I was recently challenged to write down my Top Ten Favorite Songs Ever by a friend. “I can’t!” I whined, “the computer with all my music is broken so I don’t think I’ll remember all the songs I want to!” To which the perfectly reasonable response was “Good, if you don’t remember them, then they can’t count as your favorites.”
That Draconian philosophy aside, here is my Top Ten List of Favorite Songs Ever Probably, in no particular order because that shit is madness:
- David Bowie: “Rock n’ Roll Suicide” – It was a tossup between “Heroes” and this one; both songs are capable of reducing me to tears for very different reasons. “Rock n’ Roll Suicide” gets me every time because Bowie has never been afraid of using emotion as an instrument, and here as he acts the part of someone attempting to talk down a suicidal rock god, his voice is wracked with hope and horror and guilt. It’s all the more poignant because he’s singing to himself. Sure, his ‘death’ was all part of his act. It doesn’t matter, however. This remains one of his finest songs, in my opinion.
- Tori Amos: “Caught A Lite Sneeze” – I learned about music in the 90s when I was honing my ability to angst like any self-respecting teenager. Tori remains one of my biggest disappointments to this day (after Liz Phair, of course). She lost her teeth and her creative direction in the early 2000s and never won me back, but when I loved her, I loved her. I identified with other of her songs more (“Purple People” and “Playboy Mommy” most of all), but “Caught A Lite Sneeze” remains one of my favorites. I couldn’t tell you what the hell it was about; it’s Tori’s usual oblique lyrics. But that harpsichord! That drum-machine! That belle dragging her feet (“foots”, in Tori-speak)! It’s heavenly.
- The Rolling Stones: “Under My Thumb” – I almost lied and said “Paint It Black” like a coward because as a feminist, I am against everything this song stands for, and by admitting it’s my favorite Stones song I’m somehow setting back the movement twenty years. But that guitar lick gets me every time. I really want a fabulous lesbian to come along and cover this song the way it’s meant to be covered – all swagger and blue jeans and unwashed hands in the summer heat. But until then, this song, man. It’s a humid nasty ode to controlling someone just because you can.
- Neko Case: “I Wish I Was The Moon” – There are about 1293892348 songs by Neko Case that are more lyrically beautifully and more complex tune-wise, but this one remains one of my favorite. Neko’s gorgeous voice goes from understated numb to soaring in a twist, and the lyrics remain the most honest representations of growing older and realizing that discontentment is inside. If this one comes on my iPod shuffle you can bet your ass I’ll be wailing it.
- The Beatles: “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” – Another favorite song that people judge me on, but goddammit. This song is a chameleon. It inches, it sneaks, it writhes, and it seethes. It’s eerily prophetic, it’s angry, and it’s damned catchy while it politicizes. That chorus of “bang bang / shoot shoot”? Sublime! I listened to this song obsessively my freshman year of college and probably convinced my roommate that I was a few seconds away from a psychotic break. You’re welcome, Jen.
- Arcade Fire: “Crown of Love” – Given my adoration of David Bowie’s over-the-top awesome, my love of Arcade Fire probably comes as no surprise. I hadn’t heard this song in a few months when I listened to it again while cleaning and even though I’ve heard it 23094238 times, that break toward the end – you know the break, the one where it goes from an ambling dirge to ALL OUT DISCO FEVER ABANDOMENT – gets me every freaking time. It’s one of those songs where if it comes on in the car, I shush you so I can listen to it.
- The Killers: “Smile Like You Mean It” – The Killers I barely know beyond their radio hits, but this one sank its teeth in and didn’t let go. It’s nothing revolutionary, and the lyrics are pretty basic, but they hit hard. “Someone is playing a game in the house that I grew up in”. It’s that perfect realization of the world going on without you, of change happening regardless of your nostalgia. Things don’t end up like they should. And that’s just that.
- Madonna: “Like A Prayer” – Everyone has a karaoke song that they consistently bring out after enough alcohol that even though they know they can’t do it justice. This one is mine. I can’t hit the high notes (that are always so much higher than I think they are) and no one can really compete with the gospel backing singers, but this song (and its video) make up my childhood. It’s just gorgeous. The message, the ambiguity, and that fantastic breakdown all mean that if this comes on, I will be dancing like an idiot with or without the tequila influence.
- Belle & Sebastian: “Your Cover’s Blown” – A B-side to… something… I discovered this song on a music blog and never looked back since. I enjoy B&S but not a crazy amount; some of their songs amuse me more than others. But this one? It’s DRAMATIC and CRAZY and it’s about SPIES and shit and it sounds like it got lost sometime during the 70s and never found its way out. It’s like Belle & Sebastian briefly figured out that playing music was fun and did that for a while and then went back to their regularly scheduled twee.
- The Eagles: “Hotel California” – An obvious choice, but I don’t care. When I was little, Mom used to give me quarters to play songs on the jukebox at the local pizza place (and this was during the 80s, so you people being like “lolol yer so old” can blow me). I chose this song or Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock”. I forgot about this song for a few years until suddenly it was the summer’s tune during middle school where all I did was listen to it on repeat and lay on the beach. It’s spooky, beautiful, and unexplained despite all the theories. Amazing.
Honorable Mentions: The Decemberists: “Engine Driver”, Lady Gaga: “Judas”, Joanna Newsom: “Emily”, Josh Ritter: “Wolves”, MGMT: “Time to Pretend”, Blues Traveler: “Hook”, Liz Phair: “Batmobile”, and probably 230493829058209 more that I will weep when I realize I’ve forgotten.