Sam Beam of Iron and Wine
Leonard Cohen, “Suzanne”
Originally from one of his books of poetry, later set to music, “Suzanne” touches on themes of desire, faith, and redemption. Cohen creates an atmosphere for this love song that is surreal, somber and immediately captivating. I first heard it in college and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’m pretty sure every budding songwriter hears it and thinks, “Someday…” —
Bill Wells and Maher Shalal Hash Baz, “On the Beach Boys Bus”
We played a lot of shows together, me and Bill. He’s a very close friend. I invited him over to play some shows in Sweden, and we were discussing the songs, and all of a sudden, he just said, “Well, here’s a song I just wrote the other night. It’s based on a dream that I had.” In this dream, he was sitting on a bus on a way to a Beach Boys convention. You know, one of those where nerds meet up and they trade records and memorabilia? The bus just drove. The clouds opened up and the sun came in through the dirty bus windows as everyone raised their hands and started waving them and singing this melody. And Bill just sat down by my little untuned, school piano and started playing it. Immediately I knew that this was the most beautiful melody I’ve ever heard. It’s one of the few classic melodies that hasn’t been taken yet.
I feel like I’ve mentioned this song in so many interviews now. But it doesn’t seem like Bill’s records sell much more because of that. I guess there’s not really a market for that sort of minimalistic jazzy melody played by a Japanese school orchestra.
Marvin Gaye, “Let’s Get It On”
Without a doubt, one of the 100 best songs of all time is “Let’s Get it On” by Marvin Gaye. When it came out in 1973, Marvin was at his peak as a singer but the honesty, emotion and intensity in his voice — combined with his personal style and sex appeal — was like pouring gasoline on an open flame. It’s what made him an icon. The song itself is about one of the best things in life; we wouldn’t be here without it. I can’t live without it.
Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips
Louis Armstrong, “What a Wonderful World”
I don’t think anyone would argue with my choice: Louis Armstrong’s version of “What a Wonderful World.” It’s not the song, it’s him singing that song. To me there’s something so powerful when you think of the time he recorded it. It’s the 1960s and here Louis Armstrong is, saying it’s a wonderful world. As hokey as that statement seems when it’s said by someone like me, when it’s said by him it seems groundbreaking. There’s a sincerity in the way he sings, it’s stunning. There’s nothing cynical about it. To me that’s always hard to do, to say such simple things
Thomas Mars of Phoenix
The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”
I don’t think music and competition should ever mix, but if I had to choose one, I think it would be “Be My Baby,” by Phil Spector and the Ronettes. It’s the ultimate pop song. It’s also probably the most melancholic feeling you can get from a song—you feel it with the lyrics, with the production, with the reverb on the drums. And there’s something about the verses, they almost define the way a verse should be, in terms of how the second verse is similar to the first one but is still a new experience. It brings something else, something deeper.
We discovered it in France through TV. I was probably eight years old. In France, they didn’t have to ask permission to use songs on commercials and stuff when I was growing up, so it was on all the time, on Levi’s commercials, on shampoo commercials, it was everywhere.
It was ear candy, something incredibly pleasing and yet it was also improving your life somehow. You are not passive when you are hearing that song. You want to create music even if you’re not capable of doing something similar. That song is the best promotion for tape recorders and live sounding rooms and real reverb. When you listen to it, you listen to history. You can feel the room, the space, everything. It’s perfect.
Markéta Irglová of The Swell Season
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, “I Don’t Know How To Love Him”
It’s a song from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Obviously I like it a lot and it holds some gravity for me. I first heard it when I was 4 years old. It was Easter — the middle of the day — and they started playing this musical on TV. My parents went to turn off the TV and I begged them to leave it on. I loved it so much that they had to tape it for me the next time it was on television. I loved the music so much that I learned the songs phonetically even though I didn’t speak English at the time.
This woman is reaching into the very core of herself. At night, when everyone is asleep, is the only time she can lay bare her emotions. There’s this line about loving this person and also hating him for making her feel that way, for making her feel that she’s not in control of her situation for the first time.
Whether it’s the chord progression or the performance of the singer, you can feel that it’s about this conflict that this woman is feeling — of love for somebody that it’s probably inappropriate to feel that way about. It’s incredible that they could put that feeling across without me being able to understand the lyrics.
(MORE: The All-TIME 100 Songs)