Everything works. The song’s music and lyrics are terrific, the performance is exactly right, and the production is neither too little nor too much.
“All Along the Watchtower”
Bob Dylan of course wrote “Watchtower,” and his version has a dark undercurrent, heightened by his strange voice and singing style. But Hendrix’s is downright apocalyptic.
The great guitarist’s introduction creates that mood and his subsequent breaks sustain it, as his underrated baritone declaims the otherworldly lyrics: “All along the watchtower/Princes kept a view . . . Two riders were approaching/And the wind began to howl.”
The production—recall the ominous rattle over the intro—goes to the limit without going too far.
“Message in a Bottle”
Sting’s wailing, ghostly vocals are the ideal instrument for his existential lyrics: “Seems I’m not alone in being alone/”A hundred million castaways/Looking for a home, ah,” over Andy Summers’ four-note guitar line.
Steward Copeland’s relentless, driving drumming (featuring some syncopated beats) joins his skillful use of percussive sounds, from his snare’s richness to clipped rim shots. The drawn-out ending, as Summers keeps playing sharp, searing licks—like driving nails into a bulldozer that has just demolished a neighborhood—over Sting’s endless chorus (“Sending out an SOS”) drives home the song’s message of agonizing isolation.
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”
Many of Lightfoot’s recordings will endure, such as “Sundown,” “If You Could Read My Mind, Love,” “Beautiful” and “Carefree Highway.” But the Canadian singer-songwriter will doubtless be remembered most for “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” about a freighter lost in November 1975 during that season’s storms on Lake Superior.
Lightfoot first offers a 23-note riff on steel and electric guitars, evoking a sea chantey as chorus, introduction and undercurrent to the sung verses. Then Lightfoot’s deceptively low-key voice intones his lyrics, certainly among the most powerfully evocative in North American pop-music history:
“The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead//When the skies of November turn gloomy.”
“Does anyone know where the love of God goes/When the waves turn the minutes to hours?”
“They might have split up or they might have capsized/ They may have broke deep and took water/”And all that remains is the faces and the names/Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.”
How To Recognize a Perfect Record
Recognizing a perfect record is easy. If after at least a decade, hearing a record continues to raise the hairs on one’s neck and give one chills no matter how many times one has heard it—it’s perfect.