OK, here are the answers to the song quiz. I was going to give it a couple more days, but then I got impatient. So now I will listen to all of the songs and comment on them! Thanks to everyone for posting their guesses.
Aretha Franklin -- Chain Of Fools
The combination of rebellion, anger, and resignation is what gets me about this, I think.
Bessie Smith -- I Ain't Gonna Play Second Fiddle
Not a lot of resignation here. "Let me tell you, daddy, / mama ain't gonna sit and grieve. / Pack up your duff / and get ready to leave." "I caught you with your good time vamp / so now, papa, I'm gonna put out your lamp." A proud, angry song from someone who isn't going to take it any more. The lyrics are witty, and the band provides a great accompaniament, too.
Bo Diddley -- You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover
This song is really fun to shout along with. The lyrics are funny, and the little improvised bits of nonsense he hollers out over the instrumental breaks are pretty awesome.
Bob Dylan -- Maggie's Farm
Another good song to shout along with (but more nasally), especially if you are having work-related problems. I think most people have worked for at least one of the people in this song.
Bonnie Raitt -- Guilty
The lyrics of this song, which was written by Randy Newman, capture a certain state of self-pitying, self-loathing, and lonliness, and Bonnie Raitt does a great job with them. This is a song I would like to perform, but I don't think I could pull it off. Maybe one of these years ...
Chuck Berry -- No Particular Place To Go
The arrangement is quite similar to that of 'Hail, Hail, Rock & Roll', but I think the guitar part is a little cleaner, and the lyrics always crack me up.
'Nadine' was another strong contender. It's a great arrangement and the lyrics are funny, and there's sort of a meta-joke in that the lyrics are the logical opposite of Chuck Berry's first hit, 'Maybelline'.
The Coasters -- Searchin'
I love the singing, I love the piano, I love the lyrics, even the verse that I don't completely understand because it references pop culture from forty years ago. (Who's Old Blackie?) I would like to be able to do this one, too, but so far no go.
Dr. John -- Junko Partner
Hey, another cover song! I have versions of this by Louis Jordan and Professor Longhair, all with slightly different chords and words, but for my money Dr. John's version is coolest, although his lyrics are also hardest to decypher. This is a much happier song about substance abuse than 'Guilty' is. The Superchief Trio also do this song live.
Erin McKeown -- Softly Moses
I saw Ms McKeown performing a solo show at WPI a few years ago. It was in a study area in a dorm which had temporarily been repurposed as a coffee shop. Most of the people there were students who were reading or doing homework or chatting with their friends. People weren't being particularly loud or noticably disrespectful, but it was clear that most people weren't really there to see Erin.
She played a few songs and then introduced 'Softly Moses', describing the circumstances under which she came to write it, and then she played it. By the end of the song the room was completely silent, and everyone in it was completely rapt.
I can never hear this song without thinking of that performance.
Chris and I play this song occasionally (Chris sings it), but so far not in public.
Freezepop -- Here Comes A Special Boy
This song is based on the web comic Achewood. I've never really gotten into Achewood; every once in a while someone will mention it online and I'll go check it out, but it's never really clicked with me. Despite this, this song always makes me happy. Hugs!
Gillian Welch -- Annabelle
A sad Jesus song. David Rawlings provids some typically strange guitar playing. Chris and I play this at shows sometimes. It occasionally freaks people out a little, I think.
Grandmaster Flash -- It's Nasty
I think this is from the early era of Grandmaster Flash when he was basically recording party music. (Then he recorded 'The Message', which was a huge hit, and suddenly a lot of the recordings contained some kind of social commentary.) I like both eras -- 'New York, New York' is another favorite, partly because of its complete over-the-topness -- but this is just a great composition. It gets extra points for its use of the kazoo band. I think it's also the only song I've heard where the band asks the crowd to shout out what kind of jeans they wear.
The Ink Spots -- Whispering Grass
The Ink Spots give a typically beautiful rendition of some extremely silly lyrics. "Don't you tell it to the breeze, for she will tell the birds and bees / And everyone will know because you told the blabbering trees." Ridiculous and sublime. This song was written by either Doris or Fred Fisher, or possibly both, sometime in the 1930s, I guess.
Johnny Cash -- The Legend Of John Henry's Hammer
'Folsom Prison'? 'I Walk The Line'? ...? Lots of possible choices here, but I just think this is a really nice take on a traditional theme and song, and has a level of complexity to it which is unusual. The 'At Folsom Prison' recordingly is the one I'm thinking of here in particular.
Lucinda Williams -- Passionate Kisses
The entire album (which is also named Lucinda Williams) is really great. This song has had a certain sort of resonance in certain times in my life. Perhaps I will leave it at that.
Mono Puff -- Imaginary Friend
The bass line sucks me into the groove and then there is no escape. Also, I grew up in deepest, darkest Massachusetts, about halfway between Worcester and Springfield. This is another song I like to shout along with.
Talking Heads -- Found A Job
One of the first records I owned was a copy of 'More Songs About Buildings And Food' that my sister gave me. I was previously familiar with Talking Heads from the movie and album Stop Making Sense, which I worshipped, and the relative sparseness of More Songs... defeated me at first. But this song ... The contrast between the apparent innocent optimism of the lyrics and the edgy, jittery performance really captivated me.
They Might Be Giants -- I Am 40: Memories Of West St. And Lepke
OK, so it's not really fair that I picked a song that nobody ever heard of, but what can you do? I think this is a great song.
This was also released as Robert Lowell on 'TMBG Unlimited', a music subscription service that passed me by somehow, but I heard it on the McSweeney's soundtrack. I love the arrangement and the contrasting, otherworldly sounds of the instruments, and the lyrics and vocals are surreal and strangely threatening. [the lyrics and the Robert Lowell poems they were taken from]
Wilson Pickett -- Man and a Half
I have a weakness for songs that are about how awesome the singer is, and the more over the top the better (although I also appreciate the humility implicit in King Floyd's 'I Feel Like Dynamite', where he says, "You might not agree with me, but I think I'm out of sight"). My favorite part of the lyrics are: "Me and a camel went across the desert, and there was no water in sight. / The camel died trying, but your man and a half is here loving you tonight. / Good God!"
On another day I might have picked 'If You Need Me', recorded back when Pickett was just another guy fronting a doowop group that nobody had ever heard of, a state which lasted about ten minutes. Or 'Funky, Funky Broadway'. Or his version of Randy Newman's 'Mama Told Me Not To Come'. Or 'Mustang Sally'. Or ...
Interrobang Cartel -- Captain Marvel's Lament
A song I wrote the lyrics to. The thing about this one is, I got the idea for the lyrics and thought about recording them, and I got an idea for how I could approach them, but I just couldn't see how it could result in a recording that would be at all good; it seemed like it would be mediocre and just not that funny. So I just posted the lyrics, figuring maybe someone else would know what to do with them, and forgot about it.
Then Glenn Knickerbocker recorded the lyrics, and his idea of how to approach it was basically the same as my idea, except that where my version would have sucked his was awesome and hilarious! This made me very, very pleased.
Also, I played someone this song once, and they asked me, "Is this song based on 'Moonshadow'? Which it is, sort of, so I was pleased that the song in some sense remained true to its roots in a recognizable way.