My favorite song from Come Away With Me by Norah Jones is the second track, right after the hit “Don’t Know Why” that you heard at least 1000 times during 2002, especially if you went into a Starbucks or a book store.1To be clear, I love “Don’t Know Why,” but it suffered the same fate of over-exposure as other great songs like “Hey Ya” and “Get Lucky.” It’s called “Seven Years”, and it’s the first song in this at-home live performance, one of many that Jones has been posting to YouTube during the pandemic.
Buying that album stands out as a significant personal milestone for me, oddly enough. As I remember it, I’d turned 30 and was barreling towards 31, I felt like I’d lost control of how my life was going, and I was having a crisis in a Borders book store in San Rafael, CA. Buying this album felt like I would finally be admitting that I was nothing more than a suburban, thirty-something white guy who’d drive his Volkswagen Jetta to a Borders to get middle-of-the-road singer-songwriter music that appeared on Starbucks playlists. And as I remember it — which is probably inaccurate but is true to the spirit of it — the song “Seven Years” came over the store’s audio system, and it was profoundly calming. No, I was never going to be cool, but who cares?2And no matter how popular Come Away With Me may be, it’s still extremely underrated.
Going back to find it tonight, I was surprised that it was the second track on the album. That lyric “a little girl with nothing wrong, and she’s all alone” is such a perfect lyric in such a simple, confident song, that I would’ve thought it’s something you build up to over the course of a set list.
And I thought it’d be mildly interesting to find other cases where the strongest song on the album (or at least my favorite) is on track two. Here’s what I found from my own library, instead of working on more important things I should be doing tonight:
- “Dirty Back Road” by The B-52s, the second track on Wild Planet
- “Cannonball” by The Breeders, on Last Splash
- “Wait in the Car” by The Breeders, on All Nerve
- “Song 2” (duh) by Blur on Blur
- “The Distance” by Cake on Fashion Nugget
- “Daddy’s Car” by The Cardigans on Life
- “I Am Stretched on Your Grave” by Sinéad O’Connor on I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
- “Cruel” by St. Vincent on Strange Mercy
- “Love is Stronger Than Death” by The The on Dusk
- “Overkill” by Men at Work on Cargo
- “The Rain Song” by Led Zeppelin on Houses of the Holy
- “Hounds of Love” by Kate Bush on Hounds of Love
- “Photograph” by Def Leppard on Pyromania
- “We Used To Be Friends” by The Dandy Warhols on Welcome to the Monkey House
- “Walking on Broken Glass” by Annie Lennox on Diva
Taken all together, this shows… well, not much of anything. (I did only promise “mildly interesting,” after all). Sometimes it’s an artist using track one as an intro to build up to their strongest track. Sometimes it’s a song that probably wouldn’t be a pop hit, but is still strong enough to put up front. Sometimes, I just like a song better than the artist or producer did.
The one artist in my library who seems to do it (somewhat) consistently is Indigo Girls. So many of my favorites — “Secure Yourself,” “Galileo,” “Get Out the Map,” and “Crazy Game” — are the second track on their album. And so is “Least Complicated” from Swamp Ophelia, which is kind of thematically perfect: for my entire adult life, they’ve been making songs to remind me that it’s okay not to have everything figured out, and to remind me that I’ve never been cool. (And I don’t need to be).