These are my personal favorites with no claim to objectivity. It's difficult to rank obscure songs on the same list as giant hits, so I purposely did not use numbers, but they're arranged better=higher. Also I'm constantly moving songs up and down and on and off. I'm up to 159 now, and I'll change the title again when it gets close to 200. And I'm in the process of adding YouTube video links.
Scroll to the bottom or click here for my top ten guitar solos list, and also check out my Top 25 Albums plus Hawkwind, and my Condensed Beatles.
Neutral Milk Hotel, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
This is the only song that made me cry the first time I heard it, and it has my favorite metaphysical line, "How strange it is to be anything at all." (video)
Beat Happening, Indian Summer
Sometimes a simple song sounds better than a complex song ever could. Beat Happening were geniuses at stripping it down, and this is their timeless classic. (video)
R.E.M., Wendell Gee
There's a magic in this song that I've only ever heard in the two songs above it in this list. And for some reason it can't be heard on YouTube. I even made my own video, with the audio slowed by one percent to trick the copyright detectors, and it was disabled in seconds. There wasn't even time to say goodbye to Wendell Gee. But here's a video
on a Russian site, and another
on a UK site.
Mazzy Star, Fade Into You
A perfect song, with the best ever opening line, "I want to hold the hand inside you." (video)
Blue Oyster Cult, Don't Fear The Reaper
I've probably heard it a thousand times and it still sounds as good as ever. (video)
My favorite political song for its emotional power and the depth of its message. The end changes the meaning of the beginning. (video)
Galaxie 500, Flowers
From 1988-1991, Galaxie 500 put out three amazing albums. (video)
Neutral Milk Hotel, Little Birds
Recorded at their last live show and available only as a bootleg. (video)
Band of Horses, The Funeral
This was in that famous bicycle video
, and on the third viewing I realized the song is better than the stunts.
Camper Van Beethoven, June / All Her Favorite Fruit
Two of their greatest songs, and they blend together on the album. (video) (video)
Talking Heads, Once In A Lifetime
I like the Stop Making Sense live version best. (video)
Gordon Lightfoot, If You Could Read My Mind
I love Gordon Lightfoot! (video)
Chris Stamey, Something Came Over Me
My favorite happy love song. I like the version on Fireworks best, but here's a nice live video
Gerry Rafferty, Baker Street
I love soft hits of the 70's and very early 80's, and this is my favorite. (video)
It's easy to take R.E.M. for granted, but they're clearly the best American band of all time. (video)
Sigur Rós, Svefn-g-englar (Sleepwalkers)
Easily my favorite foreign language song. (video)
Velvet Underground, Heroin
It's shocking how much this song still rocks. The studio version and the 1969 live version are equally good. (video)
Gordon Lightfoot, Carefree Highway
Another one that's strangely missing from YouTube, except for this video
with terrible audio.
Peter Gabriel, Solsbury Hill
It's in 7/4! (video)
Big Star, September Gurls
Consensus best song by the great underground band of the 70's. (video)
Bob Dylan, Idiot Wind
Angry songs about politics: silly. Angry songs about broken relationships: awesome!
Corndolly, Come Out
Great happy love song by a forgotten Illinois band.
Tom Waits, Kentucky Avenue
This song is so sad that it took me years to understand it.
Hawkwind, Space Is Deep
Much more at the bottom of the album page.
Bruce Springsteen, Atlantic City
Camper Van Beethoven, Good Guys and Bad Guys
The happiest song I've ever heard. (video)
Beat Happening, Pajama Party in a Haunted Hive
Best song ever about sex. "Sting me, queen me, queen sting dream me, dream queen sting me, sting queen"
The Police, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
If you weren't there, you can't imagine how dark and spooky this song sounded when it first came out. Now that I think about it, so did Hotel California.
The Beatles, Here Comes The Sun
Glen Campbell, By The Time I Get To Phoenix
Journey, Don't Stop Believing
Big Star, What's Going Ahn
The one on the No Alternative
compilation, with the chorus "You're in a laundry room."
Mark Lanegan, Where Did You Sleep Last Night
The famous Nirvana version is a cover of this version, which is a cover of a Leadbelly version of an old folk song called In The Pines.
Bone Cellar, Dryrot
Great forgotten Seattle band.
Violent Femmes, Never Tell
An intense band's most intense song.
Flaming Lips, Do You Realize?
The Flaming Lips edge out Neutral Milk Hotel in the category of best band worst name.
Son Volt, Tear Stained Eye
If this counts as a country song, it's my favorite.
Pete Yorn, Just Another
Dave Loggins, Please Come To Boston
The Beatles, Rain
My favorite John Lennon song.
The Kinks, Waterloo Sunset
Hüsker Dü, Hardly Getting Over It
Phil Collins, In The Air Tonight
We're all used to it now, but this song was weird and radical at the time.
Beat Happening, Gravedigger Blues
Jack Nitzsche, Old Enough To Know
This song has never been released or even bootlegged -- you can only hear it by watching the movie Cutter's Way
, and only the first verse plays clearly. Here's a zip file with a 49 second mp3 on Megaupload
The Go-Go's, Our Lips Are Sealed
One of those songs that you don't appreciate until you've heard it hundreds of times and you notice it keeps sounding better.
Neil Diamond, Soolaimon
The catchiest song ever recorded. Whenever I get a bad catchy song stuck in my head, I use "Soolaimon" to get it out. (video)
Uncle Tupelo, Black Eye
Bob Dylan, One More Cup Of Coffee
Flaming Lips, Yashimi Battles the Pink Robots (live)
Dire Straits, Skateaway
Red House Painters, Katy Song
Hüsker Dü, She Floated Away
Pretenders, Back on the Chain Gang
Gary Numan, Down In The Park
The Sundays, Here's Where The Story Ends
Neil Young, Helpless
Johnny Cash, Sunday Morning Coming Down
The best version of Kris Kristofferson's best song.
Camper Van Beethoven, Surprise Truck
No other song rocks this hard while still being fun. (video)
Gordon Lightfoot, Cobwebs and Dust
I love the structure of this song: a simple 18 note vocal melody repeated 16 times with changing lyrics.
Godspeed You Black Emperor, Moya
GYBE have a bunch of "songs" that sound like this and are this good. I also love East Hastings and Gathering Storm.
Dead Kennedys, Kill The Poor
The best classic punk song, and my favorite band name.
Flying Burrito Brothers, Sin City
Ramones, Blitzkrieg Bop
I didn't fully appreciate this song until I heard Yo La Tengo's instrumental version.
Van Morrison, Brown Eyed Girl
It's on every list!
Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit
Has anyone noticed this is never played on the radio? I know it was overplayed when it came out, but it's been more than 20 years. Instead they play "Come As You Are", the least interesting song Nirvana ever recorded.
Featuring an over-the-top drum performance by Clem Burke.
Neil Young, After the Gold Rush
Bob Dylan, Boots of Spanish Leather
Hawkwind, High Rise
Camper Van Beethoven, Klondike
One of my favorite bands experiments with spooky industrial music. They should have done a whole album like this!
Violent Femmes, Jesus Walking on the Water
If half of all Christian songs were half this good, I would convert.
Wall Of Voodoo, Factory
Wall of Voodoo had two excellent albums, their self titled e.p. and Call Of The West
. Recently I found out that they took most of their sound from the song "Machines" by Lothar and the Hand People.
Blondie, Heart of Glass
Easily the greatest disco song.
Gordon Lightfoot, Affair on 8th Avenue (1975)
The beautiful Gord's Gold version of this song was cut from the CD and to this day has not been offered for sale in digital form. But it has been ripped from vinyl and shared for free. Here's the flac file on Megaupload
Cracker, I Want Everything
Scorpions, Still Loving You
My favorite hair metal song.
The Muffs, Lucky Guy
I was obsessed with the Muffs in the mid 90's. This is the only song that made me dance the first time I heard it.
Built to Spill, Nowhere Nothin Fuckup
Willie Nelson, Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain
Hawkwind, Motorway City
The live version on Zones
, with some great E-bow guitar.
Violent Femmes, I Know It's True But I'm Sorry To Say
My favorite song to sing in the car.
Neil Young, The Needle and the Damage Done
A perfect song, and I love the unexpected quick ending.
The Kinks, Strangers
Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here
R.E.M., Shaking Through
Cheap Trick, Surrender
Le Tigre, The The Empty
Queen, White Queen
From their second album. If you know it, you might agree that this is Queen's best song.
Velvet Underground, What Goes On (1969 live)
I'd like to loop the long jam and play it all day.
Led Zeppelin, Going to California
Neil Diamond, I Am The Lion
Strange song about civilization and nature. (video)
Hawkwind, Lord of Light
The Space Ritual
Gordon Lightfoot, Farewell to Annabel
The most mature breakup song I've ever heard.
Ramones, Oh Oh I Love Her So
From their brilliant second album, Leave Home
Loreena McKennitt, Greensleeves
A Loreena McKennitt album once made me cry just playing in the background. This song was recorded accidentally in one take.
Simon and Garfunkel, The Boxer
Bob Dylan, Visions of Johanna
Neil Young, Powderfinger
Tom Waits, Old Shoes and Picture Postcards
Eagles, Hotel California
Bruce Springsteen, I'm On Fire
R.E.M., Everybody Hurts
Red House Painters, New Jersey
Cracker, I'm So Glad She Ain't Never Coming Back
Sometimes David Lowery comes up with something so strange and timeless that I can't believe it was made by humans.
King Crimson, Indiscipline
Gordon Lightfoot, Her Love's Return
Teenage Fanclub, Alcoholiday
Neil Diamond, Stones
Suicidal Tendencies, Institutionalized
Guns n Roses, Sweet Child of Mine
The famous riff is pretty much the riff from Rush's "Xanadu", with an extra note added to switch it from 7/8 to 4/4.
10,000 Maniacs, My Mother The War
There are hard rock bands that have made great soft and pretty songs, but how often does a soft rock band make a great noisy song? As far as I know, this is the only one.
Old 97's, Valentine
The Shins, New Slang
Bone Cellar, Lost in the Light of Day
Blue Oyster Cult, In Thee
Melanie, Some Say
R.E.M., So. Central Rain
Wall Of Voodoo, Ring of Fire
Easily the best version of this song.
Genesis, Supper's Ready
The peak of the art rock era, taking up almost a whole side of the album Foxtrot
Pink Floyd, Echoes
Another whole-album-side song, from Pink Floyd's greatest album, Meddle
Rush, Cygnus X-1 (part one)
My favorite hard art rock song. I was obsessed with Rush around 1983. Scroll down for more Rush on the guitar solos list.
The Beatles, Let It Be
The original album version, for the guitar solo.
Galaxie 500, Listen The Snow Is Falling
Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
I know all the words.
Cheap Trick, If You Want My Love
Culture Club, Karma Chameleon
Another song that's impossible to wear out.
Blue Oyster Cult, Astronomy (live)
The Some Enchanted Evening
Devo, Gut Feeling
Tom Waits, That Feel
Camper Van Beethoven, Flowers
Hawkwind, Jack of Shadows
Ween, Baby Bitch
Genesis, The Cinema Show
Led Zeppelin, Ten Years Gone
Velvet Underground, Candy Says
Sung by Doug Yule!
Hüsker Dü, Books About UFO's
Willie Nelson, Bandera
Wall Of Voodoo, Lost Weekend
Sonic Youth, Schizophrenia
Chris Bell, I Am the Cosmos
To my knowledge, the only song with this brilliant symmetrical structure: first verse, different verse, chorus, solo, chorus, different verse, first verse.
Bob Geldof, I Don't Like Mondays
The live version from The Secret Policeman's Other Ball
U2, Bad (live)
Flock of Seagulls, Space Age Love Song
One of my favorite 80's songs because it's so simple.
AC/DC, You Shook Me All Night Long
Violent Femmes, Add It Up
Ramones, Glad to See You Go
The Muffs, Ethyl My Love
Featuring the best power scream ever recorded.
Buffalo Tom, Enemy
Timbuk 3, Just Another Movie
Great forgotten political song.
Warren Zevon, I Was In The House When The House Burned Down
The second best song title ever, after Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun".
Top Ten Guitar Solos
1. Alex Lifeson, Rush, No One At The Bridge
The perfect guitar solo: short, carefully composed, and at the end of the song. (video)
3. Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits, Tunnel of Love
Again at the end of the song, but with a long seductive buildup. (video)
2. Dave Nothing, Bone Cellar, Dry Rot
Another beautiful long jam at the end of the song.
4. Buck Dharma, Blue Oyster Cult, Don't Fear the Reaper
The best thing about this solo is its entrance, blasting in at full strength from near-silence.
5. Alex Lifeson, Rush, Bacchus Plateau
From the same album side as "No One At The Bridge", just as pretty but not as tight.
6. Huw Lloyd-Langton, Hawkwind, The Island
The entire song is a well-crafted two-part guitar solo, combining the solos in "The 5th Second of Forever" and "Dust of Time".
7. Steve Hackett, Genesis, After The Ordeal
So quiet that you might not notice it's the most beautiful melody in all of art rock.
8. Brian May, Queen, We Will Rock You
One more: short, tight, end of song.
9. Elliott Randall, Steely Dan, Reelin' in the Years
Radical because it anchors the song, filling every gap where there isn't singing.
10. Don Felder and Joe Walsh, The Eagles, Hotel California
On everyone's top ten list, and I agree.
11. Marc Moreland, Wall of Voodoo, Ring of Fire
Starts with a variation on the "Our Man Flint" theme and progresses into epic distortion. Incidentally, the Concrete Blonde song "Joey" was written about Moreland.