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Perfect Song: Artist Picks

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Musicians seemed to have particularly strong feelings about the perfect song. In some cases it changed their lives, and got them motivated to make music. Below are responses from musicians, many having been featured on All Songs Considered in the past. You can hear the whole show with the links above or individual tracks below.

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songs featured in this episode







Innocence Mission

Picked By: Sufjan Stevens

CD: Birds of My Neighborhood
Song: "The Lakes of Canada"
Label: RCA

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "The Lakes of Canada"

"I'm in awe of big songs, national anthems, rock opera, the Broadway musical. But what I always come back to, after the din and drum roll, is the small song that makes careful observations about everyday life. This is what makes the music by The Innocence Mission so moving and profound. 'Lakes of Canada' creates an environment both terrifying and familiar using sensory language: incandescent bulbs and rowboats are made palpable by careful rhythms, unobtrusive rhyme schemes, and specificity of language. What is so remarkable about Karen Peris' lyrics are the economy of words, concrete nouns-fish, flashlight, laughing man-which come to life with melodies that dance around the scale like sea creatures. Panic and joy, a terrible sense of awe, the dark indentations of memory all come together at once, accompanied by the joyful strum of an acoustic guitar. This is a song in which everyday objects begin to have tremendous meaning."

- Sufjan Stevens


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Pete Seeger

Picked By: Roger McGuinn (of The Byrds)

CD: If I Had a Hammer
Song: "Turn! Turn! Turn!"
Label: Smithsonian Folkways

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

"Clive Davis once told me that a hit song consists of a catchy melody and lyrics with a formula: verse, verse, pre chorus, chorus, instrumental, verse and chorus fade. The perfect song to me would be Pete Seeger's "Turn Turn Turn" even though it doesn't follow the formula. Pete wrote a lovely melody and adapted the lyrics from the timeless truths of Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8"

- Roger McGuinn (of The Byrds)


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The La's

Picked By: Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie, Postal Service)

CD: The La's
Song: "There She Goes"
Label: Universal

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "There She Goes"

"While I find what I consider the perfect song to be relative to the constantly changing moods and emotions in my life, the one song I constantly come back to is 'There She Goes' by the La's. It defines the perfectly written pop song: an instantaneously recognizable melody and lyric set to simple, economic musical structure. It is such a simple song that it boggles the mind that someone hadn't already written it. Regardless, for just over two minutes, 'There She Goes' lifts me off the ground and removes the troubles from my mind in a way no other song has ever done. even when I hear it now, I feel the same sense of joy and elation that I did when I heard it for the first time nearly 15 years ago. I can only hope that I have the ability to write a song that has the same effect on someone else."

- Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie, Postal Service)


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The Kinks

Picked By: John Vanderslice

CD: The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society
Song: "All of My Friends Were There"
Label: Warner Brothers

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "All of My Friends Were There"

"A deceptively simple song about a singer who is ashamed by his poor, drunken performance in front of his friends 'and their best friends too.' How does he overcome his humiliation? 'Helped with a few last glasses of gin, I nervously mounted the stage once again, got through my performance and no one complained, thank God I can go back to normal again.' This song is right in the middle of the Kinks golden period (it appears on the Village Green Preservation Society) and one of 50-60 I could chosen. No one wrote about the mechanics of creativity like Ray Davies."

- John Vanderslice


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The Small Faces

Picked By: Ted Leo (of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists)

CD: There Are But Four Small Faces
Song: "Tin Soldier"
Label: Atom

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "Tin Soldier"

"Today, I'm thinking that the perfect song might just be 'Tin Soldier,' by the Small Faces. The speed with which 'Rock and Roll' split, one half of it Whitening itself up and becoming 'Rock,' and the other half changing the 'R' to an 'S' and becoming 'Soul,' is mind boggling. Why it should be that a term like 'Blue-Eyed Soul' had to have been coined by the mid 60s, when The Small Faces wrote this 'rocking' AND 'soulful' plea for... you guessed it: love, is beyond me, since it's always been music more than any other form of art that engenders empathy among people of vastly different backgrounds, and in fact, tends to actively encourage cross-pollination among genres."

- Ted Leo (of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists)


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Townes Van Zandt

Picked By: Jesse Sykes (of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter)

CD: High Low and In Between
Song: "To Live is to Fly"
Label: Tomato Music

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "To Live is to Fly"

"It's a perfect song for me because it's the song I want played at my funeral."

- Jesse Sykes (of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter)


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The Beatles

Picked By: Matthew Caws (of Nada Surf)

CD: Beatles for Sale
Song: "Every Little Thing"
Label: Capitol

Due to legal restrictions, this song is not available for streaming.

"An enormous number of songs seem perfect to me. But in most cases, I wouldn't be able to explain why. But here is one whose magic is out in theopen: Every Little Thing by the Beatles. The lyrics are happy and simple, but the melody is sad and deceptively complex. The disconnect between these two elements is what gives the song such depth. What are the words hiding? It's as if the song is desperate to whisper a confession to the listener. It ends with the words every little thing repeating in harmony, giving the song just a little more time to sink in, for better and for sadder. Or for happier. They're both there for the taking."

- Matthew Caws (of Nada Surf)


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Talking Heads

Picked By: Travis Morrison (of Dismemberment Plan)

CD: Remain in Light
Song: "Once in a Lifetime"
Label: Warner Brothers

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "Once in a Lifetime"

"The lyrics are astounding--they are meaningless and totally meaningful at the same time. That's as good as rock lyrics get. "

- Travis Morrison (of Dismemberment Plan)


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Kate Bush

Picked By: Rjyan Kidwell (aka Cex)

CD: The Whole Story
Song: "Babooshka"
Label: Capitol

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "Babooshka"

"It's good that you ask me because I actually do know what the actual capital-p Perfect capital-s Song is. I belong to an order similar to the Rosicrucians that regards the true identity of the Perfect Song a piece of knowledge as important as the lineage of Christ. And we don't even allow anyone but the highest ranking elders of the order to know the TRUE identity-- most of our members are under the impression that the perfect song is "Peg" by Steely Dan, a smiling depiction of a young girl's induction into the porn industry and the sleekest, most contagious hook ever. It's damn close but it's not the real Perfect Song. The true Perfect Song is "Babooshka" by Kate Bush, a saucy number about a woman testing her husband's loyalty in a story that unfolds in the most graceful, flawless way: intriguing the listener to the point of helplessness, then rewarding her handsomely. Gives me shivers to think about it, perfection."

- Rjyan Kidwell (aka Cex)


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Glen Campbell

Picked By: Dan Messe (of Hem)

CD: Wichita Lineman
Song: "Wichita Lineman"
Label: Capitol

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "Wichita Lineman"

"This is a classic song by Jimmy Webb and a pitch perfect performance by Glen Campbell. Most importantly, it has a magical production featuring onomatopoetic string arrangement by Al DeLory. This song captures a certain kind of loneliness at a certain time of day along the highways."

- Dan Messe (of Hem)


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The Archies

Picked By: Stephin Merritt (DJ at the Profoundly Incredible Tentacle, also of The Magnetic Fields and Future Bible Heroes)

CD: Absolutely the Best of the Archies
Song: "Sugar Sugar"
Label: Varese Records

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "Sugar Sugar"

"The perfect song is obviously "Sugar, Sugar," composed by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, and first performed by the Archies in 1969. This laidback three-chord anthem full of sweet double entendres and soulful hand-clapping enthusiasm is recorded with minimal guitar and maximal two-finger Farfisa organ. The pinnacle of bubblegum music, if not pop itself, S.S. was performed by cartoon characters on a Saturday morning television show, and went to #1 with no band to back it up on the road."

- Stephin Merritt (DJ at the Profoundly Incredible Tentacle, also of The Magnetic Fields and Future Bible Heroes)


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