Today, we find ourselves at the top end of our 101 Greatest Songs of All Time countdown. We’ve already seen some classic gems mixed in with some older favourites further down the list but as we look at this eclectic Top 25, there are definitely some tunes in here that might surprise.
When it came to defining what would round out our list, some songs stood out as clear frontrunners with our contributors. In The Beach Boys‘ 1966 Pet Sounds cut “God Only Knows”, there exists possibly the perfectly crafted pop song, according to Dylan Marshall.
“The perfect pop song can make your heart swell with joy at one moment and then shatter it the next. Brian Wilson crafted the perfect pop song with “God Only Knows”.”
The Beatles‘ “Here Comes The Sun” (featured at #10) was also a tune our writers felt particularly drawn to. For Josh Champion, “Lennon and McCartney did not have a monopoly on genius in this band,” while Dylan goes further in explaining his love for the George Harrison-penned hit.
“This song speaks volumes about the strength of The Beatles as a band, in that while the band were fronted by quite possibly the best song writing duo of all time in Lennon & McCartney, “Here Comes The Sun” was written and sung by George Harrison. Written as an attempt by Harrison to avoid dealing with the business of being a Beatle for a day, it pretty much also sums up the joy associated with a break in the bleak nature of British weather.”
“It’s just a very pretty song. There’s nothing more to it. “Here Comes The Sun” is the verbal annunciation that while things might not be great at the moment, surely at some point it will be; it’ll be all right.”
Weaving through the Top 25, we find the likes of Aaliyah sitting alongside The National, Michael Jackson and Fiona Apple sharing space together too. Between spots #1 and #2, we find two songs at completely opposite ends of the spectrum.
“Purple Rain” by Prince and The Revolution shot back to the forefront of the popular music landscape with Prince’s sad passing earlier this year, but in its resurgence on the charts, its standing as one of the best compositions The Purple One created and indeed, one of the best songs of all time, was reinforced. From that aching guitar solo to the gospel/soul influences behind the organ and of course, the evocative and passionate delivery of lyrics, “Purple Rain” was a no-brainer.
Hit ‘play’ on the playlist below and enjoy our selection, scrolling through to the Number One spot, where Rage Against The Machine bring the countdown thundering home.
THE AU’S 101 GREATEST SONGS OF ALL TIME: THE TOP 25
25. The Kinks – “Sunny Afternoon”
24. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Into My Arms”
23. Michael Jackson – “Thriller”
22. Fiona Apple – “Criminal”
21. Fugees – “Killing Me Softly”
20. Foo Fighters – “Everlong”
19. Aaliyah – “More Than a Woman”
18. The National – “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
17. Queen – “Bohemian Rhapsody”
16. The Beach Boys – “God Only Knows”
15. John Lennon – “Imagine”
14. Billie Holiday – “Summertime”
13. Jay-Z – “99 Problems”
12. Joy Division – “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
11. Bob Marley & The Wailers – “No Woman, No Cry”
10. The Beatles – “Here Comes the Sun”
9. David Bowie – “Heroes”
8. The Band ft. The Staples Singers – “The Weight”
7. Johnny Cash – “Hurt”
6. Paul Simon – “You Can Call Me Al”
5. Radiohead – “Paranoid Android”
4. Lauryn Hill – “Doo Wop (That Thing)”
3. Simon & Garfunkel – “The Boxer”
2. Prince and The Revolution – “Purple Rain”
1. Rage Against the Machine – “Killing In The Name”
At #1, Rage Against the Machine‘s 1992 release “Killing in the Name” takes top billing, a track which remains as powerful and as relevant as it was when it was first released more than 20 year ago. Its modern relevance is a frustrating one – with racism in the police force still a serious issue – most notably in the United States, but with precedence in many places around the world, especially in a post 9/11 world.
While its context is important, there are few songs on the planet that have become as widely enjoyed as this. It doesn’t matter what sort of genres you love, there’s something universally cathartic about singing along to this song and screaming “Fuck You, I Won’t Do What You Tell Me!”, backed by some of the finest rock instrumentation ever to see wide release.
Though it was the song that established the band, it was never a “hit” in its original release. The only time it had any serious impact on the charts was in 2009, when it became the Number 1 Christmas song in the UK following a fan’s Facebook campaign. But it’s a song that has endeared, finding a new generation of fans every year, and solidifying its place as our #1 song of all time.