Mark Ellis ponders what it takes to make a song a true Male Anthem, and lists the 10 he thinks fit the bill.
When Andrew Smiler put out his call for a male anthem, I immediately wondered if there was going to be a culling process, perhaps a vote, and then maybe a list. Maybe such a list is forthcoming, but God knows we’ve had more important things to deal with lately. In my rage for order, categorization, and ranking, after reading Andrew’s piece, plus all the comments and suggestions, and leaving some of my own, I couldn’t help but start thinking this through.
The codicil would be that this list can only be as relevant as the extent of my own experience and appreciation of popular music.
But somebody’s got to make a list, don’t they?
“The Boys Are Back in Town” Thin Lizzy:
An irresistible construct of signature dual guitars and an organic hook makes this the clear choice for Numero Uno. Boys night out with a good-natured vengeance, and expect to pay hell if you get in the way. A song made special by the marriage of positive male exuberance and the innate melancholy of late, great Phil Lynott’s vocal.
“I’m a Man” Various Artists
It was the Yardbird’s snarling proto-metal rendition that first seared my ears. Like many white kids caught up in the British Invasion I soon became educated about the roots of music that had grabbed me like an adolescent hormone. A big hit for songwriter Bo Diddley, the song went on to become one of the most covered in blues history, including a sexual chant invoked by Muddy Waters. All about getting the job done in an insistent and throbbing manner.
“Born to Be Wild” Steppenwolf
Yes, women are born this way too. But it’s instinctual to image a man riding this particular hog, into the sunset of his own design. Guitar-wise, adding the flavoring of the seventh on the fade-out E chord suggests this rider is headed for a place known most intimately in the masculine mind.
Doubtless legions of the fairer sex have gone along for the ride, but again, this southern anthem takes us on a uniquely male journey. Some men are born to wander. They move on, and the rhyme or reason of it can be as elusive as a cool, dry breeze though the Louisiana Bayou in August. A close-out solo so epic it became a conceptual euphemism for epic solos. When your car or Harley starts looking better to you than your woman, you may be ready to Free Bird the fuck out of Dodge.
“You’ve Got Another Thing Comin”” Judas Priest
Lead singer Rob Halford hangs maleness off this grinder like a sweaty leather jacket. The theme of self-realization, ambition unleashed, with a dangerous chip on the shoulder in the bargain. Accompanied by expert crunchiness and a soaring solo, the lyrics announce emancipation in no uncertain terms, and man’s man Halford is the man to deliver.
“Nowhere Man” The Beatles
It can’t all be highways and boisterous aggrandizement. No, Lennon’s beautifully straightforward call to conscience is not an anthem, but it should be. Melody is urgency here, and the message brings us face-to-face with a mirror. Men stumble, get lost, and become deluded. This Fab Four classic counsels empathy.
Never in the history of vinyl, tape, or plastic has a more literally and figuratively seminal track been recorded. Driven, reckless, and ultimately transformative, the story of smiting a mountain “with the palm of my hand” is told. Virility is the overarching mind trip here, surreally adept licks, scary-good, and still at the edges of guitardom’s known world.
“My Way” Frank Sinatra
By all accounts the Chairman of the Board didn’t care for this song. Thankfully, he recorded it anyway. Though plaintive at its core, endearing narcissism in the subtext brings a smile around the edges. Let’s face it, “I planned, each charted course” is classic guy stuff. A humorous and humanizing exploration of the male mind memorializing itself. Sing it again, Frank.
“Here I Go Again” Whitesnake
The mantra rises again. Chosen loneliness, the need to roll along, sever all ties, abandonment in the name of irredeemable wanderlust. These 80s hair-metalloids blended grandiose production with one of male-kinds most down-to-earth impulses, escape. The result is an evocative guitar/keyboard interlude, a show-boat solo, and repeating refrain that puts distance between the listener and everything that binds him.
“I’ve Gotta Be Me” Sammy Davis Junior
Nobody’s going to blame you if this world has got you down. Let Sammy take you into a less complicated past. You won’t be able to go back, but you won’t be disappointed. Never let them tell you that rugged individualism isn’t appealing in a man. Get back up, keep swinging. Sammy did, and he knocked this one out of the park.
What do you think of Mark Ellis’ Male Anthems list? Do you have a list of songs you think would make great Male Anthems? Leave them in the comments! A final list will be made in time for the start of the Summer Olympics!
Lead image courtesy of SteveNakatani