The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.
When I fully immersed myself in college radio and was suddenly surrounded my more music than I could ever imagine, I had an amusing pet theory that kept me from crapping on bands I didn’t like while on the air.
Every band – from enormous monoliths like The Beatles to a tiny local band that is thrilled to sell 25 tickets at some dive bar – is probably someone’s favorite band.
I thought about this a lot as I drove around Fort Collins, windows down, volume all the way up listening to local heroes Knee Jerk, Stepshort, A Void, and so many others. I wondered to myself, “How can people not fucking LOVE this shit? It’s so good!”
The truth is probably that a) there’s simply too much music out there and people just don’t have the bandwidth to consume it all and b) people who didn’t grow up in, or remain active in, “a scene” don’t even know most of this shit even exists. Music is not an obsession for them, more of a general concept. It’s like wallpaper – nice enough when you notice it, but not something you think about all the time.
I do not relate to these people in the least, but I acknowledge they exist, and remembering that they exist helps me understand how someone as technically gifted but sinfully boring as Josh Groban can sell out arenas all across the country to an eager group of dentist office receptionists. My dad saw Celine Dion in Las Vegas and said she’s an amazing talent, but the show itself was nothing because she sounded exactly like she sounds on CD. Thrilling!
I bring this up because when writing a list like this, it’s tempting to pack it with well-known favorites that everyone loves. This list has already touched on acts like Destiny’s Child, Missy Elliott and Goo Goo Dolls, and will feature tons more giant acts as well. But if I’m being true to myself, the song “Domino” by The Karma Killers is a song, as of this writing, I like better than all but 41 others, and I can’t name you a single person I’ve ever come across outside of my immediate social circle who even knows who these guys are. They know these guys because I play this song all the fucking time. I just love it so much!
The Karma Killers officially disbanded in 2018, but if you do a few minutes of internet sleuthing as I did, it’s not unreasonable to say their impact is limited to pretty much 2015 (when they played Warped Tour) and 2016 (when they promised an album that never materialized). They have a paltry 5 songs available on Apple Music. I don’t even remember where I found them, but it had to be around the same time I got super into The Struts because these guys are like The Struts’ glam punk little brother.
Let’s start with the video where we tag along with lead singer Micky James looking like pure sex with his leather jacket and asshole haircut (Note to all rockstars: Either have an obnoxious haircut or stop wasting my goddamn time) as he drives around LA at night in his bright red muscle car. He joins the band for an impromptu performance at an arcade, then it’s back in the car for more looking cool, before arriving at a chic loft where we meet up again with the rest of the band and four swooning hot chicks who all appear to be about 30 years old and another impromptu performance. What a great choice that is because in 2015, no woman in her 20s would give a crap about this sound or aesthetic.
Everything here – the visual palette, the set design, the lyrics (I pulled the trigger and it threw me right back / Now I’m feeling like a nonbeliever / Bullet through my heart / Dancing’ in the dark / Oooh / I fell like a domino), the sound – all feel like they were chosen after a quick perusal of a “Rock ‘n Roll for Dummies” book. It’s a video that almost feels focus grouped with how on-the-nose it is in terms of co-opting well-worn rock cliches in its overall presentation. In the vast majority of cases, that level of visible calculation spells death for an audience’s ability to enjoy this shit earnestly.
But here’s the thing: If it’s built well and executed properly, no one gives a shit about the calculus. That’s why there are a zillion Irish-themed pubs out there, and far fewer craft mixology and molecular gastronomy joints. Familiar is comfortable. Craftsmanship is better than originality. I recognize all the elements of The Karma Killers as directly derivative from other sources. But they’ve combined it into a package that I simply adore. I like a pop punk aesthetic, and I appreciate the going for it theatre kid energy of glam rock. And this is much less assaultive than the in-your-face showmanship of acts like Fall Out Boy or Panic! At the Disco. Maybe I have a man-crush on lead singer Micky James. Maybe I miss having the freedom to just drive around and see what develops over the course of a night.
I can tell you this. A few Sundays ago, after a long stretch of solo parenting, Kristin sent me on my way to recharge my batteries and be alone. I went to Fire on the Mountain, got wings, and listened to strangers chit chat as they day drank. Then I hopped in my car and was headed for one of my favorite dives on Colfax. As I got close to it, “Domino” came on my iTunes set on random, and I let myself feel like Micky James in that video. I had the leather jacket. I had the asshole haircut. And my 2007 Acura became a cherry red muscle car with fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. I sang along and pretended I was cool.
I liked the feeling so much and didn’t want it to end, so I drove past the bar I planned to go to, finished the song, and arrived at one a couple miles down the road. A good song is one you like to sing along to in the car. A favorite song will alter your driving plans for you. Even if no one remembers the song but you.
Up next: That fucking hook, man. I still whistle it to myself constantly.