Well, I’ve finally done it. I’ve finished my list of top ten songs. Ethan and I had thought about putting together a list of our top songs when we started the blog, but we decided to stick with just movies and entire albums. We found that choosing the albums, in particular, was extremely difficult, considering that many albums containing classic songs also contain filler. But, since this blog is mainly about reviewing movies and albums, we pushed through and came up with what we believe are strong lists. Then we asked some friends of ours to join the team.
With the inclusion of new members, the first thing we asked them was to compile their own lists of top ten’s, as a way to get them excited about contributing to the blog and really begin thinking about possible material to review. They had the same problem that Ethan and I did in finding top albums, and some simply have less interest in delving into music like we do. That’s cool. We don’t want everyone to have the same likes and writing styles, because that would bore you to death! To help them along, and to give ourselves another challenge, we decided to include a top ten song list for each of us.
I must say, racking my brain for my favorite songs was far harder than ranking my favorite albums. Over the last couple of weeks in trying to complete this endeavor, I’ve had to reshuffle my list numerous times. Just as I’d get close to finalizing ten songs, another artist that I’d forgotten would pop into my head, and I would have to reassess my list. Anyway, I think now that I’ve finally gotten it.
This list will have diversity, and may look odd coming from an author of a predominately metal blog, but these are my favorites. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy my list and see some of the influences that I’ve acquired and have molded me into the music enthusiast I am today. Let’s dig in.
Format for listing songs: Artist, Title, Year Released, Genre, Runtime, Writer(s)
- Whitney Houston, “I Have Nothing”, 1993, Pop, 4:48, David Foster and Linda Thompson
A generational singer and a staple of the ‘80s pop scene, Whitney Houston wowed fans with hits like “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)”, “The Greatest Love of All”, “I Will Always Love You”, and “How Will I Know.”
I remember first hearing “I Have Nothing” on the film The Bodyguard, costarring Kevin Costner, and haven’t been able to get the song out of my head since. Houston made a career singing love songs, and according to Guinness, she’s the most awarded female act of all time.
I have a personal side note about Houston. During my wedding ceremony while the wedding party was entering to Haley Reinhart’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, I whispered to my pastor that I really liked her rendition of the song. I was just trying to calm my nerves a bit, and I’ll never forget what my pastor said: “Ain’t nobody can sing as good as Whitney Houston.” I didn’t have a good comeback for that.
- Disturbed, “The Sound of Silence”, 2015, Piano Rock, 4:08, Paul Simon
Disturbed’s cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s original track and voted number one rock song of 2016 by Loudwire, “The Sound of Silence” sent shockwaves through the rock ‘n roll world upon its release.
I remember hearing this song on the local radio being introduced and thought, “Really? The same dudes that sang ‘Down With the Sickness’ are covering a Simon and Garfunkel song?” Well, they didn’t just cover the song; they knocked it out of the park. Most of the songs on my list tend to be at least twenty-five years old, but “The Sound of Silence” is the exception.
I’ve always enjoyed listening to Disturbed and for some reason had them lumped into the same level as an Avenged Sevenfold-type band, but Disturbed singer David Draiman sets the band apart from most metal bands.
Their cover of the song has Draiman start the song nearly an octave lower than the original for the first two verses, but he jumps an octave for the last three. His vocal range is on full display, as he goes from an E2 to an A4, and does so with ease. If there was ever a competition for best cover, Disturbed’s “The Sound of Silence” would have to be in the running. Wow, just wow.
- Joe Walsh, “Life’s Been Good”, 1978, Hard Rock, 8:04, Joe Walsh
Host to one of the coolest guitar riffs in rock ‘n roll history, “Life’s Been Good” marks the pinnacle of Joe Walsh’s career outside of his time with the Eagles. The song has a strong bluesy, reggae infusion that gives it a groovy element and accompanies the song’s lyrics really well.
The lyrics of “Life’s Been Good” are a hilarious commentary on the rock ‘n roll lifestyles these stars lived in the late ‘70s. A tip of the hat is made to The Who’s drummer, Keith Moon, who was still living at the time and was known for his antics and heavy drinking: “I live in hotels/Tear out the walls” and “My Maserati does one-eighty-five/I lost my license, now I don’t drive.”
Do yourself a favor and don’t bother with the edited, four and a half minute version of the song; stick with the eight minute classic.
- Black Sabbath, “War Pigs/Luke’s Wall”, 1970, Heavy Metal, 7:58, Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward
How could “War Pigs” not be on my top ten list? I almost put “Paranoid” on my list instead, but I’ve found that even though “War Pigs” is five minutes longer than “Paranoid”, I still spin this song more.
“War Pigs” was originally called “Walpurgis” which means “Witch’s Night.” According to Geezer Butler, the song is essentially about Christmas for Satanists, which he was against, so he used the analogy: “Generals gathered in the masses/Just like witches at black masses” to drive home his point. Since the Vietnam War was raging in 1970, and the band was anti-war, they decided to use war as part of the song’s message. The song casts a rather dark shadow on rich politicians getting richer during times of war:
Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role for the poor, yeah
Time will tell on their power minds
Making war just for fun
Treating people just like pawns in chess
Wait ‘till their judgment day comes, yeah
The song ends in fantastic fashion as Judgment Day does arrive and Satan gets the last laugh in judging the song’s war pigs.
Although the song seems to be well put together, it actually originated from one of the band’s jamming sessions at The Beat Club in Switzerland in 1968. The band didn’t have much material at the time and had to play multiple sets daily, so they would jam between songs to produce filler. “War Pigs” and the song’s outro, “Luke’s Wall” were the result of one such jam session. Not too bad for filler.
- Johnny Cash, “Hurt”, 2003, Acoustic Rock, 3:38, Trent Reznor
Any man worth his salt likes Johnny Cash. Periodically, I have to get my Cash fix, so I go through at least twenty of his hits. “Folsom Prison Blues”, “Ring of Fire”, and “One Piece at a Time” all frequent my truck stereo. Cash was a musical genius who could tell a story in a catchy and memorable way in just over two minutes and was busy producing music until his dying day. Heck, he’s been dead since 2003, and he still puts out more records per year than Boston. But as great a songwriter Cash was, he didn’t write “Hurt.”
Because he heads up the edgy, Industrial Rock band Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his songwriting abilities. Reznor wrote “Hurt” shortly after a breakup from his girlfriend, and he wrote the lyrics from a dark place in his life at that time. “Hurt” is about Reznor, but when he was approached by Cash to cover it, he was flattered but also worried as to how the song would turn out. Their respective music genres didn’t exactly align.
When Reznor heard Cash’s rendition, he had both tears and goosebumps because he knew the song was no longer his. But Reznor appreciated the way that Cash was able to tell his story in a different way while maintaining its sincerity. “Hurt” still gives me chills every time I hear it.
- Eagles, “Hotel California”, 1976, Soft Rock, 6:30, Don Felder, Don Henley and Glenn Frey
Initially called “Mexican Reggae”, “Hotel California” is the Eagle’s most well-known track and one of the best known rock ‘n roll songs of all time. That’s a fact. Don Felder, one of the band’s guitarists came up with the melody for the song and recorded the melody in his home using a 12 string guitar and Rhythm Ace drum machine. Felder submitted the demo to Don Henley, and Henley immediately liked it. Felder’s demo had a Latin and reggae influence, which Henley liked and thought it gave the song a “Mexican reggae or Bolero” flavor to it. Now, the Eagles needed lyrics.
The origin of the song’s lyrics has been the subject of much controversy, but coming directly from the members themselves, it was just about their experience driving through L.A. one evening, and the city lights seemed to inspire Glenn Frey and Don Henley. None of the guys were from California, so L.A. made quite the impact on the band as they traded in their innocence for experience.
Henley then gave the song the name “Hotel California”, and the band began recording. After many edits and a key change from E minor to B minor, the song was nearly complete, until Joe Walsh’s and Don Felder’s duel guitar solo made the finishing touch.
The end result of the band’s efforts and refusal to trim the song’s length for radio resulted in one of the most recognizable rock ‘n roll songs of all time, and “Hotel California” is well deserved.
- Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Simple Man”, 1973, Southern Rock, 5:57, Ronnie Van Zant and Gary Rossington
Inspired by the passing of Ronnie Van Zant’s grandmother, “Simple Man” tells of a mother giving her son sagely advice:
And be simple kind of man
Oh be something, you’ll love and understand
Baby, be a simple kind of man
Oh won’t you do this for me son, if you can
The song begins with an acoustic, arpeggiated chord sequence that is shortly accompanied by a bass and cymbal. Once the chorus kicks in, so do the electric guitars as they emulate the arpeggiated sequence from the intro. The lyrics make this song the iconic fixture that it is, but the music doesn’t come up lacking.
Born and reared in the South, “Simple Man” is about as recognizable in these parts as the National Anthem, and to me is Skynyrd’s best effort – surpassing even the likes of “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Gimme Three Steps.” Every time the song plays on the radio, I listen to it in its entirety and sing right along with Van Zant.
- Metallica, “Fade to Black”, 1984, Heavy Metal, 6:55, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Cliff Burton and Kirk Hammett
I tried and tried not to put two Metallica songs on this list, but I couldn’t shake “Fade to Black.” This was the first track that I heard from Ride the Lightning, and I was blown away by how fast seven minutes could go by.
It’s no secret that at the time of Ride the Lightning, James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich were fascinated with death and addressed death in one way or another on most of the album’s tracks. I’m not much for driving home just one theme on an album, but Metallica was able to somehow pull off writing about numerous ways of achieving death: nuclear war, electric chair, air strike, suicide, being buried alive, and the plague of death depicted in the book of Exodus. On the surface, the theme of death may seem shallow and overplayed, but listen to the album and see for yourself. Now, for “Fade to Black.”
The opening to the song includes what would be the band’s first acoustic intro. Being the band’s first ballad and having the song address the issue of suicide, Metallica faced some initial opposition from fans because of the issue discussed and the softer tones they weren’t accustomed to hearing from a thrash band. “Fade to Black” would help charter a different course for Metallica, that would later go on to produce other musically progressive songs like “Battery”, “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, and “One.”
The acoustic intro on the song is my favorite of the band’s that benefits from Burton’s bass grooves. Once the first verse ends, the iconic riffs from Hammett’s and Hetfield’s guitars arrive and will pulsate through your spine. Once both verses are complete, the song experiences a key change and just seems hit another musical dimension that only few bands can achieve. It’s after the key change that Hammett unleashes a gripping solo that’s probably even better during a live performance. Metallica was firing on all cylinders in lyric and music writing for “Fade to Black.”
- Journey, “Faithfully”, 1983, Arena Rock, 4:24, Jonathan Cain
With only the lyrics, “highway run into the midnight sun,” written on a napkin, Journey’s keyboardist, Jonathan Cain began writing the song, “Faithfully.” Once he sat down to complete the song, he was done in thirty minutes.
I love Journey, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Journey has produced many hits over the years that I enjoy, but for me, “Faithfully” stands out. It’s hard to imagine a better duo in rock than singer Steve Perry and guitarist Neal Schon. Even though Perry didn’t write the song, he sings it like he did and is able to make the message of the song personal to whomever is listening.
Even though I don’t know what it’s like to live life on the road as a musician, the song still has a powerful, yet personal message of remaining faithful to your significant other, no matter the circumstances.
- Metallica, “One”, 1988, Heavy Metal, 7:27, James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich
When I began this top ten list, I had to only choose nine, because I knew what number “One” would be. “One” may not be on my favorite album, Ride the Lightning, but it contains everything that I love about Metallica and their sound. It showcases their musical maturity that they had acquired even after Cliff Burton’s death in their soft, melodic intro.
The song begins in 4/4 time, but later changes to 3/4 time, and then to 2/4. Don’t get too comfortable with Hetfield’s soft solos however, because as he rips into the chorus with throatier vocals, he brings his dirty guitar riffs as backup. Along with the sudden change in Hetfield’s tone, Ulrich is there to provide a steady drum beat. Once the chorus is done a second time, it’s clear the song is no longer a mellowed cry for help by the soldier.
The song’s subject has lost his speech, hearing, sight, arms, and legs in WWI, and pleas to God to end his miserable life. As the tension in the lyrics mount and the soldier thinks “Please God, help me!!!”, Hetfield and Hammett begin with their machine gun-like guitars, accompanied by Ulrich’s double bass kicks and explain the soldier’s frantic, helpless thoughts through music. Nothing but despair can be felt for the soldier, and that feeling is exacerbated through Hammett’s chilling, tapping guitar solo. Once Hammett has completed, Hetfield joins in for a duet, and the song ends rather unsatisfactorily for the soldier, but very satisfactorily for the listener.
And there you have it – my top ten favorite songs. I hope you enjoyed reading through the list. Comment below with some of your favorite songs, and if you think I might have missed something, check out my top ten page with honorable mentions included as well.