Greatest Songs of All Time—2018

You KNOW something’s happening
but you don’t know what it is,
DO you, Mister Jones.”
— Bob Dylan (né Robert Zimmerman)
(from “Ballad of a Thin Man” 1965)

“I don’t believe in Zimmerman
… I don’t believe in Beatles.
I just believe in me, Yoko and me,
and that’s reality”

John Lennon (The Plastic Ono Band, 1970)
Click for a PDF of this post:

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Where did this come from?  I ran into a guy named Carl at The Flying Pig (a regular customer) and, at closing time after the Warriors game, he was using the sound system at The Pig to play songs from his iPhone.  Turned out he was playing some songs from MY ERA (i.e., from the 1960s); so, I went to talk to him about it.  He asked me, “What songs are important to you?”  So, I mentioned a few off the top of my head and he found them on his iPhone and played them over the sound system  — some Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Simon & Garfunkel, Beatles, Van Morrison, Richie Havens, etc.  It got me to thinking about an old ConVivio post.  Some of you who have been reading ConVivio for a long time tell me you remember it.  It was titled: “Greatest Songs of All Time — A Challenge.”  In that post, from November of 2009, I posted my list of the twenty greatest songs of all time (according to me) and challenged readers to offer their own lists.

My list and several responses to that challenge appeared in the comments following that post — it can be found at:

I realized that the list I would make today would be different — not necessarily because of new songs that have come out since, but because different songs have increased or decreased in importance to me.  So,

In answer to a suggestion, last week I offered readers the opportunity to follow up that original challenge. I asked you to:
1. List the 20 greatest songs of all time, according to YOU, and answer two questions:
2. What’s wrong with my list?
3. What’s excellent about my list?

So, some of you responded to the challenge.  Below are some of those initial responses and, at the end, I made a new list of my own with an explanation of why those songs ended up on my list.  First, I learned a few things from your responses.

Things I learned:
Steve Rubio observed that he preferred early Beatles to later songs for an interesting reason.
• Multiple songs by an artist can be well-represented on a list by a single song.
• Artists I enjoyed back in the 60s/70s are also listed by people half my age.  (OK, and you might point out that I listed songs that were released WAY before I was born
• Most of us mix Rock, Jazz, Country, and Classical over many time periods in our favorites.
• For a music lover, twenty is not enough — is there a number that would be “enough?”

In this post, I have included responses from the “First Responders.”  There may be others in later posts, but today we have terrific contributions (below) from these people:
Steve Rubio, Seven Peterson, Jessica Wing, Jonathon Wing, Janet Crampton-Pipes, Jim Pipes, Manny Mendes, Lauren de Vore, and finally, PapaDan.  My list, at the end, includes answers to the question “Why did THAT song end up on your list?”  You will also find some links you can click on that you might find interesting.  (Manny’s is found in the comments after the post.)

Enjoy …

From Steve Rubio
“I’m game, as long as we agree from the start that my list would be different if you asked tomorrow.”

In alphabetical order by artist:
The Beatles, “There’s a Place”
Chuck Berry, “Johnny B. Goode”
James Brown, “Lost Someone” (Live at the Apollo 1963 version)
The Clash, “Complete Control”
Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone”
Aretha Franklin, “Respect”
The Jackson 5, “I Want You Back”
Little Richard, “Tutti Frutti”
Van Morrison, “Madame George”
OutKast, “Hey Ya!”
Elvis Presley, “That’s All Right, Mama”
Prince, “When You Were Mine”
Public Enemy, “Fight the Power”
The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter”
The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”
Sleater-Kinney, “Sympathy”
Patti Smith, “Gloria”
Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run”
Ike and Tina Turner, “River Deep Mountain High”
The Velvet Underground, “Heroin”

What’s wrong with my list?
Twenty isn’t enough … missing are Hüsker Dü, Sex Pistols, Pink, Sly and the Family Stone, Creedence, Otis Redding, and more.

As you know, it’s impossible to pick just one Beatles song.  I choose “There’s a Place” as an example of my taste in Beatles:  I tend to prefer early songs to those from the middle or late period, and I love the harmonies they offered before everyone starting hating each other.  Other choices would include “I’m Down” and “And Your Bird Can Sing.”

What’s excellent about my list?
All 20 songs that made the cut.

From Steven Peterson
Recently I have been thinking of what I would choose for the 20 or even 100 best songs by Dylan. It felt a little overwhelming.

Twenty best of all time?  Uff da!   In the past year my brother, sister, and me listed our favorite 20 Beatles’ songs. That was fun, but also a little overwhelming.

Without thinking too much. Here are 20 songs I would definitely consider putting on the list:
Dylan — Like a Rolling Stone
Stones — Sympathy for the Devil
Beatles — A Day in the Life
Beatles — Yesterday
Beatles — Hey Jude
Dylan — Visions of Johanna
Mellencamp — Jack and Diane
Stones — Start Me Up
McLean — American Pie
Guthrie — Alice’s Restaurant
The Band — Up on Cripple Creek
Counting Crows — Mr. Jones
The Wallflowers — One Head Light
CSN — Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Croce — Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues
Knopfler & Harris — All the Road Running
ABBA – Dancing Queen
Beatles — Penny Lane
Traveling Wilburys — Handle with Care
Van Morrison – Brown-eyed Girl

What’s wrong with my list?

And this list of 20 doesn’t even include Motown.  Or singers & groups such as Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, The Kinks, The Beach Boys, Neil Young, Bob Seger, Elton John, Simon & Garfunkel, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Eagles, and many, many others.

What’s excellent about my list?

My list is not excellent; mostly, it is momentary. It’s what I thought of — right about now.  Of all time, really?  That is trying figure out too much at once.

AND, a day later, Steve sent the following follow-up response: “I have been thinking about what I sent you and would like to modify it to include The Eagles “Hotel California,” The Doors “Light My Fire,” Aretha Franklin “Respect,” and so on.  I don’t doubt that I could come up with a new list of 220 that is as good or better than I did the first time.  By the way, Dabbie and I have chatted with young people over the years and most of them say the music we grew up with [in the 1960s] is better than the music they grew up with.”

From Jessica Wing:

Here’s my input for your challenge: the 20 greatest songs of all time, according to ME.
Michael Jackson – “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” “Beat it” … pretty much all of his hits haha
Bob Marley – “No Woman No Cry,” “Three Little Birds”
Prince – “Purple Rain”
Dolly Parton – “Jolene”
Johnny Cash – “I Walk the Line
Garth Brooks – “Friends In Low Places”

What’s wrong with my list?
I didn’t include any currently released songs. I feel songs earn their “greatness” over time.

What’s excellent about my list?
All of the artists have multiple songs that I consider greatest songs of all time.

😊 Jessica Wing

From Jonathon Brian Wing:

Here’s my contribution to your challenge!!  This was fun to do, thank you for this.

My list: In no particular order
DJ QBERT – Razorblade Alcohol Slide
A Tribe Called Quest – Can I kick it?
Nina Simone – Dont Smoke in Bed
D’Angelo – Cruisin’
Bob Marley – Get Up, Stand Up
Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name
Lee Fields & The Expressions – Honey Dove
Marvin Gaye – If I Should Die Tonight
Wu-Tang Clan – Triumph
J-Dilla – Its Dope
Mayer Hawthorne – Thin Moon
Teddy Pendergrass – Close The Door
2PAC – 2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted
The Isley Brothers – For The Love Of You Pts. 1 & 2
Fleetwood Mac – The Chain
Dre (feat. Snoop Dogg) – Still D.R.E.
Deep Puddle Dynamics – Rainman
Miles Davis – Freddie Freeloader
The Roots – Mellow My Man
Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm – No More Doggin’

What’s wrong with my list?
That it’s not longer?  There are SO MANY more songs/artists that can be put down.  I’ll just have to wait for the next challenge — haha

What’s excellent about my list?
That it’s a good representation of my music taste.

From Janet Crampton-Pipes:
I never could define what “greatest” meant to me. If I did this another time, I might come up with 20 different songs.
Here they are, in no particular order.

Let it Be – Beatles
Strange Fruit – 
Billie Holiday
Imagine – John Lennon
What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
Con Te Partirò – Andrea Bocelli
September When it Comes – Rosanne Cash
Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton
Amazing Grace – Sung by Andrea Bocelli, or LeAnn Rimes
Sympathy for the Devil – Rolling Stones
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow – Amy Winehouse
America the Beautiful – Ray Charles
If I were a Carpenter – Tim Hardin
(Also like versions by Jonny Cash, Robert Plant, Bobby Darin, The Four Tops) My way to sneak in some more artists.
Ghost in this House – Alison Krauss
The Dock of the Bay – Ottis Redding
I Will Remember You – Sarah Mclachlan
Thrill is Gone – Duet with BB King, Tracy Chapman
Simple Man – Lynyrd Skynyrd 1973 version
Green Grass and High Tides – Outlaws
Stand by Me – Ben E King
Blowin In the Wind – Bob Dylan
What is excellent about my list? 
The excellent thing about my list is the restraint shown in only including Andrea Bocelli twice.
What is wrong with my list? 
The problem with the list is that it doesn’t include Led Zeppelin, Bonnie Raitt, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Croce, Janis Joplin, Sam Cooke, Frank Sinatra, Pink Floyd, Patsy Cline, Santana, Buddy Holly, David Bowie, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jeff Buckley,  Ritchie Valens, Bette Midler. I could on listing artists all day, but I will stop before I start questioning my selections.


From Jim Pipes:

Here is my song list. I can’t say they are the best songs of all time, just some of my favorites in no particular order.

Can’t you hear me knocking- Rolling Stones
A day in the life- Beatles
Still my guitar gently weeps- Beatles
Great Gig in the sky- Pink Floyd
Beware of darkness- George Harrison
Waiting on a friend- Rolling Stones
All things must Pass- George Harrison
Walk on the wild side- Lou Reed
The old Laughing lady- Neil Young
You were always on my mind- Elvis Presley
Moonlight Mile- Rolling Stones
A change is gonna come- Sam Cooke
When I was seventeen- Frank Sinatra
Halleluiah- Jeff Buckley
Someone to lay down beside me- Linda Ronstadt
O Fortuna- Carmina Burana
Philadelphia- Bruce Springsteen
Trouble man- Marvin Gaye
Rawhide- Frankie Lane
Take five- Dave Brubeck”

Honorable mention:
Fire- Robin Williams singing a Bruce Springsteen song while doing an Elmer Fudd impression. (on YouTube).

What’s wrong with my list?
I should have had music from other genres instead of mostly rock and roll. Probably focuses too much on the music of my youth. I bet most people could guess my age within a few years from reading my list.

What is excellent about my list?
To me these songs just have deep social meaning or remind me of an event or time in my life. Some of them I feel were just so innovative and incredibly well done.  I remember hearing “ When I was seventeen” on the rental car radio while driving in Kauai on our honeymoon, and when my older brother let me borrow his Rolling Stones tape when I was in eighth grade. To hear Sam Cooke singing about racial struggle and Bruce Springsteen singing about the early Aids epidemic just stirs something inside of me. The musical complexity of “ A day in the Life” was like nothing I’d ever heard before.

Again, these are just some of my favorites and If I had to write this list a month from now it would probably be very different. But that is probably the point of this exercise, to think about the music you really like. I should stop now before I change my list again!

From Lauren de Vore:
Ok, here’s my attempt at a list. It’s totally random and I can’t really say why some songs are on the list. I clearly lean toward the classical and away from the current (I just don’t and never did listen to the radio much). I should have at least one or two Beatles songs, but I’d be hard-pressed to name my favorite, kind of depends on my mood. (A caveat in my defense: I am not an auditory learner and so I have a terrible time remembering names of songs and singers. I’ll hear a song and know that I’ve heard it before, but I couldn’t tell you what it is.)

My “Top 20” Favorite Songs
Ave Maria (Shubert), as sung by Barbara Bonney ( or Luciano Pavarotti (
Au Fond du Temple Saint, from The Pearl Fishers, by George Bizet, as sung by Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill ( or Placido Domingo and Andrea Bocelli (
Nessun Dorma, from Turandot, by Giacomo Puccini; as experienced in a live performance by Luciano Pavarotti with the San Francisco Opera opposite Montserrat Caballé (conceive of >500 lb of diva on stage between the two of them!): recital version:
Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog (Three Dog Night)
Can’t Help Falling in Love (Elvis Presley)
American Pie (Don McLean)
Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay (Otis Redding)
Morning Has Broken (Cat Stevens)
Tuesday Afternoon, Nights in White Satin (Moody Blues)
Paper Moon (Nat King Cole)
The Sounds of Silence (Simon and Garfunkel)
You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught, from South Pacific (Rogers and Hammerstein)
Ol’ Man River, from Showboat (Kern and Hammerstein), sung by Paul Robeson
I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’, Summertime, from Porgy and Bess (George Gershwin, lyrics by DuBose Heyward)
Just about anything by Carole King (So Far Away, Beautiful, I Feel the Earth Move, You’ve Got a Friend, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, A Natural Woman, Tapestry)
Zero My Hero, by Bob Dorough (Schoolhouse Rock)

PapaDan’s List

 My “Greatest Songs of All Time” — June 2018

To answer the question I’m asked: “How did THAT song end up on your list?”

#1   Richie Havens’ live version deserves to be recognized at the top of this list, along with the original.  Havens’ album “Mixed Bag” (1966) was one of the favorite albums of my youth.

#2   This is the one song representing my longstanding love of Broadway musicals.  This song was not in the original, but in its 30th-anniversary tour.

#3   This one is special and represents so many.  Her version of “Summertime” is classic.

#4   I had to put “The Waters of March” somewhere, so “Sing! Sing! Sing!” had to go. The story of this song is found at: .  It was released in 1975 and recorded famously by lots of people.  My favorite recording is by Jane Monheit (2001). This recording in English, in addition to Monheit’s fabulous vocals, features (according to me) the best recorded performance by a drummer I have ever heard, especially noticeable in the last minute or so.  The song is a list of things that have something in common.  What do you think they have in common?  This song, written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, was introduced to me by Craig Herold.  Thank You, Craig!

#5   John Lennon’s “Hard Times are Over” replaced John’s “Watching the Wheels” from my original list. “Watching the Wheels” appealed to me as John’s decision to let go of the fame and frenzy of being a “Beatle” for a quieter life with Yoko (“I just had to let it go”).  Instead, released just before his death in 1980, “Hard Time Are Over,” is bitterly ironic since John and Yoko sang this one looking ahead to the happy future they hoped for.  That, of course, was not to be.  But, actually, the lyric was “Hard times are over, over for a while.”

#6   One of the 126 greatest Beatles songs of all time — may favorite from the early period.

#7   “Sleeps Judea Fair” by Hugh McKinnon is an important song for Gretta and me.  For more details, take a look at:

#8   I can’t bring myself to replace “Hope of Deliverance” from Paul’s 1993 album “Off the Ground” because of its meaning in today’s world; so, let’s add another song from that LP: “Golden Earth Girl.”  I always loved this one: “in another world, someone over there is …”

#9   This is one of two songs (see also #11) of the many Sinatra songs that I loved over the years.  Interesting to me is that my sister bought Frank Sinatra records when she as in high school in the mid-1940s and I bought Sinatra records in the 1960s.

#10  Gotta have at least one by Elvis to represent dozens that belong on my list.  This one is borderline operatic.

#11  Not everybody knows that this song was a hit as sung by “Kermit The Frog” and by Frank Sinatra. Both versions belong on my list and both are on my iPhone.

#12  “Toccata in F,” by J.S. Bach, is the piece I have come to know as “The Waterfall Toccata,” providing the soundtrack to my many visits to Vernal Falls in Yosemite.  Click here for the Waterfall Toccata story:

#13  Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue in A Minor” is one of the monumental pieces of music of all time (here “All Time” goes back to March of 1685). Try this — Dr. Roger Nyquist is the organist who taught me about these pieces at Santa Clara University in 1968:

#14  This one represents the modern American spirit as it was before my generation came along.

#15  There has to be at least one Brubeck.  This is a good one, but here are so many …

#16  I replaced “Cakewalk Into Town” to make room for a group of songs that have come to mean a lot to me —  a live concert album by three Italian teenagers who call themselves Il Volo, in Italian: “The Flight.”  Gretta and I saw them live in SF in 2012.  Their initial concert album “Il Volo Takes Flight” contains at least two important songs to me: “O Sole Mio” (click here for details) and “La Luna Hizo Esto (click here for details)   “O Sole Mio” is world famous as a (mostly) Italian song, the title means “My Own Sunshine,” written by some people we’ve never heard of in 1898, but recorded my every Italian opera-style singer since that time.  Elvis Presley borrowed the melody for “It’s Now Or Never” (not a translation).  This recording by Il Volo is the best I’ve heard (including the one by Pavarotti).  The second, “La Luna Hizo Esto,” from the same album, means “the moon made it so.”  Take a look at the story of this concert album at:  There is a long story about how this group of singers got our attention, but that will have to wait for another time.

#17  This one is for every teenage boy who remembers first being fascinated with teenage girls.  We all grew up and moved on, but the song remains a monument to that time. 

#18  Composed in 1823, selected as the “Anthem of Europe” by the Council of Europe on January 19, 1972, and later as the national anthem of the European Union.  To me, it represents a belief that people from different cultures can join together and recognize a common humanity and a common destiny.  Recent events in Europe and elsewhere have cast some doubt on that belief; but we’ll have to see.  Take a look — this is how and where the song should be played:
I regret having replaced the Chuck Mangione song (click here), but “Ode To Joy” had to be on the list somewhere.

#19  This one does the same thing that #14 does, but for MY generation.  Both songs lament an important loss.

#20  I have to keep this one, “Maybe I’m Amazed,” from Paul’s first solo album after the breakup of The Beatles.  I was stunned that The Beatles were broken and began recording solo albums; and one line in Paul’s song made we want to argue with him.  The lines were: “Maybe I’m a lonely man who’s in the middle of something, that he doesn’t really understand.”  I wanted to call him up and say, “What do you mean ‘you don’t understand?’  You were part of The Beatles and even I understand THAT!  How come YOU don’t?”  OK, that would be rude.

What’s wrong with my list?
• Only one from Elvis, only two from Sinatra, only one Broadway show tune (!!!!!!!!), how did I forget “Graceland” (both Willie Nelson and Paul Simon) …
• No Moody Blues (but “Voices In the sky” belongs here, along with a dozen others)
• No John Mayor and no Pearl Jam (but it’s early and “All Time” is a very long time)
“Stop This Train” and “Just Breathe” belong on this list.
• No Peter, Paul, and Mary (inexcusable!)
• No Bob Dylan (but how many would it take?) Just for fun, try these two:

What’s excellent about my list?
• The Beatles are represented at the beginning, middle, and end of my list.
(OK, there could be 126 Beatle songs on my list, but such is life.)
• I finally got Richie Havens on the list
Bach and Beethoven make an appearance (sorry about Mozart).
Il Volo
No disco. You can thank me for that.

Thanks to those who contributed lists.  If you would like to add your list to this collection, please post it as a comment below.

2 Responses “Greatest Songs of All Time—2018”

  1. Manny says:

    Didn’t think it would take 2 days!
    I had a hard time pulling up the TOP 20,
    but got it done; but had to list the them all.
    Many relate to moments in life and some I just can’t stop singing along. I couldn’t paste correctly, but looks like they’re all there. I also could have listed multiple numbers by same composer, but thought better to select more artists. Also left off John Philip Souza for Bocelli!
    TOP 20 (In no order)
    1)Oh Pretty woman – Roy Orbison
    2)You can’t always get what you want – Rolling Stones
    3) Glad all over – Dave Clark Five
    4) Suspicious Minds – Elvis
    5) Runaway – Del Shannon
    6) Love Hurts – Nazareth
    7) Under my thumb – Rolling Stones
    8) Time to say goodbye – Andrea Bocelli
    9) I’m a believer – Monkees
    10) Crazy Little thing called love – Queen
    11) Beggin’ – Frankie Valle & Four Seasons/Madcon
    12) With a little help from my friends – Joe Cocker
    13) It’s my life – Bon Jovi
    14) Maggie May – Rod Stewart
    15) Red Red Wine – UB40
    16) Free Bird – Lynard Skynyrd
    17) Start me up – Rolling Stones
    18) Every day – Buddy Holly
    19) We gotta get outta this place – The Animals
    20) I walk the line – Johnny Cash

    Honorable Mention (In no order)
    Baby I need your lovin – Four Tops
    I can’t get no satisfaction – Rolling Stones
    Smoke on the water – Deep Purple
    Barbara Ann – Beach Boys
    The letter – Box Tops
    Magic carpet ride – Steppenwolf
    Rock and roll all night – Kiss
    My sweet lord – George Harrison
    Hotel California – Eagles
    Stairway to heaven – Led Zeppelin
    Your cheatin’ heart – Hank Williams
    H.O.L.Y. – Florida Georgia Line
    Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
    Do you love me The Contours
    I can only Imagine – Mercy Me
    Friends in low places – Garth Brooks
    Burning Love – Elvis
    Everybody needs somebody – Blue Bro’s.
    Maybe I’m amazed – Paul McCartney
    One way or another – Blondie
    Candle in the wind – Elton John
    Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
    Help me Rhonda – Beach Boys
    You really got me Kinks
    Israelites – Desmond Dekker
    It’s a heartache – Bonnie Tyler
    Every breath you take – The Police
    Living in America – James Brown
    What is love – Haddaway
    Tainted love – Soft Cell
    In the air tonight – Phil Collins
    Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
    Can’t touch this – MC Hammer
    Another Brick in the wall – Pink Floyd
    We are the champions – Queen
    Sweet home Alabama – Lynard Skynard
    Super Freak – Rick James
    You’re still the one – Shania Twain
    I’m into something good – Herman’s Hermits
    Do wah diddy – Manfred Mann
    Heart of glass – Blondie

  2. Daniel says:

    Papa Manny! Your list is terrific, and your list of “Honorable Mentions” makes it very powerful. I am glad that you listed songs and artists that I left out (or forgot). You listed some Stones (I didn’t), The Eagles (how could I forget?), Buddy Holley, Neil Diamond, and others I neglected. Thanks for taking the time. It was worth it! — PapaDan
    AND, BTW, Congratulations to both of us on the arrival of our latest Grandson!