Top 100 singles of all time: from Bjork to the Beach Boys

367px-Björk_Rock_en_Seine_2007_by Bertrand

It’s an almost sad feeling as I wrap up this list – bundling in the top 40 in one final swoop – before tomorrow’s grand finale. I don’t even know what was going through my mind as I wrote the original list, beyond how far I agreed (or disagreed) with the traditional entries on such charts. Perhaps what surprised me was how orthodox my tastes are – perhaps simply because those songs are undeniably good – though I hope my more detailed individual postings have entertained, imparted a bit of trivia on your favourite songs, and maybe introduced you to something you hadn’t heard before.

With that in mind, I’m going to skip over the ones you already know well – Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir (which always sounds oddly weedy compared to the bowel-shreddingly heavy version in my head); River Deep, Mountain High; House of the Rising Sun, etc. (my top 40 is dominated by songs from the 60s). I’ll pause to mention Higher Than The Sun, because however many accolades have been awarded to Screamadelica, it still does not have the recognition such an otherworldly, transcendental song deserves.  Continue reading

Top 100 singles of all time: The B52s, Kate Bush, Aerosmith, Run DMC and the Sisters of Mercy

The B52s - Rock Lobster

What’s the word I’m looking for? Congruence? Confluence? A meeting-point where the weird and the popular align. I’ve been impressed by that a lot lately – how curveball acts like Dutch Uncles and Everything Everything have become as commercially successfully as they are acclaimed.  Even so, even 35 years on, there has never been anything quite like Rock Lobster. Continue reading

Top 100 singles of all time: 46 – Metallica – Master of Puppets (and The Carpenters)

metallica master of puppets

I was far too old when I heard this; long past the age when it should have been part of my soul. I should have heard this growing up, letting its searing riffs embed themselves deep into my adolescent psyche; its heart-rending, tear-inducingly beautiful solo entwining itself with my memories like roses in a trellis.

As it is, I only heard this a few years ago and thought, “F*** me, it’s pretty.”  It is pretty. Its central section ranks alongside Comfortably Numb and Hangar 18 as the most lovely thing you can reasonably do with a guitar. Continue reading

Top 100 singles of all time: 60 – Dusty Springfield – Son of a Preacher Man


Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man is so iconic that it barely merits explanation, but the song was originally offered to Aretha Franklin. She turned it down. Writers John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins then passed it to Aretha’s sister, Erma, though it was Dusty’s version that prompted Aretha to record the song herself in 1970. Aretha’s version was backed with Call Me, but it was the b-side that became the hit.  Continue reading

Top 100 singles of all time: 61 – Gwen Stefani – What You Waiting For?


There was a moment at the turn of the century when pop music rocked. I don’t mean it wore spandex or threw horn-shapes, but it had the fire, the fury and lust that made guitar-based music sound very flaccid in comparison. It had a confidence and mischief that made guitar music sound very boring, and the sort of ambition that made rock sound weak and naff. There was a moment when I typed out “f*** this, I’d rather listen to Kylie” in resignation to my editor, to a backdrop of sounds like this.  Continue reading

Top 100 singles of all time: 63 – Cardiacs – Is This The Life?


For one brief, beautiful moment, Cardiacs were in phase with the rest of the the planet. Most of the time, they career along the same spiritual bypass as their fans. Eccentric. Off-centre. People used to believe in four “humours” – sanguine, etc. – and I think there’s a certain truth to it when it comes to music. Melancholic people like Swans, who I admire but don’t get much enjoyment from (at least as far as I’ve heard). Not sure which the manic-depressive personalities fall under, but there are certain bands that intrinsically appeal because the music is written in those sorts of frequencies: Cardiacs, Foetus, Mr Bungle … obstinately difficult, but not just for its own sake. A jittery sort of energy; a strident sort of bounce seemingly at odds with an underpinning sort of sadness. You either get it or you don’t, and most don’t: they admire it, but don’t get much enjoyment from it.

Is This The Life? seemed to come from some other place. It doesn’t sound like a Cardiacs song at all, which isn’t a good thing or a bad thing but perhaps explains its unique appeal. It’s the closest thing the band ever had to a hit, peaking at number 80 in the UK charts in 1988. The single was the breakout song from their fourth album, A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window, which mostly sounded like this:  Continue reading

Top 100 singles of all time: 64 – Linkin Park – One Step Closer

I stand by this song. However much they’ve sucked since, I think this song – and Meteora and Hybrid Theory – are worth defending. Linkin Park were the right band at the right time.

Most people I knew liked Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ but were uncomfortable about doing so because Fred Durst was such a complete tw*t. When One Step Closer came out, we could all breathe a sigh of relief because it did exactly the same things but instead of a posturing playground bully we had nice, clean-cut sweet kids with skater-culture street cred. Instead of moronically yelling “chocolate starfish”, we had someone who would later sing, “I know I will end up failing too / but I know / that you were just like me with someone disappointed in you“. (Cue the sound of a thousand teen voices wailing, “It’s like they GET me!” while their manager takes another bath in liquid cash.  Continue reading

Top 100 singles of all time: 65 – Stevie Wonder – Superstition

Stevie Wonder by Antonio Cruz/ABr

Nowt like a bit of funk, and there’s nowt funkier than this. That bow-bow-bow sound is a clavinet, with a Moog base, both performed by Stevie Wonder, who also played the drums. Jeff Beck created the original drum beat, and Wonder offered the song to Beck, but Berry Gordy insisted that Wonder should perform it himself. Beck’s own version was eventually released as part of his Beck, Bogert & Appice project.   Continue reading