Cameron Stuart | Radio Director
Disclaimer: These are not my top five favorite songs, but rather the ones I consider to be the best ever comprised on the basis of lyrics, music, social consciousness and resonance.
5. Don’t Look Back In Anger (written by Noel Gallagher/performed by Oasis) 1996
Next Best Song by Oasis: “Wonderwall” (1995)
Best Lyric: “Stand up beside the fireplace/take that looks from off your face/ you ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out”
Known more in the United States for their smash hit “Wonderwall,” British outfit Oasis followed up that success with an even better song that goes largely unnoticed this side of the pond. Following the British tradition of combining tradition with modernity, “Don’t Look Back In Anger” opens with the riff used by John Lennon in “Imagine” while also busting out a guitar solo by co-frontman and songwriter Noel Gallagher. The song’s chorus was voted number one on New Musical Express’ “Top 50 Most Explosive Choruses” in 2018. Sally can keep on waiting, but this song should solidify its spot in the top five for the foreseeable future and is the magnum opus of the group, widely regarded as the greatest British rock band since The Beatles.
4. Light My Fire (Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore/ The Doors) 1967
Next Best Song by The Doors: “Riders on the Storm” (1971)
Best Lyric: “The time to hesitate is through/no time to wallow in the mire/try now we can only lose/and our love become a funeral pyre”
A song with limited lyrics, “Light My Fire” makes the most of its minute vocabulary with Jim Morrison’s picturesque poetry and epic instrumental breaks highlighted by the keyboarding genius of the group’s founder, Ray Manzarek. The song was perfect for the times as its sexual overtones and its instrumental breaks perfect for it to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July of 1967, smack dab in the middle of the “summer of love.” The psychedelic feel of the song fit the stoners, the lyrics fit the poets, and the rocking sound infuriated the old row of music like Frank Sinatra, who once heard the song come on his car radio and smashed the radio to pieces with his shoe in a fit of rage. Perfect for its time, the song still holds up today as a classic to put on the Victrola and drift away.
3. Sympathy For The Devil (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards/The Rolling Stones) 1968
Next Best Song by The Rolling Stones: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965)
Best Lyric: “I shouted out/Who killed the Kennedys?/when after all/it was you and me”
It seems as though the Rolling Stones reached their peak at the wrong time as they would be known as the greatest band of their generation in any other generation in the history of humanity. Lyrically speaking, “Sympathy for the Devil” is better than any song the Beatles ever wrote. Released in December of a year that many people would’ve believed the devil was at play, 1968 saw race riots that destroyed cities and the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert Kennedy. As 1967 was the apex of the laid back 1960s American attitude for the Doors, the troubles of Vietnam in the latter half of the decade created a rebellious counterculture perfectly tapped into by the Stones with this song. With multiple pop culture references talking about the Kennedys, the Cold War, and even Jesus’ crucifixion, Mick Jagger’s unmistakable vocals and the ominous “woo hoo” in the background of the entire song make a generation reconsider all their conceptions of Lucifer himself. While most ministers of the era may disagree, no song or pop culture event was ever as convincing of humanizing the devil as this song.
2. Let It Be (John Lennon and Paul McCartney/The Beatles) 1970
Next Best Song by The Beatles(ish): “Imagine” (John Lennon 1971)
Best Lyric: “When I find myself in times of trouble/Mother Mary comes to me/speaking words of wisdom/let it be”
It wouldn’t be a true “best of all-time” music list without the Fab Four from Merseyside making its presence felt. Since the song was a product of the dynamic Lennon-McCartney songwriting duo, Lennon’s “Imagine” is justified as the next best and narrowly missed making this list. “Let it be” is the focal point of the Beatles’ final studio album of the same name. The beautiful piano intro and the softness of McCartney’s voice are what makes the song special but the meaning behind such a masterpiece is what makes it one of the best ever written. McCartney, whose mother died when he was just 14, says his mother came to him in a dream, reassuring everything in his life and the imminent demise of the band would be alright, telling him simply to “let it be.” The ballad is as uplifting an anthem as could ever be played out on a piano and served as something of a sign-off for possibly the greatest band to ever make music. No band has ever signed off with more heart-throbbing ethos than this, still a message tattooed on bodies worldwide and a universal tune whistled out in subways from Liverpool to Paris to Chicago, an evergreen tribute by an evergreen band.
Honorable Mentions: Excluding those mentioned in the “next best” portion, those who just missed the cut are: “Born to Run” (Bruce Springsteen), “London Calling” (The Clash), My Generation (The Who), “Great Balls of Fire” (Jerry Lee Lewis), “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana), “Crazy” (Gnarls Barkley), “Like a Rolling Stone” (Bob Dylan).
1. Bittersweet Symphony (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Richard Ashcroft/The Verve) 1997
Next Best Song by The Verve: “The Drugs Don’t Work” (1997)
Best Lyric: “Tryna make ends meet, you’re a slave to money then you die”
It is extremely rare that I agree with Chris Martin on anything, but I agree with him when he introduced this song at a live show with Richard Ashcroft in 2005 as “the best song ever written.” If nothing else, “Bittersweet Symphony” was marred with controversy over allegations that Ashcroft plagiarized the music from the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time.” Whether that helped the song’s rise to fame or not, it was a mega hit that defined the BritPop craze that briefly took over the world in the 1990s, bridging the gap between the grunge and autotuned eras of popular music. “Bittersweet Symphony” is an existential masterclass of Ashcroft’s character, desperately trying to break free from the chains of societal norms, convincing himself he can change from the blandness of life he describes in the chorus. The orchestral riff is one we all know and will be stuck in our heads for the duration of the day after listening to the song, which was nominated for the Grammy for Best Rock Song in 1999 and won the MTV Alternative Video of the Year in 1998. If this is, like Ashcroft says, the “only road [he’s] ever been down,” we surely hope there are no exits.