Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Music of my Life
This week a friend asked me to take part in a survey he was doing on his blog; he wanted people to list their 10 favourite songs of all time. Now, I have owned (and, for the most part, still own) literally thousands of albums in my life on vinyl, CD or cassette. I have a few hundred 45 RPM singles in my collection, too. Add to that the many songs I have purchased on iTunes or...ahem...not purchased through other electronic methods and I think you see my dilemma. It's a lot like asking someone to name the favourite of all of his or her children, or the best 10 breaths he or she has ever drawn. But I promised I would give it a try and it took up a good chunk of my evening last night. Because I spent so much time on it - and because I honestly have nothing else to write about today that doesn't revolve around the Ford brothers (yeesh) - I figured I would make the work do "double duty" and post my choices here on my blog as well.
First of all, some disclaimers: I knew that if I left this compilation open to all genres then it would be impossible to ever finish the project. It's hard enough to compare Pop/Rock songs to each other (which is what I did); I can't even imagine having to then compare (spoiler alert!) Elton John to Billie Holiday, for example. Besides, now I have a blog idea for another day: my top 10 Jazz favourites of all time. See? Always thinking ahead.
Also, I decided on an arbitrary "rule": once I had chosen any song by a particular artist or group to be in my top 10, then that would eliminate that performer from any further consideration for the rest of the list. In the end, this actually impacted one of the positions; to say which one would be telling.
I will post these in reverse order - from #10 to #1 - and I welcome your comments on my choices; moreover, however, I welcome your own personal lists, whether they be top 10, top 20, top 5, whatever you desire, I'd love to see them.
Ok, without further ado here are what I have decided are my "Top 10 Rock/Pop Songs of All Time" (my "Desert Island List", if you will):
#10 Watching the River Run - Loggins & Messina
I have owned their "Best of Friends" Greatest Hits album in several formats and I go back to it over and over again in times of stress. This is one song of theirs I used to sing to my kids; House at Pooh Corner is another. It was tough to choose.
#9 Tangled Up Puppet (Song to Jaime) - Harry Chapin
As is the norm with Harry's songs, the studio version absolutely does not do this justice. I was lucky enough to see him live on several occasions (and held tickets for an upcoming show when he tragically died) and this was always one of my favourites. But it was his performance of this on the Tonight Show in 1978 that I will never forget. Even Johnny Carson was in tears when he was done. I used to sing this, of course, to my daughter.
#8 A Routine Day - Klaatu
For a short time in 1980 I lived with my good friend Stephe Yorke in his room on the third floor of his folks' home in Riverdale. Though the circumstances of how I came to live there are not pleasant, the experience itself was. Stephe was a couple of years older than me and had several older siblings that introduced him to some amazing music, which he was only too happy to share with me. He played this nearly every morning as we started our day.
#7 Mercury Blues - David Lindley
This song might have made this list on its own merit; however, in the early '90s my friend Richard Weait and I were nuts about a band from Newfoundland that had moved to Toronto, Thomas Trio and the Red Albino. We got to know this group so well that we even were invited to their Christmas party in 1992 (where I had my first taste of "real" screech). They did an incredible cover of this song and Richard and I would regularly get them to play it as an encore at their shows. This is still a better version, but it's close.
#6 Superstition - Stevie Wonder
What can I say about this one? This might very well be the funkiest song in the history of music. I didn't know Stevie's music very well when I first heard this song; suffice it to say that changed in the blink of an eye.
#5 (What's so Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding - Elvis Costello
The wonderful Nick Lowe anthem for peace, famously performed by the incomparable Elvis Costello. I could have chosen any of 20 Costello songs for this list; ultimately I chose the one that to this day I cannot hear in the car without hammering the beat on the steering wheel so hard that Sarah fears for her safety. My friend Stephe introduced me to the wonders of Elvis Costello; I underwent an epiphany while living with him that I will never be able to repay. And speaking of Stephe Yorke....
#4 Moondance - Van Morrison
When I wasn't waking up to A Routine Day, I was waking up to this song. Another performer I only vaguely knew of when I was 18 but whom I absolutely adore now. This entire album could have been on my list (in fact, I nearly chose Into the Mystic instead); if I made a "Desert Island List" of albums, this would be in one of the top 3 spots.
#3 Me and Bobby McGee - Janis Joplin
I have loved this song since the first moment I heard it. I always sing along and when I do, I try to sing just like Janis. Seriously. I can't imagine singing this any other way. I love the slow build and then the explosion leading to the instrumental work late. Just an incredible piece of music, written by Kris Kristofferson.
#2 The Boxer - Simon & Garfunkel
Bridge Over Troubled Water is, very likely, the single most important album of my life. I lived in a home that had music on all the time; however, mainly the music we listened to was elevator-esque: such artists as John Gary, James Last, The 50 Guitars of Tommy Garrett (I only wish I was kidding about that last one). One day my dad heard Bridge Over Troubled Water (the single) on the radio and decided he had to buy the album; I diligently followed him down to "Shopper's Records and Tapes" at Yonge & Bloor on a soggy day in early 1970 to pick it up and bring it home. Not only was the experience of being in a real, live record store for the first time an eye-opener but the moment my dad played this record for the first time it was like....well, it was like when Dorothy wakes up in Oz and everything has gone from black and white to full technicolour. It was the most profound musical awakening of my entire life. The Boxer is my favourite song from that album; it must have taken an incredibly special song to beat it out for the #1 spot on my list....
#1 Levon - Elton John
One of my friends - I believe it was the very same Stephe Yorke - once described this as the "greatest pop song ever to be written". I simply cannot dispute that opinion; everything about this tune and recording is, to me, absolutely seamless. I didn't know this song when the Madman Across the Water album came out in 1971 and I didn't hear anything other than Tiny Dancer from that record for many years. But once I heard Levon for the first time I fell in love with it. I used to play this in the auditorium at Innis College in Toronto while a group of people sang along with it. Those were the days, let me tell you.
So, that's my list. Well, it might be more accurate to say that's my Top 10 All-Time Favourite Pop/Rock songs as compiled on May 9, 2012, because there's no question in my mind that the time of day, the time of year and the time of my life has informed this list considerably. I can't imagine the top 4 or 5 songs moving at all; however, the bottom 5 were all close calls. Here, for interest's sake, are the 11 through 15 songs, which just missed the cut: All Uncovered - The Watchmen; Pressure Drop - Toots and the Maytalls; Still the Night - BoDeans; Wheat Kings - The Tragically Hip; I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2 (live version from the Rattle & Hum album).
Ok. Have at it! Let's see how your lists might look!
BTW, here is the original post that I answered with my 10 songs. Please check it out and while you're there, why not visit the rest of the site for which Jason (first commenter here) is such a big contributor? Thanks!