Whoa. Just like that, we’re here!
Seriously: if you’ve made it all the way to this final installment, all I can do is thank you.
I recognize and acknowledge that I’m far from a music taste expert. All I wanted to do with this list is talk about songs that have meant a lot to me and hopefully highlight some songs that you’ll take away and enjoy for yourself.
If it hasn’t been made clear by now: music means a lot to me. I know I’m not unique in this, though. Music means a lot ot a lot of people.
For many, it’s a primary mode of expression, and serves as a backdrop to of our fondest memories.
Songs can serve as personal time capsules. Listening to them helps us revisit certain places, people, moments, struggles, triumphs, endings, and beginnings.
The fact that you give even the slightest amount of shits about my favorite songs means so much to me, and I’m really appreciative of that.
But enough of me getting misty-eyed over the beauty of music. It’s time to bring this thing home.
Hopefully I can stick the landing:
10. “Fantastic Baby”– BIGBANG
Come on: you saw this one coming.
While the song’s impact on K-pop’s international appeal is probably enough justification for it being so high on the list, the main reason is its impact on me as an individual.
In terms of the former, the accolades and stats are seemingly endless. In short, Fantastic Baby blew the doors off K-pop’s previously regional appeal and opened the genre up to the world en route to gaining a staggering 450 million views on its YouTube video. Prior to BIGBANG, K-pop was a smaller trend mostly reserved for high school females in the West.
After its release, Fantastic Baby and K-pop as a genre became a household name and was almost unavoidable.
As such, it was inevitable that I eventually came across the song as well.
Completely intrigued by this new-age pop sound, the song got me curious enough in Korea that I eventually visited the country myself. That trip ignited my interest in global travel and changed the course of my life forever.
And it all traces back to a song by a boyband in Korea.
There’s only one way to describe the wonderful phenomenon of a single song inspiring someone to go out and see the world: Fantastic, baby.
9. “Under the Bridge”– Red Hot Chili Peppers
This is another song that means so much to so many people out there.
“I don’t ever wanna feel like I did that day” is probably one of the most relatable song lyrics that I’ve ever heard, and I’m so thankful today that RHCP singer Anthony Keidis had the strength to be vulnerable and share his original poem of isolation with the rest of the band.
His bravery has since touched the lives of millions, including myself, and has made just as many people feel a bit less alone.
While there are many songs with this type of lyrical content, the instrumentation of this track is what really pushes it into the realm of all-time great.
John Frusciante, Flea, and Chad Smith perfectly match the tone and emotion of the song’s phases, demonstrating their ability to empathize with Keidis’ experience.
The tracks starts off in a quiet lament, before building momentum towards an absolute tidal wave of an ending.
Under the Bridge levels with the listener, bringing you to your most vulnerable state before raising you to the tune of angelic choir voices and leaving you feeling understood, exhausted, and empowered.
8. “El Mañana”– Gorillaz
We’re really getting into some personal territory now.
I originally was drawn to El Manana off the Gorillaz magnum opus Demon Days album because I was an angsty teenager and resonated with the somber tone of this track.
As I got older, I gained an appreciation for its fantastic arrangement–particularly the cello solo in the last third, which is still as heartbreaking and compelling as it was when I first heard it.
It wasn’t until the past 5 years that I started to truly understand and internalize the lyrical content. El Manana is a song about unrequited love, lamenting the optimism of the past, but still looking towards the future through a hopeful lens.
Who can honestly say that they can’t relate to that?
Like many Gorillaz songs, El Manana is an experience that delves into an unnerving sense of sadness within us all while also showing that, even in our most vulnerable moments, there is still hope.
7. “Sultans of Swing”– Dire Straits
I first heard this song when I was driving home from a 5am–2pm shift at the local Walmart, where I worked during the summer before starting college.
Fresh off having my soul sucked out from another work day, I was practically driving (and living) on autopilot.
And then, through the radio, a glimmer of hope came in the form of Sultans of Swing.
Never before had I heard such an effortless display of instrumental virtuosity, underscored by confident ambiance that seemed too cool to care what anyone thinks.
What I love most about Sultans of Swing is that the listening experience I just described is recreated every time I put the song on.
Without fail, I’m floored by how immersed I get in its near-perfect sound.
And that’s really what it’s all about when it comes to this song. I have my own personal connection to it, but what put Sultans of Swing at number 7 is its timeless, forever unrelenting quality.
One of the best songs ever recorded.
6. “Hate It Or Love It”– The Game & 50 Cent
A rags-to-riches anthem.
Before their nasty public breakup, 50 Cent and The Game reached the height of their respective careers with Hate It Or Love It, a heartwarming retelling of their humble beginnings.
While most Hip-Hop hits border the line of hyperbole through ridiculous braggadocious claims, the defining trait of Hate It Or Love It is its authenticity.
You truly get the sense that 50 Cent and The Game are dropping their Gangsta Rap personas and just keeping it real with us by telling how they came up. Each line could have easily been inspired by a real-life event, and that’s the reason why so many people have a genuine soft spot for this song.
It’s a loving look back on the beautiful struggle, and embracing the trials and tribulations of a disadvantaged upbringing with grace and appreciation.
Knowing now that the two would eventually feud over petty disagreements, it’s pretty astounding how mature this song is. It brings up traumatic events in a way that doesn’t inspire shame or pity, but merely as a nod to our past selves for making it through.
Growing up, I used to listen to this song and dream about the day where I too could look back on my past with a triumphant smile. And the higher I go in life, the more this song will mean to me.
Hate it or love it, the underdog’s on top.
5. “Gimme Shelter”– The Rolling Stones
Sometimes, the stars just happen to align perfectly.
Such was the case with Gimme Shelter in 1969, when the musical prowess of The Rolling Stones and guest vocalist Merry Clayton clashed with the swirling hysterical surrounding the Vietnam war to produce perhaps the best studio recording in music history.
You can tell that every musician performed out of their minds on this track and left it all in the studio.
Literally→ at the 3:00 mark, you can hear Clayton’s voice give out from how passionately she was singing—promptly followed by a distant “Woo!” from Keith Richards commending her performance.
The Stones are no slouches on the track either, pushing each bar along with a sense of urgency that bleeds of authenticity of the 60’s zeitgeist, with brief drum breaks sprinkled in to let you catch your breath.
Judging by accounts of those who were alive at the time, Gimme Shelter’s sound is every bit as haunting as the military conflict that served as the decade’s backdrop.
From the time you can hear those harrowing opening guitar chords, you know you’re in for a ride.
But even given its auspicious opening, the track continues to raise the bar as it progresses, leaving little doubt by the end that you’ve just witnessed one of Rock n Roll’s peaks.
4. “Changes”– Tupac Shakur
Tupac is the greatest rapper to ever live.
While there have definitely been others who possessed better technical rhyming skills or have had more record chart success, Tupac’s legend has more to do with his ability to tap into the frustration, anger, and sense of hopelessness that comes with being Black in America.
Changes is a painful, unfiltered tour through the Black experience. Its first verse remains my favorite in Hip-Hop history because of how painfully relevant the lyrics are. Each line is taken straight from the tortured subconscious of people who grew up in the hood, and I can’t listen to it without getting unnervingly emotional.
The real gut punch with Changes is how unfortunately relevant it remains today. In a stroke of horrible irony, Tupac’s declaration that things won’t change has become chillingly prophetic.
Hopefully, with things like the Black Lives Matter movement, we won’t be playing this song in another 30 years from now lamenting the same lack of progress.
3. “Stan”– Eminem
While I definitely think it’s over exaggerating to say that a single song “saved your life”, Stan is the closest song I can think of that’s done that for me. My relationship with this song is so strong that I rarely listen to it anymore, because it’s just too uncomfortable.
I first heard this song when I was 7 years old. At that point of my life, I actually had a lot of similarities to how the character Stan describes his life in the song.
I also never knew my father.
I also used Eminem’s music as a type of coping mechanism.
And just like Stan, I also idolized Eminem and saw him as someone who I wanted to model myself after.
In fact, the first time I heard this song, I was really into the first two verses.
And then I heard the latter two, and my life was changed forever.
The second half of this song demonstrates why Eminem is the favorite artist of so many people, including me.
Having Stan go off the rails and showing Eminem’s calm, concerned, and remorseful response to his fan’s situation showed a self-awareness Eminem had early in his career that some artists never attain.
He understood the impact he had on his fans and how his image could lead them down a dark, destructive path.
Stan is an intervention for Eminem’s fans, and a cautionary tale, of what obsession can lead to.
I’m glad this song exists, because when I reflect back now, I realize how close I was to becoming just like Stan.
2. “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)”– Shakira
I actually didn’t anticipate ranking this song so high, but once I thought about it from a different perspective, it became hard not to.
Let me explain:
I’ve traveled to 11 different countries, and have heard this song played at a public place in almost all of them.
Every time this song came on, it got the same reaction. People were singing the lyrics (to the best of their ability), smiling, dancing, and just having the time of their lives together.
That last word is why I love this song so much→ it brings people together. It’s the most globally popular song that I’ve ever seen, and there’s something so profoundly beautiful about a song that literally the entire world seems to love.
That might sound like hyperbole, but the 2.6 BILLION views this song’s video has gotten on YouTube would suggest otherwise.
I’ve loved this song since it first came out to commemorate the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and my love for it has only grown as I’ve continued to explore the world and become more of a global citizen.
I’m not afraid to admit that I occasionally get overwhelmed with elation when hearing this song. It represents the unifying, uplifting, and exuberant power of music in its purest form, and if you can’t appreciate that then you might be missing the point entirely.
Man, what a wonderful song.
1. “Stairway to Heaven”– Led Zeppelin
Look, I get it: I know that this is a somewhat generic choice, and some of you saw it coming from a mile away.
But when it comes to naming my favorite song in history, there’s no room to be a hipster and go against the grain. Besides, Stairway to Heaven being such an obvious and ubiquitous choice should only serve as additional justification for its number 1 spot here.
If you’re still skeptical, I recommend you just sit down and give it a listen without any distractions.
What you’ll find is what myself and countless others have discovered: Stairway to Heaven is a journey.
It starts out quiet and non-threatening, adding musical elements with absolutely masterful restraint, only progressing when listeners are ready.
The lyrics have a hint of spirituality, but they’re just vague enough that they become idiosyncratic to the listener, taking the form of whatever is most relevant to your particular stage in life’s journey.
The song eventually builds to its iconic crescendo, which is an emotional explosion of sound spearheaded by what’s considered to be the greatest guitar solo of all-time.
A YouTube comment reads: “From 5:50 I burst into uncontrollable tears. I’m 76 in two weeks’ time.”
And that perfectly sums up the magic of Stairway. In my own 27 years, as well as this man’s 76 years and the many years of others, nothing will ever be able to strike the same emotional spiritual chords, or create the same spiritual sense of wonder.
All of this being produced by 4 people playing instruments in unison is why I love music, and why I love this song.
Stairway to Heaven makes me so happy to be alive to witness it, and putting it number 1 is one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.
“I think this is a song of hope”- Robert Plant, 1973
Again, if you’ve made it this far–THANK YOU.
It was a blast putting this together, and I hope it was as fun for you read as it was for me to write.
I’m going to go sleep for the rest of my life now.