Without fail, whenever I am on the phone with my brothers and I happen to mention work, one of them will say, "Do you still work with that Harvey Danger guy?" I used to be able to say, "Actually I work with two Harvey Danger guys," because the late Aaron Huffman, Stranger art director circa 2006-2015, was the bass player in Harvey Danger. These are the only conversations in which my brothers validate my coolness.
A new piece of validation is out today: Rolling Stone lists the 100 best pop songs of 1998, and the number one song is Harvey Danger's hit. Whoa!
Take it away, Rolling Stone:
The Seattle punk boys in Harvey Danger came out of nowhere to score a monster hit with "Flagpole Sitta," an absolutely perfect song that sums up the agony and the irony of 1998. It's both deeply funny and serious – Sean Nelson skewers all the era's teen-angst cliches ("I wanna publish zines/And rage against machines") with a brutal wit that was years ahead of its time. "Flagpole Sitta" was a song everyone loved—it's the first music you'd play for a visiting Martian who asked what 1998 felt like—but it's also had a huge afterlife. Somebody in your neighborhood is karaoke-ing it right now.
Every detail in "Flagpole Sitta" is brilliant: Evan Sult's mammoth drum hook, Jeff Lin's noise guitar squiggles, the late Aaron Huffman's bass thud, the jolly "ba ba ba" back-up vocals, even the quizzical title. "I wish I had had the fucking sense to change the name of the song," Nelson once said. "'I'm Not Sick but I'm Not Well' is what everybody else calls it. If I had done that...we'd be having this conversation on my yacht." Yet that's part of the song's legend. You could hear it as satire, doing for grunge miserabilism what LCD Soundsystem's "Losing My Edge" did for DJ culture. But it's also full of genuine fury, which is why it's never felt dated. ("If you're bored then you're boring" sure predicted the hell out of the social-media era, didn't it?) "Flagpole Sitta" will always gleam with rock & roll heart – not sick, not well, just loud and alive. Salute!
Just to be clear, according to Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield, Sean's song is better than Alanis Morissette's "Thank U," Hole's "Celebrity Skin," Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn," Madonna's "Ray of Light," Cher's "Believe," and Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea."
While I was clicking around on YouTube just now, "Ray of Light" started playing, and my officemate, Sean Nelson, who wrote the best song of 1998, said, "I fucking love that song. I love that era of Madonna. 'Ray of Light' is for sure one of my two or three favorite Madonna songs." At which point an impromptu Q&A with commenced.
How does it feel to be better than Alanis Morissette's "Thank you India, thank you providence..." song?
That's my favorite song of hers.
How does it feel to be better than Hole's "Celebrity Skin"?
I never liked that album, or that song, very much. I was partial to the Live Through This era of Hole. I like screamy Hole. But I liked "Celebrity Skin" when Emily Nokes sang it at karaoke.
How does it feel that your song is better than Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn"?
I wish that were true.
How does it feel to be better than Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea"?
Well I've always been partial to their first album, but I have a lot of respect for them.
How does it feel that your song is better than "Believe" by Cher?
I'll believe it when I see it. [Laughs ironically, collects himself.] It's not my favorite Cher song. I do however believe in life after love.
So you hate gay people.
I don't hate them. I just reject their lifestyle. I wouldn't make a cake for them if that's what you're asking, now that my bigotry is protected by law. [Note to young readers: this is sarcasm.]
Who wants to watch some music videos?
As for "Flagpole Sitta"? Sean says: "No matter how many times you've heard that song, you'll never be as sick of it as we are."