For the 200th issue of Copper, here are 200 of my favorite songs. These aren’t all of my most-liked – that would take up a decent chunk of an iPod Classic’s hard drive. But these are songs I never get tired of listening to, and that always give me a rush, get me moving, or move me.
I made a few arbitrary rules: only one song from any band or artist, otherwise this list would be dominated by Blue Öyster Cult, Kraftwerk, Talking Heads, Love, Roxy Music, Gary Wilson, Genesis, the Kinks, Roy Orbison, and a few others. (Exceptions: if a band member released a song as a solo artist, or when an artist is part of a duet.) I allowed myself one or two sentences of commentary per song. An asterisk indicates outstanding sound quality. These aren’t in any kind of order other than connected by free association.
Links for listening to the songs are included at the end of each listing. Copper’s house style is to put song titles in quotes, but I’m breaking that rule here to avoid typographical clutter. If this list is skewed toward the 1960s through 1980s, well, I’m a baby boomer. I’m sure I’ve forgotten to include some favorites.
This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)* – Talking Heads (link)
It was almost impossible to pick just one song from the band, but this one’s combination of memorable melody, drummer Chris Frantz' unmistakable groove, and David Byrne’s yearningly hopeful lyrics make this one a standout.
Misery and Gin – Merle Haggard (link)
No one writes a better "drown your sorrows" song than Merle. “But here I am again/mixing misery and gin/sitting with all my friends and talking to myself.”
The Red and the Black – Blue Öyster Cult (link)
How do you pick one song from your favorite band? You pick the one that combines breakneck speed, tongue-in-cheek lyrics about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police always getting their man, savage bass and guitars, runaway drums, and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser’s incandescent guitar solo. Although, don't miss "Astronomy," a masterpiece.
You’re Much Too Soon – Hall and Oates (link)
Not one of their hits, but that fade-out section just soars….
I’ll Be Around* – Spinners (link)
But at the end of the day and the love affair, you won’t be, will you?
Mother of Pearl – Roxy Music (link)
Perhaps Bryan Ferry and Co.’s greatest epic, and why am I even qualifying that? The Meaning of Life in a song.
Peaches En Regalia – Frank Zappa (link)
Are people really still debating whether Zappa was a genius or not?
Too Late to Turn Back Now – Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose (link)
Ah, sweet memories of a not-so-sweet and mostly-innocent youth.
A Dream Goes On Forever – Todd Rundgren (link)
Well, it does, no matter how screwed up life might get.
Oh No/Orange County Lumber Truck – The Mothers of Invention (link) (link)
One of Frank Zappa’s most compelling melodies, matched with lyrics for which “scathing” is too weak an adjective. And that guitar playing! (It's a medley on the Weasels Ripped My Flesh album, but you have to listen to both songs separately on YouTube.)
Dreaming Of Me* – Depeche Mode (link)
Their first single and in my mind, still the best, though it didn’t break out of the clubs.
Bizarre Love Triangle* – New Order (link)
There are a zillion mixes of this song – you want the one from the Substance 1985 album, which is incredibly powerful, in demonstration-quality sound.
I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times – the Beach Boys (link)
Sadness never sounded so beautiful.
So Far Away – Carole King (link)
Tapestry is a great album, and this is one of its greatest songs.
City Song/Simple Song* – Jim Dawson (link)
This song explains everything, as far as I’m concerned. “La la la la, la la la, la la la, sing a simple song/We all belong/Only to time." (The two songs are a medley on the Songman album, but only the latter is available online.)
Child’s Song – Tom Rush (link)
A song by Canadian singer Murray McLauchlan about your children finding their wings and leaving the nest, and it chokes me up every time.
Take Me As I Am* – Rumer (link)
Heartbreaking advice to a lover who's not going to work out.
Walk On By* – Dionne Warwick (link)
What can you say about a musical goddess? Burt Bacharach, Hal David and Dionne Warwick – does it get any better?
Watcher of the Skies – Genesis (link)
Maybe the greatest intro to any progressive rock song, ever, and it gets better from there.
Ballad of a Thin Man – Bob Dylan (link)
“Because something’s happening here and you don’t know what it is/Do you, Mr. Jones?” Sometimes I feel like the older I get, the less I understand.
Time Waits for No One – the Rolling Stones (link)
A magnificent mid-tempo song with a wonderful outro courtesy of Mick Taylor, Nicky Hopkins, and the band, all channeling magic. And yeah, ain't it the truth.
Purple Haze – The Jimi Hendrix Experience (link)
A musical shock to the system when I first heard it as a teen. I don’t think I was the only one who was flabbergasted.
Fields of Sun – Iron Butterfly (link)
Pre-In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, this song is just as weird, with its angular piano intro, bizarre falsetto breakdown, Doug Ingle’s ponderous voice, and churning fuzz guitar. Actually, maybe this song sucks, but I love it every time I hear it.
Give Me Just A Little More Time – The Chairmen of the Board (link)
General Johnson sings it like he means it, all right. Every writer’s theme song.
About A Girl – The Academy Is… (link)
Simply a perfect pop song in every respect.
Bear Up Bison – Shonen Knife (link)
How can you not love three Japanese women who sing about Barbie dolls, candy, green tangerines, rock and roll T-shirts, banana chips, cats, jellybeans, and giving encouragement to endangered species?
Got My Mojo Working – Muddy Waters (link)
I’ll give this a vote for the greatest blues song of all time, and I know that’s saying a lot.
In Dreams* – Roy Orbison (link)
Roy at his most magnificent (I'm talking the original Monument version, not the 1980s remake), with a soaring, almost operatic melody, signature poignant lyrics, and sumptuous sound courtesy of the great Bill Porter. Spoiler: he doesn’t get the girl of his dreams.
Computer Love/Computer Liebe* – Kraftwerk (link)
Yes, they did predict the future of computers, dating, modern-day feelings of isolation, and well, pop music, in 1981. And they did it with an elegant melodic sense and a sound that’s still ahead of its time more than 40 years later.
I Am The One You Warned Me Of – Albert Bouchard (link)
From the Byzantine Imaginos project, in which Albert, along with BÖC auteur Sandy Pearlman, had a huge hand. This is a recent remake, part of Albert’s Re-Imaginos trilogy, and is moodier and deeper than the original.
Tears Dry on Their Own – Amy Winehouse (link)
She could have been one of the all-time greats. Check that – she is.
In Memory of Elizabeth Reed – the Allman Brothers Band (link)
While the Idlewild South version is wonderful, the live At Fillmore East album is iconic. Dickey Betts, Duane Allman, and the band are telepathic here.
Thumbnail Screwdriver – Quill (link)
A bizarre slice of Woodstock-era psychedelia. Quill actually played the festival; they were the lowest-paid band there for $450.
Sad Song* – Lou Reed (link)
How can such a depressing song sound so uplifting?
God If I Saw Her Now* – Anthony Phillips (link)
From The Geese and the Ghost, the first solo album by ex-Genesis guitarist Phillips, this is a song of innocence and regret, beautifully sung by Phil Collins and Vivienne McAuliffe.
Lawnchairs* – Our Daughter’s Wedding (link)
This irresistible 1981 off the wall club hit is sort of incomprehensible, but who cares when something’s this catchy? Warning – the original single is the one to listen to; the album remake is a dud by comparison.
It’s Obvious – Au Pairs (link)
Another song where the single is the one to have and the album version, while better-recorded, loses the spirit. In my 20s I spent a lot of time in clubs listening to music like this, and loved every minute of it.
Die Matrosen – Lilliput (link)
Raw, out of tune, and as punk as it gets, whether you want to call it that or not. Hey, the Sex Pistols never whistled a refrain!
Time For Livin’ – the Association (link)
This wasn’t a big hit for a band that had many, but it encapsulates their breezy harmonies, and a Sixties optimism that was on the wane in 1968, but still in the air.
Groovy Girls Make Love at the Beach – Gary Wilson (link)
They certainly do in what must be considered an indie/outsider music classic at this point, and it sounds like nothing else. Call it weird, hysterically funny, warped or whatever – I’ve loved his You Think You Really Know Me album from the moment I heard it, whoo!
Marilyn Dreams* – B-Movie (link)
The new wave band asks and answers the question: “Who killed Norma Jean/It was Marilyn.”
Crying to the Sky – Be-Bop Deluxe (link)
I don’t remember which rock critic called Bill Nelson’s guitar solo the greatest ever recorded, but that was in 1976, and it might still be true today.
For No One – the Beatles (link)
How does one choose from well over 100 Beatles songs? I picked this for its spellbinding melody and poignant lyrics about a love that could have been.
Waterloo Sunset – the Kinks (link)
My pick for the single greatest pop song of all time. No one captured the human condition like Ray Davies, and here, melody, lyrics and performance all meet in perfect harmony.
Who Do You Think You Are – Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods (link)
The Seventies had a lot of throwaway pop confections like this radio-friendly...gem? We can forgive them for “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” after hearing this song.
Kentucky Rain – Elvis Presley (link)
And how does one choose just one Elvis song? When it’s a sheer masterpiece in every respect.
African and White* – China Crisis (link)
This is their first single, unmatched in impact, though the group would go on to tremendous success later on with a string of excellent songs.
Lost in the Supermarket* – the Clash (link)
I’m of two minds about the Clash. I don’t know if they were the great punk-pop band almost everyone says they were, but you can’t just dismiss out of hand a group that wrote songs as great as this one.
I Don’t Have A Tie – Crack the Sky (link)
This rocking band with progressive flavors should have made it a lot bigger than they did (they’re still touring), perhaps because they never had a breakthrough hit, though this could have been it. But those in the know, know.
I Dig You – Cult Hero (link)
This is the B-side of “I’m a Cult Hero,” and if it wasn’t for Discogs, the 45 would probably be impossible to find...I had a tough time finding it in 1980. More evidence of my sometimes-misspent youth.
Starman – David Bowie (link)
The first time I heard this on WNEW-FM (those were the good old days), I called EJ Korvette, asked if they had the new Bowie album, had the guy look in the back room as it wasn’t even on display yet, and bought it as soon as I could. Legend has it that Bowie’s performance of this on the UK’s “Top of the Pops” catapulted him into stardom.
St. Elmo’s Fire – Eno (link)
One of Eno’s more poppy melodies, mated with an astounding guitar solo from Robert Fripp. Eno asked Fripp to imitate an electrical charge…and he rose to the challenge.
Honaloochie Boogie – Mott the Hoople (link)
I was torn between this and “Violence,” “All the Young Dudes,” All the Way From Memphis” and “Sweet Jane,” but I had to go with the irresistible groove and Mick Ralphs’ elegant make-every-note-count outro solo.
Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect – the Decemberists (link)
You can write a literary and poetic song without sounding pretentious, especially when you’ve got as great a melody as this one.
Hey There Lonely Girl – Eddie Holman (link)
The falsetto of the gods. The modulation at about 2:30 catapults it into the stratosphere, and that impossible high note at about 3:00 sends it into another galaxy.
In The Rain – the Dramatics (link)
Soul so heavy it hurts, but what a good kind of hurt.
Rescue – Echo and the Bunnymen (link)
Much of early British new wave and the gone-before-it's here New Romantic music doesn’t age well, and was too clever by half. This isn't.
I Can't Wait – Shelby Lynne (link)
I could have listed so many great songs and covers by her: "Leavin," "Killing Kind," "Just a Little Lovin," "Bend"...but I went with this heartfelt plea for love.
Ganga Smuggling* – Eek-a-Mouse (link)
Mouse literally invented his style of singing in nonsense syllables, an effect that’s strangely compelling. The reggae groove is as deep as it gets.
Love Come Down – Evelyn “Champagne” King (link)
Come down, get up, and dance!
8th Wonder* – Sugarhill Gang (link)
Old-school 1982 hip-hop groove, and today it’s hard to imagine how startlingly new this stuff sounded when it first hit. Like all these dance club songs, the 12-inch single is the one to get.
Totally Wired – The Fall (link)
This ode to getting trashed out of your mind sounds exactly as out of control as you’d imagine.
I Love a Man In Uniform* – Gang of Four (link)
I was tempted to list a barbed-wire-slashing track like “Damaged Goods,” but this dance cut from their later period when bassist Sara Lee joined the band is just too infectious. “To have ambition, was my ambition…”
A Hundred Pounds of Clay – Gene McDaniels (link)
A 1961 smash from one of the greatest soul and R&B singers. He later wrote “Compared to What” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” and don’t miss “Tower of Strength.”
Sorry* – Grace Jones (link)
If Grace Jones wants to see another guy while she’s going out with you, well, she’s going to see another guy.
Songwriter – the Good Rats (link)
One of Long Island’s finest bands who could rock as hard as anyone – anyone – yet who were criminally under-recognized. Front man Peppi Marchello had something to say about that.
Eyes of the World* – Grateful Dead (link)
There was a time when I couldn’t stand the Dead; I’ve come to appreciate them (I’d have to be a fool not to). This was one of the songs that sparked my awakening.
Playing the Game* – Gentle Giant (link)
Songs like these make the argument that perhaps Gentle Giant was in fact the greatest, or at least the most musically accomplished, progressive rock band of them all. The organ solo is almost beyond belief.
Tongue Tied – Grouplove (link)
When it comes to catchy pop songs, I know what I like.
Hearts Are Gonna Roll – Hal Ketchum (link)
Now this is how country rockin’ should be done.
Busted – Ray Charles (link)
It doesn’t get any better than this, does it? Only Ray Charles could find humor in being broke and out of luck.
Let Me Go* – Heaven 17 (link)
Though the band made its rep with titanic dance floor numbers like “Penthouse and Pavement” and "We Don't Need This Fascist Groove Thing," I’ve always favored this more pensive song about the “hopeless fantasy” of love gone wrong. I should note that the sound quality is incredible.
Search and Destroy – Iggy and the Stooges (link)
As raw, vicious, and unrelenting as the title would indicate, and James Williamson’s guitar playing is savage. Both the original and David Bowie mixes are pretty mediocre, but play it loud until it makes your ears hurt, which it will.
Theme for an Imaginary Western – Jack Bruce (link)
Tough choice between this and the exceptional Mountain cover, but I’ll go with the pensiveness and delicacy of the original.
I’ll Be Satisfied – Jackie Wilson (link)
He was called “Mr. Excitement.” This is why.
When Love Comes Knocking Around* – James Lee Stanley (link)
A beautiful song from an under-recognized master songwriter, singer, and guitarist. Get with it, world!
Take A Look Around – James Gang (link)
The first song off the first James Gang album (well, I’m not counting the oddball intro, “Wrapcity in English”), this track announced everything great about the band, from the haunting melody to Joe Walsh’s unmistakable vocals, and oh, that mind-numbing guitar solo!
I Wanna Be a Lifeguard – Blotto (link)
An early MTV classic (the song played on MTV's first day on the air in 1981), this beachtime fun's bold protagonist confidently boasts,"summer blondes revealing tan lines/I'll make more moves than Allied Van Lines!" True fact: for a few years, Blotto's drummer and I played in a band together in college.
All Hashed Out – the Guess Who (link)
The band had many hits, but they had an even bigger number of great songs that never made the charts, many fueled by Burton Cummings’ sardonic wit. This one has a memorable melody, impassioned singing, and terrific guitar and piano solos, though it was hard not to pick “Sour Suite,” “Proper Stranger,” “Hang on To Your Life,” “Hand Me Down World,” “Guns, Guns, Guns,” “The Watcher,” “Glamour Boy,” “Those Show Biz Shoes,” or…well, you get the picture.
There’s Always Tomorrow* – Keith (link)
Sometimes you just gotta love a little Sixties pop-schlock, complete with shallow lyrics and even a gratuitous modulation. From the guy who brought you "98.6" and "Ain't Gonna Lie."
First We Take Manhattan* – Leonard Cohen (link)
I still don’t know what that bit about the monkey and the plywood violin means, but like all his lyrics, it doesn’t have to make literal sense to be gripping.
Just One Look – Doris Troy (link)
For me, just one listen was all it took. One of the heaviest grooves ever.
Into the Groove – Madonna (link)
Sometimes you just have to let go and let it all hang out.
I Should Have Known – McKendree Spring (link)
Fran McKendree (who sadly passed away in 2021) must have had the strongest, most propulsive right hand in the acoustic guitar playing world, so you don’t miss the fact that there’s no drummer, especially when the songs are as great as this one.
En Que Momento? – Moenia (link)
Fuse used to have a Spanish-language rock program (wish I could remember the name of it), which is where I first was turned onto this excellent electro-pop song.
Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough* – Michael Jackson (link)
Jackson had many musical peaks, and this was one of the highest.
Apron Strings – John Entwistle (link)
The Who’s bassist released a number of solo albums and this track from Whistle Rhymes blames all of John’s failings on his mother. If the utterly fantastic guitar solo reminds you of someone, it’s because it’s Peter Frampton.
Remember the Future, Part One – Nektar (link)
A prog-rock classic, spanning two album sides with Part One and Part Two. If you’re a prog rock fan, this is epic; it not, you might find this interminable nonsense. I’m a prog rock fan.
Sugar Mountain – Neil Young (link)
I was tempted to go with “Powderfinger” but in the end, went with this sweet coming of age tale.
Straight Lines – New Musik (link)
Another new wave dance floor classic. Sometimes music just doesn’t have to have Deep Meaning to be really cool.
Novocaine Heart* – Kandace Springs (link)
If you’ve never heard her, you need to. She’s an amazing singer, writer, and piano player, and I don’t use the word “amazing” lightly.
Forget Me Nots* – Patrice Rushen (link)
The great jazz pianist/singer went pop in 1982, and crushed it. Will Smith sampled it for “Men In Black,” which gave the song revived popularity.
Enola Gay* – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (link)
This anti-war song is quite simply one of the greatest synth-pop tracks of all time.
America – Simon and Garfunkel (link)
Few songs are as evocative of an era as this 1968 masterpiece.
Mersey* – Pavlov’s Dog (link)
This little-known group was once the subject of an intense bidding war between ABC and Columbia Records – maybe hard to believe considering leader David Surkamp’s high-pitched voice is an acquired taste. There’s no denying the quality of the music, though, especially this wonderful love song.
Solsbury Hill – Peter Gabriel (link)
I was skeptical about Gabriel’s ability to maintain a solo career post-Genesis. I shouldn’t have been.
Diamond Head – Phil Manzanera (link)
Roxy Music’s Manzanera is one of the most underrated guitar players on the planet, and this track is proof. The studio and 801 Live versions are equally magnificent.
Outside of a Small Circle of Friends – Phil Ochs (link)
This 1967 song should have been a hit, but some radio stations wouldn’t play it because it had the word “marijuana” in the lyrics. The jaunty piano playing is courtesy of one Lincoln Mayorga.
Make It Easy On Yourself – the Walker Brothers (link)
I could have made it easy on myself and listed dozens of Bacharach/David songs to fill out this list, but I particularly like this one, and this version.
I Just Want to Have Something to Do – Ramones (link)
As kids growing up in the cultural blankness of suburban Long Island in the 1970s, we could really empathize with this one, the vibrant club scene being a notable exception.
The Messiah Will Come Again – Roy Buchanan (link)
One of the most emotionally gripping guitar performances ever recorded. No one played a Fender Telecaster better than Buchanan.
Sonic Reducer – Dead Boys (link)
You want punk? Here it is.
Too Much Pressure – the Selecter (link)
This British ska classic goes through my head whenever a deadline approaches. Why hasn’t this song been used in a TV show or movie yet, for crying out loud?
Mas Que Nada – Sergio Mendes and Brazil '66 (link)
My mom loved this song, and so do I.
Mind Up Tonight* – Melba Moore (link)
I really like these late 1970s and early 1980s dance club 12-inch songs (this one's from 1982), especially when they’re sung as devastatingly as this one, and have such a killer bass line.
Corcovado* – Stan Getz (with Astrud Gilberto) (link)
Words fail. The live version from the Getz au Go Go will melt your heart.
I Cannot Let You Go – Sondre Lerche (link)
Another excellent pop song, with some unexpected chord changes and musical elements. The instrumental break meanders a little bit, but that's OK.
I Got A Line On You – Spirit (link)
This got some airplay in 1968 but should have been a major hit. No one got such a thick, sustaining fuzzy sound out of a guitar than Randy California, except for Leslie West.
Gil Blanco County – Stalk-Forrest Group (link)
I’m cheating here – this was Blue Öyster Cult before they became known as BÖC. The band’s album was shelved by Elektra Records and appeared decades later, and it’s a really good record, more psychedelic jam band-ish than what the band would later become.
Doctor Wu* – Steely Dan (link)
It’s impossible to pick a “best” Steely Dan song, but I’ll go with this one for its unforgettable melody and chorus, impeccable arrangement, and lyrics about a bizarre love triangle.
Where Does It Go? – La Honda Featuring Rumer (link)
Before becoming a solo artist, British singer Rumer sang for the bands La Honda and Stereo Venus. Her voice fits this neo-retro song perfectly, but you can say that about any of her songs.
Looking For Another Pure Love – Stevie Wonder (link)
One of the few people in pop music truly deserving to be called a genius. Jeff Beck plays one of the best guitar solos of his life.
Always the Sun* – the Stranglers (link)
They could be abrasively punk, or create pop gems like this one. “Who gets the job/of pushing the knob?”
Midnight Sun* – the Strawbs (link)
Hero and Heroine is one of the Strawbs’ best albums, and this is one of the best songs on it.
Someday Soon – Suzy Bogguss (link)
She does a wonderful cover of this song written in 1963 by Ian Tyson of Ian and Sylvia, later covered by Judy Collins and others.
Marquee Moon – Television (link)
There’s a reason this track by proto-alternative rockers Television with it's soaring guitars by Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd is considered a masterpiece. Because it is.
Little Blu House – Unknown Mortal Orchestra (link)
Just a really fun song from this Portland, Oregon band, with an intense off-the-wall guitar break.
Yours Is No Disgrace – Yes (link)
Progressive rock doesn’t get any better than this.
Eminence Front – the Who (link)
Maybe not the Who’s most iconic or even best song, but I like it, especially because of John Entwistle’s bass playing.
Science Is Religion – The William Blakes (link)
And religion is science, according to these guys. After all, “It’s a particle and wave at the same time.”
Life Begins at the Hop – XTC (link)
One of the first singles from the British new wave/pop icons, who would later go on to something like fame if not quite fortune with a string of masterful albums and singles.
Workin’ On a Groovy Thing – the 5th Dimension (link)
This only made Number 20 on the US charts, maybe because of its disjointed, half-realized production, but that doesn’t make it any less great a song.
Get Rhythm – Johnny Cash (link)
This early Cash single is required listening. Luther Perkins shows why he's the master of one-string rhythm.
My Name Is John – Methuselah (link; the song starts at 11:00)
This Elektra Records act might be be of the label’s most obscure (a copy of their self-titled debut album was going for $100 at a record show), but not because of this slashing rock track featuring some of the best Fender Stratocaster guitar ever recorded. The group eventually evolved into Amazing Blondel.
Let’s Stay Together – Al Green (link)
Sing it like you mean it!
Once In a Very Blue Moon – Nanci Griffith (link)
One of the best country songs ever. Nanci owns it.
Let’s Be Adult* – Arto Lindsay and the Ambitious Lovers (link)
A surprisingly poppy electro-funky song from the former member of noise-rock band DNA.
Round Midnight* – Ella Fitzgerald (link)
Music by Thelonious Monk, vocals by Ella Fitzgerald? This is as fantastic as you’d think it would be, from the Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie album.
Johnny and Mary* – Robert Palmer (link)
He broke out with the MTV smash “Addicted to Love,” but I’ll take this hypnotic track any day. On a good system, the bass synth is subterranean.
Mandolay* – La Flavour (link)
Let’s party! I recently attended my 50th high school reunion, and this still brought everyone out onto the dance floor.
Homosapien* – Pete Shelley (link)
His first post-Buzzcocks single, and what a single.
Every Day is Just a Holiday* – the Members (link)
This circa-1980 party-until-you-drop song isn’t even the A-side of this UK band’s import 12-inch single featuring “Working Girl.” The band is still together!
Try Jah Love – Third World (link)
Reggae meets pop in a perfect marriage.
Stolen Moments* – Oliver Nelson (link)
The album is titled The Blues and the Abstract Truth, this is the first song, and it lives up to the album’s name within 10 seconds.
My Favorite Things – John Coltrane (link)
One of the most popular jazz cuts of all time, and with good reason, as Coltrane takes this song far higher than Rodgers and Hammerstein might ever dreamed it could go.
Straight, No Chaser* – Thelonious Monk (link)
Some people use “So What?” as the ultimate example of the word “jazz.” I pick “Straight, No Chaser.”
You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To – Tal Farlow (link)
Guitarist Farlow and band play a swinging, propulsive take on this standard.
So What* – Miles Davis (link)
The modal jazz landmark from Kind of Blue. Is there anyone reading this who hasn’t heard it?
Spaces (Infinite) – Larry Coryell (link)
Prepare to have your mind blown by this 1970 precursor to fusion. Coryell and John McLaughlin on guitars, Miroslav Vitous on bass and Billy Cobham on drums, all playing at lightning speed after a couple of minutes of buildup – I mean, come on.
Love Cares – Endgames (link)
Fluffy new wave pop, but irresistibly catchy.
You Keep Me Hangin’ On – Supremes (link)
Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson at their finest, propelled by those amazing Motown players fueling yet another incredible Holland-Dozier-Holland composition.
Halifax – Hampton Grease Band (link)
I must warn you, this oddball band featuring alt/jam-band legend Col. Bruce Hampton is a very acquired taste. That said, guitarists Harold Kelling and Glenn Phillips are off-kilter brilliant.
Gypsy Lights – Quicksilver Messenger Service (link)
This was the band's last single, released in 1975. I don't know how high it charted – not very, I would guess – and it sounds very unlike the band, poppy and breezy, but there's no mistaking John Cipollina's guitar playing for anyone else.
Love Song – The Cure (link)
A good song is a good song regardless of whether it's the original version by gloom-rockers the Cure, or whether Adele sings it in a completely different style.
You Set the Scene – Love (link)
If it wasn’t for the Kinks' “Waterloo Sunset,” this would be my pick for the greatest rock song of all time. “And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game/Do you like the part you’re playing?”
Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You – Wilson Pickett (link)
When Wilson Pickett speaks, we should listen.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (link)
What’s Going On* – Marvin Gaye (link)
Like Stevie Wonder and the Temptations, Marvin Gaye helped usher in a new breed of socially-conscious, more personally expressive Motown music. And of course, this is a titanic classic.
You Got Me Going in Circles – Friends of Distinction (link)
They hit it big with their cover of Young-Holt Unlimited’s “Grazing in the Grass,” and then got down with this one.
Ooh, Baby Baby – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (link)
Close your eyes and be transported.
Nowhere to Run – Martha and the Vandellas (link)
"My love reaches so high/I can't get over it."
Show and Tell – Al Wilson (link)
If ever a song deserved to reach Number One, it was this soul smash. It has everything.
La La Means I Love You – The Delfonics (link)
A glittering example of Philly Soul. Man was that stuff great!
O’Jays – Backstabbers (link)
Did I mention that I love Philly Soul?
You Make Me Feel Brand New – Stylistics (link)
I could listen to Philly Soul forever, and this song is perhaps the best example of why.
Stop That Girl – Barbara Lewis (link)
This non-hit album cut was written by Jackie “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” DeShannon. A little too meandering to be a hit, but I like it for that very reason.
Personality – Lloyd Price (link)
This 1959 swingin’ hit is one of the first songs I remember hearing, on my parents’ kitchen radio. It left an impression.
I Got You (I Feel Good) – James Brown (link)
I don't need to explain why this is here.
What Do I Get? – Buzzcocks (link)
No one could do melodic punk/pop like the Buzzcocks, maybe not even the Ramones.
Definitely Maybe – Jeff Beck (link)
An absolutely devastating guitar ballad, and Max Middleton's Rhodes piano fadeout is the icing on the cake.
Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division (link)
Maybe the best example of depression-as-music ever put on vinyl. After the suicide of singer Ian Curtis, they became New Order.
Genius of Love* – Tom Tom Club (link)
This Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz Talking Heads offshoot sounds nothing like that band – it's a fun, mid-tempo dance track featuring Tina’s vocals and some very cool drum and percussion work. The "I'm in heaven" bit can be heard on that Home Goods TV commercial.
Where It’s At – Beck (link)
“I got two turntables and a microphone.” What more do you need?
Kevin Ayers – May I? (link)
Would it be OK to someone to stare at you longingly if they asked as politely as this? The original studio version is cool in a laid back sort of way, but the version from the June 1, 1974 live album featuring Ayers, Eno, John Cale and Nico is the one to have, not the least because of Ollie Halsall’s astonishing guitar solo.
I Travel* – Simple Minds (link)
This early track bears no resemblance whatsoever to their big hit, “Don’t You Forget About Me,” which is fine by me, as I’d rather listen to the relentless synth-beat of this one.
Fast Car* – Tracy Chapman (link)
I’m sure almost everyone knows this great song. But most don’t know that some time ago, the Harman listening lab in Northridge, California found this to be one of the most useful tracks for enabling listeners to tell the differences between loudspeakers.
I Only Want to Be With You – Dusty Springfield (link)
Now this is what a pop song should be! The gloriously out-of-tune string section during the instrumental break only adds to the charm.
This Charming Man – the Smiths (link)
Their second single, and maybe their best (I haven't heard everything they've done, and this song blows "Girlfriend in a Coma" away). What on Earth are those riffs that guitarist Johnny Marr is playing?
The Creator Has a Master Plan – Pharoah Sanders (link)
It goes on for more than 30 minutes, and you want it to go on longer. Maybe the most gripping intro in all of jazz, and Leon Thomas’ vocals are hair-raising.
Maiden Voyage – Herbie Hancock (link)
And what a voyage it is; and what a brilliant use of polytonal chords.
How High the Moon – Les Paul and Mary Ford (link)
The Wizard of Waukesha and Mary Ford pull out all the stops in this dazzling display of multi-tracked vocals and guitars.
Misty – Johnny Mathis (link)
Erroll Garner wrote it and played it, but this is probably the definitive version.
A Summer Samba* – Walter Wanderley (link)
Is this over-the-top organ-playing cheesiness, or pop instrumental perfection?
Sex Bomb – Flipper (link)
Out of control noise-as-music, which is what makes it so great.
A Thousand Miles From Nowhere – Dwight Yoakam (link)
“I’m a thousand miles from nowhere, and there’s no place I want to be.” We’ve all been down that road.
The White Tent the Raft – Jane Siberry (link)
Angular, offbeat art-rock from an artist I adore.
Hora Decubitus – Charles Mingus (link)
Here’s an upbeat blues-progression-based track from the master.
The Girl From Ipanema – Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto (link)
The everyone-knows-it standard featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim and Astrud Gilberto. Sublime.
Lightning Strikes – Lou Christie (link)
The guy really wants the girl, doesn’t he?
Magnet and Steel – Walter Egan (link)
The guy really thinks he and the girl are made for each other, doesn’t he? And, like "Summer Breeze," you gotta love a song with a toy piano in it (almost impossible to hear in the YouTube clip).
Snow Queen – Blood, Sweat and Tears (link)
They might have (might have?) ventured into schlock at times, but they absolutely rip on this Carole King cover.
The Circle Game – Joni Mitchell (link)
Maybe the best coming of age song ever.
Prove It All Night – Bruce Springsteen (link)
I’m not a Springsteen fanatic, though I respect his talent immensely, but how can you not be dazzled by this track?
Be My Baby – the Ronettes (link)
It’s been called the greatest single ever. I won’t argue.
I Wanna Rock – Twisted Sister (link)
Jay Jay’s a friend and I want to tip my hat to him, and I grew up on Long Island, and the band was a huge influence on all us kids, and who doesn't remember the MTV video? And hey, who doesn’t wanna rock?
Summer, Highland Falls – Billy Joel (link)
A song about manic depression and the disappointment of a relationship not working out, one of Joel’s most compelling.
James Blake – Voyeur (link)
The guy has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard – check out his version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” – and is a master of electronic pop production.
Dust My Broom – Elmore James (link)
As every guitar player knows (or should), this is the definitive blues guitar riff.
Born Under a Bad Sign – Albert King (link)
If you want to go to blues school, you can start here. Just ask Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and countless others.
Your Cheatin’ Heart – Hank Williams (link)
How did he get so much feeling from a few simple chords and such direct, unadorned lyrics? And, talk about a voice made for singing country music.
Hurts So Bad – Little Anthony and the Imperials (link)
It sure does – he’s restrained at first, and then it all pours out.
NIB – Black Sabbath (link)
Guitarist Tony Iommi is the king of the heavy guitar riff, and here’s one of the best. Very cool bass intro by Geezer Butler too.
Tighten Up – Archie Bell and the Drells (link)
The seemingly ad-libbed vocals and sloppy production (listen to how out-of-time those handclaps are at the end!) only add to the feel, and of course, this has one of the greatest bass lines of all time.
The Cure – Tegan and Sara (link)
Another utterly perfect pop song. I’m not completely stuck in the 1960s and 1970s.
Deserted Cities of the Heart – Cream (link)
A compelling song by the band, with fantastic bass playing by Jack Bruce, what sounds like a speeded-up guitar solo by Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker absolutely pounding the drums (too bad they sound like cardboard boxes here) and typically inscrutable lyrics by Pete Brown.
Cybernaut – Tonto’s Expanding Head Band* (link)
The brainchild of Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil, the two of them to later become key in producing Stevie Wonder’s classic synthesizer-driven albums (and haven't gotten the recognition they deserve as far as I'm concerned). This electronic blues was done the hard way – one wall-of-synth sound at a time, painstakingly layered, not "produced" by clicking on a mouse to assemble soulless tracks into digital audio workstation software.
Stacy’s Mom – Fountains of Wayne (link)
A witty song about a generation gap. RIP Adam Schlesinger.
Wedding Bell Blues – Laura Nyro (link)
How could you not fall in love with this song, and her, after hearing it? The 5th Dimension had the hit, but I like the raw feeling of the original better.
Girlfriend – Matthew Sweet (link)
He came blasting out of the gate with this one. That’s Robert Quine on the senses-shattering guitar.
And my latest favorite for Number 200:
Get to You – Jung Seung Hwan (link)
Here's an unabashedly romantic love song. I don't understand Korean, but don't need to for the feeling of this song to reach me.
Isn't it astounding how the emotion and power of music can be transcendent?
How wonderful to know that for all of us, there's a world of music out there that's yet to be explored.