Thursday, July 15, 2010

100 Hit Songs: Introduction

Having enjoyed the versions of them I've seen on other blogs, I've decided to try my hand at a countdown. Some of those I first considered—greatest albums ever, best movies ever, top novels, favorite cats—were so broad and wide-ranging as to feel almost impossible to even start getting my arms around. Maybe down the line for them.

Instead I opted for one that seemed manageable and comes with fairly clear-cut ground rules: 100 favorite hit songs, all candidates for which must have appeared on the Billboard Top 40 charts for the U.S. between 1955 and the present. This precludes me from including such stalwart and eternal favorites as Big Star's "Nightime," the Chills' "Song for Randy Newman, Etc.," or even the Stones' "Street Fighting Man" (not to mention entire album sides such as Abbey Road side 2 or Moondance side 1, a fraud I have attempted on previous such lists).

All the usual disclaimers apply. The listings and my comments to follow constitute subjective and extremely fluid judgments, with no airs regarding comprehensiveness, objectivity, or even permanence. I am deliberately using the word "favorite," though a good many of the songs are included because of their historical significance or their historical unlikelihood, and often the anomalous combination of both. That is, among other seeming paradoxes, a song may end up being a favorite within the constraints of this exercise, but would not necessarily place even on a personal top 10 of mine for that particular artist. Patti Smith, for example, just missed this big list with her "Because the Night," which ended up at #109 when I called an arbitrary, deadline-driven halt to the tinkering and fussing. But I actually like many tracks on her Horses and Easter and Wave albums a good deal more. On a monster all-up list, "Because the Night" would probably be lucky to get above 500, or even 1,000 (and that would be mostly because of its status as an unusual hit, and also, another extraneous intangible, because there's something I like about the New Jersey connection with Springsteen, especially in the context of its time, who wrote it and gave it to her).

I think we can all agree that claims to objectivity in these matters are inevitably a lot of foolishness anyway. Or, as Mark Twain wrote in different circumstances, "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." Even six months from now—which, checking over my schedule here, is approximately when we will finally be rounding in to a top 10—this list would almost certainly be rather different if I started over. The plain fact is that I just seem to enjoy lists these days, reading them by others and now concocting my own.

Dates given will be for the years in which the songs entered the chart—hence, for example, "Monster Mash" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett (with or without the Crypt-Kickers, which good Christ I am just now finding out included Leon Russell), would be labeled as both 1962 and 1973. This is something you need to know in regard to only one, or perhaps two or three, of the songs that will appear in this countdown, the identity of which might be something you enjoy trying to guess.

Props to my favorite list-making blogs, all as it happens concerned with movies: Goodfella's Movie Blog, They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? (which takes the enterprise to all new levels), and Wonders in the Dark. They get all credit for inspiring me to this—but no blame, of course, for the various swings wild and even excesses (or perhaps merely exercise of rote conventional wisdom) on which I am about to embark.

Scheduling (as usual, within the limits of my stamina): Fridays continue on movies, Sundays on books, and Saturdays now devoted to albums. More or less everything else is countdown. As always, comments are welcome and invited.


  1. Linda Featheringill2:29 PM, November 26, 2010

    Nice list.

    Aaron Neville, "Use Me"
    Elvis Presley, "Burning Hunk of Love" but that may be a chick thing :-)
    War, "War"
    Righteous Brothers, "Unchained Melody"

    Still, nice list.

  2. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

  3. Here's a couple of good ones that may fall thru the cracks-

    The Cleanup Woman - Betty Wright

    Smoke From a Distant Fire - Sanford-Townsend Band

  4. Dusty Springfield - Son of a Preacher Man

    Labelle - Lady Marmelade

    Gladys Knight & the Pips - Midnight Train to Georgia

    Temptations - My Girl

  5. sent over here from the BJ link - with a name like "Can't explain" i guess you are saving the top 30 slots for Who songs? From a quick look at your list I am guessing you are from the same generational vintage as myself and started listening to rock in the early 70s.

  6. Thanks to all for stopping by via Balloon Juice and leaving comments. All titles mentioned are worthy choices, but the highest any of them placed on my list was Edwin Starr's "War," at #121. Of course, now that you mention it, the Dusty Springfield and the Sanford-Townsend seem awfully good to me at the moment.

    @2liberal: The blog name actually comes from some lines in a Mott the Hoople song that have long resonated with me: "Rock’n’roll’s a loser’s game / It mesmerises and I can’t explain / The reasons for the sights and for the sounds." And yeah, I started listening to albums in about 1969, after four years on pop radio, and actually didn't give up the radio for a very long time, which you could probably guess from some of my choices here.

    Thanks again, everybody.

  7. suggestions
    Byrds -turn turn turn(to everything there is a season)
    Buggles - Video killed the radio star
    Wham - Wake me up before you go go
    Beach Boys - Good Vibrations
    Marvin Gaye - Heard it through the grapevine
    Procol Harum - Whiter Shade of Pale
    The Crystals - And then He kissed me.