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100 Greatest Songs of All Time: 50-1

on September 21, 2012, 7:11am
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40. The Stooges – “Search and Destroy”

Raw Power, 1973

The one constant in any good piece of rock ‘n’ roll is danger, and by that measure “Search and Destroy” is TNT with a wick slabbed in lacquer. The loudest, raunchiest song on one of the loudest, raunchiest records ever made (1973’s Raw Power), “Search” is a track so menacing and seemingly out of its right mind that it’s uncomfortable to take in on first listen. Everything comes together in one raucous mix; from Iggy Pop’s sultry, live wire vocals, to James Williamson’s greasy, eight-cylinder guitar parts, and to the crash and burn rhythm section of Ron and Scott Asheton. The end result is one every self-respecting hard rock band aspires to but few have attained: A song so ugly and sinister you actually feel like you’re doing something wrong just by listening to it. -Ryan Bray


39. Talking Heads – “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)”

Speaking in Tongues, 1983

On the DVD release of the legendary Stop Making Sense concert film, David Byrne sits down with the most incisive of interviewers: himself. In it, he offers up some insider info, including a candid description of the set’s love song, “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)”, which he sings to a lamp. He wanted to write a song “almost completely of non sequiturs, phrases that may have a strong emotional resonance but don’t have any narrative qualities,” and it succeeds in producing a love song universally effective in its language and delightfully charming music. The dichotomy of adorably bubbling synth rhythms and haunting, deep lyrics within hit a benchmark for indie ballads, and devotees like Arcade Fire and MGMT went on to show respect for the Talking Heads’ legend in cover form on stage. -Adam Kivel


38. Sam Cooke – “A Change Is Gonna Come”

Ain’t That Good News, 1964

Few could have predicted that Sam Cooke — the “King of Soul” and voice behind light pop fare like “Send Me”, “Wonderful World”, and “Twistin’ the Night Away” — would pen what many now consider to be the quintessential civil rights anthem of the ‘60s. Inspired by a personal brush with Jim Crow and a growing sense that he needed to begin addressing racism in his music, Cooke poured his own fears, doubts, and confusion into “A Change Is Gonna Come” and emerged in the song’s final verse with the belief that he had the strength to carry on. Sadly, Cooke was fatally shot less than a year after recording the song that has become his most enduring legacy. Nearly 50 years later, Cooke’s words continue to give hope and strength to those who still need them: “It’s been a long time comin’/ But I know a change gonna come. Oh, yes it will.” -Matt Melis


37. The Replacements – “I Will Dare”

Let It Be, 1984

Paul Westerberg was a scruffy romantic who loved punk rock, pop hooks, and the occasional bittersweet stanza. They defined his songwriting just as his sensible, Midwestern mindset defined his lyrics. He wrote songs about normal people, for normal people, and he wrote his best ones on 1984’s Let It Be. “I Will Dare” opens the album. R.E.M.’s Peter Buck (who guests on lead guitar) propels a jangly strut that’s relaxed, but tight enough to carry Westerberg’s melody. “How young are you?/ How old am I?/ Let’s count the rings around my eyes,” he sings as the endearing smartass who’s going for the girl, offering his date a deal of “If you dare/ I will dare.” A definitive Replacements song, “I Will Dare” evokes the warm fuzzy feelings synonymous with John Hughes films and that time you held hands with your first girlfriend. There are howls of adolescence (“How smart are you?!”), but also a calm coolness. Westerberg was maturing: less snotty punk, more meditative drunk at the end of the bar. It’s forever framed as his finest composition. -Jon Hadusek


36. The Ronettes – “Be My Baby”

“Be My Baby”, 1963

It starts with the drums. “Be My Baby” would have a strong argument for inclusion on any top 100 list if the song ended after the first four seconds, after Hal Blaine’s drum intro that’s become one of rock’s signature drum patterns ever since. The “Be My Baby” beat, one of the several latin flourishes Spector would implement on this song and others, has since become one of rock and pop’s primary ways of nodding to its own past, with everyone from Elvis Costello to Deer Tick, since referencing the drum beat from the record that showed the world that, sometimes, there’s nothing more serious than a pop song. Ronnie Spector’s desperate plea bled through a million transistor radios in 1963, and to this day, the Barry/Greenwich tune still thrills and confounds anyone trying to write a two and a half minute song with stakes as high, and melodies as aching, as this one. -Jon Bernstein


35. Daft Punk – “One More Time”

Discovery, 2001

This love letter to disco from the new millennium, packs so much fun into five minutes that it coerces its listeners to feel the need to “celebrate and dance so free” as if it’s The Last Time (for what, we’re not sure, but, you know, you’ve only got this last chance). Romanthony’s vocal performance popped out on the other side of the vocoder as the fist-pumping, body-rattling trademark of this French duo’s biggest hit to date, set to a backdrop of sky-high synths and EQ’d horns. Discovery was an ode to childhood, and this album opener seizes the bliss of hearing something great for the first time: “Music’s got me feeling so free.” -Amanda Koellner


34. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)”

Rust Never Sleeps, 1979

In 1979, punk was undeniable, and rock’s old guard needed to catch up. “Rock and roll will never die” isn’t self-confident bravado; it’s a defense mechanism, a statement of uncertainy and hope, from a middle-aged singer wondering if he’d still have a career at age 40. “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)” is the sound of rock and roll finally growing up and becoming an adult, acknowledging its mortality while maintaining every intention of keeping on. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” is the one-liner here, the one Kurt Cobain chose to leave the world with in 1992. But the morose anthem is so much more than a call to live fast and die hard. It’s a state of the union address, a statement of rock’s past, present, and future summed up in a few clever lines that have rightfully been taken to heart by many a teenager picking up their first guitars in the last 30 years. The real takeaway line, of course, the one that sums up this song better than any other, is that “there’s more to the picture than meets the eye.” -Jon Bernstein


33. The Clash – “London Calling”

London Calling, 1979

During World War II, when Britain was a beacon in war-torn Europe, BBC World Service identified itself on international broadcasts with the slogan “This is London calling. . .”. Three decades later, The Clash hijacked the phrase for 1979’s London Calling, and the album’s eponymous track repurposed those four words as not a call of freedom, but of apocalyptic foreboding. Concerns over police brutality (“we ain’t got no swing/ except for the ring of that truncheon thing”), economic tribulations (“the wheat is growing thin/ engines stop running”), and disasters like the Three Mile Island meltdown (“a nuclear error”) were plaguing many minds during the turn of the century — and parallel fears exist today. The Clash were feeling the anxieties firsthand, operating without management and with escalating debt.

“We felt that we were struggling, about to slip down a slope or something,” Joe Strummer said, “grasping with our fingernails. And there was no one there to help us.” All that fear is palpable in the song, from the militaristic minor key march, to Paul Simonon’s bass breathing like a sleeping monster, to Strummer’s own howling delivery. The song’s rebellious streak and distrust of the status quo makes it one of the most quintessential punk records ever, and it doesn’t take much strain to hear those calls of London echoing in the present. -Ben Kaye


32. Black Sabbath – “War Pigs”

Paranoid, 1970

“War Pigs” was originally a song about witches titled “Walpurgis”, but Ozzy Osbourne changed the lyrics and title during the recording of Paranoid. It became an anti-war rant in which Ozzy — always refreshingly direct — illustrates the horrors of combat and points fingers at our leaders (“Politicians hide themselves away/ They only started the war”). Iommi lends his riffs to the cause, accentuating verses with bluesy fills, dexterously wrapping chords around drummer Bill Ward’s unpredictable breakdowns. Black Sabbath patented the downtuned chug that defines heavy metal, and “War Pigs” is a signature example of that powerful aesthetic. Hell-bent on getting his point across, Ozzy sings at you. Iommi’s riffs quake you. As listeners, we can think about its subject matter or headbang to its ferocity. After 42 years, “War Pigs” had retained moderate FM rotation despite its eight-minute runtime, and its message remains a poignant reminder of why war is best avoided. -Jon Hadusek


31. Patti Smith Group – “Rock N Roll Nigger”

Easter, 1978

Patti Smith forges manic poetics with punching guitar rhythms on “Rock and Roll Nigger”, crafting her own distinct medley of pre/post/anti-punk that defies any neat categorization. But fuck titles anyway, right? Smith’s influence on music during the past four decades is indisputable, and with the release of “Rock and Roll Nigger” on 1978’s Easter, she became untouchable and limitless, showing everyone just how provocative she could be. It’s a primordial punk anthem, a song that embodies all of Smith’s raw magnetism and unbridled emotion. “Baby was a black sheep, Baby was a whore. . . Baby was a Rock and Roll Nigger,” she sings with crooked intensity. Controversial from top to bottom, it’s fair to say that only the ever-daring Patti Smith could get away with a track like this. -Summer Dunsmore

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