Vish Iyer's 101 Favorite Songs

by Vish Iyer

Music tastes change, like everything else in life. As a result, it is almost impossible to pick a list of songs as my all-time favorite. So, for this exercise, I have selected tracks that I find special: either because of a particular artist, album, or because they transport me to certain memories, or because the songs have an endearing quality and they never wear off on me.

With that in mind, below are 101 songs that are special to me (in no particular order).

The only rule this list adheres to is that no artist/band is repeated.

Finally, why “101”? Well, it’s a music reference, of course! It is the name of my favorite live album.

Okay. Here goes the list:

Mansun - “The Chad Who Loved Me”

Hands down the best music to open an album...ever!

David Bowie - “Jump They Say”davidbowie_blacktie_150
I find solace in the words “They say ‘jump’...Got to believe somebody” when I find myself in situations that I have no control over.

KNOWER - “Hanging On”
I am a sucker for Bowie’s “acid jazz” phase; no wonder Knower’s “Hanging On,” Black Tie White Noise on steroids, floats my boat.

Dutch Uncles - “Babymaking”
Only a band like Dutch Uncles can pull off a song that is heartwarmingly tender and incredibly melodious, but also has a wickedly avant-garde rhythmic arrangement played with absolute adroitness. 

Vince Guaraldi Trio - “Linus And Lucy”
Such a cool number! Even as a Peanuts fan, 95% of my enjoyment watching A Charlie Brown Christmas every year during the holiday season is due to the soundtrack. 

Steven Wilson - “The Raven That Refused To Sing”
This track has the power to fill you up with sadness and bring you to tears. At the same time, this track has the power to bring you to tears because it is so damn perfect and beautiful!

alt-J - “Bloodflood”
Even though not as wild as some of the others on An Awesome Wave, this rather poignant number (along with its sibling “PT. II”) is one the band’s most gripping tracks.

Lamb - “Cottonwool”
Crazy, sexy, and cool!

Stone Temple Pilots - “And So I Know”
This song is up there with the band’s grunge classics. It just goes to show that there is so much more to these guys than their hits.

Grant Lee Buffalo - “Wish You Well”
This group (and this song) introduced me to Americana, a genre that I was not aware of until then. 

Kate Bush - “The Fog”
Complex, mysterious, and enchanting – just like Bush herself. 

Björk - “Venus As A Boy”
Making a great pop song out of weirdness and wonderful complexity is what Bjork does best. 

R.E.M. - “Perfect Circle”
It is impossible to pick just one R.E.M. track for a list such as this. So given this constraint, I will have to settle for this masterpiece from the group’s early days.

Sneaker Pimps - “Empathy”
The composition and production on this rather minimal cut is phenomenal. This track is a perfect reflection of the band’s eeriness. 

Blur - “Tender”
The best Blur song, from one of the most enduring and rewarding albums ever. 

Soundgarden - “Half”soundgarden_super
Any track from Superunknown can be a single. So, it is strange to find this weird misfit that doesn’t blend in with the rest of the record at all. At the same time, it is great to experience this little nugget of experimentation – and a fantastic number on its own – that takes you by surprise amid the towering “top 40” giants surrounding it.

Cocteau Twins - “Heaven Or Las Vegas”
Guitar solo to die for! 

Faith No More - “Land Of Sunshine”
A crazy and kickass track based on Scientology questions? Just another song for Faith No More. 

Joni Mitchell - “Two Grey Rooms”
This song is not even from Mitchell’s peak period: a true testament to the timelessness of this musical genius. 

New Order - “Regret”
I never particularly fancied any of New Order’s guitar-oriented numbers until “Regret.” The band not only figured out the guitar sound on this track, but they would take this to another level of brilliance on Get Ready.

Tears For Fears - “Mr. Pessimist”
To me, the “Orzabal” phase of Tears For Fears was more interesting than the band’s pre-breakup days. Orzabal maintained the high bar for musicianship and production, but made the music way more challenging on the two albums without Curt Smith.

Catherine Wheel - “Wish You Were Here”
This is my favorite cover versions of all time. By stripping the original song bare, Catherine Wheel showed what a great song this is at its core. 

Primus - “My Name Is Mud”
There in no one like Primus, and the process of discovering these guys can be quite intimidating. “My Name Is Mud,” a strangely catchy cut, makes this process much more palatable. 

Kraftwerk - “The Man Machine - Live”
A seminal track in the catalogue of electronic music’s most influential band. This spruced-up modern take on this old classic sounds like the original could have been created in the present time. 

The Chemical Brothers - “The Test”
While most acts tend to conclude albums with the weakest track, The Chemical Brothers tends to do just the opposite. “The Test” is the best last number that anyone could ask for. 

PJ Harvey - “Happy And Bleeding”
One listen of Dry is enough to predict that PJ Harvey will chart her own path and will be an influential artist. 

Tori Amos - “Muhammad My Friend”
Amos’ live version of this cut with Maynard James Keenan is heavenly. But this studio version with changing rhythm and a surprising sax section is undoubtedly one of my all-time favourite songs. 

Peter Gabriel - “Fourteen Black Paintings”petergabriel_us
This surreal number with its simple “Russian Dolls” lyrics that nestle within each other, is deceivingly powerful. 

Lush - “Breeze”
The transition from the sleepy “Sunbathing” and the vibrant “Breeze” is brilliant, and creates a drama that is worth listening to again and again. 

Pale Saints - “Throwing Back The Apple”
In Ribbons, in my opinion, is the best album from the shoegaze era, and “Throwing Back The Apple” sets just the right expectation (and high bar) for what’s to follow in the album. 

The Smashing Pumpkins - “Quiet”
“Cherub Rock” blows your mind as an opening track; and just as you think this cannot be bested, BAM! “Quiet” punches you even harder! 

Radiohead - “Idioteque”
Radiohead goes electronic! Super-weird, surreal, and dark; but also so catchy! 

Pet Shop Boys - “Only the Wind”
Such an uncharacteristic “Pet Shop Boys” song and an absolute masterpiece. This song is proof that folks making catchy dance music can be fantastic songwriters, too. 

A.R. Kane - “Pop”
It is amazing to see the musical styles of so many bands condensed in A.R. Kane’s i. A.R. Kane paved the way for some of my favourite bands like Violens and Landing-Dreiden. “Pop” is just a sliver of i showcasing how much the band was ahead of its times. 

Lansing-Dreiden - “A Line You Can Cross”
Lansing-Dreiden was a modern-day A.R. Kane, with their unpredictability never seeming intimidating. They also made incredibly catchy music, no matter the musical style. 

Violens - “Totally True”
After Lansing-Dreiden’s dissolution, frontman Jorge Elbrecht creates Violens, and continues with a very similar musical format, resulting in some equally fabulous music under a different band name. 

National Skyline - “A Night At The Drugstore”
One of the greatest indie bands of all time, whose influence can be seen in a plethora of indie acts of today. 

The Cure - “Untitled”thecure_disintegration
Disintegration condenses everything that is essential about The Cure – the agony, longing, and hopelessness – into one masterpiece of an album. “Untitled” condenses everything that is essential about Disintegration into one masterpiece of a song.

Depeche Mode - “Blasphemous Rumours”
To me, the brilliance of Depeche Mode was all in the music and Dave Gahan’s voice, until I heard the poetic genius of “Blasphemous Rumours,” which gave me a totally new appreciation for Martin Gore’s lyrics.

Other Lives - “Ritual”
Ritual always leaves me speechless every time I listen to it, and so does its title number.

Paul Simon - “The Boy In The Bubble”
Like many others, Graceland opened my musical palate up to a diverse world of musical styles.  When you look deeper into “The Boy In The Bubble,” beyond its catchy exterior, there are so many layers to explore: this song is the mark of a genius. 

James - “Born Of Frustration”
Seven is the best James record. To me, this was a completely different band on this album, and “Born Of Frustration” is an amazing introduction to this particular version of the group. 

Beastie Boys - “Sabotage”
This is such a hard rocking song! Still, I can see it as a fun party number as well.

Throwing Muses - “Bea”
Just a fantastically crazy song by one of the most underappreciated bands ever.

Datarock - “True Stories”
A track whose lyrics are made up of Talking Heads song titles: eccentric or brilliant? Maybe both! 

Jesus Jones - “Zeroes And Ones”
With its mix of catchy, eccentric, and dark numbers, Perverse was a unique album, and one of the best coming out of the dance rock movement of the ‘90s, and a huge step forward for the Jesus Jones compared to its more popular predecessor Doubt

The Charlatans UK - “The Only One I Know”
The charlatans UK is the finest act coming out of the Madchester scene. Their debut Some Friendly is a classic, and so is this cut from the album. 

Sisters Of Mercy - “I Was Wrong”
Although repetitive, this poignant album closer is a contrast to Vision Thing’s harder cuts. But it is no less great than the rest of the album. 

The Blue Nile - “Over The Hillside”
All the folks who are fans of ‘80s-inspired indie music of today, should go and explore Blue Nile’s Hats and discover one of the most amazing albums of the ‘80s.

Chapterhouse - “Pearl”
Even though Chapterhouse is not among the beloved acts of the shoegaze era, they did make an excellent contribution in the form of a pretty awesome album: Whirlpool. “Pearl” undoubtedly is the album’s best track. 

The Chills - The Male Monster From The Id”
Soft Bomb is one of the best jangle pop records that no one’s heard. Listening to just the opening chord of this bright and alluring song is enough to make you want to explore the rest of the album. 

Clinic - “Harmony”
I would listen to Clinic's Walking With Thee if I felt I was in the mood for Radiohead but did not want to listen to Radiohead. I like that this record has Radiohead’s eccentricity but is completely its own thing. “Harmony” proves that there is nothing derivative about Walking With Thee. 

C Duncan - “Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops”cduncan_ep_150
C Duncan's music probably comes closest to Cocteau Twins in terms of making some of the most melodic dreamy music. So who better to cover a Cocteau Twins songs than Duncan himself. 

Nine Inch Nails - “Something I Can Never Have”
For an industrial rock act, Nine Inch Nails' gentler numbers had always been as impactful as their harder ones. 

Curve - “Want More Need Less”
There are like 25 other Curve songs that I prefer over this one. I couldn't pick any of them since they are not available on Spotify. Still, this song made it to my list. 

Elbow - “Asleep In The Back”
The simplest and sweetest number in an album that's complex and dark. 

Dinosaur Jr. - “Out There”
Such a ‘90s classic! I am angsty and mellowed out at the same time when I am listening to this song. 

Planet Funk - “Chase The Sun”
This song is very popular among various sports fans. I just love it because of its cool beats and unconventional vocals.

Duran Duran - “Ordinary World”
Duran Duran made great pop songs, but this one has the perfect musical composition among all of them. Plus, the rock-oriented sound is refreshing compared to the band's previous catalogue. 

EMF - “Getting Through”
EMF's best numbers are the edgy harder ones. Case in point: “Getting Through.”

Emma Ruth Rundle - “Darkhorse”
Emma Ruth Rundle is one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our time bringing “rock” to indie music in a way that will inspire new bands.

Madonna - “Secret Garden”
put Madonna on a whole new level of greatness; the amazing musical experimentation on this record (like this one) is a testament to this.

Gorillaz - “Demon Days”
The gospel choir on this number (similar to Blur’s “Tender”) is like comfort food for the ears.

Jeff Buckley - “Grace”
Any song on Grace could be on this list. But this song’s strange musical composition and Buckley’s hauntingly screaming vocals (towards the end) won my heart. 

Nick Drake - “River Man”
To me, Nick Drake is an enigma, and his haunting music affirms this...especially this song.

Helmet - “I Know”
Whenever you are furious, don’t punch a wall; instead, save it by listening to this song.  

Hothouse Flowers - “Movies”
is one of those albums that always comforts me; and “Movies” is the ultimate reassurance that everything is going to be alright.

Placebo - “Without You I'm Nothing”
Placebo’s music heals my soul by causing pain first. This number gives me the most pain     and also heals me the most. 

Manic Street Preachers - “Motorcycle Emptiness”
“Motorcycle Emptiness” makes me cry every time...and that’s a good thing. 

U2 - “Zooropa”u2_zooropa
The best song to come out of U2’s period of non-conformity, the band’s best period.

Morrissey - “Suedehead”
Nothing encompasses the melodiousness and melancholy of Morrissey/The Smiths more potently than “Suedehead.” 

Sinéad O'Connor - “I Want Your (Hands on Me)”
Sinéad O'Connor is a one-of-a-kind artist, and her music during her heyday, kicked some    serious ass; take for instance, the animalistic fierceness of this song. 

Meshell Ndegeocello - “Grace”
Such a fantastic ending to Ndegeocello’s greatest album.

Midnight Oil - “Dreamworld”
Diesel And Dust gives an adrenaline rush from start to finish, and “Dreamworld” provides it the most. 

The Ocean Blue - “Drifting, Falling”
“Drifting, Falling” is one of the most memorable songs for me from MTV’s “120 Minutes,” a program that was my introduction to most my favourite musicians/groups. 

The London Suede - “She’s Not Dead”
The London Suede’s slower songs are more often than than not, their best. “She’s Not Dead” is a brilliant example of this. 

Pulp - “Babies”
This is such a fun number. Plus, it has one of the best beginnings ever. 

The Mission UK - “Like A Child Again”
Masque was a huge musical departure for The Mission UK, but it has some of the band’s best songs, like this one. 

Stereolab - “Sudden Stars”
Stereolab’s music can be really far out. But a lot their stuff, like “Sudden Stars,” is beautiful and melodious pop perfection. 

Talk Talk - “Happiness Is Easy”
Talk Talk began their art rock phase on The Colour Of Spring with its outstanding album opener “Happiness Is Easy,” introducing this phase to listeners.

The The - “Bluer Than Midnight”
“Bluer Than Midnight” encompasses all I feel when I am in the mood to listen to Dusk: scared, downcast, and finally comforted. 

XTC - “The Disappointed”
XTC made great pop songs, and “The Disappointed” is their greatest of all.

The Tragically Hip - “Ahead By A Century”
This number is somewhat of a national anthem in my part of the world...and why shouldn’t it be! 

Temple Of The Dog - “Times Of Trouble”
This is a song of such pain and beauty! One of the best to come out of the grunge movement.

Sonic Youth - “Youth Against Fascism”
Such a catchy track that still has the trademark Sonic Youth distorted guitar work. 

The Police - “Synchronicity II”
I love the aggressiveness and the driving rhythm of this cut. 

Simple Minds - “Street Fighting Years”
So different and so much more complex and musically elevated than the band’s pop songs that people are most familiar with.

The Shins - “Sea Legs”
This track has one of the most beautiful melodies I have ever heard.

Seal - “Deep Water”seal_1991
“Deep Water” bridges the electro and acoustic sides of this classic album wonderfully.

Orbital - “Funny Break”
For the ones who love electronic music, some of Orbital’s stuff is legendary, including “Funny Break” with its angelic vocals and awesome beats.

Mory Kanté - “Yeke Yeke”
A lot of folks mix music from other parts of the world with western dance music. But very few, like Mory Kanté have done a perfect – and more importantly, respectable – job doing so. For those unfamiliar with Kanté, just listen to “Yeke Yeke,” and be prepared to get hooked to this musical legend. 

Living Colour - “Go Away”
A perfectly hard-hitting song to open Living Colour’s best and most hard-hitting album, Stain.

The Knife - “From Off To On”
From Silent Shout, one of the greatest and most interesting electronic records ever, this relatively simple and sparse track is surrounded by complex and more eccentric ones. This contrast is beautiful.

Annie Lennox - “Money Can’t Buy It”
First of all, Diva is a perfect album in every way. Second of all, the composition of “Money Can’t Buy It” is superb, with its soft opening section, thunderous middle part, and then its ending, which has the same calmness as the beginning. 

Alice In Chains - “Rotten Apple”
“Rotten Apple” is acoustic-dominated, but it has the same bleakness and intensity of the harder Alice In Chains numbers; no wonder “Rotten Apple” sends the same chills down my spine as “Dirt” does.

Nirvana - “In Bloom”
If there is a pattern in this list, it is this: the list is dominated with music released in the nineties; no ‘90s list is complete without a Nirvana song. “In Bloom” is one of the greatest numbers of the grunge era, if not one of the greatest from the nineties. 

James Brown - “Funky Drummer - Pt. 1 & 2”
Clyde Stubblefield’s improvised drum beat on this track is one of the most frequently sampled ones and is to die for. 

Pretenders - “Don’t Get Me Wrong”
It is no doubt that Pretenders influenced many of today’s artists. But “Don’t Get Me Wrong” is so timeless, that even after over 30 years, it sounds as if it could have been released yesterday. 

Fleetwood Mac - “Family Man”fleetwoodmac_tango_150
I cannot think of a more perfect pop rock album than Tango In The Night. One of the finest cuts on this album, “Family Man,” is a song with such elegance and beauty. Plus, Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar solo is absolutely seductive. 

Marvin Gaye - “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”
Setting the social significance of this track aside, none of my favourite music – specifically in the trip hop sphere, and especially one of my all-time favorite albums, Massive Attack’s Blue Lines – would not have been the same without Marvin Gaye. I am reminded of this fact every time I listen to this song.

Massive Attack - “Unfinished Sympathy”
If I were to ever pick just one favourite song of all time, it would be “Unfinished Sympathy.” This track has a lot of fire in its belly, but is still so dignified and serene on the surface. This song is a genre-bending classic, and its video is no less a masterpiece.


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