Sunday, February 6, 2011

Top 11: Favorite Songs of All-Time

A couple of weeks ago, my wife Crystel made the mention that “Let it Be” by The Beatles was her favorite song of all time. Hard to argue with her choice there. That got me thinking, what would I consider my favorite song of all time. For a music junkie, that might be the single hardest question you could ask. See, I figure it’s harder for someone who really loves music to choose as opposed to casual listener. The choices are exponentially greater. My wife insisted that it be only 10 songs, as I lobbied for the list to expand to 25 or 30. She wisely said that it had to be restricted it to 10.
I settled on 11, and this will be the first in an ongoing series of posts titled Top 11. Hopefully I can come up with interesting topics in the future to post within this framework.

I didn’t choose these songs because I think they are the consensus best songs ever, but because they are my favorites. There is never a time when I wouldn’t want to listen to any of the songs on this list.

Anyway, here is my shot at listing my top 11 favorite songs of all-time. Inevitably some will be left out, and maybe I’ll write an honorable mention post in the future.

Carolina In My Mind11. “Carolina In My Mind” – James Taylor: James Taylor is undoubtedly one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time. With dozens of excellent songs to his credit, this one is definitely my favorite. I could listen to the guitar alone and be happy, and if you think all singer-songwriters do is strum a few chords, try to play this one note for note. “Gone to Carolina” perfectly captures the feeling of longing for home, and I guess all of us have felt that from time to time.

Ripple (Remastered Version)10. “Ripple” – Grateful Dead: This song by the Grateful Dead was partially the inspiration for the name of this blog, and it is definitive proof that the Dead weren’t just a jam band. They had a string of outstanding songs and albums in the late ‘60s and early 70s, and to me, this is the finest of the Hunter/Garcia compositions (with Friend of the Devil a close second). With a guitar run that sounds like bluegrass on valium and lyrics like: Ripple in still water/where there is no pebble tossed/ Nor wind to blow, this has always been my favorite Dead song.

A Long December9. “A Long December” – Counting Crows: Counting Crowes are intermittently either my first, second or third favorite band depending on my mood, and this is my favorite song of theirs. The song has such strong imagery, and says so much without being too literal. Like everything Adam Duritz writes, the lyrics are pretty much perfect and the line: If you think you might come to California/ I think you should, gives me chills nearly every time I hear it.

The Only Living Boy In New York8. “The Only Living Boy in New York” – Simon & Garfunkel: Sometimes it takes hearing a song in the right context to make it really stand out. When “The Only Living Boy in New York” popped up on the Garden State soundtrack, if took on a whole new life. I’d heard the song many times before, but in this context it seemed new again. The same thing happened when their song “America” was featured in Almost Famous. This tune is all about mood, and Simon & Garfunkel were the masters at this type of song.

Everyday7. “Everyday” – Buddy Holly: Everything about this song is as near perfection as a pop song can come. The production, lyrics and vocal performance were spot on. Holly was a genius in a world of cookie-cutter pop stars, and had he not died in that fateful plane crash, he would have surely gone on to be the biggest thing in music. “Everyday” is at its core a song about wanting to ask a girl on a date, but it is so much more than that after you get past the surface. It touches on the fact that the longer we wait to pursue what we want, the faster it runs away from us. That’s a message we could all stand to take note of.

Try A Little Tenderness6. “Try A Little Tenderness” – Otis Redding: Here, we have one of the strongest vocal performances from, quite possibly, the best vocalist of all time. Starting out with a gently strummed electric guitar and building into a frenzy by the end, this was Otis at his prime. Plus, all of us gentlemen could stand hearing lines like When she gets weary/Try a little tenderness, a little more often. The message of the song is: no matter what troubles your woman, don’t fight it, just try a little tenderness. That sounds better than fighting doesn’t it?

Black (Remastered 2008)5. “Black” – Pearl Jam: My take on “Black” is that it’s a song about the end of a relationship that you put everything you had into, really focusing on that brutal period right when the heartbreak is the worst. The song begins with the main character singing: Sheets of empty canvas, untouched sheets of clay/ Were laid spread out before me as her body once did. From there the song is about dealing with this aftermath when your world has been turned upside down. Every picture and memory has turned dark and bitter, and while he knows she’ll be a “sun in somebody else’s sky” he wonders why she can’t be the sun in his sky. Given the Pearl Jam treatment, “Black” takes this subject and instead of making a mopey ballad, makes one of the most emotional and powerful rock songs ever recorded. This is also my favorite song to play and sing on guitar.

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right4. “Don’t Think Twice it’s All Right” – Bob Dylan: For all the complexities of many of Bob Dylan’s songs, he was many times as his best when he simplified things. This song is a perfect example. This song can be interpreted differently by everyone, but to me it’s about ending a relationship, moving on and saying he’s okay with it. In my opinion, he’s only saying he’s okay because it’s too painful to talk about, since he contradicts You’re the reason I’m travelin’ on/But don’t think twice it’s all right with But I wish there was something you would do or say/to try and make me change my mind and stay. She wanted something he couldn’t give, he thinks she could have done a lot of things differently (probably so could he, though the blame seems mostly aimed away from the songs character), but “Don’t think twice it’s all right.” It can also serve as a metaphor for a lot of things in life.

Tiny Dancer3. “Tiny Dancer” – Elton John: Written after Elton and Bernie Taupin’s first trip to California, this song is about what America (and specifically L.A.) looked like through the eyes of two British tourists. Of course there is an American love interest (the “Blue jean baby/L.A. Lady/Seamstress for the band”). There is speculation that it was about Taupin’s first wife, but that’s pretty irrelevant, as it’s the California imagery that makes this song one of the best of all time. Like number 8 on this list, “Tiny Dancer” benefitted greatly from its inclusion in a movie. This time, movie was Almost Famous and the unforgettable bus scene.

If We Make It Through December (2006 Digital Remaster)2. “If We Make it Through December” – Merle Haggard: While this song was originally released on Haggard’s Christmas album, it’s far from your typical holiday tune. The song is about a father who was laid off from his job, and wonders how he can afford to bring Christmas cheer to his family. I’ve never really considered this to be a Christmas song, just a really good song by one of the best, most underappreciated songwriters of our time. With its gentle, memorable acoustic guitar lines and Haggard’s simple poetry, this is simultaneously one of the most heartbreaking and hopeful songs I’ve ever heard.

Beast Of Burden1. “Beast of Burden” – The Rolling Stones: This late 70s gem from The Stones was written mostly by Keith with Mick filling in the verses. Keith has been quoted as saying that he imagined the song as a sort of thank you to Mick for shouldering the burden while Keith was going through his drug problems throughout the 70’s, though the song isn’t literally about that (or anything for that matter). It’s really a song that’s all about feel and attitude that’s pretty much perfect from start to finish. I can’t imagine a song with better guitar work. Guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Woods lock into a groove, trading licks throughout the entire song. Neither guitarists are playing rhythm nor lead, but both are locked in perfectly with the rhythm section. When the guitar intro plays and the first drum beat comes in, it is virtually impossible not to partake in a little air drumming.

So there they are, my favorite songs of all-time.  What are your favorites?

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