
2: Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby (from This Desert Life)
“If dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts”
There was a long period where I would have told you flat out, no questions asked, that this wasn’t just the best Counting Crows song ever, but the greatest song ever written by any artist, ever, in the entire history of music.
Seriously, everything about Mrs. Potter leaves me speechless. That rolling, sprightly piano, the way the whole melody belies the somewhat sombre nature of the Duritz’s beautiful, captivating poetry, it’s enough to make a boy swoon like a 12 year-old girl at Justin Bieber show.
So why is it now only my second favourite song? Because even as glorious as it may be, there’s something about my top pick that just makes me fall in love with it on every listen.
1: Rain King (Live at Town Hall version / Originally from August & Everything After)
“I belong, in the service of the queen”
There are some Counting Crows songs that I love because they soundtracked a particular story from the mad assortment of tales and adventures that has been my life. There are some Counting Crows songs that I love because they stir a particular feeling in me, and then are those Counting Crows songs that I love simply because they’re amazing songs.
Rain King falls firmly into the latter category. During the days when I first started listening to the band, the version that would come up on their debut album, August & Everything After, always struck me as being something special. It was one of the songs that made me fall in love with the band, one of the songs that cemented their status as my all time favourite, and just one of the songs that always makes me feel good.
No, scrap that. Rain King does more than merely make me feel good. It makes me feel alive. I’ve often said that Counting Crows are the band I turn to get me out of a bad spot, to lift my spirits when they’re low, to get me out of a rut. I should have been more specific. It isn’t just Counting Crows I turn to, it’s Rain King, and it isn’t just Rain King, it’s this version, recorded on August & Everything After, Live at Town Hall.
Sometimes, I prefer the version from Live at Heineken Music Hall, sometimes I like the version from Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow, but it’s always this one -with the diversion into Thunder Road– that I come back to. This isn’t just a song, it’s a work of art, a thing of pure beauty, the thing that helps me feel alive.