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Perfect Song: Listener Picks

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We received far more submissions than we could ever fit on one show. But here's a sample of the ones that stood out. You can hear the whole show with the links above or individual tracks below.

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songs featured in this episode

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

CD: Facing Future
Song: "Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World"
Label: Mountain Apple Company

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World"

"Though our listener didn't give us a reason why this is the perfect song, allow us. We first aired this song on All Things Considered, part of a conversation with music writer Chris Douridas back in 1996; The letters never stopped. In some ways it was obvious, take two of the best loved tunes and blend them together. But it isn't that simple. First the voice, as sweet as can be coming from a man weighing more than 700 pounds, and he's playing the most delicate of instruments, the ukulele. His death a year later made his rendition bittersweet. It is refreshing to hear such well-known tunes sung with such tenderness; it gives hope that in this wonderful world, perhaps dreams really do come true."

Thoughts by host Bob Boilen

-- Selected by listener David Hicks

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Beach Boys

CD: Pet Sounds
Song: "God Only Knows"
Label: Capitol

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "God Only Knows"

"Words cannot communicate the beauty conveyed in this song - although there are several other near-perfect songs located on the same album. Of course, Brian Wilson's excellent compositional skill is highlighted by the melancholic beauty of Carl Wilson's lead vocal. But, my amazement with this track is due in large part due to the backing vocal parts - listen to the wordless vocal section mid-way through the piece and you will hear that Brian did some amazing writing utilizing modern harmony, based on diminished chordal harmony (just incredible to find this in a mid-60's pop song!) Listen, too, for the complex, but absolutely necessary, instrumental arrangement in the center of the song."

-- Listener David Stevenson

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The Beatles

CD: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Song: "A Day in the Life"
Label: Capitol

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

"It's just a great song on so many levels. Obviously it's from the most influential rock album of all time, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It combines Lennon and McCartney perfectly, the orchestra breaks are raw and emotional, and the lyrics are perfect. "

-- Listener Ben Craig

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Samuel Barber

CD: Barber's Adagio
Song: "Adagio For Strings"
Label: Sony

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "Adagio for Strings"

"I was considering submitting a Wilco song, or maybe a Radiohead song, or an Elliott Smith song, they're all great artists, and have some amazing songs, but I think they all fall just short of the mastery that I find in 'Adagio for Strings' is a perfect song. It's such a beautiful musical contradiction. It at once seems simple, blunt, with the almost pop music sensibility of repeated themes, and yet it's sharp and cuts deep, it seems profoundly insightful, it expresses the heights and depths of the human experience in just over 7 minutes. Unfortunately it's become a bit of a cliché. People should be forced to listen to the piece outside of the context of a movie."

-- Listener Greg Carl

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CD: A Night at the Opera
Song: "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Label: Hollywood

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "Bohemian Rhapsody"

"I really have to vote for Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Musically, it's got something for everyone; 2) amazing use of recording technology; 3) 'Nothing really matters' is something we can all relate to at one point or another."

-- Listener Doug Knight

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Jacques Brel

CD: Infiniment
Song: "Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don't Leave Me)"
Label: DRG

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don't Leave Me)"

"When I first heard it, I was about 16, I watched him perform it on a TV show. There was such power in his presentation that I have never forgotten it since. To this day, what made the deepest impression on me then is still there: the naked longing and emotions of the song. Funny though, it does not sound nearly as good in English, too mild and anemic."

-- Listener Marijke Guerin

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Simon and Garfunkel

CD: Bookends
Song: "America"
Label: Sony

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "America"

"I was in my teens when this song came out and it was the first song I ever thought was perfect. The melody, lyrics, tempo and arrangement all fit so perfectly. Anytime I hear this song I am on a bus in the autumn, watching the houses and trees go by, quietly enjoying the gray light of the day. It is a moment in time and emotion captured perfectly, a moment I recognize and always respond to. "

-- Listener Michael Wilson

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John Lennon

CD: Imagine
Song: "Imagine"
Label: Capitol

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "Imagine"

"Because no matter how depressed I get or how gloomy things look, I can always 'imagine' a better world."

-- Listener Patrick Lawn

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Rolling Stones

CD: Sticky Fingers
Song: "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"
Label: Virgin Records

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"

"Well the opening riff for starters. It cuts through you, no apologies -- deliberate, intentional. The crunch and buzz of Keith Richard's opening riff is the epitome of electrified rock and roll. This isn't 'Sway' -- another Sticky Fingers cut -- not at all. The riff departs -- industry leaving now -- brick and charcoal crunch replaced by slinky melody and a lurching 'excuse me, just waiting here in the back' bass -- Earth rhythms, bongo drums in the desert crossing pale sand. Cue Bobby Keyes. The sax solo is the path the way out into something new, something ethereal. Something like Mick Taylor. Probably the most underappreciated guitar solo on record -- a hybridization between the Mexacali-so-cal-rock of Caravanserai (by Santana) and the slow burn of muddy Michigan Ave. blues. The riff returns to claim its place in the melody again -- pulsing at first, waiting. And then . . . it's on . . . all the elements unite -- solve et coagula -- in a bump-and-grind-hip-rocking sound that ends (much like the act it simulates) too soon. That is why 'Can't You Hear Me Knocking' is the absolute perfect song. "

-- Listener Keith Silva

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Led Zeppelin

CD: Led Zeppelin IV
Song: "Stairway to Heaven"
Label: Atlantic

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "Stairway to Heaven"

"I would say, after talking to many of the people near my approximate age group, with both educational and social statue set aside. The song "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin, continues to be the one of the most influential and long lasting number one rock and roll songs ever created. As a guitar player since the age of 4. I would say that it almost has a timeless quality, similar to that of many classical pieces that have an endless place in the world of brilliant composition. Although there has been thousands of bands, with multitudes of that in recorded songs. It is the one piece, which anyone that has a taste for rock and roll, can recite by name and group. I believe it to be one of the pieces of rock and roll history, that will always be an example of how we can justify the similarities between the great classics and the screaming vocals, blasting guitar riffs, and bashing percussion, that we know to be classified as pure rock and roll."

-- Listener John Hall

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Bach: Performed by Mstislav Rostropovich

CD: Bach Cello Suites 1-6
Song: "Prelude No. 1 in G"
Label: EMI Classics

Listen to All Songs ConsideredListen to "Prelude No. 1 in G"

"I particularly like the version done by Mstislav Rostropovich. The smooth, rich tone of the cello combined with a rising and falling melody makes for a classic, beautiful piece that never grows dull."

-- Listener Charlotte Price

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