I've been thinking a lot lately about what are the best songs ever written.
Obviously, this a pretty subjective question. My favorite song is certainly not your favorite song, isn't likely some dude in Arkansas' favorite song (but man, if he is a Matt Good fan, what are the odds?). But still, within the threshold of our western culture, in our shared language, is there one song or some songs that stand head and shoulders above, that EVERYBODY agrees are pretty fantastic pieces of craft, their favorite or not?
The kind of song that you never turn off if it comes on the radio, whether you've heard it a hundred times or the first in a long while. A song that gets stuck in your head and won't go away - but not in an annoying 'god save me from my brain' way, but a hummable friend keeping you company? A timeless song - not connected to a specific era or genre, though it may be a product of both, but who's resonance comes from the simplicity, power, and beauty of the music itself, not it's cultural contextualization. A song that never loses the poignancy of it's lyrics or feels musically out dated - that stays relevant because it has perfectly tied into some basic human truth through words, rhythm, and melody. Songs that cross taste, genre, style - that a fan of rap, rock, country, or classical can all still enjoy and feel connected to.
A perfect song.
A song like that is few and far between, but I have some suggestions - songs that may earn the title of the actual best ever written.
* OTIS REDDING - THE DOCK OF THE BAY
Maybe a perfect song, from opening to end. A wistful tune that has just enough nostalgia to feel comfortable and familiar, but enough momentum to push forward. A brief pause of reflection before the next chapter, and one of the catchiest tunes ever commited to recording. As Otis whistles off, his character walks away onto the next stage. Both relaxing and active, it's pretty perfect, and just pretty in a simple way.
* BILL WITHERS - AIN'T NO SUNSHINE
Similar to the song above, Ain't No Sunshine just gets in your head. Reflective, sad, and true without ever being emo - the way Otis perfectly captures wistful, Bill does melancholy. Poetic lyrics, a slow measured build and a subtle crescendo to the breakdown with a tune that comforts even as it takes stock of your broken heart. That last vocal flourish lingers like the adult love this song is about.
*VAN MORRISON - MOONDANCE
And what Bill Withers does to melancholy, Van Morrison does to romance. From the deft touch of every note to the unrefined sensuality of his absolutely expressive voice, this is a song for lovers, building to the moment where the mood changes. What it lacks in overt sexuality (it's not the song for the actual act) it revels in flirtation, touch, and a journey of attraction. The ensemble is tight, the tune captivating - this is a song to listen to, dance to, experience.
Those are my three perfect songs, according to the criteria I laid out for myself. They may not be my favorites, but they are flawless songs that I think can strike a chord in any listener.
Other strong candidates I've heard include The Cure's Love Song and/or Just Like Heaven, or Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, and I'm still thinking about those - they just might make the cut, especially listening to Floyd while I write - but these are the three I stand by now.
And so we witness the end.
3 years ago