Thanks WXPN - First, a giant thank you to Bruce Warren and everyone at WXPN for a truly great promotion. This all time top ten business has focused their radio community on the music like never before and it's a thing of beauty. As the XPN hosts consider this subject on air, many songs are being played that wouldn't normally fit the playlist which is another giant plus. So, on to my list.
The Top Ten - After compiling a list of at least a hundred songs that could each totally qualify for my all time top ten, actually choosing ten seemed somewhat arbitrary. I could throw darts at my list and randomly pick ten and the list would be every bit as valid as any other means of choosing. WXPN's assignment was to come up with a list of your all time top ten favorite songs. So, the only way I could think to logically narrow it down to ten was to follow my own musical history. At any point in time I have a number of artists that are favorites, but usually there is one primary favorite at any given time. There has been some overlap of course, and certainly there are many other artists who have been and still are favorites, so, with many painful omissions, and in largely chronological order of obsession, here's my top ten:
1. Beatles - In My Life
2. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Green River
3. Yes - Close to the Edge
4. Genesis - The Cinema Show
5. Jackson Browne - For a Dancer
6. Joni Mitchell - Urge for Going
7. Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road
8. Chris Rea - Fool (If You Think It's Over)
9. Del Amitri - Always the Last to Know
10. Average White Band - Work to Do
The top ten considerations:
1. The Beatles - Virtually any song the Beatles did could qualify for my all time top ten. Within that, the Lennon tunes edge out the others in terms of songwriting quality for me, and the period from A Hard Day's Night (1964) through Rubber Soul (1965) would be my ultimate favorite, but they're all great. It's still hard to imagine that all this great music was created in only six years, 1963 through 1969, just amazing. I have a theory that 1970-75 was an especially creative period in popular music, primarily for the reason that the Beatles did so much during their short career, and progressed so much, not staying in any one place musically for long, that all other musicians at the time were inspired to new heights of greatness by the Beatles, and by the fact that the Beatles broke up in 1970. The next five entries in my top ten are prime examples, to which you could easily add the Who, Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead, Chicago, Santana, Blood Sweat & Tears and many more who excelled during this great time for music. It didn't hurt that I was in college during these years, working on both college and commercial radio, experiencing this musical renaissance from a great vantage point.
2. Creedence - Like the Beatles, J.C. Fogerty had an amazingly fertile creative period from 1968 through 1972 and you could pretty much drop the needle on any Creedence album from that period except the final one (Mardi Gras in which the other members got an equal share of songwriting and vocals) and hit a song worthy of the all time top ten. "Green River" pretty much defined their musical identity (bayou rock), although they did so much more. By contrast, Fogerty's new political song "Dejavu All Over Again" seems lame, not only because the title and chorus are a trite baseball cliche, but more so because once you've written a protest song like "Who'll Stop the Rain", it must be damn hard to follow yourself - no wonder he takes so many years to make records these days.
3. Yes - Another band with an incredibly creative and productive period that lasted from 1969 when they recorded their first album until 1974 when they released their sixth, Tales From Topographic Oceans (which separated the true Yes fans from the top forty crowd who jumped onto the bandwagon due to "All Good People" and "Roundabout"). Again, just about any track off any of these six amazing records would do for my all time top ten, but it all seemed to come together better than ever on Close to the Edge, with the title track taking an entire vinyl album side.
4. Genesis - A lot of fans thought that Genesis would be over when Peter Gabriel left the band in 1975, but in retrospect, it seems while all the members inspired each other to greatness, the one member whose progressive musical influence proved to be indispensible was guitarist Steve Hackett and when he left in 1978 Genesis only then seemed to lose their creative spark. Here again, just about any track from their 2nd album Trespass (1970) through their 7th studio album, Wind and Wuthering (1976) would qualify for my all time top ten. Selling England by the Pound was especially hard to pick one from, being it's another perfect record, but "The Cinema Show" is 11:06 of pure Genesis magic. It was a close call between this and "Watcher of the Skies" or "Supper's Ready" from Foxtrot (1972); it was all so good.
5. Jackson Browne - Right from his first album Saturate Before Using (1972) through Hold Out (1980) Browne's songwriting excellence was only matched by great production on his records, and his growing confidence as a singer. I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, but just about any track from any of these six albums could be on my all time top ten. "For a Dancer" was from the third album Late for the Sky and one of the first to really knock me out with songwriting. I'll never forget seeing him start this song at the Murat Theater in Indianapolis in 1974, and stop the song about thrty seconds in to tell someone to be quiet because "this is about a friend of mine who died." He then started the song again, and never was a song about loss both so painful and joyous at the same time. It was a close call between this and "Sing My Songs to Me/For Everyman" off the second album, and "The Load Out/Stay" from the fifth album Running On Empty which was was groundbreaking at the time for being a record of new material recorded live on the road with all the songs being about the road. In "The Load Out" when Browne sings "'Cause when that morning sun comes beating down, You're going to wake up in your town, But we'll be scheduled to appear, A thousand miles away from here" I still get chills as they segue into "Stay".
6. Joni Mitchell - Here's another artist almost impossible to pick from. I haven't followed her down the recent road of orchestral redo's of her classic songs, but just about everything else over the years would be candidates for my all time top ten. Final contenders that were really hard to exclude would be "You Turn Me On (I'm a Radio)" perhaps the ultimate radio song, and "Song for Sharon" maybe the ultimate song about marriage. "Trouble Child/Twisted" and everything else from Court and Spark was also hard to leave out. "Urge for Going" is the quintessential song about the change of seasons and amazingly it was only available as the b-side of the single "You Turn Me On (I'm a Radio)" released in 1972, until it was finally collected on the Hits CD in 1996.
7. Bruce Springsteen - Anything from the first album Greetings from Asbury Park (1973) through Tunnel of Love (1987) would qualify for my list without even thinking about it. Another impossible task, to pick just one Springsteen song, with so many great ones having to be ignored. My ultimate favorite Bruce is the Wild, Innocent/Born to Run/River period, with the jazzier band that included David Sancious really being his best. Born to Run however was unquestionably a perfect record, and "Thunder Road" pretty much encapsulated everything that was great about Springsteen in a 4:49 roller coaster ride of a song. I can't even list the other contenders, other than "New York City Serenade", "Rosalita", "Jungleland" and "Born to Run" because there would be way too many.
8. Chris Rea - My college friend Dave (who's now an exec at Sony Records) and I both detected something special in Chris Rea when "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" hit the adult contemporary airwaves here in the U.S. in 1978, but for a number of reasons, not the least of which was his total aversion to promoting his music in the U.S. after a bad first record company experience, it wasn't until Dave picked up an import copy of On the Beach (1986) that we realized how great an artist Rea had become. The excellence continued for about four more albums through 1993's God's Great Banana Skin (most not released in the U.S.). There have been moments on the more recent records, but for the last decade or so, he's been recycling for the most part. I must say that 2000's King of the Beach is a very enjoyable retread, and together with On the Beach, made a real nice combination in my car player for a late summer week at the beach. It was a tough call between "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" and "On the Beach" but his first hit was an especially enjoyable highlight of his re-done greatest hits collection New Light Through Old Windows (1988) so it won out by one or two grains of sand.
9. Del Amitri - Songwriting, singing, guitar work, production all come together on every Del Amitri record. This Glaswegian band has fallen on hard times of late, with their last album Can You Do Me Good (2002) caught in U.S. Mercury Records limbo and never released here. While maybe not their best work, it would be hard to compete with the perfection that they achieved on their second, third, and fourth albums. The fourth, Twisted (1995) will be on my all time top ten albums list if WXPN ever decides to torture us in the future with that permutation. However, I dipped back to 1992's Change Everything for "Always the Last to Know", a prime example of how this band could do everything right - the perfect rock song, with clever lyrics to boot. Del Amitri is currently on hiatus; Justin Currie's current project, The Uncle Devil Show won a U.S. release on Compass Records.
10. Average White Band - If there were more spots on the top ten, I'd include something from each of my current favorite quartet of Scottish artists, however to cut it down to ten, Del Amitri and AWB are going to have to represent for Texas and Dougie MacLean who I just didn't have room for. AWB's first career lasted from their debut as the opening act at Eric Clapton's famous Rainbow Theater Concert in 1973 through 1982 when they disbanded and parted ways permanently with Hamish Stuart who left at that time to join Paul McCartney's Wings. They made a fairly big dent in the American consiousness in 1974 with the release of their AWB album, commonly known as their "White Album" which contained the signature single "Pick Up the Pieces". My top ten selection, "Work to Do" is a superb cover of the Isley Brothers tune, also from that same album. AWB reformed in 1989 with original members Alan Gorrie (their leader) and Onnie McIntyre who joined together with Fred Vigdor on sax and Elliot Lewis who performed valiantly in the thankless position of filling the Hamish Stuart slot. Lewis was more recently replaced by the also multi-talented Klyde Jones. I must thank my brother Paul for the push to reconnect with AWB several years ago at a gig they played at Maddie's in Malvern. It was immediately evident that these guys are currently working at the top of their form, better now than they have ever been. I've been seeing them play at every opportunity since, which fortunately in the Philadelphia area means several times per year; every time they play they seem to just get better and better.
The Painful Omissions - I actually had to force myself to stop, I could have gone on and on picking songs indefinitely if I had the time. So here are the ones that were very hard to leave out. The only criteria here is that each of these tunes could just as well be on my all time top ten. Impossible to rank, I'm listing them in alphabetical order by artist.
Allman Brothers – In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World
Brian Auger's Oblivion Express – Happiness is Just Around the Bend
Beach Boys – God Only Knows (also In My Room, Don't Worry Baby, California Saga)
GeorgeBenson – Breezin' (also This Masquerade)
Karla Bonoff – Wild Heart of the Young (also Someone to Lay Down Beside Me)
Greg Brown – 'Cept You and Me Babe
Dave Brubeck – Take Five
Valerie Carter – Ooh Child (also A Stone's Throw Away, Crazy)
Kasey Chambers – The Captain
Ray Charles – Hit the Road Jack (also I Can't Stop Lovin' You, Georgia On My Mind)
Chicago – Make Me Smile (also Beginnings, Dialogue Pts. 1 & 2)
Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song (also Love)
Shawn Colvin – Shotgun Down the Avalanche
Elvis Costello – Every Day I Write the Book (also anything from Painted From Memory)
Crash Test Dummies – Superman's Song
Crosby Stills & Nash – Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Dido – Hunter (also White Flag, Don't Leave Home, Thank You)
Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms (also Money for Nothing, Sultans of Swing)
Dixie Chicks – Wide Open Spaces
Bob Dylan – Positively 4th Street (also Tangled Up in Blue)
Eagles – Take It Easy (also Desperado, Hotel California)
ELP – The Barbarian (also Take a Pebble, Pictures at an Exhibition)
Fagen Donald – The Goodbye Look
Fairport Convention – Tam Lin
Fleetwood Mac – Silver Springs (original b-side version, also Beautiful Child)
Dan Fogelberg – Part of the Plan
Julia Fordham – Manhattan Skyline (also Lock & Key, Genius, Love, Foolish Thing, That's Life)
Peter Frampton – I Believe When I Fall In Love With You It Will Be Forever
Aretha Franklin – Respect (also A Natural Woman)
Peter Gabriel – Biko (also Family Snapshot, Don't Give Up)
Marvin Gaye – What's Goin' On
Steve Goodman – A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request (also City of New Orleans)
Grand Funk – I'm Your Captain (also Inside Lookin' Out)
Grateful Dead – Uncle John's Band (also Help On the Way/Slipknot/Franklin's Tower)
Vince Guaraldi Trio – Christmas Time Is Here (also Linus and Lucy)
Hall & Oates – She's Gone
George Harrison – All Things Must Pass (also My Sweet Lord)
It's a Beautiful Day – White Bird
James Gang – Funk #49
Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (also Daniel, Skyline Pigeon)
B.B. King – The Thrill is Gone
Carole King – It's Too Late (also Up on the Roof, You've Got a Friend)
Led Zeppelin – Kashmir (also Ramble On, Dazed and Confused, and though a cliché, Stairway)
John Lennon – Imagine (also Happy Xmas War Is Over)
Madonna – This Used to Be My Playground
Mamas & Papas – California Dreamin'
Aimee Mann – 4th of July (also everything else from Whatever & I'm With Stupid)
Paul McCartney – Band On the Run (also Maybe I'm Amazed, Tug of War)
Nellie McKay – Really (also David, The Dog Song, It's a Pose, Be Nice to Me)
Loreena McKennit – The Lady of Shallot
Scott Merritt – Burning Train (also the rest of the Violet and Black album)
Jo Dee Messina – Bye Bye (also Heads California Tails Carolina)
Moody Blues – Nights in White Satin (album version w/poem)
Van Morrison – Moondance (also Inarticulate Speech of the Heart)
O'Jays – Backstabbers
Once Blue – Stardust and Snow
Alan Parsons Project – Time
Bonnie Raitt – Since I Fell For You
Otis Redding – (Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay
Renaissance – I Think of You (also Mother Russia, Carpet of the Sun)
Barry Reynolds – I Scare Myself
Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter (also You Can't Always Get What You Want, Can't You Hear Me Knockin')
Boz Scaggs – Somebody Loan Me a Dime
Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water (also I am a Rock, My Little Town)
Paul Simon – American Tune
Spirit – Nature's Way
Steeleye Span – Allison Gross
Steely Dan – Dr. Wu
Al Stewart – Year of the Cat
Sting – Little Wing (w/Hiram Bullock on guitar, also They Dance Alone, Englishman in NY)
James Taylor – That's Why I'm Here (also Secret of Life, Fire & Rain, Your Smiling Face)
Texas – Everyday Now (also I Don't Want a Lover, Say What You Want)
Tanita Tikaram – Twist in My Sobriety
Tower of Power – You're Still a Young Man (also What is Hip)
Pete Townshend – Pure & Easy
Tom Waits & Crystal Gayle – Pickin' Up After You (from One From the Heart)
Joe Walsh – Turn to Stone (also I'll Tell the World)
Who – Won't Get Fooled Again (also Baba O'Reilly)
Stevie Wonder – Golden Lady (also Love's In Need of Love Today, Creepin')
Neil Young – Down By the River