First of all, let me give you a piece of advice: never ask someone what the greatest song of all time is.
Is it because they will be wrong? No. Of course they will be wrong. This is a given. A panel of experts, made up of myself and my brother, has proven long ago that the greatest song ever written is "Louie, Louie," by the Kingsmen, closely followed by Judy Garland's performance of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," Gruber and Mohr's "Silent Night," and "The Theme to the Cosby Show."
The reason you should never ask someone what the greatest song of all time is this: sometimes, you will not be able to tell if they are joking.
Now, we in the column business are hesitant to write about music, because music makes up a quarter of the Wheel O' the Offended (the other three quarters are religion, politics, and the Twilight series). None of these four topics can be addressed without torrents of spittle-dripping, venomous, quotation mark-laden e-mails being e-thrust into our e-faces. They always seem to sound like this:
"Hey, Dung-for-Brains! I can't believe you think bands like Journey and Boston and Kansas and Styx and Rush and Foreigner are "all the same band!" So what if they all sound "exactly alike." So what if the "tightness of their leather pants cuts off the circulation to the musically creative parts of their brains." If I ever find out who you are, I'm going to shave obscenities in your hair while you're sleeping! And you're a bad writer! And ugly!"
Recently, I conducted a very scientific and accurate poll of my closest friends and family (via text message) to find out what they thought was the greatest song of all time. Some people shrugged the request, citing the "too many musical genres." Wimps. Most people, however, tightened their belts and gave their answers.
Expectedly, repeat responses were given. "Danny Boy," "Greensleeves," "O, Holy Night," "The Hallelujah Chorus," and "Stairway to Heaven" were some of the pre-1900's classics listed. The Beatles made the list at least eight times, with "Hey Jude," "Eleanor Rigby," "Blackbird," "That One Awful Song They Let Ringo Write," "Stairway to Heaven," and "The Theme to the Cosby Show." Michael Jackson showed up more than a few times, as did both Billy Joel and Elton John. Even Journey made the list a few times with "Don't Stop Believin'," "Tom Sawyer," "Come Sail Away," and "Stairway to Heaven." All these responses are valid ones, though technically wrong (ref. paragraph 1).
A few respectable token songs also made the list. Songs like Sting's "Fields of Gold," Eric Clapton's "Change the World," and James Taylor's "Gone to Carolina" meant something to somebody, and though they may not be academically superior to other works (ref. "Louie, Louie"), they are good simply for the fact that you can't hear them without humming them. I'm pretty sure no one has ever said, "Oh, no! Not James Taylor! He's awful! Quick, change it to Flock of Seagulls!"
I begrudgingly accepted multiple country music songs as answers, though I died a little. "Then," by Brad Paisley," "Amazed," by Lonestar, "Something Sappy and Catchy," by Rascal Flatts, the Dixie Chicks' "Stairway to Heaven," and "Patriotic Nostalgia in My Home Kitchen," by Dwayne "Ford Endorsement" McMustache, all made the list.
What makes this poll a problem are answers (all real) like "Mmm, Bop," "Love Shack," "Blue (da-ba-dee, da-ba-die)," and anything by Neil Diamond. Was someone out there simply being impish, thinking that an outlier like "I'm a Barbie Girl" would burn a hole through the bottom of the graph and ruin the poll? Or were they really sitting, dripping perspiration, making pro and con lists, debating whether Rod Stewart's "Sometimes, When We Touch" or Madonna's "Like a Virgin" was historically more significant?
At any rate, it's hard to define what makes good music good music. The main thing to remember is, though some music may be technically better than other music, that technically does not make it better than other music which is technically worse, though it is better, technically. And what may have meaning (though sometimes inexplicably) to someone else may sound to me like "Mmm, Bop."