Okay, so to be fair, some of you have undoubtedly heard some of these songs. But I'm fairly confident most of them are unfamiliar to most of you.
Like other similar lists I've done in the past, this list is, of course, my own creation based on my own likes, dislikes, and experiences. You might pick different songs. That's okay. We're different people.
I've tried to put some semblance of "ranking" here, just because it makes for good reading, but you could probably mix up any or all of these numbers and it would be the same difference.
Finally, I decided not to pick more than one song by any one artist. Narrowing down great deep cuts by my favorite musicians was probably the hardest part of this exercise.
And now ... on with the countdown!
10. Don't Damn Me - Guns n' Roses
This is a highly underrated GnR song from Use Your Illusion I that has been one of my favorites since I bought the album on the day it was released in 1991. It was written by Axl Rose and Slash (with additional credit given to someone named Dave Lank, who must have been a friend or something) and it's got one of Slash's best guitar riffs, matched with a great vocal performance by Rose. The guitar solo near the end is pretty kick-ass too. The lyrics are Rose's attempt at justifying (and kinda sorta apologizing for) some of the controversial things he said and did back during GnR's heyday in the late 80s and early 90s.
9. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald - Gordon Lightfoot
This is actually one of Gordon Lightfoot's better known songs, but I still think it deserves to be on this list simply because most people under 50 aren't familiar with Gordon Lightfoot or his music. The lyrics tell the (mostly) true story of the sinking of the ship in the title during a storm on Lake Superior in 1975. This is the only Lightfoot song I know, but it's a really good one. I heartily recommend drinking a Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter while listening to the song.
8. Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy - Queen
This song appears on one of Queen's greatest hits compilations but it's only claim to fame is being a minor hit in 1977 in the UK. It's from Queen's hugely popular A Day At The Races album. Written by Freddie Mercury, he described it as a "ragtime" song. It's piano driven and sounds like parlor music, particularly at the beginning. Maybe my love of ragtime parlor music is why I like this one so much. In any case, it's also kind of funny because you can't help but remember how flaming gay he was while listening to him serenade an unnamed lover in the song.
7. Leningrad - Billy Joel
Despite being a Billy Joel fan since I was a kid, I had never heard this song until a few years ago. It's from his later period and was never released as a single in the U.S. (It apparently did chart briefly in a few European countries, which is undoubtedly why it was included on one of his greatest hits compilations.) It tells the story of a visit Billy made with his daughter to Leningrad when Russia was still the Soviet Union. It's a great Cold War song with emotive music and poignant lyrics that aimed to humanize the Russian people during a time when they were frequently still demonized in the American popular consciousness.
6. Pillar of Davidson - Live
In the same way that Appetite for Destruction by Guns n' Roses provided the soundtrack to my high school years, Throwing Copper by Live was the soundtrack to my time in college. I absolutely love this album, which offers an hour of great song after great song. Pillar of Davidson was not one of the many hits off this album, but it's perhaps the best song on what is undoubtedly one of the best albums of the entire 1990s. Like a lot of the album's songs, the lyrics are vague and make no sense at times (for instance, I have no idea what the title means or how it relates to the theme of the lyrics), but it appears to be a song about the plight of factory workers and laborers in the U.S. But it's the hard-hitting riffs and vocals (especially the chorus, which is downright glorious) that really make this a magnificent song.
5. I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford) - Elton John
If you know anything about the history of the Old West, you'll know Robert Ford (more commonly called Bob Ford) was the man who shot and killed Jesse James. As evidenced by this an other songs, Elton John's lyricist, Bernie Taupin, apparently had a fascination with American history. In any case, the song is actually about the breakup of a relationship, but uses Jesse James' murder as an analogy. Between the great music and vocals, and the lyrical themes (I'm a big fan of the Old West), this has always been one of my favorite lesser-known Elton John songs.
4. Migration - Jimmy Buffett
This is the best song from Jimmy Buffett's best album, and it's been one of my favorites since I began listening to Buffett in the early 1990s. You won't hear it on his multi-platinum greatest hits collection or in concert, but trust me ... it's one of his best songs. It's the quintessential beach bum song and it includes a line about buying a parrot and teaching it to cuss and drink. What more could you want?
3. Are You Sure - Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson has had a slew of hits over the years but what is perhaps more remarkable is how many great songs he has that never were radio hits. This is one of them. I'd never heard this song until a demo version (released in the 2000s) was used during an episode of the first season of Lost. The studio version, as released on his Country Willie album in 1965 (his third album) is the one I like best and it's the one featured above. It's a great little ballad that highlights everything about Willie that makes him the greatest of all time.
2. Headlong Flight - Rush
It's me, so of course Rush is going to be on the list and be ranked near the top. Headlong Flight is from their most recent (and probably final) album, Clockwork Angels, released in 2012. Unless you're a major Rush fan, you've likely not heard this song, as it certainly didn't get any radio airplay. But trust me, it's one of the best songs of their 40-year career. With their recent retirement (at least from touring), it's become in my eyes their final masterpiece, after four decades of masterpieces. You may or may not like Rush, but if you don't think this song kicks all manner of ass, you just don't like hard rock. It's three virtuoso rock musicians at the height of their collective power.
1. Was I Right Or Wrong - Lynyrd Skynyrd
Though it was recorded in the 1970s, this song was never released on any Lynyrd Skynyrd albums during their heyday, but sat in the vault until released during the 1990s on several compilation albums. This is remarkable to me because with the possible exception of Free Bird, it may be their best song. It tells the story of an aspiring musician who goes out to pursue his dream against the advice of his parents. He succeeds, but then comes home to find both parents have died. The story is perhaps a bit sappy but the guitar riffs are unbelievable. I just love, love, love this freaking song.
Special Bonus Song!
The Green Fields of France - Dropkick Murphys
When picking songs to include on this list, I came up with 11 instead of 10. Instead of dropping one, I just decided to add one as a bonus. You're welcome.
The Dropkick Murphys are a Celtic punk band - yes you read that right - from Massachusetts. This song is a remake of a folk song written in the 1970s by a Scottish singer named Eric Bogle. In it, the singer reflects on the grave of a 19-year-old who was killed in World War I. In my opinion, this is not just the greatest anti-war song ever written, the Dropkick Murphys' version of the song is hands down one of my favorite songs of all time. I can't listen to this song without getting chills. Watching the video above while listening to the song intensifies the impact even more.