“Rockit” – Herbie Hancock
From the album “Future Shock”, 1983
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 9; Lyrics: 0; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: Yes; Score: 43.76.
Rock history’s 100th song might not even be classifiable as rock, because it is a robotic piece, mainly performed by synthetic instruments, composed by a renowned jazzman and which resulted into a breakdance favourite. It isn’t anything like what constitutes a rock definition.
But it’s exactly there where its worth resides and that’s what makes it a part of this pantheon: through its disjointed sounds, this song develops to its maximum the genre’s experimental nature. The 80’s-loaded keyboard and one of the first appearances of scratching as a musical instrument are elements which turn “Rockit” –a piece which, for not having lyrics, is limited in this roster- into an historical landmark that reveals the way in which rock can evolve towards unthought places.
“Search and Destroy” – Iggy & The Stooges
From the album “Raw Power”, 1973
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 5; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 43.87.
The title of the album in which “Search and Destroy” is the first number perfectly mirrors this song’s spirit: it’s raw power at its finest. In its three-and-a-half minutes, this song is an adrenergic sonic attack carried out by the shrill guitar supported by a grubby lo-fi bass and canister-sounding drums, all of which make it an essential proto-punk element. It conveys the immensity of fury and divergence of an emergent scene which helped defining how would rock be in the years to come.
“Go Your Own Way” – Fleetwood Mac
From the album “Rumours”, 1977
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 44.01.
Since the appearance of that acoustic guitar sound where metallic cords masterfully echo “Go Your Own Way” stands, perhaps, as the best post break-up recovery statement. Very likely, because its inspiration, it can be told, comes from a real event, since has an impossible to sham force.
Dramatic and excellently paced, it possesses a structure which poses its own narrative lustiness balacing verses –sad and nostalgic– and chorus –enraged and decisive– with a minstrel’s expertise. This way it demonstrates Lindsey Buckingham’s skill and worth as a composer and Fleetwood Mac’s place in music history.
“Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits
From the album “Dire Straits”, 1978
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 5; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.02.
This song’s beating and delicious bass builds up an intriguing introspective atmosphere which makes you think of trip without destiny thru the desert at night. Being a song about a band sticking to the simpleness of guitar rock in a bar where trumpet jazz is the usual thing, it gets to be the ideal pronouncement –both lyrically and musically– of what traditional pure rock is: a solid rhythmic base on which guitars edify rumbling ear-seducing melodies.
In that sense, Dire Straits took the genre elements and brushed them over masterfully on this song. The guitar goes over the score with fluency around the bass and, off and on, steps up and it becomes the protagonist, as it is reflected after the fifth minute, when the best of the track comes along: Knopfler’s clean and precise plucking as the perfect ornament for Illsey’s bassline. It’s one of the most electrifying solos and, by itself, wins an extra point in the instrumentalization scale.
This song is a testimony of how rock’s simplicity generate beautiful complexities.
“Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” – Buzzcocks
From the album “Love Bites”, 1979
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 6; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 6; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.03.
When one thinks of punk rock, what comes up to mind are reclusive chords, accelerated and unidirectional rhythms, and technical opacity. But Buzzcocks, even though they were born in the simplified English rock of late 70’s, blossomed with harmonic colours and an unusually creative attitude crystallized in this highly energizing song.
Since its intense start and through the pluckings which flank Pete Shelley’s enriched vibrato this song is simply great. Particularly it is its overwhelming riff, which escapes habitual structuring and delivers calm to the urgency, the hastiness and the hyperkinesis of that unmanageable shipment of notes. This is because their lyrics point towards the despair found in loving the wrong person; an experience which, after all, many of us have ran into.
All in all, this song showed that punk rock might as well be melodic and that’s the reason why it holds this position.
“I’m Not in Love” – 10cc
From the album “The Original Soundtrack”, 1979
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 10; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical Significance: 4; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45.33.
One of the sweetest ballads ever, melodic and soft, it stands out because of its thorough production, which makes perfect use of a choral background that embellishes is ethereal nature. The narrator’s smooth voice, turned into spell, repeatedly declares to a listener not being in love when he’s only denying something obvious: that he’s effectively lost in her.
Being a jewel of acoustic effects, it has layers and layers of sound, but they’re unnoticeable. On the contrary the song itself sounds fluent, shrounding and alluring as a whole. A whole that conveys a very hard-to-describe sadness.
“Clones (We’re All)” – Alice Cooper
From the album “Flush the Fashion”, 1980
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 5; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.24.
While many people remember Alice Cooper as the emperor of darkness in a time when everybody sang about peace and love, it is this pop gem the composition that earned him appearing in this picked list of one hundred songs. Its robotic and danceable melody with a cutting cyclic guitar gifted by and artificial heart timing is something so infrequent in his discography that the compilation albums that include this track are few. But with that hypnotized robot voice it is, in the end, one more weapon in the arsenal of nonconformity.
In fact, the verses “We destroyed the government / We’re destroying time / No more problems on the way” exemplify those cryptic lyrics which put defiance and anarchism back in the place where it belongs. And since it was composed in a time when clones where just a (bad) science fiction trope, this song can be considered a visionary portal in the career of an emblematic rock figure.
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” – The Who
From the album “Who’s Next”, 1971
Melody: 6; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.25.
By combining powerful guitar chords with synth and organ sounds heavily processed, the textured explosive overture of this song immediately announces something big. From then on, with its slightly untidy but catchy melody it turns into a vigorous proclaim of civic awareness. It is that which gives this a distinct flavor. It trascends rock and becomes a battle flag, suited for many causes. It is a versatile song, with many sound levels, guided by Townsend’s reverberating guitar, which claims from that popular discontent of feeling cheated by authorities and that, accordingly, acknowledges the cyclic persistence of revolutions as a way to rebuild society .
With all its historcial value, Daltrey’s insurgent scream and its expansive policital message, it’s no wonder this song is included in appreciation lists of Canada’s Q107 radio station, Blender, Rolling Stone and Q magazines , and VH1 TV channel. It’s no wonder either that in list it stands for the combative side of a preterite rock era, but whose legacy lives on.
“My My, Hey Hey (Out of Blue)” – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
From the album “Rust Never Sleeps”,1979
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.33.
“It’s better to burn out than to fade away” reads one of the most cited lines in rock history. It comes from this song, which is -for many- responsible for revitalizing Neil Young’s career in the late 70’s. It may be true that Young was looking for a renewed vigor in order to face a forthcoming period which was absolutely alien to him, because this song sounds weary, with the band almost exhausted, but somehow it delivers the impression that there are hidden energies in the players, congealing and waiting for a moment to resurge.
It’s not strange, then, that it is the opening of an critically acclaimed album and that it has been reinvented as closure of that same disc, but a brassy version which seems to foretell the use guitar would face ten years later.
Deliciously bucolic, this cantata’s initially soft musicalization is syntonized with its lyrics, which deal with life fugacity. It hints that under our surface lies a reality more complex than we can understand, a principle that becomes concrete in the desolate harmonica that closes the tune.
Is there any clearer demonstration of the cyclicity of life than a song which shakes its rust off and transforms itself?
“21st Century Schizoid Man” – King Crimson
From the album “In the Court of the Crimson King”, 1969
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 6; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.34.
This, the best example of intellectual rock, is an extremely complex progressive rock piece, apparently incoherent, but actually full of intention and very cerebral. It bears witness of the artistic power of a subgenre wich had high notoriety among 1965 and 1975. Being, maybe, the most known King Crimson’s song, its loose and bold rhythym, the stridencies, the dissonances, and the cacophonies, as well as its free association lyrics that spawns surreal literary images and figures, suggest chaos and release from all kind of bindings. That’s especially true for the intrincate and accelerated intermediate jazz-rock section which reveals the internal tension and the mental disorganization of the 21st century man.
Greg Lake’s tortured, immensely distorted voice drags us to a dystopic vision of a society flooded with distrust and psychiatric horrors. But is more than that. In the strophe
“Blood rack barbed wire
Politicians’ funeral pyre
Innocents raped with napalm fire
Twenty first century schizoid man”
the song’s sociohistorical ubiquity is evident. These lyrics and the fact that Robert Fripp had dedicated them to Spiro Agnew reveal their final lyrical purpose: Vietnam.
It shows how did progressive rock read into current event of that time, while it displays with fair proportioned grandiosity how far technical proficiency can go and the kind of gems that well used virtuosity can create. As All Music Guide says, “it’s one of progressive rock’s finest individual moments”.
“Stockholm Syndrome” – Yo La Tengo
From the album “I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One”, 1997
Melody: 10; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 5; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 44.39.
This is a special song; you know it alredady at the first time you listen to it. Sweetly lackadaisical, it makes you close your eyes and take put fists on your chest, given that it trasmits something very intimate, indescribable, through it unbeatable angelic melody. Maybe that’s why, when you listen to it, you feel it’s speaking to you and you alone.
Wooden tubes percussion and well-ridden acoustic guitar make it impossible to be oblivious to the correctness of each note’s position. But despite it as a rhythm which is easy to follow, not everything is gentle in this song. Its innocence is disrupted by a twisted guitar solo which somehow perfectly fits with the candid look of the rest of the song.
I think others will agree when I say that, even it goes unnoticed by many, this is one of the most beautiful songs ever written.
“Because the Night” – Patti Smith Group
From the album “Easter”, 1975
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 6; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.49.
This song made the bluprint for power ballads. The soft piano introducing the melody gives us a glimpse of this being a romantic tune. But it is far from being cheessy, as many other exemplars in that category. On the contrary, it touches with subtle drama the archetype of the loveres physically apart, but symbolically reunited by the night, for instance watching the moon at the same time. But beyond cliché, stating that night is reserved for those who love each other is what gives this song its hymn quality. Its structure is fulminant: Patti Smith sings each stanza tersely, a thick piano then bursts in before the chorus, singing retracts again for the next strophe and explodes completely in the bridge. It is because of this formula that this song, composed by Bruce Springsteen, teaches subsequent generations how a ballad must be in order to transmit all the power of an universal feeling and to be remembered in the future.
“The Trammps” – Disco Inferno
From the álbum “Disco Inferno”, 1976
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.50.
This is the most prototypical, showy and gripping prolocutor of disco fever, from its title which nominates the genre and grants an undeniably seductive visual suggestion with all that the eternal flames vault prompts. Its hypnotical groove with a stable bass constructs a rhythym which calls for an atavistic movement. In fact, its legacy can be found in many songs that transcended muchas disco genre itself such as The Jacksons’ “Can You Feel It” or “Babe We’re, Gonna Love Tonight” by Lime.
Harris’ raspy voice which scratches the higher notes deliver an urgency which sounds especially absorbing when choirs repeat the infamous line “Burn, baby, burn”. Meanwhile, the restless but neat violins form the perfect atmosphere for a song which captures the essence of disco scene at its peak.
With all this, the song simulates a crowd singing from their chests to the sound of a scintillating beat guided by a incendiary voice. The rhythm guitar use, processed by a wah-wah, adds the cream topping to a dance dessert which no one wants to miss.
Every person should dance –and sing along to– this song at least once in their lives.
“Judy is a Punk” – Ramones
From the album “Ramones”, 1976
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 6; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.50.
In its briefness it describes one of those anecdotal adventures that friends pairs look for when going out at night. There is the fun but, besides that, it makes an alluring logical gimmick by referencing itself giving instructions to the listener about how the next stanza is. Finally, with the handclaps that escort the battery inbetween, it becomes ideal for singing along.
But what makes it imperishable is, without a doubt, its condensed instrumentalization which sums up all the punk rock virtues, in general, en general, and those of the Ramones in particular: the vocal harmony with notes which last between one and two seconds; the fast sure and high guitar; the saturated, tireless bass… these are all elements which made this song a staple in the concerts of these historical newyorkers.
This is the song which defined fro mthe beginning how would punk rock sound in the following two decades.
“White Rabbit” – Jefferson Airplaine
From the album “Surrealistic Pillow”, 1967
Melody: 6; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.62.
This psychedelic rock masterpiece’s bolero drumrolls set up an elegant atmoshpere in which Grace Slick brightly displays her strong contralto voice. While she paraphrases the story of “Alice in Wonderland” doing what seems to be an invitation to try out different kinds of psychotropic drugs, the rhythmic structure intensity creates the perceptive effect of being at the edge of madness.
A song capable of making us have an hallucinating trip in less than three minutes and which inspired the title of a book about the experiences a teenager have with drugs, without a doubt has earned a place in this roster. And it could be placed higher, if it wasn’t because of the incorrect references of the lyrics.
Even so, “White Rabbit” is a refined gate to late 60’s rock.
“Don’t Stop Believin’” – Journey
From the album “Escape”, 1981
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 44.65.
This song’s opening riff, a melody in the low octave of the piano, and then the electric guitar imperative repetition –like a crystal ball falling through a funnel– which precede the first drums appearance, announce that what follows is an unforgettable song.
In fact, it is one of the most downloaded songs on iTunes. And that’s no wonder. While it holds many rock conventions and catapults them to grandiosity, at the same time it has a very unusual structure given that the introduction lasts almost a third part of the song and the chorus appears merely at the end of it.
Maybe it is because of the sheer experimentalism which goes unnoticed, or because of how cohesive the band sounds on this superb single that “Don’t Stop Believin'” is so acclaimed by the public, but whatever the reason is this seems to be an eternal classic song for all audicences. And it is this mass appeal what makes it a deserving occupant of the 85th position in this ranking.
“Hey Boy, Hey Girl” – The Chemical Brothers
From the album “Surrender”, 1999
Melody: 10; Instrumentalization: 9; Lyrics: 2; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.71.
“Hey Boy, Hey Girl” is the perfect floor filler. As a song intended to be danced it bears the pure elixir of movement. It sets fire to the dancefloor with hords of people screaming and raising their arms, and even the stiffest one begins shaking, almost unwittingly, to the sound of its contagious and organic rhythm.
The most hipnotic feature of this song is The Chemical Brother’s trademark: the gradual tension accumulation through a rhythym accompained by a stridency charging whole which, after a percussion pause, breaks free into a beat explosion. It’s because of this and many other reasons that these Englishmen have always been masters in knob use. And here, with this irresistible melody, they amply demonstrated it.
“Where is my Mind?” – Pixies
From the album “Surfer Rosa”, 1988
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 9; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Cover: 44.71.
Many ballads are sweet and tender. This one is not.
It is dark and sorrowful, and while it is led by drums as creative as a herd, it’s loaded with feeling, a feeling which comes less from the heart and more from the depths of the brain as its cryptic lyrics seem to confess, which Black Francis wrote drawing inspiration from diving in the Caribbean:
“Your head will collapse
But there’s nothing in it
And you’ll ask yourself
«Where is my mind?»
Way out in the water
See it swimmin’. ”
The suggestive, and yet impenetrable part of these lyrics is combined with the acoustic guitar’s cadence and the howling that turns into lament to build a song that makes something bright out of darkness. In fact, it gets to a point in which the noise guitar becomes cozy. In that play with acoustic guitar, which gets nearer off and on and, suddendly, it stops and leaves nothing but raucousness which grows until building the next stanza an extraordinary song is born. A song which is almost exclusively in debt with its instrumentalization.
The Pixies were masters of rock
“Wonderful Tonight” – Eric Clapton
Del álbum “Slowhand”, 1977
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 6; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.71.
One of the best build love songs in history, with no corniness, without empty promises, it is a ballad from a man to her wife, whom he loves after years of marriage. Before leaving for a party, gazing at her, he realizes how much does he love her and how happy he is from being his life partner.
“She’ll put on her make-up
And brushes her long blonde hair.
And then she asks me, «Do I look all right?»
And I say, «Yes, you look wonderful tonight.» (…)
And the wonder of it all
Is that you just don’t realize
How much I love you.”
With Eric Clapton’s magnificent plucking, responsible of many culmination points in rock music history, this song reflects in its lyrics and its music (even though a rhyme is flawed) how everybody wishes to feel 20 years in the future since the moment they fall in love with another person.
“Back in Black” – AC/DC
From the album “Back in Black”, 1980
Melidy: 9; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 5; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.74.
Eight drumming compasses are the antechamber of one of the most indelible riffs in history. With it AC/DC demonstrated, in the dawn of heavy metal, that in order to sound hefty speed wasn’t necessary speed. A slow and calculated attack is more than enough.
As if it was a technical lesson, while Malcolm Young’s guitar builds up the tarry rhythm, his brother Angus makes brief but powerful plucks. Backed by this structure undeniably magnetic, Brian Johnson’s voice sounds fresh and y deafening, especially in the bridge section, which duplicates rhythm’s velocity.
Strictly speaking, it is the complete album that this band released in 1980 what deserves to stand for the best of heavy metal from the recently ended decade. But the song that stands out the most is this one, a power and presence proclamation which becomes more meaningful in light of the fact that Bon Scott -the original lead singer- had died a year earlier and that, therefore, this album was the return of AC/DC in a mourning period.
Because of its historical significance “Back in Black” is absolutely worthy of joining this ranking. Its rhythm situates it in the 81th place.
“Every Breath You Take” – The Police
From the album “Synchronicity”, 1983
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 6; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.76.
This song is popularly considered a tender ode to the lover who has left, but it really is a peroration of a man obsessed with a fomer lover who stalks her from every corner. This gives it a certain value, given that its ambiguous meaning has managed to stay hidden from many people. However, maybe what is most confusing about it is not the chorus which says dice “I’ll be watching you”, but the sensual bass cementing a reverie spirit and disguising it as a romantic ballad.
Even though, it is an all-time favourite in the cheek-to-cheek songs parade and, on the dance floor, it’s the one both lovers dearly want the DJ to play next.
“Smoke on the Water” – Deep Purple
From the album “Machine Head”, 1972
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 6; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.76.
If the riff of “Back in Black” is one of the most famous, the riff from “Smoke on the Water” might be THE most famous ever. It is one of the first musical figures he who has been initiated in the way of the guitar learns . Therefore, is no wonder it is one of the main dishes in “Guitar Hero”. This is because its twelve notes are instantly recognizable and generate a feeling so distinctive that it must come from a certain neural structure.
The strong but measured distortion of the amplified guitar highlights the well placed quavers which, in turn, are nimbly accompained by the emergent bass and the exquisitely 70s-like keyboard of John Lord. From then on, “Smoke on the Water” becomes a rock music treasure, especially due to its intuitively inspired nature. You can tell that essentially in its lyrics, which describe verbatim how the album recording was nearly aborted given that the casino where it was going to take place burned down during a Frank Zappa concert because of “some stupid with a flare gun”.
Lyrics that explicit, the tiptop riff and all the groove in this song make it an historical and unmistakable musical landmark.
“Enola Gay” – Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
From the album “Organisation”, 1980
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 6; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 44.84.
“Enola Gay” was the name of the plane which dropped the first atomic bomb used against civilian population in the history of mankind. More than 80,000 victims were the sad balance of the quickest genocide in history.
This English song is a direct critique toe the decision of using that weapon and was published amidst a controversy surrounding Margaret Tatcher because of her having authorized U.S.A. to locate nuclear missiles in british soil. Without a doubt, what makes it sublime is its capability to thrill on the basis of a minimalist rhythym and to inspire hundreds of other songs. But its more remarkable trait is the macabre innocence it has, for even it seems one more discoteque song, it really is a reminder that in history there are atrocities which seem to belong to another time but that loom to happen again. Even if along the song McCluskey sings with an impeccable mixture of melancholy and elegance, it manages to build a particularly ironic aura in the verse “Is mother proud of little boy today?”.
Let’s not be proud; the shame is unforgettable.
“Bette Davis Eyes” – Kim Carnes
From the album “Mistaken Identity”, 1981
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 9; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 1; historical significance: 7; Cover: Yes; Riff: No. Score: 44.85.
Listening to Jackie DeShannon’s original version of this song makes one understand the value of a good production team and what an inspired performance from an experienced singer can achieve. The original song, purely country, is in no way a bad one; on the contrary, it is very sticky and cheerful. But it’s only the stylized incarnation produced by Val Garay, which includes the riff by Bill Cuomo, the one that possesses the splendid freshness typical of synthpop’s fine selection.
This elegant and distinguished creation, which finds its ideal canal in Kim Carnes’ raspy voice, clearly is a hit in the evolution of recording studios in the early 80’s. But it wasn’t a calculated hit. On the contrary, it is a masterpiece born from an inspired moment, which is demonstrated by the fact that it was recorded fully live in the studio on the first take.
The distant keyboard, with echo, vibrates in the start and allows that the song, later, begins yo build up step by step in an atmosphere of ethereal sounds defined by the New Wave sound. When, in the second minute of the song, a drum beat emulating an appaluse comes up, we realize that we are clapping with it and that the song has taken us without effort.
“All Along the Watchtower” – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
From the album “Electric Ladyland”, 1968
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 8; Cover: Yes; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.93.
This must be one of the most meritorius covers in history not only because the song remains recognizable despite the inserted modifications, but also -and mainly- because if the risky, newflanged, spicy arrangements by this eminent guitar player. It is especially the dense instrumentalization and the guitars’ complex texture what makes it stand out. In fact, this song holds the fifth place in Guitar World magazine list of the 100 Best Guitar Solos. And it’s no wonder, given that it the result of constant and recursive work: in eight months of recording Hendrix added progressively more and more guitar layers, until reaching the version we know today.
Upon listening to it, Bob Dylan himself said “[This version] overwhelmed me, really. [Hendrix] had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there.”.
Because of this, because of being part of the testament of this Seattle native, heir to Muddy Waters’ tradition, and because of its invitingly leathery sound, this song closes the first quarter of the ranking.
“Ænema” – Tool
From the album “Ænima”, 1996
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 5; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 44.98.
Intense, complex, unrepeatable… this songs wraps our mind in order to deposit an apparently simple concept, but which is actually extremely powerful.
Based in a Bill Hicks’ monologue, “Ænema” poses an apocalyptic scenario where California sinks in the sea taking with it its inhabitants’ sickish materialism and the anti-values of a plastic and cancerous society, such as depression turned into a fad, the street gangs virulence and scientology. An impecable performance leaded by Carey’s convoluted rhythym and precise rolls, and by the use of a structure which violates the classic verse-chorus-verse model, establish this song as a jewel of progressive metal.
What allows it to overmatch other rock classics in this rooster are its absolutely pictoric and rightly critical lyrics, like a dart hitting the heart of the American dream. It demonstrates how devastating metal is combined with a good dose of brain cells.
“New Order” – Bizarre Love Triangle
From the album “Brotherhood”, 1986
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 9; Lyrics: 5; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 44.99.
Frente!’s unexpected acoustic version of this song is beautiful. This proves that, beyond the multiple sound layers of this Manchester native band’s original version, it is itself worthy and y its success was due mainly to its almost exaggeratedly melodramatic melody
The lyrics, close to a shot at dadaism as in many New Order songs, have much potential and could have been much better developed. But just the production itself is a work of art due to the coordinated effect that the sounds achieve and, especially, the Fairlight CMI sampler, sonic plataform of this song. The guitar evokes far west and the melody, processed as if it came from an electronic harpsichord, is combined with sound beats sudden as a lightning. Together they generate the sound effect of frightening moments of horror movies. And if we add to that the arpeggio and the timely and strong electronic drums together with the alienated, apathetic voice of Bernard Sumner, we will be close to understand how this sweet song obtains that post-modern urban spirit which defines it and makes it perfect as the soundtrack of the citizen of today.
“Wouldn’t it be Nice?” – The Beach Boys
From the album “Pet Sounds”, 1966
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45.01.
The first track of the infamous “Pet Sounds” -the album with which Beach Boys penetrated into musical adulthood- is a very good son in terms of melody. But it is also a merit for the Beach Boys and the bands born under the light of bubblegum pop due to its lyrics, which leaves teenage love immediatist conventions. Instead, it describes the experiences of a young couple that longs to get married. It’s not that marriage itself is specially valuable, but it is the evolution of the band, reflected in this lyrical effort, what makes it remarkable among other typical romantic songs, even if its lyrics could be accused of being cheessy.
Its joyful nature becomes contagious, even more when the soft and mellow interim gets interrupted with the question of the title strongly sung only to return to the melody guided by the choral voices. Then the song ends with a choreography of intense sounds that act as a brisky farewell, like horses galloping on a prairie.
This way, all the elements in Beach Boys’ career are found in this song coupled in a judicious fashion. This makes of it one of the best songs this California group ever made.
“The Winner Takes It All” – ABBA
Del álbum “Super Trouper”, 1980
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45.05.
It is hard to understand that Björn Ulvaeus had declared the songs he composed side by side with Benny Andersson for this Swedish group no longer mean much to him. It’s hard because if there’s anything the music of ABBA does is incarnadine universal human experiences. Their songs portray with a palette of vivid colours the ups and downs of many love stories and bear adictive hooks which made them immortal in the collective unconscious. Any ABBA compilation testifies for it.
But of all them, this one stans out for its dramatic quality and its maturity. It’s a soulful elegy in which a woman tells the feelings involved when acknowledging that her love story has come to an end and that he has found another person. With shivery metaphors that refer to stoicism and resignation, Agnetha Fältskog’s voice and the louging and lurid piano slowly rig up a somber song, plagued with pain, restrained only by the dignity and the soberness born from foretelling the breakup consummation. But the operatic sustained singing of the end, aflame in grief, reflects that love’s death always, unfailingly, originates suffering.
This is, simply, one of the most perfect pop songs. It’s no wonder it was voted “Britain’s Favourite Break-Up Song” in a poll conducted by UK’s Channel Five on 2006.
“Walk” – Pantera
From the album “Vulgar Display of Power”, 1992
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 6; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 45.05.
The biomechanical feeling which emenates from its stable rhythm is, in one word, irrepressible. Perhaps overloaded metal adepts, 30 years in the future (if the genre still exists), will listen to it and will be amazed at knowing that somebody describes it like that, but it’s precisely the simpleness of its instrumentalization what makes the guitar, the drums and the bass highlight and sound so clear. That is why it turns into a direct song, without any detours.
Given that it conveys an ineffable sensation of strength and power, it is the perfect bench for a call to respect and, at the same time, the most forthright vociferation I know. Late Dimebag Darrell’s riff, performed with mastery, sounds like a chainsaw sawing everything in its path. Combined with Anselmo’s aggressive pronunciation, this song transfers pure energy and makes you feel all your enemies are weaklings.
It’s the best of 90’s heavy metal.
“Take Me Out” – Franz Ferdinand
From the album “Franz Ferdinand”, 2004
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 7; structure: 2; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 45.05.
Perhaps one of the most adrenergic songs in existence, this is a work which, through its guitars’ force makes headbang rhythmically everyone who listens to it.
In its two clearly distinguishable sections they sing the story of Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose assassination at Sarajevo in 1914 sparked the start of World War I. While the first part is sung from the crosshair point of view, declaring its role in the outcome of the events, the second part is sung by franz Ferdinand himself accepting his fate as a victim of the geopolitical fights of the world. These lyrics –which could have received a one-point bonification due to its selected reference, but which didn’t obtain it precisely because of the deviousness of that allusion– has always attracted my attention because it makes me think of how moments that gather pressures and channel them in the space-time do exist (even though in social processes causes do not arise in a single moment, but they are forged during a long time and are part of complex immaterial action systems).
Because as well as shots need a trigger, wars always need a first strike.
“Rock and Roll All Nite” – Kiss
From the album “Dressed to Kill”, 1975
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 5; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 45.19.
Barely 0,14 points over one of the best heavy metal songs we find this one, which swings in the line that divides this genre from hard rock.
Without a doubt the song that identifies Kiss the most, “Rock and Roll All Nite” is at the same time one of the most remembered rock songs, almost the hymn of parties and, of course, the number everybody in the attendance awaits at this band’s apotheosic concerts. With its celebratory touch and the simpleness of its lyrics, it flows through an energetic and melodic riverbed which involves clear and bright emotions. Across its befogging chorus it rescues the intoxicating sensation of being in the middle of a party, surrounded by friends and wishing the night never ends.
Despite the simplicity of its lyrics is, and always will be, a classic.
“The End” – The Doors
From the album “The Doors”, 1967
Melody: 6; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45.22.
One of the biggest hits of psychedelic rock, this mesmerizing musical composition laid the foundations for the mysterious sound of the genre in the years to come. The orientalized guitar with a mystical tone, winding like a snake, permeates the whole song and gives it an aboriginal halite. On the other hand, the cymbals played soflty by Densmore progressively become eerier as the song unfolds and reaches its climax in the end, where instruments explode in a sonic flavour orgy that evokes roman Bacchanalia and tribal rituals.
But this song has also another merit: an historical meaning. It crystallizes proficiently the legacy of psychoanalysis in its words. In them, this song arrogates the merit of what is, perhaps, the most polemical verse in the history of rock.
“The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on
He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he walked on down the hall
He went into the room where his sister lived, and… then he
Paid a visit to his brother, and then he
He walked on down the hall, and
And he came to a door…and he looked inside
«Father», «Yes, son?», «I want to kill you»
«Mother… I want to… WAAAAAA»“
(We all know what that “WAAAAA” means.)
With this and other oedipal references it manages to build a hard-to-define but extremely alluring metaphor which seems to tear down society taboos with the same histrionics of Shakespear’s plays.
Because of its spunk, the rabid madness of its melody, its intricate allegory and the impact it had on a whole generation, this song is the worthy occupant of the 68th place.
“All Together Now” – The Farm
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45.86.
Thi song moves me because it tells the story of the Christmas Day Truce, that is, a series of spontaneous ceasefires which took place during World War I.
This armistice began on Christmas Eve, 1914, when german troops decorated their trenches in the Ypres region, Belgium. They started by puting candles on the trees and then they sang carols. The englishmen answered with carols of their own. Then, with crescent confidence and in growing numbers, soldiers from both sides began approaching to their enemies until they crossed the line diving both fields. From then on there were hugs, toats and even gifts exchange which lasted all night long.
Even though the melody -an adaptation of Pachelbel’s Canon in Re Major- is encouraging by itself, one of the most valuable features of this song is its lyrics, which are a testimony of how sometimes the butchery frenzy can be stopped to allow a fraternity bloom. It’s because of this complementation of sound and subject-matter that this song receives a scoring which puts it even over great rock classics.
“Rock and Roll” – Led Zeppelin
From the album “IV”, 1973
Melody: 10; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 4; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 45.27.
This is the songs that defines rock music, from the title, through the lyrics to the rhythym and instrumentalization. With a inexplicably captivating melody, in matter of over three and a half minutes it makes clear how it should be a song with voice, a bass, a drum set and a guitar. In fact, it exudes the very essence of the genre: first, the drums’ razing intro; then, the entrance of the guitar with the perfect timing introducing to us its elite riff; next, Robert Plant’s voice, howling with conviction and serving as a brief connection between one part of the song and the following one with its “lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely…”; from then on the drums reappear for grabbing the rhythym again along with the word “… time”. It’s the perfect sound incantation.
At the same time, this song is the concretion of the most recurring rock structures. That is clear when learning that it is the result of a series of jamming sessions and that it took shape as the band developed it in order to record it. In that sense, both from its structure and from its title and its gestation, it’s the most rocking song ever.
“Like a Rolling Stone” – Bob Dylan
From the album “Highway 61 Revisited”, 1965
Meoldy: 7; Instrumentalization: 5; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 10; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 45.40.
This is the epitome of the fall from grace and, at the same time, one of the most known songs of this urban minstrel. Along its 6 minutes (which come from a 24-pages story Dylan himself wrote) it tells the tale of a well-off girl who sees her possessions taken away by an unscrupulous manager and ends up living on the streets. And even if it began Dylan’s “electric” era, the main feature of this song is not that, nor it is the narration it contains, but how it is told. With an objurgating attitude and with Michael Bloomfield’s ascending scale guitar which is accentuated in each change by the influential and exultant Al Kooper’s Hammond organ riff, this singer manages to give his narrative a solemn tone.
Maybe it is because of the plethora of emotions gathered at the beginning of the chorus where Dylan sings “How does it feel…?” that this songs acquires a biographical feeling, which has made it ideal for the memoirs of many and that Rolling Stone magazine named it the best song of all time. Evidently, though, the motivations behind that pick are slightly less than obvious.
“Love is a Battlefield” – Pat Benatar
From the album “Live from Earth”, 1983
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45.46.
What seemed to be one more single from the plastic 80’s decade, in time, has been acquiring a flavor which tremendously distinguishes it from its contemporary sale list companions. “Love is a Battlefield” is a melodramatic, almost theatrical song which is, in a nutshell, the result of combining a great melody and a great production
Dominated by percussion, colored by a keyboard sometimes subtle and sometimes Venusian, guided by Pat Benatar’s bold and furious voice, this song was made to be a hit in the moment it was recorded. It even extracts the best of heavy metal sound by using a guitar solo that at minute 4:20 gives a ripping closure to the single. A calculated move by veteran producer Mike Chapman, who knew very well what he was doing and what could he achieve with a singer who was at the peak of her career.
“Teen Age Riot” – Sonic Youth
From the album “Daydream Nation”, 1988
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 9; Lyrics: 6; Structure: 1; Hictorial significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 45.51.
Sonic Youth has recorded a lot of goddamned good songs. And because of that it was obvious that they would be in this ranking. If there is something that makes “Teen Age Riot” the song that stands for them is, precisely, that it is the one that best cooks the ingredients which have made of these New Yorkers “the world’s oldest young band”.
More than a minute of intro plunges us into the initial calm, after which percussion disappears and the riff begins, as if it was now serious business. And from then on, under a dissonant atmosphere –Sonic Youth’s trademark which makes all other groups seem conservative and timorous–, the song unfolds fast, fascinating, strangely melodious, as nothing this group ever made before. All that combined with their diaphanous chord treatment and their tremendously rocking but humble reverberations marked it at the time as an independent radio stations favourite. This earned the song its right to join the group of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll” and its immovable spot in this ranking.
“Time after Time” – Cyndi Lauper
From the album “She’s So Unusual”, 1983
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45.56.
If there is any song that incarnates sadness in an extraordinary way, it is this one. With its ethereal and crystalline guitar and with its cinematic nature it is overwhelming at times. Cyndi Lauper’s bereaved but heartwarming voice, supported by the self-assured bass drum, forges a ballad, paramount in pop, made as ornament for looking at the sky at night through tears and that expresses the imagery of a couple struggling to hold together despite demise of love:
“Sometimes you picture me
I’m walking too far ahead
You’re calling to me, I can’t hear
What you’ve said
Then you say «Go slow
I fall behind»
The second hand unwinds…”
But, finally, breakup becomes final:
“After my picture fades and darkness has
Turned to gray
Watching through windows you’re wondering
If I’m OK
Secrets stolen from deep inside
The drum beats out of time…”
If it were not for this song being at the time the actual description of a situation its author and David Wolff, her boyfriend at the time (who even stars in the video clip) were experiencing, it wouldn’t be as powerful. But it is, and without a doubt has managed to score moments of deep sadness belonging to many people who have made a decision still hurts.
“The Times They are a-Changing” – Bob Dylan
From the album “The Times They are a-Changing”, 1964
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 5; Lyrics: 10; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45.59.
The best way to score a documentary about the youth social movement from the 60’s is with this song. That’s because it is a pristine call to a generation for it to become aware of how its vision of the world has lapsed in a new techonologies enviroment, new resources and new social goals. And because it is the antonomasia of the folk manifesto which irrigated that decade’s dreams.
“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.”
This nostalgic song about the passing of time, becoming inescapably obsolete and the need to adapt to a new society, posseses an aged quality which makes it impossible not to pay attention to it. Its harmonica —an instrument seldom listened in radio stations today— and its sincere strumming guitar are tools that build a lot with very few elements.
So, in this ranking, this song represents the strenght of simplicity.
“Heart of Glass” – Blondie
From the album “Paralell Lines”, 1979
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 9; Lyrics: 3; Structure: 2; historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 45.73.
Of the many songs vested with a disco coating this is, perhaps, the most perdurable one.
Originally called “Once I Had a Love”, it was a song with a touch of reggae, but Mike Chapman –composer and producer behind hits for Pat Benatar, The Sweet and The Knack– took charge of production and decided to give it a disco feeling which was initially resisted by the band but which finally won the world over. Nowadays it makes women think they are Deborah Harry and dance pathetically trying to imitate her.
If it is here that’s because of how catchy its melody is and because of the impeccable balance of its ingredientes, harmonized with refined taste by a mastermind in the middle of a platform shoes tide. The space-opera inspired keyboard sounds and the tireless hi-hat make it the undeniable correct answer for the eternal DJ question.
“Iron Man” – Black Sabbath
Del álbum “Paranoid”, 1971
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 6; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 45.75.
This obscure and perplexing narration about a man who travels in time, who witnesses the Apocalypse and later returns to take revenge on those who he saved, is the mother of sludge metal and favourite of many, many people. With its marshy guitar and that toxic but addictive orchestration, it is the exemplifying sound of artillery and y it is how would a tank sound if it turned into music.
If its appeal were a gravitational field, this song would definitively be Jupiter and few celestial objects would escape from it. In fact, on 2000, almost 30 years after its inception, it won the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance; on 2006 attained the first place on VH1’s 40 Greatest Metal Songs; and, finally, a many people use it as the ringtone for their, which is evident since it holds the 5th spot on Billboard’s Hot Ringtones chart.
This is, without a doubt, a heavyweight in rock music.
“March of the Pigs” – Nine Inch Nails
From the album “The Downward Spiral”, 1994
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 6; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45.76.
This three-minute sonic attack is simply one of the most furiously energetic songs in existence. And that’s no wonder, given that it was inspired by Charles Manson’s sect —known as “The Family”— raid in Roman Polanski’s house, where four people were murdered, including this director’s pregnant wife. Uncontrolled, disorganized, almost psychotic, it begins with an inimitable drum rhythym which precedes a heavily saturated guitar which escorts Trent Reznor in a wrathful spittle which makes one exorcise all the inner demons.
After a calm interlude that gathers strenght for a next —and definitive— assault, with fierce boldness Reznor sings:
“Shove it up inside!
Stains like blood on your teeth”
And, finally, arriving to the shore of quietude, the song ends with a reflexive piano. The listener is left exhausted, but satisfied with this unusual song that combines three bars of 7/8 time with one bar of 4/4 time.
A melody performed this way, with such fury and resolution, is not easily found.
“Time in a Bottle” – Jim Croce
From the album “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim”, 1972
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45.76.
From the reverie arpeggio at the beginning, this song is presented as delicious and exhibits all its capability for evoking past moments in attractive and romantic sepia.
Stanzas like this one
are the ideal love declaration. It is the racconto of a feeling, a racconto that bears witness of the desire of keeping alive the memories shared with the loved one and, this way, reaffirms a love story in a placid memento mori.
With the delectable effect Jim Croce’s nails make against the chords rugosity, the sound attains a luscious clarity akin to seeing the bottom of a pond full of mountain water, which makes it perfect for a day in a hill slope, contemplating the sunny day. It’s an unbeatable romantic manifesto decorated with a fabulous melody. There’s nothing else to do.
“Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin
From the album “IV”, 1971
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 45.77.
Thru these more than 50 years of rock history, many generations of mysticism cultists have gone by. This population has reconfigured his ideas many times, but the esence of their motivation and world view remains unchanged. This is their hymn.
Its initial tonality, ascetic and contemplative, accompained by a subtle flute and a careful singing make it irresistible. Listening to it makes you want to go into a private state in Nirvana and trascending the crude matter you are. This song is so well constructed that takes you in a real mystic trip from a quiet and protected environment to some kind of new rock conscience. But it never grows old. Even if it carries the whole late 60’s vibe, it takes advantage of the production values of early 70’s and it still keeps its aura intact. In fact, UK’s Classic Rock magazine picked it in 1999 as one of the “Ten Best Songs Ever!”, while on 2000 VH1 included it on its list of “The 100 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time”. And, without going any further, a brief poll I made among college students on 2009 yielded it as the best rock song of all time. And these were all people in between 19 and 21 years-old.
All this makes it, by its own right, a perpetual masterpiece.
“Sheep” – Pink Floyd
From the album “Animals”, 1977
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 45.81.
It looks like a blunder having scored as high this Pink Floyd’s song over others from their catalogue. But, in point of fact, it is one of the most melodic and pleasantly complex creations from these Londoners, a faithful harbinger of progressive rock, a genre which reached its maturity peak in the 70’s, when recording technology changed from being a mere group of cabling gadgets to being a monster of sound manipulation.
After a hearty prologue, the song turns into an ominous proclamation on the blindness of sheeps as the lowest social class —an allegory of the proletariat—, exploited and sacrificed inadvertently. While the first strophe depicts them grazing pacefully, the second one reveals —amidst biblical references— that they are being taken to the slaughterhouse. All this surrounded by a heavy mixture of experimental resources (such as the robotic voice which describes the victims’ conformist thoughts) which could only have jellied after rock progress attained a specific artistic point.
Therefore, this song, offspring of sonic experimentation, represents the power that stems from the fusion of musical creativity, artistic virtuosity and good technical decisions.
“The Great Pretender” – The Platters
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization 5; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 10; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45.81.
This song is the embodiment of elegance. Born from doo-woop and carrying proudly all the tradition and experience f the genre, in it The Platters achieve precise choruses which add emotivity to the classic lament for an unrequited love. Their high and satin voice impassions he who listens dressing him up and surrounding him with super trouper lights and a microphone. Who hasn’t sung to the sound of this song acting like a gentleman of yore, from that romantic age in which lovers met in the living room and speed limit was 50 km/h?
Maybe what endures the most of this song is its capability to represent the pain that comes from that specific absence and feeling the king of a fantasy world. This is made clear in that unforgettable section in which Tony Williams prolongs his tenor voice in a sostenuto howl, where the sentence “Pretending that you’re still around” lengthens… like pain in loneliness.
“Everybody’s got to Learn Sometime” – The Korgis
From the album “Dumb Waiters”, 1980
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45.84.
This song, which got to the 5th place in the UK singles chart, has always been with us. Its extreme existentialist sadness latchs on to us and conveys that ambiguous feeling of joy in melancholy. It is the state past musicians called “blues” which this song captures so well. Since that tragic electric piano starts to sound, the soul of the listeners is covered in shadows.
But precisely because of this it’s beautiful: because its sublime melody is the perfect podium for its extremely simple but potent lyrics, which seem to carry centuries of wisdom about human relationships and which calls to wait the moment of conclusions arrive by itself. It is an elegy that stops time and creates an obligatory space for thinking things over.
It is the soundtrack of that moment of penumbra and the lighting up of a a cigar.
“Layla” – Derek & the Dominoes
From the album “Layla and other Assorted Love Songs”, 1970
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 10; Lyrics: 4; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 45.85.
In this unrequited love plea Eric Clapton tormentedly declared his feeling to Patty Boyd –then-George Harrison’s wife– by saying:
“Please don’t say we’ll never find a way
And tell me all my love’s in vain”
Apart from a definitively illustrious riff, this song concentrates with purity all the great virtues of rock. By far, its most remarkable feature is its instrumentation precision, where Clapton’s chords excel and make us inderstand that only a handful of guitarists could perform it that way.
But its structure stands out also among its congeners. By beginning with a desperate strength, it makes out of itself an urgent call to action. But this vigor then evolves into a different song, but a song that keeps the basic spirit of the melody. With the piano it reflects wordless acceptance. The protagonist seems to admit that there’s nothing to say anymore.
And this way “Layla”, with its perfect sound and lyrics almost extracted from Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer’s work, becomes a magnum opus. In brief, it represents all those who thought that they could never stop loving a woman but ended up admiting that in life there are troubles that can only be unvoiced.
“Blue” – Joni Mitchell
From the album “Blue”, 1971
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 1; Histrocial significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45.85.
Blue is a valued symbol for poetry because it represents deepness of reflexion and inspiration, but it also reflects sadness in its purest state, evoking winter days’ penumbra. The vibrato in Joni Mitchell’s thin and warm, but sad voice gives us the feeling of raindrops sliding on a window pane. And it’s exactly this image the one this ballad manages to capture. And it does so by using a piano that plays splendidly through a sinous melody which timorously begins to loom up in the lament of this Canadian artist.
This song -in which musical notes barely caress the surface of water- perfectly reflect perfectamente lo que es acordarse de un pasado alegre e inolvidable, pero lejano. Así, si es cierto que “las canciones son como tatuajes”, ésta es un tatuaje profundo que es tan nuestro que no queremos hablar de él.
“Wild Wild Life” – Talking Heads
From the album “True Stories”, 1986
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45,86.
The Talking Heads have many good songs and contributed to establish surrealism as a fertile tributary not only for the so-called art-rock, but for rock in general. But this song is the one that best combines their ability to come up with a very good rhythym, their intellectual sense of humor and that joyful touch which was always characteristic of them. It is a song about insanity and savagery which, supported by a train-like bassline and a pointy guitar with a descending scale, posses the character of a party getting wilder and wilder as the dawn gets closer. Those “Oh-oh, oh, oh” from each chorus are what we will always remember and what make an unforgettable song out of it.
“Don’t You Want Me” – The Human League
From the album “Dare”, 1981
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 10; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 49.15.
This single, which sold 1.400.000 copies only in the United Kingdom, perhaps is the best couple dueling song. It captures, as a compendium, the 80’s sound with those raw and almost annoying synthetizers, but here transformed into an orchestra of nostalgic twangs and it is because of this that its simple and parsimonious melody, backed up by the programmed rhythym which makes you think of an helicopter in the background, is the ideal substratum for the duet of Phillip Oakey and Susan Ann Sulley. In an impressing, melting way, the later sings:
“I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
That much is true.
But even then I knew I’d find a much better place
Either with or without you.
The five years we have had have been such good times
I still love you!
But now I think it’s time I live my life on my own
I guess it’s just what I must do.”
Only because of the dialogue’s harsh sincerity, this song earned a point which placed it among the top 50. But it is all its sounds panoply and its ageless spirit which makes it deserver of being among the 100 best works.
It’s no wonder that even if Oakey disliked this song in the beginning, its success had made him change his mind fastly and definitively.
“Dancin’ in the Dark” – Bruce Springsteen
From the album “Born in the U.S.A.”, 1984
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 45.97.
This is one of the best openings with a stable drumming in history. And that’s how this song cautivates from the start, because that constant heartbeat is tremendously energizing and with that processed drum, with echoo, sounds epic and impossible to ignore. It is the song that, if starts to play, as background music, immediately captivates your attention.
The most striking aspect is its paradoxical nature since in its lyrics Bruce Springsteen expresses the anguished misadventures of a writer’s block he was suffering from and that, precisely, exorcised with this song. Maybe that’s why it’s so explosive and toned.
With precise metallophone musical notes it becomes ideal for dancing, jogging, running, training, driving or gliding towards the sun. It is adrenaline turned into music.
“Autobahn” – Kraftwerk
From the album “Autobahn”, 1974
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 10; Lyrics: 4; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 45.98.
The historical value of this masterpiece is incalculable. While the world was dominated by bandas grandiloquent bands like Kiss, The Rolling Stones and GrandFunk Railroad, this German quatrain launched a record where most sounds were synthetic . Only flute and guitar are real instruments.
The album’s first song achieves great elegance through a completely artificial atmosphere, but that not because of it sounds unnatural. Instead, it captures masterfully a highway’s doppler efect, almost reproducing overpasses, lampposts, signs and even countryside cows passing at full speed by the car. In fact, it even makes one enter a movement hypnotic trance .
With its fluidity and softness, and with its pioneer instrumentalization, this song holds the great merit of being the first international hit for electronic music and it was the one that laid the masterplan for many other genera that would be born in the future.
“Message in a Bottle” – The Police
From the album “Regatta de Blanc”, 1977
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 10; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 46.01.
I think there’s is not even necessary justifying why this song receives such a great scoring in the lyrical impact category. It is a composition about loneliness, as many others, but it is one of the few that offers a story that quickly reaches every brain, that has a development and a closure, with precise, easy-to-understand allegories, and, moreover, beautiful ones. This way the narrative about a castway’s misadventures have an epilogue which, if not happy, at least leave us with a valuable lesson:
“Walked out this morning
Don’t believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore
Seems I’m not alone at being alone
A hundred billion casatways
Looking for a home”
But no lyrics, no matter how lofty, would have sense without a meritorious musical platform. And this is the case of “Message in a Bottle”. It is a spectacular song in which each instrument seems to step in and go out in the right moment, leaving the stage center to the next one timely. This good stock reggae-scented rhythym leaves it clear that The Police purged Jamaican music’s best elements combining them with the cream of rock and with that they managed to craft a gem. This is specially notorious towards the end, where it is as if the atmospheric pluckings from Summer’s guitar sang with Sting.
It is a beautiful song. But not only that. It accomplishes something more: it leaves an emotional imprint taking advantage of the most outstanding elements of rock music.
“Been Caught Stealing” – Jane’s Addiction
From the album “Ritual de lo Habitual”, 1990
Melody: 10; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 6; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 6; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 46.13.
This apology of thievery as a way to fight establishment, has a brilliant guitar strumming which, along with the drums, the bongos and Perry Farrell’s high-pitched voice, kicks up an infectious rhythym capable of livening up any party. Pero lo que la hace destacable y merecedora de estar entre las 50 mejores canciones de la historia, es su ritmo, combina con dinamismo las infuencias funk de la banda, especialmente en su línea de bajo, y juega con una infrecuente dinámica de parada y arranque que la hace instantáneamente reconocible.
Es una canción que representa, para mí, la alegría misma.
“Major Tom (Coming Home)” – Peter Schilling
From the album “Error in the System”, 1980
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 6; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 46.14.
There are one-hit-wonders that hit the jackpot. With “Major Tom” Peter Schilling did that. It is a song based on the character created by David Bowie in “Space Oddity” that describes these astronaut’s reflections and thoughts when giving in to the immense void of space and how he feels he is coming home.
The element making it exquisite is how music reflects the lyrics, especially the feeling of awe at universe in front of us and the superiority of nothingness over existence. For example in the extract which reads:
“Earth below us
Calling, calling home…”
It is the ideal invitation to experience gain awareness through carefully elaborated and well-placed synth sounds.
“Summertime Blues” – Eddie Cochran
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 46.14.
This is one of the few 50’s songs that are still entertaining and that keep a playful, cool flavor. The oscillating bass makes one fall into the song like a fly gets stuck on gummed paper and, moreover, it has a formidable sense of opportunity for the riff comes in at the right moments fitting with the listener’s desire to move their body.
Written as an adolescente complain towards work overload of summers and obstacles to the enjoyment of life. By including dialogue excerpts from a supposed boss who tells the youth with a droll voice to face the fact that he is not going to have a pleasant summertime, it generates an imagery easy-to-relate to:
“Every time I call my baby, and ask to get a date
My boss says, «No dice son, you gotta work late»
Sometimes I wonder what I’m a gonna do
But there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues”
Therefore, as with the lyrics as with the melody, it brings to life summer spirit: summer of the year and summer of life. It invites you to clap rhythmically to the sound of a car under the aestival sun.
“Father and Son” – Cat Stevens
From the album “Tea for the Tillerman”, 1970
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 46.15.
Maybe this is the most known and captivating reflexive song in existence. It stands at 42th place because of its weary strumming and its delicious plucking, but even more due to its perfect harmony between lyrics and music.
“Think of everything you’ve got.
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.”
are words that resound in everyone who has become aware of eld imminence and the need to forge a future. But even if it’s not that the road one has chosen, it is impossible not to empathize with the father who knows one day he will die and says
“From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.
Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away.
I know I have to go.”
The way is the law of life, and it includes death. And realizing this is the first step towards childhood’s end. This is the reason behind its high score in historical significance: because countless people must have it among their favourite songs and must have irreplaceable memories of it.
“Imagine” – John Lennon
From the album “Imagine”, 1971
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 10; Cover: No; Yes: Sí. Score: 46.15.
The par excellence pacifist hymn, it call to fight unbelief and join forces in favor of an ideal society in which all society’s ills have been eradicated: hunger, war, fear and hate. This chant, with its delectable melody of a simple piano structure, like a lullaby, is the chant that expresses how it is to dream with a fraternal society, where there are no social classes differences and where everybody lives in peace. Particularly, the verse that says “Nothing to live or die for, and no religion too” seems to gainsay the song’s idealist spirit, but this discordance is not such, for it would be ridiculous to think of a world without motivations and life hopes being just for everybody. On the contrary, it is precisely a call to secularism: abolition of radical causes and absence of a dogma ruling what must people commit their lives to.
It will always be, despite its almost insipid simplicity, a favourite of the masses.
“The Fly” – U2
From the album “Achtung Baby”, 1991
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 10; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 46.54.
This strident sounds alloy was a musical milestone when it came out as a prmotional single. Being the spearhead of an album that revolutionized rock music, it also holds the merit of being t he song that best stands for “Achtng Baby”, the record that relanuched U2’s career and that Bono described as “the sound of four men chopping down ‘The Joshua Tree’ ”. Its bombastic combination of distorted guitars with programmed percussion rhythyms proved the world that remix flavoured music was not only for dancefloors nor for chest-shaved singers, but that it was possible to make serious rock using the advances of technology to create multiple layers ambients that yielded a completely new surrounding effect, intentionally complex and addictive.
The guitar, soaked in Saturn’s atmosphere, gets charged by anomalous particles. The suggestive interplay of a high gospel voice and a low one, generates a counterpoint which was almost unthinkable before this song was born. These two elements yield product which is extremely schizophrenic but that, somehow, works. Very likely it is because those contagious drums emulate the cold and mechanical rhythyms of house from that time. By doing that it solidifies the plethora of dissonances in a coherent whole.
This way “The Fly”, a sonic manifesto about the sensory overload seen through an insect’s eye, stands as an historical moment in the development of a genre that, as alterative as it is, constantly surprises itself.
“Institutionalized” – Suicidal Tendencies
From the album “Suicidal Tendencies”, 1983
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 10; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 6; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 46.56.
By this time punk y and heavy metal began a mixing up and it was no longer easy for critics or listeners to tell one from the other. Suicidal Tendencies exemplified that phenomenon with this song, so insane it sounds dangerous. It is a rage bag that acts as rock music’s signature, a teenager’s retaliation harassed by overprotective and mistrustful parents who intend to intern him in an asylum only because they don’t understand his world and that’s why they brand him as “mentally unstable”.
“They say they’re gonna fix my brain.
Alleviate my suffering and my pain.
But by the time they fix my head,
Mentally I’ll be dead”
The genius in this song is that it conveys with perfection the protagonist’s feeling of suffocation and persecution with a rhythym that progressively speeds up until exploding with nervous drums and Mike Muir’s overloaded, collapsed and tensely psychiatric singning. That frantic monologue decored by irreproducible guitar taps is the best sample of rock music used as a communication instrument from one generation to another.
“One” – Metallica
From the album “… And Justice for All”, 1988
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 46.61.
A metalhead favourite and, for some strange reason, enjoyed even by hair conditioner-scented teenagers learning to smoke pot. This is especially striking given its dark, almost diabolic aura and the hopelessness it carries.
But this is not only a gem of long-haired thrash. It is, also, a work of art in production; with its greatly polished equialization the drum rolls sound like a machine gun and the chords, so clean, even sound angelic.
But this song is far from being celestial. Its ominous lyrics -based on the novel “Johnny Got His Gun”, written in 1939 by Dalton Trumbo- tells the story of a soldier who has lost his limbs, his sight and almost all his senses but that, keeping his conscience intact, remains a prisioner in his own body.
Is with this horror in mind that after the fourth minute “One” becomes the most memorable sonic attack of the band: the double bass drum and the drum rolls build up a powerful structure, rabid but calculated, which gets ensanguined with a guitar that sounds like a knife, a guitar which reflects Kirk Hammett’s virtuosity and which makes and obelisk of headbanging out of this song.
This is the song that raised Metallica to the status of cult band, adored in diverse groups and not only on the metal scene.
“Rearviewmirror” – Pearl Jam
From the album “Vs.”, 1993
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 10; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 46.65.
While many songs about conflict magnify small vicissitudes of life with grand metaphors, this one is crudely sincere and realistic, given that it talks about leaving behind a house with a history of violence and physical and psychological abuse, a theme with little notoriety in rock music until that moment:
“I guess it was the beatings made me wise (…)
I couldn’t breathe
Holdin’ me down
Hand on my face
Pushed to the ground
United by fear
Forced to endure what I could not forgive… ”
But evidently what makes it big is not just the lyrics, but particularly the music, which propels it with special earnestness. The most notable musical figure in this song is the “floating” section in the middle of the song, where guitars seem to generate an intrincate atmosphere, as if it was symbolizing alienation from things and see them from afar in order to ponder things, to ascertain to be making the right choice. This way, protagonist ponders his/her past and gives a healing closure to a history of suffering:
“Saw things so much clearer once you…
Once you were in my rearview mirror”
Sealed by an apotheosic finale, this is a song which tells us about a decision which comes from the entrails.
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – The Rolling Stones
Del álbum “Out of Our Heads”, 1965
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 10; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 46.70.
This song’s fresh and timeless nature is what makes it a classic, popular and gripping even today. With a riff capable of enthralling anyone, a low, vibrant guitar, like a motorbike engine and that friendly tambourine it is ideal to sing along. But it is not a void target for karaoke.
Even though Jagger’s suggestive and increasing voice begins singing gently, in the chorus its conviction grows and naivety disappears revealing critique: it is an attack towards society rampant consumism, ported by the power of pressing publicity. The verses which best express this diatribe says:
“When I’m watchin’ my TV
And a man comes on and tells me
How white my shirts can be
But he can’t be a man
‘Cause he doesn’t smoke the same cigarrettes as me”.
A classic above classics. That is why “Satisfaction” is an staple in The Rolling Stones’s concerts y and a favourite of wurlizters and radio.
“Heroin” – The Velvet Underground
Del álbum “The Velvet Underground & Nico”, 1967
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 46.70.
On 2004 this song was chosen as No. 448 among the best 500 of all time by Rolling Stone. On 2006, Pitchfork Media ranked it 77th among the 200 Greatest Songs from the 60’s. The next year, Mental Floss magazine listed it as one of the ten songs that changed the world.
Maybe it is because of the directness and amorality of its message. Maybe it is because of its ability to reproduce this white crystal’s opioid trance and its pleasure kick. Or maybe it is because it helps the layman to understand the extreme abandonment state the user sinks into after a fix and his/her disinterest in the world:
“Because a mainer to my vein
Leads to a center in my head
And then I’m better off and dead
Because when the smack begins to flow
I really don’t care anymore
About all the Jim-Jim’s in this town
And all the politicians makin’ crazy sounds
And everybody puttin’ everybody else down
And all the dead bodies piled up in mounds ”
An even if one had never used heroin, you have to concede this song that after listening to it, one feels like it.
“Space Oddity” – David Bowie
From the album “Space Oddity”, 1969
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 46.74.
This is the history of Mayor Tom, an astronaut abruptly overwhelmed by the emptiness of outer space who disconnects himself from ground control to set out a voyage towards the infinity (and so it represents heroin addiction very properly). As this kind of tale, it is a narrative which captures the fascination of a period which saw the summit of the space race. Therefore, it is no wonder it had been released as a single the very same day el of Apollo 11’s lunar landing.
“Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles,
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows”
But its sci-fi theme makes an odd contrast with the music, being it a ballad without pretentiousness, but surrounded by special effects and sound layers that hide differente countdowns. This and the verses which tell the story, accurately picked by Bowie and which dwell into the listerner’s head, are the reasons why this song is in this list.
All of those who had begun to play it on guitar know what I am talking about.
“Killing in the Name” – Rage Against The Machine
From the album “Rage Against The Machine”, 1992
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 9; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 46.75.
This song is pure rock, to the vein. It takes the flag of this genre and becomes its battle cry. With that majestic entrance, like the sound of a gong, it implants a new sound, a stridency which until 1992 seemed reserved only for heavy metal.
But despite its innovative spirit, it is not a pretentious song. It has a simple stop-and-start dynamic which wipes everything out. Upon repeating untiringly “Now you do what they told ya” the magmalike bass, sinuous like a snake, sows the ground for the apotheosic crescendo that drums and guitar achieve together, closer to the sound of firearms than to the sound of musical instruments. And so comes the moment when Zack de la Rocha makes nonconformity’s battle cry out of this song singing:
“Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”
With disobedience as means and goal, this song is a pleasure by itself. Singing to it collectively, jumping and screaming desperately “Motherfuckeeeeeer!!” , in the middle of a sociopolitical ecstasy, it manages this song to earn an eternal place in rock music pantheon.
“99 Luftballoons” – Nena
From the album “99 Luftballoons”, 1984
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 46,77.
This song is placed here mainly thanks to their lyrics, which are a counterfactual imagery exercise: what if a nuclear nation’s war system confused 99 helium-filled balloons with an airstrike… After the atomic debacle, on a devastated Earth, the singer bewails by saying
“99 years of war
Left no room for victors.
There are no more war ministers
Nor any jet fighters.
Today I’m making my rounds
See the world lying in ruins.
I found a balloon,
Think of you and let it fly (away)…”.
The worth of these lyrics is located in the irony that poses the hypertrophy of defense systems: while supossedly designed to protect us from possible foreign attacks, these warfare machineries are constituted by men trained day-by-day for war, with such passion that they can get to be themselves the ones who firstly pull the trigger. And if we add to such exhortation a strangely euphoric soundtrack, stowed by brilliant keyboards and rhythym changes, we have then what this unforgettable West Germany hit was, a song that metaphorically abridges -and in a very enjoyable way- the Cold War tensions.
“Bo Diddley” – Bo Diddley
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 4; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 10; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 46,81.
This song belongs to another time, a time when there were no standards to comply nor schemes to break. There was a fertile road ahead, but it was also unknown. There were no lessons to hold on, and there were no patterns to copy either. In this unexplored jungle this song appears with a an instantly contagious ramble rhythym. The zigzag guitar and the constant percussion activate a deep brain center which makes you go along the cadence snapping the fingers, clapping or stomping the floor. that same rhythym, which in the end goes away, is the one reproduced in songs like U2’s “Desire”, George Michael’s “Faith” or Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”.
Because of being on of the first recordings to directly introduce african rhythyms in rock and roll by using beat hambone (a dance genre consisting of beating several body parts in order to create a rhythym and a song) it historical is incalculable despite how basic their lyrics are. Was not for it, maybe the most rocking song we could be listening to today would be Cliff Edwards “When you Wish Upon a Star”.
“Hoppipolla” – Sigur Rós
From the album “Takk…”, 2005
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 9; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 46,86.
This beautiful melody which display its wings through a dramatic but glazed tone in a complex instrumentalization crescendo is one of the most unlikely characters in this ranking given that it’s in the very boundaries of rock music. In fact, many journalists classify Sigur Rós’ work into the “post-rock” exotic terrain, an informal movement that breaks away from the genre’s conventionalisms and makes innovation a standard.
That’s one of the reasons this song is so towering: because it picks rock renewing instruments that give it an unique sound. This way, a humbly opening metallophone and a sad piano that leads with melancholy a percussion section, are protagonists of this work that fills me with an indescribably immense feeling. I think that que, from all the ranking, this is the one that better expresses how the world we live in is: intense, a little sad, a little cheery, unexpected, impossible to span, but captivating.
“More Than This” – Roxy Music
From the album “Avalon”, 1982
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 46.95.
With a “space” guitar, this masterpiece that closes glam rock splendor era, opens its melody which is beautiful and sad at the same time. There’s something about it that sounds reflexive and tremendously lucid. In fact it is a reification of the mystical awareness of the world’s gist, accepting thw laws of nature.
“No care in the world
Maybe I’m learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning”
What makes it so worthy and transforms it into this band’s most well-known song –to the point that the compilation with the best of Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music carry its title– is that through the nature observation figures, its slick production which employs gracefully the sounds and benefits early 80’s synth technology, and Bryan Ferry’s detached, disinterested, it is a call to maduration, to realizing that the universe has unstoppable cycles and that things keep on happening even we haven’t the answers about their origin. The moment of realization is the moment of understanding “Why the sea on the tide has no way of turning”.
“Common People” – Pulp
From the album “Different Class”, 1995
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 47.27.
This is the story of an exchange student, daughter of a well-off family, who wishes to know the reality of the lower classes as a form of cultural tourism, alloting glamour to poverty, without really understanding the lives of the people she intnteracts with. Within this context, it becomes much more ironic the elegance in Jarvis Cocker’s singing. As a matter of fact, his overreacted voice has the purpose of sounding distinguished, reproducing at times extracts of the dialogue with this decked woman, who sings with some desdain and canta con cierto desdén y anomie. But later, especially in the sections in which Cocker point out his critiques to his interlocutor’s attitude, his voice becomes bitterly realistic.
But she doesn’t understand, no matter how much she tries:
“But still you’ll never get it right,
cos when you’re laid in bed at night,
watching roaches climb the wall,
if you call your dad he could stop it all”
After all, it is a damn well-told story with sublime music. One of its great rocking values is how it gains speed. It begins gently and naive but then, when we listen the “And she just smiled and held my hand”, the slide guitar comes along marking off, that, like a como guillotine, the appearance of the fast and repetitive rhythmic section which slowly accelerates (reflecting the main character’s indignation upon defending England’s working class) until ending in apotheosis. It is and will always be a brit-pop narrative treasure.
“Where the Streets Have No Name” – U2
From the album “The Joshua Tree”, 1987
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 47.30.
Paul Hewson, U2’s singer, working at the aid camps in Ethiopia in 1985, realized that there were tents by the thousands and that they were so close together that they were separated to each other by narrow corridors, forming little streets with no name. This was something very different than life in Belfast, where one could tell someone’s religion and how much they earned by knowing the name of the street they lived in. The union of both ruminations gave rise to this globally known song.
During its four and a half minutes, conducted by an emotional and recursive guitar arpeggio, speaks about how necessary it is to turn our eyes toward our neighbors, towards the needy, moving away from differences and limits by which we separate from others. At the far end, it invite us to detach from the vanity of knowing the name of the street we live in and get closer as a group to a place of justice and equity, a place where the streets have no name.
It was impossible that such a creative and artistic bull’s eye received low scores. It didn’t surprise me at all to find it in this position.
“Run to the Hills” – Iron Maiden
From the album “The Number of the Beast”, 1982
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 47.35.
A slow and indelible drum hammering, unusual in heavy metal, is the introduction for this song where the conquest of northamerican western is told from the viewpoint of a native and, then, from the perspective of an invading soldier. Within Iron Maiden’s line of historical content songs, this one narrates the desperation of cornered people and the war blindness of an imperialistic civilization whose vanguard was plagued with criminals and, in that sense, is a testament of the legendary iniquities that remain buried by the pavement of transculturation.
It is a memory left in this galloping, enfolding, complex and almost-irreproducible song, with Adrian Smith’s ripping guitar, and where Bruce Dickinson shows us the whole range he can achieve, going from the higher to the lower notes with enviable mastery.
“I Will Survive” – Gloria Gaynor
From the album “Love Tracks”, 1978
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 1; Hisotrical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 47.62.
Many, many, many people have sung this late disco era hymn with a glass in hand and their forehead to the ceiling thinking of a particular person and they have overturned all their hate in them. A karaoke favourite –for good reason– this song with its piercing and repetitive rhythym marked by the hi-hat flanked by the brass section that acts as a choir, is so well made that it is impossible not to dance to it or sing to it, especially the part that says:
“Go on now, go, walk out the door
Just turn around now
‘Cause you’re not welcome anymore
Weren’t you the one, who tried to hurt me with goodbye?
Did you think I’d crumble?
Did you think I’d lay down and die?
Oh, no, not I, I will survive”
It possesses all the classic elements looked for in the disco hit single: a structure of short sounds in the rhythmic section, a coordinated game of wind instruments, an armonic scale and an undeniably danceable spirit. But it extremely stands out among other disco songs: only the keyboard and the voice extend creating the counterpoint, typical to 70’s dance music. With that and with the power carried by Gaynor’s performance, from the soap opera-like piano introduction telenovelesca it manages to impact freeing from the listener’s inside that unspeakable eagerness for revenge hidden in all of us. And that’s its great worth: it generates a lot of empathy.
“Paint It Black” – The Rolling Stones
Del álbum “Aftermath”, 1966
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 10; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 47.71.
The desolate cowboy guitar opening tells us, from the beginning, that what we are about to hear is an ode to the fascination for gloom so well crafted that we could say it foreshadowed the arrival of dark and goth movements with 30 years of anticipation. With its Spaniard ethnic quota granted by the galloping castanets and the oriental guitar plucking, very properly accompained by a sitar with vibrato, with Jagger’s defying singing, and then his rhythmic murmur, “Paint It Black” is a song that came to stay in Rolling Stones’ catalogue forever.
This song, so linked with Vietnam War that it has been used in at least six war videogames, exudes power. And that is why is no wonder that it has more than 100 cover versions registered by other artists, sticking out by its own merit the funk adaptation made by Eric Burdon and War.
All in all, it is natural that other musicians enjoy reinterpreting its metrics, its steadiness and that kinetic feeling which imprints into the listener. Because it is not just any song; it is the outcome of well-channeled creativity from one of the most long-lived bands in the history of rock in an extremely prolific and jovial period on their career.
“Enjoy the Silence” – Depeche Mode
Del álbum “Violator”, 1990
Melodía: 8; Instrumentalización: 9; Letra: 8; Estructura: 2; Significado histórico: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Sí. Puntaje: 47,73.
This is melancholy made into a song. That simple.
Over the years, Depeche Mode became experts in mixing techno music synthetic sounds with more classical rock traditions. With other songs like “Personal Jesus” o “Suffer Well” they achieved more newfangled results, but it is in “Enjoy the Silence” where they reach perfection at the capture of a feeling.
The cowboy country-like guitar riff, blends almost secretly with the song’s rhythmic section, which is totally electronic. An even if the melody sometimes is carried by the guitar, and some other times by the keyboard, instruments take turns perfectly to bring off a song crowned with poetry. Poetry which may be a little rough, but it is potently visual, almost mortuary:
“All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm”
With its delicious, exquisite melodic aura, and its perfect balance of emotional and cerebral element, this song can be cataloged without any modesty as a masterpiece.
“Blue Line Swinger” – Yo La Tengo
From the album “Electr-o-Pura”, 1995
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 10; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 3; Historical significance: 5; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 47.87.
As one of the most powerful and most touching songs emerged from the indie rock scene, “Blue Line Swinger” is maybe the best introduction from this New Jersey trio. A four compasses organ that forms the structure base lays down an exploratory beginning, almost timorous, for this composition which slowly builds up from hesitating drum rolls, like baby steps. From stridency to harmony, it is a trip through emotion. A lot of emotion.
With its cracked guitars which little by little get rhythmic, it is like the beginning of dawn: even though there is a moment when the sun comes up, the day has already begun. It is the same with this song: when the rhythym breaks free, the energized section has begun some time before.
“You, you won’t talk about what we see when the lights are out
And I’m willing to hold your hand while you’re lost,
while you’re so full of doubt
Walk for miles, on your own loose ends, I’ll find you there
I’ll find you there”
The lyrics are a promise, barely suggestive, just enough to introduce us into a shrouding atmospher. The whole prologue is absolutely necessary, it is the preamble, it is the moment when one dives, it is the immersion into the world of those distempered and boisterous notes that hide deep feelings.
It is because of all this that it is the best positioned noise rock song in this ranking and, maybe, the most beautiful one ever written.
“Do the Evolution” – Pearl Jam
Del álbum “Yield”, 1998
“I’m ahead, I’m the man
I’m the first mammal to wear pants
I’m at peace with my lust
I can kill ‘cause in God I trust
It’s evolution, baby”
A brilliant riff joined by a second calculated stridency are the vaguard of this single which, during 1998, came to demonstrate that Pearl Jam always retained their known ease to impact the masses. This time it was a song that depicts human beings as irrepressible predators that, plunged into the hypocrisy of disclaiming their animal roots, justify all abuse of their enviroment and their congeners.
What makes it great is that it has all the classic elements of a great rock song and, morevoer, it has the distinctive flavour of Pearl Jam’s songs, including Eddie Vedder’s visceral screams, Mike McReady’s unique riffs and that prodigious music performance. Besides, it has a damn good rhythym.
“The Life of Riley” – The Lightning Seeds
From the album “Sense”, 1992
Melody: 10; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 48.45.
When his son was born, Ian Broudie –The Lightning Seeds’ singer– wrote this song for him as a gift for life. With that background in mind, the lyrics are read with new optics:
“Lost in the Milky Way,
Smile at the empty sky and wait for
The moment a million chances may all collide.
I’ll be the guiding light (…)
So here’s your life,
We’ll find our way,
We’re sailing blind,
But it’s certain nothing’s certain.”
It is a call to accept the chance in universe and embrace it as philosophy of life. In all, the world is bigger than oneself and in this universe you cannot protect the ones you love from everything, but you can accompany those who are beginning that road, plagued with surprises, setbacks and coincidences.
But what makes this song worthy of perfect score in the melody category is that its lyrics are delivered in a perfectly optimistic fashion by a cheery, edifying, smile-provoking succession of notes. The acoustic guitar remains well distributed and works side by side with the synthetic sounds. The playfulness of the rhyhtym acts as a stop-and All the pieces fit together as if this was a jigsaw puzzle made out of mystic pop music. In sum, it is a very well crafted and precisely inspired song that becomes so light that it even lifts the listener’s spirit to the exact point where a million chances may all collide.
“Jailhouse Rock” – Elvis Presley
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 4; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 10; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 48.73.
This is a song that needs no introduction.
It shows Elvis Presley’s capability to turn a series of sounds into a hit. And while the power of this song lies in the fact that it is brightly well written, it is much better sung. Leiber and Stoller balanced with justice and finnesse the singing with the swinging contrabass scale and the calculated piano interference. But not just anybody could have printed the power that the King of Rock’n Roll gave to it. He was unique at the showmanship and forcefulness which he displays in “Jailhouse Rock” .
It contains the story of a recreational concert in a prison which the inmates couled have used to escape, but they decide to stay in order to enjoy dancing. The oddest feature is how, in the conservative 50’s, it includes a dialogue with clear hints of jail homosexuality:
“Number forty-seven said to number three:
You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see.
I sure would be delighted with your company,
Come on and do the jailhouse rock with me.”
By using a perfect use of the verse-chorus-verse structure with an interim taken from the cream of rock music, this song is without a doubt a milestone in the history of this genre. In fact, even today it livens up any party, wedding or, even, funeral.
“The Spirit of Radio” – Rush
From the album “Permanent Waves”, 1980
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 10; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 48.74.
This song could form a trilogy with Queen’s “Radio Ga-Ga” and Ramones’ “Do You Remember Rock’N’Roll Radio?” as paladins of broadcasting, a tool for the democratization of music and a vehicle for collective imagination. In particular, this song declares that music can be a marvelous from of expression and that it can better life if it is done because of the right reasons. But at the same time it asseverates that the recording industry can ruin this art by inculcating in people the desire of making music just for its profit. That’s why it says “For the words of the profits were written on the studio wall (…) And echoes with the sounds of salesmen”. But it offers a redemption path: it tells us that thigs don’t have to be that materialistic when Lee sings “It’s really just a question of your honesty”, which seems to mean that it is up to musicians to choose those good reasons.
But it is not just the message. What puts this song in the 18th spot is by far its technical merit and it capability to make our minds drift with guitar arpeggios which seemed impossible to combine in reality along with Neil Peart’s exquisite drum battery, a percusion feat that leads rhythym changes which break with rock music restrictions. And even though all Rush discography is a virtuosity lesson, it is in “The Spirit of Radio” where it crystallizes a contagious melody with the melodramatic aura which gives that interpretative excellence an undeniably imperishable.
It is like the recipe for a good beer with its ingredients just in the right proportion at the exact temperature.
“Innuendo” – Queen
From the album “Innuendo”, 1991
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 9; Lyrics: 10; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 6; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Puntaje: 49.04.
This song was the final seal of an always grandiose band. Maybe the greatest in history. After having demonstrated for more than fifteen years their masterliness for albums and singles, Queen earned the right to explore new musical grounds, to aim at building an historical legacy and questioning, even, ideological foundations of life. And precisely that is what “Innuendo”: a sheer existentialism poem made-up by two powerful bombastic nature sonic attacks. In between them, a flamenco imagery ethnical interlude makes this composition even more fun than it already is from the beginning, thanks to Steve Howe’s magical, beatifully played guitar.
Nothing is picayune in this song. While on the one hand the music has a colossal spirit, on the other the lyrics, a demanding call to life powers, is epic:
“If there’s a God or any kind of justice under the sky
If there’s a point, if there’s a reason to live or die
Ha, if there’s an answer to the questions we feel bound to ask
Show yourself – destroy our fears – release your mask”
The grandiosity of this song becomes even more evident if w take into account that by the time the band wrote it, Freddie Mercury was already into an advanced stage of his fight agains AIDS and that, therefore, faced an incoming arrival of death.
It is the undertone of its composition and recording, it is the power it carries, it is master Brian May’s metal guitar, it is its lyrics and, in the end, each and every one of the components of this song what make it a rock masterpiece. It would have been imposible to accept its absence from a raking like this one.
“Gates of Steel” – Devo
From the album “Freedom of Choice”, 1980
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 9; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 6; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 49.34.
If a keyboard can really carry strength and energize a song, it is demonstrated in this track which Devo uses, consequently with it thesis that consumerism and mediatic influence have made humans de-evolve, to show how humanity supossedly embraces logic but is, by nature, irrational and impulsive. Mothersbaugh emphasizes with irony that human potentialities come, after all, from their genetic inheritance and, thus, from their behavior as an anthropoid:
“The ape regards his tail
He’s stuck on it
Repeats until he fails
Half a goon and half a god”
The polished and strylized arrangement fuses the robotic rhythym with an organic guitar riff to create and atmosphere which makes this call to awareness as urgent and vital. On the other hand the verses, made-up by and unique high-pitched sharp note, together with the chorus use a descending figure in order to generate an hypnotic atractiveness making this song irresistible to sing along when it starts to sound.
In the end, with its fusion of rival instrumentalizations and its anthropologized poetry, this is, maybe, the most cryptically beautiful song born from early-80’s new wave.
“Such Great Heights” – The Postal Service
From the album “Give Up”, 2003
Melody: 10; Instrumentalization: 9; Lyrics: 10; Structure: 1; Histrocial significance: 6; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 49.45.
Simply… a Venus de Milo of rock music.
This is one of those rare occasions when a song of pure and innocent love evolves to be an art treasure. From the catchpenny stereo sounds -at the beginning of its more than four minutes- which catch attention because of an initially unknown reason, this song is delicious. The instruments, starting by the buzz-like keyboard that turns into an stable background, they are added little by little to weave an astrnautic atmosphere that, asa paradoxical as it sounds, it’s perfect for contemplating the magnificence of a clear day and celebrating being with the loved one. It is as if it allowed to see the world from great heights. Hence its title.
Like many songs from this roster, in this one there is a meritorius coincidence between lyrics and music in such a away that it seems that the one had been composed thinking of the other by Gibbard and Tamborello. But in this case the imagery of the lyrics is mind-bending:
“I am thinking it’s a sign
That the freckles in our eyes
Are mirror images
And when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned
And I have to speculate
That God Himself did make
Us into corresponding shapes
Like puzzle pieces from the clay
And true it may seem like a stretch
But it’s thoughts like this that catch
My troubled head when you’re away
When I am missing you to death
When you are out there on the road
For several weeks of shows
And when you scan the radio
I hope this song will guide you home”
Here melody and lyrics have the merit of perfectly capturing the emotion of a couple in love that feels they are unique in the world, that they don’t need anyone else, that they don’t belong to this world and that they float above it. That’s where this lyrics come from:
“They will see us waving from such great heights
«Come down now» they’ll say
But everything looks perfect from far away
«Come down now» but we’ll stay”
It is, in all, happiness embodied in a song, the expression of not wanting to be anywhere else than with the better half. Maybe it is the best love song ever written.
“Surrender” – Cheap Trick
From the album “Heaven Tonight”, 1978
Melody: 10; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 49.52.
On their peak, Cheap Trick condensed the best of power pop and the song that best represents this is “Surrender”. With an amalgam of rock and pop artificial sounds, plus an unbeatable structure which becomes infectiously contagious, it is no exaggeration to say that it is built with the tste and dedication of Fabergé egg. You could almost think it served as a blueprint for every song in the genre, included Republica’s “Ready to Go” , Weezer’s “No One Else” or Jimmy Eat World’s “Praise Chorus”.
And how could not have gone deep in rock’s collective museum, given that it has lyrics so picaresque that they opened their eyes to a whole generation? They deal with a boy, son of the post-World War II baby boom, wh discovers that his parents hide an unkown crazy past and that, in the end, they are cooler than what he ever dreamed to be. The most brilliant part of this song, maybe, is its ending, when the narrator tells:
“Then I woke up, Mom and Dad are rolling on the couch
Rolling numbers, rock and rolling, got my Kiss records out”
But the chorus is so perfect that the word “brilliant” is lukewarm. Each chorus ends with an energizing drum roll and, after it, the next verse comes along with even more power and optimism, forming a contagious progression through the song.
However, this song’s definitive version and the one everybody should listen to is the one they played live in ’78 in Tokyo and that is recorded in “At Budokan”. On that record, this song becomes the best choice for a group in a car with the stereo at maximum volume.
“Computer Love” – Kraftwerk
From the album “Computer World” , 1981
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 10; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 7; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 49.65.
As a song about love in a world plagued with computers, it is an oracle of a future that would not belate to arrive two decades later, when relationships mediated by screens are each day more frequent and obsess many people.
Maybe this song is not considereded Kraftwerk’s best (without a doubt “Radio-activity” and Autobahn” are people’s favourites) and that could deduct historical importance from it, but it is no wonder. The worth of this song is mainly musical since it manages to make sounds to communicate by themselves a message. With a constant pulse it reflects the nature of repetitive and dependable work of computers and, along with it, its lack of a soul. The riff, weary and nostalgic, contributes in conveying the alienation feeling of modern man, and so fond of it was Coldplay that they asked this reclusive German their authorization for sampling and using it into their song “Talk” (after a prolonged wait and much nervousness, they received a one-page letter from them containing only the word “Yes”).
This way instrumentalization in “Computer Love”, so carefully chosen, achieves an harmonious balance, and that is what makes it beautiful. There is not a single “real” instrument in the song but it still manages to sound organic and melancholic. With that sonic mutation it shows the versatile side of a rock music form almost unthinkable until this point.
Never computers had been so emotionall as in this song. It discovers the soul that was locked inside the machine.
“Just Like Heaven” – The Cure
From the album “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me”, 1987
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 10; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 50.10.
This, the soundtrack to a dream just before waking up, might easily be considered the best pop song in history. With its vaporous acoustic guitar, the harmonious plucking and an ethereal piano that act as a reverie background, its instrumentalization becomes perfect for telling the story of lovers that, mired in the throes of love, fall asleep at the edge of a cliff. When he wakes up the next day, he realizes she has plunged into the depths of the sea. But we, the listeners, are never told if it was her will. Only its matchless but sad melody remains to give us the feeling that sometimes abysses exist inside ourselves.
Sulky, somber, absent, nostalgic… but at the same time ungraspable, dancing, sensual, merry, this song holds a bipolarity that inexplicably avoids being a paradox. On the contrary, it is the union of two irreconcilable extremes that spawned one of the most emotive rock songs.
“Dust in the Wind” – Kansas
From the album “Point of Know Return”, 1977
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 10; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 50.21.
While “Innuendo” is an undeniable existentialism lesson, “Dust in the Wind” has the same inspiration, but observes life in a mouch more docile and humble way, percolated by the sieve of oriental contemplation. In fact, through its lyrics it reminds us how insignificant we are in the great scheme of the universe how our lifes are short and fragile, to the point that we see ourselves as dust htat can be wiped from the surface of the world. It is a call to accept stoically the transience of life:
“Don’t hang on; nothing lasts forever but the Earth and sky
It slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy”
The arpeggiated guitar makes it a typical campire chanson but, at the same time, imposible to perform to anyone who has not practiced it during months. And after the viola solo, memorable to the point it touches the emotion centers in the brain, it becomes unrepeteable and impossible to mistake for another.
Nothing in this song is imitable.
“Stand By Me” – Ben E. King
From the album “Don’t Play that Song”, 1961
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 6; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 50.26.
The bass chords sounding at the begining of this song make all frivolity and hopelessness go away; it replaces it with a deep community feeling. It is magic, magic contained in this song that for more than five decades has been one of the most known soul stamps. Among its verses it gathers the universal elements of friendship and it is because of the perfect fusion it achieves with theemotive side of its sound –emanated from the gospel choirs and the feeling of Negro Spirituals, adorned with soulful violins– that has evolved with time into the antonomasia of unconditional support and camaraderie. Without question it is one of the best demonstrations of the genius of the Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller creative duo, who wrote it with King. That is why is no wonder John Lennon, Otis Redding, Maurice White, Pennywise andeven someone so distant to the ballad tradition as Lemmy Kilminster have made their own renditions of this classic. It even gave its title to a Rob Reiner film based on a Stephen King story.
The names, the people, the souls that have been touched by this song are many. And I am not afraid to be mistaken when asserting that there are many yet to be born that will also be touched by it.
“A Day in the Life” – The Beatles
From the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, 1967
Melody: 7; Instrumentalization: 10; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 10; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 50.42.
What can we say about the most commented song from the album considered a masterpiece recorded by those who are paraised as the best rock band in history?
Maybe nothing. And maybe saying anything about it would be bigeye. Paul Grushkin, in his book “Rockin’ Down the Highway” refered this song as “one of the most ambitious, influential, and groundbreaking works in pop music history”. In “From Craft to Art: Formal Structure in the Music of the Beatles”, it is described as a song that “clocking in at only four minutes and forty-five seconds, it must surely be among the shortest epic pieces in rock”.
But the question is why. Why is it universally considered a masterpiece?
The answer is in each of its parts and each of its properties: it is intense and overloaded, maddening at times, but always amusing, almost comical; it is rhapsodic, but despite having four sections, these are not isolated. They are not four songs into one; it really is a sole schizophrenic song that even so manages to enjoy a recognizable unity aura. In fact, maybe each part by itself would not have been as relevant as the result of having them fused together.
With its lyrics based in randomly chosen newspaper headings of the time Lennon and McCartney got to create an open-ended semantics text that seems to accept countless interpretations and becomes an example of dadaist exercise in all its glory. This way, with its orchestrated, baroque, motley instrumentalization, which comes out as a psychodelia gem that explodes into the vertigo of a grand finale that, paradoxically, opened a new period in music history.
“Piano Man” – Billy Joel
From the album “Piano Man”, 1973
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 10; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 50,57.
This is the praise of the forgotten and losers, of those who got stood by the promise of success in a city with no time to think of them. The piano player, main character and who is the reason behind the name of this song, attains a melody with such beautiful sadness that it captures the most reticent from the start of its exploratory introduction. Seductive, playful and innocently childish, when listened you know your heart will be squeezed.
An so it happens, given that it narrates with keys and lyrics the story of grief hidden in some forgotten bar regulars’ smiles. Where it best reflects this bitterness is in the section where one of the characters, after a quick joke, immediately switches to grim seriousness and says:
“«Bill, I believe this is killing me.»
As his smile ran away from his face
«Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place.»”
The undaunted and immovable piano player appeases the melancholia customers have because of their failures for, as the lyrics say, “forget about their life for a while”.
This is why this song is placed in the 8th place in this ranking, because it shows rock music’s emtional side and because all its elements are balanced with professionalism. In fact, piano and harmonica are perfectly wed and this makes it, although not technically very demanding, a song for multi-instrumentalists since on live performances Billy Joel plays both instruments.
“Don’t Stop Me Now” – Queen
From the album “Jazz”, 1979
Melody: 10; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 7; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 51.43.
In 2005, this song was chosen “The Greatest Driving Song Ever” by viewers of the BBC television program Top Gear and that is no wonder. With its dynamic rhythym and Roger Taylor’s fulminant drumming, this is kinetics made into a song. While many Queen songs have a grandiosity dosage, this one attains an ostentatious magnificence barely rivaled by others I know. And paying attention to the lyrics, which play with cosmonautical imagery, does nothing but adding gasoline to this rhythmic fire:
“I’m a shooting star leaping through the skies
Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity (…)
I’m burning through the skies Yeah!
Two hundred degrees
That’s why they call me Mister Fahrenheit
I’m trav’ling at the speed of light (…)
I’m a rocket ship on my way to Mars
On a collision course
I am a satellite I’m out of control”
Maybe it is its metaphors’ visual and incediary power which make one feel “out of this world” and the combination with the cool tambourine, or that after the rhythmic bridge along comes Brian May’s impeccable guitar, that sounds like a magical animal’s meow, both things or something else, but this song is just ideal to drive at full speed.
It is because of all its elements, but mainly because of its adrenergic melody so perfectly constructed and performed, that this song is on the 7th place of this ranking, a cabalistic position that numerologists could might as well celebrate.
“Hallowed Be Thy Name” – Iron Maiden
From the album “The Number of the Beast”, 1982
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 8; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 8; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 51.55.
This is, perhaps, THE heavy metal masterpiece. Plethoric with energy and might, after an introduction -macabre to the utmost- which uses 20 bells introduces us the tragedy of a man sentenced to death who, in a few hours, will be hung in the gallows.
While the beginning is bloodcurdling enough by itself, the song really begins after the minute this dark introduction lasts, when Bruce Dickinson demonstrates his vocal range vocal with a sustained “The sands of time for me are running looooow”. Then, what looked like a dismal quasi-satanic ballad becomes a group metal walk that through stop-and-start excellently well-performed dynamics introduces us in the in the musings of this unfortunate fellow:
“As the guards march me out to the courtyard,
Somebody cries from a cell «God be with you».
If there’s a God then why has he let me go?“
The dark, pesimistic and hopeless vision of a whole sector that doesn’t necessarily believe in life after death or transmuttion of the soul becomes evident. What matters is here and now. That’s the materialistic and immediatist point of view of 80’s metal-heads and society.
But when it looks like the song is going to end, in minute 4:32 it catches a second air and turns into an Iron Maiden-stylized sonic attack with all the genre’s prototypical elements: shrilling cymbals, a stable bassline, indecipherable guitar pluckings and the revolt speed akin to metal headbanging.
With a lurid guitar slide, like the sound of a car passing at full speed, Dave Murray’s masterful guitar and the late Clive Burr’s drum rolls manage to make this a workpiece that perfectly representes the best of heavy metal. And, even more, its mortuary and irreverent themes give “Hallowed Be Thy Name” –named the best all-time heavy metal song by Digital Dream Door– the roles of the perfect closure for a devilish historically unmatched album and the prince of metal songs.
“Across the Universe” – The Beatles
From the compilation album “No One’s Gonna Change Our World”, 1969
Melody: 8; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 10; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 51.84.
This orient-inspired song written by John Lennon that we link to the posthumous Beatles album “Let It Be” was actually released in late 1969 on a record for the benefit of World Wide Fund for Nature and since then it has become a ballad of undeniable general recognition, to the point that great singers like Cyndi Lauper, Fiona Apple and David Bowie have opted to do their own renditions of it.
Despite its folk tune apparent simplicity, it is the result of a meticulous reworking process which took eight recording sessions throughout two years. This aspect hides its capability for almost opening mankind’s conscience. Its guitar begins with seeming effort but little by little flows, becoming the prologue of a trip through one’s identity unification with the universe. With its lyrics, acts almost innocently as a theme about trascendence from happiness:
“Limitless undying love, which shines around me like a million suns,
It calls me on and on across the universe”
Then the infamous sanskrit chorus, “Jai guru deva”, comes along, topping with the mystic syllabe “Om”, mantra par excellence which is theoretically the sound of the universe. Along with it, singing this song is one of the most popular and easy accesses we occidentals Western people have towards yogi meditation culture. The strum is the vehicle for its simple melody and the background symphony is the landscape of a journey which lasts for a few minutes, but in an upper level of awareness it lasts an eternity. It is like a statement of becoming a canal for life manifestations on their way to the cosmos.
With all this, with all its elements and the humility of its melody, but with its recursive production also, it proved rock is not a fad. Moreover, that it can spawn beautiful songs about trascendence. It is, plain and simple, the best mystic song in existence and it could very properly resignify the sunset of human life.
“Johnny B. Goode” – Chuck Berry
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 9; Lyrics: 5; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 10; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 52.04.
This is where it all began. Even though “Rock around the Clock” is known as the first rock’n roll song in history (given that a genre is the result of an evolutionary process and therefore its formation was progressive, it is impossible to assert that there is single first rock’n roll song), this is the song that printed the playful, saucy, showy and different seal into the genre. Both its riff’s contagious nature and its rhythym’s accelerated swing flavour make an explosive combination that makes you want it never to end and that lightens up any dancefloor.
It is no wonder this was the song Marty McFly chose to give 1955 senior high-school gradutes a taste of how tomorrow music would be in “Back to the Future” or that it has been covered by AC/DC, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Judas Priest, Elvis Presley, Prince, Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin and many other great music names. After all, this song narrates the story of a poor kid from New Orleans who has the ability to play guitar deflty and it is, at least in part, autobiographical (Chuck Berry was born on a street named “Goode”). At the far end, it is at the same time damn good rock and a call to arms for all of those who wish to walk the way of music. Thus, with that break at the first-and-a-half minute where drums and guitar accumulate music in order to “release” it later, and with its exact mix of mid-20th century dominating sounds, including piano arpeggios, it might never be overmatched.
“In My Life” – The Beatles
From the album “Rubber Soul”, 1965
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 7; Lyrics: 9; Structure: 2; Historical significance: 10; Cover: No; Riff: No. Score: 52.50.
This infamous composition with a beautiful melody and an inspirational instrumentalization is one of the most renowned works of this Liverpool quartet, especially because of its capacity for evoking the past and making a gift out of nostalgia.
According to Lennon, this song’s origin is in a long poem he wrote with reminiscences of his childhood throughout the years. He based lyrics’s original version on a route he used to take in Liverpool, naming several sites seen from the bus way including Penny Lane and Strawberry Field orphanage. Then he reformulated the words with Paul McCartney, replacing specific memories with a generalized reflection about his past and, according to Peter Shotton, friend to the late musician, the verses “Some [friends] are dead and some are living / In my life I’ve loved them all” were refered to Stuart Sutcliffe, The Beatles’ original bass player, who died in Hamburg on 1962.
The delicious interlude of minute 1:28 does nothing but add a longing flavour to it. And while it sounds like a harpsichord, it is really a piano. Lennon asked George Martin to play a solo with a piano, suggesting “somethin baroque-sounding”. Martin wrote a piece influenced by Bach’s work, but he could not perform it within the song’s tempo. He recorded his solo at half speed and one octave lower, doubling the tape speed on the final recording, solving the problem and giving the piano that unique, antique-imprinted timbre.
And if this song, the best placed of the Fab Four -who laid the foundations of what rock music is today-, is in this position is precisely thanks to its nostalgic power and the wisdom message it contains. But it is not just that; moreover, it is the maturity degree it represents in the catalogue of this group, which is maybe the greatest in history, and how its finale is suspended in the air, as reminding us that even after remembering our journey companions, life goes on.
Life is always in suspense.
“Love Will Tear Us Apart” – Joy Division
Melody: 10; Instrumentalization: 9; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 1; Historical significance: 9; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 53.64.
This, a heartbreaking story of the end of love in a marriage stiffed by isolation, was the last single Joy Division ever recorded before their lead singer’s death. The main chartcer, tormented by his inability to regain the once shared happiness sinks in unanswerable musings that, ultimately, will have a predictably piercing denouement.
During the whole course of this painful journey, the post-punk sound’s quintessence echoes building a bridge by which the tortuous road becomes beautiful and unrepeatable. The background, propelled by Morris’ splendidly mechanized beat that makes it sound like a train making its last trip through the countryside, Hook’s bassline with that unique style and the mortuary, contorted keyboard that reappears after the chorus with strenght, with pushfulness, with autenticity, achieving one of the most deep-felt keyboard riffs I have ever listened, make ir the most energizing sad song in existence. It is no wonder it has been chosen the best single of history by NME magazine. But its impact it is not exclusively musical. Serbian writer Dejan Cukić included it in his book of the 45 songs that changed popular music history.
The question it is why it is so important. And that’s because it defined more than a decade in pop music. It defined what would happen in pop music during the next 20 years, because it is sorrow turned into music. It is an inkling that plasure exists in grief.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen
From the album “A Night at the Opera”, 1975
Melody: 9; Instrumentalization: 10; Lyrics: 8; Structure: 3; Historical significance: 10; Cover: No; Riff: Yes. Score: 56.19.
Simply, the best song in rock history: an operatic and grandiose composition combining without false humility the most complex figures of the genre and of music in general. This song has it all: an instantly captivating melody; a brilliant riff; an faultless performance; a magnificent production full of sound effects used judiciously and with elegance; a superb lyrics. All these elements are distributed in three clearly distinguishable parts: first a dramatic ballad where piano shines with the desolated splendor that can only be granted by the role of taking lament and remorse of a man sentenced to death to the score; then, beginning on the third minute, after the elegy of a delicate guitar solo by Brian May, along comes the second act: a grandiloquent choral interplay that reflects the ominous mood that comes from facing death for a person haunted by misfortune all ther existence; and finally, prepared laid by Roger Taylor’s accumulated drums, shortly after the fourth minute, the pure furious rock explosion Queen always mastered without effort. A sublime riff with stop-and-start dynamics calls in for a headbanging destined to break every neck.
All in all, this song is loaded with megalomania and it is a delight not only listening to it, but moreover singning it at the top of your lungs freeing and destroying the ghosts chasing you. Doing it guarantees an epiphany. In fact
“So you think you can love me and leave me to die?!
Oh baby, can’t do this to me baby!
Just gotta get out… just gotta get right outta here!”
might be one of the best rock stanzas in history.
And, finally, Freddie Mercury, always a master in voice use, closes with a sad and beautiful epilogue where the incalculable value of this song is appreciated, which has transformed in an immediately identifiable piece across the seven seas. Maybe it is due to its harmonic integration of what is seemingly uncombinable, because of its instant appeal for world audiences or because of its capacity to sum up the most primeval emotions of human beings. However it may be, this Queen’s song is, at least to me, unappealably the best song in rock history. And its two perfect scores bear witness of it.
If I had to choose an only song to be sent in a space capsule to other civilizations, I wouldn’t doubt it for a second: I would send “Bohemian Rhapsody” to be preserved in time and the deep ends of universe.
As an extremely proud, versatile and emotive song, and, given the story it carries, plus the fact that it crowns this ranking, it is to be shared among all people. In the bottom of our souls the free, raving spirit that this bohemian rhapsody irradiates, resounds.