Monday, July 11, 2016

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Modern Era: 100-81

 By Andy Dougherty (@AndyDougherty10)

Ed. Note: This is the first in a series of pieces by correspondent Andy Dougherty, who has compiled numerous critical lists and rankings with the hope of creating a definitive list of the Top-100 songs of the modern era. Think of this as the Rotten Tomatoes of music, and check back each day this week as the countdown continues.

Over the past few years, I have taken opinions from countless sources and aggregated 60 lists of the greatest songs of all-time, with the purpose of arriving as close as I could to one definitive list of outstanding, important, classic songs.

I have always been a huge fan of rock and pop music with a broad range of tastes. Plenty of websites have great music recommendations, but each of them is biased in its own way. Some insist that all of today’s music is garbage while others are completely ignorant of the past. Some are too US-centric; others are too UK-centric. Many show expertise in one or two genres while overlooking everything else.

I studied music in college, and most of my classmates focused on classical or avant-garde music. But I wanted to study rock and pop music seriously. To help with that goal, I wanted to find a source that factored in as many of these biases and differences in opinions as possible to create a diverse list of fantastic songs to recommend.

I found many sites that tried (,,, to name a few). Acclaimed Music is the most comprehensive music website I have come across. I love the site, and it has helped me discover thousands of great songs, but I found some of its rankings hard to accept: ‘Yesterday’ outside the top 100? ‘Piano Man’ outside the top 1000? ‘See Emily Play’ as the only Pink Floyd song in the top 300 at No. 194?

Unsatisfied with what the Internet had to offer, I decided to try to emulate Acclaimed Music’s mission with my own methodology.

I relied more heavily on greatest-of-all-time lists rather than best-of-the-year or best-of-a-specific-genre-or-artist lists. I also used more sources with down-votes so that well-known, polarizing songs would not fare as well as songs that are more universally loved. I assigned more weight to the most reputable sources, like Rolling Stone and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I also assigned more weight to recent songs that came out after older lists and thus could not have possibly appeared on them.

My list is by no means perfect, and it will keep evolving as long as opinions continue to change and new songs continue to be released. But hopefully you can appreciate the many well-educated opinions from around the globe that came together to form it, despite the inevitability that it will not perfectly match a list of your 100 favorite songs.

Without further ado, here are the 100 most critically acclaimed songs of all time.

100. Live Forever by Oasis, 1994

In the early 1990s, grunge dominated the rock music scene. Noel Gallagher called Nirvana “the greatest rock & roll band of its time,” but when Kurt Cobain penned the song ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die,’ Gallagher became agitated and decided to write a song as excessively optimistic to counter Nirvana’s pessimism. Inspired musically by The Rolling Stones’ ‘Shine a Light’ and by the depth and romanticism of ‘Wild Horses,’ Gallagher wrote Oasis’s breakout hit and propelled Britpop into the mainstream.

99. Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers, 1965

Bobby Hatfield’s stunning vocal performance solidifies The Righteous Brothers’ rendition as the definitive version of one of the 20th century’s most recorded songs. “With Phil Spector’s epic production and Hatfield’s emotion-packed tenor soaring to stratospheric heights, it’s a record designed to reduce anyone separated from the one they love to a ‘pile of mush,’” said critic and author Steve Sullivan.

98. Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin, 1969

Driven by Jimmy Page’s iconic opening riff, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ is often regarded as one of the greatest guitar songs of all time. Audio engineer Eddie Kramer explained that the breakdown in the middle of the song, “where everything is going bananas, is a combination of Jimmy [Page] and myself just flying around on a small console twiddling every knob known to man.” After the bizarre interlude, Page follows John Bonham’s frenetic drumming with more fantastic guitar work to bring the song back together. ‘Whole Lotta Love’ was the last song Led Zeppelin ever played live.

97. Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1973

‘Free Bird’ is “the most-requested song in the history of rock music,” according to Amazon music reviewer Lorry Fleming. Many of these requests were part of a running joke. ‘Free Bird’ became such a staple of classic rock that fans at various concerts around the world began shouting “Free Bird!” whenever there was an opportunity to suggest the next song for a band to play. The first half of the song is a power ballad that slowly builds up to an epic guitar solo, which lasts for over five minutes. After ‘Free Bird’ gained popularity, Lynyrd Skynyrd closed every concert with the song.

96. Tutti Frutti by Little Richard, 1955

Mojo listed Tutti Frutti No. 1 on its Top 100 Records That Changed the World, calling it “the sound of the birth of rock and roll.” Singer Robert Palmer said, “Elvis Presley popularized rock & roll, but Little Richard provided the big bang, that first explosion that made all that followed possible.”

95. Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland, 1939

Often known as ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ the classic Academy Award winner from The Wizard of Oz is the only song from before the rock & roll era to crack the top 100. It became a symbol for American troops in World War II, and the American Film Institute listed it as the greatest movie song of all time in 2004. Judy Garland said of the song, “it’s so symbolic of everybody’s dreams and wishes that I’m sure that’s why some people get tears in their eyes when they hear it. I’ve sung it thousands of times and it’s still the song that’s closest to my heart.” Israel Kamakawiwo’ole revived interest in the song with his 1993 cover, but Garland’s remains the definitive version.

94. Lose Yourself by Eminem, 2002

The first rap song ever to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song, ‘Lose Yourself’ is the top-ranked rap song since the genre’s formative years in the early 1980s. Eminem’s semi-autobiographical tale of his desperate struggle to achieve his dreams set numerous Billboard records and greatly expanded hip-hop’s audience. Complex stated that, even years after the song’s release, “the second the instantly recognizable riffs start growling, the same emotional impact from the first time you heard the song kicks in. Eminem came up playing the underdog role and people love underdogs.”

93. Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison, 1967

“A perfect song,” said rock critic Geoffrey Cannon. “The music’s pace is delicate, its spaces timed to haunt the ear.” After many takes, Van Morrison and producer Bert Berns “achieved a satisfying balance between [Berns’] own pop instincts and Van’s allegiance to rhythm and blues,” said biographer Steve Turner. Berns gave ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ tremendous pop appeal – a little too poppy for Morrison’s taste – while Morrison’s songwriting skills anchored the track, and the balance resulted in his signature song.

92. Let’s Stay Together by Al Green, 1971

AllMusic senior editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine describes the distinctive sound of ‘Let’s Stay Together’ as “a sinewy, sexy groove highlighted by horn punctuations and string beds that cushioned Green’s remarkable falsetto.” The synthesis of funk and soul, prominently featuring rhythmic drums and soft, silky vocals, became the standard for southern soul music. Critics have also praised the song’s multilayered lyrics, which succeed in highlighting many of love’s complexities.

91. Creep by Radiohead, 1992

‘Creep’ was Radiohead’s first single, and its unexpected global success thrust them into the international spotlight. The most accessible song in their diverse catalog, its gorgeous melodies, poignant lyrics and cathartic bridge have made it a fan favorite. Leading into each chorus, Jonny Greenwood plays a distinctive, jarring series of dead notes on the guitar. Rhythm guitarist Ed O’Brien said, “that’s the sound of Jonny trying to [mess] the song up…he tried spoiling it. And it made the song.”

90. Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O’Connor, 1990

Originally penned by Prince in an ill-fated side project, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ became a worldwide hit after Sinead O’Connor’s version was released along with an iconic, emotionally charged video, which received heavy airplay on MTV. O’Connor’s vocal performance is even more powerful. As Sophie Gilbert of The Atlantic says, O’Connor’s interpretation “enshrined the song as one of the great emotional pop performances of the 20th century…the work is ultimately timeless – a confession of pain that defies its saccharine lyrics to offer instead one of pop’s most honest performances.”

89. Rolling in the Deep by Adele, 2010

Adele took the world by storm with her record-setting album ‘21,’ which was bolstered by numerous chart-topping singles. But the monumental crossover appeal of ‘Rolling in the Deep’ was the most responsible for the album’s success. The Sun called the song “an epic, foot-stomper of a pop anthem with thumping piano and a vocal you would expect from a veteran of 20 years on the road.” Hordes of other critics praised Adele’s vocal performance. One review from Bill Lamb said, “Here is a voice that can raise chills up the spine, and, when she is in a mood like this, the sense of foreboding will rivet your attention.” Jason Lipshutz of Billboard noted another contributing factor to Adele’s performance, saying that the song’s “multilayered instrumentation gives the English singer’s wail a previously unheard depth.”

88. Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen, 1975

In many ways, ‘Thunder Road’ is the essence of Springsteen: the promise that somehow, some way, there is a better life out there awaiting you if you have the guts to reach out and grab it. A staple at his live shows, ‘Thunder Road’ has enthralled audiences around the world for over 40 years. Listen to its quiet beginning, heartfelt lyrics, and the buildup to an emotional explosion culminating with Clarence Clemons’ outstanding saxophone coda, and you can understand why. Said critic and author Steve Sullivan, “This is Springsteen in his full glory as Dylanesque song poet, crafting a romantic blue-collar narrative with a keen eye for detail and a genius for evoking a rich world of atmosphere. Simultaneously it has (like many of his finest early songs) a down-to-earth feeling yet also an epic scope, with characters that are somehow both simple and iconic.”

87. Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969

As soon as CCR frontman John Fogerty was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in the midst of the Vietnam War, he picked up his guitar and began working on ‘Proud Mary.’ He started with an intro based on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, lyrics inspired by Mark Twain, and a lead-vocal style imitating Wilson Pickett and Howlin’ Wolf. The rest of the band imitated this abrasive vocal style, but Fogerty thought it sounded “like punk rock, not harmonious.” Fogerty decided to overdub the vocal harmony tracks himself, to the outrage of the rest of the band. Upon hearing the final gospel-like harmonies, Fogerty’s bandmates were speechless, and their outrage disappeared. Both this version and the lively cover by Ike & Tina Turner have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

86. God Save the Queen by Sex Pistols, 1977

One of the most controversial and politically influential songs in history, ‘God Save the Queen’ was released at the 25th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne (the Silver Jubilee), and the BBC promptly banned it for “gross bad taste.” The song’s title mockingly references the United Kingdom’s national anthem, and its record cover features a defaced picture of Queen Elizabeth II. The song’s lyrics paint an equally scathing picture, calling out England’s supposedly “fascist regime” and saying “ there is no future in England’s dreaming.” Singer Johnny Rotten defended his incendiary lyrics: “You don’t write ‘God Save the Queen’ because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you’re fed up with them being mistreated.” It is widely believed that authorities fixed the UK Singles Chart to prevent the song from reaching No. 1.

85. All My Friends by LCD Soundsystem, 2007

‘All My Friends’ is a rare gem that feels largely like an electronic dance song, but with profound, melancholy lyrics. Both the music and lyrics lead listeners along a nostalgic journey through the many complex twists and turns of life. Esteemed music writer Hua Hsu states, while the song’s “galloping piano, aerobic bass line, and assembly-line percussion are mighty enough to traverse the farthest reaches of the stadium, the song’s anthemness obscures the fact that it is ultimately a lone man’s sigh.” Many critics have cited ‘All My Friends’ as the song that best encapsulates life in the 21st century.

84. Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley, 1957

Critic and author Steve Sullivan called the chart-dominating single “an all-out rocker with Elvis in full-throated vocal form, Scotty Moore unleashed on guitar, Bill Black on walking bass, and D.J. Fontana’s drumming here characterized by [critic] Dave Marsh as ‘halfway between strip joint rumba and the perfect New Orleans shuffle.’” Singer/songwriter and AllMusic reviewer Cub Koda said of the song, “Rife with images of various inmates rockin’ it up, the tune is 12-bar rock & roll at its best, its lyrics virtually timeless.” Elvis also performed a famous dance sequence to the song in the movie Jailhouse Rock, which is commonly cited as the highlight of his acting career.

83. Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd, 1979

The defining feature of ‘Comfortably Numb’ is its two breathtaking guitar solos, especially the one that concludes the song. The outro solo is often regarded as one of the greatest ever, if not the greatest. Phil Taylor, Pink Floyd’s technician, described what set David Gilmour’s solo apart. “His fingers, his vibrato, his choice of notes and how he sets his effects…no matter how well you duplicate the equipment, you will never be able to duplicate the personality.” Rolling Stone also praised Roger Waters’ songwriting, calling ‘Comfortably Numb’ “one of the saddest drug songs ever written.”

82. Kashmir by Led Zeppelin, 1975

Singer Robert Plant called ‘Kashmir’ Led Zeppelin’s definitive song, and all four band members agree that it is among their best. Plant felt that the lyrics were some of his finest, particularly the line “Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dreams.” Swans frontman Michael Gira praised the song’s exceptional guitar work, saying, “Jimmy Page’s guitar is lyrical and soulful – just beautiful.” Led Zeppelin archivist Dave Lewis called the eight-minute epic “arguably the most progressive and original track that Led Zeppelin ever recorded,” and added, “‘Kashmir’ went a long way toward establishing their credibility with otherwise skeptical rock critics. Many would regard this track as the finest example of the sheer majesty of Zeppelin’s special chemistry.”

81. Dancing in the Street by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, 1964

“Against a backbeat that cracks like a gunshot, [Martha] Reeves reinvents the world as a giant block party,” said Rolling Stone upon naming ‘Dancing in the Street’ the 40th-greatest song of all time. Reeves called it “a song that just makes you want to get up and dance,” but unexpectedly, due to the social unrest of the mid 1960s, the party song turned into a civil rights anthem. Many listeners interpreted ‘Dancing in the Street’ to be a metaphor for protest and riot. Mark Kurlansky, who wrote a book about the song’s status as a radical anthem, said it had “an almost mystical urgency…It was neither sweet nor beautiful but it had an undefeatable power that some would call sexy, others edgy, some even said political.”

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