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100 Greatest Songs of All Time: 100-51

An epic staff list that's hopefully as timeless as the tracks...

The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time, artwork by Steven Fiche
The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time, artwork by Steven Fiche
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    In the fall of 2012, the editors and senior staff writers of Consequence of Sound assembled in various apartments to piece together the 100 greatest songs of all time.

    There were debates. There were fights. There was spilt Thai food. Nobody cried, everyone prevailed, and below is the list that came from those long September nights.

    They have since remain untouched.


    100. Phil Collins – “In The Air Tonight”

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    Face Value, 1981

    Phil Collins wrote a song about his divorce that was so taxing, macabre, and vitriolic that people actually thought he witnessed the death of another human and was seeking either atonement or vengeance with the line, “I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life.” In truth, Collins just knew that wretched heartbreak would find him sooner or later. Look at his sad face! But even his defeatist mentality and the wringing of his poor British heart stands in the shadow of Collins’ drum work. “In The Air Tonight” sports one of the first and most popular uses of “gated reverb,” a sound that would later define the ’80s snare, Blondie’s CR-78 drum machine that set the lonely mood in the beginning, and one of the best drum fills of all time. There are parts of the world where it is illegal not to air drum that fill. –Jeremy D. Larson


    99. Sonic Youth – “Teen Age Riot”

    Daydream Nation, 1988

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    Thanks in large part to “Teen Age Riot”, a group of No Wave-y, feedback-loving, odd-tuning Glenn Branca acolytes wound up taking a large part in the shaping of indie rock. The introductory track to the legend-making 1988 album Daydream Nation, the tune jammed together rock star riffage and mystical overtone swirls, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore’s guitar prowess pulling the reins of a massive pop hook. Allegedly inspired by an alternate reality in which Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis is appointed president, the song’s rollicking energy is perfectly matched by its inciting lyrics. “You’re never gonna stop all the teenage leather and booze,” Moore smirks, and you can just imagine the waves of kids picking up guitars around the world and starting bands because of Sonic Youth’s empowering eccentricity. -Adam Kivel


    98. Kraftwerk – “Autobahn”

    Autobahn, 1974

    The Autobahn expressway is an achievement of human engineering and a symbol of how technology removes limits. It’s fitting that German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk would pave their own musical thoroughfare in the form of a titular, 22 minute sprawling opener that seats listeners on the passenger side of a drive along the road of electronic ambiance, synthesized vocoding, and automated melody. The avant-garde song is a journey, rather than a destination. And yet, droves of artists and fans alike took the trip, arriving at a thousand new forms of music. From New Wave to rave, to ringtones, mp3s, and all manners of 1’s and 0’s, its novel exploration of technological enhancement make it the song that plugged this brave new world into the computer age, forever changing the digital landscape of popular music. –Dan Pfleegor


    97. A Tribe Called Quest – “Scenario”

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    The Low End Theory, 1992

    With the group’s second album, Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest stripped everything down to the essentials, creating a minimalist sound with vocal emphasis on the downbeat. In doing so they produced a genuine fusion of hip-hop attitude with the laid-back atmosphere of cool jazz, hard bop, and rare groove; something not even Miles Davis could accomplish (Doo-Bop?). Initially propelled by word of mouth, it was third single “Scenario” that pushed the album over Gold status. (It has since gone Platinum.) Sampling soul artists in addition to jazz legends Miles Davis and Brother Jack McDuff, “Scenario” is built around a beat developed by Q-Tip, and is a vocal collaboration with Charlie Brown, Dinco D and Busta Rhymes, the three MCs of fellow Native Tongues members Leaders of the New School. During the song’s construction, Q-Tip read Busta Rhymes’ verse and immediately decided to put as the anchor in the relay, reigniting the song’s intensity before its conclusion. However, rather than simply pass the mic to Rhymes at the end of his own verse, Q-Tip wanted Bussa to come in on Tip’s part as a means of setting own verses up, effectively ‘featuring’ Busta Rhymes. Rhymes himself said “[“Scenario”] was the record that pioneered features…That record made me the number one go-to guy for features…for a long time.” –Len Comaratta


    96. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “From Her To Eternity”

    From Her to Eternity, 1984

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    It balances the Sturm and Drang psycho-sexual theatrics with a more straight-forward propulsion. It’s one of the first songs written by Cave and all the members of the Bad Seeds — his first band after the goth pioneers The Birthday Party dissolved. The Bad Seeds build a bed of tension with piano stabs and a bass line idling like an 18-wheeler. Cave writhes and shakes with the kind of heroin histrionics that could make Jim Morrison look like Karen Carpenter, all while wrestling his id into submission with lines like, “This desire to possess her is a wound/ And its naggin’ at me like a shrew/ But, ah know, that to possess her/ Is, therefore, not to desire her.” The junkyard in Nick Cave’s head has manifested itself in poems, books, screenplays, film scores, and “From Her To Eternity” is one of the most accurate reflections of his work as an uber-artist who lives without a filter. It’s jagged, desperate, and full of so much noise and love. – Jeremy D. Larson
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    95. Sleater-Kinney – “Dig Me Out”

    Dig Me Out, 1997

    While Sleater-Kinney had previously released two LPs, Dig Me Out was the first album to feature force of nature Janet Weiss at the kit. With Weiss’ rolling thunder fills now backing Brownstein’s manic guitar and Corin Tucker’s vibratic howls, the opening title track is the emblem of post-riot grrrl, post-alternative, post-punk, post-everything intensity — of a band that refused to be pigeonholed. Tucker admitted in an interview that they “were a little bit overwhelmed with the success” of the album, but “Dig Me Out” is a perfect pop hook in the midst of a riotous punk package, and it justified their newfound attention. -Adam Kivel


    94. Underworld – “Born Slippy .NUXX”

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    “Born Slippy .NUXX”, 1995

    Originally released as a B-side in January 1995, “Born Slippy .NUXX” gained traction in 1996 as the galloping anthem at the conclusion of Trainspotting. The track famously backdropped the wry transformation of Mark “Rent Boy” Renton (Ewan McGregor) from a junkie into a smirking, productive member of society — which is fitting because Karl Hyde penned this song amid his own alcohol addiction, trying to capture the mood of a drunken night. He performed the vocals in one take, telling The Guardian, “when I lost my place, I’d repeat the same line; that’s why it goes, “lager, lager, lager, lager.” The track pushed Underworld into the limelight, and was one of the first of its kind to make the jump from the club to the broader pop culture consciousness. It whetted the palette of the masses for talent like The Chemical Brothers, Crystal Method, and The Prodigy, who were able to reach levels of fame unlike many earlier electronica producers. 2012 may be the current high point in EDM, but its status is only possible due to the early ground breaking achievements of Underworld. -Derek Staples


    93. Devo – “Uncontrollable Urge”

    Q: Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!, 1978

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    Devo have never been a band to embrace their music with a great deal of fun or playfulness, opting instead to use their music much more deliberately. The high-minded Akron art rockers formed the band as an angry statement against mindless complacency and fall-in-line subordination, and “Uncontrollable Urge”, the first song off their first full-length, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, laid the band’s disdain for modern living bare. A new wave song with punk rock flare, the song didn’t generate the buzz or attention of the band’s later, synth-driven work, but in retrospect “Urge” stands as Devo’s de facto mission statement. When Mark Mothersbaugh laments, “Got an urge, got a surge/ And it’s out of control/ Got an urge I wanna purge/ ’cause I’m losing control,” it’s essentially the Devo philosophy at work, the same one that would drive and inspire the band’s influential output to come. Consider it the launching point where the band’s collegial smarts and punk attitude crashed head on. -Ryan Bray


    92. Aphex Twin – “Windowlicker”

    “Windowlicker”, 1999

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    Much of the DNA in the recent boom of electronic music traces back to Richard D. James and this song in particular – which remains his most influential work. James has always been a master at seamlessly shifting between disparate styles of electronic, and “Windowlicker” is the prime example of his prowess. From subtle ambient sections to rigid break-beat segments, it manages to be fun, creepy and beautiful all at the same time. Perhaps the most experimental song to ever chart in a major country (reaching #16 in the UK), “Windowlicker” has an inexplicable ability to draw people in, and will be doing so for years and years to come. -Carson O’Shoney


    91. Funkadelic – “One Nation Under a Groove”

    One Nation Under a Grove, 1978

    “One Nation Under a Groove” reflects George Clinton at the peak of his social and political consciousness. With lyrics superficially speaking to the liberating power of dance and shouts to James Brown’s “Get On the Good Foot”, Clinton connects his own rally cry of positivity and acceptance with the Godfather’s message of unity through music. Beyond such literal interpretation, the song is reveled as one of Clinton’s most spiritually fulfilled songs. Aside from the obvious groove/God substitution, the song is laden with images of a universal consciousness. From the song’s opening lyric (taken from the gospel hymnal “So High”) to the shepherding hand of the groove (“Gonna be freakin’ up and down Hang-Up Alley Way with the groove our only guide”) to simply “getting down on the one which we believe in,” Clinton brought the pulpit to the dancefloor and nobody was the wiser. -Len Comaratta
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    90. Pixies – “Hey”

    Doolittle, 1989

    Through rabid swells of white noise, twanging surf rock, and brash lofi overtones, the Pixies grasped more than a simple aesthetic or a particular sound — the Boston-rooted noise aficionados band paved the way for indie rock to reach consistent spins on radio rotations. Along with peers Nirvana and Pavement, the Pixies ultimately catalyzed the boom of lo-fi alternative rock, soaring to mainstream popularity in the early ‘90s. With Black Francis’ yowl and a familiar rumbling bassline, “Hey” seizes you immediately with the strained confession — “been trying to meet you.” Never has a casual greeting been so evocative, philosophical, and soul-jerking than this track, forever cemented as an anthem against displacement, chained to someone so far away, aching for a reconnection. -Paula Mejia


    89. Kanye West – “Jesus Walks”

    The College Dropout, 2004

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    “Jesus Walks” is a cultural-religious epiphany masquerading as a pop song. It is sociologically, religiously, and aesthetically rich and undeniably infectious. A drill sergeant, militant snares, and a gospel choir made up of former drug addicts are set directly against soldier hoots and auto-tuned choral harmonies. The lyrics are an anxious call to arms — confused faith personified, and contemplating its own complex stasis. Nothing like it had ever seen mainstream success. With “Jesus Walks”, Kanye West studied his and hip-hop-culture-at-large’s loose faith, simultaneously decrying and emphasizing its importance. West pits his own desperate pleas for deliverance against the oft-misguided faith of his and his contemporaries. He comments on the negative connotations of drug-dealing thugs wearing diamond-encrusted crosses. He fears his sinful past, begs for collective forgiveness, and–gasping for air–raps his way to a plea that he’ll come out standing tall, marching along with all the other sinners, as Jesus guides them all toward salvation. Its ubiquitous popularity across all walks of faith says more than I ever could. -Drew Litowitz


    88. Buzzcocks – “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)”

    Love Bites, 1978

    Singer-songwriter Pete Shelley asks an important question here: “Have you ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have?” Except, it’s not his. The line traces back to Frank Loesser’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, Guys & Dolls, which Shelley took inspiration from before penning the song’s lyrics outside a post office. Broadway allusions aside, the Buzzcocks’ genre-defining anthem works off a simple formula that’s been emulated to death by now. They married the speedy, no-looking-back swagger of punk rock with humbling, copacetic issues that were downright personal — they made pop fast ‘n’ heavy ‘n’ deep. What’s so vital about this track is its erratic love-hate relationship that bottles the incomprehensible struggles and interconnected duplicity involved in any fractured coexistence. A deeply psychological line like “And we won’t be together much longer/ Unless we realize that we are the same,” reads like dialogue, and it’s been speaking volumes for 30 something years. -Michael Roffman


    87. PJ Harvey – “Down By the Water”

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    To Bring You My Love, 1995

    Polly Jean Harvey, one of music’s great shape-shifters, combined her fascination with raw electronic instrumentation, American folk (think Leadbelly’s “Salty Dog Blues” refrain), and biblical imagery for the seminal “Down By The Water”. It’s not hard to hear this song in the work of her contemporaries: PJ’s angular whisper-vocals are heard in Sleater-Kinney’s off-kilter howls, and her confessional tone can be heard in Alanis Morissette’s crackling lyrics, and the timbre of her tone had a hand in all of the confessional songwriting that would come in the latter half of the ’90s. The mix of American blues, the supernatural refrain, the filicide (“Little fish, big fish swimming in the water/ Come back here, man, give me my daughter”) on “Down By The Water” represent a vicious and novel rendering of America’s musical past. At 26, Harvey bared her teeth and it was her best look. -Sarah Grant


    86. The Band – “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”

    The Band, 1969

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    On the one hand, the Southern secession stands as a key touchstone in America’s rich evolution and history. On the other, more the Antebellum South is predominantly viewed for its explicit defense of slavery. Leave it to a group of Canadians to bring a sense of desperate humanity to a story that’s more often than not told in the disdainful abstract. Virgil Caine’s story unravels with a “beautiful sadness” as Robbie Robertson once remarked — a starving, helpless soldier recalling the final days of the Civil War. It’s weighty keys and bittersweet harmonies build and crescendo into one of the saddest, most heartwarming takes on one of the most contemptuous pieces of American History. It’s a de facto anthem of southern rock, even though it came from way up north. These were people, fighting for their livelihood, even if they were–directly or indirectly–defending a brutally offensive practice. “You can’t raise a Caine when he’s in defeat,” Levon Helm cries towards the song’s end. Human fragility is pretty hard to see in the history books. Thanks to Robertson and Helm, you can feel it in your bones. -Drew Litowitz


    85. My Bloody Valentine – “Only Shallow”

    Loveless, 1991

    Loveless cemented My Bloody Valentine’s status as the seminal shoegazer band as it shattered the boundaries of what was thought possible in guitar manipulation. Its the opener “Only Shallow” redefined the game almost instantly after that brief drum kick. Thanks to its onslaught of reverb, overdubs, and tremolo, it sounds as if it were recorded at the bottom of the English Channel. Over the next two decades, countless acolytes aped this new guitar sound, but never to an effect as simultaneously jarring and narcotic as the interplay between Kevin Shields’ glide riff and Bilinda Butcher’s sweetly indecipherable coos. -Frank Mojica


    84. Sufjan Stevens – “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”

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    Illinois, 2005

    It’s not an easy feat to turn one of the most sadistic serial killers of the 20th century into a sympathetic character. Yet Sufjan Stevens manages to do just that on the emotional centerpiece of 2005’s Illinois. Stevens did his homework too, recounting several minor details of John Wayne Gacy’s troubled life, like “when the swing set hit his head” and his genial attitude among friends and neighbors. Behind the most delicate piano and finger-picked guitar, he makes human the inhuman, until finally directing the lyrics inwards during the song’s finally phrases. “And in my best behavior, I am really just like him” he admits. The continuum of morality from sexually assaulting and murdering almost 30 young boys — with their cars, summer jobs, (oh my God) — to Stevens’ own virtuous Christian beliefs is not as long as you would believe. Even in our most pious and righteous behavior, how much distance can we really put between ourselves and a serial killer?  -Bryant Kitching


    83. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – “The Message”

    The Message, 1982

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    It’s the summer of 1982. You want to prove hip-hop isn’t just for DJ clubs, that it can make a statement? Do as the Bronx’s Grandmaster Flash did: slow down the tempo, stretch out the groove past the seven-minute mark, and — here’s the kicker — call your song “The Message”. That summer, the music world got the, er — message. Thirty years later, this track is so ubiquitously sampled (Ice Cube and Diddy are among the many to have copped that squiggly synth), so endlessly quoted (“Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge!/ I’m trying not to lose my head!”), and so familiar that it’s easy to forget how revolutionary it was. But in 1982, socially conscious hip-hop did not exist. With help from co-writer Ed “Duke Bootee” Fletcher, MC Melle Mel broke down the door with this scathing report from the decaying ghetto. What’s more, before “The Message”, hip-hop wasn’t really about lyrics, or rapping, much at all. By opening up the rhythm track and shifting the focus to Mel’s electrifying verses, the track’s most influential message lies not in the lyrics but in the simple fact that the lyrics carried a message at all. -Zach Schonfeld


    82. Depeche Mode – “Enjoy the Silence”

    Violator, 1990

    Sometimes it’s best when the writer doesn’t get their way. If Martin Gore got his, we would all be deprived of Depeche Mode’s biggest and best song: “Enjoy the Silence”. Gore originally intended it to be a slow-paced ballad, but thankfully producer Alan Wilder heard potential and convinced the band to go all out. The result is a fantastic track like none other- the gothic but hooky synths mixed with the not-quite-sure-if-sweet-or-not lyrics gave Depeche Mode a bona fide hit. It’s easy to spot the lasting influence of this song today, as over 15 artists have recorded their own cover versions for various releases. -Carson O’Shoney


    81. Wu-Tang Clan – “Protect Ya Neck”

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    Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), 1992

    Middle ground isn’t often a term used to describe The Wu-Tang Clan, but to many fans or soon-to-be fans of hip-hop in 1993, that’s exactly what they were. Landing somewhere between the gangsta repentance of East Coast godfather Kool G. Rap and the relentless West Coast antagonism of N.W.A., Wu-Tang stood out from their peers by being frightening yet funny, intelligent yet arrogant, streetwise yet goofy.

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    No song embodies their chaos and contradictions like “Protect Ya Neck”, the only tune on Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) to feature eight of the group’s then nine members. The metaphors range from simple (“I’m hot like sauce”) to observant (“my clan increase like black unemployment”) to morbid (“I’ll be sticking pins in your head like a fucking nurse”), opening the scratched soul of RZA’s Lowell Fulson and Sly Stone samples to a wildly diverse audience.

    If a suburban teenager couldn’t relate to the urban schizophrenia of the lyrics, he could laugh at Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s jokes. For those who felt a closer relationship to the collective’s words, maybe the humor and comic book levels of exaggeration were a means of coping with the violence and decay in their real lives. Of course, Wu-Tang probably didn’t think of any of this of this when recording “Protect Ya Neck”, nor its role in further legitimizing East Coast rap in the wake of Dre, Snoop, and Eazy E. To them, I’ll bet the song was what it was: eight guys crammed in a tiny room trying to outdo one another. -Dan CaffreyAdvertisement
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