In the new issue of Music Week we celebrate all aspects of songcraft for our very special Songwriting Issue. As part of it we asked top execs and artists a very, very tough question: what is the best song ever? Of course, we couldn't put the biz through that painful question without first being able to answer it ourselves. Here the Music Week wrack their brains (and hearts) to reveal their picks...
Taylor Swift - Back To December
Picked by: Mark Sutherland (Editor)
Taylor Swift wrote this song, all by herself – no multiple co-writers required here – before her 21st birthday. It came from Speak Now, an entirely self-written album that sold over one million copies in its first week on sale in the US. If that fact makes you feel sad about your own lack of achievement, just wait until you hear the actual song. I – and you, probably – am in no way the target demographic for this epically minimalist pop-country tale of teenage regret, but such is the sheer songcraft and depth of emotional heartbreak on display that it will put you under its spell, however old or cynical you may be. “Because the last time you saw me/Is still burned in the back of your mind,” Swift sings, “You gave me roses, and I left them there to die” as the melody twists and turns on itself for not quite long enough (like all the best songs). It was the moment when Swift really announced herself as a songwriter of true substance. And the moment everyone else decided they really needed to get their act together and start doing something with their life…
Pearl Jam - Come Back
Picked by: George Garner (Deputy Editor)
There are, of course, many songs that I have considered to be – at one point or another – the best song ever written. That long, long list includes Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia, 2Pac’s Unconditional Love, Iron Maiden’s Wasted Years, Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down, Bill Fay's Never Ending Happening, Life Of Agony’s How It Would Be and Katel Keineg’s Gulf Of Araby. However, about seven years ago, I decided that Pearl Jam’s Come Back is the best song ever written and, in 2017, I’m still clinging doggedly to that opinion. I’m not sure whether this song is a portrait of grief, an account of romantic torment or a beautiful acceptance of everything that’s beyond our control, but in truth it multitasks as all of them. It’s a song that continues to soundtrack my best days and my worst. Also: Mike McCready should have received at least three billion Grammys for that solo at the end.
The Smiths - Hand In Glove
Picked by: Daniel Gumble (News Editor)
No other song better sums up the unlikely pairing of one of music’s greatest ever songwriting partnerships than The Smiths’ Hand In Glove. Perfectly marrying the effortless cool of Johnny Marr’s never-bettered guitar wizardry with Morrissey’s unbridled declarations of undying love, it’s the most human love song ever written: no clichés, hackneyed platitudes or bland balladry. It’s also one of Morrissey’s greatest ever lyrics and vocal performances; every line simmering with romance, rendering the most minute gestures a matter of life and death in the way only he can: everything depends upon how near you stand to me. Very few songs have the power to muster up the same feelings of awe and excitement you felt the very first time you heard them decades down the line. Hand In Glove is one of those songs.
The Beatles - In My Life
Picked by: James Hanley (Senior Staff Writer)
John Lennon had barely turned 25 when he unleashed this wonder upon the world, a song so evocative that it makes your entire life flash before your eyes. From the trademark gorgeous harmonies to the heart-wrenching lyrics that unlock a picture book of memories, In My Life is the most perfect two minutes and 28 seconds ever committed to record. They say a great song can be played in any arrangement and retain its greatness - well Sean Connery released a spoken word version in 1998 and even that was sublime. Then there's its legacy - parent album Rubber Soul inspired Brian Wilson to write Pet Sounds and served as the starting pistol for The Beatles’ extraordinary final five years together as a band. Unimpeachable.
Craig David - Fill Me In
Picked by: Ben Homewood (Senior Staff Writer)
Craig David, crouched in an underpass in some urban cityscape, wearing a classic all-white ensemble and the wistful expression of a man involved in a secret relationship with the girl next door. And that’s just the sleeve! Of course, Fill Me In is the best song ever written (sorry, The Beatles). It’s garage, R&B and pop all at the same time, there’s guitar, strings and futuristic electronic noises that felt beamed in from another stratosphere when it came out back in 2000. If Mark Hill’s production is like bathing in caramel, the vocals are like being loofahed with angel’s wings. This was a watershed moment for pop, and if you played it to an alien obsessed with Bob Dylan right this second, they would absolutely love it. Cheers, Craig.