Sam Smith on Their Favorite Songs of All Time: Celine Dion, Joni Mitchell, and More

Sam Smith remembers how Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” got them through a tough time. “I went through a breakup, and I actually went into a forest and listened to this in my earphones and screamed at the top of my lungs,” the singer-songwriter tells Rolling Stone. “I’m a massive drama queen. This song matches my drama.”

“It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” landed on Smith’s ballot for Rolling Stone’s new 500 Greatest Songs of All Time rankings. Smith was one of more than 250 artists, journalists, and industry figures to participate in the new list. Here are their other picks.

1. Aretha Franklin, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

Obviously, this song is originally by Simon and Garfunkel, and my first time hearing it would have been their version as a child. But about four years ago, I heard the Aretha Franklin version and I literally had a spiritual experience. She just sang it as if no one had ever done it before.

There’s no vocals the first minute. It’s just a piano. That’s how special the melody is. It’s almost like Aretha was honoring the melody. I don’t know if that was the intention, but it’s amazing. It’s a love song, but it’s not just in terms of a relationship. It makes me think of family. So now whenever I’m loving, sad, or want to feel inspired, I always just play this version of this song. It’s a piece of music that I will always be aspiring to and I don’t think will ever, ever reach. This song is a safe place for me.

2. Joni Mitchell, “A Case of You”

“I could drink a case of you and still stay on my feet” is the best lyric ever written. Every time I hear it, it just blows my mind. The first time I ever heard this song was in Practical Magic, which is my favorite film. That film has been passed down through all the women in my family. The soundtrack has been with me forever. This song is in the scene where Nicole Kidman is driving to her sister [Sandra Bullock]. It makes me smile every time it.

What makes it more special now is I got the honor of meeting Joni. Oh my God. About two years ago, I sang for her and got to meet her. It made the magic of everything come even more to life, because she is the greatest artist of our generation.

3. ABBA, “The Winner Takes It All”

ABBA are absolutely fucking incredible. They’re icons. I just love the how unashamedly pop they have been throughout their entire career. I love the spirit of their music, the honesty in their music. The melodies are outrageous and the lyrics are absolutely heartbreaking. I think if anyone’s going through a breakup, this song to me is triumphantly miserable. So when you’re sad and you hear this, it makes you feel almost powerful within your heartbreak. I really would love to sing this song one day.

4. Stevie Wonder, “Knocks Me Off My Feet”

So many unbelievably massive and incredible songs are on Songs In the Key of Life, but this is my favorite Stevie song, and one of my favorite songs ever. Lyrically, it’s incredible. But melody-wise, I remember this song confused me for a long time as a child. The melody is so strong that I felt like each part was a chorus to a different song. And then as I got older, I kept trying to find this song. Then I realized all of the melodies were coming from the same song. It’s wild. Just magical singing.

5. Rihanna, “We Found Love”

This song changed my life when I was 18 years old. I moved to London and this song came out. It must have come out [on a] Thursday or Friday, because I was working in a bar and I remember I saw the music video for it. I was so inspired and hyped up after watching it. It was that time where I got to see Rihanna in a way that I felt like she was like me. She was wearing high street clothes and creepers shoes, and then everyone was wearing creepers from Brick Lane stop in London. I remember being so inspired by it coming out. I went on a three-day bender and started partying in all these gay bars by myself. I was listening to this song on my headphones, on the train on the way to the club, and I ended up getting with loads of guys for three days. I basically tried to recreate the video.

6. Randy Newman, “Feels Like Home”

I must have been very young when I heard this because it feels like it’s always been in my life as a song. I think it was probably about six years ago when someone introduced me to Randy Newman, and I just didn’t realize how iconic his music and songwriting was. I also remember this being in How to Lose A Guy In Ten Days, and it made me cry as well.

It’s nuts, but he’s wonderful because he doesn’t look like someone who’d be a songwriter. For me, hearing him sing the songs made everything come to life, because I wouldn’t say he’s the most incredible singer I’ve even heard technically — but the way he sings those lyrics is just another level of honesty. It makes me feel like Joni does.

7. Celine Dion, “It’s All Coming Back to Me”

My first memory ever of hearing the song is my mum playing it on vinyl and I think it made me gay. I think this was the first memory of music I ever heard. And God, this song is just incredible. It’s so over the top and dramatic. And so me.

8. Robyn, “Be Mine”

I’ve been playing this song a lot recently, and everyone I play to, they’re like, “Oh my God, I forgot about this song!” I remember hearing this when I was a kid and being immediately captured by Robyn’s voice and then slowly falling in love with everything she did. Robyn, to me, is this incredible voice that speaks to the heart of queer people. I went to a show of her’s about two years ago, just before Covid, and it was the best show I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I cried my eyes out. It was just next level.

I think this is her most special song. It gives me the same feeling as “Time After Time.” It was the beginning of my love affair with sad songs that you can dance to. There’s nothing better than being able to dance to a sad song.

9. Feist, “The Park”

I must have been 10 when I heard this album [2007’s The Reminder] and I completely fell in love with it. Over the years it’s become my Sunday album. Any time that I’m having a day at home — no matter what mood I’m in — I put this album on really loud and sit and read a book and put the fire on. It’s just a really, really special record.

10. Amy Winehouse, “You Sent Me Flying”

Frank came out when I was 11. It completely rocked my world. It was the first time I ever heard a swear word in a song. She was just brutal — these honest and at times filthy lyrics. It really spoke to my heart and my soul. “You Sent Me Flying” was a huge, huge teacher for me in how to sing. There’s few songs that I would say were the first songs I really learned the thing, and this would be it. The way she sings is ingrained in my voice forever.

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