Telegraph music critic Neil McCormick selected his picks for the 100 greatest songs of our time, though he admits it’s a rather personal list that’s heavy on that particular decade.
The criteria: A great song evokes “ideas and emotions” and assumes “a kind of intrinsic life of its own,” McCormick says.
I have 43 of these songs on my iPhone, so I guess we agree on those, anyway.
100: Space Oddity
David Bowie (1969)
Starting as I intend to finish, with sci-fi strangeness from pop’s resident spaceman – a weightless masterpiece of alienation.
99: What a Wonderful World
Bob Theile & George David Weiss (1968); Definitive Version (DV): Louis Armstrong
Improbably sweet view of life on earth, its peaceful aura makes it a perfect antidote to harsh reality.
98: Your Song
Elton John/Bernie Taupin (1971); DV: Elton John
Playfully self-referential, deliberately awkward, mock-inarticulate little gem, perfectly aligning words and music into an everyman love song.
97: Come On Eileen
Kevin Rowland/Jim Patterson/Billy Adams (1982); DV: Dexys Midnight Runners
Joyous, Celtic paean to desire with a melody that keeps going up and up until you think your head is going to pop.
96: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Gospel rock hymn of doubt and spiritual quest, encapsulating the ambiguity of belief and uncertainty of faith.
95: Smells Like Teen Spirit
Kurt Cobain (1991); DV: Nirvana
Celebrated as an anthemic rock recording, the spine-tingling melodic motifs, fascinating lyrical abstractions and dark, emotional core attest to Cobain’s desire “to write the ultimate pop song.”
94: Single Ladies (Ring On It)
Harrell/ Knowles/ Nash/ Stewart (2009); DV: Beyonce
Rhythm, vocal and attitude come together in an exultant, uplifting declaration of female independence. Super-smart dance song you can sing in the shower.
93: I Am. I Said
Neil Diamond (1971)
Weirdly compelling epic of existential despair and self-affirmation – Sartre does Las Vegas.
Lennon & McCartney (1965); DV: The Beatles
A raw, emotional cri de coeur magically rendered as a pure, uplifting blast of rock’n’roll.
91: Somebody To Love
Freddie Mercury (1976); DV: Queen
Bohemian Rhapsody may be a bigger, stranger and more idiosyncratic recording but this swooning ballad of longing boasts Queens most vertigo- inducing sentiment and melodiousness.
90: Take Me To Church
Andrew Hozier-Byrne (2013); DV: Hozier
Rising out of the depths of the internet to embed itself in popular consciousness, Hozier’s soulful, bluesy, gospel anthem offers a covert attack on organised religion while worshipping at the altar of sex. Impossible to resist singing along with every Amen.
Snow Patrol (2003)
An anthem for our age: apocalyptic verses surrender to a sweeping chorus with the promise that a departed lover will always be present.
88: You’ll Never Walk Alone
Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II (1945); DV: Gerry and the Pacemakers 1963
Forties show tune famously transformed by the Merseybeat band into a soaring anthem of fraternal belonging.
87: All You Need Is Love
Lennon & McCartney (1967); DV: The Beatles
Hopelessly optimistic yet wonderfully inspirational singalong peace anthem.
86: Jealous Guy
John Lennon (1971)
Tender, sorrowful ballad that displays the more authentically raw and honest side of one of pop’s most complex songwriters.
85: MacArthur Park
Jimmy Webb (1968); DV: Richard Harris
Big, bonkers multi-part epic equating lost love with a forgotten cookery recipe.
84: Light My Fire
The Doors (1966)
Provocative, sensual, slinky slow-burner weaving erotic desire into hypnotic groove.
83: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
Bob Hilliard/David Mann (1955); DV: Frank Sinatra
Heart-breaking, insomniac longing, beautifully evoking a lonely mood of contemplation in long, lost hours before the break of dawn.
82: Everytime We Say Goodbye
Cole Porter (1944); DV: Ella Fitzgerald 1956
The backdrop of war lent this farewell song extra weight as Porter maintains the lightest emotional touch to the heaviest of emotional reckonings.
81: Cold, Cold Heart
Hank Williams (1951); DV: Norah Jones 2002
Unreciprocated love given wry, understated treatment from country and western’s original songwriting genius.
80: Empire State Of Mind
Hunte / Keys / Shuckburgh / Keyes / Sewell-Ulepic / Carter (2009); DV: Jay Z & Alicia Keys
The city that has probably inspired more songs than any other gets a glorious anthem for the hip hop era. There’s a sublime Alicia Keys solo piano version but for swaggering, inspirational optimism you can’t beat the Jay Z rap.
79: Watching the Detectives
Elvis Costello (1977)
Creepily paranoid, twisting metaphor for psychological and romantic disintegration.
78: I’m a Believer
Neil Diamond (1966); DV: The Monkees
A cynic has his head turned by beauty, making one of the most uplifting love songs ever written.
Joel Little / Ella Yelich-O’Connor (2014); DV: Lorde 2014
Teenager Lorde’s slo-mo beats, sad chords and flowing melody elegantly frame a wise-beyond-her-years lyric skewering the gap between pop fantasy and real lives. We’ll be singing Lorde’s songs for years to come.
76: The First Cut Is the Deepest
Cat Stevens (1967); DV: Rod Stewart 1976
Before Cat Stevens found Allah he crafted this intense ballad of wounded love.
75: All These Things I’ve Done
Brandon Flowers (2005); DV: The Killers
Anthemic plea for succour from one of the shining songwriting talents of today. He’s got soul but he’s not a soldier.
74: I Say a Little Prayer
Burt Bacharach/Hal David (1967); DV: Aretha Franklin 1968
An everyday kind of love takes on a cheerfully sacred hue from one of the most perfectly matched songwriting teams in pop history.
73: My Funny Valentine
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (1937); DV: Chet Baker 1953
Show tune turned jazz standard, magically transforming a list of faults into a declaration of adoration.
72: Anarchy in the UK
The Sex Pistols (1976)
Perhaps not everyone’s idea of a singalong but the wit and anger make it the great political protest song of our times.
71: American Pie
Don McLean (1971)
Asked what the song means, McLean once said: “It means I never have to work again.” Cryptic yet uplifting singalong about the mysteries of music and love.
70: Hotel California
Don Felder/Glenn Frey/Don Henley (1976); DV: The Eagles
A sense of weird spatial dislocation hangs over this beguiling and perplexing metaphor for the Hollywood high life powered by a scintillating weave of melodic motifs.
69: You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
Phil Spector/Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil (1964); DV: The Righteous Brothers
Forensic dissection of the end of an affair turns into an epic plea for reconciliation in a karaoke classic.
Willie Nelson (1961); DV: Patsy Cline
Whimsical, touching song of self-reproach amid the madness of love.
Dolly Parton (1974)
Housewife fights seductress for the love of her husband. Compelling country narrative of jealousy and despair underpinned by steely courage.
66: Wichita Lineman
Jimmy Webb (1968); DV: Glen Campbell
Lonely desire distilled in the image of a telephone engineer on an empty highway listening in to his lover’s voice.
65: The Scientist
Stately, vulnerable piano ballad of a lover’s apologetic desire to turn back the clock that sweeps reistance away with a gorgeous keening coda.
Amy Winehouse (2006)
Well, we all know where this ended up, but that doesn’t make Amy’s wicked, soulful defiance any less inspiring.
Annie Lennox/Peter John Vettese (1992); DV: Annie Lennox
The personal becomes universal in this soulful, apologetic anthem about cruelty and injustice.
62: The Mercy Seat
Nick Cave/Mick Harvey (1988); DV: Johnny Cash (2000)
Cave’s incredible, vivid lyric puts you in the electric chair with a man facing the end, in defiance and fear. But it took an interpreter of Cash’s humanity to draw out the song’s heart.
Robbie Williams/Guy Chambers (2002); DV: Robbie Williams
Most Robbie Williams fans would probably opt for the robust singalong charms of Angel but Feel is a slow burning wonder, a subtle yet evocative song of emotional constriction with a huge chorus.
60: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Jagger & Richards (1969); DV: The Rolling Stones
Burned-out, world-weary, cynical but ultimately uplifting tale of daily survival that offers advice you can live by (“if you try sometimes, you just might find, you can get what you need”).
59: When Doves Cry
Compelling, icy cry from the heart with keening melody and one of the strangest choruses in pop.
58: Mr Bojangles
Jerry Jegg Walker (1968); DV: Nina Simone (1971)
Gentle character study of tap-dancing hobo and his dog, underpinned by issues of race and poverty on American streets, floating by on a melody infused with sadness.
57: Wish You Were Here
David Gilmour/Roger Waters (1975); DV: Pink Floyd
Unusually for Floyd, this is a simple acoustic folk-blues drone, with a powerful, ironic lyric about life as a war zone.
George Harrison (1970); DV: The Beatles
Mysterious and sacred hymn of romantic praise, grounded in Harrison’s plain-speaking manner. Frank Sinatra called it the greatest love song ever.
Van Morrison (1970)
Morrison’s muse has carried him on wild astral journeys but this jazzy little lunar groove distils the essence of love and dancing.
54: 1000 Dollar Wedding
Gram Parsons (1973)
Perhaps the most heartbreaking country lament ever, a wearily detailed observation of a groom’s desertion at the altar.
53: Blowin’ in the Wind
Bob Dylan (1963)
Dylan’s poetic distillation of the mysteries of humanity’s inhumanity.
52: The Tears of a Clown
Stevie Wonder, Hank Cosby, Smokey Robinson (1967); DV: Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
Love as a masquerade, hurt wrapped up in melodic delight.
51: In My Life
Lennon & McCartney (1965); DV: The Beatles
McCartney’s melodicism surely helped shape Lennon’s elegant comparison of past and present loves into a song for all ages.
50: Let’s Face the Music and Dance
Irving Berlin (1936); DV: Fred Astaire
Swooning, swaying melody and mischievously defiant lyric sets the immediacy of musical escapism against ominous forces of reality.
49: Bridge Over Troubled Water
Paul Simon (1970); DV: Simon and Garfunkel
Epic, ethereal, always touching and fantastically stirring ballad of loyalty and sacrifice.
48: I Will Survive
Freddie Perren/Dino Fekaris (1978); DV: Gloria Gaynor
Ultimate anthem of the down-trodden woman at the disco.
47: Bird on the Wire
Leonard Cohen (1969)
Lonely, sorrowful yet defiant distillation of the human condition from one of the deepest lyricists of out time.
46: Cry Me a River
Arthur Hamilton (1953); DV: Julie London
Richly sensual melody sweetens the bitter pill of a lover’s cold-hearted revenge.
45: Waterloo Sunset
Ray Davies (1967); DV: The Kinks
Lonely man finds solace in the city, an anthem for every Londoner. Ray Davies sketches multitudes in a few simple lines, climbing to an ecstatic chorus.
Massive Attack with Tracy Thorn (1995)
Fragility and strength combine in perfect trip-hop evocation of love’s shelter.
43: The Needle and the Damage Done
Neil Young (1972)
A beautiful melody and intimate poetic lyric soften the blows in Young’s tragic lament for a friend lost to heroin.
42: Losing My Religion
Oblique obsessional singalong that means whatever a listener wants it to mean, so heartfelt and catchy its abstract impenetrability imbues it with something strangely universal. That’s me in the corner.
41: Hey Jude
Lennon & McCartney (1968); DV: The Beatles
McCartney’s greatest singalong, a caring lyric combines with a rolling melody and “nah-nah-nah”s that feel like they could go on forever.
40: One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)
Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer (1943); DV Frank Sinatra (1958)
The ultimate saloon song, a lonely drinker’s lament.
39: Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)
Tom Waits (1976)
You can smell the whiskey and regret on Waits poetic evocation of drunken melancholy, with a woozy chorus fashioned from Australian folk song Waltzing Matilda.
38: One Day I’ll Fly Away
Joe Sample/Will Jennings (1980); DV: Randy Crawford
Tender, fateful foretelling of the end of a relationship.
37: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
Ewan Macoll (1957); DV: Roberta Flack (1969)
Mesmerising song of sensual worship, improbably composed by sweater-clad communist folkie.
Elvis Costello (1977)
Punk rock’s most tenderly poisonous love song.
35: Visions of Johanna
Bob Dylan (1966)
Desire adrift in a surreal night-time world. “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet?”
34: River Deep, Mountain High
Phil Spector, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich (1966); DV: Ike and Tina Turner
Gloriously over-the-top metaphor for lung-busting, unrestrained love.
33: I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself
Burt Bacharach & Hal David (1962); DV: Dusty Springfield 1964
Vibrant distillation of everyday heartbreak and bafflement.
John Lennon (1971)
Absurdly (some would say hypocritically); idealistic, Imagine still perfectly evokes a kind of utopia.
31: Working Class Hero
John Lennon (1970)
The other side of Lennon’s idealism: bitter dissection of class, where anger counterpoints a lovely melody.
30: Stairway To Heaven
Jimmy Page / Robert Plant (1970)
Beneath the explosive force and incredible arc of Led Zeppelin’s performance lurks an achingly beautiful pastoral ballad picking at the vanity of humanity in the glorious face of the natural world.
29: For the Roses
Joni Mitchell (1972)
Complex, vibrant suicide note to the music business from a woman operating at the highest stratosphere of words and music.
28: Common People
Comical class anthem whose ironic wit and sharp couplets barely dampen the underlying anger.
27: Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want
Morrissey & Marr (1984); DV: The Smiths
Morrissey has rarely been as artless or vulnerable, his direct plea for love set to a beautiful Johnny Marr melody.
Noel Gallagher (1995); DV: Ryan Adams (2004)
Vulnerability trembles through the defiance of Oasis’s forcefully direct love song. That it is irresistibly singalong almost goes without saying.
Thom Yorke (1992); DV Radiohead
The song Thom Yorke says he loves least is his most direct and potent outsider anthem.
24: Love Will Tear Us Apart
Joy Division (1980)
Romantic fear and self-loathing wrapped up in a post-punk torch song.
23: Stand By Me
Ben E King, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller (1961); DV: Ben E King
Simple chord progression and heartfelt plea combine for an inspiring anthem of solidarity.
22: I Heard It Through the Grapevine
Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong (1966); DV Marvin Gaye (1968)
Rumour, gossip, jealousy transformed into slinky soul.
21: Satellite of Love
Lou Reed (1973)
Emotionally fragile yet perversely jolly take on jealousy that resonates with ambiguity and a chorus that soars into the stars.
20: We’ll Meet Again
Ross Parker & Hughie Charles (1939); DV: Vera Lynn
Optimism and stoicism made this singalong the people’s song of the Second World War.
19: Dancing Queen
Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Stig Anderson (1976); DV: ABBA
On a purely melodic and harmonic level, ABBA operated in a sphere beyond most pop songwriters. The joyous escapism of Dancing Queen is infused with ephemeral loss, a feeling of youth burning out before your very eyes and ears.
18: God Only Knows
Brian Wilson & Tony Asher (1966); DV: The Beach Boys
Gorgeous devotional love song floats on a heart-bursting baroque melody.
The confrontation implicit in a bitter divorce is somehow transmuted into inspirational anthem of mutual dependence.
16: Strange Fruit
Abel Meeropol (1936); DV: Billie Holiday (1939)
Sinister poetic account of racist lynchings. Holiday is said to have broken down every time she performed it.
15: The Boxer
Paul Simon (1969); DV: Simon and Garfunkel
Soul stirring song of survival, our weary narrator drawing inspiration from a scarred fighter’s refusal to surrender.
14: The River
Bruce Springsteen (1981)
Springsteen is a master of American narratives, and digs deep on this huge, haunting ballad charting how economic hardship can destroy a relationship, with the dried river as a symbol of elusive hopes and dreams.
Leonard Cohen (1984); DV: Jeff Buckley (1994)
The song that has everything: desire and rejection, love and sex, God and man, failure and transcendence.
12: Sympathy for the Devil
Jagger & Richards (1968); DV: The Rolling Stones
Jagger outrageously puts himself in the cloven hooves of Satan in a wild, evocative roll call of human outrages.
11: God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)
Randy Newman (1972)
Equally outrageously, Newman casts himself as God contemplating his pitiful creation.
10: Everybody Hurts
Stipe, Berry, Buck & Mills (1993); DV: REM
A secular hymn of compassion constructed around a simple picked rock-and-roll guitar motif.
Cole Porter (1956); DV: Frank Sinatra
Has there ever been a more streamlined, sensual evocation of addictive desire?
8: Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Harold Arlen & E. Y Yarburg (1939); DV: Judy Garland
The rising melody and wistful lyric perfectly encapsulate yearning for a different, better life.
7: Saint James Infirmary
Traditional blues; DV: Louis Armstrong 1928
A singer ponders lost love and prepares for his own funeral on a sad, defiant contemplation of mortality that has been passed down through the mists of time and recorded by artists as diverse as Billie Holiday and the White Stripes.
6: Redemption Song
Bob Marley (1979)
Simple, stirring, strangely wistful anthem of freedom, both personal and political.
Ray Davies (1970); DV: The Kinks
Witty, compassionate, inspirational song of confused, transgender love, boasting dazzling rhymes, exultant melody and explosive emotion.
4: Unchained Melody
Alex North & Hy Zaret (1955); DV: The Righteous Brothers (1965)
A thousand karaoke versions cannot destroy this epic, vocally demanding ballad.
Bob Dylan (1975)
Dylan’s dazzling narrative of star-crossed love and divorce was shaped by abstract art into a tableaux you can come at from any angle and discover something new.
2: Let It Be
Lennon & McCartney (1970); DV: The Beatles (1970)
Anthem of consolation, inspired by Paul McCartney’s dream of a visit from his own mother, Mary.
David Bowie (1971)
Gloriously strange sci-fi anthem. A stirring, yearning melody combines with vivid, poetic imagery to accomplish a trick very particular to the art of the song: to be at once completely impenetrable and yet resonant with personal meaning. You want to raise your voice and sing along, yet Bowie’s abstract cut-up lyrics force you to invest the song with something of yourself just to make sense of the experience, and then carries you away to a place resonant with intense, individual emotion. The magic and mystery of music and lyrics. It is something to behold.