The Top 150 Songs of All Time

So the original goal was to figure out what my favorite songs were. I had read an older Rolling Stones magazine article that was about the 500 greatest songs of all time. I disagreed a bit, but didn’t have my own list. (My disagreement was mostly around how much credit they give to Bob Dylan, who I really just don’t care for.) I like lists. I thought it might be interesting to have my own list. I was right. I set out to get to 50 songs. I ended with 150. Along the way, I picked up some hitchhikers–my extended family. My siblings, their spouses, my parents, my niece and nephew decided to give it a shot too.

Some things you learn when you try this:

Comparing music is not easy. How do you compare Norah Jones to Metallica? How do you even decide what songs to even start with? Luckily for me I am meticulous in rating my music in iTunes. Everything is starred. I tweak constantly. I make sure my stars represent the quality of the track against all other tracks, not how good it is for its genre, the artist, etc. Thanks to this project I have re-starred some things, but my 4 and 5 star songs (of which there are roughly 1200) was a good start.

Whatever threshold you set will be next to impossible to cut down to. I started with 1200 songs, got that down pretty easily to 250ish and then cut that down to 163 or so. So I set out to order that list and then I thought I’d just cut it down to the to 50 of that list. Only cutting the list between Use Me by Bill Withers and Blackbird by The Beatles is tough. How can I possibly leave Blackbird off the list. So I changed to the top 60, then 75, then 150. In the end, I wanted to keep all 163. Only I like round numbers and 150 had a nice ring to it. So I painstakingly (and I mean that, I felt physical pain) cut the last 13.

People love rules. I’ve shared this experience with a lot of people. This isn’t my first crazy “here’s what I’m going to do” idea where I’ve gained others’ interest. Every time I have this conversation people always want to start by finding out the rules. I tend to stay away from rules. In this case the rule was “it should be your favorite songs, not the ones that you think are the best from some objective perspective, but your favorites. It is okay for your choices to be influenced by memories or the time in life.”

40 is way too few for me. So my siblings changed the rules a little. They decided that 40 was the right number. I guess Dick Clark inspired them. Either way, my list clearly has a top 40, but it was absolutely impossible for me to stop at 40. 150 is my number. It turns out that everyone had their right number. For my brother Dan, 40 was just right. Though Pat needed more like 250.

You probably don’t know what you really like. I sat down multiple times with the 163 songs and I would play them. For you programming geeks like me, I basically did a bubble sort. For everyone else, what that means is that I played the bottom song on the list and then I played the one above it and if I liked the one at the bottom better, I swapped it with the other. I did that over and over until nothing was bubbling any more. In the end, I was surprised what I ended up where. Songs that were surprisingly high included Circles by Soul Coughing (sidenote: get Mike Doughty’s solo work, it is tremendous) and American Girl by Tom Petty. They just bubbled up because I think they’re great–better apparently both than Let It Be by the Beatles. Surprising!

So, how did it all come out? Here’s the list of 150, in order (for the most part):

# Name Artist
1 Baba O’Riley The Who
2 Hunger Strike Temple of the Dog
3 Owner of a Lonely Heart Yes
4 Summon The Rain Set On Edge
5 In Your Eyes Peter Gabriel
6 Brick Ben Folds Five
7 Jack and Diane John Mellencamp
8 The Distance Cake
9 Seasons Chris Cornell
10 Black Pearl Jam
11 In Bloom Nirvana
12 Jeremy Pearl Jam
13 Super Bon Bon Soul Coughing
14 Don’t Bring Me Down Electric Light Orchestra
15 Give it Away Red Hot Chili Peppers
16 Revolution The Beatles
17 Sympathy for the Devil Rolling Stones
18 Sweet Child O’ Mine Guns N’ Roses
19 American Woman Guess Who
20 Your Love Outfield
21 Bicycle Race Queen
22 A Day in the Life The Beatles
23 Today Smashing Pumpkins
24 creep Radiohead
25 Glycerine Bush
26 China Grove Doobie Brothers
27 Flake Jack Johnson
28 Once in a Lifetime Talking Heads
29 Criminal Fiona Apple
30 American Girl Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
31 Over the Hills and Far Away Led Zeppelin
32 Plush Stone Temple Pilots
33 Eminence Front The Who
34 Yeah! Zwan
35 Alive Pearl Jam
36 Girlfriend Matthew Sweet
37 Undone – The Sweater Song Weezer
38 You Really Got Me The Kinks
39 Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da The Beatles
40 Circles Soul Coughing
41 Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town Pearl Jam
42 Centerfold J. Geils Band
43 Bittersweet Symphony The Verve
44 Brand New Key Melanie
45 Stay Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories
46 Mr. Blue Sky Electric Light Orchestra
47 Start Me Up Rolling Stones
48 Life’s Been Good Joe Walsh
49 Hard to Handle Black Crowes
50 Use Me Bill Withers
51 Blackbird The Beatles
52 Wonderwall Oasis
53 Black Water Doobie Brothers
54 Give A Little Bit Supertramp
55 Fat Bottomed Girls Queen
56 What Would You Say Dave Matthews Band
57 Praise You Fatboy Slim
58 She Talks to Angels Black Crowes
59 Steal My Kisses Ben Harper
60 Walk on the Ocean Toad the Wet Sprocket
61 Let It Be The Beatles
62 Daughter Pearl Jam
63 Clocks Coldplay
64 Feels Like the First Time Foreigner
65 Fake Plastic Trees Radiohead
66 Under the Bridge Red Hot Chili Peppers
67 Juke Box Hero Foreigner
68 Round Here Counting Crows
69 For What It’s Worth Buffalo Springfield
70 Cecilia Simon & Garfunkel
71 The Joker Steve Miller Band
72 Imagine John Lennon
73 Fool in the Rain Led Zeppelin
74 Eleanor Rigby The Beatles
75 Desire U2
76 I Am the Walrus The Beatles
77 Panama Van Halen
78 Epic Faith No More
79 More Than a Feeling Boston
80 Here Is No Why Smashing Pumpkins
81 Take a Picture Filter
82 Pure Imagination Smoking Popes
83 Life In The Fast Lane The Eagles
84 The Logical Song Supertramp
85 Shaking the Tree Peter Gabriel
86 The Weight The Band
87 You Can’t Always Get What You Want Rolling Stones
88 Either Way Guster
89 Little Pieces Gomez
90 Where the Streets Have No Name U2
91 Rock N’ Roll Fantasy Bad Company
92 And She Was Talking Heads
93 Won’t Get Fooled Again The Who
94 Feel Like Makin’ Love Bad Company
95 Walk This Way Aerosmith
96 Joy to the World Three Dog Night
97 D’Yer Mak’er Led Zeppelin
98 Closer to the Heart Rush
99 Strawberry Fields Forever The Beatles
100 I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For U2
101 That’ll Be the Day Buddy Holly
102 Lovesong The Cure
103 Kyrie Mister Mister
104 You Shook Me All Night Long AC/DC
105 All Right Now Free
106 Foxey Lady Jimi Hendrix Experience
107 Sweet Home Alabama Lynyrd Skynyrd
108 Lyric Zwan
109 Who Are You [Single Edit Version] The Who
110 Fortunate Son Creedence Clearwater Revival
111 Son of a Preacher Man Dusty Springfield
112 Eight Days a Week The Beatles
113 Blister in the Sun Violent Femmes
114 Paranoid Android Radiohead
115 40 U2
116 Rain King Counting Crows
117 Ramble On Led Zeppelin
118 Evil Woman Electric Light Orchestra
119 Yellow Ledbetter Pearl Jam
120 Fire Jimi Hendrix Experience
121 Come Together The Beatles
122 Sweet Baby James James Taylor
123 All Along the Watchtower Jimi Hendrix Experience
124 Whole Lotta Love Led Zeppelin
125 Don’t Know Why Norah Jones
126 Pinball Wizard The Who
127 Even Flow Pearl Jam
128 Bohemian Rhapsody Queen
129 The Seeker The Who
130 New Year’s Day U2
131 Immigrant Song Led Zeppelin
132 Nothingman Pearl Jam
133 (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction Rolling Stones
134 You Better You Bet [Full Length Version] The Who
135 Get It On (Bang a Gong) The Power Station
136 Take the Money and Run Steve Miller Band
137 With or Without You U2
138 Pride (In the Name of Love) U2
139 I Can See for Miles The Who
140 Jump Van Halen
141 MLK U2
142 My Generation The Who
143 Army Ben Folds Five
144 Wise Up Aimee Mann
145 Green Eyes Coldplay
146 Wish You Were Here Pink Floyd
147 Good Day Luce
148 Blue The Thorns
149 Mr. Brightside The Killers
150 Should I Stay or Should I Go Clash

What’s on your list?

So, what do you think ?