Archive for May 30th, 2013

Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you’ve a date in Constantinople
She’ll be waiting in Istanbul.
  –  Jimmy Kennedy

Ever since my second “favorites” column a year and a half ago, I’ve pondered what I would put in a favorite songs list.  It wasn’t an easy choice; after all, one hears so many more songs in a lifetime than one sees movies or reads books, and one’s feelings about them can change dramatically with mood or time.  So as usual, I had to come up with a few rules to bring the pool of candidates down to a manageable size; I excluded hymns, songs without words, songs in languages I don’t understand, and songs which were (in my mind) inextricable parts of longer works.  I also limited the selections to one per artist (in the case of songs deeply associated with that artist).  The rules made the process difficult, but doable; I had to cut off almost a dozen songs from the first draft, including everything from Jesus Christ Superstar and a Bulgarian folk song I really love.  What I eventually ended up with was a list of 40 twentieth-century popular songs in English, most of which (with several notable exceptions) were first recorded within my lifetime.  I would’ve considered some of these (the ones marked with an asterisk) my “favorite song” at some point in my life or another; the rest are simply ones that, no matter how much time goes by, I always find myself pleased to hear (or find myself singing or humming).

These are presented in alphabetical order with minimal comment except to note the writers and (where applicable) performers I prefer, featuring a few selected videos; if I’ve mentioned the song before, I’ll link the column in which I did.  And if any of you are surprised that a large fraction of these are dark and/or melancholy, you must not have been paying attention for the past three years.

Bette Davis Eyes  (Donna Weiss/Jackie DeShannon; performed by Kim Carnes)
Bohemian Rhapsody*  (Queen)
Born To Be Wild*  (Mars Bonfire; performed by Steppenwolf)
Brown-Eyed Girl  (Van Morrison) (Jeff strongly associated this one with me, so naturally it reminds me of him.)
Can’t Get it Out of My Head  (Electric Light Orchestra) (I like a lot of ELO songs, especially “Turn To Stone” and “Telephone Line”, but this tale of pining edges them out.)
City of New Orleans  (Steve Goodman; performed by Arlo Guthrie) (Sheer poetry set to music; one of the great American classics.)
The Cover of the Rolling Stone  (Shel Silverstein; performed by Dr. Hook) (I can never hear this without smiling and singing along; just good goofy self-deprecating fun.)
Crazy On You*  (Heart) (Probably my favorite rock song of all time.)

Diamonds are Forever  (John Barry/Don Black; performed by Shirley Bassey) (I like “Goldfinger” a lot, too, but this one stands alone better.)
Dreaming  (Blondie) (Blondie is one of my favorite bands so it’s tough to choose only one, but this would have to be it.)
Dust in the Wind*  (Kansas)
Edge of Seventeen  (Stevie Nicks)
Free Fallin’  (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) (Another hard choice because Tom Petty has a lot of great songs, but I think this is the one that sticks with me the most. )
Free Will  (Rush) (What lover of reason and liberty could not like these lyrics?  Good tune, too.)
Hazy Shade of Winter  (Simon and Garfunkel) (I generally don’t like covers as much as the originals, but the Bangles version featured above is an exception.)
I Never Do Anything Twice  (Stephen Sondheim) (Listen closely to the words.  This is from the film The Seven Per Cent Solution.)

Istanbul  (Jimmy Kennedy/Nat Simon) (I loved the original Four Lads version as a child, and was delighted when it was superbly covered by They Might Be Giants in 1990.)
The Logical Song  (Supertramp)
Love Reign O’er Me  (The Who) (A simple song, but one which gives me chills under the right conditions.)
Mr. Crowley  (Ozzy Osbourne) (This one grew on me for years until I included it in one of my stripping routines.  But I’m not a Goth, honestly.)
Mother Russia*  (Renaissance)
Ode to Billie Joe  (Bobbie Gentry) (Of course I love “Fancy”, but this haunting enigma of a song is one of the great ballads of the 20th century.)
Over the Rainbow  (Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg; performed by Judy Garland)
Queen Bee  (Grand Funk Railroad) (I liked it on the Heavy Metal soundtrack, and later it was Jack’s song for me.)

Real World  (Matchbox 20) (One of the few songs of the 90s that inspired me to seek out the album.)
Satisfaction  (The Rolling Stones)
Signs  (Five Man Electrical Band) (A song which has stuck with me for decades and still pops into my head every time I see one of the ubiquitous order-and-threaten placards that deface this entire country.)
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes  (Jerome Kern/Otto Harbach; performed by The Platters)
Stairway to Heaven  (Led Zeppelin) (In case you missed it, Heart did an amazing cover of this song a few months ago.)
25 or 6 to 4  (Chicago) (I’m not really a big Chicago fan, but this is an old favorite I still enjoy.)
Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad  (Jim Steinman; performed by Meat Loaf) (It was extremely hard to pick a favorite Jim Steinman/Meat Loaf song, but this one captures the typical spirit of their oeuvre in a relatively short tune with memorable lyrics.)
Veteran of the Psychic Wars*  (Michael Moorcock; performed by Blue Oyster Cult) (My favorite Blue Oyster Cult song is just about a tie; though this I considered this one my favorite for several years, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is extremely close to it and contains my favorite single line in all of rock, “The door was open and the wind appeared”.)

Vienna  (Billy Joel)
Werewolves of London*  (Warren Zevon) (A great song from a unique artist, and one of the greatest first lines in rock history.)
What a Wonderful World  (Bob Thiele/George Weiss; performed by Louis Armstrong) (Louis Armstrong.  ‘Nuff said.)
What’s Up?  (4 Non Blondes) (This is almost tied with about half of the album from which it comes, especially “Spaceman”; it’s really a shame the group fell apart so quickly.)
Wheel in the Sky  (Journey)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps  (The Beatles) (You know what I said about the difficulty of picking one song for several of the choices above?  Multiply that by six.  I featured this one because it’s badly underrated, but “Eleanor Rigby” is a work of art and I couldn’t exclude it; see the rare 1966 video below.)
Windmills of Your Mind*  (Michel Legrand/Alan & Marilyn Bergman; performed by Noel Harrison) (This was my favorite song when I was 11 or 12; it’s from the movie The Thomas Crown Affair.)
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald  (Gordon Lightfoot) (Yes, another one about death; I’m sure you’re shocked.)

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