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The Last Ten Songs of Your Life

October 19, 2011

You can play the trick and choose 10 lengthy songs for your finale, or choose those 10 songs that are true to your heart. The ones you never forget.

Ever had somebody ask you what your favorite songs of all-time were? Or maybe to list your greatest songs ever?

Well, this isn’t necessarily one of those lists. Rather, imagine yourself in this scenario: You have a limited time to live. Ten songs to be specific. Under this pretense, you might realize that the songs you have to must hear once more before you die looks nothing like the list of your favorite songs of all-time.

Whether you take a morbid approach to your realized fate (i.e. Coldplay), lunge yourself into peril (The Ramones) or contrast your doom with joy (Bobby McFerrin), this is a head-scratcher. I dare you to compile your own list in less than 5 minutes. It won’t happen.

Now that we’ve wasted enough precious time, let’s take a look at my list:

10. Long As I Can See The Light — Creedence Clearwater Revival (1970)

Let’s start this process out gently. John Fogerty and a ‘midnight in the swamp’ saxophone solo are just what I need to calm my nerves. Lyrically, this really is one of the more unforgettable songs of homesickness, the pain in departure and the rewarding joy of reunions. I’ll light up a cigarette for this one.

9. The End — The Doors (1967)

What would a doomsday list be without this epic? Jim Morrison the poet was always a wizard with words, but this is his masterpiece. It has everything. Highs, lows, a chilling climax and an existentialist outlook that will never escape your conscious. The killer awoke before dawn/He put his boots on/He took a face from the ancient gallery and he walked on down the hall.

8. Stan — Eminem (2000)

I like the switch from 1960s to my generation; it makes me proud of where music has gone under the leadership of my people. Eminem takes an eerie story about a crazed, suicidal fan whose letters to the rapper build a beautiful tragedy. The beat, accompanied by Dido of all people, is blessed by the powers of Detroit. I just have to hear this song one more time. What a triumph.

7. Flash Light — Parliament (1977)

At some point, I’m going to have to dance like a motherfucker. Aside from maybe James Brown, George Clinton is the preeminent puppeteer of dancing feet. His massive performance groups, orchestrated by his wizardry, have inspired generations of funk/soul followers. Always one of the greatest live shows ever and a reliable party-starter, this number has a bass-blasting backbone, soulful choir singing and Clinton’s ringleader presence hooting all the way through.

6. American Pie — Don McLean (1971)

Arguably America’s signature folk song, McLean’s tribute to the anniversary of the tragic deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Jiles Perry Richardson Jr. stands alone. The blues McLean delivers about the tragedies and loss of innocence in America sound fit for a funeral. This song opens slowly, hits all the high gears and steadies to a soft ending. A red, white and blue eulogy that will live on forever.

5. Free Bird — Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)

This might not have made the list if I wasn’t Southern-bred. Who knows? It is always a staple on “greatest of all-time” lists, undoubtedly for its masterful orchestration, taking you from its tender introduction, to a rabid climax defined by one of rock’s most unforgettable guitar solos. Lyrically, it seems fit for someone’s death day, with Van Zant’s references to leaving, flying away. Like “The End” by the Doors, this one just cannot be left out.

4. Beast of Burden — The Rolling Stones (1978)

This track is purely classic. The Stones were masters of the blues-rock revival at this stage of their careers and no track better exemplifies their downtrodden approach than this. In some ways a love song, Mick Jagger sings about the the struggle against becoming someone’s ‘beast of burden,’ be it the woman you love, the friend you admire or an aggressor. Either way, you always have to stand up for yourself in the end.

3. My Wave — Soundgarden (1994)

Once again, a song that really makes me proud of Generation X. An energy pulsing tribute to the individual. Chris Cornell’s screaming induces the native brave in you, while Kim Thayil’s guitar and Matt Cameron’s drums boom. This was always a rallying cry for my younger days.

2. Bohemian Rhapsody — Queen (1975)

How any top songs list could exclude this one, I don’t know. Rock and roll’s ‘night at the Opera,’ this number is chock full of classic group harmonizing, Freddie Mercury’s lyrical prowess and a guitar solo that rings long after the music is over. This melody will get your blood rushing every time…otherwise you’ve already passed on.

1. What a Wonderful World — Louis Armstrong (1968)

Armstrong’s immortal melody is littered with perhaps the most raw, yet beautiful perspective on the simple fascinations of life. Existentialist at its core, this song brushes away the overbearing nuances of the lives we know and reveals things we once coveted with unerring amazement. A masterpiece to go down with.

-Patrick Gipson


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