This week’s NME counts down the 500 greatest songs of all time. Kicking off our countdown at 500 is David Bowie’s ‘Five Years’ (1972, RCA). A brittle, bittersweet and piano-led anthem for an Earth doomed to imminent destruction, and the timeless opening track of Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ masterpiece.
499. Blur – ‘Out Of Time’ (2003, Parlophone). Graham Coxon famously got the hump with Blur’s direction circa ‘Think Tank’, but he couldn’t have had many quibbles with the gorgeous ‘Out Of Time’ – one of Damon’s deftest and most delicate strums.
496. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Hey Joe’ (1966, Track). An old 60s song covered by all and sundry, until Hendrix got his hands on it and delivered the definitive version: a smoking, slithering guitar masterpiece and the tale of a rogue running from the cops after shooting his wife.
495. Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci – ‘Patio Song’ (1996, Fontana). Trotting friskily down the psychedelic path of Welsh whimsy leveled by Super Furry Animals in their tanks, Gorky’s charmed the ’90s airwaves with his giddy, dewy-eyed, deeply weird love song.
491. Johnny Cash – ‘One’ (2000, American Recordings). The Man In Black gives a sombre take on U2’s hymn to mending dysfunction, stripping away the bombast and allowing his soft, cannonball-thud of a vocal to steamroll all in its path.
488. The Stranglers – ‘Golden Brown’ (1982, Liberty). One of the strangest time signatures ever to charm the charts, the Stranglers’ ode to the wacky baccy is as hypnotically alluring and soothing as its subject matter.
484. Oasis – ‘Some Might Say’ (1995, Creation). There’s nonsensical lyrics aplenty – fishes in the sink, itchy dogs in the kitchen and so forth – but ‘Some Might Say’ , with its infectious-as-fuck guitar lines and bawl-along choruses, is still one of the dumbest, funnest throwaway pop larks imaginable.
482. Franz Ferdinand – ‘Darts Of Pleasure’ (2003, Domino). The single that launched sent thousands of immaculately-dressed indie kids tumbling onto the dancefloor, and Franz Ferdinand’s debut release. Suave, sophisticated and oh-so-sexy, combining sharp, Gang Of Four-style guitars with Alex Kapranos’ wink-heavy charm.
475. Gnarls Barkley – ‘Crazy’ (2006, Warner Bros). The meeting of minds between Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton and Cee-Lo Green birthed a bona-fide pop classic: a sultry-but-paranoid freak-out of neo-soul RnB.
474. Smashing Pumpkins, ‘Disarm’ (1993, Hut). The most scab-pickingly maudlin moment of an extremely angsty album, this boohoo-my-childhood track’s secret weapon is buoying of melodic delicacy with great, cosmic sweeps of strings that lift it far beyond Billy’s individual wallows.
473. The Kinks – ‘Lola’ (1970, Pye). We’ve all got our many and varied stories about accidentally sleeping with a ladyboy, but Ray Davies’ is by far the sweetest. Big hands, that’s the sign.
472. Palma Violets – ‘Best Of Friends’ (2012, Rough Trade). Getting the old ‘I just don’t see you that way,’ routine never sounded so bittersweet as on Palma’s rambuncious tale of unrequited love. BASTARDS. (We still love them.)
471. Guns N’ Roses – ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ (1987, Geffen). Axl, Slash and co may be fond of some wanton destruction – shrieking riffs, even shriekier vocals and the rest of it –but there’s always been a tender side to them, too: witness ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’, all sweetness and one of Slash’s most epic guitar lines.
470. Primal Scream – ‘Movin On Up’ (1991, Creation). The Scream have two flipsides to their coin: nihiistic S&M fascist dance commandants, and spaced-out, Stones-loving psychonauts. This is their most singalong, unashamedly warm, open and jubilant incarnation of the latter guise, and if you can’t take it, your soul is broken.
467. Teenage Fanclub – ‘Star Sign’ (1991, Creation). A fuzzy-guitared but never-fuzzy headed up-yours to superstition, in which the Fannies embrace the unknowability of the universe, probably while wearing a stripy woolly jumper.
462. The Vaccines – ‘If You Wanna’ (2011, Columbia). Essentially the anti-‘Scientist’, this was pure punk pop heartbreak bursting clean out of Justin Young’s chest and racing down the street after his ex.
461. Wings – ‘Live And Let Die’ (1973, Apple). The Bond theme to end them all, Macca’s most bombastic moment was the sound of the Royal Philharmonic spontaneously combusting, and then God trying to stamp them out.
458. Rihanna feat. Jay Z – ‘Umbrella’ (2007, Def Jam). The monster hit which elevated Rihanna to pop’s top table – with a little help from Jay Z – is RnB perfection: all spacious, cavernous drums, thunderous production and a fraught-as-they-come declaration from Ri-Ri of eternal love and devotion.
457. Prodigy – ‘Firestarter’ (1996, XL). ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ had already made the Prodigy rave poster-kinds and dance megastars, but this was the punktronica smash, so gleefully naughty, that made them national terrors.
456. Snoop Doggy Dogg – ‘What’s My Name?’ (1993, Death Row/Interscope). Snoop’s laconic, languid drawl is arguably at its finest here, on the rapper’s debut solo single.
450. The Beatles – ‘I Am The Walrus’ (1967, Parlophone) What makes this song so amazing is the way it sounds like the ’60s turning sour; Lennon’s rancour seeping through as he combines Lewis Carroll and playground rhymes in an almost-parody of psychedelia. “Let the fuckers work that one out,” he reportedly quipped on writing it.
447. Pulp – ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’ (1994, Island). Breathless with the thrill of first love, brittle with the pain of heartbreak and regret, the arch and retro skulkers in the kitchen at the Britpop party have rarely sounded so vulnerable.
446. The Rolling Stones – ‘Tumbling Dice’ (1972, Rolling Stones Records).
Sleepy-eyed, ruffle haired and disreputable, the Stones sleep-all-day, jam-all-night schedule for ‘Exile On Main St’ paid off in this deliciously lazy, sleazy boogie-woogie jackpot.
445. Blur – ‘Popscene’ (1992, Food). One of the first flowerings of Britpop popper, this sharp, lean burst of horn-stabbed, waspish satire on a gormless music industry that didn’t know what was about to hit it remains one of Blur’s most headbangingly fun moments.
444. Leftfield feat. John Lydon – ‘Open Up’ (1993, Hard Hands). The rampant theme tune of alternative dance music’s golden era harnessed the glorious, gleeful, antichrist vengeance of the erstwhile Mr Rotten to turn it on the hollow icons of Hollywood.
442. Roots Manuva – ‘Witness (1 Hope)’ (2001, Big Dada). A bouncy, big-bollocked breakthrough for UK hip-hop in the ’90s, this track reminded us that we didn’t need to look to the US for rap heroes, with its “10 pints of bitter” and “cheese on toast”. Not “grilled cheese”, mind. Cheese on toast.
441. Bobby Fuller Four – ‘I Fought The Law’ (1965, Mustang). Made even more famous by The Clash, Bobby Fuller enjoyed six months of success on the back of this anti-establishment lament in 1965 before dying in an apparent – but allegedly questionable – suicide.
440. Beck – ‘Where It’s At’ (1996, Geffen). The weird, wonderful and sample-heavy first single from Beck’s genre-straddling masterpiece ‘Odelay’. Contains more ideas than most artists muster up in their whole career.
438. Madonna – ‘Material Girl’ (1984, Sire). The Queen Of Pop’s tongue-in-cheek take on 80s consumerism, with a stonking chorus and a cheesy-but-great synthpop sound.
437. Special AKA – ‘Nelson Mandela’ (1984, 2 Tone). One of the best-known protest songs in history, because it followed the three golden rules: keep it simple, make it catchy, make your message strong.
436. Kings Of Leon – ‘The Bucket’ (2004, Handmedown). A classic of the verse-better-than-chorus genre, ‘The Bucket’ was Kings Of Leon’s melodic high-point, a sparkling pop tribute to slackerdom.
434. The Kinks – ‘Sunny Afternoon’ (1966, PYE). One of the most deliciously musically nonchalant tracks ever written, the combination of music hall whimsy, speakeasy amble and a killer singalong chorus means you’ll almost be sympathetic to Ray Davies’ tax-dodging dreams by the time he’s through. Almost.
432. The Verve – ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ (1997, Hut). Even if you’ve never been a cat in a bag waiting to drown, you could relate to The Verve’s grandiloquent paean of loss, belonging and shonky narcotics.
430. Althea and Donna – ‘Up Town Top Ranking’ (1977, Lightning). This song has more peerless attitude than most people’s entire record collections, and its teenage singers might have been one-hit wonders, but they were still cooler than all the punk boys in 1977.
429. Weezer – ‘Buddy Holly’ (1994, DGC) Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo thought this was “too cheesy” to include on their self-titled debut. Thankfully he changed his mind.
424. PJ Harvey – ‘Down By The Water’ (1995, Island). Only PJ Harvey could make a song about a woman drowning her daughter this enjoyable.
421. Neutral Milk Hotel – ‘Holland, 1945’ (1998, Merge). Probably the only song about war, death, injustice, Anne Frank and her sister Margot that you can dance to.
420. Coldplay – ‘Yellow’ (2000, Parlophone). Originally written as a Neil Young parody, these four minutes thrust Coldplay to global fame.
418. Nirvana – ‘Come As You Are’ (1992, Geffen). If ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ showed Nirvana’s raw power, ‘Come As You Are’ proved Cobain’s songwriting prowess.
416. Blur – ‘Chemical World’ (1993, Food). With giant nods to XTC, it’s impossible not to be drawn in by Graham’s crashing intro riff and Damon’s high-as-a-kite chorus.
415. Carly Simon – ‘You’re So Vain’ (1972, Elektra). Is it about Warren Beatty? David Bowie? Who cares? 70s soft rock rarely got better than this.
414. The Only Ones – ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ (1978, Columbia). Easily new wave’s best song about ‘loving the alien’, The Only Ones’ biggie still zips by at warp speed nine.
413. Elvis Costello And The Attractions – ‘Watching The Detectives’ (1977, Stiff). Costello wrote this slab of stalker reggae noir, about a lover who’d rather watch TV, after staying up all night listening to The Clash.
411. Fugazi – ‘Waiting Room’ (1988, Dischord). Not so much as a wasted note on this lesson in leanness. The four-second silence at 0.22 is exhilarating.
407. The Ramones – ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’ (1977, Sire). A punk band playing a surf-rock tune. Simple, really, but the world span a whole lot faster as a result.
406. Alt-J – ‘Breezeblocks’ (2012, Infectious). Joe Newman’s distinctive vocal, offbeat rhythms and arrangement make this an otherworldly treat.
402. Thin Lizzy – ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ (1976, Vertigo). Macho rock’n’roll thunderblast that understandably become an anthem for sports teams around the world.