Friday, October 17, 2014

The 10 Best Songs of All Time: The 2014 WXPN 885 Countdown, The Greatest and Worst Songs of All Time, with Daily Playback Updates




Every October since 2004 WXPN has done a listener survey and played back the results in the form of a countdown of the 885 best this or that; it started with best songs and since then they've done albums, artists, musical moments, road trip songs, and last year it was the best songs of the new Millenium. The first one in 2004 was conceived to celebrate the station's move to their new building, a beautiful state of the art facility that shares a building with World Cafe Live, a first class live music venue.

This year, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the building and of the 885 countdown, they are repeating the category from 10 years ago, The Greatest Songs of All Time. It will be interesting to see the difference that ten years has made to the taste of the XPN community. That first year, when thousands of top ten lists were tabulated, the number one song was "Thunder Road" by Bruce Springsteen, which just happened to be the number one song on my top ten list as well. This year my number one choice remains the same, however the rest of my list is significantly different from ten years ago. The countdown begins Monday, October 20th and runs all week. See the list and listen live at XPN.org


1. Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road

I was seriously considering changing up my Springsteen selection for this year's list. Ultimately, it always comes back to "Thunder Road", this is quite literally the quintessential Springsteen song, it's got it all; everything that's great about Springsteen is right there in this song. And the fact that over the past 10 years, every time this song comes on the radio, I stop and give it my full attention. This just had to remain my number one.


2. The Beatles - And I Love Her

This category is so subjective that one could easily select ten Beatles songs and make a case that they are the ten greatest songs of all time. For this exercise I am only using one track to represent the Beatles. Again, we are going to be very subjective in that you could use any song they ever recorded (except maybe "Revolution 9"), so this selection comes from a list of my top ten Beatles' tracks, which will be the subject of a future blog article.


3. The Temptations - My Girl

This time around I decided to use only songs that one might actually hear on XPN, and as a result this list was skewed heavily toward rock and singer-songwriters. Like with the Beatles, one could easily make an entire Top 10 list from nothing other than Stevie Wonder songs. And so, the best track to represent soul, funk, and R&B, became obvious last week, listening to Smokey Robinson break down his brilliant career with Howard Stern. "My Girl" was written by Smokey and performed by the Temptations: when people all over the world hear the first few bass notes, they immediately know what's coming.


4. Joni Mitchell - Urge for Going

Although choosing the ten greatest songs of all time is fairly arbitrary, one thing I decided to do this year is to focus on some of the all time best songwriters. Which, when it coincides with superlative performance, it becomes an obvious choice for this list. "Urge for Going" originally appeared in 1972 on the B-side of the single "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio". The A-side was included on Joni's album, For the Roses, the B-side was not. This 45 was a prize Joni Mitchell collector's item as it was the only place one could hear "Urge for Going" until 1996 when it was included in Joni's Hits CD. Joni Mitchell is one of our greatest living songwriters and I consider "Urge for Going" to be pure perfection.

Now the warriors of winter
They gave a cold triumphant shout
And all that stays is dying
And all that lives is gettin' out
See the geese in chevron flight
Flapping and racing on before the snow

They got the urge for going
And they got the wings so they can go
They get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in


5. Bob Dylan - Tangled Up in Blue

Speaking of our greatest living songwriters, none may have a better claim on the title than Bob Dylan. You could pick most any song from Dylan's first decade and a half, but "Tangled Up in Blue" is a song that stands tall, even among giants. Like "Urge for Going" it is pure songwriting perfection, with a performance to match. Choosing one verse of lyrics was difficult because every single verse is simply amazing.

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue


6. Paul Simon - American Tune

"American Tune" continues our focus on the classics of great songwriting. Paul Simon, like Dylan, is also one of our greatest living songwriters, with many examples in his catalog. Considering that he wrote songs like "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "America", "The Sound of Silence", and many more, to my ears there is none better than "American Tune".

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age's most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it's all right, it's all right
You can't be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow's going to be another working day
And I'm trying to get some rest
That's all I'm trying to get some rest


7. Bob Marley - Redemption Song

Bob Marley is not only a worldwide cultural icon, and not only one of the fathers of reggae music, in Jamaica he is also a national and a religious icon. Often overlooked is his brilliance as a songwriter. With all the trappings of a band stripped away, "Redemption Song" reveals Marley's songwriting excellence in its purest form, just voice and guitar (Marley co-wrote "Redemption Song" with Edwin Hawkins).


8. The Kinks - Celluloid Heroes

When thinking about the all time songs and songwriting, the Kinks don't readily spring to mind. However, sprinkled in amongst the Kinks' songbook are some real gems by Ray Davies. As much as "Waterloo Sunset" resonates with greatness, I must go with "Celluloid Heroes". The idea of using the Hollywood Walk of Fame as a vehicle device to touch on the history of cinema is a genius move. The lyrics have the most perfect music, performance, and production, and the result is one of the all time greatest songs which also just so happens to be a love letter to the movies.

If you covered him with garbage
George Sanders would still have style
And if you stamped on Mickey Rooney
He would still turn round and smile
But please don't tread on dearest Marilyn
Cause she's not very tough
She should have been made of iron or steel
But she was only made of flesh and blood

You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard
Some that you recognize, some that you've hardly even heard of
People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame
Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain

Everybody's a dreamer and everybody's a star
And everybody's in show biz, it doesn't matter who you are
And those who are successful
Be always on your guard
Success walks hand in hand with failure
Along Hollywood Boulevard


9. Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms

It's not only the superb songwriting that puts "Brothers in Arms" on this list. Mark Knopfler is one of the most gifted guitarists who ever plugged in an electric guitar, and of all his great guitar work, "Brothers in Arms" is my personal favorite. The Brothers in Arms album devoted its first three songs to singles which were hugely successful ("Money for Nothing", etc.). The rest of the tracks were a concept album, and they were all given context by this, the title track.

Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I've witnessed your suffering
As the battle raged high
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms


10. Jackson Browne - For Everyman (includes Sing My Songs to Me)

With his first six albums, Jackson Browne defined the Southern California singer-songwriter, creating a body of work that is most impressive. Of all his classic compositions, the essence of his songwriting craftsmanship and mystique is best captured on "For Everyman", the song that concludes his second album and gives it its name.

Everybody I talk to is ready to leave
With the light of the morning
They've seen the end coming down long enough to believe
That they've heard their last warning
Standing alone
Each has his own ticket in his hand
And as the evening descends
I sit thinking 'bout Everyman


Worst: One Eskimo - Kandi

For a twist this year, the listeners were also asked to submit a choice for the worst song of all time. After playback of the 885 greatest songs, WXPN will play the 88 worst songs of all time; it will be fun. To choose the worst song of all time, I could easily have chosen one of the numerous past hits of the 70's for example, maudlin like "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro or just plain bad like "Billy Don't Be a Hero" by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods; actually the Top 40 from all decades has such dreck.

In keeping with my criteria that selections on this list be songs that XPN would actually play, it becomes more difficult. I don't think that any song that gets regular airplay would really qualify, however, "Kandi" by One Eskimo gets the dubious honor. It effectively uses a portion of the song "He Called Me Baby" by Candi Staton, but it is so repetitive that you could easily tire of it in one or two listens. Unfortunately, XPN played this in heavy rotation for much of 2010. I may have listened to XPN a little too much that year, but after a month or two this song drove me up the wall and quickly became the worst song I ever heard on the station.

Listen: Blog friend Robert sent a Spotify playlist of the Top 10, not including the Beatles (who are not yet available on Spotify). For "And I Love Her", Robert also provided this YouTube link. And, if you must, here is the YouTube link for "Kandi" by One Eskimo.

Update - The Playback: The schedule for the countdown is Monday - Thursday 6am - 10pm. On Friday they'll go from 6am until the countdown ends. All regular features and programs such as Kids Corner and World Cafe are suspended for the week. On Saturday they will play back the 88 Worst Songs of All Time.

Monday 10/20: The first day of any 885 countdown always offers some choice listening, and today did not disappoint. The bottom of the list is the place you will find the more interesting tracks, the songs that you don't normally hear on XPN. It was great to hear tracks like "Midnight Train to Georgia" by Gladys Knight & the Pips, "Frankenstein" by The Edgar Winter Group, "Siberian Khatru" by Yes, and the complete 17 minute version of "In-a-Gadda-Vida" by Iron Butterfly.

My #9 and #10 songs were both played during the first four hours, in fact "For Everyman" was the third song played, coming in at #883. You can see below how all my picks fared in the countdown.


Dan Reed (photos courtesy of WXPN)

Tuesday 10/21: This is great radio folks, listen live at XPN.org. It was a lovely day of Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and The Grateful Dead. Speaking of the Dead, I expected to hear classics like "China Cat Sunflower" and "Franklin's Tower", but it was especially nice to hear "Broke Down Palace", and I was a little surprised (but not really) to hear the more free form "Dark Star".

Songs that may have been overplayed to the point of annoyance when they came out, sure sounded great today. I'm talking about "Carry on My Wayward Son" by Kansas and "The Boys of Summer" by Don Henley, just to name two of the many. I thoroughly enjoyed the time trip (and I do mean trip) back to 1968 for The Chambers Brothers long version of "Time Has Come Today".

Also sounding excellent was "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple, one of the greatest guitar rifts of all time. And, coming out of XPN's top of the hour ID, the guitar beginning of "Helter Skelter" by The Beatles sounded absolutely awesome. One of the neat aspects of the countdown is the cool creation of sets by the seemingly random vote tabulation. Check this: "Pacing the Cage" by Bruce Cockburn into "Night Moves" by Bob Seger (which also sounded amazing) into "Got to Get You Into My Life" by The Beatles (another killer track) into "Everyday I Write the Book" by Elvis Costello, one of my favorite Costello songs.

Chapter One we didn't really get along
Chapter Two I think I fell in love with you
You said you'd stand by me in the middle of Chapter Three
But you were up to your old tricks in Chapters Four, Five and Six


Michaela Majoun

Wednesday 10/22: Shortly after 7am the countdown moved into the top 500 and we continued to hear lots more of The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and The Grateful Dead. They were joined by a bunch of artists that we haven't heard much in bottom 385; Springsteen, Dylan, Bob Marley, The Allman Brothers Band, and Norah Jones, just to name a few. When they played Springsteen's "4th of July, Asbury Park, Sandy" I was thinking that this song might well have been my number one pick.

We haven't seen official stats yet, but morning host Michaela Majoun mentioned that of her first thirty four tracks this morning, seventeen appeared on the list ten years ago, and seventeen were new entries this time. And the new ones were not necessary new songs since 2004; there are some new Beatles songs, for example, on the list for the first time. This is interesting in that Michaela also said that the three artists with the most songs on the list in 2004 were as follows:

The Beatles - 48
Bob Dylan - 33
Bruce Springsteen - 27

It will be interesting to see the final counts when this countdown is completed. I suspect that the station has considerably more listeners now than in 2004, and I would not be surprised to see a much larger level of participation in this survey. Listeners do like their long songs and this morning we heard the live version of "Do You Feel Like We Do" by Peter Frampton and this afternoon it was the sidelong Thanksgiving epic "Alice's Restaurant" by Arlo Guthrie.

"The Roads to Moscow" by Al Stewart sounded great this morning. It's an amazing track that I have not heard for many years. His "Year of the Cat" was also a countdown highlight last evening. "Fountain of Sorrow", which aired this afternoon is an amazing piece of songwriting by Jackson Browne, that very nearly made my list. Sometimes hearing music in this context can make unlikely tracks, such as "War Pigs" by Black Sabbath, sound great.

The luck of the vote resulted in more fabulous sets today, such as The Cure into Frank Sinatra into Gnarls Barkley. Here's another: "Just Breathe" by Pearl Jam into "The Needle and the Damage Done" by Neil Young into "Help Me" by Joni Mitchell; nice. One more: "Silver Spring" by Fleetwood Mac (one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs that was once only available as a single B-side) into "Promised Land" by Bruce Springsteen into "New York State of Mind" by Billy Joel. That last one sounded especially good this morning; for whatever reason, they don't seem to play much Billy Joel on XPN.


1. Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road
2. The Beatles - And I Love Her
3. The Temptations - My Girl
506. Joni Mitchell - Urge for Going
5. Bob Dylan - Tangled Up in Blue
6. Paul Simon - American Tune
7. Bob Marley - Redemption Song
642. The Kinks - Celluloid Heroes
847. Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms
883. Jackson Browne - For Everyman (includes Sing My Songs to Me)