I’ve been wanting to start a section like this one for some time on The Tune, and what better time to do it than on a lazy Sunday? Even though The Tune is mostly focused on the freshest music out there, I — like most music fans — always come back to the songs that I love, many of which are widely considered the Best Songs Ever. However, it’d be rather redundant and pointless merely to highlight songs like “Stairway to Heaven,” “Hotel California,” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Yes, they’re all among the best songs ever written — but everyone knows that.
For awhile I ran a section for a similar idea called DeTune, wherein I would highlight songs more than 2 years old. That series has fallen to the wayside in recent months, however, and some of those articles may even end up being re-posted within this new series, which I’ve decided to simply call Best Songs Ever. On a weekly basis, I’ll post new articles on songs that are not merely my favorite songs, but songs that I truly believe are among the best ever written.
The first entry into this new series is the song that inspired it, an amazing tune by Denver-based conscientious hip-hop group Flobots. Released in 2007, “Handlebars” went on to chart in Canada (#63), New Zealand (#26), the U.K. (#14!), and the U.S. (#37); it also reached #3 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart behind the earworm of a hook. ”I can ride my bike with no handlebars/ No handlebars, no handlebars,” sing Flobots, and to many who didn’t listen to the song’s full lyrics, it may have merely sounded like an annoying, childish pop-rap song.
In fact, that’s what I thought of it until I stumbled across the music video. The video, which you can see below, follows the song’s escalating lyrics with a paint-by-numbers style of animation that enhances the emotional impact of the song. Two friends grow up side by side, riding their bikes together (with no handlebars), but when their roads diverge, one becomes a famed politican — and eventually a dictator — while the other protests the violence and hegemony of the new government. The ending, which I won’t tell you, is heartbreaking and perfect. I now consider “Handlebars” to be my favorite music video of all-time.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with a quote from the songwriter, MC Jonny 5 (a.k.a Jamie Laurie), on the meaning behind “Handlebars”:
The song is about the idea that we have so much incredible potential as human beings to be destructive or to be creative. And it’s tragic to me that the appetite for military innovation is endless, but when it comes to taking on a project like ending world hunger, it’s seen as outlandish. It’s not treated with the same seriousness. The lyrics came to me as I was riding a bike home from work with my hands in the air — I had just learned how to do it — and I felt triumphant, but at the same time, I knew there were people at that moment who were being bombed by our own country. And I thought that was incredibly powerful. We have these little moments of creativity, these bursts of innovation, and every time that happens, that innovation is used to oppress and destroy people. So it struck me as beautiful and tragic at the same time.
Video: Flobots – “Handlebars”