Top Ten Songs by Cake

The California-based rock band Cake has been providing sarcastic, brass fueled music to a strong cult following since their 1994 debut, “Motorcade of Generosity.” While Cake’s latest album received a cool reception from critics, Cake continues to tour regularly around the United States to small but captive groups of fans. Lead singer John McCrea provides a steady voice over the sound of trumpets and guitars, making for an interesting mixture of cynical lyrics with smooth backing music. Having listened to Cake since high school, the following list is based on a combination of the number of times I estimated I listened to each of these songs and how well the song is put together.

1. Frank Sinatra- “Frank Sinatra” is the best Cake song mostly because it epitomizes what is good about the band. The song is a mixture of creative (albeit nonsensical) lyrics, inventive use of electronic and acoustic instruments, and a general disregard for the current trend toward sampling in popular music. Cake paves their own way with music like “Frank Sinatra,” which is probably not the most popular song in their catalog but certainly is the best.

2. You Turn the Screws- The best song off the album “Prolonging the Magic,” the band’s more liberal tendencies come out in this song about not conforming to corporate culture. This was one of many Cake songs that I listened to constantly in my dorm room in college only a few years ago and its place near the top of my list is a confession of my formerly socialist ways. Nonetheless, a well-constructed song that features an echoing vocals and a strong guitar accompaniment.

3. Daria- “Daria” is a consistent song of love lost, with John McCrea playing the role of scorned boyfriend aching to return to a better past. “Daria” is probably one of the more popular songs by Cake and for good reason, as it is one of the better vocal performances by McCrea.

4. Sheeps go to Heaven- This song is more notable for its great music video, which features the use of clay and animation to bring to life little sheeps, goats, and people to the sounds of John McCrea’s hilarious lyrics. This was one of my favorite songs in college and whenever I hear it on a mixed CD, I put it on repeat because it is just a goofy song. This one is probably a favorite only among Cake fans because it is so outlandish, perhaps too much so to be enjoyed by the great mass of music consumers.

5. The Distance- There is nothing better than a song that can connect euphemistically car racing and having sex and Cake does it in a way that is somehow inoffensive. This song could be higher on this list, but I think I have a reaction to hearing this song excessively during my high school years and consider it a song that is good but not one I regularly listen to. However, I recommend it as a primer for Cake’s musical style and lyrical talent.

6. Satan is my Motor- “Satan is my Motor” is a good song about a man who is driven by amoral behavior and John McCrea makes it sound almost virtuous not to care much about what others think. The electric guitar performances on this track are solid and I particularly enjoyed this song in my misspent youth. I recommend it as part of any good mixed CD for high school or college students who are trying to exorcize their angst.

7. Sad Songs and Waltzes- Cake shows off their subtle country rock influences in “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” which offers the band’s trademark creativity in the form of swaying trumpets and harmonicas. “Sad Songs and Waltzes” mourns the loss of a simpler form of music and John McCrea does his best to squeeze every last syllable out of each word with his laid back vocal style.

8. Cool Blue Reason- “Cool Blue Reason” is one of Cake’s darker songs, not because of its lyrics but because it seems to utilize forceful instrumentals and haunting lyrics by John McCrea. I really like “Cool Blue Reason” because it seems to be something different from a band that can be accused of having songs that sound a bit too similar to warrant an entire album. This song seems to be their opportunity to break free from their own constraints and experiment with a more mature brand of music.

9. I Will Survive- “I Will Survive” is a cover of the 1970s hit by Gloria Gaynor and turns a disco hit into a toned down rock song. McCrea’s voice is an interesting vessel for Gaynor’s song, dripping with sarcasm and aimed at telling the story of staying strong after a failed relationship. In high school, I remember singing “I Will Survive” at a regular karaoke event before my friend’s band played and people were surprised that I chose the Cake version over the Gloria Gaynor version. It is a good song, even though I am usually averse to promoting covers.

10. The Guitar Man- Needless to say, “I Will Survive” and “The Guitar Man” suffer from being covers of old hits, not because Cake’s performance of them is sub par. Bread’s “The Guitar Man” is a staple of oldies stations across the United States and Cake’s version of it is more faithful than its version of “I Will Survive.” This has more to do with the easy translation of the song to Cake’s natural style than it does with staunch creative principles preventing modification of the song. While this is a good version of “The Guitar Man,” Cake’s other popular cover is much more innovative and better performed. Nonetheless, “The Guitar Man” warrants a listen by anyone curious in listening to a new take on an old song.

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