Top 5 Favorite Songs That Have No Chorus

Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday (now on Wednesday!), a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because the internet is STILL incredibly un-fun in 2021 and I enjoy blogging. It’s Friday Wednesday and these will be fun! This week’s list…

Top 5 Favorite Songs That Have No Chorus

Strung Out – photo from their Facebook page can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10153360959719976&set=a.240979110724876

“Don’t bore us, get to the chorus!” is a quote from Motown Founder Berry Gordy (it’s also the title of Swedish duo Roxette’s Greatest Hits album). It makes sense. The chorus is the part of the song that usually everyone knows, it’s the easiest to sing along to, and it’s the part that hooks itself into your brain.

So what happens when there is no chorus?

I thought about the idea of songs without choruses during two podcasts with musicians. One was my own chat with Strung Out guitarist Jake Kiley – more on that one in just a second. And the other was Chris DeMakes interviewing “Fat” Mike Burkett of NOFX about what’s probably their most recognized and best loved song “Linoleum.” In the interview he said something to the effect of, “Yeah, the song’s got no chorus, and it doesn’t even rhyme, but people grabbed onto it for some reason.”

Hell, it’s my favorite NOFX song, and even I’m not sure why. That’s probably why it doesn’t appear below because I have very little interesting to say about it. But! In the spirit of celebrating these atypical gems, here are five of my favorite songs that have no chorus, many of which I think you’ll recognize that I doubt you realized had no chorus.

Strung Out – “Too Close To See”

In my interview with Jake Kiley, I asked him High Fidelity-style to rank the top 5 of his own records. Twisted by Design came in at #3, at which point I told him that album had my favorite song. He asked which one, so I told him “Too Close To See.” He said, “Man, I sort of wish we could get back to doing more linear stuff like that.” He also said the lyrics in this song are some of lead singer Jason Cruz’s best. He’s right.

In addition to being an absolute face melter musically with a suicidal, breakneck tempo, “Too Close To See” features lyrics that sound like they were written in a hypermanic fugue state, delivered as a dispatch from inside the narrator’s own mind. Entirely in the second person, the lyrics read like part honest inventory taking, part pep talk.

A cup of two day old coffee
You’re feeling like yourself again
You’re still on your own
You’ve survived another night
In this dingy room with the same four walls

It’s a blistering stream-of-consciousness kick in the ass (“In a world that don’t owe you shit, you gotta think for yourself and fight every bit of that peace of mind”) that puts me on my ass every time it gets to about 75% of its runtime. The song has taken a turn for the optimistic, and that’s when the hammer drops lyrically: “This is my song to a friend that never needed anyone until now.”

Fuck, I love that. I find myself frequently cheerleading for my friends and their projects, and it’s always something I’m happy to do. And sometimes we could all use a little uplift to remind us who we are. But because we’re too close to our own bullshit to see the truth, that has to come from the outside. And we’re forever grateful when it does. This is a Top 5 all-time song for me.

Madonna – “Human Nature”

On the other end of the vibe spectrum, here’s Madonna at the height of her powers. Don’t believe me? Wikipedia’s entry on the song is like 3,000 words long and fascinating the whole way through. Here’s a choice excerpt:

“In 1992, Madonna released the coffee table book Sex and her fifth studio album Erotica, both being of explicit sexual content. She also starred in the erotic thriller Body of Evidence the next year. Madonna promoted Erotica with The Girlie Show World Tour, which was met with protests and boycott threats due to its explicit content. In March 1994, Madonna’s appearance on Late Show with David Letterman was highly criticized for her controversial behavior and usage of profanity. The release of her sexually explicit film, album and book, and the aggressive appearance on Letterman all made critics question Madonna as a sexual renegade. She faced strong negative publicity from critics and fans, who commented that ‘she had gone too far’ and that her career was over.”

So what does Madonna do in the face of that? She records this slinky R&B number that repeats “…and I’m not sorry” over and over again while in the music video she parades around in bondage gear doing S&M shit with a bunch of sexy ass dancers. That’s so fucking baller, I could die with a smile simply thinking about it. The puritanical scolds can eat shit. Madonna’s gonna Madonna.

We watched this recently with some friends, and we all pretty much agreed that in 1995 when this song came out as a single we felt like Madonna could do anything that would shock us, but not surprise us. There was no one like Madonna. She was the fucking coolest.

MakeWar – “Oh, Brother”

I discovered this song somewhere right around the beginning of the pandemic, and it was a real mental lifeline in those times. When I was in high school, I used to hear new music that would touch my soul and the feeling in my stomach was akin to the rush of new romantic love. This used to happen all the time to me, and it meant I would listen to songs and entire albums over and over and over again not seeming to be able to hear them enough times to satiate me.

I still find new music and get excited about it, but exceedingly rarely to that degree. One of the best and worst things about getting older is your feelings flatten out and the swings aren’t nearly as severe as they used to be. That’s great in terms of lows, but underwhelming when it comes to highs. I doubted my ability to experience those musical highs from 25 years ago as a boring, grown ass adult. There’s something to be said for continuing to be able to prove yourself wrong.

When I heard “Oh Brother,” its chord progressions and encouraging lyrical themes, I don’t know why but I was suddenly 15 years old again rediscovering punk rock for the first time. I was filled to the brim with a wave of good vibes and excitement. This song is a personal mainline of serotonin. Similar to “Too Close To See,” the narrator in this song lays out a roadmap of success for his little brother. It’s part cautionary tale, part optimistic plea to avoid the divergent traps that litter the road of following a dream. And every time a chorus feels like it’s coming, lead singer Jose Prieto changes the words and writes a new chapter in this beautiful, headbanging missive.

Lisa Loeb – “Stay (I Missed You)”

As beautiful a lovelorn ballad as there is. “Stay” is an incredible song because literally every single time I hear it, I’m sucked in by the gentle opening only to forget Loeb is going to punch up the tempo and the emotion again and again before it’s done. One critic notes, “Loeb rants and rails through much of the song with barely contained emotion only to pull back for some tenderness in the refrain. It’s an outstanding performance of an enduring song.” He further notes, “Considering all of the lines that start with ‘And,’ the song can seem like one big run-on sentence. Yet in the midst of all of the breathlessness, she focuses enough to spin out several couplets that really nail the topsy-turvy feeling that romantic mind games can play on you.”

Sometimes when I listen to this song (which is frequently – more on that in a second), I think Loeb is directly addressing her ex-lover and airing the cadre of confused emotions she’s gong through as soon as they float to the surface. She’s removed the valve from heart to mouth, so here it all comes rapid-fire, which has happened to all of us during moments of emotional upheaval. Then sometimes I think this is all in her head, and she’s simply trying to parse together why this relationship met its end. We just happen to be there while it’s happening. Either way, it’s a song and a video that transfixes me every time it comes on despite the fact that I haven’t had romantic strife of this flavor since probably 2004 at the absolute latest.

One morning before school I was the first one up for a change. So, as I went through my routine, I put YouTube on the television to watch music videos to accompany me. Grace came down the stairs, looked at the TV for a couple of seconds, and asked earnestly, “Is that Mom?” I know who’s going to be Mom’s favorite kid today. I told her that no, it wasn’t, but that she definitely bore a not insignificant resemblance to her. There’s a compliment that’ll make you ride high for a good long while. Just ask Kristin.

The Killers – “Mr. Brightside”

I’m not going to spend much time here needlessly reminding you of this song’s bona fides because chances are excellent that you’ve heard it at least once a week somewhere in your universe for the last 17 years straight. This song is, pardon the pun, unkillable. The album it came from is quintuple platinum, it has the highest rating available on iTunes, and, here’s a fun note, it’s spent 260 non-consecutive weeks (5 years in total) on the UK Singles Chart, a record.

And why all this success? The song is fucking hypnotic. An all-time riff and melody underscoring a paranoid rant about a cheating lover that we hear not just once, but twice in its entirety. That’s the whole song! That’s it! Just a big block of text delivered like a hyperactive 15 year-old that can barely keep his emotions together enough to get the story out. And then doing that exact same thing again with no changes! Wild. I dare you not to sing along when it comes on.

Shit, one time while driving Lyft I had a pool pickup where the first woman climbed in, kept drinking her bottle of flavored schnapps and had her earbuds WAY UP. A few blocks later the next woman got in and sat quietly in the seat behind me. Since drinker chick didn’t care and couldn’t hear anyway, when “Mr. Brightside” came on AltNation, I could hear the one behind me quietly singing along, so I turned the sumbitch up. I gradually crept it louder and louder until we were both singing along together probably a bit louder than a Lyft driver and his passenger were comfortable with.

The song ended, it was time to drop off drunky at her destination, and I had to basically yell at her to get her attention from the drunkenness and uncomfortably loud hip hop in her earbuds. She didn’t even recognize her own fucking house. Then I dropped off my ad hoc singing partner at a dispensary and thought about how that little singalong would probably be the highlight of my night.

It was. And I still can’t help but sing along to “Mr. Brightside” anytime it comes on by myself, with friends, or with strangers paying me a small wage to drop them off in my car.

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