Long time MLD readers will remember my brother Ryan’s regular “TEN4SEVEN” series. Each and every week for a year he hunted high and low to find the 10 finest songs, until finally bowing out a spent husk of a man back in April 2010.
Now he’s resurrecting his blog “Stop Me If You Think Youve Heard This One Before“ with a broader focus on popular culture. So if you’re going to return why not do it with a bang and declare the 50 best songs of all time?
Why not? Because its a ridiculous task and just the thought of trying to boil down all the songs bouncing around my tiny mind is enough to push me closer to the funny farm.
I’m filled with a mixture of admiration at the enormity of the task and incredulity over some of the chosen tracks. Older brothers are meant to act as some kind of fount of musical inspiration for their impressionable siblings but I can only claim influence over Billy Bragg, the Pet Shop Boys and Coldcut’s go-go/reggae/hiphop classic “Stop This Crazy Thing“. My obsession with that track extended to painting a mural of the sleeve across the entire length of my bedroom wall.
StopMe: I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a top 100/top 50 list of my most cherished songs for about a year now. As my thirtieth birthday is weeks away I’ve decided nows the time to sit back and reflect on m musical life. For a bit of “Fun” I analysed my Top 50 and found out my tastes are 22% Pop-Rock and 18% Folk and that 2005 was the best ever year for music (Who’d have guessed).
I’ve included a selection of the best video clips below but you can watch all the available videos on my youtube channel by clicking here. It was tough going whittling it down to only 50 tunes and even harder to put them in order.
1. Bruce Springsteen – Jungleland
Born To Run LP – 1975
“Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a dodge, drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain”
Nine and a half minutes of shear epic Rock grandeur. Most full novels don’t contain this much beauty and narrative power. It also features Clarence Clemons delivering the greatest Sax-Solo in history building to an almost unbearably emotional climax across 2 minutes. I could listen to this every day for the rest of my life and never tire it out.
2. The Magnetic Fields – Papa Was A Rodeo
69 Love Songs LP – 1999
“Home was anywhere with diesel gas, love was a trucker’s hand, never stuck around long enough for a one night stand”
A story of lonesome one night stands and fleeting affairs. When the cathartic duet kicks in at my heart at 4.11 once breaks and yet rejoices. Over the years Stephen Merrit has written at least 50 of the greatest love songs ever written and this is his best.
3. The Indelicates – Savages
Songs For Swinging Lovers LP – 2010
“We are ash, we are books, coffee stained and overlooked, We are ornamental swords, forged for the peace after the war”
The lyrics to this song read like beautiful poetry. It’s a searing celebration of the outsider spirit. This says everything I ever wanted to say about great music.
4. Luxembourg – (I Need) A Little Bit More (Than You Give Me)
Best Kept Secret: Demos & Rarities 2001-2004 Compilation – 2004
“I guess that when i told you I would leave you if you cheated, you took it as a promise, not a threat”
It takes a man of David Shah’s calibre to write a lyric this funny and yet sing it with so much power it’s like he’s tearing out his soul for your listening pleasure.
5. Ed Harcourt – Apple Of My Eye
Here Be Monsters LP – 2001
“I drink a lot of wine when I am alone, I lose my track of time, my ideas turn to stone”
I can’t fully describe why I love this song so much. There is something hidden in the giddy mix of handclaps, Hip-Hop percussion, woozy Jazz orchestration and raw Soul vocals that enthrals me everytime.
6. Richie Havens – Going Back To My Roots
Connections LP – 1980
“Not talkin’ ’bout the roots in the land, I’m talkin’ ’bout the roots in the man”
Roaring Soul vocals, Funk instrumentation, proto House Pianos and Disco beats building to a level where you just have to move your body.
7. The Pogues – Rainy Night In Soho
Poguetry In Motion EP – 1986
“We watched our friends grow up together, and we saw them as they fell, some of them fell into Heaven, some of them fell into Hell”
Simply one of the most beautiful things ever created by the hand of man. Shane MacGowan was in his late twenties when he wrote it but it reads like a death bed revelation.
8. The Wallbangers – Kick The Drugs
Kick The Drugs EP – 2007
“If I smoke Weed I get neurotic, Alcohol turns me psychotic, Heroin’s just a narcotic, S-S-S-Speed makes me despotic, if you’re on Crack-Cocaine you’re goin’ outta your brain, you’ve gotta pull the plug, you’ve gotta kick the drugs!”
Nick Cave gets all the headlines but his brother in arms Mick Harvey beats him in the fire-breathing Punk savagery stakes with this song. Guitar Riffs don’t get much better than this.
9. Bob Dylan – Desolation Row
Highway 61 Revisited LP – 1965
“Now at midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew, come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do”
I could almost recite word-for-word the whole 11 minutes of this song’s apocalyptic lyric. Dylan paints dizzying and terrifying images in your imagination with his words.
10. Kings Of Leon – Fans
Because Of The Times LP – 2007
“All of London sing, cause England swings and they sure love the tales I bring,
and those rainy days, they ain’t so bad when you’re the king”
I never tire of this song yet struggle to properly define why. The word’s of KOL’s loveletter to their UK fans are almost incomprehensible but it’s about the passion he sings them with.
11. David Ford – State Of The Union
I Sincerely Apologise For All The Trouble I’ve Caused LP – 2005
“Sweet dreams all met with derision, this train, it was armed for collision”
A song featuring one mans despair at the world around him. Every instrument layers together into a roaring political cacophony.
12. The White Stripes – Jack The Ripper (Live At The Forum, 2001)
Live At The Forum Bootleg – 2001
“I’m walking down the street, late at night, Jack the ripper, Jack the ripper”
Less than a minute and half is all Jack and Meg need to rip your ears to shreds. How can just two people create this much energy and brutal Guitar magic.
13. Barry Bliss – All I Really Want
Antifolk Vol. 1 Compilation – 2002
“All I really want is to beat your fuckin’ ass, to be thrown in jail and rolled in broken glass, to be offered a kingdom by a crazy man and say I pass, to be beaten to death by British bobbies in mass”
This song is pure nihilistic hate for the world and everyone in it. Yet it’s so damn beautiful and tuneful that you can’t truly despair.
14. Coldcut – Stop This Crazy Thing (Feat. Junior Reid)
What’s That Noise? LP – 1988
“Children are cryin’, animals are dyin’, Governments who lie to you, don’t let them tell you what to do”
I can play along with all the vocal samples on this classic but no matter how many times I listen to it I can never predict when the drums come in! A record celebrating the kaleidoscopic joys of sampling.
15. The Divine Comedy – If…
A Short Album About Love LP – 1997
“If you were attacked I would kill for you, if your name was Jack I’d change mine to Jill for you”
Another song that pulls off the trick of being darkly comic and heartbreakingly honest. This lush orchestral epic builds to literally maniiacal levels of intensity.
16. Etta James – I Just Want To Make Love To You
At Last! LP – 1961
“All I want you to do is make your bread, just to make sure you’re well-fed, I don’t want you sad and blue, and I just wanna make love to you”
Etta goes from roaring like a lion to purring like a kitten is the space of seconds. It’s undoubtably the most powerful and sexiest female vocal ever layed down. It sounds as if you are in the studio with the musicians (Complete with a couple of snatches of studio chatter).
17. Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts
Grievous Angel LP – 1974
“I’ve really learned a lot, really learned a lot, love is like a stove, burns you when it’s hot”
This sublime cover of Boudleaux Bryant’s song is the all-time greatest duet. Gram and Emmy could reduce grown men who have been born without tear-ducts… to tears!
18. Billy Bragg – Sexuality
Don’t Try This At Home LP – 1991
“I’ve had relations with girls from many nations, I’ve made passes at women of all classes, and just because you’re gay I won’t turn you away, if you stick around I’m sure that we can find some common ground”
Billy has so many wonderful songs that are variously tragic, angry, passionate but it’s the shear liberating joy of ‘Sexuality’ that keeps me coming back. It’s not possible to be in a bad mood when listening to something like this.
19. The Who – Baba O’Riley
Who’s Next LP – 1971
“I don’t need to fight to prove I’m right, I don’t need to be forgiven”
If you’ve never played air-guitar along with Pete at 1.39, then you’ve never lived. For a time The Who were the greatest band alive and this was their finest achievement.
20. The Stooges – Down On The Street
Fun House LP – 1970
“Down on the street where the faces shine, floatin’ around I’m a real low mind”
I adore the brutal unrelenting groove the band have locked themselves in on this track. Iggy’s squeeling, gurgling, barking vocals are totally exhilarating.
21. Pet Shop Boys – Suburbia (Video Mix)
Suburbia Single – 1986
“Stood by the bus stop with a felt pen in this suburban hell, and in the distance a police car to break the suburban spell”
The lyrical urban decay is matched by samples of sirens, barking dogs, helicopters, bombs, breaking glass, screaming children and machine guns. Yet somehow it’s still one of the finest Pop songs ever to grace the UK charts.
22. Ty – The Scheme Of Things
Apples & Snake: Two Five Compilation – 2008
“I smile at the crackheads in my area, I remember when we used to play pat-ball as children in neat school uniforms, what went wrong?”
A meandering spoken-word track musing on the trials of life. The Jazz backing track brilliant mirror’s every nuance of TY’s vocal poetry.
23. Dan Sartain – P.C.B. 98
Dan Sartain Vs. The Serpientes LP – 2005
“I got my name crushed into a penny, we had a ball down in Panama City”
I love Dan’s dark world of Rock-a-billy and Punk. Out of a legion of causticly brilliant songs this helter-skelter Blues-Punk gem is his finest so far.
24. Spiritualized® – Stop Your Crying
Let It Come Down LP – 2001
“Nothing hurts you like the pain of someone you care about, if I could take it on myself, you know I sure would without a doubt”
I remembering listening to the CD-single of this on a loop for a whole month on icy winter mornings. Possibly it fails in it’s lyrical objective since you’ll being crying tears of joy that something so catharically powerful exists.
25. Hedwig & The Angry Inch – The Origin Of Love
Hedwig & The Angry Inch: Original Cast Recording LP – 1999
“I could swear by your expression that the pain down in your soul was the same as the one down in mine”
The best song from the best ever musical containing unbearable levels of passion. John Cameron-Mitchell sings Stephen Trask’s poetic Greek-Myth inspired lyrics like his life depended on it.
26. The Dirtbombs – Cedar Point ’76
Hand Springs / Cedar Point ’76 Single – 2000
“Wanna play some pinball with this honey, but damn my luck, Mom won’t give me no money”
Fuzz-Guitar never sounded as good as on this cut. The lyrics capture an 11 year old Mick as he remembers lusting after an older girl at his local arcade.
27. Laura Marling – New Romantic (Live On Later, 2007)
Live On Later With Jools Holland TV – 2007
“I made you leave her for me and now I’m feeling pretty mean, but my mind has fucked me over more times than any man could ever know”
Laura was only 17 when she wrote this profoundly beautiful Joni Mitchell-esque song. The world stops turning everytime I watch or listen to the intimate fragility of this performance.
28. Nick Drake – Northern Sky
Bryter Layter LP – 1970
“I never felt magic crazy as this, I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea, I never held emotion in the palm of my hand, or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree”
It’s difficult to imagine the soul that recorded a record as hopeful as this succumbing to despair a few years later. The lush yet subtle orchestration is intoxicating.
29. Andrew W.K. – She Is Beautiful
I Get Wet LP – 2001
“You’re giving me moves that hit from all sides, and when you’re hitting like that you melt my eyes”
A sweet love song on Andrew’s terms which means him screaming at love at noise poluting levels. Metal music rarely is as fun as this frenetic single.
30. Har Mar Superstar – EZ Pass
You Can Feel Me LP – 2003
“DJ, DJ, can you play some more Minogue, and keep up with the tracks that everybody knows, cut to some Har Mar then that Pharcide beat, how’s that shit go, she keeps passin’ me”
This contains some truly outstanding rhymes detailing Sean’s “Mission to find the hypest party”. After hundreds of listens I still love the Hip-Hop Drums and House Pianos.
31. The Notorious B.I.G. – Juicy
Ready To Die LP – 1994
“We used to fuss when the landlord dissed us, no heat, wonder why Christmas missed us”
It’s the way every line from this cut feels like it’s straight from the heart speaking of poverty made good. The Bass-Guitar heavy production is also total genius.
32. Jamie T – Pacemaker
Panic Prevention LP – 2007
“Body bags come back on planes from wartorn Iraq, it’s the stark naked truth, a dark aftermath”
A stream of conscienceness Rap taking in the Iraq war, drug abuse, illness and violence. Jamie has so much to say he has no time for big choruses or even pausing for breath.
33. Adam Green – Emily
Gemstones LP – 2005
“Emily, sweet baby, won’t you be my wife, cutting me wide open with a kitchen knife”
It’s testament to the irresistible Pop-Blues beat of this cut that make Adam’s predictably bizarre lyrics are so catchy. What Sinatra would’ve sounded like if he’d taken as many Drugs as Elvis.
34. Rufus Wainwright – Oh What A World
Want One LP – 2003
“Wouldn’t it be a lovely headline, ‘Life is Beautiful’ on the New York Times”
A dizzying, whirling Orchestral-Pop cut that envelopes your ears in delight.
35. Bobby Conn & The Glass Gypsies – We’re Taking Over The World
The Homeland LP – 2004
“Don’t you wonder why the times are tough, why you never seem to get enough”
Written as an attack on George W. Bush and I’m still listening to it as the economies of the world collapse. An irresistible Disco-Rock classic.
36. David Gray – The One I Love
Life In Slow Motion One LP – 2005
“Perfect summers night, not a wind that breathes, just the bullets whispering gentle ‘mongst the new green leaves”
David gets alot of flack but he deserves a knight-hood on the evidence of this one poetic masterpiece. The lyric tells of a soldier bleeding to death and dreaming of his love back home.
37. Coyote Shivers – Sugarhigh
Coyote Shivers LP – 1996
“Think again, sometimes reputations outlive their applications, and sometimes fires don’t go out, when you’re done playing with them”
This Pop-Punk cut is a totally exhilarating celebration of life.
38. Akala – Bullshit
It’s Not A Rumour LP – 2006
“They rob the third world of every cent, now that’s bullshit, now you got third world debt, now that’s bullshit”
Akala vents his spleen on everything that pisses him off. One moment he’s Rapping about racism and one moment he’s annoyed by the British weather.
39. The Smiths – Girlfriend In A Coma
Strangeways, Here We Come LP – 1987
“Girlfriend in a coma, I know, I know, it’s serious”
This brings a smile to my face everytime. Morrissey has a wicked wit and never more so on this glorious single.
40. Sufjan Stevens – Come On! Feel The Illinoise!
Come On Feel The Illinoise LP – 2005
“Cannot conversations cull United Nations, if you got the patience, celebrate the ancients, cannot all creation call it celebration”
With six and a half minutes it still feels like Sufjan is cramming in all his magical ideas. I wouldn’t be surprised if every instrument ever invented crops up at one point or another.
41. Jape – Phil Lynott
Ritual LP – 2008
“It was a luner eclipse, I was out drinkin’ with two of my oldest pals, one is called Glen, one is Al”
This very personal Folktronic tribute song is so simple but so heart felt.
42. The Flamin’ Groovies – Headin’ For The Texas Border
Flamingo LP – 1970
“Headin’ for the Texas border, cos I’m tryin’ to avoid the law”
One of those songs that it’s dangerous to drive to and the band sound like a blazing Blues Hot-Rod with the pedal to the floor.
43. Okkervil River – The President’s Dead
The President’s Dead Single – 2006
“On a beautiful day, I was waking up and I was lying in bed with my girlfriend, And the eggs on the plate, and the bacon hissin’, And the coffee was great, there was spring on the wind”
The lyric celebrates life itself in the shadow of death. Just wait for when the drumms kick in, fantastic!
44. The Durutti Column – In Memory Of Anthony
Love In The Time Of Recession LP – 2009
“The flames you set alight, they’re always gonna last”
Even if Anthony H. Wilson hadn’t founded the great Factory records he could’ve still rested easy in his grave knowing that he’d touched his friend so deeply that he would write a song this powerful about him.
45. Jonathan Richman – I Was Dancing In The Lesbian Bar
I, Jonathan LP – 1992
“Well in the first bar things were controlled, but in this bar things were Rock and Roll, in the first bar things were so controlled, in this bar things were way way bold”
Pop singles don’t get much more fun than this, you can’t help but sing along.
46. Hot Club De Paris – You Can Call Me Al
Clockwork Toy Single – 2007
“I need a photo-opportunity, I want a shot at redemption, don’t want to end up a cartoon, in a cartoon graveyard”
A Simple Indie-Rock Paul Simon cover casually tucked on to a B-Side. But maybe it’s the carefree spirit with which they recorded it that keeps me listening. Just three friends having fun in a studio.
47. Patrick Wolf – Pumpkin Soup
The Patrick Wolf EP – 2002
“Autumn’s brown sturdy fingers are embedding bouquets up and down your spine, embrace the moment ‘cos everything changes and all this will too”
An intoxicating blend of personal nostalgia and subtle Folk production. The whole lyric is a towering poetic achievement.
48. The Viking Moses! – I Will Always Love You
Sandstorms Single – 2006
“Bittersweet memories, that is all I’m taking with me, so, goodbye, please, don’t cry, We both know I’m not what you need”
In stark contrast to Whitney’s bombastic version, Brendon crafts a Lo-Fi gem. At points I could swear you can hear his voice cracking and hear the very tears running down his face.
49. Orphan Boy – Billy’s England
Billy’s England Single – 2006
“This retail park is wank, this town’s a fuckin’ fish tank, I get my culture from a bookcase by the door”
The first single by a great British Punk band delivering a scathing rant at the nation.
50. Gifthorse – Childhood Gang Reunion
Childhood Gang Reunion EP – 2005
“You were a tough kid, never cried, went to the funfair, the day your mother died”
Youthful memories recounted with nostalgic lyrical magic.