The Greatest Song In The World: Not a Tribute

by Sion Smith/UK journalist & editor

From the humble office desk to the most raunch-infested tour bus, the eternal question has been posed more times than that of the existence of Santa.  “What is the greatest song ever?”  I can answer this – but you’ll have to put up with a few hundred words before I do, otherwise it would be a pointless exercise (not that it isn’t anyway, but that’s half the point of a blog isn’t it?). As time has meddled with my plan for immortality and whittled down my options, I find I must have posed the question to myself many times and I believe that until very recently, my response was based on the song that happened to be my favourite at that particular time – which is a mistake many people make – you need to dig far deeper than this. Part of the solution can be found in the names of the songs that repeatedly turn up on such a list, but first, let me give you some examples of making grievous and shallow errors in judgment using this criteria: 1. At some point in 1987, I would have sworn on my life and yours that the Poison cover of “Rock n Roll All Nite” from the Less Than Zero soundtrack was it. Reasons? a) Kiss cover b) party song c) the cool addition of the words “Mr Rocket” at the beginning. I see now that this is foolish in the extreme – particularly after listening to it again as I write this just to be sure. Idiot. 2. The first song that ever made me cry was “Red Army Blues” from the Waterboys – this was a strong contender for many years but if it had been that good, surely more than seven people would know what I’m talking about… One could carry on like this for a long time, but I’ll save you from the inanity of it all and myself from any further embarrassment.  The other mistake people make is listening to others opinions. The two stalwarts of this list that are the easy way out for all radical non-free-thinkers of the world – Stairway to Heaven and Bohemian Rhapsody – are misnomers. They are two of the greatest rock songs ever but they don’t sweep the board of all the pieces. Respectively, one is captivating and brilliant in its execution, the other is captivating and brilliant in its execution of attracting people that simply don’t get the first choice. We must cast our nets much wider than this.  We must avoid ABBA (see previous blog post) due to their appeal to only homosexuals and housewives who never go out of the house (OK, and me). We must avoid the catalogues of the Gods also. The Beatles, the Stones, The Who, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis and Roxx Gang are not allowed to play. The choices are too obvious and whichever song you choose, a like-minded fan is able to come along and say things like “but what about….” and you will respond “Hmm – that’s a good point” and then out-think yourself. Is there any mileage in including anything from the last decade? I think we can all agree that would be a waste of time. How about two decades? Let’s make it three! That’s a little bit harder but nothing is springing out of the trap-door that can wipeout my pitch. Which basically leaves us with approximately thirty years of music to dive into – 1950 to 1979 and that’s a mighty big playing field.  One really doesn’t have to look too hard through those years though. There are many mighty songs from all three decades but I’m talking about the ones that stay with you forever. The ones that make you reach for the volume control when it comes on the radio. The song must transcend gender, generations and genre-fication. The damn thing has to make you stand naked out in the street and cry because you wish you had written it. The tournament was not however won without a fight. There were some strong contenders: Charlie Rich – The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, Carly Simon (and Toni Stern) – It’s Too Late, Don McLean’s materpiece American Pie amongst others, all fought hard for the title, but it was a no contest before they even got in the ring. Without question, the best song ever written in the entire history of songwriting comes from the magical pen of Tom Evans and Pete Ham. I can hear what you’re saying… who the hell are they? These guys are from BadFinger and the track in question lay buried – and with good reason, still does – at the tail end of their 1970 album No Dice. There it would have stayed forever were it not for the keen ear of one Harry Nilsson who took it, gave it a good shake and delivered the most brutal song the world will ever witness.  That song of course is Without You.  Most people think Nilsson, as one of the most prolific and talented writers of the era, wrote it himself – a fact that I’m sure he wasn’t overly vocal about correcting. Anybody who knows anything about songs and their structure, either from an educated level of having done it themselves across to those who are simply able to appreciate the art-form, will find nothing is missing from Without You. There is not a lyric out of place or a chord that doesn’t seamlessly melt into the next.  Many have tried to ride the coat-tails of Nilsson and all have failed. Even Mariah Carey didn’t have the balls to pull it off. This is because Without You is a man’s song. It doesn’t sound right coming from lips of a woman. When Nilsson delivers it, you see a man on his knees, a man about to cut his heart out with a rusty spoon. A man who above all else, has lost his single reason for being. Carey delivers it like the great singer she is but that’s just not good enough to cut through the ethereal ribcage that protects the soul from harm. Women may be the only ones who bleed but it takes the emotional train wreck of a damaged man to truly show the high price of being human. Now – if I can get Ms Langsam to activate the comments on this blog, Let’s see who’s with me. You know I’m right.

Sion Smith is the founder and editor of BURN magazine. He is also the writer/creator of the comic book series Too Hot For Dogs and some other inane fiction. He can be contacted through the new Burn website at www.burnmagazine.co.uk or, if you’re in the mood to follow the daily ramblings of a man with too much information in his head, check in with his personal blog at http://zodiaclung.blogspot.com/.
Every Sunday he spends some time in Kiss or Alice Cooper make-up to remember why this journey was started in the first place.