The Rest of the Best 500 Songs (According to the American Rolling Stone): A Bildungsroman in about a Hundred Short Chapters

Doing a bit of research for my previous and upcoming "Ten Great Songs from..." posts, I encountered the fact that Rolling Stone magazine once compiled a list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Looking through it, I was surprised to find that there are an awful lot of songs on it that I don't know, or only sort-of know or maybe know. So, I'll go through the list and document it in this post, which will be updated as I go along. (This will take anywhere between a few hours and a few weeks.)

There are three kinds of songs below: Songs I think I've heard but have no clear recollection of (or am not sure they are the songs I think they are) ("*"), the majority of songs I'm fairly sure I don't know ("**") and cases in which I don't even know the artist(s) ("***").

The Deezer playlist for ranks 500-451 is here. If the comments below start with something in italics, that's what I wrote before listening.

Rainy Night in Georgia, Brook Benton***
Soulless radio soul.

495. Shop Around, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles**
A rather charming 1960s r&b ditty which would sound good on almost any compilation tape.

494. Desperado, The Eagles*
Due to circumstances I prefer not to disclose, I even own an Eagles compilation, but I haven't looked whether this one's on it. Well, it's the Eagles.

492. Running on Empty, Jackson Browne**
I seem to remember that around 1987 there was an infinite amount of compilation LPs on the German market that had "Morning Has Broken" and "The Year of the Cat" and "The Streets of London" on them. This song would have made nice filler on those. Well, maybe it did.

488. Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win), Fleetwood Mac**
Boring. It's not even properly crap.

482. I'm Eighteen, Alice Cooper**
This surprisingly unhardrockish recording is charming in a trashy way. Must give it another listen later on.

480. Into the Mystic, Van Morrison**
Lalala . . . horn blows . . . la . . . I'm such a sensitive soul . . . lala . . .

474. One Nation Under a Groove, Funkadelic*
This is very agreeable background music, but ultimately unimpressive: This is the great classic of funk music? Maybe it was revolutionary back then and sounded very different to 1978 ears. Call it the Sgt. Pepper's effect.

473. Do Right Woman, Do Right Man, Aretha Franklin**
Could be used as the music for a café latte commercial.

471. On the Road Again, Willie Nelson**
Are you serious?

470. Free Man in Paris, Joni Mitchell**
This is a professionally composed and arranged song, but I'm sure I'm not a member of the target audience and her voice reminds me of Joan Baez's.

469. It's Too Late, Carole King**
This song lives in the same neighbourhood as "Free Man in Paris", but I like it much better. Has a grown-up, affable feel to it.

465. Surrender, Cheap Trick**
Awful . . . Crap . . . This is just . . . wrong!

459. Rollin' Stone, Muddy Waters**
Pretty much what you'd expect from a Muddy Waters song: Boring blues with an electric guitar.

458. Soul Man, Sam and Dave*
I know the Lou Reed/Someone version from the 80s, of course. But do I know the Sam and Dave version? Yup, and the other one's clearly better, if only because Lou Reed can't sing.

The playlist for ranks 450-401 is here.

450. By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Glen Campbell***
Awful kitsch.

446. Pressure Drop, Toot and the Maytals*
I know the Clash's version, is this the original? It sure sounds like it, and it's very good. One of the few reggae songs to go into my "really like" folder.

442. Keep a Knockin', Little Richard**
The usual controlled wildness from Little Richard. Why not?

441. Come Go With Me, The Del-Vikings*
If it's what I think it is, then it's a very good doo-wop/r&b recording. Yup, it's the one. Highly recommended.

439. Pink Houses, John Cougar Mellencamp**
This man's carreer highlight was when he produced Nationalgalerie's "Evelin".

436. Alone Again Or, Love**
Can't listen to this one. Literally, I mean.

433. Ramble On, Led Zeppelin*
Not available on Deezer, but look: It's on II (of "Whole Lotta Love" fame), which I actually own! Taking a break first, though. Composed and arranged for maximum effect, this is definitely a song you'll like if (or when) the Zeppelin aesthetics appeal to you at all.

432. Midnight Train to Georgia, Gladys Knight and the Pips**

429. Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, Solomon Burke*
Is this the song known from Blues Brothers, the one that goes "I need you, you, you"? Yes, it is. And the fact that it was in the film shouldn't distract us from the fact that this is actually a very, very good soul song

428. Devil With a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels**
Okay, I guess.

420. It's Your Thing, The Isley Brothers**
If I remember correctly, a friend of mine once characterized Hamburg's Roschinskis (sp?) as the kind of place where the DJs try to impress the girls by owning record with trumpets on them. Was reminded of that while listening to this rather dour affair.

419. Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang, Dr. Dre*
Contrary to less and less popular belief, not every rap song sounds the same. You could be forgiven for thinking so when listening to this, though.

418. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Crosby, Stills and Nash**
"I've got an answer: I'm going to fly away." The best thing that can be said about this song is that it's nicely placed between "Nuthin But a 'G' Thang" and "Fuck tha Police".

417. Fuck tha Police, N.W.A.*
Survey data tend to show that inhabitants of disadvantaged African American neighbourhoods are disappointed with the police because they provide too little protection from the thugs, not because they're performing genocide as N.W.A. suggest.

414. Young Blood, The Coasters*
Oh yes, of course I know this early r&b song. A much better contribution to African American music than #417.

413. The Girl Can't Help It, Little Richard**
Standard rock'n'roll fare.

412. Ode to Billie Joe, Bobbie Gentry**
A story to tell and an acoustic guitar isn't quite enough. Too long.

408. Sweet Emotion, Aerosmith**
Has a certain cruising down the main street after having fucked the prom queen last night feel to it. Wouldn't make my Top 500, but I see the point.

405. We've Only Just Begun, The Carpenters**
A great melody, no doubt, but these kinds of songs often need a bit of a grubby treatment to shine. Which is the opposite of what the Carpenters provide.

402. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), Sly & the Family Stone**
Strictly background stuff.

401. Tonight's the Night, The Shirelles**
A black sixties girlgroup pop song in the Ronettes mould. I could listen to this kind of stuff, well, not all day long, but certainly for a few hours. Having said that, this is not the masterpiece that, say, "Baby I Love You" or "Leader of the Pack" are.

The playlist for ranks 400 to 351 is here.

400. Kicks, Paul Revere and the Raiders**
Sounds like the Herman's Hermits trying to play it tough.

397. (Don't Fear) the Reaper, Blue Oyster Cult**
As though A-ha and Black Sabbath had collaborated. That's supposed to be a compliment.

396. Thirteen, Big Star***
I understand that other people's tastes differ from mine, but this folk song is so wholly unimpressive that I wonder how it could be on anyone's "best" list.

395. Remember (Walkin' in the Sand), The Shangri-Las**
Fun, but no more.

392. O-o-h Child, The Five Stairsteps***
Listening to this rather unimaginative composition once is okay. After a few times it gets on your nerves, I guess.

391. Band of Gold, Freda Payne***
All wrong.

390. Baby I Need Your Loving, The Four Tops**
Know this, of course . . . Wait, do I? Yup! Surprisingly un-in-your-face for a Four Tops hit, this is cool polished soul, the kind of thing you'd expect on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack.

389. Just My Imagination, The Temptations**
I knew the Rolling Stones song of the same name, of course, which, it turns out, is a cover of this one. The Stones' version is clearly preferable.

387. Tiny Dancer, Elton John**
Carsten told me yesterday that Elton John had his chest hair transplanted onto his head. Sounds made up, but in the case of the man responsible for this song I'll believe it.

386. I Know You Got Soul, Eric B and Rakim*
I expected this to be more impressive. Nice, no more.

385. Ohio, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young**
Clearly better than "Judy blue Eyes". Which isn't much of a compliment.

383. Whipping Post, The Allman Brothers Band**
Somewhere out there must be a bluesrock song I really like. This isn't the one.

376. Fake Plastic Trees,Radiohead**
Stopped following Radiohead after Kid A for no particular reason. (I liked the album.) Will this song indicate that was a mistake? Oh, it's actually from The Bends, which I somehow missed and then wasn't too impressed by. Anyway, this sound a bit like the composition and arrangement were taken straight out of the textbook. Acoustic guitar at the beginning, lots of noisy stuff towards the end. Very competent.

374. Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Chuck Berry**
The generic Chuck Berry Song. Neither "Come on" nor "Back in the USA" are on the list, but this is. Why?

372. Marquee Moon, Television**
Seeming unimpressive at first, this very late 70s/early 80s song does develop a certain hypnotic quality. And, yes, it should be that long.

369. I'm A Man, Bo Diddley*
Very repetitive, very good. Even better: Muddy Waters' version on The Last Waltz.

359. Got My Mojo Working, Muddy Waters**
Muddy Waters' version of "I'm a Man" is also much better than Muddy Waters' version of "Got My Mojo Working".

354. Watching the Detectives, Elvis Costello**
If you like Elvis Costello, you'll like this sort-of-reggae song, if you don't you won't. My own view is that Elvis Costello is o.k., as is this song.

The playlist for ranks 350-301 is here.

348. That Lady (Part 1 and 2), The Isley Brothers**

343. Jim Dandy, Lavern Baker**
Aaa-humm! Is anyone else annoyed that the crap deviant teens listen to these days is called by the same name as this rather charming style of music, namely r'n'b?

341. The Harder They Come, Jimmy Cliff*
Another one of his songs became a big hit in Germany (again?) after having been used in a VW commercial. That should give you a pretty good idea of what this sounds like: Awfully agreeable reggae.

331. I Can't Make You Love Me, Bonnie Raitt**
One of those ballads for people who don't actually know what feelings feel like.

329. That's the Way of the World, Earth, Wind and Fire**
Not nearly as awful as #348, but it would still make a good companion song.

327. For Your Precious Love, Jerry Butler and the Impressions***
Wonderful! Makes me want to fall in love and dance slowly by the banks of the river Elbe right now. Despite the fact that the kind of movie I'd be in would probably include at least one stillbirth or some such thing that screenwriters put in to keep up the viewer's interest. Did I say it's wonderful?

325. Good Lovin', The Young Rascals**
Someone like Otis Redding would have made this an absolutely sweat-inducing cracker; this version's only very good.

323. Dancing Barefoot, Patti Smith Group**
Is it too much to say that Hole wouldn't have happened without this song? Probably.

321. Cortez the Killer, Neil Young**
This song, which is good, uses a pretty clever trick: Whereas thousands of songs have the long drawn-out guitar part at the end, this one starts out with it. Why isn't this copied more; it's not as though "Cortez the Killer" by Neil Young is some obscure B-Side from a Finnish indie label, is it?

320. Heartbreaker, Led Zeppelin*
Why this one rather than any other standard Zeppelin song made the list is unclear to me.

318. Alison, Elvis Costello*
If this would have been sung by Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing rather than Elvis Costello in his Woodyallenesque corner of uncriticizability, every right-thinking music lover would have rolled his eyes and said how crap this is. (No, that shouldn't read "his or her eyes". 100% of the people I'm thinking of are men.)

317. Many Rivers to Cross, Jimmy Cliff**
Get a life, man.

314. Comfortably Numb, Pink Floyd*
Well, I guess it boils down to whether you're a Pink Floyd person or not. I'm not, I only like their really good stuff. I understand the appeal, but as far as anti-drugs songs are concerned, it's not exactly "Sister Morphine".

312. In Dreams, Roy Orbison**
My mother would love this.

310. Iron Man, Black Sabbath*
Oh, it's that one: De-del-de-del-de-del-de-de-de-dee. Very funny if you're in the mood.

308. Lonely Teardrops, Jackie Wilson**
Ka-wooosh! Makes even me feel a little like dancing.

305. Say It Loud -- I'm Black and Proud, James Brown*
Not bad at all, but the enjoyment I get out of stuff that puts all the emphasis on rhythm is usually limited. They don't call me Mr. Melody Man for no reason.

302. Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain, Willie Nelson**
Certainly not.

The playlist for ranks 300-251 is here.

293. Tired of Being Alone, Al Green**
Very conventional, very good 60s soul.

290. Stan, Eminem featuring Dido*
Couldn't find it online, but if it's the one I think it is, it is a very clever combination of two elements (the typical Eminem track, the typical Dido track) that you shouldn't think match.

285. Smoke Stack Lightning, Howlin' Wolf**
This must have sounded wild half a century ago. Not anymore.

282. Help Me, Joni Mitchell**
For people other than myself.

278. Pictures of You, The Cure*
I've been trying for some minutes to find a proper way of describing this, but couldn't. Go and listen to it yourself at the link above. I like it very much.

276. I'll Take You There, The Staple Singers*
Couldn't find this one; if it's the song I think it is, that's a good thing.

270. He Stopped Loving Her Today, George Jones***
Crap squared.

269. Roadrunner, The Modern Lovers**

267. Personality Crisis, New York Dolls**

264. Sail Away, Randy Newman*
This very good composition could sound much better if recorded by someone with a better taste concerning arrangements and a better voice, preferrably female. I'm looking at you, Portishead!

262. Ooo Baby Baby, Smokey Robinson**
As we say in Germany: Ja, ja.

259. Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley**
It might be fun to come up with a list of cases in which musicians ruined their own compositions. "Hallelujah", the Leonard Cohen Version of which is surprisingly poor would certainly on it and could be juxtaposed with John Cales majestic recording. I had heard good things about Jeff Buckley's take and it's very good, but it pales in comparison to Cale's version.

253. All the Young Dudes, Mott the Hoople*
There is also a version of this by David Bowie, who composed the song. The version I had stored in my head was this one, but with Bowie's voice. Strange, eh? This is very glam, very good.

251. Mack the Knife, Bobby Darin**
An interesting idea to record an upbeat swing version of this Brecht-Weill moritat. Doesn't work as well as Darin's brilliant rendition of "La Mer" ("Beyond the Sea"), but it's still very good.

247. Hot Fun in the Summertime,Sly and the Family Stone**
Somehow reminds me of Sesame Street.

241. Stand!, Sly and the Family Stone*
What's the point of this band anyway? Is it black music aimed at white people or something?

238. I Fall to Pieces, Patsy Cline***
A crap c&w ballad.

The playlist for ranks 237 to 201 is here.

237. Planet Rock, Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force**
Hey, this is fun. Bit long, though. (Well, at least the seven-minute-version I listened to, is this the proper one?)

236. Everyday, Buddy Holly and the Crickets**
You can call this very enjoyable balladish midtempo song anything else, but overproduced it is not. Bells are genearally underused in pop music.

235. I Got a Woman, Ray Charles*
Oh yeah, know this one. It's o.k., doesn't hurt anybody.

227. Fire and Rain, James Taylor**
Just what you would expect from James Taylor.

226. Moondance, Van Morrison**
Van Morrison swings! Very good!

224. Good Times, Chic***
Know this of course. An ideal representation of what's wrong with disco music.

223. Dance to the Music, Sly and the Family Stone**
The least unlikable song from Sly and the Family Stone on this list so far.

220. Walk Away Renee, The Left Banke***
Couldn't find this one.

219. Spoonful, Howlin' Wolf**
Knew the Cream version and suspected this was the original, which it is. Quite catchy.

218. Boom Boom, John Lee Hooker**
The appeal of this is John Lee Hooker going "boom boom" and "how how", but it works. Hey, this is pop!

217. Jolene, Dolly Parton**
In Germany, Dolly Parton is known for a) being blond and b) having huge boobs. (Question: Was Miss Piggy modeled on Dolly Parton?) I actually know this song, which is not as bad as I expected, and note that the lyrics to Marrianne Rosenberg's "Marleen" are probably a blatant rip-off of these here.

213. Your Cheatin' Heart, Hank Williams**
The best country song on the list so far. Which isn't saying much.

210. 96 Tears, ? and the Mysterians***
Although the arrangement could be a little rougher for my taste, this is passionate music from the r&b/soul intersection. Very good.

203. Positively 4th Street, Bob Dylan*
It's hard for me to believe there's a mid-sixties Dylan song considered a classic that I don't know. We'll see. It's fine, but nowhere near his best. Don't remember having heard it before.

The playlist for ranks 200 to 151 is here.

199. Flash Light, Parliament**
Don't mind it.

195. Maybe, The Chantels***
A catchy r&b-ish ballad. Yup.

192. Wichita Lineman, Glen Campbell***
Nowhere near as bad as "By the Time I Get to Phoenix (#450), but not good either.

191. Free Bird, Lynyrd Skynyrd**
If you want to dislike rock, this ain't the worst place to start.

188. Who'll Stop the Rain,Creedence Clearwater Revival**
It's CCR, what can you expect?

187. Back in Black, AC/DC*
Couldn't find it online, but never mind. If it's one of AC/DC's "classic" songs, I'm pretty sure I don't like it.

186. I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You), Aretha Franklin**
The usual routine.

183. The Thrill Is Gone, B.B. King**
Boring blues.

178. September Gurls, Big Star***
Enjoyable. They sound a bit like an early incarnation of the Cornells.

175. I Fought the Law, The Bobby Fuller Four*
Yup, I knew this version, too, not just the Clash's - which, obviously, is much better.

172. Dream On, Aerosmith**
Oh, this was sort of covered by Eminem, wasn't it? Very catchy, not very good.

170. Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell**
I blame nobody for thinking this is great, but it doesn't touch me.

166. Lose Yourself , Eminem*
Well, Eminem. The man needs to relax.

164. Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny Cash**
More entertaining than most of Cash's stuff of the era.

157. I Only Have Eyes for You, The Flamingos***
Would like to be #327 but isn't.

151. Earth Angel, The Penguins*
I know the "sanitized, big-label cover by schmaltzy white group the Crew-Cuts" (to quote the Rolling Stone) and like it. So I'm really looking forward to this one. Much better indeed. One of the best songs on the list so far.

The playlist for ranks 150-101 is here.

140. Kashmir, Led Zeppelin**
Yeah, I know it's the other Zeppelin song you absolutely must know, but I don't remember ever having heard it. Oh yeah, know it, and not just the sample. Very good - and, as a commenter on YouTube remarks, it somehow sounds very James Bond.

126. Shake, Rattle & Roll, Big Joe Turner*
I've heard at least one rock'n'roll version of this song and found it more interesting.

125. Will You Love Me Tomorrow, The Shirelles*
Not quite as good as Dusty Springfield's take, but still very good.

118. Shout (Parts 1 and 2)], The Isley Brothers*
Is it the one that goes, "You know you make me wanna..."? If so, I'm for it. Yes, that's the one.

117. Take Me to the River , Al Green*
The Talking Heads version is clearly better.

111. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, Hank Williams**

107. Not Fade Away, Buddy Holly and the Crickets**
That's a Buddy Holly song? Not much more interesting than the Rolling Stones version.

The playlist for ranks 100 to 1 is here.

99. Fortunate Son, Creedence Clearwater Revival**
Them again.

98. Love and Happiness, Al Green*
Sounds more like a jam than something you'd release as a single. Not bad at all.

90. In the Still of the Nite, The Five Satins***
Another 50s ballad. Good.

86. Thunder Road, Bruce Springsteen*
As it's on the Born to Run album, I must have listened to it at least once. Well, why not?

85. Crazy, Patsy Cline**
Not as nerve-wrecking as her other stuff on the list.

74. Superstition, Stevie Wonder*
Pretty funky, pretty good.

69. Crying, Roy Orbison**
See #312

62. Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley*
Probably one of the simplest compositions in the history of music. Enjoyable, although I couldn't say why.

41. The Weight, The Band**
This is roughly what the lesser of the early 70s Beach Boys songs would have sounded like if Brian Wilson would have been into Muddy Waters instead of The Four Freshman.

30. I Walk the Line, Johnny Cash*
Would make a great singalong song for children if it weren't for the lyrics.

24. People Get Ready, The Impressions**
I know the over-the-top Vanilla Fudge version. Presumably this is the original? Yes. And it's a very, very good soul song.

12. A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke*
Another case where I know a different version, in this case the brilliant Otis Redding recording. How is Sam Cooke going to compare against the Manchester United of soul singers? About as well as the Manchester United of football compared against the FC Barcelona of football. It's not mainly the attacking singing, the arrangement's all wrong!


John Althouse Cohen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Althouse Cohen said...

It's a ridiculously biased list. (Rolling Stone's, not your redaction of their list.) They put the obligatory Nirvana song at #9, but the rest of the top 100 doesn't have a single other song that had been released in the 10 years prior to the publication of the list (1994-2004), and there are only a few such songs in the top 200 (obligatory rap song, Beck's "Loser" -- anything else?).

Also, where are the jazz standards? It says "best songs," not "best rock, R 'n' B, and rap songs."

I envy you for having the opportunity to listen to some of these with fresh ears: Earth Angel, Superstition (!), Both Sides Now, Dream On, the Buddy Holly songs, etc.