Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Best Songs of 1978 - 2002 (Now With Extra Bitching!)

Back in 2002 VH-1 came out with a list they called "The Best Songs of the Last 25 Years." This was back when television (and most of pop culture) was list-crazy. Call it end of millennium obsessive compulsion, which I now have.

I guess they settled on 1978 and after so they didn't have to make another list riddled with the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, the Bee Gees and all the usual players. So for trying to branch out a little, I gave VH-1 some credit.

However, I was so infuriated by some of the choices on the list that I made a song-by-song critique as sort of a catharsis. I am posting the list, with my comments, strictly for posterity. Feel free to ignore it.

But first, the legend (and no, I'm not referring to Tom O'Connor):

After each song is a "YES," "NO," or "MAYBE." This indicates with whether I agree (YES), disagree (NO) or am ambivalent (MAYBE) about each selection.

$ = Sellout song; a song a group used to deviate from their fan base for more money
@ = Anthem of the times; landmark of its year/movement
! = Overrated even in its own time, but perhaps more so now
* = Outstanding songwriting
& = Much better available songs by same artist

Let's begin then:

1. Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit" (YES. Although I think the song is unbelievably overrated at face value, there is no denying it’s influence. I would not put it at number one, but I recognize its importance, even while acknowledging that it’s not as great a SONG as people think. ) @!

2. Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean” (YES. Phenomenal. It was timely at the time, but it’s still grooving now. It’s amazing how good his music was back then.) @

3. Guns N’ Roses, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (MAYBE. It was the first one, but “Paradise City” was more rocking, “Welcome to the Jungle” more influential and timeless, and “Patience” better written. It’s a good song, but not #3.) &

4. Eminem, “Lose Yourself” (YES. I’m skeptical of mainstream rap so it took me a while to come around to this song. But if you listen to the lyrics, this is truly a transcendent song, in both content and structure. Eminem is a virtuoso here, and he has never quite duplicated it.) *

5. U2, “One” (MAYBE. Again, is this really their best? I would put “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or “Angels of Harlem” above this. But I’m not a Bono-head, am I?) &

6. Run-D.M.C., “Walk This Way” (YES. Effectively ushered rap into the mainstream. Not only culturally significant, but it’s a great tune. A moment frozen in time, if you ask me.) @

7. Prince, “When Doves Cry” (YES. A hallmark of electronic music. The lyrics are a little odd, but that’s part of its charm.) @
8. Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You” (NO. If ever there were a more corporate attempt at manufacturing feeling and emotion, I’ve yet to see it. This song is a travesty.) ! &

9. The Police, “Every Breath You Take” (YES. The fact that it’s overplayed aside, this is a gem. Haunting. But it is incredibly overplayed, and I wouldn’t put it top ten.) @ *

10. Madonna, “Like a Virgin” (NO. “Material Girl,” yes. “Papa Don’t Preach,” sure. I’ll give you “Borderline” if you want. This one is her most vapid and least fun.) &

11. Van Halen, “Jump” (YES. One of the best keyboard solos this side of Rick Wakeman, and DLR in his prime. An icon of 80s hair rock.) @
12. Alanis Morissette, “You Oughta Know” (YES. Maybe this song was about Dave Coulier and maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the lyrics are way too obvious. But few songs capture the bitterness of a bad breakup like this song. And it is catchy.) @

13. TLC, “Waterfalls” (NO. Just because this was catchy and obvious doesn’t make it a good song. It’s more of a guilty pleasure) !

14. Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U” (YES. I gotta say, it’s a great song. Her rendition is very heartfelt, so much so that I can’t even let her bullshit get in the way of that.) *

15. Pink Floyd, “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” (YES. A great song, bombast and all.) @

16. No Doubt, “Don’t Speak” (NO. Preposterous. In the top 20? I could have expected “Spiderwebs,” but this pompous crap?) !

17. Def Leppard, “Photograph” (MAYBE. It’s a fine song, but is it really a standout from a lot of the arena rock of the 1980s? I would have expected “Pour Some Sugar on Me” for them.)

18. R.E.M., “Losing My Religion” (NO. Thematically it’s a rip-off of #9, and it was massively overrated when it came out. No hook, no chorus, pretentious as it gets. If you absolutely must put an R.E.M. song on there, make it “It’s the end of the world…”) !

19. Public Enemy, “Fight the Power” (YES. Although it’s hardly their best song, it’s the most accessible and the one they’re known for. “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Night of the Living Baseheads” are better, less obvious songs, but this one made them look like revolutionaries.)

20. AC/DC, “You Shook Me All Night Long” (YES. The fact that it’s overplayed now shouldn’t overshadow the fact that it’s a really good song.) @
21. U2, “With or Without You” (MAYBE. I must say I think this song is overrated, although I think I may be the only person to think so. They have much better out there.) @ &

22. Cyndi Lauper, “Time After Time” (MAYBE. Cyndi plays it pretty straight with this song, but “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is her true best.) &
23. Prince, “Little Red Corvette” (MAYBE. When you think of Prince songs, this isn’t the most memorable of them. “1999” is more influential, “Raspberry Beret” more catchy.) &

24. Celine Dion, “My Heart Will Go On” (NO. Is there anyone who wasn’t over 13 years old and a girl in 1997 who truly thinks this is a good song? Pathetic, VH1, pathetic.) !

25. Rick James, “Super Freak” (YES. A terrific groove. He’s a pretty horrible human being, but it’s a great post-disco song.) @

26. Bon Jovi, “Livin’ on a Prayer” (YES. It’s between this and “Wanted Dead or Alive” but when you compare this song to their recent output, you forget how hard these guys rocked, once.) @

27. Grandmaster Flash, “The Message” (YES. It’s the first rap song with any kind of social commentary. The beat is one that has become legendary.)

28. Britney Spears, “... Baby One More Time” (NO. Seriously, who’s making this list?)

29. Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the U.S.A.” (YES. This probably should have been listed higher if only for its cultural impact the year it came out.)

30. Janet Jackson, “Nasty” (MAYBE. Very popular, kind of a cool song, but all of Janet’s songs run together somehow.)

31. Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg, “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” (NO. It was popular, but it was one of the worst songs on “The Chronic” and turned rap into shitty synthesized crud.) $

32. Pearl Jam, “Jeremy” (YES. The apogee of their songwriting and a hallmark of the era.) * @

33. Tina Turner, “What’s Love Got to do With It” (YES. A great pop song of the ‘80s that Tina lucked into.) @

34. Peter Gabriel, “In Your Eyes” (MAYBE. Again, do people really love the song, or is this because of “Say Anything…”? I prefer “Sledgehammer.”)

35. The Sugarhill Gang, “Rapper’s Delight” (YES. From a purist’s standpoint, this is a travesty since they didn’t even write the lyrics, but this is a great song.) @

36. Joan Jett, “I Love Rock ’n Roll” (YES. The fact that a female singer can sound this hard is awesome.)

37. Alicia Keys, “Fallin'” (YES. A smash, even though it looks destined to be a one-hit wonder.)

38. The Clash, “London Calling” (YES. Completely underrated. I wonder if the “gurus” at VH1 would have even put this on if Joe Strummer hadn’t recently died.) @

39. Tom Petty, “Free Fallin'" (MAYBE. Hmmmm… I don’t know. This was popular in its day, but I don’t think it’s stood the test of time to be considered an outstanding song.)

40. Michael Jackson, “Beat It” (YES. This song is still as fresh and fun as it was when I was 8 yrs old.) * @

41. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Under the Bridge” (MAYBE. The song is well-written, and a nice departure from their thrashing they-wish-they-could rap junk, but I’m not 100% sold.)

42. Blondie, “Heart of Glass” (YES. You gotta have one Blondie song on here.)

43. The Go-Go’s, “Our Lips Are Sealed” (MAYBE. “Vacation” should probably be here. It’s actually a decent song, but dated.)

44. Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive” (YES. Even though it’s been played out because of the ‘70s revival, it’s still a fantastic tune.) @ *

45. Aerosmith, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (NO. You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.) $ ! &

46. Queen and David Bowie, “Under Pressure” (MAYBE. This may be more of a case of the tail wagging the dog. It’s a good song, but honestly, if the exact same recording were made by, say, Men at Work, would people really tout it this highly?) &

47. Shania Twain, “You’re Still the One” (NO. This comes from that terrible time period where ballads were all the rage. This one does not stand out in any way.) !

48. Naughty By Nature, “O.P.P.” (YES. One of the first cases where a legit rap song became popular. It has playfully sexual lyrics and a great hook.) @

49. Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin'” (YES. An anthem of the 1980s. Sweeping, soaring, timeless.) @ *

50. Lenny Kravitz, “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” (YES. Another throwback to hard rock’s glory days. Rockin’ and even the message isn’t heavy-handed.) *

51. George Michael, “Faith” (YES. Great song, one of the great songs of the late-‘80s. Catchy and cool.) *

52. The Rolling Stones, “Start Me Up” (YES. A killer riff, provocative lyrics. It’s old school and it feels like a classic from the ‘60s.)

53. Marvin Gaye, “Sexual Healing” (MAYBE. It exemplifies mediocre R&B of the ‘80s; it’s an okay song, but if it were anyone else beside Marvin Gaye singing it, would it be as popular?)

54. Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris” (NO This song is pure bloated crap. The lyrics are not too bad, but the bombast combined with its constant airplay makes it unbearable.) ! $

55. Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime” (YES. Though I prefer “Burning Down the House” this is the one that has more of a lasting image.) @ &

56. Sheryl Crow, “All I Wanna Do” (YES. Fun, folky, wry lyrics. Represents the best of ‘90s pop.) * @

57. Eric Clapton, “Tears in Heaven” (YES. Beautiful, heartfelt, a real touchstone of the time. The reason behind it makes it that much more heartbreaking.) * @

58. The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Puff Daddy & Mase, “Mo Money Mo Problems” (NO. It’s essentially a remake of “I’m Coming Out” with some very suspect lyrics. Any song where the video made more of an impact than the song is sad. I mean, jesus, Ma$e?!) $

59. Meat Loaf “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” (MAYBE. I really don’t like Meat Loaf as a rule, but this song is very popular and has made a bit of a comeback. It’s certainly better than the schlock Loaf put out in the ‘90s.)

60. Santana feat. Rob Thomas, “Smooth” (NO. Endless radio play does not make it a good song. This was an especially weak time for music, considering it was the only thing they played for about a year.) ! $

61. Backstreet Boys, “I Want It That Way” (MAYBE. I can see where they’re coming from, but it’s not as good as “As Long as You Love Me,” but at least it made the list and nothing from fucking N*SYNC did.) & $

62. Pretenders, “Brass in Pocket” (MAYBE. This song is somewhat Special [Spe-cial!], but it’s also a little bland [bla-nd!].)

63. Beck, “Loser” (MAYBE. Not Beck’s best, but sure captures the spirit of it’s time.) & @

64. The Knack, “My Sharona” (YES. Timeless, blasts out of the speakers. Fun and pulsating.) @

65. Nelly, “Hot in Herre” (NO. Great club song, but so worthless. Let’s be serious.) !

66. Squeeze, “Tempted” (YES. This white R&B is better than the fruit of another… or something)

67. John Cougar Mellencamp, “Jack and Diane” (NO. Overrated song, simplistic and pretentious. John Cougar doing more of his “I’m a common person just like you” stuff.)

68. Chic, “Good Times” (YES. Fantastic, extremely influential.) @

69. Mary J. Blige, “Real Love” (YES. This was a darkhorse, but a beautiful song; the best R&B had to offer in the ‘90s.) * @

70. Culture Club, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” (NO. Blasé as it gets.) &

71. Dave Matthews Band, “Crash Into Me” (MAYBE. It’s well-written, it’s unique, but I like “What Would You Say” better.) &

72. John Lennon, “(Just Like) Starting Over” (NO. This song just sucks. Pseudo-‘50s garbage. Just because it was after a long absence doesn’t make it good. If it weren’t Lennon, it would never have made the top 5,000 list.) & !

73. LL Cool J, “Mama Said Knock You Out” (YES. It’s the last great rap song of the pre-’92 era. Rugged, pulsating, driving. Take that Moe Dee!) @

74. Hall & Oates, “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” (MAYBE. Yeah, I can go for this. I like “Private Eyes” better, though.)

75. The Ramones, “I Wanna Be Sedated” (MAYBE. It’s not their greatest showcase.) &

76. Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” (YES. A proto-techno landmark.) @

77. Missy Elliott, “Work It” (NO. I hope to god you’re kidding… we’re talking about 25 years here. What an insult.) !

78. Green Day, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” (NO. Simple-minded, not well-written. This was written to be a graduation song, and I know because it came out when I graduated – and it still failed to capture any emotion of the event. You’re telling me this is better than ANYTHING Billy Joel has done since 1978?!???) !

79. Destiny’s Child, “Say My Name” (NO. The epitome of shitty lock-step mid-‘90s R&B.)

80. Duran Duran, “Hungry Like the Wolf” (YES. Well-written and melodic, with a killer chorus.) @

81. OutKast, “Ms. Jackson” (MAYBE. If this poll took place 5 years from now, it wouldn’t get a sniff. But the craft is there, it’s a good song.)
82. Soft Cell, “Tainted Love” (YES. Unique, and it was a massive hit.) @

83. Band Aid, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” (YES. But where is “We Are the World”? Encapsulates the Rockers Care 1980s.) @

84. Radiohead, “Creep” (MAYBE. “Karma Police” is a better song, but this one is the on they’re known for.) @ &

85. Eminem, “My Name Is” (MAYBE. Time will tell; this is a very catchy, fun rap song. Great beat. I think there are better rap songs they could have used.)

86. Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car” (MAYBE. Very well-written, but do people still revere it 15 years later?) *

87. The Who, “Who Are You” (YES. Love the synth and the harmony. A radio staple.) @

88. Metallica, “Enter Sandman” (NO. Shame on Metallica, pandering to MTV, with stupid Freddy Kreuger lyrics. Where is “One”?) $ ! &

89. Pat Benatar, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” (MAYBE. This is one of those songs that is a good movie-trailer song, but doesn’t really hold up that well on its own.)

90. The Police, “Roxanne” (YES. Well-written, rockin’, harmonic.) @

91. Melissa Etheridge, “Come to My Window” (MAYBE. A very good pop song; I can think of 100 better ones.) @

92. Salt-N-Pepa, “Push It” (MAYBE. This is the best they had to offer, but it’s still a dumb song) @

93. Nine Inch Nails, “Closer” (MAYBE. Seminal, ubiquitous, somewhat irritating.) @

94. Cheap Trick, “Surrender” (NO. “Mama’s alright/Daddy’s alright.” This song is just alright, not top 100.)

95. Oasis, “Wonderwall” (MAYBE. Nicely written; I’m probably taking points away because I hate the video/Gallaghers so much.) *

96. Beastie Boys, “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” (NO. It’s simplistic, no one really likes it except white rock media. So many better songs from them. A novelty at best.) ! &

97. Devo, “Whip It” (YES. This song has stood the test of time for its absurdity and distinctive 1980s sound) @

98. Hanson, “MMMBop” (MAYBE. Catchy and fun, but top 100…?) @

99. Norah Jones, “Don’t Know Why” (YES. A beautiful song that will become a standard someday. The top of its genre, whatever that genre is.) *

100. Madonna, “Ray of Light” (NO. This is an insult. There are about 10 other Madonna songs that could be here. This was Madonna unsuccessfully trying to reinvent herself; it was a blip.) $ &


Bill said...

Epilogue: Now that I look back on this list, I suppose the good folks at VH-1 didn't do such a horrible job. All told, here is the final tally:

YES’es: 46
NO’s: 24
MAYBE so’s: 30

This means that only a quarter of the songs they listed were rejected out of hand by me. Not that my opinion means anything. Who cares what I think.

But just to give some contrast, here is a list of songs that came out during the time period this list covers, that were not included. And these are just from the 1980s:

Crazy Little Thing Called Love - Queen
Funkytown - Lipps, Inc.
It's Still Rock & Roll to Me - Billy Joel
Cars - Gary Numan

"Jessie's Girl" - Rick Springfield

"Eye of the Tiger" - Survivor
"Rosanna" - Toto

"Down Under" - Men at Work
"Come on Eileen" - Dexy's Midnight Runners

"Owner of a Lonely Heart" - Yes
"Karma Chameleon" - Culture Club
"Let's Hear it for the Boy" - Denise Williams

"Wake Me Up Before you Go-Go" - WHAM
"I Feel For You" - Chaka Khan feat. Grandmaster Melle Mel
"Take on Me" - A-Ha
"Easy Lover" - Phil Collins & Philip Bailey
"We Are the World" - USA for Africa

"How Will I Know?" - Whitney Houston

"Walk Like an Egyptian" - The Bangles
"Alone" - Heart
"Here I Go Again" - Whitesnake

"Need You Tonight" - INXS
"Pour Some Sugar on Me" - Def Leppard

"Straight Up" - Paula Abdul
"Giving You the Best that I Got" - Anita Baker

Now maybe these aren't all gems, but I can see at least a half dozen I would have put on this list over some crap from Madonna or Nelly or Missy Elliott or Britney Spears that's a half-hour old.

Wow, it feels good to get all that off my chest after 2 years.

JT said...

would this make your list?

Ban-dingo said...

First,of all some other great 80's songs V-H1 is forgetting, Take on Me (A-HA), Walking on Sunshine (Katrina and the Waves), and also I agree MMMbop, is not top 100. It's top five easy. The kids love it.

And how about "Ring the Alarm" from when the Tru FU Schnicks walked the earth and they had not yet eveolved into the Fu-Shaqs?

Finally, as far as "One" by U-2 is concerened, the only reason it is worth acknowledging is because it was U-2's first (some might say only and possibly also last) successful politicaly themed song that branched out from beyond Ireland's struggles to tackle a global issue.

And as always we all want EFX. B-Boys make the noise.

d. dunford said...

This might be one of the great ones, I think.

In seriousness, I think that "Ray Of Light" is a great song, but not a great Madonna song. Normally, her songs are very set-in-stone to be hers - this was a song that could have been performed by anyone else and have been just as good, which hurts it on a list like this.

Well done, Bill, you've done something that many of us have the ambition to do but few have the drive to attempt.

Toastie said...


No one consulted me on this list for my opinion on music is well rounded and never wrong. And besides, everyone knows that rock achieved perfection in 1974. Its a scientific fact.

However, Pearl Jam was included, good work.