The 20 most bad-ass songs in my iTunes library

I'm a late-comer to the iTunes / iPod revolution — in spite of my buddy Bret telling me a decade ago how cool it was. What can I say? I been wrong before.

I totally get it now. I can think of a song, buy it in 20 seconds for $1, have it on my iPod in another 2 minutes and be driving down the road listening to it in my car 5 minutes after that. But I'm a slow-adopting, slow-moving technology outlaw. Most of my narrow, but deep, song library is still on CDs. I probably have more songs on vinyl than in my iTunes library.

But in the spirit of a totally unnecessary writing exercise, I got to thinking the other day (sparked by listening to "Copperhead Road," of course): "What are the most bad-ass songs in my iTunes collection?" Not the best, mind you. Not even my favorites. But the most bad-ass.

Here goes.

20.  "Ride Me Down Easy," Billy Joe Shaver, "Unshaven."
I'm a sucker for live albums, I guess. But I never understood why this album isn't worshipped by every music critic from El Paso to Atlanta.

19. "Casting my Lasso," Don Walser, "Texas Legend."
I always wanted to pair Don Walser with Monte Montgomery and have the big feller and the guitar wizard compete yodel-for-guitar solo. The goddamn ultimate call-and-response. It would have been awesome.

18. "The Ecstasy of the Gold," Ennio Morricone, "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly."
I loved the movie long before that Nike commercial — you know the one — but I'm not too proud to say the commercial moved me, too.

17. "The Randall Knife," Guy Clark, "Dublin Blues."
No, wait, I hate commercials. Fucking Taco Cabana commercials.

16. "We Can't Make it Here," James McMurtry, "Childish Things."
A protest song that absolutely should galvanize every American with truth that transcends politics … I mean if such a thing were possible for most people.

15. "My Cup Runneth Over," Johnny Bush, "Bush Country."
The other day on the radio I heard a Justin Trevino song where he apparently had invited his mentor, Johnny Bush, to sing backup. That's like asking Fred Astaire to be a backup dancer in your touring show. Like asking Daniel Day-Lewis to be an extra in your movie. Like asking Johnny Gimble to play second fiddle. This song is Johnny Bush at the height of his powers. But even all these years later, he still can't help but eclipse poor Justin.

14. Carmina Burana: "O Fortuna," London Philharmonic Orchestra
Seriously, listen to this. Then RIGHT after it's over, play ZZ Top's "I Gotsta Get Paid." It's meant to be.

13. "Wishing All These Old Things Were New," Merle Haggard, "If I Could Only Fly."
"Watching while some old friends do a line / Holding back the want to in my own addicted mind / Wishing it was a still a thing even I could do / Wishing all these old things were new."
Every would-be Nashville outlaw out there today might as well hand in their professionally battered cowboy hat right the fuck now. None of y'all can ever touch this level of bad-ass.

12. "For Whom The Bell Tolls," Metallica, "Ride The Lightning."
"Take a look to the sky / just before you die / it's the last time you will"
If you didn't do some air drums right after reading that line, you haven't heard the song. Or you're rolling your eyes at us stupid boys.

11. "The Messenger," Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Loco Gringo's Lament."
I bought a Rilke book. It hasn't changed my life yet. But I'm still holding out hope.

10. "King of Rock," Run-DMC, "King of Rock."
People my age, there's something: It surrounds us, flows through us, binds our galaxy together. No, not that "Star Wars" was the first significant movie we saw in the theater, but the fact that we grew up in the 1980s. You can take the most hard-core 1970s Cosmic Cowboy / Redneck Rock enthusiast (yours truly, for example) and play a scratchy cassette recording of "Rock Me Amadeus," and we CAN'T FUCKING TURN IT OFF. It's a sickness. The '80s are us. We are the '80s. It's incurable.

The other day I was walking through a hallway by the snack bar at work and I heard "Eye of the Tiger." I stopped. I looked. After awhile I found that somebody had left a small radio playing. But for a minute … for a minute I actually had to consider the idea that the "Eye of the Tiger" was playing in my head, completely unbidden, like some sort of "I Love the '80s Tourette's" or something. Jesus.

9. "Agua Dulce," Rusty Weir, "Don't It Make You Want to Dance."
Rusty Weir came out to Blaine's Picnic in San Angelo one year. He opened with an ambling verse of "Don't it Make You Wanna Dance" and stopped. He told us that was how he recorded the song originally. Then he said "this is how Jerry Jeff does it" and … we all learned a lot that day. San Angelo was a town on the rise with its own music scene, its own annual picnic and a growing sense of pride. But one old feller whom we hardly knew of could smile benignly at all that and then tell us, in so many words, "this is cute, but take a listen to how we invented this shit in Austin 30 years ago."

Rusty Weir blew us all away. Wish I could remember more of the show.

8. "Does my Ring Burn Your Finger," Solomon Burke, "Nashville."
For the No-Soul Simmons version of the song, take a listen to Charley Pride's "Does my Ring Hurt Your Finger." No, it's not the same song, just the same idea. Charley is beginning to suspect his sweetums isn't on the up-and-up. Solomon is beginning to feel guilty for burying that cheating bitch in a shallow grave.

7. "Copperhead Road," Steve Earle, "Just an American Boy."
I dig this version. Is it bad-ass in spite of the 2-minute mandolin intro? Or it it more bad-ass because of the mandolin? Remember what Ray Wylie Hubbard said about bluegrass: "In music, Ralph Stanley has killed more people than Ice-T."

6. "I Washed my Hands in Muddy Water," Stonewall Jackson, "Greatest Hits."
I'm always mystified by (and impressed by) the old-school country songs that stand the test of time. Ernest Tubb's "Waltz Across Texas" will be cool 1,000 years from now. "Too Old to Cut the Mustard" was cornball crap when he cut it. Did he know at the time? Stonewall cut "I Washed my Hands …" in 1965. Which is damn near a half-century ago. And it's still cooler than most anything you'll hear today.

5. "The Highland Street Incident," Todd Snider, "The Devil You Know."
So Todd Snider gets mugged outside a bar. He's having trouble writing a song about it … until he decides to write from the perspective of the hoodlums. I hate to compare eras. There's not going to be another Johnny Cash, not another Willie or Kris. But if he lives that long, I think Todd Snider is going to be one hell of an old man artist, with a catalog of impossibly original and significant songs. I worry about the guy, though. I hear success is hard to handle.

4. "Dead Flowers," Townes Van Zandt, "Abnormal."
OK, confession time. When I got to be friends with Bret, he set about improving my knowledge of classic rock, which was so pitiful that I can hardly admit to it. He was with me when I heard Townes do "Dead Flowers" the first time and I remarked that it was a hell of a Van Zandt song. He never stopped giving me shit over that. Of course it's a Rolling Stones original. And I've learned enough about the Stones to admit that they are one of the world's greatest rock and roll institutions (and if you listen to "Country Honk," you get the idea they could have been a great country band). And I was a fool for not knowing about them, even if I came of age in the '80s when they were pretty low-flying.

Still, Bret never understood properly, that when I said this was a great Townes song, I was paying the Stones the highest compliment I could, in terms of songwriting. Like Billy Joe Shaver doing an incredibly rare cover of Haggard's "Rambling Fever," I believe that Townes Van Zandt was a natural fit for "Dead Flowers."

3. Lonesome, On'ry and Mean," Waylon Jennings, "Greatest Hits"
This song swaggers through my iTunes library liked a coked-up West Texan on a three-bender. Balls like watermelons. '80s songs scatter like spooked deer. Shannon's songs get the vapors. Even the songs on this list, give or take one or two, still give this song a wary eye and a wide berth.

2. "Dagger Through The Heart," Sinead O'Connor, "Just Because I'm a Woman."
OK, this takes a little explanation. This song was on one of Shannon's CDs, a Dolly Parton tribute CD. I don't listen to Sinead O'Connor on a regular basis, but a good song is a good song. Dolly is a bit of a vamp for my taste, but you'd be a damn fool to confuse that with her songwriting skills, which are as sharp as a skinnin' knife.

Dolly's version, is of course, all Dolly. Full of warbling and hand-wringing. It's the song of a woman who is fixin' to pack up to go to mama's and will take some convincing to come back to her no-good husband. Sinead O'Connor's version feels completely different. There's a tinge of madness to her breathlessness. You can't tell whether it's going to be homicide or suicide, but there's a pretty fair chance that someone is getting their ass stabbed to death tonight.

1. "Hurt," Johnny Cash, "American IV: The Man Comes Around."
I hate to be laughed at. After that I hate to lose. After that, I hate to be predictable. But, yeah … Johnny Cash, "Hurt," that video ,,, what the hell are you going to say?