As someone who has written critically about music and typically tries to objectively evaluate whether a song or album is “good,” it is hard for me to reject my own desire to be fair as to quality and just be subjective about what I like. To disregard a song’s significance in its time or our culture, it’s lyrical genius or creative structure and simply decide if I like it, feels like I’m cheating something, somehow. But, a few weeks back as I jumped around my iTunes catalog out of boredom (probably in my attempt to avoid watching some Bravo television show at a time I’ve relinquished the powers of the remote) I wondered if I could create a list of my favorite 100 tracks of all time (and by all time, I really mean of my life). In my 39 years of living, what songs resonate with me more than others? It could be because of when I heard it, an artist’s genius or simply because there is a killer beat under it.
As I went from artist to artist, alphabetically, through all the songs I currently have in my digital catalog, I started off just dragging and dropping any potential contender. It could be as tacky as Jesus Jones (no point reduction for one hit wonders) or as obvious as U2 (of which you’ll find a number of songs). I can’t claim this to be a “definitive” list, as it just includes what I have on this 13″ machine before me, but it I’m confident it represents my tastes and preferences approximately 96.32% accurately. Of course, with any such list, what is number 62 today could easily be 87 or 37 on another day, but I’ve tried to let it marinate just enough to try to get things close enough that I feel good about it.
The list began with 458 entries. It took me quite a few visits and individual battles to narrow it down – first to about 250, then slowly chipped away to get it down to 100. Before I go through the list, I feel it’s important to remind you that this is NOT the BEST 100 songs of all time, or even my lifetime, but simply my FAVORITE 100 songs. It may seem like a fine line, but that fine line is very important to differentiate. Knowing a song is objectively better than a song I love does not matter on this list. I just matters if I love it. So just because this list only contains one Beatles song (and yes it does, and I doubt it’s one you’d expect) and multiple INXS songs does not mean that I think that INXS is a better or more important band, it simply means that INXS kicks ass to me and on most given days I’m more likely to pop on KICK than the White Album. It won’t take long for you to notice there’s a certain sound and generation of music that seems to strike a chord with me (literally). I’m sure this is true of anyone, but seeing it shape up that way was quite interesting. It was almost like going through all the noise that lingers in my brain and finding a path through it, a sonic map that guides me.
Without further ado, here it is:
- Lucky Man – The Verve, Urban Hymns. Over the years since its release Urban Hymns has done the unthinkable, it has overtaken The Joshua Tree as my favorite album of all-time.
For those that knew me during my sophomore year of college and, well, to now, know that I can’t go for more than a few months without Urban Hymns finding its way back into my car or transmitted through my headphones while watching the Kings on a weekday night. Though many think of this album or The Verve, in general, as a one hit wonder, it is far from the truth. Urban Hymns not only has an array of hits, but it’s one of very few albums that takes you through a full emotional journey. From Bittersweet Symphony, a song of awakening threaded with frustration and anger as one man, Richard Ashcroft, struggles to overcome the trappings of rockstardom to the sounds of a newborn child at the end of Velvet Morning representing a new beginning. The turning point, Lucky Man, is a song of awakening, self reflection and hope. It transcends class and reminds the listener that “happiness, more or less, it’s just a change in me, something in my liberty,” all within our own control and perspective.
- With or Without You – U2, The Joshua Tree. There are those out there that would argue that U2’s pinnacle is One, but I disagree. To this day when With Or Without You comes on the radio I must pause and listen. It is the tune that turned me onto U2 as a youngan and I shall remain loyal to its beauty.
- The Story – Brandi Carlile, The Story. If you aren’t a fan of Brandi Carlile, it’s time you give her a listen. Her voice is one of the most emotive, beautiful voices out there and The Story is the perfect conduit. It has a beautiful, melodic rise that leads into an array of guitars and drums and a heartbreaking and love-affirming howl that only Carlile can pull off.
- Wonderwall – Oasis, What’s the Story Morning Glory. Classic, deal with it and I rare song that I can almost play and sing along with on the guitar.
- One – U2, Achtung Baby. And here lies One. See, not far behind, and as you’ll see, U2 is peppered throughout my list. One is as high as it is, not just because of it’s beauty but because of its significance to the band as being the song that kept the group together in Achtung Baby’s challenging infancy.
- We’re In This Together Now – Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s until I saw the genius of Trent Reznor. Prior to that NIN was just a band whose fame was due to an image of fear and destruction. That, of course, was because I was ignorant and unwilling to listen to what they were saying and hadn’t yet opened myself up to the sounds of electronically driven music. It was while I was interning at Universal Music during college that my eyes were opened and it was The Fragile, and We’re In This Together Now, specifically, that changed the way I hear (or try to hear) music that is new and different to me. This track, laced with an aggressive beat and sounds that feel more like the tearing down of love and life is, to me, is quite the opposite. Love, in reality, can sometimes be so powerful and aching that it is almost frustrating and this song is the apex of the bond that two people can share. So strong that it survives the challenges of life and the difficulties of two individuals sharing something stronger than themselves. It is the level above With Or Without You on the emotional scale, but I believe succeeds nearly as well.
- Freedom 90 – George Michael, Listen Without Prejudice, Volume 1. In the process of the completion of this post, George Michael passed away. His solo music, especially Listen Without Prejudice, Volume 1, came along at a formative time in my youth when I started to see and understand what it was like to be a bit older. Granted, I was still in junior high when Freedom came along, and I didn’t grasp the full significance of the song or what it was about, I felt like I was growing up with George as tried to transition from sex symbol to respected artist and later to an openly gay artist. Rest In Peace George.
- Bitter Sweet Symphony – The Verve, Urban Hymns. I still recall the very first time I heard this song. It was sophomore year of college in the dorms, up late, half awake, tiny TV/VCR locked in on a little channel called MTV when it used to play music. I believe it was on 120 Minutes with Matt Pinfield. While many will chalk this song up to a one hit wonder, or overexposed because of Nike, or a fraud because it ended up being attributed to The Rolling Stones because of a sample Ashcroft and Co. pulled, I argue this song is genius and the album, Urban Hymns, is a classic on par with any of its contemporary counterparts.
- Pride (In The Name of Love) – U2, The Unforgettable Fire. U2, Martin Luther King, Jr. and America. It is an anthem that was and continues to be important in our current political and cultural landscape.
- Thief – Our Lady Peace, Happiness…Is Not A Fish You Can Catch. I remember seeing this video years ago when I was living in Cleveland. It was on MuchMusic, Canada’s alternative to that old American music channel MTV. There was just something about the song and video that struck me and has stayed with me all these years. There’s something both haunting and hopeful about it. I can’t say I’ve ever tried to really dissect the lyrics to see if there is any logic to it, but sometimes things just make sense even if you don’t know what they mean. Know what I mean? 1/4 UPDATE: Out of curiosity, I Googled the meaning of this song, and learned that it’s a bout a young Canadian girl who is dying of a brain tumor. If you look at the lyrics, the song becomes that much more powerful.
- You Can’t Always Get What You Want – Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed. No explanation needed.
- In Your Eyes – Peter Gabriel, So. It’s no fluke that Lloyd Dobler played this song to woo Diane Court. It worked then and it would still work now (okay, technically it didn’t work when he played it, but it clearly pained her).
- Purple Rain – Prince, Purple Rain. RIP Prince.
- Just Like Heaven – The Cure, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. Classic Cure track that always puts me in a good mood.
- The Blower’s Daughter – Damien Rice, O. It is one of the few songs on this list that I can only listen to on occasion. Between this and Cannonball, O has to be one of the saddest and most beautiful albums of the last twenty some-odd years.
- The Freshman – The Verve Pipe, Villains. “When I was young I knew everything.”
- Imagine – John Lennon, Imagine. If this were a list of most important songs of all-time, Imagine would be sitting at the top. Should be required listening to everyone. Period.
- Use Somebody – Kings of Leon, Only By The Night
- I Will Remember You – Sarah McLachlan, Mirrorball (originally from The Brothers McMullen Soundtrack). Heartbreakingly beautifully arresting to this day.
- Small Town (Acoustic) – John Mellencamp, Wild Night CD Single. In all the hustle and bustle of growing older and trying to make money, meet expectations and build a life, sometimes it’s good to be reminded that success isn’t just about the things we own, but the things we have. The original Small Town is a great song, but slowed down and acoustic, the song takes on a maturity that matches its subject matter perfectly.
- Chasing Cars – Snow Patrol, Eyes Open. I know that a lot of people would probably say Snow Patrol is just another Brit-Pop band, but I beg to differ. First off, they’re Irish, and that term may not go over so well with them. Secondly, Gary Lightbody is no lightweight when it comes to lyrics and melody. Whether it’s a Snow Patrol classic like Chasing Cars or a track from Tired Pony or even a song co-written and performed with Taylor Swift (The Last Time), he and his crew are more than just a run of the mill hit-churning factory.
- Slide Away – Michael Hutchence, Michael Hutchence. Though not an INXS song, it has the darkness of Devil Inside, but with a much more sincere, painful and telling story of escape. Aided by Bono and released just before Hutchence’s untimely death, it is one of the most haunting songs I’ve heard. As a side note, as a fan of INXS’s, hearing of his death had a greater impact on me than Kurt Cobain.
- Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds, The Breakfast Club. Let me be your Judd Nelson and you can be my Molly Ringwald.
- Closing Time – Semisonic, Feeling Strangely Fine. I read recently (as in within a couple years) that this song is not about a bar closing, but actually about a child being born into the world. I’m not sure if that is some weird inside joke by Dan Wilson, but either way this song hasn’t lost its luster since it was released back in 1998 (wow, almost 20 years ago…I somehow wasn’t ready for that).
- Man In The Mirror – Michael Jackson, Bad. I’m amazed this song hasn’t been covered over and over and over again. Lyrically, it’s on par with the finest works of the rock era. Michael Jackson truly was a brilliant artist even if he was a troubled man.
- High And Dry – Radiohead, The Bends. I have always been a greater fan of pre-Okay Computer more than the the post work. While they have proven to be innovators, they were even greater rockers in my opinion.
- More Than Words – Extreme, Extreme II: Pornograffitti. A song that helped define the meaning of love to an impressionable pre-teen.
- Take On Me – a-Ha, Headlines and Deadlines (Greatest Hits). Easily one of the greatest music videos of all-time and it still holds up after all these years.
- Don’t Panic – Coldplay, Parachutes. The first song of Coldplay’s debut and one that I still go to for optimism when needed. We DO live in a beautiful world. Let us not forget that as we destroy it.
- Better Man – Pearl Jam, Vitalogy. I’ve learned over time that I’m a great fan of the softer side of the Jam and there’s no better slow Jam than Better Man.
- Lose Yourself – Eminem, 8 Mile. A rare hip-hop tune to make my list. I wish I could be more original, but admittedly, my hip-hop tastes are not so sophisticated. That said, Lose Yourself is an anthem that whenever it comes on, especially at the gym, I’m instantly inspired.
- Blood For Wild Blood – Razorlight, Slipway Fires.
For a mostly unknown band in the US and an album that was panned in the UK where Razorlight was on the verge of becoming the “next thing” before they dismantled, I find Blood for Wild Blood to be a simple and powerful example of musical minimalism. Lead singer Johnny Borrell is just the right mix of arrogant and eccentric (as shown in his solo work) and reminds of a young Mich Jagger in both appearance and sound.
- Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley, Grace. Leonard Cohen’s genius + Jeff Buckley’s voice and tragic untimely death = painfully brilliant.
- Fix You – Coldplay, X&Y. When Coldplay goes back to their roots and step off the dance floor they are at their finest. Fix You is in the mold of songs off of Rush Of Blood To The Head (their finest album to date) but with a few more years of life experience behind it.
- So Alive – Ryan Adams, Rock N Roll. I’ve heard that Adams made Rock N Roll as a sort of joke to prove that he could write a conventional pop rock album. Not sure if that’s true, but I guess the joke’s on me – it’s my favorite album of his. So Alive is a cut above the rest with its energy and 80’s-esque vocals and melody.
- What’s Up – 4 Non Blondes, Bigger, Better, Faster, More! When this song came out back in 1992 when I was finishing off my freshman year of high school, 25 years old seemed like forever away. Now it seems like forever ago and the song has proven itself truer each year – my life is still trying to get up that great big hill of hope for a destination.
- 6th Avenue Heartache – The Wallflowers, Bringing Down The Horse. How The Wallflowers didn’t hold up over the test of time commercially is mind boggling, but if Bringing Down The Horse is your major accomplishment, you’ve done okay…even as a Dylan.
- Pressure Suit – Aqualung, Memory Man. Remember Aqualung from about 15 years ago? You probably didn’t listen to Memory Man, but you should. It’s chalk full of gems in the vein of Keane or Coldplay but with a calm sincerity.
- Oil And Water – Incubus, Light Grenades. Hey, sometimes love takes some work. Opposites attract after all, right?
- Goodnight Elisabeth – Counting Crows, Recovering The Satellites. Counting Crows were always best stripped down and in pain and Goodnight Elisabeth is the best of both worlds.
- Crystal Village – Pete Yorn, Day I Forgot. Pete is one of my favorite artists, but like a great team, it’s hard to pick out one track that is a favorite. However, whenever I get in a Yorn mode, Crystal Village seems to be the first I gravitate towards. Oddly, it’s probably off my least favorite of his albums to date, Day I Forgot.
- Such Great Heights – The Postal Service, Give Up
- Electric Feel – MGMT, Oracular Spectacular
- Hunger Strike – Temple Of The Dog, Temple Of The Dog. Despite being a teenager of the grunge era, I have never been a huge fan of the bands that have come out of that time.While I enjoy Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and the like, they fall somewhere in the mid range of my style of music. That said, the super-grunge group Temple of The Dog’s single album is a classic with tracks that are nearly impossible not to get out of your head once they’ve implanted. Hunger Strike gets a slight nod over Say Hello To Heaven because I don’t mind stealing bread and I often am going hungry.
- Pink House – John Mellencamp, Uh Huh.
I have a fond place in my heart for early 80’s Cougar. It reminds me of trips to baseball games out of town, driving with my dad in his old CRX. For some reason it seems like they were all to Yuba City where we’d play on a field behind the high school’s football stadium where you could read “Home of the Honkers” from the dugout. And now that I’m a fully grown adult man, Johnny Cougar’s music is a reminder to me of what’s important in life and that the simple life ain’t so bad.
- Most Of The Time – Bob Dylan, Oh Mercy. Most people would scoff at me putting Most Of The Time above, well, most any other classic Dylan track, but as a fan of High Fidelity, this song is more than itself, it’s about Rob and Laura finding love again.
- This Modern Love – Bloc Party, Silent Alarm
- Never Let Me Down Again – Depeche Mode, Music For The Masses. It was a challenge picking a favorite Mode song, but if a beat mysteriously finds its way into my head, it’s almost always the opening to Never Let Me Down Again.
- Walk On (Single Version) – U2, 7. When some of the production gloss is taken away, this song feels like something from the early years of U2 and reminds, again, the band’s genius.
- You Will Leave A Mark – A Silent Film, The City That Sleeps
- Breathe Me – Sia, Colour The Small One.
- History – The Verve, A Northern Soul. Number 3 for The Verve, but don’t worry, it’s not the last track to make an appearance on the list.
- Hey Ya! – Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.
- Patience – Guns N Roses, G N ‘R Lies. I am an avid whistler. ‘Nuff said.
- Right Here, Right Now – Jesus Jones, Doubt. “Watching the world wake up from history” has never felt more true than it does in these current political times. This song may be a one hit wonder and may seem out of place on any top 100 list, but whenever I hear it I just can’t help but listen.
- Debra – Beck, Midnight Vultures. “I met you at JCPenney. I think your name tag said “Jenny.” I couldn’t step to you with a fresh pack of gum. But somehow I knew, you were looking for some, oh no.” Beck is a genius and a must-buy when he releases something new. His albums are great beginning to end, so it’s next to impossible for me to say that one is a favorite more than others, but Debra is so damn fun and different.
- Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes, Elephant
- Hamburg Song – Keane, Under The Iron Sea. Iron Sea is an underappreciated album. Hamburg, Try Again, Bad Dream are all gorgeous ephereal songs of introspection, love and loneliness.
- Not Enough Time – INXS, Welcome To Wherever You Are. An odd choice to most probably, since KICK is such a classic album and has such definitive hits. However, Not Enough Time struck at a time when I was entering my teenage years and is slight melodic departure from many of INXS’s other hits. And there’s something about any song with a marching drum beat, even if minute, that appeals to me.
- Electrical Storm (William Orbit Mix) – U2, The Best of 1990-2000.
A relatively lesser appreciated U2 track, but it’s one that sticks with me. I’m not always in a U2 mood, but when it comes I’m reminded of all their amazing tunes. Say what you will about them, but they will go down as one of the greatest and most important rock bands in history. Don’t let the fact that they have remained commercially and politically relevant undermine their quality.
- How Do U Want It – Tupac, All Eyez On Me
- This Time Of Year (Live) – Better Than Ezra, Death Valley. This song is the epitome of fall and the beginning of something new. It also reminds me of being 15 and coming home after baseball practice and sitting on our home’s copper colored carpet and watching an ESPN year in review where I first heard the song played as that year’s highlights were shown to it.
- Summer of ’69 – Bryan Adams, Reckless. You know that this song isn’t really about the summer of 1969, right? Yep, it’s about what you think it’s about…doesn’t that make it just a bit more interesting, too?
- Take Me Out – Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand. Take Me Out is a brilliant track and each time I hear it am reminded of how clever it is. How many songs are made up of two separate, but equally catchy pieces that feel so different yet live together in such harmony.
- Right Now – Van Halen, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge
- Love is Noise – The Verve, Forth. And the fourth The Verve song on the list. How appropriate.
- 99 Problems (Gray Mix) – Jay Z/DangerMouse, Jay Z vs. The Beatles. 99 Problems is a solid track on its own, but DangerMouse incorporating the frenetic Helter Skelter takes its urgency up a notch.
- Criminal – Fiona Apple, Tidal. Its dark, devious nature that makes it feel unique and powerful.
- Need You Tonight – INXS, KICK. Even better with a side of Mediate immediately following.
- Love Lockdown – Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak.
Despite his best efforts to distance me from his music, 808s & Heartbreak is a sweet cocktail of hip hop, electronic and rock. Love Lockdown is the apex of the album with its catchy marching drum-esque beat embedded throughout the track.
- Harbour Lights (Acoustic) – A Silent Film, The Sycamore Tapes. “You and I know I had to leave and the harbour lights I cannot see but you were my rock, never my stepping stone.”
- Open Your Eyes – Snow Patrol, Eyes Open
- Shelter From The Storm – Bob Dylan, Blood On The Tracks. Number 73 on my list but number one in my heart.
- Beautiful Day – U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Funny that Beautiful Day and Science of Silence would up 74 and 75 as they are both about a world of hope and being grateful to be alive. I can be a cynic sometimes, but a great song of hope is hard to deny.
- Science of Silence – Richard Ashcroft, Human Conditions
- Beast Of Burden – The Rolling Stones, Some Girls
- All I Want Is You – U2, Rattle & Hum. If U2 didn’t have so many brilliantly crafted songs, maybe All I Want Is You would be higher, but relatively speaking it’s hard to put it above With Or Without You, and One as a song of love.
- D’You Know What I Mean – Oasis, Be Here Now.I used to blast this song on my stereo in the dorms. The sound of the airplane flying overhead would be so loud in the room that it felt like it was right over my head. Then as the drums kicked I would become totally absorbed. Say what you will about Oasis, but they could seriously rock in their heyday.
- Nux Vomica – The Veils, Nux Vomica. Marching drums + an organ + Finn Andrews’ aching vocals = classic and secured me as a forever fan of The Veils.
- I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2, The Joshua Tree
- Owner Of A Lonely Heart – Yes, 90125
- Wash It Away – Black Lab, Your Body Above Me. I saw these guys in college with Days Of The New (rememeber them) at a small club in Seattle with a couple buds. They were the opening act and at the show this song stuck out to me. When I got their CD and listened, it was even better than I recalled. Years later it still stands up as a rocking track with an awesome intro.
- America – Razorlight, Razorlight
- Life – Our Lady Peace, Spirtual Machines
- While My Guitar Gently Weeps – The Beatles, White Album. And here lies my lone Beatles song. True, Let It Be, Hey Jude and probably a couple dozen other songs are classics and I would never deny their significance in shaping rock and roll music, but While My Guitar feels different to me, more real and personal, and that’s probably thanks to George Harrison. Maybe I just see myself more as a George than I do a John or Paul (or Ringo for that matter).
- No Rain – Blind Melon, Blind Melon. I dare you not to whistle along to it.
- Never Tear Us Apart – INXS, KICK. If I were to just spout a list of favorite songs off the top of my head, I would have thought this song would be way up there. But as I went through all the tracks I had listed, this one just kinda slipped down. It’s no less for it, and as a band INXS is top five all-time for me, but being a love song it just fell victim to its subject matter.
- You Get What You Give – New Radicals, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too
- Sweet Child O’Mine – Guns N Roses, Appetite For Destruction
- Never Let You Go – Third Eye Blind, Blue
- Wild Horses – The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers
- Intro – The XX, XX. Just a killer beat.
- Block Rockin’ Beats – The Chemical Brothers, Dig Your Own Hole. First electronic song that resonated with me. It introduced me to the genre.
- Alive – Pearl Jam, Ten
- Cosmic Love – Florence + The Machine, Lungs
- Shut Your Eyes – Snow Patrol, Eyes Open. The second “eyes” song on the list, and all three Snow Patrol songs on this are from the Eyes album. I used to always draw eyes as doodles and once heard that it meant that I was an optimistic person. Maybe this is just further evidence of that.
- I Melt With You – Modern English, After The Snow
- A Long December – Counting Crows, Recovering The Satellites
- Streets of Philadephia – Bruce Springsteen, Philadephia
- Love Your Way – Powderfinger, Vulture Street. I learned of Powderfinger from an interview that Eric Bana did years ago in a magazine. In creating this list, I discovered that I’m drawn to songs that are about love and have a slow, methodical build up with a roaring guitar solo.
I hope you enjoyed the list and maybe it brought back some memories.
Nice! Lots of good stuff here!
(Not enough time is probably one of the sexiest songs I’ve ever heard.)