Favorite Songs

The lower half of this page is for my own reference, and I've been converting the top into playlists rather than a ranking. Scroll to the bottom for my top 20 in chronological order. Also check out my Favorite Albums plus Hawkwind, my girlfriend's top 100, and my unhinged Big Blood page, Ecstasy and Doom.

The Light Behind The World
(3/7/17) I've just revamped this list, dropping symmetry, cutting twelve songs, and adding three.
Rex Holman - Come On Down (1970)
Beat Happening - Indian Summer (1988)
Hawkwind - Hurry On Sundown (1970)
Big Blood - Adversaries & Enemies (2007)
unknown - Misirlu (1927?)
Hawkwind - Seven by Seven (1971)
The Muffs - Eye to Eye (1993)
Big Blood - Song For Baltimore (2007)
My favorite song is both sappy and chthonic. I'm so overwhelmed by its terrible beauty that I only listen to the whole thing a few times a year.
R.E.M. - Belong (1991)
The sea is the oneness of life to which we all return.
Beat Happening - Secret Picnic Spot (1990)

Space Elf Convergence
Loreena McKennitt - Tango to Evora (1991)
Cocteau Twins - Pandora (1984)
Big Blood - Indang Pariman (2007)
Lora Logic - Brute Fury (1982)
Yoko Kanno - Green Bird (1998)
Big Blood - Sequins (2007)
Joanna Newsom - Peach Plum Pear (2004)
Big Blood - Don't Trust The Ruin II (2007)
Joanna Newsom - En Gallop (2004)
Big Blood - No Gravity Blues (2008)
Lora Logic - Martian Man (1982)
Broken Social Scene - Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl (2002)
This is the twee Stairway to Heaven.
Big Blood - Destin Rain (2010)

Song for Song For Baltimore
Approaching my favorite song on a different path.
The Cranberries - Dreams (1993)
Big Blood - Go See Boats (2015)
Mazzy Star - Fade Into You (1993)
Big Blood - Oh Country (Skin & Bones) (2008)
R.E.M. - Belong (1991)
Big Blood - The Rise of Quinnisa Rose (2007)
Melanie Safka - Ruby Tuesday (1970)
Big Blood - Song For Baltimore (2007)
Coyote Pack Howl (2013)

Best of the 2010's
Excluding Big Blood, and in chronological order for now.
Red Fang - Wires (2011)
The best rock video I've ever seen.
Advance Base - Summer Music (2012)
Windhand - Orchard (2013)
My favorite doom metal song.
Diane Coffee - Green (2013)
Doctopus - Wobbegong (2014)
Esben and the Witch - No Dog (live 2014)
Play it loud.
John Matthias - Pre-Loved / Vintage (2014)
Timber Timbre - Grand Canyon (2014)
Your Friend - Bangs (2014)
Her most distinctive song, but Tame One is also great, and the band Living Hour has a similar sound.
Benjamin Clementine - Cornerstone (2015)
Sheer Mag - Fan The Flames (2015)
The Parrots - No me gustas, te quiero (2016)

Unlisted Top Tier
Hawkwind - Space Is Deep (1972)
SFB is the holy mother, and this is the holy father. Wait for the blastoff at 3:26.
David Bowie - Space Oddity (1969)
This makes ordinary music sound like it was recorded with a cat sitting on the microphone. Every sonic texture is sharp-edged and beautiful, the mix is airtight, and the high keyboard and electric guitar, at 2:30 and again at 4:00, are brighter than the sun.
Orphans & Vandals - Terra Firma (2009)
Like Song For Baltimore, an intense song about the light beyond the veil, but this is about a suicide.
Orphans & Vandals - Argyle Square (2009)
About a guy's life in the city and how he wants his lover to move there. Like Monet's wheatstacks, this song takes something ordinary and makes it seem unspeakably wonderful. (Thanks Leigh Ann.)
The Promise Ring - A Picture Postcard (1996)
Normally I don't even like emo, but you never know where lightning will strike. Bear the weight of yourselves lightly and keep your eyes on the road. (Thanks Troy.)
The Gathering Field - Lost In America (1996)
Another 1996 song that blows away its mediocre genre, in this case heartland rock. (Thanks Patricia.)
John Cooper Clarke - Valley Of The Lost Women (1978)
This unearthly masterpiece has Clarke's best lyrics and best backing music.
Blue Oyster Cult - Astronomy (live 1978)
Camper Van Beethoven - June (1989)
This song is the key to my musical taste. After lyrics like 19th century poetry, it explodes in a whacked out violin solo by Don Lax.
Camper Van Beethoven - All Her Favorite Fruit (1989)
The Kinks - Strangers (1970)
By Dave Davies. Ray is the brains of the Kinks but Dave is the heart.
R.E.M. - Wendell Gee (1985)
Whistle as the wind blows to the lee.
R.E.M. - Superman (1986)
In the blend of sounds, this is like practice for their greatest song, Belong.
R.E.M. - Crazy (1987)
Picasso once remarked that when he does something new, someone else comes along and does it prettier. This is much prettier than the Pylon original, but I can hear why REM always said Pylon was better than them, because it also has a weird edge that's in no other REM song.
R.E.M. - Nightswimming (1992)
"September's coming soon, I'm pining for the moon, and what if there were two, side by side in orbit around the fairest sun?"
R.E.M. - Don't Go Back To Rockville (1984)
This has even happier music and sadder lyrics than "Tom Dooley". The narrator is unreliable: his hometown is the depressing place and it's his life that's being wasted.
Orphans & Vandals - Metropes (2009)
Thematically this is like an old Kinks song that cynically mocks the elite, but it's darker and much more powerful. How can people compare this to the Velvet Underground without noticing how much better it is?
Orphans & Vandals - Mysterious Skin (2009)
This makes Bohemian Rhapsody sound like children's music.
Sigur Rós - Svefn-g-englar (Sleepwalkers) (1999)
My favorite foreign language song, except for this.
Gravenhurst - Black Holes In The Sand (2004)
This is like the definition of psychedelic folk, unless it's Secret Garden.
Band of Horses - The Funeral (2006)
Nothing else this sad rocks this hard. I would have it higher but the sound is a little too sugary. Following interpretations on songmeanings.com, I think it's about heroin addiction.
Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (1998)
"How strange it is to be anything at all." This made me cry the first time I heard it, and for years it was my number one, but The Rise of Quinnisa Rose squashes it like a bug.
Neutral Milk Hotel - Little Birds (1998)
Live version, for years available only as a bootleg. I'm not sure whether the 2011 box set contains this or another version.
Big Star - The Ballad of El Goodo (1972)
Big Star - September Gurls (1973)
Basically an upgrade of the Kinks' Waterloo Sunset: sadder, deeper, and more raw. The bit starting at 1:25 is like nothing before and not much since.
Big Star - What's Going Ahn (1973)
At its best, their second album combines the careful structure of their first album and the off-the-rails beauty of their third.
Big Star - Kangaroo (1975)
For years I thought this song was shit, but with the help of Big Blood's Haystack I finally understood its barely focused chaos.
Chris Bell - I Am the Cosmos (1975?)
To my knowledge, the only song with this stunning symmetrical structure: first verse, different verse, chorus, solo, chorus, different verse, first verse.
The Sundays - Here's Where The Story Ends (1990)
Harriet Wheeler was the hottest woman who ever recorded a great song. "The only thing I ever really wanted to say, was wrong, was wrong, was wrong."
Galaxie 500 - Blue Thunder (1989)
Dean Wareham sings like Adam Sandler but in this song it somehow makes an epic guitar crescendo even better.
Get Well Soon - If This Hat Is Missing I Have Gone Hunting (2008)
You have to digest a lot of weirdness to hear how good this is.

Instrumentals and Jams
Yo La Tengo - Spec Bebop (1997)
Is it pronounced Space Bebop? If you think it's boring, try it on marijuana.
Nisennenmondai - Mirrorball (2008)
Like Spec Bebop this is inspired by krautrock, but takes it in a different direction, toward space jazz. The complexity is mind-boggling.
Moondog - Torisa (1995)
I've never been into classical music, but I absolutely love this track because it has a hypnotic rhythm and gets gradually more epic. This and the one below are from the Rare Material double CD, the first half of which was a 1995 album called Big Band.
Moondog - Invocation (1995)
Ten minutes of primal space rock with a barrage of low horns playing the same two notes over and over. These remind me of two Hawkwind songs -- Invocation is like Space Is Deep and Torisa is like Wind of Change.
Hawkwind - Wind of Change (1974)
With inspired sonic layering and Nik Turner jamming on oboe, this is what the climax of Space Oddity might sound like stretched out to four minutes.
Holy Fuck - Lovely Allen (2007)
No other instrumental is this pretty and this raw.
The Velvet Underground - What Goes On (1969 live)
The first part with vocals is nothing special, but the jam for the last six minutes is unprecedented and all-important in the history of my favorite music.
Moon Duo - Love On The Sea (2009)
Sort of a cover of What Goes On.
Dick Dale - Misirlou (1962)
Bob Dylan - Main Title Theme (1973)
I love Bob Dylan's voice, and somehow he also did one of my favorite instrumentals. From the soundtrack to Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
Mono - Yearning (2005)
My favorite post-rock band is almost post-human. If you put all music on a primitive-civilized spectrum, coyote packs are at one end and the other end is Mono.
Symphonies of the Planets 1 (1992)
The Voyager space probes recorded electromagnetic signals from around the solar system, and back on Earth these were converted into sound. Collages of these sounds were released as NASA Voyager Space Sounds, separated into ten 30 minute tracks from different places, and also as Symphonies of the Planets, with different planets blended into five 30 minute CD's. All the prettiest and spookiest stuff, mostly from the rings of Uranus, is on CD 1.
Godspeed You Black Emperor - Gathering Storm (2000)
GYBE took the slow buildup to a whole new level. My other favorites include East Hastings and Moya.
The Police - Voices Inside My Head (1980)
Sting's songwriting was a trick to get people to listen to the genius of Summers and Copeland, which was never better than this.
Neu! - Hallogallo (1972)
One of the deepest roots of my favorite newer jam music.
Too Many Zooz - Dima (2014)
Have you ever seen a band complain that the audience wasn't giving them enough attention? The Beatles didn't do it so nobody should. Too Many Zooz started out in NYC subways trying to earn the attention of distracted listeners, and their music never wastes a second.
Moon Hooch - Bari 3 (2014)
Sons of Kemet - Inner Babylon (2013)
Retro Remix Revue - Gerudo Valley (2009)
The best version of my favorite video game track, composed by Koji Kondo for Zelda Ocarina of Time.
Yes - Würm (1970)
The last section of Starship Trooper. It's no Space Is Deep, but it's still the best jam in prog rock.

Second Tier
Camper Van Beethoven - She Divines Water (1988)
A weird brief epic about the eternal feminine, and a taste of the heights they'd reach on their next album.
Camper Van Beethoven - Good Guys and Bad Guys (1986)
Their happiest song.
Camper Van Beethoven - Klondike (199?)
And their weirdest song.
Chris Stamey - Something Came Over Me (1988)
Stamey has put different versions on three albums, and the best is the one on Fireworks.
Carissa's Wierd - Drunk With The Only Saints I Know (1998?)
It took me a bunch of listens to hear that their best songs are the ones with both lead singers harmonizing on a repeating chorus.
Carissa's Wierd - One Night Stand (1998?)
Continuing in chronological order, this is the "hole in my head" song.
Carissa's Wierd - Blessed Arms That Hold You Tight, Freezing Cold and Alone (2001)
The "long goodbyes" song.
Carissa's Wierd - Phantom Fireworks (2004)
The first half is the scaffolding and the second half is the rocket.
Joanna Newsom - Sadie (2004)
"And all that we built, and all that we breathed, and all that we spilt, or pulled up like weeds, is piled up in back; and it burns irrevocably."
Joanna Newsom - Clam Crab Cockle Cowrie (2004)
Best breakup song ever. Check out this interpretation by MisterPuzzles.
Joanna Newsom - This Side of the Blue (2004)
I love the verse about the birds.
Bob Dylan - Idiot Wind (1975)
I can never resist singing along with this. YouTube only has the New York version that was correctly cut from the album.
Bob Dylan - Visions of Johanna (1966)
Like some the songs at the top of this page, this is about the tension between the world of spirit (Johanna) and the world of flesh (Louise).
Bob Dylan - Girl From The North Country (1963)
On a good stereo the final harmonica solo is the heaviest thing Bob Dylan has ever played, and it draws emotion from the lyrics.
Bob Dylan - One More Cup Of Coffee (1976)
Rocketship - I Love You Like The Way That I Used To Do (1996)
After REM's Belong, this is the song I'd play to convince aliens to not exerminate humanity. (If I wanted them to do it, I'd play We Are The World.)
Corndolly - Come Out (1992?)
Happy lesbian love song by a forgotten Illinois band.
Beat Happening - Pajama Party in a Haunted Hive (1989)
"Sting me, queen me, queen sting dream me, dream queen sting me, sting queen!"
Beat Happening - Teenage Caveman (1992)
One of my favorite songs to dance to.
Beat Happening - Tiger Trap (1992)
Dire Straits - Skateaway (1980)
Their most magical song.
Dire Straits - Tunnel of Love (1980)
Their most ambitious and epic song, and one of the best guitar solos ever.
Dire Straits - Portobello Belle (1978)
Like Skateaway, this is a beautiful song about the divine feminine. It's not as precise and complex, but the whole sound on Communique has a depth that's not on any of their other albums.
Dire Straits - Lady Writer (1978)
Sultans of Swing has a great guitar solo, but otherwise this leaves it in the dust.
Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991)
You have to go back to "Like a Rolling Stone" for a song that's both this good and this influential. After listening to 90's rock inspired by Nirvana, it's incredible to listen to this and hear how much better it is.
Nirvana - untitled (1993)
Eventually titled "Sappy", it was untitled in its original release (on the No Alternative compilation) and there was no title consistently attached to it from the beginning. Great metaphysical song.
Mark Lanegan - Where Did You Sleep Last Night (1989)
Nirvana's famous live version is based on Mark Lanegan's version on which Cobain and Novoselic play guitar and bass. Lanegan is covering a Leadbelly version of an old folk song called In The Pines.
Hammerbox - When 3 is 2 (1991)
I played this loud and often in the early 90's.
Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime (live 1984)
Not a fan of their sound, but these are great lyrics.
U2 - Bad (live 1985)
Gary Numan - Down In The Park (live 1980)
Originally from his tinny-sounding first album, Gary Numan's best written song sounds much better live in the movie Urgh! A Music War.
Hüsker Dü - Hardly Getting Over It (1986)
Bob Mould's best songs are the saddest, and Grant Hart's best songs are the happiest...
Hüsker Dü - She Floated Away (1987)
Hüsker Dü - 59 Times The Pain (1985)
Hüsker Dü - Books About UFO's (1985)
Red House Painters - Katy Song (1993)
I don't like Mark Kozelek's lyrics or voice nearly as much as I used to, but this song is still musically brilliant. A great band should cover it.
Galaxie 500 - Flowers (1988)
This is what reverb was invented for.
Galaxie 500 - Listen, The Snow Is Falling (1990)
Bone Cellar - Dryrot (1994)
Great obscure Seattle band, with one of my favorite guitar solos.
Bone Cellar - Lost in the Light of Day (1995)
Pulp - Common People (1995)
The full-length version totally rocks!
The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize? (2002)
The Flaming Lips edge out Neutral Milk Hotel in the category of best band worst name.
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)
I like the KEXP live version best, and made the video with a camera toss image I found on the internet years ago.
The Velvet Underground - Venus in Furs (1967)
In terms of the sound, this is their most interesting and enduring song.
The Velvet Underground - Candy Says (1968)
And this is their best written song. Sung by Doug Yule.
Jack Nitzsche - Old Enough To Know (1981)
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. I bought the dvd just so I could extract it for the video.
Warren Zevon - I Was In The House When The House Burned Down (1999)
The second best song title ever, after Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun".
Gordon Lightfoot - If You Could Read My Mind (1970)
Of all the stuff my parents played when I was a kid, only Gordon Lightfoot has stuck.
Gordon Lightfoot - Farewell to Annabel (1972)
The most mature breakup song I've ever heard. (lyrics)
Gordon Lightfoot - Affair on 8th Avenue (1975)
The superior 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 it's on YouTube now.
Gordon Lightfoot - Cobwebs and Dust (1970)
I love the structure of this song: a simple 18 note vocal melody repeated 16 times with changing lyrics.
Gordon Lightfoot - Carefree Highway (1974)
Violent Femmes - Never Tell (1984)
More like a collection of scraps than a song, but every scrap is intense and inspired.
Violent Femmes - Country Death Song (1984)
Clearly inspired by Bob Dylan's Ballad of Hollis Brown.
Violent Femmes - I Held Her In My Arms (1985)
Neil Diamond - I Am The Lion (1970)
Weird song about the ancient conflict between sedentary and nomadic culture.
Neil Diamond - Soolaimon (1970)
The catchiest song ever.
Blue Oyster Cult - Goin' Through The Motions (1977)
The second catchiest song ever.
The Pogues - A Pair of Brown Eyes (1985)
The Beatles - Rain (1966)
My favorite Beatles song and Ringo's best drumming. I write more about the Beatles here.
Norman Greenbaum - Spirit In The Sky (1969)
Did ZZ Top take their whole sound from this?
Neil Young - Helpless (1970)
Neil Young - The Needle and the Damage Done (1972)
A perfect song, and I love the unexpected quick ending.
Neil Young - Powderfinger (1979)
Neil Young - Love And Only Love (1990)
Screamin' Jay Hawkins - I Put a Spell on You (1956)
The songwriting is nothing special but the performance is one of the most interesting things in the 20th century. Instead of covering it, other artists should try to play their own compositions with this kind of wild intensity.
The Old 97's - Valentine (1999)
Loudon Wainwright - New Paint (1972)
Johnny Cash - Sunday Morning Coming Down (1970)
The best version of Kris Kristofferson's best song.
Fear - Let's Have A War (1983)
The best classic punk song.
Dead Kennedys - Kill The Poor (1980)
The second best classic punk song, and my favorite band name.
Suicidal Tendencies - Institutionalized (1983)
The third best classic punk song.
Flying Burrito Brothers - Sin City (1969)
The original alt-country band.
The Black Angels - Young Men Dead (2006)
It's like a post-punk When The Levee Breaks.
Cracker - I Want Everything (1993)
Cracker - I'm So Glad She Ain't Never Coming Back (2006)
Wall Of Voodoo - Lost Weekend (1982)
I was heavily into Wall of Voodoo in the 80's. Later I found out they took most of their sound from the song "Machines" by Lothar and the Hand People.
Wall Of Voodoo - Back In Flesh (1981)
Joanna Newsom's "En Gallop" is sort of a cover of this. They have the same theme, the conflict between the world of spirit and the money economy. They use the same uncommon meaning of the word "flesh" for how your body chains you to an unpleasant material world. And the riff near the beginning of "En Gallop" is almost the same riff that starts at 2:09.
Wall Of Voodoo - Ring of Fire (1980)
Mind blowing cover of the Johnny Cash song.
The Muffs - Lucky Guy (1993)
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.
The Muffs - Ethyl My Love (1995)
Kim Shattuck is the best screamer ever.
The Muffs - Upside Down (1997)
Ramones - Oh Oh I Love Her So (1977)
From their brilliant second album, Leave Home.
Ramones - Questioningly (1978)
This would make an awesome country song.
Ramones - Blitzkrieg Bop (1976)
I didn't fully appreciate this song until I heard Yo La Tengo's instrumental version.
Willie Nelson - Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain (1975)
Donovan - Atlantis (1968)
The first half is an embarrassing spoken word bit, and the second half, a fourteen syllable repeating chorus, is one of the best things ever.
Le Tigre - The The Empty (1999)
Ween - Baby Bitch (1994)
S.C.U.M. - Whitechapel (2011)
Loreena McKennitt - Greensleeves (1991)
She's famous for music that's super-clean, but this was improvised in one take, and its rawness makes it sort of her best song.
Antenna - Snakes (1991)
10,000 Maniacs - My Mother The War (1985)
There are heavy bands that have great soft and pretty songs, but how often does a soft band make a great noisy song? And why did they back away from this sound instead of pushing it farther?
The Shins - New Slang (2001)
Here's another video showing the album cover references in that video.
Devo - Gut Feeling (1978)
Great buildup!
Toy - Dead & Gone (2012)
A decent new wave pop song followed by an incredible drone jam.
Have A Nice Life - Earthmover (2008)
Again, pretty good song, great jam.
Bob Geldof - I Don't Like Mondays (1981)
The live version from The Secret Policeman's Other Ball.
Timbuk 3 - Just Another Movie (1986)
Forgotten political song about how people are tricked into believing in the system that feeds on them.
Steve Mauldin - The Abominable O Holy Night (199?)
It's easier to unlock genius by trying to be bad than trying to be good, and this masterpiece of badness must be what Song For Baltimore sounds like to ordinary people.

Formative Age Pop Hits
Some of my favorite newer songs sound suspiciously like some of these.
Bread - If (1971)
Queen - We Will Rock You (1977)
Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street (1978)
Cheap Trick - Surrender (1978)
Blondie - Heart of Glass (1979)
E.L.O. - Don't Bring Me Down (1979)
Journey - Don't Stop Believing (1981)
A Flock of Seagulls - Space Age Love Song (1982)

Top 20 in chronological order

David Bowie - Space Oddity (1969)
Rex Holman - Come On Down (1970)
Led Zeppelin - The Battle of Evermore (1971)
Hawkwind - Space Is Deep (1972)
Blue Oyster Cult - Astronomy (1978)
R.E.M. - Wendell Gee (1985)
Beat Happening - Indian Summer (1988)
Camper Van Beethoven - June (1989)
Camper Van Beethoven - All Her Favorite Fruit (1989)
R.E.M. - Belong (1991)
Mazzy Star - Fade Into You (1993)
Joanna Newsom - En Gallop (2004)
Big Blood - The Rise of Quinnisa Rose (2007)
Big Blood - Song For Baltimore (2007)
Orphans & Vandals - Argyle Square (2009)
Orphans & Vandals - Terra Firma (2009)
Big Blood - Destin Rain (2010)
Big Blood - A Watery Down II (2014)