The 5 Best Songs Ever: Jon Wertheim vs. Jeff Pearlman


A few days ago Jon Wertheim (my ol’ SI chum) and I compiled our lists of the 10 worst songs of all time. Which leads to the inevitable question—What are the best songs of all time? I asked Jon to compile his list. He gave my five tunes, only two of which I actually like. I was going to limit my list to five, but I’m going 10 deep, because I’m greedy and it’s my blog and, hey, ain’t that America.

Before sending his list, Jon wrote the following: This is a little like naming the five best pieces of art, no? Depends on what genre your partial to, what mood you’re in, whether or not hearing Hotel California— which I’ve heard described as “the perfect song” — makes you want to put hot forks in your eyes. Associations matter too: if you conceived your first born child with Matthew Wilder’s Nothing’s Gonna Break My Stride playing in the background, you probably like that song more than other carbon-based organisms.”

Anyhow, here we go …



• Dire Straits, Sultans of Swing—Not a big fan of Dire Straits but a big fan of this song, especially the guitar playing of Mark Knopfler.

• The Beatles, In My Life—Have to get one Beatles reference. This might be the only song that everyone in the family car likes. Which has to count for something.

• The Cure, Just Like Heaven—For a band that has a reputation for being subversive—classified in the “punk” section of music stores, at least in the Midwest—it’s remarkable how many Cure songs are just good pop songs.

• The Smiths, This Charming Man—It sounds like college.

• Pearl Jam, Better Man—It’s slow, it’s fast, the lyrics are good, the riffs are good. Plus—at the risk of sounding like the music tool in High Fidelity—there’s a live version that tacks on a remake of English’s Beat “Save it for Later.”



Ice Cube, Today Was a Good Day—The perfect West Coast groove, the perfect West Coast rapper, plus great lyrics. Just timeless.

• Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces—I first heard this song on a commercial. They played about four seconds and I was hooked. Have been a huge fan ever since.

• The Verve, Bittersweet Symphony—Were I a boxer, I’d enter the ring to the opening 40 seconds of this song. Just love it—and a cool video to match.

• Sam Cooke, A Change Is Gonna Come—Perfection. Perhaps the best all-around song I’ve ever heard. Cooke’s voice is chocolate milk. The lyrics are gripping; the passion obvious. Perfect.

• Public Enemy, Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos—I’m a sheltered 14-year-old white kid in Mahopac, N.Y., and a friend of mine slips me this tape. BAM! Never the same. Never, ever the same. Cold sweat as I dwell in my cell …

• Blind Melon, Soup—True story: This was supposed to be the title track off of Melon’s second album, Soup. But they left the song off the CD—so Soup never appeared on Soup. After Shannon Hoon died, the band put it on their final CD, Nico. The song is about Kurt Cobain’s death, by the way.

• Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil—Overplayed, overplayed, overplayed—and genius. I don’t actually like the Stones, but this song is fantastic.

• The Verve Pipe, The Freshman—The song just does something extra for me. Not sure why—except the lyrics are terrific, and the singer rises to the challenge.

• Marvin Gaye, Sexual Healing–Obviously Marvin Gaye had bigger songs than this one. But while the lyrics are extra-cheesy, his voice and inflection are amazing—especially when he starts riffing. On a side note, when I was a kid I remember my mother telling us we shouldn’t be listening to such a thing.

• Jay-Z, 99 Problems—I’ve worked out to this song 1,000 times. It’s brilliant; Jay-Z at his best. The better version is from the Gray Album, when Danger Mouse mixed the Beatles and Jay-Z. But the linked version here is awfully strong, too.

12 thoughts on “The 5 Best Songs Ever: Jon Wertheim vs. Jeff Pearlman”

  1. This is an almost insurmountable task. No one will ever agree, and if i had to break my own list down to five, I think I’d end up sticking an ice pick into my face out of sheer frustration.

  2. I don’t have the best musical tastes in the world (hell, I still listen to the Doors) but The Verve’s “The Freshman” is one of your top ten songs of all-time?

    Damn. I thought that it was trite and full of cliches the first time I heard it.

  3. I agree with Keane, that this is almost too difficult to JUST NAME 10. I tried, and the best I could do was cut to 12?!

    Eleanor Rigby; gotta have something from the Beatles, and as a Viola player as a kid, this rock-infused string-fest let me see that being a stringed instrument player could still be cool; Charlie Daniels The Devil Went Down to Georgia could be a close 2nd in this category.

    Vehice—Bo Bice with Richie Sambora (2004); always loved the original by Ides of March, but when Bo did this on AI, and then recorded a version with Sambora, it brought the early 70s kick-ass tune back to life.

    Across 110th Street—Bobby Womack; From the Jackie Brown Soundtrack; just another one of those jamming 70s tunes; that raspy voice & mid-song change of key always does it for me; street-tough lyrics bring it home.

    25 or 6 to 4 (1986, Chicago 18 Version); I’ve liked & disliked MANY remakes; this remake is unique: the SAME BAND remade their own iconic song 20 years later. And to me, while the original is still a classic, this “chest-puffing” horned-up version stands better. It has a dated, 80s sound, but it rocks the house every time.

    She’s Waiting—Eric Clapton (1985); have to have some Clapton here, period; this opener from 1985s Behind the Sun rips it every time. A close 2nd for EC would be Hello Old Friend, which brings me back to when I first “re-met” my wife-to-be.

    Hurricane—Bob Dylan; simply put: the masterful ART of story-telling in song; a 7-minute-plus classic that would never see the light of day today

    All for Leyna—Billy Joel (1980); it’s angry, it’s desperate, and it told MY STORY of unrequited teen-age love

    Live Like You Were Dying—Tim McGraw; sue me for being sentimental, but I lost my dad young, and this song brings me there every time; close 2nd goes to The Living Years by Mike + The Mechanics

    Born With a Broken Heart—Kenny Wayne Shepherd; this imitation SRV (and I mean that complimentary) debuted with this rip-roaring bluesy, guitar-laden anthem.

    Tenth Ave Freeze-Out—Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (1975); is there a better live moment than Bruce saying, “and the BIG MAN joined the band” and Clarence just RIPS it on the Sax. Big catalog to choose from here…

    Poundcake—Van Halen; I am the rare VH fan that like DLR & Sammy. The 2 singers gave VH a destinct Part I & Part II to their career. Personally, I liked the harder edge to VH in the DLR days, but Sammy had the superior vocals. Kind of why Poundcake is my favorite VH tune—F.U.C.K. brought Eddie & co. back to their rocker days, and Sammy’s vocals here are far more powerful than Dave’s

    Tick-Tock—The Vaughan Brothers (1990); everyone might remember where they were when they heard JFK was shot or when Elvis was found dead, but, for me it was SRV. I could list his whole catalog here, but this slowed-down, message-y duet with his brother Jimmy is one of my faves. Eerily, he was gone by the time this was released; “time’s ticking away…”


  4. A different take: you’re not picking songs, Jeff, you’re picking tracks. ‘Song’ is more primal and elastic. Of course it’s impossible to distill a best-of-all-songs, but here are some favorites of mine:

    ‘Jamie Douglas’ (Trad.; Child ballad 204)
    Henry Purcell, ‘When I am laid in earth’ (Dido’s Lament) from Dido and Aeneas
    Franz Schubert/Goethe, ‘Erlkönig’
    Felix Mendelssohn and William Shakespeare, ‘You spotted snakes’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
    Norman MacLeod the Younger, ‘Farewell to Fiunary’
    Percy French, ‘Abdul Abulbul Amir’
    Jack Norworth and Albert von Tilzer, ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’
    Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish, ‘Stardust’
    Hoagy Carmichael and Sidney Arodin, ‘Up a Lazy River’
    Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, ‘Großer Dankchoral’ (Great Hymn of Thanksgiving) from Das Berliner Requiem
    Woody Guthrie, ‘This Land Is Your Land’
    Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, ‘Blues in the Night’ (My Mama Done Tol’ Me)
    eden ahbez, ‘Nature Boy’
    Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell, ‘Fever’
    Leonard Bernstein, ‘It Must Be So’ (Candide’s Meditation)
    Lennon and McCartney, ‘Day Tripper’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’
    Stephen Sondheim, ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’
    David Bowie, ‘The Bewlay Brothers’
    Leonard Cohen, ‘Story of Isaac’
    Neil Young, ‘After the Gold Rush’
    Joni Mitchell, ‘In France They Kiss on Main Street’
    Don McLean, ‘American Pie’
    Gentle Giant, ‘Raconteur Troubadour’
    Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, ‘Pulling Mussels (from the Shell)’
    John Mellencamp, ‘Jack and Diane’
    Andy Partridge, ‘It’s Nearly Africa’
    Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier, ‘Refractions in the Plastic Pulse’

    And so forth. As for Mr. Zevon, I’d have to go with ‘Accidentally Like a Martyr’

  5. The Tragically Hip
    -three pistols

    The Doors
    -whiskey, mystics and men

    Johnny Cash
    -ain’t no grave

    John Lennon

    -goodbye hollywood

    Bob Dylan
    -the times they are a changin’

    Matthew Good Band
    -strange days

  6. Love “The Freshmen.” That song dropped the summer before my senior year of high school. Whenever I hear it, I’m instantly transported back to that summer, driving around in my forest green Escort Wagon with the windows down.

    FYI… Ben Folds’ “Brick” is another good song written about an abortion.

  7. Impossible task, but here’s 5:

    1. Under Pressure, Queen
    2. God Only Knows, The Beach Boys
    3. Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley version
    4. Thunder Road, Bruce Springsteen
    5. All The Small Things, Blink-182

  8. Bob Dylan has written and played a lot of songs, many people have also recorded his songs. Nobody has played a Dylan song better than Jimi Hendrix did – All Along The Watchtower.
    I listened to several versions of this song on U Tube they all suck.
    Best version is on the Album – Electric Ladyland
    Dylan has said that when he sings the song he does it as a tribute to Jimi.

    Speaking of good guitar work, Duane Allman and Eric Clapton joined together for Layla,

    Eric’s good friend JJ Cale put out a phenomenal album every cut is good. Several people have played – After Midnight, but Cale’s original version is the best. It is on the album – Naturally.
    Here is very good live version with Cale and Clapton

    Nobody has mentioned CCR. Probably can’t pick the best one. I like – Run Through the Jungle.

    5? What about → Santana – Black Magic Woman, BB King – The Thrill Is Gone, Stray Cats – Stray Cat Strut, so many John Prine songs (Prine is an American treasure, a poet extraordinaire). The song – Paradise, rings true with BP at work. Illegal Smile, Angel from Montgomery, Dear Abby, The Accident (about a fender bender), Grandpa Was A Carpenter, Christmas in Prison, tons of music. If you haven’t listened to Prine’s 70’s work you are missing something great.
    So many musicians, so many songs.

    Number 5 is from a great album that no one seems to know about.
    Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins joined together for – Neck and Neck. One song earned a Grammy – Poor Boy Blues

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