Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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The GDB Essentials: 100 Years, 100 Songs

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 27, 2007

Sometimes ten just ain’t enough

I’ve decided to introduce a regular column to this blog, which will be the counting down of my choices for the 100 Greatest Songs of All Time. These will be counted down one song-per-post at a time, in no faster a rate than two a week, meaning I’ll probably finish sometime around March of next year. I’m aware of how presumptuous this pacing is, as it assumes that:

  1. I’ll still have the same exact opinions in a year that I do now
  2. I’ll still be updating this blog regularly in a year
  3. I’ll still be alive at all in a year

But for now, at least, I’m gonna assume that these three assumptions will not provide too much of an obstacle.

Equally, I am aware how presumptuous it is to assume that I know what the 100 Greatest Songs of All Time are, much less to be able to do them justice in countdown form. And in fairness, I am not saying that these are, on an objective scale, the 100 most worthy songs ever written by anyone. However, I’m also not saying that these are necessarily my 100 favorite songs of all-time (though at the very least, I absolutely love every one of them). Rather, these are just the songs that I think are the 100 best ever.

The difference between a critic’s favorite songs and what he thinks are the best, or whether there in fact is a difference at all, is a tricky thing to quantify. Many, many critics insist that no such difference exists, and that if a song is your favorite, you automatically think it’s the best song ever, and to say anything else is hypocritical or dishonest. Others insist that they can be objective enough to separate the two distinctions. The divide between these two groups is often as extreme as that between Red States and Blue States, and hostility between the two factions can be just as bilious.

Honestly, I think both groups are right. It’s unreasonable to assume that there are any objective criteria by which a song can be rated aside from your own personal enjoyment of it, and yet, could I ever really rate Eamon’s “Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)” on an all-time best songs list over a song like Split Enz’s “I Got You” just because the former puts a bigger smile on my face? Probably not, because my experiences with the former are so personal, and have so much more to do with what the song represents than with the song itself. So I really don’t think it’s that simple.

In this list, I tended to skew slightly away from the personal favorites and more towards the important and paradigmatic. That’s not to say that I threw myself out completely–believe me, there are plenty of songs here that virtually no other writer would list as one of the 100 greatest songs ever–but this list is all about greatness, and there are some songs that despite my having much love for, I just don’t think exist on the same plane as the other songs mentioned.
Speaking of which, 100 songs really isn’t that much when you consider that I’m dealing with about 50 years of music (I think the oldest song on the list is from ’57)–meaning that on average, an entire year of tunes should only be represented by two tunes. Of course it doesn’t work out quite like that–the 80s and 90s are probably far more represented than any other decade here (sorry, I’m only human)–but nonetheless, there are plenty of amazing songs and artists from all decades that I was forced to exclude. This includes the following list of artists and songs, some of which I didn’t include because I felt my love for them was too personal, some of which I didn’t include because I forgot about them until now (I deliberately did this list without consulting my vast supply of previous Best Songs of _______ lists, and it’s too late to turning back now), and the great majority of which I didn’t include just because, well, I just didn’t have room:

The All-American Rejects’ “Move Along,” The Arcade Fire, Teenage Fanclub, Dinosaur Jr., Prince, Art of Noise, Pink Floyd, Blur, Pulp, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Folk Implosion’s “Natural One,” The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Posies’ “Burn & Shine,” Fall Out Boy, The Prodigy, The Future Sound of London, The Tornadoes’ “Telstar,” Ram Jam’s “Black Betty,” The Human League, En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind,” James Brown, 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love,” Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love,” Duran Duran, Def Leppard, Electric Light Orchestra, Bob Seger, Bryan Adams, The Ronnettes, Peter Gabriel, Newcleus’s “Jam On It,” The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays, The Orb, Ron Grainer’s “Dr. Who Theme,” The KLF, Avril Lavigne, Extreme’s “More Than Words,” Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike,” Everclear’s “Santa Monica,” Green Day, the Beastie Boys, 2Pac, the New Radicals, the cocteau Twins, Jimi Hendrix, Split Enz’s “I Got You” and Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Broken Social Scene, Lilys, Ash, Third Eye Blind, the Troggs’ “Wild Thing” and Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing,” Rob Base & DJ EZ-Rock’s “It Takes Two,” The Delfonics, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Iggy Pop solo and with The Stooges, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, the Jackson Five, The Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child,” Elliot Smith’s “Needle in the Hay,” The Yardbirds, Acen, Shy FX’s “Original Nuttah,” Roni Size, Violent Femmes, “Spirit in the Sky” by both Norman Greenbaum and Doctor + the Medics, Manic Street Preachers, dNTEL’s “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan” and The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” The Field Mice, Public Image Ltd., The Ramones, The Diplomats or any Diplomats solo artists, Guided By Voices, Harry Nilsson, Massive Attack, Portishead, Sneaker Pimps’ “6 Underground,” Brian Eno, Oval’s “Do While,” The Eagles or any Eagles solo artists, KoRn, The Sundays’ “Here’s Where the Story Ends,” N.W.A., Public Enemy, Eric B. & Rakim, Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks,” Blow Monkeys’ “Diggin’ Your Scene,” Justin Timberlake with or without *NSYNC, The Rapture, !!!, LCD Soundsystem, Bran Van 3000’s “Drinking in L.A.,” LEN’s “Steal My Sunshine” or Andrea True Connection’s “More, More, More,” Lipps Inc.’s “Funky Town,” Freeway’s “What We Do,” Go Home Productions or any mashups whatsoever, Tortoise, Nas, The Verve, 311’s “Amber,” Edwyn Collins with or without Orange Juice, T.I., Le Knight Club’s “Soul Bells,” Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” David Banner’s “Like a Pimp,” Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You,” R. Kelly, Ludacris, Mobb Deep, Notorious B.I.G., Boards of Canada, Boy Meets Girl’s “Waiting for a Star to Fall,” Cornershop, Lush, Basement Jaxx, Simple Minds, The Alarm’s “Rain in the Sumemrtime,” Big Country’s “In a Big Country,” Soul Asylum, Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories’ “Stay (I Missed You),” Mariah Carey, The Replacements, Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” Boz Scaggs’s “Lowdown,” Neil Young, Robert Palmer, General Public’s “Tenderness,” Thompson Twins, Rick Springfield’s “Jesse’s Girl,” The Modern Lovers, The Jam, The Raspberries, Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train,” The Chi-Lites, The Association, The Classics IV’s “Spooky,” Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye, MFSB, The O’Jays, The Ohio Express’s “Yummy, Yummy, Yumy,” Herb Alpert, Deep Purple, Derek & the Dominoes’ “Layla,” The Human Beinz’s “Nobody But Me,” Curtis Mayfield, Peter & Gordon, The Four Tops, The Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today,” Martha & the Vandellas, Del Shannon, The Kinks, The Everly Brothers, The Zombies, The Crystals, The Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace,” Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Also, I have to give a special shout out to Depeche Mode, who have at least a half-dozen songs who very easily could’ve been #101 on this list, but for some reason, I just couldn’t pick one to go on the list.

Looking at the list of exclusions (which I’m sure is ridiculously incomplete, and I’ll think of a hundred more songs tomorrow that should be on here instead), can I really say that this will be a list of the one hundred best songs ever written? Fuck no, this list is woefully incomplete, completely unbalanced, biased, and just out and out wrong, and once people see some of the songs that are on here instead of these artists and songs, they’ll want my head for it, and rightfully so–if I was reading someone else’s list and they left all that shit out, I’d probably want the same thing. Still, it’s the best I can do, and in the end, all it really is one man’s opinion. If you don’t like it, well, I’ll try harder next time.

(First entry will be posted tomorrow, hopefully)

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