I created a couple of rules for myself before compiling this list. I decided that only one song per group/artist could be used. However, if a musician was in a different group or had a solo career, it was ok to use a song from that different/solo act.
Additionally, the songs on this list needed to have vocals, which rules out a bulk of jazz music. That’s another list for another time.
This list, like anything else, is subjective. You may disagree with my choices and, in due time, I may disagree with them as well. That’s normal. Even Rolling Stone updates their list of the “500 Greatest Songs.”
As it is a subjective list, I tried to limit my choices to artists I enjoy. There are no songs by Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, The Smiths, or The Clash on this list. Sorry to anyone who likes those bands. It seemed disingenuous to add songs to this list if I did not like them myself.
Admittedly, it was tough to choose only one song per band but I felt that it needed to be done. Otherwise, the list would read like a catalog of songs by The Rollings Stones and The Beatles.
I also tried to stick to the original versions/writers of the song, though I do contradict myself and try to point out when I do.
100. Since U Been Gone – Kelly Clarkson
Clarkson, the winner of the inaugural season of American Idol, wrote this breakup song that does not resemble one. While the lyrics have a clear theme, they are not downtrodden and there is no slow tempo or moody vocals breaks that fit that mold. Instead, Clarkson creates a masterpiece of pop rock. Feel free to criticize this choice but don’t lie to yourself and say the song does not get stuck in your head. It’s infectious.
99. Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard – Paul Simon
What’s not to love about a folk singer who teams up with Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie to create the intro for his music video? While it’s easy to argue that “Graceland,” “Bridge over Troubled Waters,” or a handful of other songs belong in this spot, I truly appreciate the sense of playfulness that Simon shows in songs like “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”
98. Fire and Rain – James Taylor
James Taylor’s music has a tendency to be a bit too schmaltzy for my tastes but this American classic tugs so much at the heartstrings that it’s hard not to let its sincerity, simplicity, and emotion permeate every fiber of your being.
97. Sucker M.C.’s – Run-D.M.C.
How are you supposed to pick one Run-D.M.C. song? It’s a daunting task to decide whether you want a popular hit like “Walk This Way” or one of their most notable songs, “It’s Tricky” or even the holiday-themed tune, “Christmas In Hollis.” Well, it’s tricky. Ultimately, I decided that “Sucker M.C.’s” was a cut above the rest because of the undeniable influence it had on hip hop culture.
96. Will You Love Me Tomorrow – The Shirelles
By today’s standards. the lyrics of this song are mild at best. When the song was first released, though, it was a lot more controversial because women took the now took the lead in a relationship, instead of being subservient. Carole King, who composed the song, recorded her own version of it with Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. The original recording by The Shirelles is more upbeat and catchy.
95. My Sweet Lord – George Harrison
George Harrison, the most overlooked member of The Beatles whose life was tragically cut short, shows what he was truly capable of doing with “My Sweet Lord.” The vocals have a bit of an influence from Paul McCartney but the comparison to any influence from The Beatles stops there. It is kind of remarkable that, a half-century later, so many celebrities, including Ringo Starr, came together to create a video that celebrates this beautiful song. It is worth noting, though, that The Chiffons claimed he plagiarized their song, “He’s So Fine.” It certainly is plausible, which is why the song isn’t higher on the list. The inclusive lyrics that accept all faiths are enough to keep it on here, though.
The Chiffons later recorded a cover of “My Sweet Lord,” presumably to stick it to Harrison.
94. Such Great Heights – The Postal Service
Although “Such Great Heights” is now 20-years old, it will still be some time before it is truly appreciated in the pantheon of great songs. The indie pop collaboration still feels too young and new to fall into that classic category from which so many of the greatest songs exist. In due time, I believe it will get the respect it deserves in the music annals.
93. The Chain – Fleetwood Mac
How awkward is it to write a song about the end of a relationship when your partner is also your bandmate? Cringey. “The Chain” shows Fleetwood Mac’s commitment and focus on their music above all else, not to mention their raw talent and chemistry.
92. Search and Destroy – The Stooges
Long before the Red Hot Chili Peppers existed, The Stooges set the stage for Anthony Kiedis and his merry band of c*ck-sock wearing musicians. The Stooges heavily influenced the Red Hot Chili Peppers as well as the development of punk rock music.
91. When I’m Gone – Phil Ochs
The political activist, Phil Ochs, makes a strong case to fight for what is right while you still can. He had a prolific career until he took his own life at the young age of 35. It was said that he wrote a minimum of one new song per day. However, he did not rise to the folk hero levels of people like Woodie Guthrie, who inspired his music. Ochs flies a little too far under the radar but he has earned the same recognition as Guthrie and Pete Seeger.