-Ethan’s 25 Greatest Songs of All-Time List
By: Ethan Flynn
Hi everyone, it’s me, some guy completely unqualified to make this list! But really, anyone is unqualified. No one’s heard every song, and music is subjective anyway. What sounds like the aural representation of the Lord among us to me might sound like unremarkable nonsense to you. And that’s the beauty of this art form. However, I’ve tried (and probably failed) to be as objective as possible here, in that I compiled a list of songs where my love for them is based just in how great I deem the songwriting, performance, production, magnitude, etc. to be, rather than any personal emotional significance. It’s not the songs that mean a lot to me (although they do) because they came on at this time in my life and hit me, rather it’s the songs that when I listen to them, I say “Jesus this is just fucking brilliant music.” Be prepared to disagree.
25. The Geto Boys- Mind Playing Tricks on Me
One of the most evocative songs ever. “Evocative,” for me, essentially means I can’t describe the feeling this gives off. It’s nocturnal as hell, it’s grimy, it’s catchy, it’s alluring, it’s weirdly nostalgic for some reason. It’s a bunch of things. It boasts one of the best samples in all of hip hop (The Isaac Hayes track it’s built off of, Hung Up on My Baby, is incredible in its own right) and some of the tightest verses ever laid down. Every single line is instantly memorable and totally ties into the theme of the track. The stars aligned for this track as The Geto Boys don’t really have anything even close to this level, and that’s coming from a huge Houston head.
24. Bob Dylan- Subterranean Homesick Blues
You can’t really get more iconic and gamechanging than this song plus its brilliant music video. Bob Dylan, formerly known for traditional folk music, essentially raps over a rawkus, blown out blues jam. The lyrics are meaningless and so, so impactful at the same time. Vivid images that capture any youth zeitgeist, the song may sound like its from the 60s, but like any of Dylan’s best music, it hasn’t lost any of its coolness or charm.
23. Erykah Badu- On & On
It’s arguably neo-soul’s signature song for a reason. It’s got infinite swagger, infinite groove, infinite chill. You really can’t get more cool than this song.
22. Dr. Dre- Nuthin But a G Thang
Defines West Coast rap. This song simply is Sunshine and Good Vibes™. So effortlessly cool, so iconic, so feel good.
21. Madonna- Into the Groove
A big part of a song’s greatness is if I’m upset when it ends. Now, there’s a lot of great songs that don’t need to be any longer, but there’s some that could go on for 20 minutes and I wouldn’t care. This falls in the latter category. Every section of this song is so goddamn catchy that I just want to hear it over and over. It doesn’t quit. It just keeps coming with pure pop bliss.
20. J Dilla- Dreamy
Speaking songs that should never end, this song epitomizes that. If I had to choose one song to loop in my head for eternity, this would be it, no question. It’s just a loop, but it’s the most perfect loop of all time. The electric piano sample is as chill as chill can be, the drums pop like nothing else (that fucking snare!) and the signature Dilla Moog bassline is perfectly not perfectly placed as always. This came out in ’03 and countless producers (myself included) are trying to replicate this sound. There’s only one original.
19. Kendrick Lamar- Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst
The tales Kendrick weaves throughout this track make the best case, out of any of his songs, for why he’s easily the best rapper of all time. No one in hip hop has ever done it like this. I’m sorry. For twelve minutes I just hang on to every word. The beat in the first half is perfectly non intrusive but still strikes me with a ton of melancholy, and the second beat is the perfect urgent backdrop for Kendrick’s lament. The climax to the greatest story ever told in music.
18. Grimes- Oblivion
I’m gonna use evocative again here, because again I don’t know how to describe the way this song makes me feel. It’s like a John Hughes movie raised on the internet. 80s revivalism is better than the actual 80s. The video is top five all time. There’s like, forty hooks in this song. As good as synthpop can get.
17. Mobb Deep- Shook Ones Pt. II
The beat is so goddamn warped. It makes me wanna C O M M I T C R I M E S. In a winter coat, timbs, and snow cap. It’s as New York hip hop as it gets. Prodigy delivers the most “you have to rap along” verse ever. It’s just so iconic to its core.
16. D’Angelo- Untitled (How Does it Feel)
Probably the best build up in a song ever. Goes from primally sexy and sensual to blood pumpingly exhilarating in some of the most satisfying seven minutes in all of music. It’s literally God music. I’m convinced John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, J Dilla, Migos, and D’Angelo dropped from the heavens to make supernaturally great music.
15. Bob Dylan- Desolation Row
Probably the most Dylan song ever. It’s longwinded, cryptic, evokes tons of historical figures, and also evokes a sense of traveling. This song is a journey in itself, a journey into a world not unlike our own, but definitely not our own. I don’t know what I’m saying, but if you love Dylan like I do, you might get a sense of what I’m getting at. If you hate Dylan, you’re gonna think this song is plodding garbage.
14. Neil Young- Thrasher
Speaking of traveling songs, this is the best one there is. Indescribably beautiful. Neil Young strings together some life defining lyrics over simple folk strumming. It cuts to my core.
13. Madvillain- Accordian
Madlib’s beat is so off kilter, so “how the fuck did he sample that and put it together?!” and MF DOOM puts together some of the most memorable rhymes ever. I said you can’t get more iconic than Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Alien, this is an exception.
12. Stevie Wonder- Golden Lady
The best hook of all time. No question. The way this song uses its chorus is just unparalleled in its brilliance. I pray before the songwriting prowess displayed in this song. The crown jewel of the best album of the 70s.
11. Pharoah Sanders- The Creator Has a Master Plan
At 32 minutes, you get a whole album’s worth in this track alone. And it basically is the whole album it’s on, Karma, as you only get the 5 minute Colors after this. But really, that’s just a comedown, because you’re still feeling the aftershocks of this track. It’s a behemoth of spiritual beauty and intensity. In these 32 minutes, Pharoah and his band, complete with horns, piano, drums, bass, tons of auxiliary percussion, and Leon Thomas on vocals belting and yodeling out prayers, all assemble together in a chaotic mix to display the enormity of God with music. This music is legit powerful enough to make an atheist like myself think, “hey, maybe there is something out there.” It’s unreal.
10. Animal Collective- Fireworks
This song makes me nostalgic for memories I don’t even have. It’s one of the most mindblowingly beautiful songs I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. It’s like an apocalyptic carnival. Just listen to it, if you haven’t already.
9. Yes- Close to the Edge
These 18 minutes are a goddamn adventure. You never know where it’s gonna go next, and every twist and turn is so inventive and satisfying. It’s just such brilliant music making. Like how the fuck do you make this? I don’t understand this music. It’s above my station. But whatever, I get up I get down.
8. Neutral Milk Hotel- In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Maybe my vote for prettiest song ever. I’d have to think about it, but this is in the running. This is the sound of holding hands and swaying in a field, but you’re sad about it because it’s all coming to end soon.
7. Curtis Mayfield- Move on Up
Such an urgent, uplifting groove and melody. This song makes me feel like I can conquer universes with my bare hands. Like I can eat the sun and birth galaxies. Another one of those songs that could go on forever. This will never get old.
6. UGK & Outkast- Int’l Players Anthem
I almost wanna get married just so I can play this song at my wedding. It’s the ultimate soundtrack to victory, friendship, love, etc. Really any good thing out there in the universe, this song encompasses. When Pimp C and the drums arrive in this song it’s like, the best thing ever man.
5. Earth, Wind, & Fire- September
This song very much encompasses the same feelings as the last one. It’s pure joy, pure love for the human experience in song form. “Holding hands with your heart…” Brings a tear to my eye.
4. Kanye West- Runaway
I don’t know where to begin here. I’m gonna try to remove how much this song personally means to me, cuz it’s the reason I started to really give a shit about music in the first place. It’s the biggest classic of the 2010s, and will probably remain that way when history is officially written decades later. It opened the floodgates for a new era of hip hop. Here was one of the biggest stars in all of music, taking a 4 minute vocoder solo at the end of a song about how much of an asshole he is. And it’s the most heart wrenching, evocative, thing I’ve ever heard. I can’t even begin to relay this song’s greatness in words.
3. Michael Jackson- Billie Jean
The tightest groove ever. Every detail is placed perfectly. The production is immaculate. As iconic as a vocal performance can be. Catchy as all hell. When people talk about the ‘perfect pop song,’ they’re talking about Billie Jean.
2. John Coltrane- My Favorite Things
John Coltrane takes this Sound of Music tune and makes you forget that movie even exists. In all of his iterations of this tune, in studio or live, it’s the most transcendent and spiritually enriching piece of music in existence. This is the music coming from the open gates of heaven. This is the music God listens to. This song stretches vision and music to its brink and it explodes in a spark of blue light.
1. Stevie Wonder- Superwoman
This is the best songwriting in existence. (That I’ve heard, at least.) The way this song moves from its first half to its second is just, heaven. It’s got the best sound ever. That guitar tone, that watery electric piano, those punchy, light drums, those sunny analog synths, those melodies, those harmonies, and of course, Stevie’s butter smooth vocals. And every single aspect of this was done by Stevie. He is a God. I will spend the rest of my days trying to write and produce as song as great as this, and it will never happen. No one will ever top this. I’m always that guy who advocates for the new school and thinks it’s just as good as the old (cuz it is) but I can’t imagine anyone topping this. This is peak songwriting. This is Jordan in 96. It’s literal auditory sunshine. This song will always be there to provide me warmth and inspiration. Thank you, Stevie.