A friend of mine recently asked me to tell her what I thought were the twenty best songs ever. Her only proviso was that there could only be one song per artist, and while she said they could come from any genre, I assume she meant the broad umbrella of “popular" music since I can’t very well compare the merits of “Positively Fourth Street” and Tschaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto.
By “best” I mean the twenty I think are best as opposed to the twenty I like the best, thus “We Can Work It Out” and “American Girl” came off my list in favor of “A Day in the Life” and “Refugee.” I also didn’t list songs because I thought they were “influential,” something the Rolling Stone top 500 list of a few years back seemed to me to do. For example, in its top 20 are “Hound Dog,” What’d I Say” (Ray Charles), and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” all important songs but not the best song by the artist in question. (I wouldn’t put “Blowin’ in the Wind” in Dylan’s top fifty).
You can see the RS list at ww.metrolyrics.com/rs. It was compiled as I recall by averaging the rankings of a large group of musicians and other “experts.” Their list doesn’t have Rose’s one artist limitation, so there are five Beatles/Lennon songs in its top twenty, two each by Dylan and Chuck Berry. Even so, while I agree that “Like a Rolling Stone” is the best rock song ever, only four of my top twenty are in the RS top twenty, and nine of my picks don’t make their top 100.
I have some serious objections to the RS list: “In My Life” is better than “A Day in the Life”? At girl scout camp maybe.
Anyway, here’s my list in no particular order. And yeah, I know there are twenty-one, but I couldn’t bring myself to give any one of them the axe.
Like a Rolling Stone
A Day in the Life
(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding (Costello version)
Heroin (Velvet Underground)
Your Cheatin’ Heart
Once in a Lifetime
Rockin’ In the Free World
Stairway to Heaven
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
Smells Like Teen Spirit
I Will Survive
Try a Little Tenderness
Layla (Derek and the Dominos)