Naming the 500 best songs of the past 30 years

Email a Friend

Compiling any sort of “best of” list is a provocative thing to do. Yes, on one level all you’re doing is saying, hey, I like these songs, or these athletes, or whatever the list is about. But on a deeper level, you’re putting the list out there so other people can read it, and respond. If you write up a list of the, say, 500 best songs of the past 30 years, and everyone reading it nods in agreement with your obvious wisdom, well, then your list has failed. A good list inflames the readers’ passions, and provokes the kinds of comments that makes talking sports or talking music so much fun. Comments like “what?! You really think that Pavement was the best band of the 90s?! Have you forgotten about Nirvana or are you just back from a lobotomy?”

The guys at Pitchfork Media have in fact done such a list – The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present. And it starts, boringly enough, with exactly the same artists I would’ve started with. Bowie, Eno, Lou Reed, the whole mid-70s West Berlin art-rock scene, is credited here with having shaped much of what would follow in the next 30 years. This seems so obviously correct to me that there’s not much to say about it – unless you’re one of the unnumbered hordes of musical illiterates who would disagree. In which case, you’ll find lots to argue about in the pages that follow. For me, I have to resort to combing through the chapters for crumbs to scoff at. Hah! So you think “Damaged Goods” was the killer track from Gang Of Four’s Entertainment??? You ignorant sluts! It was clearly inferior to both “I Found That Essence Rare” and “At Home He’s A Tourist.” Dorks.

Okay, here’s your chance – nominate a song or two as one of the greatest of the “punk to the present” era. And let the arguments begin…