Ed Hale Shares his “Top 25 Favorite Songs of All Time” List
What if someone asked you to turn them on to “the top 10 greatest pop-rock songs of all time”? Where do you begin? How is that even possible? It’s not. That’s the answer. Unless of course you’re willing to make a list of at least 500 to 1,000 songs. And that’s a maybe. Of course Rolling Stone and Mojo and other music magazines attempt this feat every few years and sell them for ten bucks a pop, and most of the time they’re a good read, create a bit of controversy, and piss us all off a bit because there’s just no way to decide what ORDER to put all these great songs in… Besides the fact that there are so many that we are forced to NOT include.
Ed Hale was recently assigned this impossible task by the super-cool music magazine Magnet. Says Hale, “I thought about the idea of this list for a while, in terms of the “how” of it. What’s most important? What’s not? Eventually I decided that the goal would be to assemble a list for these groovy people not of “the greatest songs of all time” but rather a “list of my own personal favorite songs of all time” instead. I tried as hard as I could to resist the urge to be “political,” as in dropping names of the hot new indie artists currently swelling underground, as well as to equally resist the urge to “just go old school”; which was also tempting.”
“What we’ve ended up with I hope is a good mix of everything, both old and new, famous and not so famous, well known and not so well known. More than anything else at least, I think the list is a very real and sincere representation of some of the music that has been most influential on me and my own output as an artist.”
“FYI — This list is in absolutely NO particular order other than which songs occurred to me and when… I also must admit that the task is impossible because there are so many more songs that deserve to be included but are not. But I do honestly believe that every single one of these songs is just as important, awesome, and spectacular as the others, and therefore they are ALL tied for the #1 spot. Cool? Cool. Let’s get this party started.”
1. Lou Reed – “Street hassle” – I placed this song first because out of all the songs that have ever been recorded in modern pop/rock history it still stands as one of the most unique and innovative ‘songs’ of all time. I still listen to it and just don’t get how Lou managed to pull it off. Three separate parts all tied together, but not like a concept album or anything. More like a mini musical soap opera. And of course the lyrics, the content… I mean, that’s Lou Reed at his finest. That’s why he’s Lou Reed and the rest of us aren’t. You listen to it for the first time and you’re just like “O.K. wow… what WAS that?!?!” To me as an artist, innovating is still really important. And that’s why I dig Lou so much. He’s always reaching for something new. Sure his new duet with Metallica is receiving 0 star reviews and being made fun of. But guess what? His Metal Machine Music album from the early seventies received the same kind of reviews when IT was first released and NOW it’s considered not only a “classic” and “collectible” but also a very influential record on numerous artists who partake in the noise/art music scene ’round the world. Just goes to show that bad reviews don’t mean shiite. Check out the video if you can find it. To me, “Street Hassle” is the one of the greatest songs of all time. Period.
2. Laurie Anderson – “Oh Superman” – First time I heard this song I was in college. I couldn’t understand what I was hearing. Now of course we’re all used to hearing people sing through machines like T. Payne or Lil Wayne or whoever… But Laurie Anderson was doing this back in the mid-eighties! Running both her electric violin and her voice through numerous harmonizers to create a sound that we had never heard before. But you know man that’s not enough. Anyone can do that. Brian Eno did that all through the seventies and for the record he laid down a very solid foundation for himself as “the thinking man’s musician”… In fact, go ahead and add Eno’s Music for Airports album onto this list just so people get turned onto it so they know what a genius he is. THAT’S why U2 uses him no matter what. He’s like an alchemist! But back to Laurie, she wasn’t just innovating. This song also happens to be beautiful. It has a great melody. It’s moody and mysterious. And its lyrical content is intelligent and topical. It’s like philosophy. We have to give her props for how far she’s pushed the envelope for us all.
3. Phoenix – United – I know I’m cheating a little here because this is an album rather than just a song. But here’s the deal. As a whole, United is NOT a great album. There are at least three total throw-away songs on it. But as fans, everyone I know forgives them this faux paz because the rest of the songs are all so incredibly delicious. United is one of those albums that’s like a “treasured little secret” among people who know it. Tracks 2 through 8 excepting track 5 are ALL incredible songs. This little band that could came out of nowhere, France actually, and did a better job at this whole “80’s New Wave” renaissance that’s happening now than all the American and British bands did. But they recorded this album back in 1999. Long before the 80’s New Wave Revival got kicking here in the States. So because of that, Phoenix remained an unknown band for years because they were so far ahead of the curve. Now they’re finally starting to get some play here in the States. But for people who love super catchy West Coast breezy pop, BUY THIS ALBUM. Skip the songs I mentioned and just hit those six tunes. You will LOVE them and fall totally in love with this album!
4. The Strokes – “Someday” – Speaking of “retro” The Strokes released their now classic Is This It album in 2001, right on the heels of Phoenix’s United which released in the US in mid-2000. Both bands drew from the past to create their magic, but enough time had passed to allow critics and fans to not attack them for being “copycats.” Besides, regardless of how much Stroke’s singer Julian Casablancas sounded like Lou Reed, the band themselves still had their own sound to a certain degree. Frankly when I first heard the Strokes I really did think it was either a new Lou Reed song, or an old forgotten unreleased gem from Lou. But then I started turning on to the Strokes like everybody else and they just grabbed me. Now I can’t imagine a world without them. This whole first album is filled with awesome songs. The distorted vocals, the melodic guitar lines, the bouncy pop rhythms, the fuck it all attitude… They’re just very appealing and this song is one of my favorites on the album.
5. T. Rex – “Spaceball Ricochet” – There are a hundred songs that I could list that Marc Bolan wrote that are great. He was never a super intelligent lyric writer. We all get that. But he nailed one of the sexiest male rock singer voices of all time. And nowhere did he do it better than on his two biggest selling albums, The Slider and Electric Warrior. Of course I’m also a huge fan of Marc’s earlier work with Tyrannosaurus Rex, which was his folk group. All his work had a huge influence on me. I discovered Marc Bolan when I was a kid. He had already passed away. But then later on I learned that he was also a huge influence on David Bowie and Bono and a lot of other people. So to me it all makes sense in the big picture.
6. Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues” – This may seem the “politically correct” choice of the moment. Because everyone in the world is currently talking about Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes right now. But there’s a reason for that. But hear me out on this. Like every other song on this list, “Helplessness Blues” is one of those songs that from the very first moment that you hear it, you find yourself asking “Who the hell is this?!” And more than anything that’s what we’re all aiming at as artists. This song is just so damn perfect that despite the fact that my inclusion of it on this list makes it impossible for me to add Pink Floyd, Roxy Music, Love and Rockets, and even Roxy Music to this list, I’m still going to give this slot to Fleet Foxes. They’re new. They recorded this album less than a mile from my house in Washington state. And they deserve as much “ink” as they can get.
7. David Bowie – “Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise)” – These three songs are all tied together on Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album. Obviously Bowie is a huge influence on me as an artist. Every critic calls me out on it. That’s cool. Most of them totally miss Donovan and Marc Bolan, who have been equally influential on my work. But the thing about Bowie is that he has a HUGE catalog. And it’s a bit hit or miss if you don’t know what you’re doing. But those first ten albums… each and every one are all incredible works of art. Once he hits the Low album he tends to lose me a bit… but then he comes back with Scary Monsters and delivers one more Masterpiece. Then it really becomes sketchy. You’ve got to jump all the way to Heathen, when he got Tony Visconti back on board, to find that “Bowie Bowie.” But see that’s just MY personal taste. I know people who love 90’s Bowie. And I just don’t care for it too much. But that’s how music is. It’s one of the last subjective arts we have left in the world. But let’s talk Diamond Dogs. Out of my head I just called out the first ten Bowie albums in order like BAM! It’s not often that an artist is THAT GOOD that they can have that profound an effect on us – where we can actually name ten of their albums, let alone in order. Our industry doesn’t even let artist produce ten albums anymore. Even that is such a rarity. But that’s another story. Diamond Dogs was Bowie’s best Ziggy album as far as I’m concerned. It was also his darkest. Anyone who likes ANYTHING from David Bowie should buy this album. It was also another concept album. Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album was also considered a concept album. Or sorts. Loosely. But Diamond Dogs was full on concept, from the artwork to the way all the songs were tied together lyrically and musically. Without that album man I don’t think we’d be doing this interview. There’d be no All Your Heroes Become Villains. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s not. I don’t know. It’s not like we had that album in mind when we recorded the “Villains” album… we didn’t. But looking back… the album did have a profound effect on me. And that section of it is my favorite for sure.
8. Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil – “Desde De Que Samba E Samba” – This is a very hip laidback bossa nova song by the Masters, Caetano and Gilberto. From their Tropicalia 2 album. There are so many great songs that Caetano Veloso has written and recorded obviously. It would be impossible to choose just one. The reason I chose this one for you is because of the profound effect this song and this album had on me as a musician. I was living in Brasil for the summer studying the language of Portuguese and learning how to play Bossa Nova guitar. It isn’t easy. But I was so committed because I really believe that they’ve got something very very special down there that not many people in the US know about. This song is an homage to everything Samba. In other words everything Brasilian! Because Brasilian people LIVE through their music. And the Samba is their life. It pulses through their veins. It’s not just “a dance” or a style of music. It’s a whole culture. If you dig the song, try to find someone to translate the lyrics for you. They are very moving and intelligent. Caetano is a God.
9. Bruce Springsteen – “Backstreets” – I still remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom with this album in my hand, Born to Run, and listening to this particular song over and over again… I had resisted becoming a Bruce Springsteen fan for years, my whole life. Just didn’t want to do it. He seemed so antithetical to the “cool hip glam scene” that I was in that I just refused to dig into his catalog. But one day I heard Born to Run on the radio in my car and instead of turning it off, I listened. And man, that was it. No turning back from there. I bought the album. And then all the albums. I chose this song for you all because of its seething passion. The way he hits those high notes in the chorus. I know it may not be that “cool” to shoot you a Springsteen song on a Mixtape. But fuck “cool” then because this song is so damn real and sincere and passionate and emotional. Bruce was just letting it all hang out emotionally in this tune… he killed it. And in the process he became “The Boss” and to me it’s a well deserved title.
10. Bob Dylan – “It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding” – I really thought about this one. How the hell do you choose just one Dylan song for a Mixtape? Well obviously you’re gonna want to buy the whole Blood On The Tracks album. And you probably already know that. “Tangled Up in Blue” is everything a genius songwriter should do wrapped up in song. But where’s that ONE nugget of brilliance that even aliens from another planet would stop to listen to? It’s this one man, “It’s alright Ma…” Grab the lyrics and put the needle down and listen to it. The falling chords beneath the melody are deceptively simple and yet eerie as all hell. Foreboding. And then there are the lyrics. In one song Dylan attacks and destroys everything in the world including life itself. This idea that “he not busy being born is busy dying….” That’s Bob. He said that. That’s why he’s Bob Dylan.
11. Iggy and the Stooges – “Search and Destroy” – The Raw Power album. Holy crap! Sure we’d already heard Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground rip it up with the White Light/White Heat album and hats off to them because I totally agree that they just may have been the first to record on vinyl “real punk rock.” And it flooded through our veins like PCP and made us feel like we were jumping out of our skin. But then along comes Iggy and the Stooges. They cranked it up so effing loud that it was hard to even discern who was playing what. But who cared? And remember, all these guys were connected back then. Lou idolized Bowie and Bowie idolized what Lou was doing. Bowie had already taken in everything he could from Marc Bolan of T. Rex to create his Ziggy Stardust character. And then he saw Iggy perform. And it blew him away. Why? Well because Iggy was INSANE! And you can hear it on this whole album. But especially on this song. Is there anything more rocking and crazy and wild and intense than “Search and Destroy”? Those opening guitar lines? Iggy’s crazy screaming? I’ve bounced around the house like a wild man a million times with this song cranked up to 11. Had a huge effect on me.
12. My Bloody Valentine – “Only Shallow” – The first song from what many consider to be the greatest album of the 1990’s. The first time I heard this song was back when I was in the underground band Broken Spectacles (with Matthew Sabatella of the Ballad of America Series now…). Back then we were college kids. And we were about to record a new album with the famous drummer Gerry Moratta producing us. Gerry wanted us to sound like “Peter Gabriel meets The Blue Nile” I think…. but we weren’t that. We were in this stage of our lives where we were tripping on LSD every day. 24/7. We put this album on to test new speakers in our control room of our new studio. And we just stood there with our mouths hanging open. We couldn’t move. We were afraid to look at each other. The song was too good. It made us both feel like giving up music. That’s how good Kevin and his crew were with this album. This music is called “shoe gazer” sometimes… and I dig that label for it. Because in order to play it you pretty much can’t do anything else BUT stare down at your guitar because of the constant straight guitar strumming you have to do… If you want to know where Radiohead and Muse came from, THIS IS IT. It’s a masterpiece.
13. Elton John – “Amoreena” – College. Music school actually. Up in Atlanta GA. I was 17 years young and had just been signed to the Alarming Talent record label by Murray Silver, the crazy assed Southern music critic turned author (of the Great Balls of Fire Jerry Lee Lewis Story book and movie) turned producer. He put my first album out, EDDIE. Back then I was still known as “Eddie Darling.” Life was good. But the older cats at music school were telling me I “had to pay my dues.” I didn’t know what that meant. I had never even played a live show and I was already putting out an album and giving interviews and all that. I thought I was going to be the biggest star in the world. And for fifteen minutes I was. But the important part of the story is that all these older guys at this school turned me on to all the good music that I didn’t yet know about. And one of them was Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection. I dug the album well enough, like all Elton’s albums. But this “Amoreena” really hit me for some reason. Now I know why of course. The melody is so beautiful. The lyrics are so sexy. The vocal delivery is so laidback and Country-cool. This was Elton’s attempt to cop that American Country vibe. And he did. It’s just a gorgeous song that sticks with you forever.
14. Joni Mitchell – “Court and Spark” – Yes, Blue is THE album for some Joni fans. And I was tempted to add it here. But then along came Court and Spark. The album. And the song. As I’ve said in interviews before, Joni made it cool for chicks to be geniuses and not just pretty singers. She made us ALL work harder. At everything. From her open tuned guitar playing to her incredible vocal range to her brilliant production and arrangement… One day me and the boys had been tripping for like three days straight and it was early morning…. the sun had already risen. It was probably about 8 in the morning by this point. We put this album on and I laid down right in front of the speakers to soak myself into it entirely. And I swear this is a real story. At one point during the middle section of the song “Court and Spark” I felt my soul lifting out of my body. It was an AMAZING experience. It was like astral projection. But I got scared and I yelled! And because I yelled, so did the others in the room! And pretty soon we were all screaming! But no one knew why. But after a few minutes, we all calmed down and continued to listen to beautiful Joni doing her thing.
15. U2 – “One” or “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” – Man this one is hard. Again, how do you choose? Both songs are from arguably U2’s greatest album, Actung Baby… along with All Things That You Can’t Leave Behind of course… and Joshua Tree… Both songs are great. My boys and I didn’t want to like this album. At that point in time we still felt like we were in competition with U2! You dig what I’m saying. Remember, we were kids back then, still teenagers. And we had every reason to feel this way. Like all young artists. That confidence and optimism is a very helpful when you’re in a business like the music business. But like the faithful fans that we were, we bought this album as soon as it came out and put it on… very reluctant to like it, very worried that it might be good… And from the moment it began we knew we were through feeling like “peers” of U2. They were decades older than we were and they were decades beyond us as musicians already. They were peaking and we were just starting out. When I first heard the song “One” and heard that they kept that bass guitar out until the second verse or whatever… I just fell head over heels. And then “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses!” Holy cow can that man sing! And then that ONE NOTE guitar solo in “Love Is Blindness”!!! Forget about it. As uncool as it may be to some “indie snobs” to like U2 still… I promise you that there was once a time in history when it was considered “very hip and cool” to LIKE U2! Because no one had ever heard of them! And the point to this is that WHAT OTHER PEOPLE SAY ABOUT MUSIC DOESN’T MATTER. All that matters is what YOU like. Both these songs are classics in every way.
16. George Michael – “Freedom” – Again, who wants to be a George Michael fan? I didn’t. Especially not after his nauseating string of successful hit singles from his Faith album. What was that? Like five Top 10 hits from one album? I hated the song “Faith.” But then along came his second solo album Listen Without Prejudice, and one can easily see why he named it that… he was getting a lot of flack for a lot of different things…. the fact that he might be gay was starting to surface. God forbid! And people were ragging on him for being so “commercial”… And yeah, the album title is pretty cheesy. Because it’s so transparent. Talk about NOT being literary or ironic. He just told the world “Please try to listen to my new album without prejudice.” O.k. fine. I will. And holy cow! That song “Freedom” is a MASTERPIECE. It’s every bit as good as the Beach Boys in terms of how many different direction he goes in within one song. But he still manages to keep it all tied together. His layers upon layers of vocals are phenomenally perfect. And the lyrics… totally true to what he was experiencing as a person, very honest and sincere. I dug that. But more than anything this song stands as a pantheon of what a brilliant songwriter can do when he puts everything he’s got into his art.
17. Gilbert O’Sullivan – “Alone Again Naturally” – I always have to include this song in any “best of” list. It’s been played millions of times on the radio. And I still haven’t a clue who Gilbert O’Sullivan is as a person… but that melody is just so haunting and beautiful. When I was a kid I would hear that song and it would make me really sad. I believe there’s something really important in that. To be able to make people cry, or react in any way physically to one of your songs…
18. Eric Carmen – “All By Myself” or “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” – Carmen is a master songwriter. I’m a moderate fan of that whole Raspberries/Jellyfish sound… “Power-pop” is what they call it. We did the IPO Festival circuit last year. Just tons of awesome Power Pop bands now all over the world. More than one can even keep up with. But we aren’t really even a power-pop band. But see, that’s the thing, maybe Eric Carmen isn’t either. Maybe he’s just a GREAT singer/songwriter. Both of these songs will break your heart over and over again. Sometimes I feel like that’s what being a great songwriter is all about. Along with being able to deliver it vocally too. He does both supremely well in both of these songs. He deserves more attention for his influence on all of us. Just really good pop song writing.
19. Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations” or “God Only Knows” – Yes. We really did just add those to your Mixtape. And YES. We really did think a lot about it. Even went on YouTube and listened to them. And no matter how many times we as artists talk about or rave about the Beach Boys during this very fertile period of theirs, there’s always room still to tip our hats to the music they made during this period. All the politics about Mike Love versus Brian Wilson and all that I just can’t be bothered with. It’s too much information. The fact of the matter is that in two hundred years when we’re looking back at the music that was made during the 20th Century, we will still be listening to and admiring these two songs. And that’s at the VERY least. Ask ourselves this: WHO can resist that soaring vocal melody of “God Only Knows”? Or the fact that “Good Vibrations” goes every which way harmonically, barely contains a verse-chorus-verse format, includes an entire orchestra, uses a drum set in an entirely new way and does so all within less than four minutes?
20. The Beatles – “I Am the Walrus” – This song is on here because it’s one of John’s many masterpieces and no matter how many times you listen to it you still love it and you still hear “something new” in it. It’s just that good. Have at it. It’s yours for the taking. From those haunting opening string lines to the “jooba jooba” outro, it’s pure musical genius.
21. XTC – “Dear God” – This song has to be on here because someone was bound to write a song like this and XTC beat us all to it. Not only is it catchy as hell melodically. It’s also brilliantly produced as all XTC songs and of course lyrically it touches on a theme that every thinking person has thought about hundred of times…
22. Rufus Wainwright – Again, in all fairness this whole album needs to be on your mixtape gentlemen. From “Foolish Love” to “Aprils Fools” to “Beauty Mark” to “Millbrook” there are just so many great songs on this album that it’s impossible to choose just one. I first heard a Rufus Wainwright song in Starbucks. The girl behind the counter had no idea who it was because all the music that is played in Starbucks is digitally pumped in from their corporate office in Seattle. It took me weeks to track down WHO the artist was that was playing at that exact time on that exact day of that week in that particular Starbucks. But THAT is what being a music lover is all about. I have easily listened to that album 500 times or more. And there was a spell there where I was so enamored with Rufus that I used to travel around the country going to every gig he played. Back then he was playing for super small crowds. Opening up for Tori Amos or whatever. I’d leave before the headliner even got on stage. For me it was all about seeing Rufus live. The style could easily be called vaudeville or “Chamber Pop,” which again is interesting because “Chamber pop is now a HUGE trend in popular music. But Rufus released this album way back in 1998! Again way ahead of his time.
23. Donovan – “Hurdy Gurdy Man” – Donovan influenced Ed Hale more than any music critic has ever picked up on. Frankly I think that vocally it’s kind of obvious. But maybe there’s so much Bowie or Bono in there that they just miss it. Or maybe it’s because Donovan never really achieved the kind of fame and attention that he deserved… I don’t know. But I love the man. I still collect his albums. That opening low-voiced breathy humming he does at the start of this song started it all for me… I wanted so badly to sing like that. And of course I did, as “Eddie Darling”. It was crazy how much I ripped off Donovan when I first started off in this business. I mean, eventually I think I found my own voice. That’s questionable! But I believe it to be true. But between this song and “Sunshine Superman” I had definitely found “a sound” that really appealed to me as a songwriter and as a singer.
24. Billy Joel – “Laura” – This is just one of the brilliant songs on Joel’s Beatles influenced album The Nylon Curtain. Every song is GREAT. But there is something very very special about the song “Laura”. It’s not just me. It’s anyone who “knows music”… he hit the jackpot with this song. It’s an eerie as hell story. One has no idea who the f he’s talking about. It could be his sister, his niece, his girlfriend… lyrically it’s brilliant. And musically it’s mysterious and haunting. It’s one of those songs that stays with you forever… you’ll never forget it. The melody is fantastic. I’d give up music if I could write just ONE song like this. Billy Joel’s written hundreds of them.
25. Kate Bush – “Wuthering Heights” tied with the Flaming Lips – “Do You Realize” – I had to tie these songs to make this an even 25 songs. Even though I was asked to only provide you all with five to ten songs, what kind of a Mixtape is five to ten songs? Nah. You all need a full day of great music. Or at least the first half of a day before lunch. “Wuthering Heights” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard in my life. When we first heard it as college kids, the song had already been out and become a hit fifteen years prior… but we didn’t care. We fell in love with Kate and sometimes we used to sit there listening to this song ten times in a row literally hugging the album cover. If you know the story of “Wuthering Heights” the song is even more powerful. Regarding the Flaming Lips and their magnificent song “Do You Realize”…. Fucking A what can one say about this gorgeous ode to life and being alive? We go back with the Flaming Lips guys as musicians… in the business, they’ve been really good to us over the years as people. They’ve helped us in certain ways when they didn’t have to. But what I really like about them is that they go through all these weird stages because Wayne is such a free spirit… he just does whatever he wants to… that documentary they released a few years ago will show you that. Whenever you think that they’re flame is burning out they come back with another great album or at least another gem of a song. “Do You Realize” will make you smile and dance and cry all at the same time.
BONUS! Because we are limited to only 25, which I found very limiting, here are the “Honorable Mentions” if you will as a bonus. Even though they are all equally as important and amazing. “Everybody Hurts” by REM, “Wake Up Time” by Tom Petty, “Haunted” by Love and Rockets, “Everything In It’s Right Place” by Radiohead, “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley, “Ladytron” by Roxy Music, “Helter Skelter” “Because” “Happiness is a Warm Gun” “Sexy Sadie” and “Savoy Truffle” by the Beatles, “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison, “Love” by John Lennon, “Too Many People” by Paul McCartney, “Ginger Baby” by Ex Norwegian, “St. Anger” by Metallica, and about a thousand others. Not to mention Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, Rod Stewart, etc etc… But give these a spin and let me know how they treat you… Hope you have fun and enjoy.
New York, NY