I’ve long held the theory that track seven is, in the vast majority of cases, the best track on an album. Although it faces competition from its more fashionable counterparts, track one and track three, track seven is often home to an underrated gem or a straight-up banger, and I’ve always attached a special significance to it. Below are ten songs that illustrate the point beyond any reasonable doubt.
In an age where our attitude towards drugs has become much more permissive, and even Miley Cyrus sings about ‘molly’, it’s easy to forget how controversial Heroin was when it first came out in 1967. The album was banned from many major record stores, largely because of the overt drug references in the song (as well as the descriptions of BDSM in Venus in Furs). It remains, however, one of the band’s most enduring songs, straddling the line between the beautiful and the abrasive in classic Velvet Underground style. Lyrically, it captures the escapism that lies at the heart of drug use and, ultimately, addiction. When Lou Reed sings, “I’ve made a big decision; I’m gonna try and nullify my life”, he presents a troubling idea of addiction as a conscious choice – of choosing heroin rather than choosing life – and Reed’s own problems with heroin addiction only serve to make it feel more powerful. Musically as well, the discordant strings and rising feedback in the coda are light years ahead of their time. Heroin is Velvet Underground at their most subversive, innovative and affecting, and a reminder of just how influential and essential the band were in their prime.
One of Bob Dylan’s most recognisable and popular songs, Don’t Think Twice appeared on Bob Dylan’s second album, and his first to be comprised almost entirely of his own compositions. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan announced the 22-year old as one of the most talented songwriters and lyricists in the world, and songs such as Don’t Think Twice and Blowin’ in the Wind propelled him to huge popular success. The song is undoubtedly one of Dylan’s finest, lyrically as rich and poetic as anything he has written. Like all his best songs, there is no clear interpretation, with the language he uses teasingly ambiguous. Clearly written to an ex-girlfriend, it’s full of sardonic lines in classic Dylan fashion such as “You just kinda wasted my precious time” and “Goodbye’s too good a word babe, so I’ll just say fare thee well”. However, under the bitterness there’s a knowing self-pity to the lyrics, and a sense of a lover trying to reclaim pride after being hurt. It’s one of the few Dylan songs to use such fast fingerpicking guitar, and the melody is among his most beautiful. Don’t Think Twice is one of the first great Bob Dylan songs, and one of the best, most universal break-up songs ever written.
The White Stripes are perhaps not renowned for their softer moments, more often associated with the kind of high-energy garage rock with which they made their name. However, You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket is one of those moments, a beautifully understated acoustic guitar number which showcases Jack White’s lyrical ability as well as his brilliantly expressive voice, which has rarely sounded so fragile and vulnerable. There is real pathos in lines such as “You’re searching your hand for something clever to say; don’t go away” as well as in the image the song paints of a man so hopelessly in love that he lives in constant fear that she will leave him. It’s an unusually tender moment from White and has that beautifully imperfect feel that all the best White Stripes songs have.
Arctic Monkeys are clearly in on the theory, with a track seven banger on each of their first three albums. The best of their entries however is this track from their third album, Humbug. The album marked a slight change in direction for the band musically as they moved towards a heavier sound, but also lyrically for Turner, who started leaning towards the more abstract style which would go on to be so prominent on Suck it and See. Cornerstone is the clear standout on the album, with all the wit and craft that characterise the band’s best songs. The song centres around a man who, missing an ex-girlfriend, approaches various girls who look like her and asks if he can call them her name. It’s playful and tongue-in-cheek to a certain extent (just watch the video), but Turner has the subtlety and the lyrical talent to make lines like “I smelt your scent on the seatbelt and kept my shortcuts to myself” feel strangely touching.
The role of Andrew Weatherall as producer of Screamadelica cannot be underestimated, and his influence is rarely more obvious than on the album’s standout track, Loaded. The track is a remix of an earlier Primal Scream song called I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have and, while the original is Stones-influenced blues rock typical of the band’s pre-Screamadelica work, the remix which appears on the album is a club anthem for the acid house generation. Weatherall took the guitar riff and the horns from the original, adding a glorious beat and a bassline to create one of the emblematic songs of the Madchester period.
The seventh track from Radiohead’s seventh album, Reckoner is one of the most perfect songs that the band have ever produced. Every element of the song, from Thom Yorke’s yearning falsetto, to the simple, sliding guitar line, to the airy layers of reverbed percussion, is ethereally, achingly beautiful in such an incredibly immediate way. Against this backdrop, the religious overtones and allusions to transcendence in the lyrics feel wholly appropriate.
A somewhat unfair choice perhaps, as every track on Abbey Road is a certified banger, but The Beatles have unbelievable track seven form. The first track on side two of the seminal album, it is perhaps one of the band’s most recognisable. One of only two George Harrison tracks on the album, it marks the end of a sensational run of tracks on the first half and precedes the 16-minute suite of short songs that make up the majority of the album’s second half.
Feels like We Only Go Backwards was the moment that Tame Impala went from being a promising neo-psychedelic outfit to one of the biggest bands in the world – an ascent that has only continued with the release of their latest album, Currents. The song was ubiquitous for a period after its release and is testament not only to Kevin Parker’s skill behind the production desk but also to his ability to write a killer hook. The drums on the track are classic Tame Impala, a sound Parker has managed to retain as recognisably his own even whilst pursuing a new musical direction on his newest album.
If you haven’t seen Amy – Asif Kapadia’s film about the life of the singer – you should. A devastating account of the various pressures that pushed Winehouse to the self-destruction which ultimately led to her untimely death, one of the best things it does is to add context to her songs. Tears Dry on Their Own, one of the best pop songs of the last fifteen years, was written in the wake of her break-up from Blake Fielder-Civil, and the film shows just how big a part their tempestuous relationship played in her spiralling further into alcoholism and addiction.
Primitive is the standout track from Real Estate’s most recent album, Atlas. The lazy lead guitar line that glides over the almost-country sounding bed of guitars and bass is as mellow and as beautiful as anything the band has put its name to. It’s a gorgeous chord sequence and, like all Real Estate, everything sounds so wonderfully effortless. Music for a summer’s day.
And the exception that proves the rule…
Almost certainly the worst Radiohead song ever made.
David Bowie – The Prettiest Star (Aladdin Sane)
Kanye West – Jesus Walks (The College Dropout)
Arcade Fire – Wake Up (Funeral)
Gorillaz – Empire Ants (Plastic Beach)
Jamie T – Sheila (Panic Prevention)
Lou Reed – Satellite of Love (Transformer)
Pixies – Monkey Gone to Heaven (Doolitle)
The Strokes – Last Night (Is This It?)
Polica – Lay Your Cards Out (Give You The Ghost)
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Can’t Stop (By The Way)