Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Blame it on Ray
Although I wasn't even born when Ray Charles's "Hit the Road Jack" made it to number one on the pop charts, the album on which it was later featured, Ray Charles Greatest Hits, was on constant rotation on my parents' record player for years. As the first song I ever remember hearing, it would serve as my gateway drug into a lifelong obsession with popular music, an obsession for which I solidly blame my parents.
Inveterate audiophiles, mom and dad used every bit of spare change left over after feeding and housing us to buy records. So "Hit the Road Jack" was followed by Joan Baez's "Farewell Angelina," which was followed by the Beatles' "Get Back," which was followed by Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly," which was followed by Carly Simon's "You're So Vain," which was followed by, well, you get the picture. By the age of ten, I was well on my way to amassing quite a record collection of my own, beginning with one of those Ronco Record compilations of '70s super hits, Elton John's Greatest Hits, and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.
Ironically, I couldn't sing a single solitary note if you gave me a Bottega Veneta bag to carry it in and any attempts at playing an instrument have ended in hair pulling frustration. Regardless, I remain obsessed.
Which leads me to the topic of conversation the other night, when I challenged a couple folks to list the ten greatest rock songs of all time.
There were, of course, guidelines. To me, greatness should not be limited solely to a subjective feeling (what I like to call the ability of a song to produce goose bumps in the gut), but should also encompass a song's over-arching influence on the pop music scene in general. Finally, I asked that we not go back earlier than the Beatles or later than Nirvana.
Here's my list:
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band – the Beatles
Sympathy for the Devil – Rolling Stones
Gene Genie - David Bowie
Baba O'reilly – Who
Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix
Dreams – Fleetwood Mac
London Calling – Clash
Heart of Glass - Blondie
New Years Day – U2
Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
Yes, you're right, there's nothing here by Bob Dylan. That's because although I recognize his utter genius as a musician and pop cultural icon, I don't particularly like any of his songs, and that goes for "All Along the Watchtower," too. What, no Led Zeppelin, either, you may also ask? Well, let's just say, if we were making a list of the most freakin' annoying pop songs of all time? "Stairway to Heaven," like, for sure. Although, I'll give them "When the Levee Breaks" – one of the greatest blue-eyed blues songs ever produced. This version is brilliant. But still not on the list.
How about you? What's on yours?