The Six-Song Challenge, part onePosted: May 20, 2013
A few weeks back I got inspired to try something, so I cast this out to some like-minded peeps. As you can tell from the words “part one” in the title, this will be a multi-part series. Similar to a couple of other musical discussions on this here blog. Six seems to be the going number for these things.
The task? Couldn’t be simpler. List six songs that you think everyone should know. Be serious, silly, pedantic, ironic: anything you like.
Briefly explain your choices. If a song has been recorded or performed by more than one artist, pick the version or artist you like best.
A handful of responses have trickled in, and I’m assured of more to follow. If you’re reading this, consider yourself invited. And if you’re just here to read the entries, I hope you tumble onto a song or three that you seek out and enjoy.
I showed mine first. (Story of my life, but the less spoken of that the better.)
1. “Happy Birthday To You”: C’mon, this is a song that everybody in the world sings at least once in their lifetimes.
2. “She Loves You” by The Beatles: My favorite song of all time. (Jon Gordon picked it too – see below.) Not only did it introduce the lads and “yeah, yeah, yeah” to the world, but it’s a great premise: the singer tells his friend to get over his damn self and apologize to his woman.
3. “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” by Frank Sinatra: The epitome of Sinatra cool, the best thing he ever recorded, and a transcendent moment in American popular music. Plus a trombone solo by Milt Bernhart that just plain shreds.
4. “Take The A Train” by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra: Not necessarily the most popular song from the big-band era, but arguably the best blend of swing and sophistication.
5. “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan: The song starts like a door being kicked open, releasing a flood of harshness and resentfulness. “How does it feel?” It created the template for folk-rock. What’s more: radio DJs demanded that Columbia Records release the entire six-minute song on one side of a 45, instead of splitting it, and they did.
6. “The Gilligan’s Island Theme”: Not only is it part of 20th century cultural heritage, but it’s a textbook example of exposition in a TV theme song. See also “The Brady Bunch,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Green Acres,” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” I think it would be awesome to start each day with a song that succinctly sums up what’s going on in your life.
Music producer/arranger/composer/performer Jon Gordon was next to join in. Besides highlighting the genre-busting “Stereo Hearts,” he articulated the perfect approach to this challenge: “There is no way this can be a definitive list. It would have to be more like 600 songs everyone should know! I’ll just go with what comes off the top of my head, with no attempt made to filter or be relevant. My apologies to many skipped decades, artists, and genres.”
1. “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley and The Comets: Whether or not this is the song that started it all, it is a worthy contender.
2. “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley: A definitive song stylist of his era, Presley gives life to this odd celebration of jailhouse life. Honorable mention to “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash.
2a. “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard: Okay, this one is partially guilt. But if I’m attempting any sort of historical perspective on early rock ‘n’ roll, there must be some black artists too! (Apologies to “Sweet Little Sixteen” by Chuck Berry.)
3. “She Loves You” by The Beatles: About as infectious as it gets.
4. “Stop! In The Name Of Love” by The Supremes: The Motown pop-soul machine at its best.
5. “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5: See above, plus an immortal James Jamerson bass line!
6. “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes featuring Adam Levine: Skipping several decades, this song is just extremely cute and catchy.
(The only thing I can add to Jon’s list is: “Appreciate every mix tape your friends make. You never know, we come and go, like on the interstate.”)
My good friend Jessie Osipenko joined in, and hit on a couple of my favorites along the way:
1. “Hurt” by Johnny Cash: This was first released on Nine Inch Nails’ 1994 album “The Downward Spiral,” but this is the version I absolutely love.
2. “Pump It Up” by Elvis Costello: This is my family theme song. We used to play it on our camping trips. My kids would be bopping their heads up and down in the back of our minivan to this song when they were little. They had no idea what the lyrics meant.
3. “Boom Boom” by John Lee Hooker: My first introduction to the blues
4. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”: My kids are both in the high school orchestra, and they have an annual String Fling concert in which sixth through twelfth graders play for their parents in a packed gymnasium. Every year I dread going, because my idea of fun is not sitting on bleachers for two hours. The last song they play is “Ode to Joy,” and I get tears in my eyes very year I hear it (I’ve been going for seven years).
5. “More Like Falling In Love” by Jason Gray: My church pastor played this song during a sermon he gave a couple years ago. He said if you want to share with someone how you feel about God but don’t have the words, play this song. To me, this says exactly how I feel.
6. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”: The version I like best is sung by k.d. lang.
My friend and co-worker Laura Martin (read her blog, folks, it’s awesome) said that her attempt led to a discussion with her son Alex, and he got inspired to make his own list. A twofer! Laura writes: “This is mine. I’m not completely satisfied but if I don’t finalize it soon, I never will.”
1. “Poor Elijah” by Delaney and Bonnie and Friends: Not only a classic blues/rock song, but a classic blues song about a classic blues artist. They and their friends really nailed the feel of the Johnson blues, and yet they brought it nicely into that late 60’s.
2. “Can’t Help Falling In Love” by Elvis Presley: For me, a quintessential love song. Simple lyrics that touch my heart every time. As powerful for your lover as it is as a lullaby.
3. “I Walk The Line” by Johnny Cash: Again, another great love song, but not as sweet as “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” It’s more of a pledge after a warning. For me, with every key change in this song, I feel a little more excited and a little more unnerved.
4. “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Louis Prima: The best recorded version is by Benny Goodman. Musically superior to many of the big band classics of its time, the drum line is the thing. Every drummer should be made to listen to this and play it, the same way that every young piano ingenue plays Bach or Vivaldi.
5.”Baby Blue” by Badfinger: This is an underplayed classic from my youth. They sound is evocative of the 70’s music experience for me. They managed to keep alive the young Beatles sound long after the Beatles were no more. Their association and influence from the Fab Four is clear, and yet I don’t consider them a copy.
6. “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” by Randy Newman: One of the most prolific writers of my generation, this song has been recorded dozens of time. I think it’s great example of Newman’s style: sad and ironic. The world is already full of silly love songs (see “I Walk The Line” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love”). Newman’s poetry is edgy and challenging, I have always loved him, from “Mama Told Me” to “Life’s Been Good To Me.” Newman’s humor for life is amazing. like Leon Russell and Warren Zevon, Newman is a musician’s musician; and because of this he (as they did) could fly just under the radar of top-40 record play. Maybe that gave the a freedom to create more art and less three-minute-and-and thirty-second sound bites. It’s just a thought.
And, from Alex Martin-Vouk:
1. “Janie Jones” by The Clash: This is the truest form of punk rock. It’s poppy and yet anti-establishment.
2. “Rebel Rebel” by David Bowie: It’s all about freedom. It’s the classic first-day-you-can-drive-with-your-car-window-down song.
3. “Sabotage” by The Beastie Boys: If you can hear this song and not get riled up, you’re not listening close enough.
4. “Beast of Burden” by The Rolling Stones: Everyone loves the Stones, but no one ever talks about this song. It’s from their crappy disco album and gets overlooked. (Alex, many’s the time I drove down a rural road, all windows down, singing along with this one at the top of my lungs.)
5. “Barracuda” by Heart: If Bach heard the first 30 seconds of this song he’d say, “Shit, how can I play this on the organ?”
6. “Play It All Night Long” by Warren Zevon: Simply because it was written for me.
Bonus pick: “Rumble” by Link Wray and the Wraymen. It was banned by some radio stations because they knew it would make teenagers back in the ’50s stay out late, do heroin, and have sex.
That’s the first installment. More will follow. Stay tuned. Better yet, send me your own list. If I like it, I’ll post it.