Not much to say today, so let’s just get right to it:
40. “Hush”– Deep Purple
I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard this song.
I was playing a 1960’s compilation anthology in my ‘97 Ford Thunderbird when this track came up on the shuffle.
Hearing that iconic “na, na-na, na” was so exhilarating that it took me a minute to realize I was driving 85 in a 35 zone.
Since that day, it’s become one of my favorite driving songs. Quentin Tarantino must have had a similar experience with it too, since he featured it during a badass driving sequence in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
The recording for this song back in 1968 must have included finding the fountain of youth, since this track’s groovy appeal hasn’t aged a fuckin’ day.
39. “ATLiens”– OutKast
That. Fucking. Bass line.
In true OutKast fashion, ATLien’s beat carries the ambiance of a spaceship ride through the South. The path that this funkadelic ship follows is the ridiculously groovy bass line, supported by some evangelical backing vocals and ominous bells.
The beat embodies what would happen if the Southern Jazz songs of yesteryear became the soundtrack to “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
ATLien’s beat embodies the same type of effortless originality that OutKast is known for, while somehow remaining a clear Southern track.
That’s mastery of the craft, friends.
38. “Applause”– Lady Gaga
Do I think this song is *better* than Bad Romance? No.
Do I prefer it as a Lady Gaga track? Yes.
The reason why is simple: Applause is Pop perfection.
Bad Romance is to Pop what Neon Genesis: Evangelion is to Mecha Anime: a deconstruction that’s an all-time great, but not necessarily representative of the genre it’s deconstructing.
Applause doesn’t change how you think of Pop songs. Rather, it just executes all the familiar aspects at a level that has yet to be touched.
One such aspect is its absolutely fantastic chorus, which features Gaga’s trademark powerful delivery over the most infectious 1-2-1 clap you’ll ever hear.
37. “All Along the Watchtower”– Jimi Hendrix
Also known was “the best cover in music history”.
However, even when ignoring that title, Hendrix’s now-iconic psychedelic take on Bob Dylan’s quaint folk song easily stands on its own among music royalty.
All Along The Watchtower is one of the few tracks that I won’t object to if someone declares it the best Rock song ever.
The opening chords set the tone, the sneakily great bass playing carries the groove, and its guitar solo blows the top off a song that will be forever etched in your musical subconscious after first listen.
This is, without a doubt, an all-time great.
36. “Master of Puppets”– Metallica
Hardcore Thrash Metal fans might bemoan my inclusion of this song over a deeper Metallica cut.
Here’s my answer to that: get over yourself, dude.
The harsh reality of Metallica is that they’re not a band you go to when seeking out musical complexity or thematic depth. That’s what Iron Maiden is for.
You go to Metallica when you want blistering riffs, gritty vocals, and Lars Ulrich’s limited-but-aggressive drumming.
Master of Puppets is the band’s best demonstration of all the standard Metal above, as well as several accessible intangibles that have made Metallica basically the most popular Metal band in history.
My favorite part is the slowed down bridge section, which was used during a portion of the Metal documentary “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey” where several interviewees talk about how Metal has meant so much to so many people.
That small moment solidified Master of Puppets as the defacto Metal anthem in my mind, and it’s right where it belongs on this list.
35. “Don’t Fear the Reaper”– Blue Oyster Cult
As much as I love the famous SNL “More Cowbell” skit, I have a bit of resentment towards it for diverting people’s attention away from how great this song actually is.
A YouTube comment about this song reads: “My neighbors loved me playing this song so much that they invited the police over”, which perfectly captures my sentiments towards it.
It’s one of the most replay-able songs I’ve ever heard, and it achieves this effect through its gentle vocal delivery, hypnotic guitar riff, and…yes…the cowbell.
This track is nothing short of a masterpiece, and also an eerily apposite soundtrack to 2020.
34. “i”– Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar’s lyrical content has always been a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to public awareness.
Whether it be envy within the Black community, drugs as a coping method, or embracement of Black heritage, it might actually suffice to say that Kendrick’s popularity and willingness to address the uncomfortable is probably why these topics became part of public discourse at all.
Nowhere does Kendrick demonstrate his responsible use of his influence better than the track i, which addresses one of the most taboo topics in Black society: mental health.
The song’s balance of vulnerability and optimism actually made me feel very empowered in my own journey to self love, and I can only hope that it’s done the same for others.
The line “I love myself” isn’t just another braggadocious declaration, but a rejection of the internalized hatred that has plagued Black society for generations.
That’s why Kendrick is considered a living legend–his music has transcended mere entertainment and has become an essential part of an entire culture’s identity.
33. “Breaking the Habit”– Linkin Park
My favorite thing about this song is that it’s individually loved by millions of people for very personal reasons.
Linkin Park has historically gotten a lot of flack for its “angsty” lyrics and limited musicality, but now that I’ve matured a bit in life, I’ll readily defend the band because they’ve been able to help so many people through tough times. I don’t care if their lyrics are corny or not–that’s a positive impact other bands could only dream of having.
The reason for Linkin Park’s massive popularity is their ability to tap into the deep-seeded insecurities and traumas of their fans and help them feel less alone in their struggle.
Breaking the Habit is perhaps the most vulnerable and visceral example of this, as it describes the all-too-familiar scenario of someone hitting rock bottom, relenting their past mistakes, and promising to be better.
Chester Bennington’s tragic suicide casts this song in a completely different light, since each lyric now sounds more like a cry for help than the pandering Linkin Park was all too often accused of.
32. “On Melancholy Hill”– Gorillaz
No other song in the Gorillaz history has demonstrated how far they’ve come than On Melancholy Hill.
Guiding us down from Melancholy Hill is an absolutely lovely instrumental arrangement, made up of a heart-pulse bass line and an invigorating synth section.
It’s a very sweet song about bittersweet topic–>digging deep into our emotions without being too invasive, and tactfully reminding us of what being human truly is.
“‘Cause you are my medicine when you’re close to me”
It’s hard for me to listen to this song without entering a sort of trance or outright tearing up.
It’s just such a beautiful listening experience, and one that I hope as many people as possible get to experience at least once.
31. “Free Bird”– Lynyrd Skynyrd
I know you’re judging me for this one. I can feel it.
But…whatever, man. Free Bird is awesome.
The fact that a 4-minute guitar solo might never exist again only makes this song’s 4-minute guitar solo that much more badass.
In all seriousness, though, I do love this track’s lyrical content. Painfully parting ways with a romantic interest in pursuit of adventure, discovery, and self-improvement is a scenario we’re all faced with at one point or another, and unfortunately it’s never as soothing or groovy as Free Bird.
And also: that 4 fuckin’ minute guitar solo.
30. “Fuckin Problems”– A$AP Rocky
It’s a particularly rare occasion when four artists, all in their prime, come together and exchange sections on a single track. It’s even more rare when each artist delivers among the best verses of their respective careers. Along with 2 Chainz’s genius double entendre of a chorus, and a mind-bogglingly layered beat, Fucking Problems became a perfect storm of timing and talent.
It was only fitting that King Kendrick himself closed the show, giving a verse that even my grandma knows the words to.
29. “Let’s Groove”– Earth, Wind & Fire
This is actually the first song that I remember ever really liking.
In fact, hearing it on a TV commercial for one of those random CD compilations probably laid the groundwork for the music taste I have today.
And there’s one main reason why: the entire song is built around its amazing bass line. The horns, vocals, and additional synth sounds all play off the rhythm section in a way that creates a unified sound that ebbs and flows throughout the song.
A…groove, if you will.
Definitely huge nostalgia goggles with this one, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for my first love.
28. “Train in Vain”– The Clash
One of the cheeriest breakup songs you’ll ever hear.
Which is a pretty welcomed distinction, since most breakup songs are filled with either petty resentment or a nauseating sense of defeat.
Taking rougher concepts and adding a smooth sense of polish was just standard procedure for The Clash, and their best display of this is their absolute freaking masterpiece, 1979’s London Calling.
Train in Vain caps off the album, encompassing all the musical influences and styles on the album and serving as a type of victory lap for the band.
And it works fabulously in that role. The amazing transitions, piercing horns, and short length leave you wanting more once the song ends.
Train in Vain is probably the song I’ve listened to the most in my life, and it only takes one listen to see why.
27. “Hey Jude”– The Beatles
There’s not much I can say about this song that you haven’t heard a million times by now.
I like it.
You like it.
Your parents, friends, coworkers, dogs, and cats like it.
And we all probably like it much more than it deserves.
…Or maybe not?
The fact of the matter is that, despite the dark inspiration for its lyrics and its overall musical simplicity relative to other Beatles songs, around the 3 minutes mark, Hey Jude becomes a song that can legitimately bring world peace.
Exactly no one can resist singing along to Hey Jude, which is normally pretty annoying (see: Mr. Brightside), but the ending’s melody is so placid and harmless that it’s actually a beautiful thing to see a group of people sing to it.
26. “Shook Ones Pt. II”– Mobb Deep
“To all the killers and the hundred dollar billers, for real n*ggas who ain’t got no feelings”
With a beat so effortlessly menacing, the lyrics of Mobb Deep’s anti-wangster warning could end there, and the song’s message would still be crystal clear.
Granted, the song’s legendary lyrics are obviously a main reason for its fame, but while the words tell us how to feel, the beat gives us no choice.
The booming undertow of a track finds a way to tap in into our mind’s most aggressive corners, leaving our eyebrows burrowed and our fists clenched.
The film “8 Mile” later made full use of the malice-invoking beat, featuring it during the opening credits as a gritty tone-setter.
The snares and chorus carry a sneaking sense of urgency, and the bass is so deep that it’s barely audible.
All of this paced by one of the most sinister-sounding Guzhengs in…well, ever.
25. “The Ecstasy of Gold”– Ennio Morricone
I’ve already mentioned Til I Collapse being a great pump up song, and on most days it works great in that role, but The Ecstacy of Gold is the song I turn to before my biggest life moments.
Whether it’s been football games, track meets, job interviews, exams, or anything else, this song sends shivers down my spine and snaps my mindstate into a laser focus.
Its slow build from a quiet trot into a triumphant march of horns, strings, and vocals will make any listener feel damn near invincible by the end.
As cheesy as that sounds, can you really blame me?
Ecstasy of Gold is a grandiose epic that transcends the mortal world and borders on the divine.
It’s only proper that such a fantastic piece of music was created by the legendary Ennio Moricone before he departed this world, leaving it with one of the best compositions it’ll ever see.
24. “Blowin’ in the Wind”– Bob Dylan
Written when he was only 21, Blowin’ in the Wind is the embodiment of what keeps Bob Dylan an iconic figure in music.
In under 3 minutes, the song sweeps across the collective frustrations of an entire generation. Its stream of rhetorical questions, each uncovering a new point of contemplation and a new societal issue, have rang more harrowing as time has gone on and seemingly nothing has changed.
It’s a great song to just sit and think about while hopefully gaining some perspective in the process.
And sure, the “revolution” during the 1960’s might have been a failure in hindsight, but the spirit of the time lives on in songs like this–ready for the next generation to pick up and run with.
23. “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)”– ABBA
This is the Holy Grail of song composition.
ABBA’s 1979 Disco hit is absolutely fucking flawless.
Incredible synth strings to set the stage.
An iconic keyboard melody that the queen of Pop herself, Madonna, couldn’t resist sampling for her hit Hung Up.
The galloping bass line to carry the song’s momentum through the verses.
The best pre-chorus I’ve ever heard in my life that builds into an eargasmic explosion of perfectly harmonized vocals.
From beginning to end, this song does not let up with its excellence.
I could listen to this song forever–and I probably will.
22. “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis”– Yoko Takahashi
In the years since Neon Genesis Evangelion’s original 1995 broadcast, Yoko Takahashi’s A Cruel Angel’s Thesis has gone from a popular anime opening to a rite of passage for the entire subculture.
Many people prefer to dabble in anime here and there, but it’s when they reach Evangelion and subsequently A Cruel Angel’s Thesis that they’re faced with the decision to jump all the way down the rabbit hole or remain a casual fan.
Choosing the former opens you up to a song beloved by millions, spanning multiple generations of fans who have found meaning, connection, or revelation through Evangelion.
And trust me–that’s not an understatement.
An opening song with holy undertones is only scratching the surface of this show. Its biblical symbolism, meditations on existential topics, and fearlessness with delving deep into the darkest regions of the human subconscious have helped many find peace with themselves.
Of course, any song that transports the listener to a time when they found the help they needed will have a special place in their heart, which is why A Cruel Angel’s Thesis has a special place in both my own heart and on this list.
21. “The Thunder Rolls”– Garth Brooks
Fun fact about me: I don’t really mind Country music. I actually think it’s pretty good.
Mind you, I’m talking about real Country music→ not that inauthentic Keith Urban nonsense that you’ll hear at Stagecoach.
My favorite part of Country music is how most of the songs are just stories centered around everyday life and its struggles.
The Thunder Rolls is my favorite example of this type of song. Garth Brooks’ sorrowful voice creates fantastic imagery and takes us through a tale that is unfortunately all too common to the average person: adultery.
This has been one of my favorite songs since I was 16, and I think what’s kept me coming back through my own personal development is how subtle and non-assuming it is.
The strong chords and vocal peaks are used sparingly, the lyrics never overstep your suspension of disbelief, and the ending is less of a climactic conclusion as much as it is a fading whimper.
What’s so masterful about that is how it perfectly accompanies the song’s content. Horrific events are seldom bombastic in nature or overly dramatic–they just happen, and life goes on.
If you’re still with me after seeing Garth Brooks ranked so high, come back next time!
Thanks for reading!