My Favorite All-Time Songs: The Top 20

Posted: December 25, 2016 in Music, Opinion, Rock Lyrics, Rock Music, Rock Videos, Things I Love

Boy, was this a hard one. How to narrow down such a list? First off, I had to come up with some sort of criteria, and after weeks seconds of deliberation I came up with one. These are songs that I simply never get tired of hearing. They don’t have to have great lyrics, although that’s a plus.  Sometimes it’s just the melody or the tune, and sometimes it’s sort of undefinable. You like what you like, right? Hey, I’ve admitted my appreciation of Kelly Clarkson and The Osmonds before. I ain’t skeered. And as for all you high-falootin’ judgemental musical elitists who don’t think my favorite songs are up to your standards, you can go straight to hell. Merry Christmas everybody!

So in no particular order, let us commence. Click on the title to hear the song.

Caroline, No – The Beach Boys (1966)caroline

  • Just a heart-wrenching, sad, gorgeous song. Touches me every time I hear it to this day. Brian Wilson’s writing at its peak: “Where did your long hair go? Where is the girl I used to know? How could you lose that happy glow? Oh Caroline, no.”

So Very Hard To Go – Tower of Power (1973)

  • Those horns, man. The Tower of Power horn section is legendary. Once again, it’s a beautiful song about lost love. “Cause I could never make you unhappy, no, I couldn’t do that girl. I only wish I didn’t love you so, it makes it so, so very hard to go.” Seriously though, click on the link and listen to the horns.

Imagine, Take 1 – John Lennon (1971)

  • Sure, the released version is great, but this pared down outtake is simply stunning. Recorded at John’s house, you can even hear someone say, “Quiet in the kitchen, please” at the beginning. Note: I own a piece of the front door to that house. Not even kidding. Thanks, second wife.

Church of Logic, Sin and Love – The Men (1992)church

  • Just a blast of Rock & Roll that came out of nowhere from a completely unknown band. Released during the height of grunge but not grungy at all, it has everything – melody, a searing guitar, and cool but rather weird and enigmatic lyrics. I can’t get enough of this tune. On a related note, I got to know drummer Dave Botkin on FB and am happy to report he’s a pretty righteous dude. Love. This. Song: “The Thing ahead sixty miles, do not miss. Not for the squeamish or depressed, Not for the unbelievers, truly obsessed. Something you just don’t wanna miss. It’s the kind of place where space explorers could have landed around 1963 when Kennedy was in Life Magazine, And everything was aquamarine . . . aquamarine.

Dialogue Parts 1 & 2 – Chicago (1972)

  • In Part I of this song, the lyrics are a dialogue between two young people with different views. The first person (whose lines are sung by Terry Kath) is very concerned about events of the early 1970s, such as war, starvation, and “repression closing in around.” The second person (whose lines are sung by Peter Cetera) maintains that “everything is fine.” Musically, the song is also a dialogue between Kath’s rhythm guitar and Cetera’s bass. As Part I comes to a close, Kath’s character sarcastically endorses the other character’s worldview, saying “You know you really eased my mind, I was troubled by the shapes of things to come.” The response, which hints at an acknowledgment of culpability: “Well, if you had my outlook, your feelings would be numb – you’d always think that everything was fine.” Just an outstanding song, and both Kath and Cetera tear it up on their vocals. Part 2 is the whole band singing, “We can make it happen.”Awesome stuff.

Have You Ever See The Rain – Creedence Clearwater Revival (1970)

  • In my opinion the best song by the legendary Creedence Clearwater Revival. CCR leader John Fogerty has said in interviews that the song is about rising tension within CCR and the imminent departure of his brother Tom from the band. He said the song was written about the fact that they were on the top of the charts and had surpassed all of their wildest expectations of fame and fortune, but somehow all the members of the band at the time were depressed and unhappy. Thus this famous line: “Have you ever seen the rain, coming down on a sunny day?” It touched me deeply, and I still love it today.

Sitting Still – REM (1983)rem

  • Listen to that jangly guitar. That was the beginning of alternative music for me. It seems rather unremarkable today, but that sound led to the creation of bands such as Dinosaur Jr, Beck, The National, Pavement, and yes, Radiohead, Coldplay and Nirvana. Kurt Cobain himself said that Nirvana was heavily influenced by REM. REM created the model for alt music, and this song is vintage, classic REM.

Oh Girl – The Chi-Lites (1972)

  • Again, a song straight from an aching, broken heart. 70’s R&B as only The Chi-Lites, and lead singer Eugene Record, could sing it. A beautifully sad song of despair, and one of my favorite tunes ever.

Acadian Driftwood (Live from The Last Waltz) – The Band (1976)

  • Here’s what’s beautiful about music – that a Canadian song describing the forcible displacement of the Acadian people after the war between the French and English could have such an effect on a 20-year old kid from southern Ohio. Robbie Robertson’s lyrics were influenced by Longfellow’s poem Evangeline, which describes the deportation of the Acadians. Just a beautiful, haunting, intelligently written song that still touches me to my core.

Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan (1965)

  • “How does it feeeel?” This was one of Dylan’s first “electric” tunes, and it still soars majestically today. Rolling Stone magazine named the song the #1 rock song of all-time, and that’s hard to disagree with. We used to discuss this song in my 8th grade Reading class because it was so well written. Dylan, man.

Do It Or Die – Atlanta Rhythm Section (1979)

  • I’ve always loved the mood a good ARS song could bring to the table, songs such as “All Night Rain” and this one. It’s an ultimately uplifting song about surviving, and I loved lyrics like this: “Do it or die now, stand your ground. Don’t let your bad breaks go gettin’ you down.
    Even when times get rough, and you’ve had enough, you still gotta try. Do it no matter what the people say, they don’t even know you.” Rodney Justo’s soulful, heartfelt vocals make the song even better.

Nowhere Man – The Beatles (1965)the_beatles-nowhere_man_s_8

  • It should come as no surprise that the four guys from Liverpool were the first to write a song that made me think. Before “Nowhere Man” I just liked music for the beat and the melody, never expecting to learn anything. Still, when I heard these lyrics I was mesmerized . . . “Doesn’t have a point of view, Knows not where he’s going to, Isn’t he a bit like you and me?” You know, I was just a kid but I knew exactly what they were saying – wake up, young man, and see what’s all around you.

One Step Up – Bruce Springsteen (1987)

  • There’s just something about this song that hits home with me. Something about a guy trying to find peace and to keep his head above water is sort of universal. “When I look at myself I don’t see, The man I wanted to be, Somewhere along the line I slipped off track, I’m caught movin’ one step up and two steps back.”

E’s Tune – E (1992)

  • One of my man Mark Oliver Everett’s early songs, before he founded the Eels. Who can’t relate to these lyrics? “Life’s just an ugly mess, The angry souls in such distress, Still there is a time when moments can be sweet, And it feels like someone’s smiling down on me.” Amen brother. This song strikes a chord with me on every level. Period.

Over the Rainbow – Eric Clapton (2002)

  • Probably my favorite song of all-time, and this is my favorite version. I am touched every single time I hear it. Sad and plaintive, but uplifting at the same time. It’s performed not particularly slow, but not fast either. Mid-tempo I guess. Whatever it is, I love it. Oh, and it’s performed live, folks. Love Clapton’s vocals on this one too. And oh, by the way, if it’s not played at my funeral I’ll come back and haunt all y’all.

We’re the Same – Matthew Sweet (1993)

  • Rolling Stone called this quite possibly the best song of 1993, and I couldn’t agree more. Just a pure pop confection of jangly guitars and gorgeous melodies. Matthew Sweet at the height of his powers. Sweet once said he was inspired to play guitar when he first heard “Sitting Still” by REM.

I Can Stand a Little Rain – Joe Cocker (1974)

  • This is a song about fighting back when you’re at your lowest, and the melody reflects that. It starts out slowly but builds to a crescendo towards the end, giving the listener hope that it’s going to be O.K.: “I can stand a little sorrow, I can stand it till tomorrow, I can stand a little strife, Just another taste of life, I can stand a little love, But when I’m on my last go-round, I can stand another test, Cause I made it before and I can make it some more.” Hell yes.

Looking for Space – John Denver (1975)

  • This song is about looking for the definition of who you are, by finding out where you are, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. The lyrics are quite profound in a simple way:  “It’s a sweet, sweet dream, Sometimes I’m almost there, Sometimes I fly like an eagle, And sometimes I’m deep in despair. All alone in the universe, sometimes that’s how it seems, I get lost in the sadness and the screams, Then I look in the center, suddenly everything’s clear, I find myself in the sunshine and my dreams.” Another song that just hits home with me on an emotional level.

Oh, Shenandoah – Van Morrison (1998)

  • This is a traditional American folk song of uncertain origin, dating to the early 19th century, and it’s about the Missouri River. There are many, many versions, and the song has been covered by everyone from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen to Tennessee Ernie Ford. However, I love this version by Van Morrison the most. Just a gorgeous song that I’ve loved since I was a kid, when I first heard it on a TV show called “A Man Called Shenandoah.” Every time I hear it I get hit right in the feels. Love this song.

Lay Down Burden – Brian Wilson (1998)brian

  • Another Brian Wilson tune, this is a song from his great Imagination comeback album in 1999. It’s another sad one about the death of his brother Carl, and again he lets us in on his innermost feelings: “So many years spent running away, How many times I wished I could stay, Too much emotion a hole in my heart, Feeling alone since we’ve been apart, And if I had the chance I’d never let you go, Just want you to know. Lay, lay me down, lay me down, Lay down burden.” Gorgeous melody and classic Brian Wilson harmonies as well.

I Will – The Beatles (1968)

  • One of the simplest songs Paul McCartney ever penned, yet one of the most beautiful. On the “White Album”, this tune was a favorite of mine and my best friends Tom and Andy. In fact, Andy sang it to us a few days before he passed away. I’ll never hear it again without thinking of him.

So there ya go. What are your all-time favorite songs?

Note: I lied. I listed 21 songs.


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