It’s Only Rock-n-Roll

Nothing rouses the ire like somebody else’s list of the greatest rock-n-roll songs. “What’s that doing on there?” “He left off WHAT?”

In John Sandford’s mystery Broken Prey a character’s effort to pick the 100 best songs of the rock era for his iPod is a recurring motif. His complete list appears at the end of the book.

Lucas Davenport spends a scene explaining his some of his choices, like the deliberate decision to leave out anything by the Beatles. But he never notices there’s also not a single Michael Jackson song. And he idiocyncratically lists two versions of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – a good place to get started with my red pencil, neither being anywhere near favorites of mine.

Most of the songs on his list are well-known – I can remember how they start or the chorus. I was sorry a few titles are unfamiliar — music I’ve missed that became popular after my hearing loss forced me to abandon in-car radio listening.

A long time has passed since I came up with my own ordered list of favorites – something people do in amateur press associations to keep the conversation rolling. On that old list I had Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” in first place, with its magical sax solo and haunting portrait of a rootless musician. That clear-eyed understanding about a career that’s already gone as far as it can is a component of another favorite, Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing” – neither makes Davenport’s list, but surprisingly, a third song of that type, Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” does. (I never visualized Davenport as a fan of piano lounges or Billy Joel in general — Sandford must, and he would know…)

I haven’t seen my old list lately. There were some songs on it that would be gone today. Did I really like “96 Tears” that much, or was I mainly amused that it was performed by a band named Question Mark and the Mysterions? The Jackson 5’s “Tears of a Clown” had a type of arrangement that hit the same spot as Left Bank’s “Pretty Ballerina” – now Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” does a lot more for me. Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft” still impresses but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas” touted as one of the greats and I don’t think it would make my list anymore.

Anyway, it was intriguing to me to realize I responded to this fictional list as if I had a dog in the fight…

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9 thoughts on “It’s Only Rock-n-Roll

  1. I had a period of time where I had Fab Four overload because I kept hearing them on the radio, in someone’s house, in my house,, in the car, and the songs were losing impact and becoming stale. A few years later, I could listen, but not over indulge.

    Were I making a list I would exclude the Rolling Stones. Don’t like them.

  2. Even without the Beatles as a list of good rock’n’roll it’s not bad.

    I suspect a list of “100 Great SF stories” would be fairly contentious. “You call the SF?? You … you … bozo!”

  3. Besides “96 Tears” being a cool song, Question Mark and The Mysterions will never be forgotten as long as conventions have trivia bowls.

  4. Also, Mr. Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” specifically name-checks Stranger in a Strange Land, David Crosby’s SiaSL-inspired “Triad”, Hugo nominee Blows Against the Empire courtesy of Mr. Crosby and Paul Kantner (among other people), Grace Slick’s “Hyperdrive”, and much of the work of Justin Hayward to keep the whole topic science-fictionally relevant.

  5. It’s an interesting coincidence you should mention “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” In reaction to a list with no Beatles, I was going to propose my own arbitrary rule — no songs that are just compilations of references, with that as example #1. Then I couldn’t remember the name of that 70s hit which is mostly the names of cities the guy has been to, so I discarded that part. Besides, I am fond of “Van Lingle Mungo,” even if it’s not one of the 100 greatest. (Or 1000 greatest.)

  6. Versions of “High School U.S.A.” were done for individual cities, listing all the local high schools in each version of the song. I’ve only heard the one for St. Louis, but I understand there were dozens of cities included.

  7. P. S.: “Hyperdrive”, then only a year old, was the final song played at the opening ceremonies light/slide show at MidAmeriCon, the ’76 worldcon in Kansas City (where you and I first met).

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