I can’t remember why I thought this would be a good idea. And it probably isn’t, but since the thought occurred to me, I have no choice but to create a list of my 50 favorite songs of all time.
This could easily be a life’s work. The hardest part is just remembering all of the… songs. In the universe, potentially. Or at least the ones that have mattered to me at some point in my life. I’ve made a real effort to do that, but this is no less a post you should expect to see revised every few years, until I’m dead, at which point—lucky for the people of the earth—there will be an easy way to remember what my favorite songs were.
And these are my favorite songs, not the songs I think are the greatest of all time, which is an important distinction because I don’t think those lists would have more than two or three tracks in common. One day I might make that other list, but for now you’ll have to accept this paltry package of my personal preferences.
52. Just Like Honey – The Jesus and Mary Chain
A great tune that holds up surprisingly well for having such a distinct 80s sound, but the real reason it’s on my list is probably that my favorite movie is Lost In Translation. I was two years old when the song was on the radio, so I wasn’t able to appreciate it fully at the time, but I was 22 when I saw the movie. It will forever bring about nostalgic feelings from not only one of the most memorable periods of my life, but also every time I’ve had to walk away from a friend.
51. Duplexes of the Dead – The Fiery Furnaces
Speaking of nostalgia, The Fiery Furnaces always felt like a band from an alternate timeline where rampant drug abuse in the 70s lead the world to experimental hard rock, instead of fuuucking disco. Their songs are often complex and full of odd juxtapositions, and they can rock harder than your favorite metal band, all while maintaining an apparently cool and calm, suburban demeanor.
Other favorites: Quay Cur
50. Tenuousness – Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird is very possibly the most talented person on this list, and it’s kind of a surprise to me that he’s not higher up, but it turns out that there are a lot of great songs in the universe. This is my favorite from him (and the performance in the video above is particularly great) but you could really pick any random track from his catalog and have a similarly sublime experience.
Other favorites: Danse Caribe, Are You Serious
49. Girl / Boy Song – Aphex Twin
I thought long and hard about putting Avril 14th here, because it’s kind of unbelievably pretty, but Girl / Boy Song has to be the pick. Just because a proper Aphex Twin song should have ten thousand beats per second. Richard D. James is one of the most important pioneers in all the history of sound, according to me, and he introduced me to a lot of what I love about electronic music to this day.
48. Crane Your Neck – Lady Lamb the Beekeeper
This one is almost uncomfortable to listen to, which is why I like it so much. I’ve shown it to a few people over the years and had a couple of them tell me that Lady Lamb sucks or that they found it awkward to listen to, and I’m like, yeah, that’s the fucking point. Pouring out your soul on stage should be a little uncomfortable.
47. Father Time – Saukrates
This was about the moment I realized rap could be pretty good. I was maybe 11 years old and feeling like a bit of a gangster on the school yard, and this song had a hard-ass beat. It reminded me of Wu-Tang Clan—which Saukrates was definitely inspired by, and references—but smarter. At least that’s what I thought at the time. I really felt like Soxx was a prophet for my generation, spitting wisdom for the kids, plus he was Canadian. Without this track on some mixtape in my backpack I don’t know that I would have developed any real appreciation for hiphop.
46. Lost Cause – Beck
This is just a sappy little love song. But it’s a damned good one, and it was on my playlist for long enough, circa 2003-2005, that I listened to it on the train home from breaking up with half of the girls in Vancouver. That kind of thing will stick with you. And while we’re here, on an unrelated note, I’d like to apologize to half of the girls in Vancouver.
45. Is That All There Is? – John Parish & PJ Harvey
I have a really hard time taking spoken word seriously, but it works for me here, and this slowed-down, slightly drunk and downtrodden cover has its own identity. The original Peggy Lee version is also great, but PJ & John did something special with it, and PJ Harvey is one of my all-around favorite artists of all time.
44. The Second Part – The Dears
Remember a couple spots back, when I said I listened to that one Beck song a lot on the train home from breaking the hearts of half the women in Vancouver? Well, this is the tune I’d listen to on the way back to their arms a week later. Good times. And again, very sorry.
43. Where This Flower Blooms – Tyler, the Creator
Tyler has done more for hiphop in the 21st century than almost anyone. He kind of made it okay to break the mold and be more creative, and more individual, in a scene where people are usually stuck within archetypes. The man is far from perfect, but he’s a genuine character and a creative force.
42. Falling Star – Kurt Swinghammer
Vostok 6 is a concept album focused on Valentina Tereshkova, who was the first woman in space. This track is a doozy, melodically and lyrically, with some of my favorite lines of all time. I would quote them here but, really, it’s as much about Kurt’s inflections and cadence as the words themselves, so you’ll have to give it a listen.
41. Every Single Night – Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple should be in the top 10, but individual songs of hers don’t tend to have a massive impact on me. I listen to Fiona for the full album experience, which hurts her only in this specific ranking format. But Every Single Night is special. When I first heard it I was sure it was going to be a smash hit, and while the world is stupider than that, at least we still have Fiona Apple.
40. Blackstar – David Bowie
Incredible even without the context, but it’s hard to forget that this is a song (and a music video) created by and about a man about to leave the earth. David Bowie was a musical genius for five decades, with hardly a misstep, and with Blackstar he managed to arguably create his best work at the end of his career. That just doesn’t happen. But it did.
39. Regulate – Warren G ft. Nate Dogg
The 1994 vibes here are enough of a reason to make the list, but it’s also just straight up one of the best groves of all time and you’ll never change my mind. On a personal note, it’s a song about having your life changed by being jumped, and I happened to be put in the hospital around that time thanks to—would you believe it—an actual Canadian street gang. It would be a while longer before I’d have a car full of girls and describe things as going real swell, but I was big into this song for a long time. Bonus: It’s the only track on this list I’ve done a karaoke version of.
38. Farmer in the City – Scott Walker
Scott Walker was a singer in a pop band in the 1960s, who decided a little later in life to make some of the most haunting, cinematic, and strange music I’ve ever heard. Pier Paolo Pasolini was an Italian film director who enjoyed torrid love affairs with young boys, until he was brutally murdered one afternoon in Ostia. The story of both of these men drew me in to this song, and years later I learned to love Scott. But it took some work.
37. God Only Knows – The Beach Boys
Would you believe the first time I heard this one was in a video game? Well, alright, I had definitely heard it before, but the first time I really listened, man, was when a barbershop quartet drifted up to me on a flying barge in the sky in Bioshock Infinite. It was a beautiful and captivating moment, and most of the magic came from the song itself. It has certainly stuck with me more than the game.
36. Change (In the House of Flies) – Deftones
This song made me feel connected to something deep and dark in my later teen years. It was more authentic than other music that was at least superficially similar, and put a much needed bullet in nu-metal for me. All these years later, it’s one of very few pieces of music from the era that still makes me feel exactly the way it did back then.
35. Die Die Die – Dr. Dog
I wasn’t even going through a breakup when I met this song. I just loved everything about it. It’s one of the absolute best tunes to sing drunk and overloud on a porch in the summer, reflecting on the best-worst parts of the good old days. Aside, it first came to my attention when I saw Lady Lamb’s awesome cover version.
Other favorites: Army of Ancients
34. Closer – Nine Inch Nails
When I was a kid this song was v. naughty and p. cool. Now, the same things that made it so edgy in the 90s make it feel more than a little cringey. But it’s still dope as hell. The music itself, that beat, and especially the incredible outro, are unreal, and I’ll listen to it on repeat all day just for the final few piano notes. I’ve chased that feeling in other music and it’s goddamn hard to come by.
33. Top of the World – Rascalz ft. Barrington Levy & k-os
Shame that’s the best quality video I could find, but the song will part the fog. This was an anthem for me growing up, and, as a hiphop fan from Vancouver, it gave me some pride in my city. Even though the best part of the track is undoubtedly the monumental second verse from k-os, who is from Ontario, and the wailing cries of Barrington Levy, a Jamaican. But hey, at least the video was shot here.
Other favorites: Dreaded Fist
32. Life is a Highway – Tom Cochrane
This might seem like a weird pick for me. And these days, the song is probably most associated with the shitty Rascal Flatts version from Cars. But I used to listen to the original in the car with my dad every week or two, on long drives between cities. Those memories are so strong and vital to me that I have no choice but to accept the track as absolutely perfect.
Other favorites: No Regrets
31. Once In A Lifetime – Talking Heads
This one came a little before my time, and I never really liked it when I was younger, but I’ve learned to appreciate it. I remember the day I happened to listen to it in my thirties and it all just kind of clicked and filled me with an existential dread, which is a surefire way to score big points with me.
30. Body of Years – Mother Mother
Mother Mother have been one of the most underrated bands in the world for over a decade. They are immensely talented, unique and creative, and every song they put out is an absolute bop and a half. It probably helps that they’re from Vancouver, as I appear to have a bit of a slant toward local artists, but there’s no doubt in my mind that these guys have been robbed of the massive success due to them.
29. Don’t Look Back In Anger – Oasis
For people around my age, Oasis were The Beatles. When Liam said he was the reincarnation of John Lennon, we believed him, except Liam was obviously a bit cooler. But it was his brother, Noel, who sang the band’s best song, which ostensibly abandons more typical song structures and is just a series of insanely singable hooks one after the other.
28. Poses – Rufus Wainwright
I saw this performance one afternoon on some local talk show, which is, miraculously, the video I managed to find and embed here. I didn’t know a lot about Rufus Wainwright, but as soon as he was done serenading me I got up from the sofa, sat down at the computer and downloaded his discography from Morpheus or KaZaA or something. Honestly, I didn’t like any of his other songs. Not a single one. Great story, Christoph.
27. Grand Pianola Music – John Adams
I discovered this piece while playing Civilization IV, which is a strategy game that takes place throughout human history. This music starts playing after you enter the modern era, and every time I get to that part I feel like I’m waking up and stepping out into a busy world at dawn. It’s a feeling I can’t easily find outside of music, and nowhere is it stronger than here. FYI, the song starts at the six minute mark in the video above.
26. Retrograde – James Blake
Sometimes all a good song needs to be is a fuckin vibe.
25. Say It Ain’t So – Weezer
I was a skater, but I was never very good at skateboarding. I was in it for the culture, I guess, and Weezer was a big deal at skate parks in the mid 90s. They were different from other bands, who were all trying to be edgy, while Weezer was a band that made it feel cool to be a loser. And this was by far their best song.
24. All Apologies – Nirvana
Nirvana was for kids slightly older than I was at the time, but that only made them cooler. This song, for me, was sitting with my back against the wall on my best friend’s bed, pretending I really got it, man. A little later it was sitting alone in my own room trying to teach myself to play the guitar. By now it’s a whole lot of rooms, different people and ideas, some of which (or whom) have even turned out okay.
23. The Dark of the Matinee – Franz Ferdinand
I saw these guys live at the Orpheum here in Vancouver back in 2005, with TV On the Radio as an opening act. Both bands were at the top of their game, but Franz Ferdinand in particular blew me away. I didn’t sit down for the entire show, partly because the seats at the Orpheum are fucking horrendously uncomfortable, but mostly because the band was just absolutely unrelenting. The energy built steadily throughout the night until everyone there was ready to collapse from a lack of cardiovascular preparation for a rock show.
22. Imagining My Man – Aldous Harding
I wasn’t sure what to think of Aldous Harding the first time I saw her perform, but I did know that it was captivating. By the end of the three-song set—the same one embedded here, starting with my selection—I connected with what she was doing. She gets into character and performs her songs from a place I can’t necessarily relate to, but it’s genuine, not theatrical, and she’s a favorite performer now. ‘Imagining My Man’ is my choice here because it’s one of the most honest appraisals of a difficult relationship I’ve ever heard.
Other favorites: The Barrel, and the other two songs in the video above.
21. Cymbal Rush – Thom Yorke
I really wanted to embed a live take on this song from the Henry Rollins Show, but I had to go with the studio version here, because of an irritating series of bleep-bloops that loop throughout the whole track. I hated those fucking bleep-bloops for the longest time. I thought they were stupid and pointless. I thought they distracted from, and pretty much ruined, an otherwise great song. But I remember lying on the floor one morning with a high quality set of headphones and having my mind blown by not only how well the bleep-bloops worked in a balanced mix, but how vital they really are. Those bleep-bloops are the song, and figuring that out changed the way I listened to music forever.
20. Sunday Morning – No Doubt
I met my first girlfriend when I was twelve years old. I don’t know how we decided that we were a couple, but I guess I thought she was pretty hot, and she couldn’t think of a good counter argument in time. Funny thing is when I think back to those days I can’t see the girl’s face at all; It’s just Gwen Stefani. I distinctly remember marching off to the Circle-K with Gwen for Jolt colas and Pixy Stix. This song brings me back to those days like nothing else, and aside from that, I honestly believe when No Doubt was in their prime they were one of the greatest live acts of all time.
19. House of Smoke and Mirrors – Matthew Good
Matthew Good might be the artist I’ve spent the most time with. Between his years on top of the Canadian alt rock world with the Matthew Good Band, and a few great solo records in the aftermath, I’ve spent countless hours listening to his stories and playing air guitar in his band. This particular song is a perfect closer for the first record he put out on his own, and one entry on a long list of favorites I’m going to have to type out in a second.
18. Comptine d’un autre ete, L’Apres-midi – Yann Tiersen
I liked Amelie a lot in my hipster youth, say 2005-ish. It’s kind of a silly, cheesy movie, but it’s easy for me to buy in to movies with subtitles that take place in other parts of the world because, hey, maybe Parisians really are that delightfully quirky. I studied it, experimented with its methods for weaving together a series of short stories into something that feels cohesive. I marveled at its color palettes, and the use of blue lights and objects to break through the warm and earthy tones on screen, like a painting. Thing about it is, the song is better than the movie.
17. Naveed – Our Lady Peace
I fucking hate Our Lady Peace. I feel like they lied to me repeatedly throughout my life and my growth as a fan of music. I thought they were pretty cool up until they met Bob Rock and he convinced them to dumb their shit down for mass appeal with Gravity, but looking back on it now, Clumsy was a pile of pandering anthemic garbage, too. However comma, Naveed—the album—is still pure and brilliant from start to finish, and Naveed—the song—is still the highlight.
16. Longview – Green Day
Oh, right, back to my skater days. I think Green Day was my very first ‘favorite band’, and I still think Dookie is a genuinely solid record. I remember watching MuchMusic (Canada’s version of MTV) for hours every day with a VHS loaded into the machine, ready to hit record when the latest Green Day video came on. I had a great collection of clips, which I would later record over with random cable smut, and both of these things hold a special place in my heart.
15. Joga – Bjork
I have surprisingly little to say about Bjork. She’s Bjork. You all know everything there is to know about Bjork, which can be summarized by saying Bjork is Bjork. And this is Bjork’s best song, according to me, which you can tell from how high I’ve placed it on my list of favorite songs. There are no other Bjork songs that are higher on the list. This is the best song by Bjork, and it’s very Bjorky.
14. Alright – Kendrick Lamar
This feels like a very middle-class white guy thing to say, but I think Kendrick Lamar restored my faith in rap music. I used to be a fan, but throughout the 2000s hiphop became increasingly shallow and materialistic, all the great storytellers were replaced by mumble rappers and whatever Chingy was, and the beats became more and more derivative until there was nothing left for me. But Kendrick showed up with a message, an authenticity, and a killer selection of new jazz-rap and vintage west coast beats that brought me back. And I’ll have you know, I’m a decidedly lower-class white guy.
13. To The Lighthouse – Patrick Wolf
At one point I remember thinking that Patrick Wolf made writing feel like the wrong choice of profession for me. Music could just do so much more, and would allow a person to express things that are completely intangible and impossible to put into words. Which probably means I’m a bad writer, but it definitely means he’s a genius musician. It was hard to pick a song of his, but my girlfriend essentially talked me into this one, and she’s right.
12. Keep the Streets Empty – Fever Ray
Fever Ray’s solo debut was an unbelievable album, start to finish. There was something primal about it—I called it Jungle Goth, which somehow never caught on—but it was also perfectly produced, modern and surprisingly digestible on a first listen. I’ve taken this track with me on many a late night walk, you know, for the vibes. There’s still nothing else like it, and I’m putting the full tracklist in order as the “other favorites” section.
11. Cosmic Ballet – Sarah Slean
This song did things to me when I first listened to the album back in 2011. It was a weird moment in my life, which certainly helped, but this song in particular grabbed me by the lapels and shook me back down to Earth. I remember demanding that my girlfriend at the time come out with me after midnight, into a creepy field across the street from our apartment, to lie in the grass and stare up at the sky, splitting a pair earbuds. We saw a lot of shooting stars and satellites that night.
10. Changes – 2Pac
It’s a bit strange that Tupac was long dead when this came out, and he never actually heard this version of the track. But I promise you, it’s the best rap song that exists, still. His discography is otherwise kind of hit and miss. The man was fucking prolific and chucked out tracks as quickly as possible, without getting too precious about the process. His sound was mostly unrefined, he made a lot of mistakes, but his passion was a force of nature. I think this song is a glimpse at what a mature Tupac would have sounded like.
9. I Know the End – Phoebe Bridgers
I didn’t want to like Phoebe Bridgers at first. A lot of her music is kind of dull, and safe. Her lyrics are always clever, but she uses the same basic approach for every song and I really don’t want to get behind that. However, no matter how many times I listen to this one, I swear to you, I get goosebumps at the climax and my eyes well with tears. Every time. It’s not the scream, man; I think it’s the chord progression and the cacophony around it. Either way, it’s great, and Phoebe is a remarkable songwriter.
8. Anywhere I Lay My Head – Tom Waits
Most of Tom’s songs feel otherworldly, or cartoonish. He’s a character. But this feels real, and man have I ever felt it. This song feels like Tom Waits sobering up from the rest of Rain Dogs, and it puts a great album into a new context that makes it one of the best of all time.
7. Hard Rain – Lykke Li
Do you know how surprised I am that this song is on this list at all, let alone in the top 10? Of course you don’t. I love Lykke Li, but this song and the rest of So Sad So Sexy is so overwhelmingly modern pop that I should have labeled her a sellout and moved on with my life, but I’d have been wrong. This is real shit. It’s what young love feels like.
6. Waterstriders – Martin Tielli
I have a history of going for long, worrisome walks in the middle of the night. Down to the river, the train tracks, under the overpass on the side of the highway. One way or another, there is a good chance this is how I’m going to die, and I’ll probably be playing this song. Martin Tielli is one of the most uniquely talented singers, and most natural guitarists, I’ve ever heard.
5. Lodestar – Sarah Harmer
Watching this song performed live made me feel at home. Made me feel Canadian and proud, and all kinds of things I didn’t even know I wanted to feel. I came to it through a gussied up version by the Art of Time Ensemble with Sarah Slean, which is also great, but Sarah Harmer’s live take is the best version of one of the best songs I’m aware of. Watch it through to the end and tell me you didn’t feel it.
4. No Beginning No End – Hawksley Workman
Why do sadness birds? A line in broken English, probably discovered on a napkin in some diner across the street from a train station. It’s a myth I’m inventing right now. And Hawksley Workman wrote a song around it, decades before the myth was invented. It was a very beautiful song that perfectly captured the strange melancholy of the words on the napkin.
3. Deep Blue – Arcade Fire
I remember people being very upset when The Suburbs won the Grammy for Album of the Year. I was ecstatic. That record was timed just right for me, for where I was in my life, and I’m kind of still there.
The album feels like a continuation of the story told on Arcade Fire’s first full length LP, Funeral. But where that record was written from a child’s perspective, here we’re moving back to the old neighborhood as adults. And something don’t feel right.
Deep Blue is the big climax of the album’s story, for me. And it’s the track that best represents the rest of the themes of the record. You should really listen to the whole album, but if I had to pick one song… well, I did.
Other favorites: Power Out / Rebellion (live performance), The Suburbs, Crown of Love, Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), Ocean of Noise, My Heart Is An Apple, Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles), My Body is a Cage, Keep the Car Running
2. The Rip – Portishead
Like so many other tracks on this list, it’s just a feeling. I wrote years ago about being synesthetic, and the short version is just to say that music makes me see colorful stuff. I try to listen to certain types of music alone, with my eyes closed or in the dark, watching the songs paint themselves on the insides of my eyelids.
And this one is just kind of my palette. The colors of The Rip are the ones I see and have seen since I was a kid, dreaming with my eyes open long after I was supposed to go to sleep. Watching a giant canvas my parents had hung on my wall, as it shifted into different shapes in fuzzy half-light.
It’s not the only song that paints in those colors, but it’s my favorite.
1. Codex – Radiohead
How the fuck did Clive Deamer wind up playing on both of my top two songs of all time? He’s a great drummer, sure, but I never saw that coming.
Anyway. I’m a big Radiohead fan. I’d like to think I’m not among the most obnoxious of them, but I probably am, and there’s not much that can be done about that by now. In my mind there’s Radiohead and then there is all other music, in two approximately equal cups. What of it?
They’ve been with me through a lot. In the fall of 2011 I was in the middle of one of the most challenging and wonderful phases of my life, which was obviously all about women. I remember walks over crunchy leaves, and soon frost and snow. I walked with one girl, then two. I stood at the edge of a frozen lake and watched my breath fold itself away on the wind, alone.
Codex was the perfect song for a series of moments that autumn and winter. It’s one of Radiohead’s most subtle, restrained and eerie odes to loss and change. It happened to be the soundtrack to a lot of big moments in my life, for a time, and it’s definitely my favorite song.