The Beatles, one of the most famous groups in the history of pop music; from left to right, George Harrison (1943 – 2001), Ringo Starr, John Lennon (1940 – 1980), and in front, Paul McCartney. Photo: BIPS/Getty Images
Are you ready for Round Two? After last year’s contentious poll of their top 500 albums of all time, 82 critics, past and present, from Britain’s New Musical Express (NME) magazine have voted on the best song of all time, resulting in another fascinating list that’s sure to annoy as many, if not more, people than it impresses.
King of the hill is Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, which also topped Triple J’s 2009 poll for the Hottest 100 of all time. The only other song the two surveys have in common in their top 10s is Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, which is No. 2 for NME and was No. 4 for Triple J listeners.
Like the top 500 albums, this list once again roughly indicates the writers’ ages and, well, Britishness. The timeless Beatles unsurprisingly had the most entries in this top 500, with 15 songs, but Britpop stars Blur came in next with 13 – bettering one-time rivals Oasis’s 10 entries.
Indeed, artists from the mid-’90s peak of Britpop including Pulp, Suede and Manic Street Preachers each had five or more songs in the 500, while all-time greats Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan only scored three and four entries respectively. Current visitor to these shores Bruce Springsteen had just one song in the list (Born to Run at No. 54) and the soon-to-be-arriving Rolling Stones had six, the highest being Gimme Shelter at No. 29.
Meanwhile, were it not for lower-order appearances by Tame Impala’s 2012 stomper Elephant (No. 426) and AC/DC’s still blistering Highway to Hell (No. 478), you might think the only Australian musician NME writers had heard of was Nick Cave. He was the only other Australian in the top 500, albeit with Kylie Minogue for Where the Wild Roses Grow (No. 378), and with his band the Bad Seeds for his five other entries – the highest being the sublime ballad Into My Arms at No. 78.
The highest-charting female artist in the survey was the late disco diva Donna Summer, whose I Feel Love came in at No. 3. The oldest song was Buddy Holly’s Rave On! from 1953 and the most recent was Arctic Monkeys’ Do I Wanna Know? from last July.
The full 500 can be found in this week’s issue of NME. Meanwhile the top 25 are:
1. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
2. Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division
3. I Feel Love – Donna Summer
4. How Soon Is Now? – The Smiths
5. Last Nite – The Strokes
6. Common People – Pulp
7. I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor – Arctic Monkeys
8. Blue Monday – New Order
9. Be My Baby – The Ronettes
10. Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys
11. Eleanor Rigby – The Beatles
12. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths
13. Live Forever – Oasis
14. God Only Knows – The Beach Boys
15. “Heroes” – David Bowie
16. Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes
17. A Day in the Life – The Beatles
18. Hey Ya! – OutKast
19. Heart of Glass – Blondie
20. Girls & Boys – Blur
21. Ghost Town – The Specials
22. There She Goes – The La’s
23. Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks
24. Hurricane – Bob Dylan
25. Wake Up – Arcade Fire