Spotify playlist : The Greatest Songs in the World (Ever)
You can't write a list of the best songs ever written. It's not possible to write a list someone can't debate. Even if you get lots of people to agree on what the best one ever written is, none of those same people will agree on number 2 in the list.
Despite this, I've written a list of the top 100 songs ever written. Not because one opinion is more valid than another and not because I think any of my music taste is somehow more refined than anyone elses, I just want to entertain and hopefully get you to listen to something you might not have heard before - music changes lives and some of the songs on my list helped change, shape and save mine.
So, what makes a great song? I don't mean a good song - I mean a really great song. Lots of things I suppose, but also little things. A big guitar solo or a couplet that you get as a tattoo. A little synth motif that becomes part of the fabric of reality. A story that makes you cry or the singer's way of telling the story that makes you believe every word. Those things exist in great songs.
A great song is one you keep going back to every few weeks for the rest of your life - like a well stocked buffet. Enough ramble, here's my pick of the top 100 songs ever written, and a bit about why I'm making such a bold claim!
(100) Who's that girl - Eurythmics
What sets this song and 'Sweet Dreams' apart (which is the other contender for the list) is the mood. Some of the most popular synth-pop of the early 80s wasn't the jolly blippy-bloopy stuff you probably associate with synthesizers, it was the darker, more brooding stuff. Gary Numan had Complex, Ultravox had Vienna and The Eurythmics had Who's That Girl. The way the song changes pace at the bridge is very clever and Annie Lennox's layered vocals are as sweet as you'll find in any song throughout the ages. This is a superb song!
(99) Too little Too Late - JoJo
No room for music snobbery here I'm afraid. There's no reason a mid 2000s teen-angst pop song can't be one of the greatest ever written. This isn't as throw-away as the artist may lead you to believe. There's some real pain here, despite the fact JoJo didn't write the song; she sells it. Brilliantly so. Sometimes songs get over-produced and the whole thing seems a bit manufactured but you can tell listening to this that an acoustic version would be every bit as sparkling and gut-punchingly sorrowful. What a wonderful blend of songwriting and performance.
She re-recorded it when she'd grown up (She was 15 when she recorded the original) a few years ago, popped that version on spotify and took the original down. Like she was ashamed of it? The re-recording has none of the emotion of the original, which is weird cos you'd think she'd be able to sing from experience.
(98) Shelter - Duran Duran
This song probably passed a lot of Duran Duran fans by never mind those who only sparingly dip into albums with successful singles on them (like me). Duran had fallen into a bit of a lean spell following an extremely successful period in the 80s. They burst back on the scene after the flop that was 'Liberty' in 1990 with 'Ordinary World' in 1993. It's no accident that I've picked 3 songs from that album in my top 100 and there could have been more. 'Shelter' is a sonic masterpiece. Rumour has it the album was recorded in someone's front room and had no producer. However true, that makes 'Shelter' even better. The verse is unusual, the powerful bridge and synth hits are wonderful and I still love to put this on, turned up loud nearly 30 years later.
(97) Fiction - Nik Kershaw
When I heard Nik Kershaw was releasing his first new album in over 10 years, I was overjoyed until I heard it. I wasn't expecting it to be slow and guitar-led. Gone were the glassy synths. Gone were the jazz chords and multiple key signatures. Gone was the slightly misguided pop star who made a few dodgy albums ('Radio Musicola' and 'The Works') despite still liking them a lot. There was no 'One and Only' on this album but it was a lot more mature and the songs had more depth than anything else he'd done. The songs lingered too. They planted themselves in my head and grew until I loved them more than I'd ever expected to on first listen.
Great songs usually aren't that great when you first hear them. It's like Ricky Gervais' 'The Office'. People didn't get it and it had barely any audience the first time it was shown. It grows on you when you start to understand it. 'Fiction' is quite simple but so powerful. Instead of using flowery metaphors, it captures exactly the way I've felt so many times in my life and it all floods back each time I hear this. It reminds me that it all could have been so different!
(96) The Troubles - U2
Probably an odd choice for even big fans of U2 this but it baffles me why this was shoved to the back of an album they gave away for free. It's delicate and heartbreaking. It's morose without being depressing. It's a brilliant vehicle for the contrasting vocals of Lykke Li and Bono and not in a 'Kylie/Nick' style either. The last minute of the song is where it's power lies though. It's about contrasts, survival and letting go to save yourself. Definitely don't listen to this if you're not having a good day though.
(95) Maybe in another life - Madness
Madness were one of my first musical loves. Not enough to go and buy anything they did mind, though my music purchases were few and far between until I started getting enough pocket money to buy comics, sweets and vinyl. It wasn't until I bought all of the Madness singles (and B-sides) collected on a box set called 'The Business' in 1994 that I felt the full force of one of the greatest bands of all time. There never seemed to be enough discipline about the Nutty boys to be able to come up with the genius tunes that were 'Our House', 'Yesterday's Men' and 'One Better Day'. This B-Side however was lo-fi, raw and slightly unproduced but that's what makes it so beautiful. Chas Smash sang lead vocals more and more towards their first break-up. He's not the best singer and he can't really phrase very well and his diction is definitely off in places but this song comes from the heart. It got me through some dark days and maybe that's influenced me into picking this in my top 100 but I stand by it - the saxophone complements the lament perfectly too.
(94) Everybody wants to rule the world - Tears for Fears
One of the first songs ever to make me stop what I was doing to listen. I absolutely loved this when it came out in 1985. I'm still sad they didn't play Live Aid and still gutted they fell out and split up in 1990. They weren't the best at artwork but this song is littered with gorgeous sonics, classic riffs, wonderful imagery (There's a room where the light won't find you - Holding hands while the walls come tumbling down - when they do I'll be right behind you), and a fun memorable video. Songs from the Big Chair will always be a fixture on my record player until I wear out the vinyl and have to buy another copy.
(93) The Fear - Lily Allen
Lily Allen didn't do much for me when she debuted in the charts around 2006. It was all a bit saccharine for me especially with contemporaries Nerina Pallot, Pixie Lott, Little Boots and Sandi Thom littering the top 40 with twee ditties. Then this came along and, as with many other songs on this list, stopped me in my tracks. It's a commentary on consumerism, excess and societal pressures on appearance, not just for in-the-spotlight pop stars. The chorus is wonderful and that's all down to producer Greg Kurstin who co-wrote the song with Lily. It spent four weeks at number one and each one deserved.
(92) Pop Muzik - M
The vocal stylings, the hook, the sentiment and the unique sound all elevate this simple pop song into 'classic' status. It wasn't meant to have Synths on it at all but eventually someone conviced them to use them. The best thing about the whole thing was that the single had two songs on the A-side and which one you got depended on which groove the needle dropped into first. Whenever this song is on, it always cheers me up. It's the first song on the list that doesn't have some kind of dark theme.
(91) Ashes to Ashes - David Bowie
Ooooooh! Yes! I'm not a fan of Mr Bowie by any stretch and when I first heard this in 1980 I had no idea who he was. I suppose it was the video that made me listen to the song. The visuals were so interesting to a five year old that the song just went in by osmosis. Having recorded various covers of this song over the years, I've deconstructed it and it gets better the more you dig into the different instruments and effects and weird vocal noises and bass guitar and and and... just, wow. Masterpiece.
(90) Video killed the radio star - The Buggles
A great song is one that sounds good across the ages and this will never sound out of time. Prophetic and cynical, it captured imaginations from the day it was released. Now it's streaming that's killed the radio star - it's killed the entire pop chart in fact. Like Ashes to Ashes, there's so much studio trickery going on here - not autotune or sampled drum loops like they have these days - but real instruments and voices with clever production techniques and real musicians on real instruments. It was all downhill from the invention of midi and virtual instruments. Trevor Horn of course went on to be one of the most influential producers of his age.
If you get a chance, have a listen to the follow up 'Living in the plastic age' which is nearly as good as this.
(89) True Faith - New Order
I first heard this on a late night radio show, one of those that played stuff that wasn't out yet. It took my breath away - so much so that it didn't occur to me to grab a blank tape and record it. It's a triumph of musician and sequencer. The Musicians Union was terrified when synthesizers came along saying it was going to put people out of work. They did, sort of, but it took digital recording platforms to really shove violinists and saxophonists out of the picture. Peter Hook using a bass guitar as a percussion instrument and Bernard Sumner belting out one of the best lyrics of the 80s in :
'My morning sun is the drug that brings me near
To the childhood I lost, replaced by fear
I used to think that the day would never come
Spend my life in the shade of the morning sun'
(88) Goodbye - Spice Girls
Don't underestimate the Spice Girls' impact on popular music in 1996. It started a revolution that's still going today. 'Wannabe' is a brilliant single, launching the power pop fivesome into the stratosphere. Their image, message, energy and dare I say it, voices, created a marketing juggernaut that saw them on every TV show, every pencil case and every 9-year-old girl's bedroom wall. Hallelujah. Geri was the best member of the group, and the most essential to their aura. When she left, the rest of them just didn't have the same sparkle. Having said that, they released 'Goodbye' after Geri left and if you were swept up in the Spice Girls whirlwind like me, it really felt like the end of an era. The song was about the departure of Halliwell but also I think, about the end of the group. They did go on to release the horrific song 'Holler' two years later before splitting up properly. I liked a lot of what they did in their solo careers - even Victoria had a couple of enjoyable moments in the charts. Goodbye was their third consecutive Christmas number 1, when it used to mean something, long before Simon Cowell got his grubby hands all over it.
(87) You Came - Kim Wilde
Simple this; it's the use of the B minor 7 chord in the bridge. It jars; it makes the part of your brain that expects the progression to go somewhere to go 'eh?'. Apart from that, it's a blazing 80s blur of wonderful melodies and production. I could just as easily have chosen 'Never Trust a Stranger' or 'The Second Time' from Kim's back catalogue, which by the way, is totally worth checking out.
(86) First attack of love - Terry Hall
Terry has popped into my playlists quite a bit over the years. 'Ghost Town', 'Really Saying Something', 'Our Lips are Sealed' and the album 'Home'. I can't put into words what this album means to me. I bought it because I managed to catch a rare playing of 'Sense' on MTV in 1998. That was on this album so into the cassette player it went - and stayed there for months. This track is right at the end of the second side and from the opening bare guitar riff to the final note, it stirs something I only feel when I'm listening to this song. I can't imagine life without it.
(85) Point of view - DB Boulevard
What a great singer Moony is. This got to number 3 in 2002 and I used to watch VH1 for hours hoping the video would come back round. (This was before YouTube) There were a lot of 'producers' in the charts early 2000s and a lot of them were churning out very enjoyable singles. Roger Sanchez's 'Another Chance' and Spiller's collab with Sophie Ellis Bextor are fine examples of this new branch in musical artists emerging and evolving (there are more in this top 100 list too). Music Videos were reaching a zenith too with songs like 'Starlight' by the Supermen Lovers and Sweet like Chocolate. Point of View has a great video and the song is all 'don't worry, be happy' which is always good. This song is just infectious and I like when it comes round randomly on Spotify.
(84) Too lost in you - Sugababes
The original Sugababes line-up had wonderful vocal chemistry. Formed by the All Saints manager, they didn't have a hugely successful start until Siobhán Donaghy left and Heidi Range joined. Eventually, every member left and was replaced by someone else so they didn't have any founding members. Like the ship of Theseus.
I loved Sugababes in their middle period as much as I loved All Saints (see later in the list). Their song 'Stronger' is amazing and way beyond anything you'd expect from a percieved manufactured girl group or boy band. There was much more here that you'd find in any Oasis album, any Nirvana track or even a Bob Dylan nasal social commentary whine. The version of this song that starts with conga drums is the best version. The build is fantastic and when the harmonies kick in through the chorus, the hairs on the back of your everything will stand up. Superb.
(83) Don't go breaking my heart - Elton John and Kiki Dee
Has there ever been a better duet? I loathe most of Elton's 70s stuff. It's too jangly and tuneless. It's a bit non-sensical in the main but he gave his head a shake and started writing some superb stuff by the 80s. 'I'm Still Standing', 'I Guess that's why they Call it the Blues', 'Sad Songs', 'The One' and 'Believe' are wonderful songs. 'Don't go breaking...' is a particularly brilliantly crafted song. Real time was spent on writing this. Each piano chord, each vocal note and although Elton's strange vocal delivery isn't for everyone, he chose the perfect foil in Kiki Dee.
(82) The little things that give you away - U2
Whatever you think of U2's slow decline since 2004's 'How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb', their 2017 album 'Songs of Experience' had some real gems. This song comes straight from the top drawer. Lyrically, musically and atmospherically this song takes you to so many places. I'm not even sure what it's about but the lyrics don't ever do that thing where a word snaps you out of the song and makes you go 'why did they say chicken dinner there?'. Bono's voice is a raw and gravelled as ever here and he's still one of the only vocalists around these days who makes you believe everything he sings.
(81) All around the world - Lisa Stansfield
There's a hint of Barry White here and as Lisa cleans up her Lancashire accent, you never feel that her monologue at the start is out of place. What a voice as well. Her and Morten Harket should have duetted. Both were able to change their voices entirely depending on what they were singing. It's something inbuilt and natural. Like Kiki Dee, if Lisa had been given some better material after this smash hit, she could have been massive. The fact she was chosen as one of those to honour Freddie Mercury at the tribute concert in 1992 along with Elton John, David Bowie, George Michael, Seal, Paul Young, Annie Lennox and Robert Plant spoke volumes for her standing in the pop world at the time.
(80) Don't you want me - Human League
This wasn't even going to be released as a single and was even shoved to the back of the album because the band didn't like it that much. Since it stormed to number 1 in 1981 it has since become a bona fide classic regardless of your taste in music. Phil Oakey has a great voice and a lot of their top 40 hits are a joy to listen to. 'Heart like a wheel' and 'Fascination' are my favourites, along with 'Open your heart' and 'Lebanon'. A great band with dodgy beginnings which saw them doing some very avant garde stuff that didn't resonate with the main stream and the eventual formation of Heaven 17, which definitely wasn't a bad thing.
For me though, watching Top of the Pops on that fateful evening, that bass synth intro set me on a path to needing synthsizers in my life forever.
(79) Call me - Spagna
This song has everything an infectious summer anthem needs. From the velcro-like intro which hooks you in to the Euro-pop stylings that so defined Eurovision for so many years, Call Me is a triumph of a pop song. It goes further than just being a great single, it just cheers my soul up. I know singles do that but this hits a deeper part - a part of me I suppose that remembers those wonderful mid-80s summers with endless sunshine. I'll never get bored of this song.
(78) Secrets - Tears for Fears
Steel yourself. This is a deep cut from one of the greatest bands and songwriters of the modern age. After Tears for Fears broke up in 1990, Roland Orzabal continued alone but commercial success was elusive. The songs however remained at a very high standard, especially with 1995's 'Raoul and the Kings of Spain', a concept album exploring Orzabal's Spanish heritage. Secrets is about the troubles in relationships, which gives the lyric the necessary weight but the pacing and power of the vocal are superb too so, here it is, the 78th best song ever written!
(77) You get what you give - The New Radicals
This is one of those songs it hard not to like. It defined a moment in time - many songs have done that over the years however so that's not why it's in the list. It's just so different to anything else I'd heard at the time. I wanted to put it on the stereo and turn it up as loud as it would go and dance around the house, over and over again. This song has the genuine power to transform your mood and that's rare. The lyrics suggest he's going to 'kick' Marilyn Manson's 'ass in'. When asked about it, Manson said he wasn't mad about the threat of violence, more that he'd been included in the same line as Courtney Love.
(76) Saint - Texas
Listening again, maybe this song should have been a bit higher in the list, but there's some quite stiff competition. Texas hit a peak with this album, as if they'd opened a magical songwriting chest that inspired them all for a year. A lot of the other Texas stuff I've heard doesn't even get in the same postcode as this album. It's oozing with atmosphere and listening back to front is an absolute journey. This song manifests in the room as you play it. It's sister song for me is the track 'Move in' which is almost as good and would be just outside my 100. If I ever do an albums list, this is one of the first in.
(75) Quit playing games with my heart - Backstreet Boys
I said before, it doesn't matter how cheesy or credible a band or artist are in the eyes of the general public, genuinely great songs can come from anywhere. Often on 'worst songs of the 80s' lists, Chris DeBurgh's 'Lady in Red' is a great song. It's the stigma that gets in the way. Anyone seeing the artist above may be forgiven for thinking 'Backstreet Boys were just a boyband' but this song is heartbreaking. As sad and emotionally exhausting as any of your 'Always on my minds', 'Tears in Heavens', 'Hurts' or 'Father and Sons', 'Quit playing games' touches a part of you that needs to be open to it. If you've ever wished to go back and redo something, live something again, change an outcome - this will have you in tears. 'I wish I could turn back time, impossible as it may seem but I wish I could, so bad...'
(74) Sanctify yourself - Simple Minds
YES! YES! YES!
My favourite thing about Simple Minds is their use of power in songs. Power in the drums, in the bass, in the guitars and of course in Jim Kerr's voice. He's a lot gentler these days but back in the day, he was capable of going from soft and sensual to loud and electric. Alive and Kicking, Glittering Prize, Don't you Forget about me, Waterfront and Belfast Child, all songs you must have on your best songs playlist.
(73) Release me - Agnes
Strange that Agnes only had two hits. Both were brilliant but then, nothing. The first, 'Release me' reached number 3 but the follow up 'I need you now' only got to number 40 in 2009. This has baffled me since I was old enough to understand the music charts. An artist would release a song every bit as good as another song but one would go top 10 and the other wouldn't chart. Why didn't people hear the other one? Did they hear it and hate it? Were they thinking it just sounded like the one they bought and they were sick of it? Regardless, any artist would have been proud to have this song in their repertoir, even if it was the only one they ever hit the chart with.
She showed her mettle at the tribute concert for Marie Fredriksson when she sang 'It must have been love', dare I say it, better than Marie ever did.
(72) The day the world turned dayglow - X Ray Spex
This is brilliant. Poly Styrene is a legend and rightly so. I talked about this song when I put it at number 2 of the best singles of 1978 here. It's one of those songs you need to know, to know. That's not to say that if you think it's just a load of noise and shouting that you're wrong, but that's what makes music brilliant. Your own opinion.
(71) Nobody's Girl - Nicky Holland
Sadly, even people who follow popular music closely may not have heard this. Nicky was part of the Tears for Fears 'Songs from the Big Chair' tour and began writing music with Roland Orzabal, contributing quite a lot of lyrics and piano to their album 'Seeds of Love'. She quite deservedly got to release music in her own right - and this, one of the best songs I've ever heard, was written with Lloyd Cole. It's beautifully produced and her unique voice carries the song right to the middle of where songs are supposed to hit you. The rest of the 'Sense and Sensuality' album is lovely too - it's one you can stick on in the background and it accompanies any mood. This could have been her 'Sleeping Sattelite' but Google can't find any singles or what number her album charted at... I guess it got no promotion?
"I've been lost, I've been found, I'm every woman's daughter, and I'm nobody's girl".
(70) It must have been love - Roxette
Timeless, powerful and perfectly crafted. It was the piano solo in the middle that grabbed me on my first listen. Still does. Marie's voice was superb and it's featured again on this list much nearer the top spot. This was of course featured in the movie 'Pretty Woman' but it had been released originally in 1987 in Sweden where it reached number 4, as were subsequent singles 'Dressed for Success' and 'Listen to your heart'. Once one of their CDs made it over to the USA and a wise old record executive pushed their music to the rest of the world, 'The Look' was released and went to number 1 in several territories. 'Dressed' and 'Listen' were then released worldwide and did just as well so 'It must have been love' was released again and went stratospheric. After 'Joyride' went to number one everywhere, their career started a slow decline. Only 'How do you do' and 'Sleeping in my car' made any real dent in the top 10. We sadly lost Marie in 2019 and their first album 'Pearls of Passion' will always be one of my favourite albums of all time.
(69) Redemption Day - Sheryl Crow
This was an album I bought on the strength of one song but I soon realised that Sheryl wasn't her singles. In fact, whatever you heard in the chart wasn't a representation of what she was capable of. You need to listen to the 'Wildflower' album. It's not what the kids are listening to so it only got to number 25 here but it's as good a collection of heart-rending songs as you're likely to hear.
When I first heard the 'Sheryl Crow' album, track 3, 'Home' blew me away. It wasn't a particularly great time when I got this album and the melacholy nature of much of it still gives me goosebumps - especially 'Redemption Day'. It's like, come on - how can a song this good exist? It's politically charged but not in a preachy way, just a sad sort of 'where's your common sense' way. I heard Johnny Cash cover this and for once, he didn't make it his own - and that's rare.
(68) Hounds of love - Kate Bush
What an album. What a singer. What a song writer. I love artists who do exactly what their souls tell them to do. Her song 'This Woman's Work' brings me to actual tears. It's stupidly heartbreaking. I'm surprised that most of what Kate Bush did resonated with enough people to sell enough singles. I can understand her album success but when appealing to the common denominator, she was able to hook them too. Hounds of Love got five star reviews from all the music press which usually means it isn't worth listening to but wow. Side 1 is as good a side of Vinyl you'll ever hear and the song 'Hounds of Love' is so refreshingly honest, it hurts.
'I found a fox, caught by dogs, he let me take him in my hands, his little heart beat so fast and I'm afraid of running away'
and the genius lyric : "You don't want to hurt me but see how deep the bullet lies"
(67) December - All About Eve
The lyrics of this song, I hope, were written with a powerful truth. I want them to be true so much because they're so lucid and realistic and full of imagery and emotion that you can actually feel. I'd hate to think it was a fiction - but then, even if it is, it's so beautifully written that there has to be some truth in it.
The song is about looking through a keepsake tin and finding a sprig of mistletoe used one December to kiss someone long gone. She then blames the time of year for bringing back feelings which are only nostalgia, not real feelings of actually missing that person. The line that gets me every time (and the construction of the melody hammers the emotion home perfectly) is 'A fall of snow and the afterglow should be taking our breath away... but the years stand in the way'. Damn!
(66) Until the end of the world - U2
U2's best album. Borne out of them trying to find a new sound, finding a lot of frustration and then almost splitting up. Then came 'One' which you may or may not see further up this list, and the rest is history. To have a truly great album you don't just need great songs or great lyrics or even any of that - I think it's the atmosphere. It's the thing you can't describe. Everything has an aura - places, food, people, tv shows and music. If you've heard this album you'll know what I mean about the atmosphere. Something they managed to capture in Hansa Studios was intangible and something you just can't bottle or recreate. I'm sure if they went back to record this album again from scratch it would sound completely different. This is a record that took a lot of people a lot of time to create.
It's a song that comes from a real place which always gives it gravity. Bono and The Edge fell out temporarily and it inspired Bono to write a fictional conversation between Jesus and Judas which, in the end, results in Judas' suicide. Bono even 'sings' the song as a conversation - there's no discernible tune. And it's brilliant.
(65) Sin of the City - Duran Duran
It wasn't until the internet was a thing that I found out what this song was about. It's about the Happy Land arson fire that killed 87 people trapped in an unlicensed social club in New York City on 25 March 1990. Despite not knowing about this at the first years of listening, it was the piano riff I noticed. Nick Rhodes was integral to the early Duran Duran sound, using synths in a very different way to other bands. It's clearest on the Duran splinter group Arcadia's album 'So Red the Rose' where he goes gale force 9 with the pads and effects - crafted ones - perfectly weighted ones. He came to the forefront again on the 'Liberty' album and silenced those critics who said he used to just stand around on stage, twiddling knobs. On Sin of the City he produces a chord sequence like no other I've heard. Epic.
(64) No Rain - Blind Melon
This is exactly how I felt in the late summer of 1993. I feel so sad when I hear this song now, especially as lead singer Shannon Hoon died of a drug overdose in 1995. Like another song higher up this list, you can't help feeling that there was a lot of pain in what he was singing and that only serves to turn up the power of the lyric.
'And all I can do is read a book to stay awake
And it rips my life away, but it's a great escape'
These days it's X-box and TikTok.
(63) Black Coffee - All Saints
I might have mentioned this already but there was a peak in the quality of music videos in the early 2000s. The video for this song turns the lyrics up to 11 and it becomes very clear what it's about. It's not the romantic song you think it is, that's for sure. I loved the production on this and 'Pure Shores' - I think the same producer worked on Madonna's 'Frozen'. If they didn't then someone needs to sue someone. Unlike Bananarama, who all sang the same note most of the time, All Saints were able to sing four different parts and melt their voices together into a wonderful tub of ice cream for your ears. It's pure joy.
(62) She sells sanctuary - The Cult
This has everything that Simple Minds' 'Sanctify Yourself' has but it also has a stronger hook and a singer who wants everyone to know that the heads that turn make his back burn. It's a hurricane of a song and you're swept up in it along with the cows, cars and plastic bags.
(61) I can't stand it - Twenty 4 Seven
Here's something unexpected and something you've probably never heard. There are a few versions of this and the radio cut that I first heard is nowhere to be seen on Spotify. If you listen to the spotify version, you'll lose all respect for me and give up on the list. I assure you though that the Bruce Forest remix, which was the one radio stations played, is the one with the synth hook and tumble piano in the chorus which is what makes the song so enjoyable to listen to. I'll find it on YouTube somewhere so check out that version in the playlist above.
Twenty 4 Seven were a foursome who strutted around on stage taking turns to rap and sing. When their song 'Are you Dreaming' was out, I had a friend at school who, every time I saw her for an entire week, we'd rap the chorus together, impromptu, without agreeing to do so before hand. It was weird but going 'Dreaming can be very nice, sometimes hot sometimes ice cold, but they're so real, nightmares can make you feel like jumping up and running away sometimes, dreams are just like people, human beings, fantasies are dreams' was one of the best in-jokes I've ever shared with anyone. It's weird that I can remember that from 30 odd years ago but I can't remember what I went into the kitchen for twenty mintes ago.
(60) In the air tonight - Phil Collins
Don't underestimate the simplicity of this song. It's actually quite complicated. The initial percussion rhythm was programmed into a (new at the time) drum machine with loads of processing to give it that ethereal, twilight on the moors type feel. It makes you feel like it actually is coming in the air tonight. That drum fill in the middle is iconic for a reason. Bit overdone now I think but pretend you're hearing it for the first time and it gets you right there. Phil Collins is one of the greatest songwriters of our time and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone up to his standard who's had a hit in the last 20 years.
(59) Phantom Bride - Erasure
Above all else, the album that this song comes from, 'The Innocents', is one the best sounding albums you'll ever hear. The production on it is so clear, the instruments so crystaline, the vocals so pure and the quality of songs so good, it comes as close to a masterpeice as you can get for a pop album. Phantom Bride is everything good about the album in one song.
(58) Just one smile - Gene Pitney
What strikes me most about songs from the 60s and 70s is how singers, musicians and performers were there on merit. Whatever they looked like - they weren't taking selfies and dressing in Gucci and flaunting their wealth in vulgar ways (see Instagram circa 2019). Singers could sing, and most had voices so unique you knew who it was immediately. I was listening to the radio the other day, trying to pick something out from the 'songs of today' that I could at least tap my foot to. I couldn't discern any voice as unique. Everything was lost in the mix and so layered with effects and digital stupidity, I didn't know what was going on.
Gene Pitney had one of the most unique voices of the 60s. Along with Roy Orbison, any song he sang became something more than the tune, the words, the structure. I know this list seems to be filled with heavy songs - heartbreaking songs - but they're the ones that hit you the hardest. Just one Smile is just that, heartbreaking.
(57) Advice for the young at heart - Tears for Fears
'Love is a promise, love is a souvenir - once given, never forgotten, never let it disappear.'
The third single from Tears for Fears' masterpeice 'The Seeds of Love'. It's about when you're young, you want to be an adult and when you're finally an adult, wanting to be a child again. This song was co-written by Nicky Holland (who sang 'Nobody's girl' above), and absolutely came from a place of truth.
'Soon we will be older. When are we going to make it work?'
I feel like that all the time.
(56) The Man with the child in his eyes - Kate Bush
Apart from the horrendous single cover, this is a song of real quality. Apparently she wrote it when she was 13. I was still playing Karate Kid in the back street at 13. It won an Ivor Novello for it's outstanding lyrics. The piano part is full of every characteristic you find in a Rachmaninov. In fact, you could probably sprinkle Kate Bush songs all over the top 100 best ever and none would seem out of place.
(55) Who's that girl - Madonna
I'm probably in the minority of one here but this is pristene pop perfection. Even when Madonna wasn't at the top of her game in the 80s, she was still head and shoulders above most of her peers. It's bright and optimistic and thankfully, doesn't bring the awful movie it was from to mind too much.
(54) Sand in my shoes - Dido
Not convinced by Dido's vocal delivery if I'm honest. At least it's unique and not like all those clones you used to get on X-factor singing the same Whitney Houston song with too many notes per word. Sand in my Shoes is about meeting someone on holiday, getting home to your humdrum life and not knowing if you want to see that person again because you like them or beacause the memory of them is synonymous with the sun, sea and sand escape from real life. It's wonderfully written and delivered and has lots of those nice musical hooks. It's a shame that songs like this get lost in the ether and dissappear a few months after they were released. Actually, around the end of the 2000s I was worried Rihanna songs were going to be circulated for the next 20 years but thankfully, they all dissappeared and were forgotten too. Especially that godawful Umbrella song. Um... what was I talking about again...
(53) Land of Make Believe - Bucks Fizz
Bucks Fizz won Eurovision and whilst the gamble was taken to offer them a recording contract based on that one performance, it paid off massively. A string of great songs followed and this went all the way to number 1 in 1982. You forget the ABBA comparisons because they became a group in their own right and this song is right up the street of a 7 year old, which is the age I was when I first heard it. They're on about ghosts and superman and imaginary friends. Inspired.
(52) Criticize - Alexander O'Neal
One of the greatest vocalists of all time. Rolling Stone will only ever go with the cliche choices of Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Beyonce because they're good in their own right but they'd all struggle to outdo Alex in his prime. The 'Hearsay' album is one I'd take to a desert island without hesitation. 'Sunshine' is my favourite song on the album but Criticize is so well written. The bass, the drum sound, Alex singing with very little effort. I first heard this song at a school disco and went out to buy the album that weekend. I've been listening ever since.
(51) Home - Erasure
Oh Erasure. How on earth can you take your uplifting twinkly positivity and turn out a dark, brooding, atmospheric, disturbing and inspiring song using instruments that 'have no soul'. Vince Clarke reaches his Zenith on this album and Andy Bell achieves a clarity in his vocals which rivaled any of his contemporaries. This song takes you out of yourself and it's the sort that you can attach quite powerful associations and memories with. Stunning with a captial S.
(50) In your eyes - Peter Gabriel
This is how you do lyrics. "So much wasted, and the moment keeps slipping away". Peter Gabriel must have come from money because he wasn't afraid to do music his way. However extreme or weird, dressing up as a flower or writing avante garde whistling medleys, he didn't stick to a safe commercial path. One of his albums was dropped by his record company just before releasing it (only for them to try and buy it back after the first single went top ten)! However, when he's gone straight down the middle with a conventional stab at pop music, it's been brilliant.
'In your eyes' ticks all the boxes for a love song. And some more boxes that aren't on the list.
(49) Sweetness follows - REM
This is quite a scary song. Depressing and too realistic - borne of 'Everybody hurts' but a little more cryptic, it squeezes your soul and pulls out all your ventricles. 'Lost in our little lives' and 'live your life with joy and thunder' are simple lyrics but so so so effective in context with the moody drawl of the strings. It's just a dark masterpeice, that's all.
(48) Sleeping Sattelite - Tasmin Archer
This song came from nowhere. In fact, one of my mates rang me to tell me to listen to it when it first came out - he loved it so much. I had to just leave the radio on all day to hear it - such was the lack of streaming back then. As soon as it came on I knew it was the one I was waiting for. It glitters from the first note to the last. I bought the album. I loved the album. I still listen to it now. 'Arianne' and 'Halfway to Heaven' should have been top 10 hits too. It's a song that'll be played on radio right up until the universe explodes. And probably after that too.
(47) Ordinary world - Duran Duran
What a glorious comeback single for my one-time favourite band. They were my everything in 1993 and although I'd loved their previous effort 'Liberty', the fans and the radio didn't. They'd lost two members and their 'way' until this perfect peice of emotionally stirring mixture of pop and soul came along. Of course I bought CD1 and CD2 (a tactic bands used to sell more singles by sticking lots of bonus tracks on each CD) with a slightly different mix of the song and an acoustic version on CD2. I used to support bands the way I supported football. I always wanted the bands I liked to get to number 1 and checked the charts methodically when they were published every Sunday. I was desperate for this to get to number 1 (They'd been there twice before) but it wasn't to be. They had to settle for number 6 (a crime) but they did manage one place higher with 'Reach up for the sunrise' in 2004. That's the last we'll see of the Durans in the charts though. In fact, I've got more chance of getting in the charts than Duran Duran have these days.
(46) Knowing Me, Knowing You - Abba
If you've done any level of songwriting, you'll know why this is one of the greatest songs ever written. On the surface, it's the totally 70s production, especially on the twinkling detuned piano and weird reverb at the start. Then it's the evocative lyrics and the harmonies - then, under all that is the simple melody of the verse which flips into that almost angry bridge and chorus. As long as you don't think about Alan Partridge, you'll know what I mean. Abba are after all, the gold standard of pop songwriting.
(45) Please Push no more - Gary Numan
Did you ever think Gary Numan's cold emotionless voice could break your heart? This is a song which gives you chills but not in the android sense, in the actual 'wow, someone did a number on this fella' way. It's the way he sings 'So that was love?' in a way I think we've all felt at one time. There's such heart in this song that the synth wailing in the instrumental bits sound every bit in place. The album as a whole is probably Numan's best and this song dots the T's and crosses the I's.
(44) What's up - Four Non Blondes
This song was out at such an exciting time for music; American music really. It was all kicking off in 1993 and this was one of the songs which led the way - with Spin Doctors and Blind Melon following. 25 years and my life is still trying to get up that great big hill of hope. I was 18 at the time but I knew what they meant - and knew even more by the time I was nearly 19. I said Hey-ey-ey-yey-yeh, I said Hey, What's going on???? I'm still not sure.
(43) The way I are - Timbaland (Ft. Keri Hilson)
Timbaland almost saved popular music for a moment there in 2007. He almost launched Keri Hilson's career too. He definitely helped One Republic have a career and he nearly had a big chart career of his own. Despite all these nearlys and almosts, this song borrowed a lot from Salt 'n Pepa's song 'Push it', dragged it into whatever the prevailing wind was at the end of the 00's and came up with something catchy, fresh and infectious. I still get happy these days whenever it pops into my ears unannouced. It's almost feminist, sort of too.
(42) True Love Ways - Buddy Holly
I can't get over how fresh and clean this sounds despite it being recorded in the 50s. 1958 to be precise, four months before his untimely death. It's got a lot to do with the gospel song 'I'll be alright' which was played at Holly's funeral. Though I can't find a source to say otherwise, the beginning of the song features studio talk; the engineer telling people to be quiet and the piano player to give Buddy his starting note - it sounds like it's all recorded in one take, live. Couldn't possibly be though could it? It makes you wonder what he would have been capable of in later days - but it's like that with all hugely talented people who are taken too soon; their legend grows bigger than they ever were. Sometimes, that's deserved though.
(41) Martha's Harbour - All About Eve
Some songs don't sound like they were written by humans. It sounds like they were passed down through generations, having been born before humanity like they were part of the evolution of the planet. That might be going a little over the top, but this song is so well written, beautifully crafted, so visual and teeming with metaphors (not obvious cliched ones either) that it couldn't have just been three people in a room, making stuff up. Its a song that connects with your soul, and those are the ones that stay inside.
(40) Time after time - Cindy Lauper
At the time it was a completely unexpected gambit from Cyndi to release such a slow burner of a song. She was meant to be weird and loud and quirky and weird. This was mature and heartfelt and sincere. It shouldn't have worked. It should have been Tina Turner or Alison Moyet really, but once the confusion wore off, you couldn't imagine anyone else singing this. It's just brilliant.
(39) The sun always shines on TV - A-Ha
Epic! Or at least it was when that word meant epic, before the Americans started overusing words like Awesome so they lost their meaning. This song is so full of drama, it must have been written in several different sessions. You don't write an intro like that and then follow it up with an actual body of a song which is even better. Morten Harket's vocal is one of the best you'll hear on an 80s single and the way the last minute builds to the high note and eventually, the low piano note leaves you out of breath and not able to listen to anything else for at least a couple of hours.
(38) Temptation - The Everly Brothers
This is one of those noisy 60's tracks with all that church hall reverb and it still sounds better than most stuff recorded these days on little digital boxes does. It was originally written in 1933 and recorded by Bing Crosby. It's a perfect vehicle for the brothers' harmonising and the 'yay, yay, yeah-yow' intro is hooky and brilliant. Real singers, real instruments, real songs.
(37) Anytime you need a friend - Mariah Carey
There's some debate about who the greatest vocalist of all time is and Mariah (Pre-2001) was always there or thereabouts that argument. She gives it her full range on her second album 'Emotion', something I can't recall any other artist doing before her. Not that any other artist has as big a range as her anyway - she did it in a natural way and not in a 'see how high I can sing!' way. 'Any time you need a friend' is a masterpeice of gospel and soul. Her voice never sounded so pure and engaging and the vocal acrobatics (which are a little annoying at times on her later stuff) are perfectly weighted. You listen in a state of awe; bone chilling awe. Wonderful.
(36) Show me heaven - Maria McKee
Some singers don't know how to perform. They do the notes ok but they don't quite understand the words or what the song is about so they just do the whole 'la la la' thing. Maria McKee demonstrates how to perform a song on this track. She changes her voice to suit the mood, the message and the tone. She begins softly and then hits you in the face with a 'I'm not denying'. Remember when films had songs? Songs you could say 'that's from that film' about? When was the last time a song was in a film, specifically written for that film? Anyway, this is a brilliant song by someone who mysteriously didn't have another hit - apart from 'I'm gonna soothe you', which got to number 35 three years later. Nope, me neither.
(35) If I could change your mind - Haim
You don't know this song. Nobody does and I'm sad about that. Haim had a brilliant first album, a brillianter second album and then an album which is probably one of the worst ever released by anyone ever as a third album. Two of them got to number 1 and one got to number 2. They got so much hate at the Brit Awards for winning best international group because people were like 'I've never heard of them' or 'they don't look like pop stars' or whatever. Their songs are fresh and interesting. Their voices are quirky and bubbly and 'If I could change your mind' is a first-listen classic. If you get a chance, listen to 'The Wire', 'Save me' and 'Days are gone' too. You'll thank me. Twice.
(34) I still haven't found what I'm looking for - U2
I probably don't even need to say anything about this. It's a gospel song about faith, or trying to have faith in a world that tests it to the full. The version they did on Rattle and Hum is probably the definitive one but that wouldn't have been commercial enough to chart (maybe). One of the greatest songs of all time on one of the greatest albums of all time by one of the greatest rock bands of all time - and you'd be pretty hard pressed to disagree with any of those statements however much you hate U2.
(33) I'm with you - Avril Lavigne
This was as unexpected a release from Avril as 'Time after Time' had been for Cyndi. 'Complicated' was a great debut but she was pratting around in a shopping centre on a go-kart so it didn't give me a great deal of hope for her second single. And I was correct - Sk8er Boi was awful. I thought that that was that for the angry JoJo but knock me out with a teaspoon if the first time I heard 'I'm with you' I was like 'Noooooo'. Superb in every sense of the word. I've probably listened to this at least twenty times a year, every year since 2003. It made me buy the album - and what an album it is. The second album was even better. 'Losing grip', 'Don't tell me' and 'My Happy Ending' are almost a soundtrack to my 2004.
(32) I don't care - Shakespears Sister
Obsessed isn't the word. It felt to me like nobody 'got' Shakespears Sister. I hate that 'Stay' is the only song people know and like by them when their grasp on songwriting was as strong as anybodies, they just didn't want to bow to the record execs who wanted trashy throw-away pop like what Bananarama did - the reason Siobhan Fahey left them in the first place to stamp her own personality on the music. It was such a shame she never really embraced Marcella as a true partner in music. They were sort of thrown together - but let's be honest, she wouldn't have made it without her. 'Run Silent' is an amazing song, too lightweight for the record buying public at the time but 'You're History' broke them into the chart and grew them a fanbase. I specifically went to Our Price when 'Hormonally Yours' came out to listen to the album on one of those 'stations' where you put the headphones on and press the button. 'I don't care' came on and didn't leave my consciousness since. I love the poem in the middle, Siobhan is the only person with such a sarcastic and dark demeanour enough to read one out in the middle of a pop song. Marcella providing the sugary antidote to Siobhan's deep gravelled tones. Brilliant. As is the video.
(31) We don't have to take our clothes off - Jermaine Stewart
There's part of your soul missing if this song doesn't get you up and gyrating across the room. It's so full of joy - it's infectious and I'm baffled how music and songs can sound like this but people just don't want to write them any more. It's like they all came out in the mid-80s and then they were made illegal. None the wonder why there's radio stations dedicated to 80s music now. For this song alone, Jermaine needs his own plaque in his own room on his own floor of the music hall of fame.
(30) Toy soldiers - Martika
This song was talked up by Rick Dees before I'd heard it as a song about drug addiction. Not being of the age where song lyrics ever meant much more than just a way to get a good tune into the world, it was probably a good job he said that - other wise I'd probably have just thought the song was about some carved wooden nutcrackers. I think one of the worst things she ever did was to get involved with Prince. Or maybe she wouldn't have had any more hits without him - who can say.
(29) I don't want to talk about it - Rod Stewart/Everything but the girl
In a true golden age for popular music, summer 1988, this was played on the radio. I can imagine when young'uns hear a cover version on the radio these days (someone had the audacity to add a dance beat to Tracy Chapman's 'Fast Car' last year), they think it's a brand new song and it becomes their definitive version. Even if you play them the original, the classic version, the best version - they don't get it and why should they? When I heard this, I loved it and it's always going to be the best version. Secretly, Rod Stewart's version is better but don't tell anyone.
(28) Hand on your heart - Kylie Minogue
If you look at the songs written and produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, it will blow your mind. It's true that a lot of the top 10 hits they had towards the end of their reign sounded spookily similar, however, there are some bona fide classics in their back catalogue. However throwaway you think 'Hand on your heart' is, it's got everything and the lyrics really do hit the right emotional spot. Like a lot of the songs I've chosen, it just lifts you from wherever you are to somewhere a lot higher.
(27) Broken Strings - James Morrisson ft. Nelly Furtado
I'd all but given up on the charts in 2008 until this gem came along. Stuff worth listening to is still out there if you can be bothered to unearth it amongst the vacuous wailings of people who look better than they sound. This is one of the all-time greatest songs for the simple fact it's got heart, a great melody and a true build at the end with all the dramatic qualities you get from any Wagner or Bach peice.
(26) Buffalo stance - Neneh Cherry
Nenah Cherry wasn't a very good pop star. Not in my opinion anyway. She always looked a bit awkward and not very polished or believable, actually. This was a very well crafted song however and her pseudo-rapping suited it (it didn't quite work on anything else she did however). I think it's the backing track that I like most about it - a very good choice of sounds! Well done to the production staff on this one.
(25) Groove is in the heart - Deelite
I know this is mainly samples and weirdness but the talent to put something like this together shouldn't be underestimated. The whole thing sounded like a riot to record and write. There's charisma and coolness all over the record and it's so full of interesting moments you can't help but put it on again and hear something different next time.
(24) Nothing compares 2 U - Sinead O'Connor
Quite often, songs Prince wrote that were covered by other people were often better than the version Prince recorded. Manic Monday, I feel for you and Nothing Compares 2 U to name a few. Sinead pitches the emotion required to bring this to life perfectly. Prince wasn't able to do that, strangely. Like I mentioned before, there's such a difference between singing a song and peforming it. Giving real emphasis to what she's saying is integral to how good this song is - the wrong singer turns this into a flat dull ballad - Sinead breathes life where maybe there wouldn't have been any?
(23) Mad World - Tears for Fears
A better song which sums up isolation, self doubt, alienation and being unable to meld with the social environment is yet to be written. The greatness of this song lies in its simplicity. It's 4-chord verse with stark ghost-like synths provide the perfect backdrop for Curt Smith's fragile delivery. 'The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I ever had', he sings. Bleak. The bit I identified with in 1982 was 'Teacher tell me what's my lesson, look right through me'. Don't watch the video though, Roland's dancing by the lake takes you out of the dark emotive journey of the song into a 'what is actually going on with his fingerless gloves?'
(22) Live to tell - Madonna
This isn't so much a song as a peice of classical music with pop sensibilities. As with lots of other Madonna songs at the time, it was from a movie I didn't watch but it made an ideal soundtrack for any romantic drama. There's a bit in the middle where it slows right down to the point of stopping - then dives straight back in. Dramatic and atmospheric at the same time.
(21) In my life - The Beatles
Little commentary needed here. Everything John Lennon says in this song is absolutely true for him and probably for anyone who listens to the song. I think we've all met people we never thought we'd lose touch with; one day we saw them for the last time for whatever reason and it's not really until a few years later you realise how much of a positive influence they were on your life. I think John Lennon must have had a lot of regrets, even at that young age - a lot of affection for his childhood and formative years at least. This song often finds itself at the top of 'greatest songs ever written' lists in Mojo and Rolling Stone. It's at 21 here because there are 20 better than it... starting with...
(20) Sweet Illusion - Junior Cambell
Probably the best song of the 70s. It's got a real Motown vibe and bright orchestral arrangement which gives it the drive but Campbell's vocals are everything here. There's something about the arrangement which takes it above a lot of songs that came before it that had the same essence. I'm not sure what it is but it works for me.
(19) I don't want to be around - Curt Smith
Not everyone's cup of tea this. Probably nobody's cup of tea to be frank but when Curt Smith went solo in the early 90s, he released an album called 'Soul on Board' because his contract said he had to, but he dismissed it immediately and it didn't sell well - but I loved it - still do. Then he went quiet for about 10 years and started releasing music on his own label. Playing intimate gigs in his native New York, his band decided to record some of the songs they'd written and stick them out on his MySpace 0r whatever he was using in 2002. Luckily, I managed to get a copy on eBay and loved every last second of it. 'Mother England' is a highlight with 'Snow Hill' and 'Sorry Town' also brilliant tracks. 'I don't want to be around' is a slow burner but once you get into the big 'chorus' (which isn't really a chorus, it's more of a bigger louder verse) it sweeps you along - made all the better by the abstract lyrics. Superb.
(18) One Day - The Verve
'Urban Hymns' was one of those albums that defined a moment in time. Late 1997, the British pop landscape had been sculpted by guitar bands from Manchester (well, over that way anyway) and The Verve just happened to release Bitter Sweet Symphony at a time when people were rediscovering The Smiths and missing the time when Oasis were new and 'fresh' (which lasted about 6 months for me before everything they did either sounded like a parody of something already released in the 70s or a parody of themselves). How a song like 'The Drugs Don't Work' got to number one, I'll never know. It's brilliant but it's shockingly depressing and has no uplifting qualities in either it's tone or music at all. Emo was here to stay for 8 months before bubblegum pop came back round to dominate the top 10. However commercial the singles were (count 'Lucky Man' in that trio), 'One Day' is so much more than the combination of everything else on the album. Now, this was an album like they were meant to be. Everything ran together like an opera and each theme, mood and atmospheric guitar swirl was perfectly crafted to take you on a trip into your own insecurities and make you question all the choices you'd ever made. 'One Day' stands apart though - totally part of the album's tapestry but even on it's own, it's a love song to someone who has gone forever like you've never heard. It crawls inside you, hurts you from the inside and stays there for 24 years - so far.
(17) Like a prayer - Madonna
Exhibit A. How to write a pop song. Another gospel song in my top 100, it also feeds off 'Live to Tell' with the empty vocal-only sections then jumps back into the dance-rhythm backed pop song. The vocal layering and harmonies are second to none and whatever you think of Madonna as a vocalist, she'd absolutely honed her craft by the 'Like a Prayer' album (before going off and being weird for about 7 years). For someone known as a pop vocalist, she's got an incredible range - see 'I'll remember' and 'Frozen' as examples.
(16) Stay on these roads - A-Ha
Morten Harket's vocals sound good whatever he's doing. This song however was absolutely the vehicle for his voice - all three members are credited with writing the song so I'd like to think Morten just turned up one day and started wailing away only for the other two to build the song around him. As a love song, it's beautiful. He sings 'Stay on these roads, we shall meet - winter's gone, I'm on my own'. However you want to interpret the lyrics, it's like you'll meet 'the one' one day, or, the one that got away will come back to you, in a fate driven narrative. Either way, it's another one of those absolute heartbreakers with hope instead of unrequited what-nots.
(15) Solsbury Hill - Peter Gabriel
Another one that speaks for itself. The structure of the song is so unusual that it keeps you interested throughout, the lyrics are sometimes abstract and sometimes so literal, you can't help thinking about what he must have felt like as part of Genesis, who were breaking through when he decided it wasn't for him and regardless of whether he could make it as a solo artist, he was going to do it anyway. Brave or stupid, if you had this song in your locker, of course you'd take the risk.
(14) Are Friends Electric - Tubeway Army
This song was a happy accident. Musically, it doesn't work on paper but the clashing keys and odd lyrics about robots being 'friends' somehow captured a public imagination who were absolutely not ready for this bloke. And he upset the industry and the press in the process. He wasn't seen as someone who had worked for his success, he just turned up one day and started having number 1 hits at the expense of the more glamourous artists of the time. That's what's always been wrong with the music industry and why so many talented artists don't survive. It's like cousins marrying. Eventually, the charts is full of music with three chins and no eyebrows.
(13) Drowning Man - U2
This song absolutely chills me to the bone. It's in a similar vein to Solsbury Hill with its odd meter and Bono's voice has never sounded so raw and full of legitimate emotion - maybe on 'One' but here, when he sings 'Hold on, hold on tightly to this love' and then the beautiful string section comes in it sounds so different to normal pop music, you're in danger of forgetting it's even a song or music you're listening to, you become such a part of what's happening. You just have to let yourself be swept up in it and enjoy everything that's happening. How four 22-year-olds could have produced this peice of music (they had a producer as well I suppose) baffles me to this day. It's an unbelievable track - and that's saying a lot when the album also had 'Like a Song' on it.
(12) Broken Wings - Mister Mister
There's a lot more here than you notice on face value. The bass line at the start really sets the mood and by the time the lyrics come in, the shivers are already creeping up your spine. Granted, the lyrics aren't the most profound, bordering on teenage diary poet, but they're delivered with such passion and commitment, you almost don't notice. I think it might have been influenced by The Beatle's 'Blackbird' but don't quote me on that.
(11) One - U2
No apologies for the amount of U2 songs in the top 100 - they're just that good at writing songs. 'One' is undoubtedly an all time classic and made all the better by the mythology of it being the song they wrote when they were at their wits end with each other and the fact the writing of their new album wasn't going to plan at all. By all accounts, this was the one that made them all understand their places in the band, that they were one, but they weren't the same and that was ok. The lyrics are some of the best you'll hear in a pop song - in fact, the lyrics on the parent album 'Achtung Baby' are some of the best you'll hear. 'Until the End of the World' and 'Ultraviolet' are the highlights. Even live, they, nor anyone else has ever been able to capture the moment they put down on celluloid - this is an absolute masterpeice from the drumming, the guitar layers and the emotional outpourings in Bono's voice, it's just head and shoulders above anything you would have heard in a pop chart 20 years either side of it.
(10) Human Racing - Nik Kershaw
I loved 'I won't let the sun go down on me' because of the 'old men in stripy trousers' line. Beyond that, I didn't take any notice of Nik Kershaw until I was listening to one of the 'Now that's what I call music' albums and this song was the very last track. It was so odd. It didn't sound at all like a single and I'm pretty sure it didn't catch anybodies attention at the time - not in a mainstream way anyway. The lyrics get better with age - especially when you realise the world isn't full of possibilities.
(9) Yesterday - The Beatles
It's simple and really separated Paul McCartney as the leading member of the Beatles. John Lennon wrote some amazing stuff but it was all a bit too messy, arty and abstract for me at times. McCartney wrote accessible songs, ones you could play yourself on the guitar or piano. 'Yesterday' is such a raw song because we can all relate to it and that makes it heartbreaking and brilliant at the same time. It'll never age either.
(8) True Colours - Cindy Lauper
This was 'Yesterday' of the 80s. Sorrowful, deep and full of truth - Cyndi's voice didn't sound right at the time but you can't imagine anyone else singing it now. Her vocal has such a vulnerability in it, you feel every word, every note. A masterpeice in every sense.
(7) These are the days of our lives - Queen
Whilst the pictures painted by this song would have been sad enough, topped with a hint of morality about being in the moment - the untimely death of Freddie Mercury made this song even more poignant. You can't help but imagine him writing these words as he tried to come to terms with his diagnosis, saying thank you for such a life and the chance to live the way he did. It's a song which makes you re-evaluate your own situation too, in a good way. It's not one you can listen to too often though, unless you want to dehydrate yourself through your eye holes.
(6) The Working Hour - Tears for Fears
When you get into the top six of any list, you expect perfection. And that's what we have right here. Roland Orzabal is my favourite ever songwriter but he was given plenty of help with this one. The drum rhythms are all Manny Elias, the piano motifs are all Ian Stanley but the lyrics and vocal arrangements are classic Orzabal. Duran Duran's uniqueness came from the fact you could pick out every instrument, like each of the five had really taken time to write their parts and blend them together so nobody got pushed backwards, they worked as a unit - remove one and it just wasn't the same. This is what happened here - everyone has a moment. William Gregory (founding member of Goldfrapp) plays sax on this and elevates what would probably have been a 9/10 song to a 11/10 song. The production on the parent album 'Songs from the Big Chair' is some of the best I've ever heard - especially the brightness and roomyness of the synths. I could go on for days about this song but just give it a listen and you'll be an instant fan too.
(5) Dignity - Deacon Blue
What's going on here is how to write a pop lyric with meaning, metaphors, psychology, emotion and empathy. It's one of those lyrics you take with you into the rest of your life. It's about a guy who works as a street sweeper (you don't see them any more, with their little metal carts and brooms do you?) and he's happy. What the white collar people in their Mercedes'es forget is that even though they think they're the important people making all the big decisions, society comes to a complete halt without the street sweepers, the shop workers and the care assitants. It's a commentary on how the people on the lowest wages are sometimes the happiest. The guy in the song saves his money for years to buy a small boat and go sailing on his holidays. That one week where he can live out a lifelong dream - Working for something and achieving it instead of inheriting the money and not appreciating anything you have. He has his dignity and that is what separates this song from the pack. However, there's four better...
(4) Silver Blue - Roxette
It's a real head-scratcher how this was left on an album and never released as a single. It's awful to say but Per Gessel ruins it a bit by singing - but by that token it just makes you realise what a fantastic vocalist Marie Fredriksson was. When she comes in on the second verse, shivers shoot up and down you like a cold shower. Again, the production is the key here, listen to those ethereal backing vocals and wonderful fretless bass. An easy choice for the top 5.
(3) Bedshaped - Keane
I couldn't believe what I was hearing when I first heard this. It was the video really that kept me listening. By 2004 I'd all but stopped checking the chart to see who was number 1 and what the new releases sounded like. I still watched VH1 in the background when doing something else and this stopped me doing whatever I was doing. It sings. The whole song sings. I bought the album and the next four after that but the closest they ever came again was 'Bad Dream' - still not in this ballpark though. It's one of those songs a songwriter would clap their hands over and go 'That's it - my work is done. Time to find another hobby'. What a song and I mean WHAT A SONG.
(2) Dancing Queen - Abba
I think I might have used this analogy before but if you were teaching songwriting, structure, harmonies and production all at the same time - this is the song to use as a perfect example of all. The piano motif has been copied endlessly, the way the chorus comes in full power at the beginning, the harmonies between the Abbettes was always superb but on this single they really hit. This is as close to perfection as a song will ever get I think. Apart from...
(1) Famous last words - Tears for Fears
Words will never do justice to this song. It's power is in the structure. It starts mutedly and builds to this wonderful full middle section before dropping back into a delicate and emotionally charged outro. Roland Orzabal never wanted to sing this song - he didn't think his voice suited it and it's that insecurity which brings the vocal to life. It's mainly about an old couple who met and lived through the war and they're facing the end of their long lives. It's another tear-jerker I'm afraid and you'll be exhaused by the end if you listen to my top 10 in a row. 'All our love and all of our pain, will be but a tune - hand in hand, we'll do and die, listening to the band that made us cry, we'll have nothing to lose, we'll have nothing to gain, just to stay in this real life situation for one last refrain'.
As the day hits the night
We will sit by candle light
We will laugh, we will sing
As the saints go marching in
And we will carry war, no more...
Best. Song. Ever.
Do you agree or disagree with anything in the list? Leave a comment below or tell me your top 100! I'll be posting my 'best singles of 1982' soon so follow me on Facebook for notification of that going up and other stuff that's happening!