Favorite Songs of the Past 25 Years (Or, The Anti-VH-1 List)

Here’s the problem with lists: unless you make them either a “Best” (where critics and fans can intelligently pick the best over a certain period) or strictly a “Top” (where the most popular or biggest selling would appear), then they are doomed to failure. None of the magazines really get it right. TV Guide always sort of freaks out when they have to pick the “Best TV Shows,” or “Best Episodes.” Did you see those lists? Some good, if obvious choices, but then it’s all shot to hell because they try to be clever or surprising in their lists, and only end up looking like they don’t know much about television at all. And don’t get me started on Entertainment Weekly. Their recent “It” list, the list that ranks the “100 Most Creative People In Entertainment,” includes Mandy Moore, Snoop Dogg, and Jessica Simpson. The most CREATIVE people in entertainment, mind you. Why not just say “hottest” or “most popular” or “in the news,” instead of some bizarre mixture of the three. Name it the “It List,” but don’t throw that word creative in there. It gives the real creative people in the same issue, the actors and writers and directors and comic book artists and comedians and singers, a bad name.

The same with VH-1. Their list of the The Greatest 100 Songs of the Past 25 Years is boring at best, infuriating at worst. Sure, some of the choices fall into that good if obvious category, such as “Billie Jean,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, some Madonna, some REM, some Police, a handful of rap songs, etc. But then the list goes haywire, because they confuse “Greatest” with “popular” or “influential” or maybe even “recent.” I mean, come on, Britney’s “…Baby, One More Time?” Nelly’s “Hot in Herre?” Alicia Keys’ “Fallin?” Who picked these songs? Did they get some kick back from the record companies, or maybe feel they wouldn’t hit the right demographic if they didn’t include “popular” songs released after 1998?

We’ve asked a handful of writers to list their favorite songs of the past 25 years. Their ultimate mix tape. And did you notice I said favorite, and not greatest or top or best?

Tod Goldberg
 
1. “Jane Says,” Jane’s Addiction

If it hadn’t been for Jane’s Addiction, I might be talking about my great love for the Thompson Twins in this space.

2. “Anything, Anything,” Dramarama

If you ever loved someone obsessively, or just liked slamming yourself into a wall, this was your song.

3. “Mountain Song,” Jane’s Addiction

Before Jane’s, nothing sounded like this.

4. “She Sells Sanctuary,” The Cult

Who knew that one day they’d sell Nissans to the strains of Ian Astbury yelping about the Texas sun?

5. “Still DRE,” Dr. Dre

“Niggaz try to be the king but the ace is back…” Word.

6. “Never Mind,” The Replacements

All over but the shoutin’…

7. “So What’cha Want?” Beastie Boys

Bizarre fuzz box vocals, a crazy beat, and the Beastie’s at the height of their talents.

8. “Darklands,” The Jesus and Mary Chain

Shoe gazing Brit rock that made me believe heroin addicts could be poets.

9. “Knock Me Down,” The Red Hot Chili Peppers

Hillel Slovak is still dead, but this song lives.

10. “Fuck Tha Police,” NWA

One of the few instances where I can remember exactly where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing the first time I heard it. Still sounds raw and angry and better than 75% of all current rap music.

11. “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Guns n Roses

The only power ballad that was actually a ballad and powerful…makes Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” and the entire Cinderella oeuvre meaningless.

12. “Unknown Legend,” Neil Young

From Neil’s last great album – “Harvest Moon” – this song (and album) are always in my CD player.
13. “Southern Cross,” Crosby, Stills, and Nash

Someone, please, buy me a boat so I can name her “music.”

14. “Stay,” Coal

A fantastic LA band the broke up before it ever got famous, sadly, this song appeared on the Chasing Amy soundtrack and you can often find it on Kazaa. They had other awesome songs, but in the interest of making fans out of all of you, go find this one gem.

15. “So What if I Did,” Thelonious Monster

When Jane’s and the Chili Peppers burst onto the scene, they used to open up for Thelonious.

16. “One Particular Harbor,” Jimmy Buffet

So far, but yet so near…

17. “The River,” Bruce Springsteen

Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?

18. “Wonderful Tonight,” Eric Clapton

If you have to ask…

19. “Don’t Walk Away,” Rick Springfield

I’ve got a thing for Rick Springfield. Let’s just leave it at that.

20. “Angel Mine,” Cowboy Junkies

A track buried deep on an album, this is nonetheless one of the unknown classics of our time.

Tod Goldberg is the author of two novels, Fake Liar Cheat(Pocket Books) and Living Dead Girl(Soho Press). His short fiction has appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including The Sun, Other Voices, and Oyster Boy Review, and has twice been shortlisted for The Pushcart Prize. He writes the award-winning weekly column GOLDBERG in The Las Vegas Mercury and has edited two travel books on the City of Sin.
 
James Norton
 
1. “Debaser,” The Pixies
2. “Phiesope,” Mu-Ziq
3. “Every Day I Write the Book,” Elvis Costello
4. “Halcyon + On + On,” Orbital
5. “Daylight,” Aesop Rock
6. “You and Whose Army,” Radiohead
7. “The Big Country,” Talking Heads
8. “Sound System,” Operation Ivy
9. “Exhuming McCarthy,” REM
10. “Needle to the Bar,” Soul Coughing
11. “Bright Future in Sales,” Fountains of Wayne
12. “New Slang,” The Shins
13. “Concrete Schoolyard,” Jurassic Five
14. “Poor Places,” Wilco
15. “Gigolo,” Scha Dara Parr
16. “Little Fluffy Clouds,” The Orb
17. “Weaker Youth,” Weaker Youth Ensemble
18. “Little One,” Beck
19. “Injected with a Poison,” Praga Khan
20. “It’s Not My Birthday,” They Might Be Giants

James Norton is the editor of Flak
 
Marty Beckerman
 
1. “American Jesus,” Bad Religion

Originators of “Thesaurus Rock,” BR have been putting out the world’s deepest punk rock for more than twenty years. Their latest release, ‘The Process of Belief,’ is by far their strongest effort yet. Especially considering that their last few albums have sucked more than Drew Barrymore during a round of ‘Celebrity Jeapordy.’

2. “Take Warning,” Operation Ivy

Recorded in 1989 — when the band members were only 19 years old — Operation Ivy’s album “Energy” has become an item of cult affection long after the band split into Rancid and Common Rider. Smart, fast, catchy and angry; everything that today’s radio-friendly punk desperately lacks. On the other hand, Avril Lavigne will probably let you teabag her for coke, so it all evens out in the end.

3. “Oliver’s Army,” Elvis Costello

Elvis is the fucking man, even if he has put on 7,000 pounds since his glory days.

4. “White Man in Hammersmith Palais,” The Clash

The definitive political rock band, the Clash made the best music of the ’80s and continued to piss off countless people when singer Joe Strummer died just three months before the planned reunion.

5. “Everlong,” Foo Fighters

One of the best rock bands working today, even though they peaked back in the ’90s with their sophomore album “The Colour and the Shape.” Just pretend all the angry songs are about Courtney Love.

6. “Any Road,” George Harrison

All right, it’s probably not the sixth best song of the last quarter-century, but George deserves props. His posthumous solo album is well worth the money, as is McCartney’s new live album. Too bad Ringo is the only Beatle still alive.

7. “The Decline,” NOFX

Clocking in at 18 minutes, “The Decline” is the most ambitious punk rock song ever recorded. Brought to you by the boys who would go on to record such classics as “My Vagina” and “The Idiot Son Of An Asshole (Is Our President)”

8. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Aeroplane”

These guys sure have mellowed the fuck out in the last few years, but their latest album, “By the Way,” highlights their musicianship like never before. Bisexual fun for everyone.

9. “Champagne Supernova,” Oasis

Talented British assholes.

10. “Basket Case,” Green Day

The anthem of a generation (of stoners addicted to MTV).

11. “Across the Sea,” Weezer

Remember when emo was still good? All right, emo was never good, but Weezer write good songs.

12. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” Nirvana

May as well be Kurt’s musical suicide note. The best song off Nirvana’s amazing “Unplugged” CD.

13. “Song 2,” Blur

They probably wrote it in five minutes, but you know you love it.

14. “Hook,” Blues Traveller

John Popper should do ads for the Subway Diet, that fat, harmonica-playing son of a bitch.

15. “Catalina,” Descendents

The original punk band for dateless losers.

16. “Corazon De Oro,” Rancid

Another one of the best bands out there. Too bad singer Tim Armstrong’s wife had to pull a Courtney Love and divorce him for the frontman of Queens of the Stone Age.

17. “Wrong Way,” Sublime

Great California pop, even if the whole “white rasta” thing was fucking pathetic from the get-go. The living members reformed as the Long Beach Dub All-Stars, but it’s just not the same without the heroin.

18. “Welcome to the New South,” Less Than Jake

Amazing band, straight out of Florida. They’ve been recording sophisticated, bouncy angst anthems for 13 years now, and the new record (“Anthem”) is one of their best. Hopefully they’ll squeeze a few more out before they all kill themselves.

19. “The Impression ThatI Get,” The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Dicky Barret is an inspiration to all short men who want to scream like the Devil.

20. “Love Shack,” The B52s

God, that guy is a fucking queer, isn’t he?

Marty Beckerman is the author of Death To All Cheerleaders, and the author of the upcoming Generation SLUT: A Brutal Feel-Up Session With Today’s Sex-Crazed Adolescent Populace, from MTV/Pocket Books.
 
Jen Chung
 
1. “Our Lips are Sealed,” Go-Gos
2. “Glory Days,” Bruce Springsteen
3. “Creep,” TLC
4. “Shadrach,” Beastie Boys
5. “Bled White,” Elliott Smith
6. “What Makes You Happy,” Liz Phair
7. “There She Goes,” The La’s
8. “All Apologies,” Nirvana
9. “Regret,” New Order
10. “Common People,” Pulp
11. “Sweet Thing,” Mary J. Blige
12. “Central Reservation,” Beth Orton (Ben Watt mix)
13. “Out of Site,” Built to Spill
14. “Yellow,” Coldplay
15. “Writing to Reach You,” Travis
16. “High and Dry,” Radiohead
17. “With or Without You,” U2
18. “Stop Playing Guitar,” The Promise Ring
19. “Last Goodbye,” Jeff Buckley
20. “I Am the Resurrection,” The Stone Roses

Jen Chung is the editor of Gothamist, a New York group blog. While making this list challenged her, she knows that compiling a list of top 20 movies is much much more difficult.

Bob Sassone

What a cruel assignment. Only 20? Where’s the Advil…I can’t believe I even finished this list. Wait a second, no room for Frank Zappa? Crowded House? Weezer? Aimee Mann? Barenaked Ladies? John Mayer? Warren Zevon? The Smiths? Depeche Mode? They Might Be Giants, for Pete’s sake? Can we make it 30 songs instead? *sigh*

1. “Whenever You’re On My Mind,” Marshall Crenshaw

He has his following, but I’ve never understood why everyone doesn’t know him, and use his songs in movies and commercials so he can be a gazillionaire. Off my favorite album, “Field Day.”

2. “Hackensack,” Fountains Of Wayne

I bought this album (“Welcome Interstate Managers”) only a couple of weeks ago, and I swear I’ve played this song 300 times. On the way back home I almost pulled the car over to cry, knowing that music like this exists in my life.

3. “Tea For One,” Kevin Gilbert

Actually, any of the songs off the brilliant, beautiful, heartbreaking album “Thud,” released just a couple of years before Gilbert’s untimely death.

4. “Weak and Watered Down,” Tommy Keene

The most underrated rock musician.

5. “Barely Breathing,” Duncan Sheik

The guy has a knack for catchy, intelligent pop, and I think the first part of this song has some of the most perfect lyrics you’ll ever hear.

6. “Welcome To The Boomtown,” David and David

One of the Davids (Baerwald) went on to co-write and produce with many artists, including Sheryl Crow. Beautifully gritty songs about drunks and writers and other people who go to L.A.

7. “Next Year,” Foo Fighters

Not just a great song, a great song that’s the theme song to one of my favorite TV shows (“Ed”). I think the Foo Fighters are better than Nirvana, but not as good as pizza.

8. “You’re The Best Thing,” The Style Council

Paul Weller’s post-Jam band. Really nice.

9. “Something To Say,” The Connells

I feel sorry for people who have never heard The Connells, one of the best bands to come out of North Carolina.

10. “House Full Of Reasons,” Jude Cole

You’ve heard a couple of Jude Cole’s songs on the radio, even if you don’t know the name. This one is one of his best. Incredibly catchy, with piercing lyrics. What do you do when you break up with someone you’ve lived with?

11. “I Couldn’t Say No,” Robert Ellis Orrall and Carlene Carter

From Boston, Orrall made a handful of truly great albums in the 80s, then went to Nashville to become a top songwriter (and release a terrific country album too).

12. “Covert War,” David Wilcox

David Wilcox writes some of the best lyrics of any folk…well, any songwriter period. This song, about family disputes, contains metaphors and lines and rhymes that will make your jaw drop. Nice guitar work too.

13. “Lie To Me,” Chris Isaak

I first heard this song on an episode of a short-lived TV series in the 80s, “Private Eye.” Isaak’s songs were on the soundtrack, before he made it big with “Wicked Game.” He hits an amazing note at the end (and I’ve seen him live – he does it there too, no cheating).

14. “Can We Still Be Friends?” Robert Palmer

Sure, we were all exhausted by the endless playing of “Addicted To Love,” but let’s not overlook the fact that Palmer made some great pop back in the day.

15. “So Lonely,” The Police

I had a hard time choosing a Police song, but this one, from their debut, catches Sting’s raw wail, Andy Summers’ shiny guitar work, and Stewart Copeland’s propulsive drums.

16. “Basket Case,” Green Day

Hey, I’m almost 40, but these guys are wicked good!

17. “Missing,” Everything But The Girl

Off a truly beautiful album, “Amplified Heart.” Play the album while you’re at home on the couch and it’s raining outside.

18. “Fall On Me,” REM

“Life’s Rich Pageant” is one of their three best albums.

19. “The Ghost In You,” The Psychedelic Furs

What is it about a really raw voice cutting across a smooth synth that sounds so…so…perfect?

20. “If I Only Knew,” Tom Jones

Jesus, how old was Jones when he recorded this? 55? 60? What a great song. I don’t know who is picking his producers and collaborators these days, Jones or his people, but they’ve been making some great choices (Art of Noise, Sterophonics, etc) the past 10 years. (Confession: when I was 5 years old I used to put on shows for my family in my living room, singing and dancing along to Tom Jones records. I can’t believe I just told you that.)

Bob Sassone is dating Demi Moore too.
 
Tim Grierson
 
1. “Every Breath You Take,” The Police

Timeless. Sting subdued. Listen to human fingers sliding across that fretboard. People get married to this song now.

2. “It Takes Two,” Rob Base & DJ Easy Rock

Before Humpty Hump, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Naughty by Nature, Kris Kross, House of Pain, Wreckx-N-Effect, MC Hammer, Neneh Cherry …

3. “Brothers Gonna Work It Out,” Public Enemy

In 1995, we did indeed twist to this. 2003, too. We’ll even do it in 2010, even if there isn’t any hip-hop social consciousness at that point.

4. “Nobody’s Fault But My Own,” Beck

The slow decay toward the inevitable. He’s no one’s jokester, no one’s funk daddy, no one’s artist of his generation. He never recovered.

5. “Kiss,” Prince

I’m shorter than you, girlier than you, and my voice can still hit high notes without breaking a sweat. Oh, and I wear high heels in public. And I’m still gonna take your girl.

6. “No Surprises,” Radiohead

Not an ode to suicide. More like the Lord’s Prayer for a new century ruined before it even begins.

7. “Into the Groove,” Madonna

The sexiest, smartest girl in the club wants to dance. And the DJ’s playing her favorite song. And she’s looking right at you. And smiles.

8. “Erotic City,” Prince

Promises a world of sensual pleasures and naughty delights that you’ll never enjoy during your waking life.

9. “We Float,” PJ Harvey

Ten years of personas lead straight to such naked beauty. Almost makes you forgive her for dating Vincent Gallo.

10. “Closer,” Nine Inch Nails

“Did he just say what I think he said?” Yeah, he did. “Can he get away with that?” He did. Now, shut up and move.

11. “Billie Jean,” Michael Jackson

Paranoia and desire wrapped together. One of his few songs that’s grown in stature since he went Wacko.

12. “Missing,” Everything But The Girl

The remix version. Or the original. Doesn’t matter. Just please come back, baby.

13. “One,” U2

I love you I hate you I love you I hate you I love you I hate you.

14. “Love Sick,” Bob Dylan

Dylan comes back from the grave as a heartbroken corpse. Whenever I start craving this song, I get really worried.

15. “Nightswimming,” R.E.M.

Summer is over. The leaves are gonna start changing colors. But I can’t forget you. And I don’t want to.

16. “Step Inside This House,” Lyle Lovett

A Guy Clark song he never recorded, this cover has the intimate detail of a Raymond Carver story or a Tom Waits tune. And the house Lovett’s singing about is anyone’s.

17. “Rockin’ in the Free World,” Neil Young

Mad as hell. Not taking it anymore. Doing something about it.

18. “Lonesome Day Blues,” Bob Dylan

You broke my heart, I can’t get no satisfaction, my loved ones are dead or gone. But I’ve still got my band.

19. “Photograph,” Def Leppard

I know, I know, but, honestly, don’t you want to crank it?

20. “Too Close,” Next

A great boner joke.

Tim Grierson is an editor of The Simon, a weekly online publication of culture, politics, and humor.
 
Matt Hinrichs
 
1. “Everyday I Write the Book,” Elvis Costello & the Attractions
2. “One More Time,” Daft Punk
3. “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville,” R.E.M.
4. “Xanadu,” Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra
5. “Hey Ladies,” Beastie Boys
6. “Someday, Someway,” Marshall Crenshaw
7. “Holiday,” Madonna
8. “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” Stephanie Mills
9. “Back on the Chain Gang,” The Pretenders
10. “Our Lips Are Sealed,” The Go-Go’s
11. “Mysterious Ways,” U2
12. “You’re In a Bad Way,” Saint Etienne
13. “You On My Mind,” Swing Out Sister
14. “It’s Alright, Baby,” Komeda
15. “Sexxx Laws,” Beck
16. “Cruel to Be Kind,” Nick Lowe
17. “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” They Might Be Giants
18. “Dreaming,” Blondie
19. “Remind Me,” Roykksop
20. “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” The Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield

Matt Hinrichs is a designer and writer who maintains the weblog scrubbles.net in sunny Phoenix, AZ.
 
Aaron Bailey
 
1. “House of Stone and Light,” Martin Page
2. “In Your Eyes,” Peter Gabriel
3. “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” Proclaimers
4. “Go West,” Pet Shop Boys
5. “Always on my Mind,” Pet Shop Boys
6. “Tainted Love,” Soft Cell
7. “Blue Monday,” New Order
8. “Where the Streets Have No Name,” U2
9. “Sweet Surrender,” Sarah McLachlan
10. “Why Does It Always Rain?,” Travis
11. “Brand New Lover,” Dead or Alive
12. “Life in a Northern Town,” Dream Academy
13. “I Want it that Way,” Backstreet Boys
14. “Breathless,” The Coors
15. “Home For A Rest,” Great Big Sea
16. “What It Feels Like (Above and Beyond Remix),” Madonna
17. “Song for the Lonely (Almighty Remix),” Cher
18. “New York, New York,” Ryan Adams
19. “No More Drama (Thunderpuss Anthem Mix),” Mary J. Blige
20. “Red Letter Day (Furry Remix),” Pet Shop Boys

Aaron Bailey, who writes at 601am.com, moved to New York two years ago in search of fame, fortune and power. He’s still searching.
 
Brian Lewandowski
 
Okay so this list thing is everywhere so why not let me bend your ear or twist your eye with my list of songs I would love on my ultimate mix tape. Of course I would play around for hours to get them in the right order…an order that would build through the aural foreplay right into the massive beat throbbing climax…oo…I made myself slightly warm there. So here are the songs as I thought of them:

20. “Poor Misguided Fool,” Starsailor
19. “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” Green Day
18. “Side,” Travis
17. “Girlfriend in a Coma,” The Smiths
16. “Heroes,” David Bowie
15. “Buddy Holly,” Weezer
14. “Creep,” Radiohead
13. “The Old Apartment,” Barenaked Ladies
12. “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” Warren Zevon
11. “Weather With You,” Crowded House
10. “All This Useless Beauty,” Elvis Costello
9. “Downtown Train,” Tom Waits
8. “Personal Jesus,” Depeche Mode
7. “Lost Cause,” Beck
6. “Don’t Change Your Plans,” Ben Folds Five
5. “Nightswimming,” REM
4. “Stay (Faraway, So Close!),” U2
3. “Dear God”, XTC
2. “Three Little Birds,” Bob Marley
1. “Under Pressure,” Queen and David Bowie

Brian Lewandowski is a somewhat former stand-up and media writer who has a penchant for being opinionated, often daily, often at brianlewandowski.com. He occasionally interviews celebrities of some sort at fiveforthefamous.com. The rest of the time he explores his photographic and artsy side at hideedee.com.
 
Adam Finley
 
20. “Lightening Strikes The Postman,” The Flaming Lips
19. “Ed Ames,” Pavement
18. “Five Stop Mother Superior Rain,” The Flaming Lips
17. “Rattled by the Rush,” Pavement
16. “Christmas at the Zoo,” The Flaming Lips
15. “Summer Babe,” Pavement
14. “Chewin’ the Apple of your Eye,” The Flaming Lips
13. “Perfume V,” Pavement
12. “Be My Head,” The Flaming Lips
11. “Conduit For Sale,” Pavement
10. “Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell,” The Flaming Lips
9. “Grounded,” Pavement
8. “What is the Light?,” The Flaming Lips
7. “In the Mouth a Desert,” Pavement
6. “March of the Rotten Vegetables,” The Flaming Lips
5. “Fillmore Jive,” Pavement
4. “Waiting For a Superman,” The Flaming Lips
3. “Strings of Nashville,” Pavement
2. “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate,” The Flaming Lips
1. “Here,” Pavement

Adam Finley has contributed to several Web sites, zines, and independent weeklies. He really enjoys R.E.M.

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