Day 18: Scott Fryberger's Top 20 Favorite Reese Roper Songs
I suddenly realized how much I liked Five Iron Frenzy in 2003. They broke up later that year. On purpose? Probably, but I guess we'll never know. Despite their break-up, I began to really get into Five Iron and brave Saint Saturn, and then Guerilla Rodeo and Roper happened, and I picked up both of those albums and indulged in them. It was settled: Reeser Roper was my favorite singer and lyricist. And, though he has some competition these days, he still stands at the top. So, to add to Roger's favorite Anberlin songs, John's favorite Jars of Clay songs, Mark's favorite Steven Curtis Chapman songs...okay, you get it. Here are my top 20 favorite Reese Roper songs, in chronological order. (Note: though most of these songs were written by Roper, not all of them were. However, I included any song that featured Reese's vocals, whether it is from one of his bands or not) -- Scott Fryberger, JFH Staff Writer
1. "A Flowery Song" from Upbeats & Beatdowns (1995)
"What's good and bad flow from the hands of the God with the perfect plan."
A fun, bouncy song, perfect for a summertime ska playlist. Not only that, but it serves as a great reminder that sometimes life sucks, but God is always good. Then it uses what's sometimes known as "the common doxology" as its chorus: "Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below, praise Him above ye heavenly host, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." Plus, check that animal sounds interlude; let's not forget who we're dealing with.
2. "Blue Comb '78" from Our Newest Album Ever (1997)
"She threw my new blue comb out the window somewhere on I-70, Dad said 'I'm sorry, we can't go back,' we're never going back to get it."
A fan favorite from Five Iron's early days. This rocker tells the woeful tale of a boy and his comb. A comb that his possibly-evil sister threw out the window on the interstate. If you see Five Iron in concert at any time in the future and you take Reese a blue comb, he will laugh, because the joke definitely isn't old. Please do it.
3. "Every New Day" from Our Newest Album Ever (1997)
"Freedom means love without condition, without a beginning or an end, here's my heart, let it be forever Yours, only You can make every new day seem so new."
Though this list is merely in chronological order, this is hands down my favorite entry. I know I'm not the only one. The band ended all of their shows with this song from sometime around its release until their "final" show in 2003. As a matter of fact, the live version from The End Is Here is spectacular and served as a glorious send-off, with the band humbly lifting up the name of Jesus instead of the name of Five Iron Frenzy. Too wonderful for words.
4. "Dandelions" from Quantity Is Job #1 (1998)
"Fathomless Your endless mercy, weight I could not life, where do I fit in this puzzle, what good are these gifts?"
This song is really precious to me. As Christians, we've all struggled with the idea of not being good enough, especially compared to Jesus. I mean, what gift can we offer the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? But, like the little boy in this song, we can go running to Him with our gifts of love, which are just dandelions, and He will love them and put them on display in His vase. This is a song to listen to when you're feeling like the Lord doesn't love you. Because He does.
5. "The Phantom Mullet" from All the Hype That Money Can Buy (2000)
"Cuttin' it short on top, I want that for me, growin' it long in the back, so savage and so free."
As you'll see in this list, I'm a lot more partial to Reese's more down-to-Earth songs than the funny ones (though the funny songs are hysterically breathtaking), but "The Phantom Mullet" is so good that I just couldn't leave it off. A tribute to the dreaded hairstyle of days that we all wish were days gone by, this is a song that's perfect for "cruisin' downtown in your Camaro."
6. "World Without End" from All the Hype That Money Can Buy (2000)
"The very spark that burns the stars drew near to me today, the God of everything that is whispered in my ear that His love is boundless."
Another vertically-focused final song. "World Without End" is much faster, and a little heavier, than "Every New Day," but it sure is great. With perhaps the highest BPM of all of Five Iron's material, it's an awesome track to dance to in concert (or your living room...no judgment here). It's also just a good reflection on the wonder of God.
7. "Resistor" from So Far From Home (2000)
"Somewhere deep inside, beneath the cartilage and bone beats the battered heart of one little girl alone."
Growing up, I had two brothers, but no little sister. I always wanted a little sister. When I started going to church, I developed a bond with a couple of girls that felt a lot like a brother-sister kind of thing. This song always reminds me of them and helping them through difficult times in their lives.
8. "Under Bridges" from So Far From Home (2000)
"Yesterday while walking beneath an overpass, I saw the figure of Jesus standing barefoot on broken glass."
This song was probably very controversial when it was released. But I find it to be very glaringly based on the parable Jesus tells about "the least of these" in Matthew 25. One of brave Saint Saturn's most poignant songs, it's also a call remember people in their afflictions, because "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
9. "Far Far Away" from Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo (2001)
"See the figure on the shore, He speaks His words like plain men sing, His hands they still have holes in them, glory to the King."
Electric Boogaloo was a bit of a new road for Five Iron, as it displayed a heavier, more rock-based sound, while minimizing the ska. This songs features really interesting guitar riffs and a lovely bassline, while capturing the essence of what the disciples must have been feeling in the days between Jesus' death and resurrection.
10. "Farsighted" from Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo (2001)
"To all the farsighted, the sky's never been so clear, hello to the hopeful, goodbye to the full-of-fear."
An even better example of Five Iron's newfound rock sound, this punk rocker is even one of my favorite of all of the band's catalog. Reese sings about "the farsighted," or those who are living life with their eyes on eternity instead of the here and now.
11. "Estrella" from The Light of Things Hoped For (2003)
"Isn't it just like me to mourn his passing breath, when he will never suffer anymore."
This one's a tearjerker. Written for a friend who passed at a young age from an incurable disease, Reese sings about the faithfulness of his friend, who always believed in Jesus' grace and, quite frankly, couldn't wait to leave this world behind. This whole album was designed to encapsulate the feeling of darkness and isolation, as per its place in the overarching storyline, and this song really does the trick. And you gotta love that saw solo, right?
12. "Daylight" from The Light of Things Hoped For (2003)
"Desperate, I search the skies, aching for a spark, trembling in pitchest dark."
For the characters in this concept album, this is the breaking point. Stranded in space, behind the dark side of one of Saturn's moons, Reese mourns for his life that is surely lost. As the crew of the ship and mission control continually try to make contact with each other, to no avail, finally, they're successful, as the ship slowly begins to see the the light of the sun and the power comes back. In a moment that always - always - makes me break down in tears, Reese begins praising the Lord for never forgetting him and giving him life yet again. A perfect end to what is, quite frankly, a perfect album.
13. "It Was Beautiful," from The End Is Near (2003)
"Close to home in an ordinary room, we felt You there, it's my favorite memory, You're so beautiful to me."
Five Iron's original exit from the music world was classy. A farewell tour, a proper final album, and a recording of the entire final show...yeah, these guys did it right. And The End Is Near made every effort to put the final nail in the coffin, with many references to their ending being at hand. "It Was Beautiful" is essentially Reese's prayer of thanks for what God's done through Five Iron Frenzy, including all the places that they got to go and all the faces they got to see, all the while knowing God was with them the whole time.
14. "That's How The Story Ends," from The End Is Near (2003)
"Combat Chuck has passed away, his dying wish was never play that song again, and Kitty Doggy's put to sleep, the dinosaurs lay in a heap, as they slowly go extinct like me."
Five Iron's repertoire of silly songs is uncanny and hard to beat. With goofy tracks like "Combat Chuck," "Where Is Micah," and the "These Are Not My Pants" rock opera, Reese just had to honor them all one last time. Borrowing a little from Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven, Reese brings closure to many of our beloved silly songs.
15. "On Distant Shores," from The End Is Near (2003)
"With resilience unsurpassed, I clawed my way to You at last, and on my knees, I wept at Your feet, I finally believed that You still loved me."
I don't know if I can stress just how much I feel like "On Distant Shores" is the best song ever to close out a final album. It starts with a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, with Reese singing about the foolishness of working for what amounts to vanity (very Ecclesiastes-like). Then it switches to three full stanzas, building up and toward an epic conclusion that really ties everything together and sends the band out in glorious fashion. Not to mention, it borrows the last section from "Every New Day," putting the focus on Jesus' redeeming love one last time.
16. "Vendetta!," from Brace Yourself For The Mediocre (2004)
"Put your dentures in, sweet-talker, I just painted flames on my walker."
Reese is old. He knows it. Even in 2004, he had written plenty of songs about it. "Vendetta!" is a ridiculously-catchy rock track about old people rocking out at Barry Manilow shows and cutting coupons. The heavy metal-ish guitar solo and gang vocals chanting "All hell can't stop us now" near the end is just bonkers, but it makes for a very fun time. I honestly can't get enough of this song.
17. "You're Still The One," from Brace Yourself For The Mediocre (2004)
"Ain't nothing better, we beat the odds together, glad we didn't listen, look at what we might be missing."
Ha! Yeah, this is a Shania Twain cover. But as a sucker for cover songs (and Reese does cover songs well), this is one of my favorite tracks from Roper's lone album. Roper had planned to do a cover of a country song on each new album they put out; I'd really like to have heard what else they would've done.
18. "Matthias Replaces Judas," from No Sir, Nihilism Is Not Practical (2004)
"The price of atonement is more than I've found to offers as my plea."
I know what you're thinking: "Hey, that's a Showbread song. You're cheating!" But I counter by saying that including "Stabbing Art To Death" would be cheating, so THERE. Regardless, Reese's two verses on this song are the epitome of humility and worship, and I wouldn't feel right about leaving this one off of this list. We all know the story of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus, and while Josh Dies sings more directly from Judas' perspective, Reese seems to bring it back to himself, which we can relate to, as well, being people who have at some point in our lives betrayed Jesus. But he makes certain to point to His love in the end. This is another song I can't listen to without tearing up a bit.
19. "Blessed are the Land Mines," from Anti-Meridian (2008)
"To hate war is to hate us, if you love peace then you must love treason."
One of the few brave Saint Saturn songs to get the satirical treatment. The third entry in the bS2 trilogy was always planned to be about the crew's return to Earth, but I didn't expect it to be as dark as it was, talking about how awful the world can be sometimes. This song in particular deals with the nature of the portion of the Church that is pro-war, pro-gun, pro-violence, etc. Reese, with good reason, believes that this is anti-Jesus, and he uses his gift of satire to point out this out.
Also, this song rocks.
20. "Invictus," from Anti-Meridian (2008)
"Take this broken heart if it brings You praise, take this beaten soul, shivering hands I will raise."
Anti-Meridian was largely an album about frustration. But this final song, the last song brave Saint Saturn ever released, was simply Reese (and his wife Amy) calling out to God from their tired, worn out flesh, longing for the Creator to do with them what He would and knowing that, whatever it is He will do, it will be good. Another tear-jerker, this song, as well as a beautiful moment of worship.
Lots. I think when I finally narrowed it down to my favorite songs, it was about forty-something songs in length. It was difficult getting to twenty. I even considered another Showbread song that features Reese, "The Beginning" from Nervosa. What a lovely song.
Five Iron Frenzy:I think "Giants" from All the Hype That Money Can Buy was the last song I cut from my list (only to replace it with "Dandelions"). Cheese of Nazareth has a lot of funny stuff, but I'd be surprised to see a list like this with anything from its tracklist, except maybe "Kamikaze" or even "Rhubarb Pie." The medley from The End Is Here is perfection, and it pained me to leave it off. I'm also super fond of "Wizard Needs Food, Badly," "You Can't Handle This," "The Untimely Death of Brad," "Handbook for the Sellout," and "Suckerpunch."
You may notice I don't have anything from Engine of a Million Plots or Between Pavement and Stars. It's not that I don't like those albums, it's just that none of the songs really struck any chords the way the older stuff did. Though these albums do have great singles, like "God Hates Flags," "Into the Storm," "Against a Sea of Troubles," "So Far," "I Am Jack's Smirking Revenge," "Battle Dancing Unicorns With Glitter," "Into Your Veins," and "It Was A Dark and Stormy Night." Hmm...maybe I DO like that album quite a bit!
brave Saint Saturn: I think I knew this band before I knew Five Iron Frenzy. Dennis Culp is responsible for some terrific gems on these albums, and I hate to leave them out ("Fireworks," "Heart Still Beats, "Begin Again"), but I must! Thanks to my youth group, I was introduced to, and fell in love with the comic genius of, "Shadow of Def," but I discovered how great "Gloria" was as well. From The Light of Things Hoped For, "The Sun Also Rises," "Binary," and "Enamel" are wonderful songs I could listen to over and over, and Anti-Meridian has greatness in "Mercenary," "Starling," "When You Burn Too Fast," "Through Depths of Twilight," and "These Frail Hands." Plus, they have a non-album song called "Albatross" from their days as Astronaut that you can find floating around the web somewhere.
Guerilla Rodeo/Roper: I'm pairing Guerilla Rodeo and Roper together as they only had one EP and album, respectively. The Guerilla Rodeo EP featured three strong songs, with "Ride, Rope, and Destroy" and "Someday Buddy Someday" fighting for album highlight. I actually had a few more Roper songs on this list, initially, but cut them for some stronger cuts. But I still love "You're With Stupid," "1985," and "How Your Halo Fell."
This was such a fun list to come up with, and it was awesome to reflect on some songs that have touched my spirit over the years and that helped shape my taste in music. I hope you guys and gals enjoyed reading, and if Reese Roper is also your favorite singer, please let me know in the comments so we can pray for each other. Thanks everyone!