Stone Roses – ‘I Am The Resurrection’
Here they are, the 100 greatest songs ever, starting with Stone Roses – ‘I Am The Resurrection’ (1989, Silvertone). In case you hadn’t realized that there was something quasi-religious about the Roses by the end of their seminal debut album, here was Ian Brown declaring himself the second coming over Madchester’s funkiest ego hymn.
Queens Of The Stone Age – ‘No One Knows’
99. Queens Of The Stone Age – ‘No One Knows’ (2002, Interscope).
Like all the best QOTSA songs, ‘No One Knows’ was dual parts danger and serpentine temptation, like stumbling across a suitcase full of money that’s surrounded by bullet-ridden corpses: you know you shouldn’t, but you will anyway.
Rage Against The Machine – ‘Killing In The Name’
98. Rage Against The Machine – ‘Killing In The Name’ (1992, Epic).
One of the visceral highlights from RATM’s iconic self-titled debuted album. The song was later adopted for a fan-driven Facebook campaign in 2009 which saw it top the UK Christmas singles chart.
Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five – ‘The Message’
97. Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five – ‘The Message’ (1982, Sugar Hill).
Single-handedly changed the direction of rap by pointing out that, in 1983, the true sound of the streets wasn’t braggy MCs patting each other on the back for being awesome. It was that hollow little laugh of a man trapped at the bottom of the pile in Reagan’s America.
Kanye West – Gold Digger
93. Kanye West – Gold Digger (2005, Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam).
Jamie Foxx picked up an Oscar for playing Ray Charles in 2005, but it took Kanye West to get him to reprise his version of ‘I Got A Woman’ for Yeezy’s instructional tale about the importance of pre-nuptial agreements.
Britney Spears – ‘Toxic’
92. Britney Spears – ‘Toxic’ (2004, Jive).
Five years after Britney took popstardom to the next level with ‘Baby One More Time’, she landed herself some much-needed dynamite. ‘Toxic’ reinvented popular dance music with its piercing strings, hip-hop beats, eastern flavour and a dangerous escapade with temptation. A modern pop benchmark.
LCD Soundsystem – ‘All My Friends’
91. LCD Soundsystem – ‘All My Friends’ (2007, DFA).
A song about ageing, friendship, getting battered and the moment you realise you’ve been behaving like a bit of a dick for a while now. Built around two piano notes, it is LCD’s most poignant and danceable moment.
Jeff Buckley – ‘Hallelujah’
89. Jeff Buckley – ‘Hallelujah’ (1994, Columbia).
It was Leonard’s tune, but Jeff’s heart. Taking Cohen’s cold and stilted original, Buckley pumped this stark paean of desolation full of tremulous desperation and soul to make it the shiver-inducing spiritual monolith it should always have been.
Lana Del Rey – ‘Video Games’
87. Lana Del Rey – ‘Video Games’ (2011, Stranger).
Lana Del Rey’s debut was absolutely mesmerising; an unsettling, instantly familiar heartbreaker. With its chiming church bells, piano chords of doom and lyrics of failed romance, it was a torch song fit for the apocalypse.
The Sex Pistols – ‘Anarchy In The UK’
84. The Sex Pistols – ‘Anarchy In The UK’ (1976, EMI).
Few revolutions have had a starting pistol as perfect as this one: the sound of a deranged hobgoblin putting a curse on Britain. Used for every single montage ever of punk-pogoing, barricade-burning late-70s an-ar-CHAI-st behavour ever made.
Beyonce – ‘Crazy In Love’
82. Beyonce – ‘Crazy In Love’ (2003, Columbia).
It took about four-and-a-half seconds of watching Beyonce strut down the road in the video to the sound of the horn sample from The Chi-Lites’ 1970 track ‘Are You My Woman (Tell Me So) to tell that the next decade would belong to Queen B. Beyonce was looking for the calling to make her name and establish her without Destiny’s Child. Job done.
Jay Z & Kanye West – ‘Niggas In Paris’
81. Jay Z & Kanye West – ‘Niggas In Paris’ (2011, Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation/Def Jam).
Rhymes about the Olsen twins and fish fillet sandwiches, blazed out over nasty bleeps from Californian producer Hit-Boy, created what has become the new blueprint for arena-sized hip-hop.
The White Stripes – ‘Fell In love With A Girl’
79. The White Stripes – ‘Fell In love With A Girl’ (2002,Sympathy, V2, Third Man, XL).
With all the frenzy and fire of a 21st Century Ramones, The White Stripes’ breakthrough indie stormer crash landed like a kung-fu punk alien, kicked fifty-eight shades of shite out of your stereo inside two minutes and flew straight off again. Pow.
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – ‘Into My Arms’
78. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – ‘Into My Arms’ (1997, Mute).
Cave twisted his religious conceit into a piano masterwork of such over-arching delicacy, poetry and romance that it still stands as his grandest ballad and, no doubt, Richard Dawkins’ first wedding dance.
The Streets – ‘Dry Your Eyes’
75. The Streets – ‘Dry Your Eyes’ (2004, 679).
So rare has it been for urban cult acts to show any hint of vulnerability that Mike Skinner’s weepy admission of big-girl’s-blouseness in the face of getting dumped struck to the heart of the front-heavy culture and shattered conceptions and pretensions galore.
The Velvet Underground – ‘Venus In Furs’
72. The Velvet Underground – ‘Venus In Furs’ (1967, Verve).
The Velvet Underground’s tribute to masochistic domination bent viola and guitar into sinister submission. A lush, Arabic-toned twanging netherworld of a track in shiny boots of leather that knew just exactly what you wanted, you filthy bitch.
Buzzcocks – ‘Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’
71 Buzzcocks – ‘Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’ (1978, United Artists). Pete Shelley’s ode to a love that’s more harmful than beneficial was simple and direct, almost to the point of being throwaway. But the way it makes us pogo in euphoric despair at the idiocy and folly of humanity has rendered it punk legend.
The Clash – ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’
69. The Clash – ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’ (1978, CBS S CBS 6383).
After visiting a roots reggae night at the famous London venue mentioned herein, Joe Strummer found the inspiration to pen one of the band’s most-loved songs, a ska-influenced rumination on the decaying state of the UK.
Oasis – ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’
67. Oasis – ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ (1994, Creation).
As if the line ”Is it worth the aggravation to find yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for?” wasn’t timeless enough, Noel Gallagher’s rawest single was also his most reckless, splicing together T-Rex’s ‘Get It On’ and the “No future” outro from ‘God Save The Queen’ with astonishing audacity.
NWA – ‘Straight Outta Compton’
66. NWA – ‘Straight Outta Compton’ (1988, Priority/Ruthless).
The title track from NWA’s gangsta rap odyssey chronicled life as a black youth trapped in America’s undertow and persecuted by police, with pneumatic might. The group weren’t just telling that story, they were living it.
Stand By Me – ‘Ben E King’
65. Stand By Me – ‘Ben E King’ (1961, Atco).
Adapted from a gospel standard that can be traced back to 1905, legend has it that producers Leiber & Stoller came up with //that// iconic bassline within just 15 minutes of starting the session with King. Over half a decade later, the track is every bit as enchanting.
The Smiths – ‘This Charming Man’
64. The Smiths – ‘This Charming Man’ (1983, Rough Trade).
The first genius spark of Morrissey and Johnny Marr’s partnership seems so much bigger than its meagre chart placing: Number 25, with a whimper. It really is all about Marr’s jaw-dropping riff – perhaps the most distinctive in all of British pop.
David Bowie – ‘Young Americans’
62. David Bowie – ‘Young Americans’ (1975, RCA).
It’s testament to Bowie’s status as pop’s preeminent chameleon that a translucent Limey once described by guitarist Carlos Alomar as “the whitest man I’ve ever seen” could deliver such a thrilling musical pastiche of black American culture.
Primal Scream – ‘Loaded’
59. Primal Scream – ‘Loaded’ (1990, Creation).
Despite being comprised of secondhand components, ‘Loaded’ was entirely new, a rave-rock singularity that arrived sounding like a bolt from the blue, but with an inevitability that seems obvious in hindsight. Dance and drug culture were dovetailing in a way they hadn’t since the heady days of the 60’s. Such events always require anthems.
Elvis Presley – ‘Suspicious Minds’
58. Elvis Presley – ‘Suspicious Minds’ (1968, Scepter).
The best thing to come out of King Elvis’s post-’68 Comeback Special career, and his final US Number One hit, the brassy pomp of ‘Suspicious Minds’ was Presley showing a world that by now had Frank Zappa why it still needed him.
Michael Jackson – Billie Jean
57. Michael Jackson – Billie Jean (1982, Epic).
There are introductions to songs, and then there’s ‘Billie Jean’. Those beats, that bassline and Jacko. Gesticulating, moonwalking, sharp-shooting Jacko, who is irrefutably not going out with a girl, even though she’s telling the world and its dog that he’s knocked her up. ‘Billie Jean’ will only age if the globe stops spinning.
Kraftwerk – ‘The Model’
55. Kraftwerk – ‘The Model’ (1981, EMI/Kling Klang).
‘The Model’ sounded like the future in 1981 and still sounds like the future in 2014, too: an electronic world narrated by androids and populated by haughty clotheshorses that hints at the seductive allure of fame, success and celebrity.
MIA – ‘Paper Planes’
53. MIA – ‘Paper Planes’ (2008, XL).
Produced by her then-boyfriend Diplo, the glimmering pop diaspora of ‘Paper Planes’ made a superstar of Sri Lankan provocateur M.I.A in 2007, by meshing a sample of The Clash’s ‘Straight To Hell’ with Eastern echoes and unconquerable down tempo rap swagger.
Lou Reed – ‘Walk On The Wild Side’
50. Lou Reed – ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ (1972, RCA).
‘Walk On The Wild Side’ nonchalantly served up the salacious side of Reed’s New York art-underworld milieu on a honeyed, sunny, doo-doo-dooing platter. A masterpiece of musical smuggling, its gentle amble and that wonderful warm sax solo concealed a strung-out darkness at its heart.
Bob Dylan – ‘Like A Rolling Stone’
49. Bob Dylan – ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ (1965, Columbia).
As revelatory as the day it was recorded, these were six minutes of bitter vengeance directed at privileged rich kids dropping out to live the hippie dream. Just 24 when he wrote it, it’s been Dylan’s calling card ever since.
Marvin Gaye – ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’
46. Marvin Gaye – ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ (1968, Tamla).
The wounded, primal cry of a man having discovered, via the titular rumour mill, that their partner has been cheating on them, Gaye’s impassioned vocal uniquely puts across the depths of his pain. It’s little wonder it became known as Marvin’s signature song.
Radiohead – ‘Paranoid Android’
45. Radiohead – ‘Paranoid Android’ (1997, Parlophone).
It really shouldn’t work. Over-ambitious, ‘Paranoid Android’ sprawls through different key changes in four sections, slowing down and speeding up like a mad bucking bull. But in some kind of magic alchemy the cantos gelled perfectly, recalling The Wasteland or ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – although it made the latter look like child’s play.
Pixies – ‘Debaser’
44. Pixies – ‘Debaser’ (1989, 4AD).
The Pixies were always adept at marrying high art with trash culture, and ‘Debaser’ – an effervescent power-pop thrash that was rooted in Salvador Dalí’s surrealist short ‘Un Chien Andalou’ and went from “Slicing up eyeballs” to “Girlie so groovy” in the blink of a bisected orb – was perhaps the best example.
Manic Street Preachers – A Design For Life
43. Manic Street Preachers – A Design For Life (1996, Epic).
Just as New Order bravely shouldered out of Ian Curtis’ death and burst into colour, so too the Manics became a more nuanced band, for worse and better, post-1994. This song goes way beyond survival, though, one of the most profound statements of working-class culture, intellect and politics the 20th century produced.
Amy Winehouse – ‘Back To Black’
41. Amy Winehouse – ‘Back To Black’ (2006, Island). Some songs are not just sung, they are lived. In her best imitation of her beloved Phil Spector girlbands, this title track from her second and final record ominously set the scene for what was so tragically inevitable.
Jay-Z – ’99 Problems’
40. Jay-Z – ’99 Problems’ (2004, Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam).
True story, of course. Back in his hustling days, Jay-Z gets pulled over by the rozzers with a serious stretch’s worth of drugs secreted in the roof of his car, but the dog unit took so long to come that the traffic cop just let him go. The result, was a rock/rap crossover that crushed ‘Walk This Way’ in terms of gritty, raw power.
Sinead O’Connor – ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’
38. Sinead O’Connor – ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ (1990, Chrysalis).
Usurping Prince is no mean feat. With her bare-bones cover of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, Sinead O’Connor relegated the Purple One’s original version, an anecdotal footnote that only augments a weightier, worthier text. O’Connor’s take on the song takes a simple break-up anthem and turns it into life-and-death heartbreak.
Ike And Tina Turner – ‘River Deep, Mountain High’
37. Ike And Tina Turner – ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ (1966, Philles).
Atop Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound, 42 musicians deep and $20,000 high, Turner’s desperation and frustration gave ‘River Deep…’ a truly death-or-glory quality, a woman bawling her passion as the mountains crash down around her and the rivers rise over her head.
The Beatles – ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’
35. The Beatles – ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ (1969, Parlophone).
Spurred on by the multi-layered brilliance of Brian Wilson’s ‘Pet Sounds’, the studio trickery used to bring Lennon’s folksy, childlike masterpiece to life is still jaw-dropping: from Starr’s astute (and meticulously rehearsed) drumming to the McCartney-penned mellotron intro and Harrison’s dreamlike, post-chorus raga scale.
David Bowie – Life On Mars?
34. David Bowie – Life On Mars? (1971, RCA).
Even Bowie admits the lyrics to ‘Life On Mars?’ were largely bollocks – a vague story of a girl finding fame disappointing is all he’d admit to – but what fabulous bollocks. A bombastic orchestral chorus that was amongst the most dramatic and breastbone-busting hooks in popular music and Bowie’s landmark ballad.
Suede – ‘Animal Nitrate’
33. Suede – ‘Animal Nitrate’ (1993, Nude).
‘Animal Nitrate’, Suede’s third single, was a filthy and fucked-up paean to kinky, illicit sex and thrill-seeking narcotics – it’s like being sucked headfirst into a grubby, glamorous underworld while some ne’er do well spirit makes sport with your bones.
The Stone Roses – Fools Gold
31. The Stone Roses – Fools Gold (1989, Silvertone).
Isaac Hayes’ ‘Theme From Shaft’ had already been updated once thanks to Young MC’s ‘Know How’, and here it was again, given a special Manchester makeover. If you didn’t get the fuss about the band’s 2011 reformation and subsequent live shows, have another listen to ‘Fools Gold’; it’ll tell you everything you need to know and more.
The Rolling Stones – ‘Gimme Shelter’
29. The Rolling Stones – ‘Gimme Shelter’ (1969, Decca).
Rarely does a song speak so directly to the precarious nature of the human condition as ‘Gimme Shelter’. A brimstone boogie, Merry Clayton’s indomitable vocals communicated an apocalyptic desperation. A hurricane of a track and, as Greil Marcus once wrote, the Stones have never done anything better.
LCD Soundsystem – ‘Losing My Edge’
26. LCD Soundsystem – ‘Losing My Edge’ (2002, DFA).
The tune that gave hipster disco a new musical lexicon and lease of life; the muffled, skuzzy beats, tinny vocals and nonchalant attitude dragged dance music out of the metallic claws of the DJs and into the grubby hands of the Williamsburg indie crowd.
Arcade Fire – ‘Wake Up’
25. Arcade Fire – ‘Wake Up’ (2005, Rough Trade).
An almighty, celestial wail-along, it’s the sound of God’s cry-wank and by far the most uplifting song ever to warn kids never to grow up because every hope and dream they hold dearest will crumble to a lifeless husk before their eyes the minute their first graduate loan demand drops on your doormat.
The La’s – There She Goes
22. The La’s – There She Goes (1988, Go! Discs).
Amongst the most beautiful songs in the whole of British pop’s vast canon, ‘There She Goes’ is as close to perfection as any English songwriter has got since the 60s. Some say it’s about smack; it’s certainly addictive enough.
The Specials – ‘Ghost’
21. The Specials – ‘Ghost’ (1981, 2 Tone).
More than thirty years after its release, the “impending doom” that Jerry Dammers sought to convey on ‘Ghost Town’ still hangs over modern-day Britain like a rusty guillotine. An apocalyptic skank macabre through what no-one had yet thought to call ‘Broken Britain’.
Blur – ‘Girls And Boys’
20. Blur – ‘Girls And Boys’ (1995, Parlophone).
Going for the jugular of the Chris Evans/Loaded Magazine/Club 18-30 culture of the period: skewering the lard-for-brains, STD-acquiring Costa Del Sol fun-pub classes, ‘Girls & Boys’ also made it all sound like, well, possibly the best thing in the world.
The Beatles – ‘A Day In The Life’
17. The Beatles – ‘A Day In The Life’ (1967, Parlophone)
As the consummate experimental showpiece of an album that was the grandest studio achievement of the time, ‘A Day In The Life’ raised rock’s bar unreachably high and threw down a monumental gauntlet that their peers and progeny would spend decades trying to lift.
The Beach Boys – ‘God Only Knows’
14. The Beach Boys – ‘God Only Knows’ (1966, Capitol).
Taken from Brian Wilson’s only //completed// opus, 1966’s ‘Pet Sounds’, ‘God Only Knows’ was romance tinged with desperation, the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling that love is a house of cards and tragedy is always around the corner. A tour de force of musicianship capped off by a perfect lead vocal.
The Smiths – ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’
12. The Smiths – ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ (1986, Rough Trade). Should the Smiths ever decide to do one last hurrah, reforming for a tour or Glastonbury, this will be the song every fan wants on the setlist – the perfect combination of sunny guitar jangles and touching lyrical melodrama.
Good Vibrations – ‘The Beach Boys’
10. Good Vibrations – ‘The Beach Boys’ (1966, Capitol).
Instead of a new chapter opening, ‘Good Vibrations’ ended up as the high-watermark of Brian Wilson’s talent. It captured everything that was light, dreamy and angelic about The Beach Boys, yet stretched their template into new galaxies of sound. It still sounds like it came together in an afternoon, one beautiful daydream later.
The Ronettes – ‘Be My Baby’
9.The Ronettes – ‘Be My Baby’ (1963, Philles).
A bittersweet tale of teenage romance that speaks through the ages, ‘Be My Baby’ was the jewel in the crown of Phil Spector’s catalogue. It’s still, the pin of modern pop music. From the moment the “boom-ba-boom” drumbeat kicks in, its blend of saccharine love notes and heart-trodden melancholy still sound like sheer perfection in songcraft.
New Order – ‘Blue Monday’
8. New Order – ‘Blue Monday’ (1983, Factory).
‘Blue Monday’ excels in how the band created something robotic and void of all emotion that still sounds as brilliantly timeless and futuristic now, despite decades of advancing technology and electro invention. A pivotal and visionary record, it basically invented modern dance music.
Arctic Monkeys – ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’
7. Arctic Monkeys – ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ (2005, Domino).
The Arctic Monkeys’ most memorable hit heralded a major new songwriting talent in its opening six lines alone. Alex Turner may wince at it these days, but ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ is still //the// perfect encapsulation of what it is to be young, pissed, lusty, angry and skint in modern day Britain.
Pulp – ‘Common People’
6. Pulp – ‘Common People’ (1995, Island).
In a Britain run by children of privilege, in which austerity becomes simply another tool with which to wage a systematic attack on the poor and vulnerable, ‘Common People’ is much more than five minutes and fifty seconds of the most thrilling indie pop ever written; it’s become a snapshot of Britain in the 21st century. A commoner’s pride anthem.
The Strokes – ‘Last Nite’
5. The Strokes – ‘Last Nite’ (2001, Rough Trade).
‘Last Nite’ amounted a three-minute, fifteen-second primer on all that is vital about American rock ‘n’ roll, a song that tingled the primordial nerve-centres in a way that – like the song says – all your girlfriends, grandsons and spaceship inhabitants could never understand.
The Smiths – ‘How Soon Is Now?’
4. The Smiths – ‘How Soon Is Now?’ (1985, Rough Trade).
If Morrissey’s everyloser sentiment was destined to chime with generations of anguished depressives struggling to find their way, likewise Johnny Marr’s subterranean waves of oscillation and Doppler effect hookline have kept decades of alternative rock obsessives and guitar hero wannabes gasping and guessing. Best. B-side. Ever.
Donna Summer – ‘I Feel Love’
3. Donna Summer – ‘I Feel Love’ (1977, Casablanca/GTO ).
‘I Feel Love’’s erotic electronic explorations would arouse a revolution in not only disco, but the birth of techno and far beyond that’s still going on, and still being slavishly copied, to this day. Its bass-driven machine groove added an explicit sexiness to dance music that just couldn’t be contained.
Joy Division -‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’
2. Joy Division -‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ (1980, Factory).
Joy Division’s defining statement, the swansong to the score which plays over the final credits in their story. The song which, is forever linked to Ian’s life, troubles and suicide after his widow Debbie had it transcribed on his memorial stone. A song with an appeal that’s endured far beyond his life and is unlikely to ever dim.
Nirvana – ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’
1. Nirvana – ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (1991, Geffen).
‘…Teen Spirit’ encapsulated not just a generation, but a feeling that had never been captured so truly in song before – an angry malaise for the establishment, a churning eruption of nothingness at an increasingly corporate world. Which is why it remains so powerful, and why, here we are now, still celebrating it today.