What’s the ‘Coolest’ Song Ever?

 

A cool song needs a groove. Check. The singer needs to sound cool and the musicianship effortless. The lyrics tell a story with no judgement and we are encouraged to see it as we wish. This is the kind of song that works perfectly as background for a party. Not too serious, grandiose, or complicated.

Sultans of Swing

You get a shiver in the dark
It’s raining in the park, but meantime
South of the river you stop and you hold everything
A band is blowin’ dixie double-four time
You feel alright when you hear that music ring

Setting the time and the mood, and the theme “you feel alright”

And now you step inside, but you don’t see too many faces  (good music but small audience?)
Comin’ in out of the rain, you hear the jazz go down
Competition in other places (question or answer?) 
Oh, but the horns, they blowin that sound (but it’s good stuff..)
Way on down south, way on down south, London town

A joke, because we are expecting New Orleans. But the fact that it’s south London makes it more interesting. Of course, a hot Creole band plays in London whether they hail from NOLA or are indigenous Brits.

The narrator is a fan of music. We can tell he’s got his own band (which is playing the song) He is reporting his observations.

You check out guitar, George
He knows all the chords
Mind he’s strictly rhythm
He doesn’t wanna make it cry or sing
Yes, and an old guitar is all he can afford
When he gets up under the lights to play his thing

The lyrics make a fine use of the second person. “You” are experiencing these things as they happen. You can see it and feel it. ‘You’ become the narrator with the cool voice. Okay, I’m there…

And Harry doesn’t mind if he doesn’t make the scene
He’s got a daytime job, he’s doin’ alright
He can play the “Honk Tonk” like anything
Savin’ it up for friday night
With the “Sultans”
With the “Sultans of Swing”

Filling out the scene there are some who are underwhelmed…

And a crowd of young boys, they’re fooling around in the corner
Drunk and dressed in their best brown baggies and their platform soles
They don’t give a damn about any trumpet playing band
It ain’t what they call rock and roll
And the “Sultans”
Yeah, the ‘Sultans’ played Creole, Creole

This is a perennial problem with playing live music. Genre. If people don’t like or accept the genre, they will not be taken with musicianship. This is even worse if the genre is considered “uncool”.

And then the man, he steps right up to the microphone
And says, “At last”, just as the time bell rings
“Goodnight, now it’s time to go home”
And he makes it fast with one more thing
We are the “Sultans”, we are the “Sultans of Swing”

The players know they are making good music, but it’s hard to remember when you’re playing in front of a small audience, some of whom are ignoring you.

Regardless, he’s saying we are proud of our music and playing, in the humility that musicians are relentlessly guided into with public performance. The ‘man’, the singer and bandleader, is acknowledging his bandmates just by announcing the name and allowing the musicianship to play out.

Every professional musician has encountered these types: ‘Guitar George’ who’s adept at finding tasty chords (we here a couple right after that line) and he’s uninterested in being a wailing lead-player, Harry who’s got a day-job, “doin’ alright”, playing out for fun. Almost every band in the world has these types, and any seasoned musician can recognize the band dynamics instantly.

This song is timeless.

What are your “cool songs” and why?

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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    I have always likes this song but now have a deeper understanding of it. Thanks.

    A cool song that I like a lot is ZZ Tops’ Sharp Dressed Man. It speaks to something true about men and women and money and power. Men don’t dress to flaunt physical sexuality as much as display power. The sharp dressed man walks in and the room turns to look at him. It is the epitome of cool captured in a moment.

     

    Clean shirt, new shoes
    And I don’t know where I am goin’ to
    Silk suit, black tie (black tie)
    I don’t need a reason why

    They come runnin’ just as fast as they can
    ‘Cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man

    Gold watch, diamond ring
    I ain’t missin’ not a single thing
    Cufflinks, stick pin
    When I step out I’m gonna do you in

    They come runnin’ just as fast as they can
    ‘Cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man

    Top coat, top hat
    And I don’t worry ’cause my wallet’s fat
    Black shades, white gloves
    Lookin’ sharp, lookin’ for love

    They come runnin’ just as fast as they can
    ‘Cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man

    • #1
  2. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    Anything off of “Kind Of Blue” by Miles Davis is cool. The coolest on the album is probably “Freddy Freeloader.” It’s not my favorite but it grooves like a MotherWatchYOMouth. Speaking of which. Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield have a whole catalog of cool stuff.

    • #2
  3. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Franco: Way on down south, way on down south, London town

    Excellent write-up. But the Knofflers were northerners (born in Scotland, raised in Newcastle), so way down south, I think, is in reference to this. Northerners (north of England) look at London as a different world, which it is. 

    • #3
  4. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    My vote for coolest ever is Sundown by Gordon Lightfoot.  The structure seems somewhat random. 

     

    • #4
  5. JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery Thatcher
    JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery
    @JosePluma

    Ah, Sultans of Swing.

    One of my favorites now, though I got a little tired of it back in the day.  I was a bartender in 1980 and had to listen to it on the jukebox dozens of times every night.

    • #5
  6. MDHahn Coolidge
    MDHahn
    @MDHahn

    Great post and a fun question.  Based on your criteria, I’d say it has to be something by the Beach Boys. I’m not sure which song, but if you just want pure cool fun, then it’s gotta be them, right?

    • #6
  7. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Franco: And Harry doesn’t mind if he doesn’t make the scene
    He’s got a daytime job, he’s doin’ alright

    The little guitar fill after that line gets me every time.

    • #7
  8. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Eric Clapton. Many to choose from.

    Wonderful Tonight

    It’s late in the evening
    She’s wondering what clothes to wear
    She puts on her makeup
    And brushes her long blonde hairAnd then she asks me
    “Do I look all right?”
    And I say, “Yes, you look wonderful tonight”

     

    We go to a party
    And everyone turns to see
    This beautiful lady
    Who’s walking around with meAnd then she asks me
    “Do you feel all right?”
    And I say, “Yes, I feel wonderful tonight”

     

    I feel wonderful because I see the love light in your eyes
    Then the wonder of it all is that you just don’t realize
    How much I love you

     

    It’s time to go home now
    And I’ve got an aching head
    So I give her the car keys
    And she helps me to bed

     

    And then I tell her
    As I turn out the light
    I say, “My darling you were wonderful tonight”
    “Oh, my darling, you were wonderful tonight”

    • #8
  9. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    thelonious (View Comment):

    Anything off of “Kind Of Blue” by Miles Davis is cool. The coolest on the album is probably “Freddy Freeloader.” It’s not my favorite but it grooves like a MotherWatchYOMouth. Speaking of which. Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield have a whole catalog of cool stuff.

    One should not neglect “Theme from Shaft.”

     

    • #9
  10. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    MWD B612 "Dawg" (View Comment):

    thelonious (View Comment):

    Anything off of “Kind Of Blue” by Miles Davis is cool. The coolest on the album is probably “Freddy Freeloader.” It’s not my favorite but it grooves like a MotherWatchYOMouth. Speaking of which. Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield have a whole catalog of cool stuff.

    One should not neglect “Theme from Shaft.”

     

    I can dig it! 

    • #10
  11. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    MDHahn (View Comment):

    Great post and a fun question. Based on your criteria, I’d say it has to be something by the Beach Boys. I’m not sure which song, but if you just want pure cool fun, then it’s gotta be them, right?

    Good Vibrations would be my pick from their discography.

    JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery (View Comment):

    Ah, Sultans of Swing.

    One of my favorites now, though i got a little tired of it back in the day. I was a bartender in 1980 and had to listen to it on the jukebox dozens of times every night.

    Oh, I hear ya! Because it fits this criteria, is why it was overplayed.

     

    The barman doesn’t mind that he’s heard the song before

    Jukebox kids dropping coins to look cool 

    He just wishes it was something else right now,

    just not the the Sultans

    Not the Sultans of Swing

    • #11
  12. JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery Thatcher
    JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery
    @JosePluma

    I’ve always thought this song was cool, even though I can’t understand the lyrics:

    • #12
  13. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Vance Richards (View Comment):
    The little guitar fill after that line gets me every time.

    The song is full of those little touches, like the triplet after “Time bell rings.” And those two solos – man. How we labored to reproduce that, particularly that riff in the second solo. 

    • #13
  14. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    thelonious (View Comment):

    Anything off of “Kind Of Blue” by Miles Davis is cool. The coolest on the album is probably “Freddy Freeloader.” It’s not my favorite but it grooves like a MotherWatchYOMouth. Speaking of which. Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield have a whole catalog of cool stuff.

    Beat me to it. Kind of Blue was the first album that occurred to me. I have a hard time picking a favorite cut. But I guess if there is an album I can listen to all day it’s The Three on the East Wind label. Joe Sample, Ray Brown, and Shelley Manne. Favorite cut is Manha de Carnaval. Their version of On Green Dolphin Street is a very close second.

    • #14
  15. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    A cool song that I like a lot is ZZ Tops’ Sharp Dressed Man.

    A great song!  Absolute self-confident swagger, and not because the singer’s vain. He just knows what’s what. 

    • #15
  16. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    A cool song that I like a lot is ZZ Tops’ Sharp Dressed Man.

    A great song! Absolute self-confident swagger, and not because the singer’s vain. He just knows what’s what.

    Exactly. It his that spot perfectly. You put it better than I did. 

    • #16
  17. Mountie Coolidge
    Mountie
    @Mountie

    I have two songs, both of them touch personal experiences that I’ve had.

    This Masquerade as covered by George Benson.

    We tried to talk it over but the words got in the way we’re lost inside this lonely game we play”.

     

    Go through a failed marriage and  that line will have  a lot of significance for you.

    The Wreck  of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot.

    “ Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours.”

    Be on a small boat in incredibly rough water with high winds and waves breaking over your bow and  that  line will haunt you when you hear it.

    • #17
  18. DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Mountie (View Comment):
    The Wreck  of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot.

    You just killed the thread. : (

    (Everyone in the PIT knows how much I loathe that song . . .)

    • #18
  19. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic … (View Comment):

    Mountie (View Comment):
    The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot.

    You just killed the thread. : (

    (Everyone in the PIT knows how much I loathe that song . . .)

    The PIT is not only not required reading, but verboten for all pure, right-thinking paragons of virtue and merit. So, yeah, I knew that, but…

    • #19
  20. Justin Other Lawyer Coolidge
    Justin Other Lawyer
    @DouglasMyers

    I’m never good at picking my “coolest” or favorite song, etc., because as soon as I name one, I think of another that might beat it.  But here’s the first few that come to mind under the category of “cool”:

    End of the Line by The Traveling Wilburys

    A Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash

    Running Down a Dream by Tom Petty

    • #20
  21. DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Sisyphus (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic … (View Comment):

    Mountie (View Comment):
    The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot.

    You just killed the thread. : (

    (Everyone in the PIT knows how much I loathe that song . . .)

    The PIT is not only not required reading, but verboten for all pure, right-thinking paragons of virtue and merit. So, yeah, I knew that, but…

    So it’s leaked beyond the PIT, then.

    The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is only slightly less creepy than The Sounds of Silence.

    Now since the adjective was “coolest,” not “creepiest,” I submit:

    • #21
  22. Justin Other Lawyer Coolidge
    Justin Other Lawyer
    @DouglasMyers

    DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic … (View Comment):

    Mountie (View Comment):
    The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot.

    You just killed the thread. : (

    (Everyone in the PIT knows how much I loathe that song . . .)

    I bet you hate Cat’s in the Cradle too, you Philistine! ;-)

    • #22
  23. DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Justin Other Lawyer (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic … (View Comment):

    Mountie (View Comment):
    The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot.

    You just killed the thread. : (

    (Everyone in the PIT knows how much I loathe that song . . .)

    I bet you hate Cat’s in the Cradle too, you Philistine! ;-)

    I do, I do . . .

    • #23
  24. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    I never liked Sultans of Swing.  It’s OK that others like it.  It just didn’t do anything for me.  Your reaction helps explain why it kept getting played on MTV, all those years ago.

    Now for my answer.  “Cool” makes me think Motown, especially a slow, jazzy Motown.  @mountie’s mention of George Benson is pretty close.

    But I think that Smokey is even cooler than George Benson.  So I’ll go with my second-favorite Smokey song, One Heartbeat:

    My favorite Smokey song is Just To See Her, but I don’t think that it’s quite as cool.

    • #24
  25. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    That’s funny.  I was driving the other day and “Under the Boardwalk” by the Drifters came on, and I thought “This song is a little musical gem, sung perfectly.  So evocative of time and place.”  My brother and I usually engage in little “best of” music contests, and I was thinking that a future topic could be “best vocal” but I think the entire song fits as “coolest song” as well.  

     

    • #25
  26. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” Official answer.

    I would add an honorable mention to “Tom Sawyer” but I’m in no rush to be controversial.

    • #26
  27. DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Okay, also among the coolest:

     

    • #27
  28. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Lose Yourself by Eminem

    Runnin’ Down a Dream by Tom Petty 

    Boys of Summer by Don Henley 

     

     

     

    • #28
  29. DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax)
    @DonG

    I like that “Won’t Get Fooled Again” reminds me that political change is often just a mirage of the uni-party and it has been that way my whole life.   The Pussy Riot cover is pretty good and helps you appreciate the universal message of political corruption and rock and roll.

    Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss.

     

    Did you know:

    The Woodstock festival was an influence on this song. Most songs inspired by Woodstock follow the peace and love narrative, but Pete Townshend had a very different take.

    The Who played Day 2 of Woodstock, going on at the ludicrous hour of 5 a.m. During their set, the activist Abbie Hoffman came on stage unannounced and commandeered the microphone. Townshend may or may not have belted him with his guitar, but he certainly did not want to provide a platform for any cause. “I wrote ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ as a reaction to all that – ‘Leave me out of it: I don’t think you lot would be any better than the other lot!,'” he explained to Creem in 1982.

    In the same interview, he shared his thoughts on the festival crowd: “All those hippies wandering about thinking the world was going to be different from that day. As a cynical English arsehole I walked through it all and felt like spitting on the lot of them, and shaking them and trying to make them realize that nothing had changed and nothing was going to change.”

    • #29
  30. Justin Other Lawyer Coolidge
    Justin Other Lawyer
    @DouglasMyers

    Sisyphus (View Comment):

    “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” Official answer.

    I would add an honorable mention to “Tom Sawyer” but I’m in no rush to be controversial.

    Just geddy on out of here with such im-peart-inency.

    • #30
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