Hard though it is to believe, Almost Famous, director Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical account of his time as a teenage writer for Rolling Stone, is now over 20 years old. But even if the film’s starting to get long in the tooth, its soundtrack, which won the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media, still sounds as fresh as ever. Here’s how we rank all the songs from the Almost Famous soundtrack in order of greatness.
17. Fever Dog – Stillwater
Stillwater, the fictional band at the center of Almost Famous, may have been a product of Cameron Crowe’s imagination, but they still managed to put in a very decent performance of this song by Heart’s Nancy Wilson.
16. Lucky Trumble – Nancy Wilson
Nancy Wilson has written some beautiful songs over the course of her career, not least this dazzling instrumental composed specifically for the Almost Famous soundtrack.
15. Slip Away – Clarence Carter
Slip Away was released as the B side to Funky Fever, but whereas Funky Fever only managed to reach number 88 on the Billboard Hot 100, Slip Away climbed all the way to number 6, becoming Clarence Carter’s first-ever entry into the top 40.
14. Mr. Farmer – The Seeds
Mr. Farmer tells the story of a man who exchanges his life in the city for five acres in the country, where he spends his days watering his crops and having a fine old time of it. Despite being banned from most radio stations due to its drug connotations (those weren’t corn crops he was watering), it still managed to take the Seeds to number 86 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in February 1967.
13. Sparks – The Who
Tommy, The Who’s fourth album, was the band’s major breakthrough and has since been hailed as one of the most important and influential albums in rock history. Tracks like Pinball Wizard and We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore get most of the glory, but it was the instrumental Sparks that Cameron Crowe chose for the Almost Famous soundtrack.
12. The Wind – Cat Stevens
Teaser and the Firecat, Cat Steven’s fifth album, is one of the singer’s most commercially successful albums, reaching the top 5 in both the UK and US. The tender, introspective The Wind is among its numerous diamonds.
11. One Way Out – The Allman Brothers
First recorded as an R&B number by Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James in the early 1960s, One Way Out became a major hit for the Allman Brothers in the 1970s when they swapped the R&B for rock, added some slide guitars, a punchy hook, and a smattering of dynamite licks, and transformed it into a classic rock radio staple.
10. I’ve Seen All Good People – Yes
Widely considered one of Yes’s best-known and most appealing pieces, I’ve Seen All Good People is a 7-minute long piece of prog-rock brilliance. If you haven’t got 7 minutes to spare, check out the condensed version which hit the top 40 in the US when it was released as a single in 1971.
9. Every Picture Tells a Story – Rod Stewart
Described by music critic Greil Marcus as “Rod Stewart’s greatest performance,” Every Picture Tells a Story might not have made a dent in the charts on its release as a single in 1971, but it did help the album of the same name soar to number one in the UK, US, Canada, and Australia. It’s since been named as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone.
8. It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference – Todd Rundgren
Todd Rundgren has built a career on avoiding the mainstream, but in 1972, he released one of the very few albums in his catalog that could accurately be described as “straightforward” – the phenomenal Something/ Anything? Applauded by All Music for its “instantly memorable, shamelessly accessible pop songs” and by the Village Voice for its “confidence and verve,” it was as commercial as Rundgren has ever got. It didn’t stick, and by his next album, he’d given up on three-minute pop songs almost entirely. Still, his brief time as the “male Carole King” did at least leave us with little gems like It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference.
7. Feel Flows – The Beach Boys
The cryptic lyrics might be a brain scratcher, but there’s no denying the beauty of this trippy, jazzy gem from The Beach Boy’s 1971 album Surf’s Up. Cameron Crowe liked it so much, he used it twice in Almost Famous, later describing it as his favorite Beach Boys song and “the essence of the fulfilled promise of The Beach Boys and everything Brian envisioned for their creative journey.”
6. I’m Waiting for the Man – David Bowie
I’m Waiting for the Man was written by Lou Reed and first released on the Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico. The original is phenomenal, but it was David Bowie’s equally outstanding version from Live Santa Monica ’72 that director Cameron Crowe decided to use on the Almost Famous soundtrack.
5. Something in the Air – Thunderclap Newton
Something in the Air proved one of the biggest surprise hits of 1969, soaring to number 1 on the UK charts and forcing Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds to number 2. It’s since been used in a bevy of TV shows and movies, including Kingpin, The Dish, The Girl Next Door, and, of course, Almost Famous.
4. Simple Man – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Along with Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird, Simple Man ranks as one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s most popular songs. Released as a single from the band’s debut album in 1973, it’s sold over a million copies in the US alone.
3. That’s The Way – Led Zeppelin
What would a soundtrack to a movie set in the 1970s be without at least one tune from the biggest band of the decade, Led Zeppelin? In this case, the honor went to That’s The Way from the band’s third album, Led Zeppelin III.
2. America – Simon and Garfunkel
Inspired by the five days Paul Simon spent hitchhiking across the US in 1964, America is easily one of the most evocative songs in Simon and Garfunkel’s catalog. Described by Stephen Holden of Rolling Stone as “three and a half minutes of sheer brilliance,” it hit number 25 on the UK Singles Chart on its release in April 1968.
1. Tiny Dancer – Elton John
Ranked as one of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” by Rolling Stone and by pretty much everyone else who’s ever heard it, the wonderfully evocative Tiny Dancer represents the pinnacle of Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin’s long-standing partnership.