XTC Apple Venus Volume 1

The Ten Best Songs Ever (According To Me)

Lists are always subjective, but songs are particularly so – there are way more to choose from. It’s also way easier to burn out on songs – twenty years ago I would have likely chosen popular tracks like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or ‘Superstition’, but now the list is largely comprised on deep cuts that haven’t outworn their welcome with radio exposure.

At the same time, it’s noticeable that most of these songs are old friends – they’re all from the 20th century and I’ve known them all for years – it takes a while for songs to earn this level of love.

Here are my ten favourite songs, presented in alphabetical order:

Be My Baby by The Ronettes

1963, later appeared on Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica (1964)
Phil Spector isn’t the only famous musician to sully his reputation with subsequent misdeeds, but his conviction for murder hasn’t helped his stocks. But he was a hugely influential figure in the development of pop music, an auteur who used the studio as an instrument. ‘Be My Baby’ may be his finest moment, teen themed but meticulously arranged. It’s been estimated that the song has been played almost 4 million times on radio and television since 1963; the equivalent of 17 years back to back.

I’ll make you happy, baby, just wait and see
For every kiss you give me I’ll give you three

Close to the Edge by Yes

from Close To The Edge (1972)
‘Close to the Edge’ takes up an entire LP side, clocking in at nearly twenty minutes, but it’s all the best aspects of Yes rolled into one track. Chris Squire’s thunderous bass, Jon Anderson’s high pitched vocals spouting religious gibberish, Rick Wakeman’s flamboyant keyboards, Bill Bruford’s jazzy drumming,and Steve Howe’s spidery guitar all fight for your attention in a track bursting with ideas.

We relieve the tension only to find out the master’s name

Dealer by John Martyn

from One World (1977)
Martyn’s 1977 album One World is a unique record, with the folk musician adding dub and an outdoor ambience to his palette. While most of the record is mellow, the opener ‘Dealer’ simmers, with Martyn’s husky and slurred vocals, and fiery guitar leads. Steve Winwood guests on bass and synthesizer.

Well, I cannot be your lover and I will not be your friend

Don’t Interrupt The Sorrow by Joni Mitchell

from The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975)
This song from Joni Mitchell‘s most creative era has unique textures, featuring a dobro and congas. Wilton Felder’s busy bass is the star attraction, with his riff providing the song’s main hook. Mitchell was starting to assert herself lyrically, losing the support of music critics – the song ends with the provocative line “It take a heart like Mary’s these days when your man gets weak.”

The good slaves love the good book
A rebel loves a cause

Easter Theatre by XTC

from Apple Venus Volume 1 (1999)
Andy Partridge is one of the most creative songwriters in pop music; he’ll dazzle you with his inventive chord sequences and intelligent lyrics. His best song came well into his career, on the band’s orchestral record Apple Venus Volume 1. The lyrics describe a medieval festival, and Partridge himself plays the stinging guitar solo that’s out of place yet fits perfectly. Partridge stated in an interview with XTC fan-site Chalkhills that he’d “exorcized a lot of those kind of Lennon-and-McCartney, Bacharach-and-David, Brian Wilson type ghosts out of my system” by writing this song, that he too modestly describes as merely near-perfect.

Stage left
Enter Easter and she’s dressed in yellow yolk

The French Inhaler by Warren Zevon

from Warren Zevon (1976)
A smooth rocker with a dark streak, Zevon’s a masterful songwriter, and he dispenses with the standard verse/chorus structure of pop music on this piece. Instead, ‘The French Inhaler’ meanders through its different sections, a nasty, witty kiss-off to an ex-partner. The moment when Glenn Frey and Don Henley’s backing vocals launch is heavenly.

How’re you going to make your way in the world, woman
When you weren’t cut out for working

I Wanna Be Your Lover by Prince

from Prince (1979)
Prince went on to make better albums, but for my money he never recorded a better song than the lead single from his second album, 1979’s Prince. Prince, in his very early twenties, wrote, performed, engineered, and produced the entire album by himself. ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ is straightforward, but the combination of the fantastic falsetto vocal and energetic funk is irresistible.

I ain’t got no money
I ain’t like those other guys you hang around

Only Shallow by My Bloody Valentine

from Loveless (1991)
The guitars on the opening track of Loveless always surprises me – simultaneously dreamy and punchy, a masterpiece of production from My Bloody Valentine mastermind Kevin Shields.

Like a pillow

Peaches En Regalia by Frank Zappa

from Hot Rats (1970)
I’m not a Zappa fanatic, largely because he has two different facets to his work. There’s the Frank Zappa who recorded the scatological social commentary about yellow snow and wet t-shirt competitions. But there’s also the Zappa who’s a phenomenal guitarist and jazz-fusion maestro. ‘Peaches en Regalia’ is a succinct instrumental which dazzles with its fast moving structure and virtuosity. Ian Underwood is the featured musician on keyboards, flute, clarinet, and saxophone, while a young Shuggie Otis plays bass.

What Have I Done to Deserve This? by Pet Shop Boys

from Actually (1987)
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe were hit machines in the mid-1980s, with their witty, tuneful synth-pop. ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This?’ resurrected the career of Dusty Springfield, whose soaring vocals are a perfect contrast with Tennant’s English deadpan. The duo held the song back for three years after writing it, until they could convince Springfield to record with them.

Chasing time from hour to hour
I pour the drinks and crush the flowers

Want to write in your top ten tunes? Post them in the comments, or write your own blog post.


  1. I did some blog posts on stuff I liked – and then removed them. I think that on re-reading them I either came across as a fan-boi or an obscurist.
    If I were to do a top 10, it would probably change completely the next day.
    It would include XTC, Big Big Train, Ian McNabb, Ben Folds, early Genesis, Associates, Lou Reed, Neil Young, Yes, Waterboys, Half Man Half Biscuit, Steve Hackett .. oh bugger that’s more than 10 and I haven’t mentioned the classical stuff like Vaughan Williams, Walton, Beethoven or Respighi.
    It is interesting to read what others like. I follow a few people and once in a while the same song features on one’s ‘Best song ever’ and another’s ‘Worst Song ever’ posts.

    • I think my list is pretty obscure – mostly semi-famous acts, but deep cuts. But I explained the reason why in the intro. I dig all the rock acts you mention, except I haven’t got to the Icicle Works etc yet. I do find that my list of favourite songs doesn’t really correlate with my list of favourite acts – I’d say Yes, XTC, and Joni Mitchell would probably make it, but not the others.
      I don’t think I’d ever do a worst song ever list, mainly because the worst stuff is probably buried deep on obscure albums. Maybe a most overplayed list.

    • Yeah, definitely considered Beatles – their 1967 stuff is right up there, but felt hard to choose between John and Paul. Strawberry Fields Forever is my third favourite Beatles song, behind I Am The Walrus and Penny Lane.

    • That’s a pretty big correlation really, considering how many songs there are around.
      Zappa and Zevon are definitely two guys who could have had some good music left in them when the passed early.

  2. Great eclectic set of songs. Be My Baby is the best thing that Spector ever did to me… Mine would probably change from day to day. Some songs for some reason I don’t get tired of… Mine would probably include Zombies Care of Cell 44, Traffic Can’t Find My Way Back Home, Dylan It’s Alright Ma, Big Star Ballad of El Goodo, Procol Harum A Whiter Shade of Pale, Buffalo Springfield Broken Arrow, Hank Williams I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry, Simon and Garfunkel America, U2 One, Beatles A Day in the Life….

      • I like how your list was so diverse… Like i said I can change from day to day…
        It’s like which Beatles I want to hear on a daily basis Early Beatles, Middle Beatles, Sgt Beatles or late… kind of the same thing.

  3. I love reading personal lists like these. The Easter track is just in time 😉 Must have been very tough to narrow down as there are so many great songs. You’ve inspired me to add John Martyn to my list and work on my own top 10 post-will need a long, hard think first!

    • John Martyn’s really good, although took me a while to get into him. He’s more of a folkie in the early 1970s, then he branches out. 1973’s Solid Air and 1977’s One World are good places to start, although I have a big soft spot for his 1980 breakup album Grace & Danger.

  4. Full respect! Nice to see how different music connects with us all in different ways. Unfortunately when seeing pet shop Boys at the end of your list, I threw my iPhone from the 28th floor….so apart from needing a new phone, an interesting post!

  5. Wow zeta! I take my hat off to you for managing to pick 10! I’m interested to know whether you have the same 10 today? I don’t think I could put a list of 10 together…

  6. So by “song” you mean a particular recorded version of a song. A track, maybe.
    When someone told Ian Dury that he wrote great songs, he didn’t agree, because to him a “great song” was something that loads of people could do a good version of, whereas his were great when sung by him but wouldn’t have interested those who deal in covers. So by his definition, Yesterday would be a great song whereas Penny Lane wouldn’t.
    I like your choices, by the way, and if they’re a bit self-indulgent and most people wouldn’t know a lot of them, so what? It’s a bit of fun. My own list would change from day to day and would maybe range from Our Day Will Come by Ruby and the Romantics to See No Evil by Television.

    • Yes, I totally mean “particular recorded versions” – it’s just not a very snappy title….
      I don’t think I’ve ever heard that Ruby and the Romantics song – it’s nice.

  7. So I kept meaning to get back to this but never did. The only songs I know well enough to even possibly rank are “Be My Baby,” “Close to the Edge,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Peaches En Regalia.” Love ’em all, none of ’em make my Top Ten.
    I realized that yes, I had done my Top Ten Favorite Rock Songs almost four years ago. You can find here if you’re so inclined:
    Now you had indicated that this wasn’t just the best ever according to you. But then you went on to say, “the list is largely comprised on deep cuts that haven’t outworn their welcome with radio exposure.” So it’s really your best songs ever that are not largely overexposed which is a whole different thing. Mine is just my favorites of all time whether or not they play them every five seconds. A list of faves that are also not overexposed would be, for me, a different list than the one I previously did. Does that make sense? If so I’ll stop making sense, making sense .

    • I enjoyed reading your list – looks like I can’t comment on it, maybe because it’s a few years old? For some reason I can never remember how Free Bird goes, even though I own that album.
      I mainly added that line because I was thinking about how, when I was 16, something like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ would have been a shoo-in for my top 10, but now I don’t feel like I need to hear it very often. I do wonder if a combination of radio exposure and album exposure can push a track too much on me.

      • Yeah, I closed the older comments after 30 days or so. I had that open for a long time but then after a while nobody comments and so you just stupid spam. “Free Bird” I can sing backward and forwards and so can a ton of people of my generation. I met a woman who said it was her prom song! It’s impossible to dance to so it’s kinda ridiculous.

  8. That’s a fun list.
    When I was growing up nobody who went to see “Purple Rain” remembered the song “I wanna be your lover” because the music landscape had changed so much in those 5 or so years – and Prince was a major contributor to the shift – from pop to rock. (Ie from having Whitney Houston on the radio to having Pearl Jam in instead)

  9. My ten favourite songs ever
    1. The Killers – “All These things that I’ve done”
    2. The Rolling Stones – “Tops”
    3. The Red Hot Chili Peppers- “Under The Bridge”
    4. REM – “Find The River”
    5. U2 – “Bad” – try to find a live version, preferably the one From “Wide Awake in America”
    6. The Tragically Hip – “ Ahead by a Century”
    7. The Smiths – “How Soon is Now?” – generally considered to be the “Stairway to Heaven” of modern rock
    8. The Cure – “ Just like Heaven”
    9. Pearl Jam – “ wild eyed crazy Mary” feat Natalie Merchant
    10. Counting Crows – “Sullivan Street”

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