Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Best Music of All-Time

I've been working on this post for months. In some ways, I've been working on it for my whole life.  I reserve all rights to make changes in the future, although since this actual post took me months to write, I can't imagine too many changes will be likely.

I'm a huge fan, devotee, connoisseur, and lover of music. While I do not consistently listen to all forms, I appreciate all forms. You won't find me listening regularly to opera, rap, or hip-hop, but even these I have come to appreciate in certain moments (like this one or this one).

The following list is my Top Twenty Best Compositions of All-Time. I don't expect people to agree with me. It wouldn't necessarily make sense. I liken making a list like this with giving an opinion as to "the best spouse ever." It's going to vary from person to person, and for good reason. "Best" is relative.  This list, while claiming "all-time" is quite obviously affected by a number of demographics, not to mention time itself - I live in the 21st century in the United States.  Anyway...

Actually, one last thing before the list...any interpretation of the lyrics or meaning of a song is pretty much my own.  That's one of the beauties of art, isn't it?  While the artist most likely has an intent with the work, it becomes up to the interpretation of the recipient who gets to enjoy the work down the road.  Any good artist realizes this and seeks to elicit emotions from the listener or observer.  

I tried to assess an order to these...I couldn't, with the exception of a "Top Three."  The others are in little to no order.

Let me begin:

Where the Streets Have No Name, U2 - The link is probably my favorite version. It was in Boston. I wasn't there, but I should have been. I've been to a lot of good shows and concerts, but my "resume" will not complete without hearing this live.

The Strong, the Tempted, & the Weak, Derek Webb - Sorry, but I couldn't find an audio file online or at YouTube. The link is to lyrics.  The song led me to blog once.

Worlds Apart, Jars of Clay - I bought Jars' first album on a whim during my freshman year of high school before anyone had really heard of them.  For a long time they were considered my "favorite band."  I've seen them live over 20 times, from Mama Kin's in Boston (my first 18+ show...I was 16...thanks, Jeff) to SoulFest to my favorite show at the Paradise in Boston. The link is a pretty long live version.  This song has brought me through a number of difficult times in life.  I've tried to listen to a lot of "Christian" bands over the years.  Only Jars have stuck (and perhaps Derek Webb).  

More Than A Feeling, Boston - Thanks to Ray for turning me on to Boston.  This is one of many songs that are meant for driving with all the windows down and the volume turned up.

Today, Smashing Pumpkins - Not really sure what the video's all about, but it's just a great song.  

In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Allman Brothers Band - I never got to see them live, but this is my favorite song from the band.  Love the way it builds into a classic 70s jam.

Dissolve, Guster - (The link is to a site with a clip of the song...Guster's record company must have a strangle-hold on their songs, because I couldn't find anything on YouTube.)  At some point in high school, I was at the CD store in the mall, looking through the Jars of Clay section (I wasn't looking for anything other than to see what they had...I already had everything possible put out by Jars).  A salesclerk came up and said that if I liked the acoustic rock sound of Jars, I would like "this three-man band with two guitars and bongos."  Turns out it was Guster.  I bought their first album (Parachutes), and have a couple more, but none of the later ones.  I should check them out again.  I later befriended the salesclerk, Mark Lisavich, and we went to at least one show together (turns out we had mutual friends).  Anyway, the whole of the Parachutes is incredible, but I remember listening to this song over and over.  By the way, I don't really think that Jars and Guster sound much alike...but it doesn't matter.  The notion got me to Guster.

Fake Plastic Trees, Radiohead - Do you remember those sob songs that you'd listen to in high school when someone rejected you or you got turned down by a girl or something?  Yeah, this was one of them for me.  I also like this acoustic version.

As I've listened to it more over the years though, the lyrics have actually come to mean something very deep for me, and for anyone who's ever been addicted to anything.  It speaks of the things in life that are enjoyable in the moment, but over time become shallow, cheap, and ultimately a hindrance to greater truth and goodness, rather than feeding it.

One, U2 - The link is a great version with Mary J. Blige.  This song is saturated with theology.  I used it for this video.

So Well, Strangefolk (Reid Genauer) - The link is a horrible video of an acoustic version of the song. Reid Genauer is a great folky songwriter and lyricist.  I wish Strangefolk had never lost Reid, but I can't blame a man for searching for his own.  Regardless, this song brings back many memories of the Somerville Theater, and speaks well of life and death, even touching on some of my theology, though Reid may likely cringe at the thought.

Hoedown, Bela Fleck & the Fleck (originally Aaron Copeland) - (skip to 1:50 on the YouTube clip for the song) One of the signs of a great composition is the numerous musicians who seek to tap into the complexities of the composition (for the younger, "covering" a song) to make it their own. Emerson Lake & Palmer's version is great. But my favorite is by Bela Fleck.

All Along the Watchtower, Jimi Hendrix (originally Bob Dylan) - Another song redone by many. I used to listen to the Dave Matthew's Band's version a lot. U2's is great.

David Bowie, Phish - The song title is "David Bowie" and has little to nothing to do with the guy who wore tights in The Labrinth. This was my favorite Phish song for a long time.  There are a lot of good songs with extended jams from Phish, but this is one of the originals.

Jamming, Bob Marley - There are a number of Bob Marley songs I could put up here, but the four chords at the beginning of this are legendary, pardon the pun.

Prince Caspian, Phish - Just a great tune.  I used to put Brayden to sleep with it when he was a baby.  It has no theological significance or relation to the book from the Chronicles of Narnia (at least, not according to any published report by the band), but it's a great song.

Slave to the Traffic Light, Phish - I used to have this bumper sticker in my car that said, "See the city, see the zoo, traffic light won't let me through" (lyrics from the song).  Who of us who have ever seen the light sticks flying at a Phish concert can forget this song?

Big Country, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones - Very simple on this one: this song makes me happy. It's very relaxing, soothing, and pretty incredible composition-wise. I'm not sure I've seen a show with more musical talent on one stage than this group. If I could switch Carter Beaford for Future Man, this would easily be the most talented band on the planet.

Etude in C-minor ("Revolutionary"), Frederick Chopin - I was turned on to this piano solo by my friend J. Paul Pepper who can play it. A powerful quick song.

3. The Four Seasons, Antonio Vivaldi - I kid you not: I used to listen to this over and over in my room when in middle and high school, flailing my arms as if I were the conductor. I particularly like the Winter I portion, the end of Winter III (intense!), and Summer I.

2. Fix You, Coldplay - This is the newest song on the list.  I don't even know what to say.  It's an incredible song.  I suppose if I listened to it 20 times in a row, I might get bored of it...but not 10 times in a row.  I actually do often listen to it 3 or 4 times in a row.  My kids love it.  I've used this in worship and at a funeral.  This is a song of redemption, a song of putting back together something that has gone wrong.  I see it holistically for the world: "Lots of times things suck.  That's not what God in Christ wants."

1. Messiah - Hallelujah, George Frederic Handel - It just, well, I can't help but be blown away by this song. It can certainly be overdone and when it's used comically or as a fill-in in a movie, it seems cheap, but when it comes down to it, this composition is loaded with inspiration, power, and truth. It's when music can inspire beyond the notes that it most moves me. The image of a final creation with "Christ and all things Christ," with no sorrow, all that ails and plagues us wiped away - that's pretty powerful. Handel does a "pretty good" job of putting this to sound.  Most who've ever actually sat and listened through Messiah and gotten to this part can tell you how powerful it is.

All right, have at it...


  1. Jeremy, you and I are often commenting on how much we agree on things. Well, perhaps we have finally found our divergence. Probably, the only song my top twenty would share would be "Worlds Apart". (Although, its likely that something classical and something from U2 would make it in as well) Of course, this probably has as much to do with my lack of musical IQ as anything else (partially illustrated by the fact that I probably haven't even heard half the songs on this list). Nevertheless, I enjoyed the list.

  2. Good list..I enjoy just about all of those choices!
    Below is a quick list of classical music that pwn my soul

    Rhapsody in Blue
    Waltz of the Flowers
    Horowitz's arrangement of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody
    Mozart's 40th
    All of Beethoven's symphonies
    Chopin Fantasie Improv
    Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor
    F. Schubert Serenade
    oh boy this list could go on forever nevermind

  3. Jeremy,

    I would of added "For What's Worth" by buffalo Springfield. "For What It's Worth" is a song written by Stephen Stills. It was performed by Buffalo Springfield and released as a single in January 1967; it was later added to the re-release of their first album, Buffalo Springfield.

    I would of added "Monster-America" by Steppenwolf. Monster/Suicide/America by Steppenwolf Songfacts
    Monster/Suicide/America by Steppenwolf song meaning, lyrics and chart position.

    I would of added "Forever Young" by bob Dylan. Bob Dylan | Forever Young lyrics
    Forever Young lyrics by Bob Dylan. ... May you stay forever young, Forever young, forever young, May you stay forever young. ...

  4. Steppenwolf Monster/Suicide/America Lyrics:
    Words and music by John Kay,
    Jerry Edmonton, Nick St. Nicholas
    and Larry Byrom

    Once the religious, the hunted and weary
    Chasing the promise of freedom and hope
    Came to this country to build a new vision
    Far from the reaches of kingdom and pope
    Like good Christians, some would burn the witches
    Later some got slaves to gather riches

    But still from near and far to seek America
    They came by thousands to court the wild
    And she just patiently smiled and bore a child
    To be their spirit and guiding light

    And once the ties with the crown had been broken
    Westward in saddle and wagon it went
    And 'til the railroad linked ocean to ocean
    Many the lives which had come to an end
    While we bullied, stole and bought our a homeland
    We began the slaughter of the red man

    But still from near and far to seek America
    They came by thousands to court the wild
    And she just patiently smiled and bore a child
    To be their spirit and guiding light

    The blue and grey they stomped it
    They kicked it just like a dog
    And when the war over
    They stuffed it just like a hog
    [ Find more Lyrics at ]

    And though the past has it's share of injustice
    Kind was the spirit in many a way
    But it's protectors and friends have been sleeping
    Now it's a monster and will not obey

    The spirit was freedom and justice
    And it's keepers seem generous and kind
    It's leaders were supposed to serve the country
    But now they won't pay it no mind
    'Cause the people grew fat and got lazy
    And now their vote is a meaningless joke
    They babble about law and order
    But it's all just an echo of what they've been told
    Yeah, there's a monster on the loose
    It's got our heads into a noose
    And it just sits there watchin'

    Our cities have turned into jungles
    And corruption is stranglin' the land
    The police force is watching the people
    And the people just can't understand
    We don't know how to mind our own business
    'Cause the whole worlds got to be just like us
    Now we are fighting a war over there
    No matter who's the winner
    We can't pay the cost
    'Cause there's a monster on the loose
    It's got our heads into a noose
    And it just sits there watching

    America where are you now?
    Don't you care about your sons and daughters?
    Don't you know we need you now
    We can't fight alone against the monster

    © Copyright MCA Music (BMI)
    All rights for the USA controlled and administered by
    MCA Corporation of America, INC
    Lyrics: Monster/Suicide/America, Steppenwolf [end]