What do you think is the greatest pop song of all time? My vote: ‘Hallelujah’

The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah" by Alan LightJerry Bilek, Monkey See Monkey Read bookstoreRolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time

A week or so ago while doing the dishes and listening to an NPR podcast on my smartphone (see, I’m hip), I heard this Weekend Edition music interview, Dozens Of Covers Later, ‘Hallelujah’ Endures about Leonard Cohen’s song, Hallelujah. The book that prompted the piece is out this week: The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” by Alan Light.

In 1994, a cover by the late Jeff Buckley helped save “Hallelujah” from musical obscurity. Buckley’s version turned one man’s lament into another artist’s ode to love. Light says the ambiguity of the song’s lyrics makes it easy for musicians to make the tune their own. “There are lyrics that are talking about sex. There are these allusions to stories from the Bible; the King David story and the Samson story,” he says. “There’s lots and lots of layers.”

After hearing that I thought, Hmmm, that actually could be at the top of my list of the greatest pop songs of all time. (Jerry Bilek at Monkey See, Monkey Read has the book in stock at his store in downtown Northfield.)

I also just learned about List.ly so I thought I’d give it a test run here on LoGro.  I’ve put five of my all-time favorite songs on the list (in no particular order) to get things started.

Your task, fellow Northfield citizens and music fans, is to:

  1. Add your all-time favorite song to the list if it’s not listed. (One source to use if you’re having trouble remembering your fave: the Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time)
  2. Vote songs up or down
  3. Comment on the songs and on the comments of others. You can comment within the List.ly listing on each song or you can comment via the usual WordPress comment box attached to this blog post
  4. Share the list on your social networks
  5. Embed the list on your Northfield area blog or website (List.ly syncs all the activity)

To participate in using the List.ly features, you’ll need to login with your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ account.

I may adjust the List.ly settings on the fly occasionally as I learn about how it works.

[listly id="2bm" theme="light" layout="full" numbered="yes" image="yes" items="all"]

10 comments to  (Including 4 Discussion Threads) What do you think is the greatest pop song of all time? My vote: ‘Hallelujah’

  • 1
    David Beimers says:

    Whenever I see a reference like this (greatest songs of all time), I can’t help but to think of Richard Thompson’s response to Playboy Magazine’s request in 1999 for a list of the best songs of the millenium. Thompson said “hypocrites -- they don’t mean millennium, they mean twenty years -- I’ll call their bluff and do a real thousand-year selection.” Not surprisingly, they didn’t publish his list.

    • 1.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      David, I’d be fine with some sort of boundary condition. For example, we could go with best pop song of the Rock and Roll era. With Rocket 88 being arguably one of the first Rock and Roll songs, we’d be left with a start date of 1951.

      By the way Griff, I did add a song. I’m not really used to List.ly, so I hope I didn’t mess up your list. I’m not sure if you really want me to share this on my social media. I have a large number of friends that are huge music geeks, are musicians, or have business connections to the music industry. We argue these sorts of things constantly, and could easily monopolize this discussion just amongst ourselves!

  • 2

    For musicality, Good Vibrations is the best of the list so far. Some of the others are really poems or thoughts put to music, imho. It’s okay, allowable, but don’t ever try to convince me that Bob Dylan finally learned to carry that tune in that bucket.

    • 2.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      Well, I suppose one issue you’d face when judging this list comes from answering the question “Do I consider this a pop song?” To my ears Good Vibrations IS a pop song, while most songs by Bob Dylan (as interpreted by Bob Dylan) don’t really fit my personal definition of pop. And The Beatles wrote some great pop songs, but Hey Jude (while being a great, great song) is a bit deep for a pop song. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, “And Your Bird Can Sing”, “If I Needed Someone”…now those are great Beatles pop songs!

      However, the great thing about discussing music is that there is no “right answer”. That’s why I enjoy talking about this sort of thing so much; if I open my mind and ears just a bit, and don’t hold on to my own musical “beliefs” too tightly, I can discover all kinds of new delights! And I could natter on for a good half an hour on why I added Cruel to be Kind! :-)

  • 3
    William Siemers says:

    I guess my first criteria for best ‘pop’ song is that it was actually popular. #1 on the charts. Secondly it would have to be rock and roll. And classic raucous, anti-establishment rock and roll at that. So my nod goes to (I can’t get no)Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones. (Gimme Shelter is my favorite stone’s song, but scream singing “Rape! Murder!” usually won’t get you to #1 on the charts.)

    • 3.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      I don’t know…you could be in the top-10, or top-40, or even top-100 and still be fairly “popular”. For example, during my senior year of High School songs from Rush’s “Moving Pictures” album were all over the radio, and yet the highest they ever got on the Billboard Top 100 chart was #44, if I remember right (the song was “Tom Sawyer”). I think the issue here is that some popular music was never single-oriented. That’s part of the reason why I tend to define a “pop song” stylistically rather than based on sales.

  • 4
    Lynn Vincent says:

    Funny, the one that keeps popping into my head is Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer by Gene Autry. Must be that time of year.

    • 4.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      We could always have another comment thread with nothing but favorite Christmas songs. I’d go with 2000 Miles by The Pretenders.

  • 5
    Clark Ohnesorge says:

    This is an interesting discussion, I’d like to throw in a couple of thoughts as well, hedging in terms of a couple of operational definitions of “Best”
    Under one sort of consideration Hey Jude gets my nod, although I accept that it is a touch “deep” for a pop song. My reasoning is that I am not wedded to the studio version of a song but am also pretty influenced by what happens in performance. When the chorus of Hey Jude comes around it yields a buoyant response from the audience like (insert hyperbole about here…) no other tune of which I can think. Think analysis through contrast, sweet and sour, deep vs. Nah na na na! I also grew up in an era in which it (along with Honky Tonk Women) was on every juke box I ever plugged a quarter into, and that sort of penetration of the popular consciousness counts heavily in my book.
    Again in an academic mode I would say that Johnny B. Goode might also be considered the best in a nod to the “Type-Token” distinction that informs discussions of category membership. Although Berry’s version is the standard (Type), folks as varied as Michael J. Fox, The Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and Peter Tosh (Not to mention every garage/bar band in the world) have assayed it (Tokens). A definition of Pop that acknowledges the dedication of actual bands to a song might find JBG to be the Prototype of Pop songs.
    Besides, NASA included it on Voyager, what more could you ask for?
    Finally, I’ll offer up what I think is the “Best” minute or two of live Rock & Roll on record.
    http://archive.org/details/gd71-08-06.aud.bertrando.yerys.129.sbeok.shnf
    I don’t think that this is the best pop song ever written (although it is a great one and has been recorded by a large number of folks…..) but at about 4:20 of Hard to Handle Mr. Garcia starts to tease a particular theme that launches (at 5:21 or so) into a subtle, smoldering groove that
    I think you’ll enjoy.
    Cheers,
    Clark

  • 6
    kiffi summa says:

    “Hallelujah” gets my vote… This song, as so many of Leonard Cohen’s do, contains so much modern ‘angst’, but also hope of redemption … and it must touch a tremendous number of people as deeply as it has always affected me…
    When has a ‘popular’ song so quickly entered the realm of oft-sung funeral music?

    That use speaks to its deep, and multi-levels of power to express difficult and complex emotions.

    When does ‘popular’ become ‘classic’?

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