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Top 100 Songs Ever: 50-1

on September 21, 2012, 7:11am
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CoS Top 100 artwork

screen shot 2012 09 19 at 10.55.05 pm e1348113677572 Top 100 Songs Ever: 50 1

Click here to see songs 100-51.


pavementsummerbabe Top 100 Songs Ever: 50 1

50. Pavement – “Summer Babe (Winter Version)”

Slanted and Enchanted, 1992

Pavement were never dressed for success. On Slanted and Enchanted, they sounded like they haven’t done laundry in years. Even now it’s hard to tell whether ”Summer Babe (Winter Version)” is a ne’er-do-well savant stroke of genius or a calculated masterpiece disguised in ripped acid-washed jeans. But it’s proof that three slack mothefuckers (later joined by Bob Nastanovich and Mark Ibold) who can sorta play their instruments can also write a perfect summer love song. From Gary Young’s calamity on the set, to Spiral Stairs’ slippy bass riff (played on a guitar run through a bass amp), to S.M.’s overdriven and disconnected solo, “Summer Babe” balances the angular music with a simple song about an estival love in Stockton, CA. Malkmus will wait and wait and wait and wait and wait for that girl with the shiny robes who “stirs her cocktails with a plastic tipped cigar.” More small moments that just add up to so much: Young’s idiotic ideas on how to kick it up a notch on the drums at the end, Malkmus’ laugh on “drop off” in the third verse, and the everybody-now tender climax of “you’re my summer babe.” But success it should have come. -Jeremy D. Larson

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metallica one Top 100 Songs Ever: 50 149. Metallica – “One”

…And Justice for All, 1989

Metallica usually put the “b” back in subtle in their early work (“Alcohollica” was their nickname and Metal Up Your Ass was the slated title of their first release, for two) but when your subject matter is the deaf, blind, and mute quadruple-amputee soldier from the 1939 novel Johnny Got His Gun, you got a little more room to run with your metaphors — lyrical or otherwise. Its many sections build off each other, adding more gain and panic with each minute. Hammet even foreshadows his premiere tapping solo with an I-guess-you-could-call-it gentle tapping solo earlier in the song, and that double bass drum riff that Lars Ulrich plays at the top of the final section wasn’t an intentional echoing of the war going on inside of the soldier’s head, but it’s forever a machine gun now. For the handful of you who haven’t seen VH1′s Behind the Music on Metallica, the times following former bassist Cliff Burton’s death were tumultuous at best, masochistic at worst. The guys purportedly sabotaged the production on …And Justice for All, but its damaged sound fit the damaged band that was making it. “One” apes the compositional forms of former songs like “Fade to Black” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” and borrows from fine literature just like “Call of Ktulu” did, but the unfortunate circumstances around the album and song made for the most fortunate results. -Jeremy D. Larson

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can tago mago Top 100 Songs Ever: 50 148. Can – “Halleluwah”

Tago Mago, 1971

Like one of those Phoenixes, Can ascended from the ashes of post-World War II Germany in the ’70s with melodies embodying ambience, sprawling experimentation, and tribal-infused psychedelia. Comprised of the finest classically-trained jazz musicians — Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay trained under avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen — the band formed when Schmidt heard The Velvet Underground on a trip to New York. The frenzied improvisation of “Halleluwah” melts wailing guitar-lines, Jaki Liebezeit’s proto-krautrock  percussion, and vocalist Damo Suzuki’s diaphragm-crunching yelps, murmuring in a dialect that combines Japanese, German, and melodic nonsense. Not quite an angelic praise, Can’s 18-minute piece de résistance is both a demonic and sultry plea, howling for rebirth. -Paula Mejia

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beach boys good vibrations Top 100 Songs Ever: 50 147. The Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations”

“Good Vibrations”, 1966

Brian Wilson’s mad genius made him the Orson Welles of music, which makes “Good Vibrations” his Citizen Kane. Appending upon Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound production techniques, the song’s composition is a 90-hour patchwork of evocative recordings boiled down to a potent three and half minutes of melodic charm. It’s extraordinary the sessions did not result in a cacophonous mess considering the sheer volume of chaotic noise exploding both inside the studio and Wilson’s fragile mind. But despite all the bedlam, the complexity of “Good Vibrations” somehow stands as one of the catchiest tunes of all time. The Beatles admit to pulling inspiration from this “pocket symphony,” while contemporary artists like Animal Collective, The Decemberists, and even Girl Talk owe thanks to its sonic mashups, myriad remixes, and ecclectic instrumentation (a Tannerin and a cello never sounded sweeter together). Experimentations and excitations make music fun, but perseverance, foresight, and a touch of insanity keep it timeless. -Dan Pfleegor

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madonna like a virgin Top 100 Songs Ever: 50 146. Madonna – “Like a Virgin”

Like a Virgin, 1984

Madonna’s rise to superstardom was predicated upon a core dichotomy at the center of her public persona: She’s both an innocent, vulnerable girl and a sexual, confident woman. “Like A Virgin”, the title track from her second album and her first number one single, cemented this dichotomy. The song is probably not as musically dynamic as, say, anything by contemporaries Cyndi Lauper or Eurythmics, but Madge silenced critics who had marked her debut album a fluke success by injecting a liberal dose of sexuality into the burgeoning MTV culture of pop music. She creates a semiotic tangle by juxtaposing sultry “whoas” on the song’s bridge with her Lolita-esque “hey!” on the chorus; ditto for her black ’80s punk outfit and the white wedding dress. The video’s symbolism — lions, tunnels, masks — provided scholars with enough ammo to make Madonna an icon of post-modern feminism, or post-capitalist consumer culture, or sexual decadence in the face of neo-conservatism. Either way, without “Like a Virgin”, the superstar par excellence of the last 30 years would have just remained a hit. -Jake Cohen

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nwa straight outta compton Top 100 Songs Ever: 50 145. N.W.A. – “Fuck Tha Police”

Straight Outta Compton, 1988

According to an FBI bulletin sent to Priority Records in August 1989, N.W.A.’s greatest song “encourages violence against, and disrespect for, the law-enforcement officer.” Uh, was there ever any doubt? “Fuck tha Police” brought N.W.A. head-on with two issues its members had doubtless seen over and again in their native Compton: racial profiling and police brutality. Over funky samples of James Brown, Roy Ayers, Marva Whitney, and others, MCs Ice Cube, Ren, and Eazy-E took shots at cops with lines like “Searchin’ my car, lookin’ for the product/ Thinkin’ every nigga is sellin’ narcotics.” A statement this forthright couldn’t help but be, well, arresting – and nobody ever said Compton’s most willful did this one to make friends with the boys in blue. -Mike Madden

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lcd all my friends Top 100 Songs Ever: 50 144. LCD Soundsystem – “All My Friends”

Sound of Silver, 2007

Not all of us are terrified of becoming culturally irrelevant. Most people don’t give it a second thought. James Murphy, on the other hand, feared it and his self-conscious, inverted, sardonic anxiety was epitomized in 2002′s groundbreaking single “Losing My Edge”. But it wasn’t until LCD Soundsystem dropped the funky basslines and hypnotic piano of 2007′s “All My Friends” that he really struck big and chord with the masses. In less than eight minutes, Murphy gracefully touched upon themes of abandonment, failure, nostalgia, loss, and redemptive yearnings. Again and again, Murphy cries out in dire pain, “Where are your friends tonight?” Each time it hits us harder and harder, thanks to the surging percussion that lifts every beat. As the sustain fades away on the last chord,  Murphy is right there beside you calming your restless heart, and walks away leaving an echo of some imagined midlife crisis. Relevancy? Dude, this track got millions to care about your coffee shop.  -Michael Zonenashvili

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david bowie space oddity Top 100 Songs Ever: 50 143. David Bowie – “Space Oddity”

David Bowie, 1969

“Space Oddity” is about finding yourself in whatever galaxy you may reside in. It starts with a few subtle strokes on an acoutstic guitar, before Bowie “commences countdown” and orates the narrative journey of Major Tom. If understood as more of a cerebral fantasy, “Space Oddity” focuses on one’s search of independence through the courage to be alone, as constructed through the ideologue of Major Tom. Outside of that fantasy, however, it embodies the unique, if not strange, trajectory of Bowie’s influential career as an artist.  -Summer Dunsmore

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billie jean Top 100 Songs Ever: 50 142. Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean”

Thriller, 1982

“It has more hooks in it than anything I’ve ever heard,” said mega-producer/record exec Antonio “LA” Reid. “You could separate it into 12 different musical pieces and I think you’d have 12 different hits.” That’s all very true, but the power of “Billie Jean” reaches far beyond sheer hooks. The video, famed for those squares of road lighting up under Jackson’s flittering feet, is often cited with breaking the race barrier of MTV in the early 80s, when it became the first clip from a black artist to garner heavy rotation. When he sang the hit in 1983 at the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever TV special, Jackson premiered his now-iconic moonwalk, a move that went on to define his performances and redefine what your uncle would try to do at weddings. Spending seven weeks atop the U.S. charts, “Billie Jean” was Jackson’s most successful single; with its historical significance, both to Jackson the performer and music as a whole, its eminence is indelible, a mark pop music will wear proudly and gratefully for decades to come. -Ben Kaye

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al green al green lets stay together front  Top 100 Songs Ever: 50 141. Al Green – “Let’s Stay Together”

“Let’s Stay Together”, 1971

Following a string of minor hits covering artists like Junior Parker and the Temptations, “Let’s Stay Together” would be the first song to highlight Al Green’s shift from blues-tinged R&B to sweet falsetto. With the song’s main theme written by bandleader and producer Willie Mitchell and Booker T. & the MGs drummer Al Jackson, Jr., “Let’s Stay Together” centers around a rolling drum beat characteristic of flowing piano chord changes. Once Green heard the demo, he penned the lyrics in under half an hour. However, he wasn’t too thrilled about his vocals on record. Convinced they had a hit, Mitchell’s objective ears and skills as a producer eventually outweighed any of the troubled singer’s doubts and insecurities and the two released the song. Within weeks of its release “Let’s Stay Together” became Green’s first #1 single, opening a floodgate of subsequent hits that would eventually define Green as the sound of early ’70s soul. -Len Comaratta

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September 24, 2012 at 10:51 pm

What a fucking joke. Seriously.

Eric Boelman
September 24, 2012 at 9:26 pm

I’m not gonna even get into specifics. This is with out a doubt, the most retarded list I’ve ever wasted my time reading.

September 24, 2012 at 8:09 pm

This is probably the best list of this sort I’ve ever seen. “Once In a Lifetime” was a very random choice that made me head scream “EFFING BRILLIANT!!!” when I saw it. Well done. Also, having “Idioteque” in the top ten was great…..just throw in “Tumbling Dice”, “The Card Cheat”, and “Brain Damage”, and it’s perfect.

September 24, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Ethnocentric much ? “Top 100 english-speaking songs ever” might be a little more accurate title…

September 24, 2012 at 4:06 pm

If I was to make a list like this, almost all of it would be Beach Boys songs. They have made 100+ symphonies to God through the 60′s and the 70′s, Pet Sounds and Smile just being parts of the story (surely the best parts!). Their music has such soul crunching contrast as themes vary from love and joy of living to helplesness in front of all that is painful. And the way those themes are brought out.. there’s just nothing that compares with it. God only knows how low my spirit would be without the Beach Boys.

September 24, 2012 at 4:04 pm

It’s All Over, Chained to A Memory, Love Hurts haven’t U overlooked The Everly Brothers.
And where is The King? OK Brian Wilson is good enough to fill the whole list with his songs.

September 24, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Not a bad list, but I’m incredibly annoyed that you put a god damn Beach Boys song at number 1. Jesus.

Tara Jones
September 24, 2012 at 3:51 pm

I didn’t like a lot of the music on your list, but I love The Beach Boys and I am so happy God Only Knows came in first. I love that song even though Good Vibrations should of been right there with it. Any Beach Boy song is great so thank you for putting them at the top of your list. I love you Brian!

September 24, 2012 at 3:31 pm

This is really more a list of the “Top 100 Songs of the Past 50 Years”, not Top 100 Songs EVER. Nothing on here predates 1960, which is somewhat sad.

I don’t disagree with the selections, but maybe their placement, as “Once in a Lifetime” is just way too strange for me to make any top 5 other than “Most Repetitive Use of the Phrase ‘Same As It Ever Was’”.

No list with the title “Top 100 Songs Ever” should lack Ray Charles. That’s just science. Nice effort, though.

September 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm

“God only knows” is truly a timeless classic deserving of the top spot.

September 24, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Lame list, y’know. Beach Boys first? Hundreds of songs better than “God Only Knows”… “Good vibrations” is better than that…

September 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Good Vibrations better than God Only Knows? hahahahahhahahahha no

September 28, 2012 at 1:09 pm

eh, yes! But agreed, it’s the only one better than ‘GOK’. They could have been top 1 and 2 of the list, but GV wins it.

September 24, 2012 at 8:30 am

This quite possibly may be the worse list ever. No, change that. It is the worst list ever.
Man in the Mirror, Like a Virgin. Enough said.

John Nesiba
September 23, 2012 at 11:16 pm

Good one COS, This top 100 list is ridiculous. When are you dropping the real list on us? Did the writers have a sleep over and cuddle to god only knows waiting until the day their parents won’t enforce their curfew.

Phil Miglioratti
September 22, 2012 at 10:34 pm

God Only Knows as #1 greatest song~ Bravo! … But how could Good Vibrstions be #47? Maybe #4 or even #7 but the greatest single will be listened to long after at least 80 of the songs listed here long silent.

September 22, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Pink Floyd had an album on the top 100 charts for 17 and a half goddamn years.
You put a crappy song by Pavement up there but no Floyd? Whoever this
Hipster is who wrote the article should have his Starbucks card and his
MacBook taken away from him so he can’t do anymore damage.

September 25, 2012 at 6:28 pm

comfortably numb……all time fave!!!!

October 3, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Floyd is one of my all-time favorite bands but Pavement deserves to be up there…..if you apply album sales to greatness then technically The Eagles or Spice Girls should be #1. Everytime I sit around I find I’m shot

December 6, 2012 at 10:26 pm

That says more about its commercial success than its critical success. Adele’s 21 just entered the small group of albums to sell over 10 million copies in the US alone, but does that make it one of the greatest albums of all time? No.

I don’t like this list either, but the fact that Pink Floyd sold a ton of records doesn’t mean they belong on this list.

Evan Lee
September 22, 2012 at 11:07 am

this list is on some ignorant ish- on top of being culled from pretty much only singles, it more or less completely ignores entire genres of music (country, jazz im looking at you). If you want to make the argument that this is about the most influential songs, this pretty much should be all chuck berry, muddy waters, elvis, mozart, buddy guy and bach. For real.

September 21, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Agree with juicy considering the only curse word he really uses in it is “nigga.” solid list agree with the comment someone wrote on paranoid android being a million times better than get your freak on.

Also prince’s “do me baby” should be on this list just based on the 2 minute moaning solo

September 24, 2012 at 3:04 am


Corey Bell
September 21, 2012 at 5:21 pm

why is there no Jeff Buckley on this list? for shame.

September 21, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Right about the metal. Slayer? Pantera?..beach boys number one? really?

Dan R
September 21, 2012 at 4:29 pm

For those that oppose this list (and I have some quesitons too), I feel that what COS did was to comprise a list of groundbreaking songs. While not necessarily the greatest songs ever (some not even the best by that artist), they were songs that sparked a movement, captured a moment in time, or were simply the first of their kind. You really pick that up when you read the accompanying “review”

September 24, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Disagree. If this list was really trying to do what you say it did, it would include Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, and at least one song by Ray Charles.

I respect some of the decisions on this list as it includes a lot of my favorite performers, but I probably would many of them in different spots.

September 21, 2012 at 3:39 pm

you can’t be telling me “get ur freak on” by missy elliot is a better song than paranoid android.

September 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Here’s a fun fact: music is subjective.

September 21, 2012 at 2:35 pm

“Man In The Mirror” is not even the best song on Bad, never mind the #4 song of all time.

February 6, 2013 at 5:12 am

actual yes it is, the words used and the music behind it are perfect, and yeah it is the best song on the album you clearly dont know much about music and the meaning and understand of why songs are writen, im my oppinion it is one of the best songs ever writen, micheal jackson was the best singer on the planet cause im sure none of us know anybody that can sing to his ability.

April 12, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Are you kidding me? U2 doesnt have a song in your top 50…was having I was having a BEAUTIFUL DAY until i read this mentally ill list!

Eric Nelson
September 21, 2012 at 11:50 am

Very entertaining readying the list but these things are truly impossible…no bohemian rhapsody, freebird, layla, anything off of abbey road or ok computer….No tupac…some great surprises though be my little babys what a great song that i forgot about.

September 21, 2012 at 10:52 am

Haha… what a cute shitty list.

September 21, 2012 at 10:16 am

The 1 radiohead song on list is Idioteque? Ehh, not their best. This list is just kinda meh

Lee Harvey
September 21, 2012 at 3:00 am

Kudos for trying, but lists like this are just about impossible. Some of these choices are highly suspect. Others are jaw-droppingly ridiculous. And many are inspired. In the end, this is unsatisfying, though.

September 25, 2012 at 4:53 pm

They get a fucking F for this miserable failure of a list.

September 21, 2012 at 2:47 am

Beautiful list…narrowing it to 100 creates an inevitable and endless list of “what about this song…” reminders (I mean, only 2 Beatles songs, seriously?), but the fact that this isn’t just a greatest hits compilation of all the usual renowned songs in pop history makes it a refreshing and exciting read. The commentary for each listing amped up my respect for and desire to seek out each song yet again. And on a personal note, hell yeah to the top-10 ranking of “Sister Ray”. An epic for all time

September 25, 2012 at 4:50 pm

These selections are pretty much garbage though and are ordered in a “god know’s why” fashion.

Andy Johnson
September 21, 2012 at 2:18 am


September 25, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Probably pissing on someone somewhere

John Bowler
September 21, 2012 at 2:03 am

A startoff parragraph on SMILE and not one mention of Pet Sounds? Am I missing something here?

September 21, 2012 at 5:49 pm

um… #1…

John Bowler
September 23, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Did you even read the review of “God Only Knows”?

I am not Chico Maki
September 22, 2012 at 1:16 pm

It was edited out in favor of the Thundercats reference.

September 21, 2012 at 1:36 am

hardly any metal, 1 jazz song, no tupac, country or classical

Andy Johnson
September 21, 2012 at 2:19 am

maybe that’s because there are so few good metal singles that have stood the test of time? lack of country and disgraced R&B singers is a legit oversight though

September 21, 2012 at 3:14 am

this isn’t necessarily a singles list and there’s tons of metal that has stood the test of time besides Metallica and Sabbath. this is better than most lists though but a lot of these modern rock and rap songs could easily be traded out.


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