by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
January 5-7, 2001
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- What are the songs that define the 20th Century? It all depends on who you ask.
When the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts sent out the ballot for their "Songs of the Century" project last month, I couldn't resist taking part. At least this was a free and fair election with candidates worth supporting and a ballot that contained not a single chad.
It was fun to winnow more than 1,000 songs covering 100 years and every musical genre from country to jazz to hip-hop down to 350 or so of the essential recordings of the period. As I filled out the ballot with my wife, former music critic Joyce Marcel, we found ourselves agreeing more often than not on the choices as we filled out the ballot. So what follows is a very subjective list. Feel free to disagree.
1890-1920: (12 songs) Stars & Stripes Forever -- John Phillip Sousa; The Laughing Song -- George Washington Johnson; The Entertainer -- Scott Joplin; Nobody --Bert Williams; Take Me Out To The Ball Game -- Billy Murray; Tiger Rag -- Original Dixieland Jazz Band; Vasti La Giubba -- Enrico Caruso; When Irish Eyes Are Smiling -- Chauncey Olcott; The Star Spangled Banner-- John McCormick; Shine On Harvest Moon -- Harry McDonough; Sweet Adeline -- The Peerless Quartet; Over There -- American Quartet.
COMMENTS: This was a period we didn't agonize over. The ballot didn't have many songs to choose from, and I selected more with an eye toward historical significance. You can't make a list from this period without tenors like Caruso and McCormick or composers like Joplin, Sousa, and George M. Cohan. The pop category got shortchanged, a pattern that I'd repeat in succeeding decades.
1920-1930: (20 songs) It Had To Be You -- Isham Jones; Happy Days Are Here Again -- Ben Selvin; I'm Just Wild About Harry -- Marion Harris; Way Down Yonder In New Orleans -- Blossom Seeley; Bye Bye Blackbird -- Gene Austin; Star Dust -- Hoagy Carmichael; St. Louis Blues -- W.C. Handy; Down Hearted Blues -- Bessie Smith; See See Rider Blues -- Ma Rainey; Statesboro Blues -- Blind Willie McTell; Sitting' On Top Of The World -- The Mississippi Sheiks; ul' Man River -- Paul Robson; When The Saints Go Marchin' In -- Louis Armstrong; St. James Infirmary -- King Oliver & His Jazz band; King Porter Stomp -- Jelly Roll Morton; Ain't Misbehaving' -- Fats Waller; Can The Circle Be Unbroken? -- The Carter Family; Blue Yodel (T For Texas) and Blue Yodel No. 8 (Mule Skinner Blues) -- Jimmy Rodgers; The Prisoners Song -- Vernon Dalhart.
COMMENTS: Country and blues took precedence on this list. There could've been more Armstrong ("Cornet Chop Suey" wasn't even on the ballot!) and more Bessie Smith. I didn't even think twice about picking Jimmie Rodgers over Al Jolson. And "Star Dust" would make anyone's short list of greatest-ever songs.
1930-1940: (20 songs) Alexander's Ragtime Band -- The Boswell Sisters; Brother Can You Spare A Dime -- Rudy Vallee; Puttin' On The Ritz -- Harry Richman; Night And Day and Cheek To Cheek -- Fred Astaire; Over The Rainbow -- Judy Garland; The Gold Digger's Song (We're In The Money) -- Dick Powell; You're The Top -- Cole Porter; One O'Clock Jump -- Count Basie; I Can't Get Started -- Bunny Berrigan; It Don't Mean A Thing and Take The "A" Train -- Duke Ellington; Sing, Sing, Sing -- Benny Goodman; Cherokee -- Charlie Barnett; Minnie The Moocher -- Cab Calloway; Bumble Bee Blues --Memphis Minnie; Cross Road Blues -- Robert Johnson; Fixin' To Die -- Bukka White; Back In The Saddle Again -- Gene Autry; Wabash Cannonball -- Roy Acuff.
COMMENTS: Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and the Big Bands dominated these selections -- Porter and Berlin because they're great songwriters and Basie and Ellington because they created the grooves we're still swinging to today. Shortchanged on this list were Bing Crosby, Kate Smith and Tommy Dorsey, only because I think Robert Johnson, Bukka White and Roy Acuff were more important. 1940-1950: (25 songs) This Land Is Your Land -- Woody Guthrie; Blue Moon of Kentucky -- Bill Monroe; Walking The Floor Over You -- Ernest Tubb; Faded Love -- Bob Wills; If I Didn't Care -- The Ink Spots; Paper Doll-- The Mills Brothers; Choo Choo Ch'Boogie - Louis Jordan; Strange Fruit and God Bless The Child -- Billie Holiday; A Tisket A Tasket - Ella Fitzgerald; Stormy Weather -- Lena Horne; Good Rockin' Tonight --Wynonie Harris; The Midnight Special -- Leadbelly; Boogie Chillun' -- John Lee Hooker; Call It Stormy Monday -- T-Bone Walker; Every Day I Have The Blues -- Lowell Fulson; Shotgun Blues -- Lightnin' Hopkins; Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy -- The Andrews Sisters; Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas -- Judy Garland; Body And Soul -- Coleman Hawkins; In The Mood -- Glenn Miller; Flying Home -- Lionel Hampton; At The Woodchopper's Ball -- Woody Herman; Begin The Beguine - Artie Shaw; Brazil -- Xavier Cugat.
COMMENTS: Bing can't catch a break. He gets shut out in the 1930s and then I snub "White Christmas." But "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" is the better of the two Christmas songs. Louis Jordan deserved more picks ("Caledonia" and "Saturday Night Fish Fry" weren't on the ballot), but rhythm and blues and jazz overwhelmed pop in this decade's picks.
1950-1960: (45 songs) Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel/Hound Dog -- Elvis Presley; Rock Around The Clock -- Bill Haley; All I Have To Do Is Dream -- Everly Brothers; Great Balls Of Fire -- Jerry Lee Lewis; Peggy Sue -- Buddy Holly; Summertime Blues -- Eddie Cochran; Donna/La Bamba -- Richie Valens; Come Go With Me -- The Dell-Vikings; At The Hop -- Danny & The Juniors; Blueberry Hill -- Fats Domino; Bo Diddley -- Bo Diddley; Kansas City -- Wilbert Harrison; Shake Rattle and Roll -- Big Joe Turner; I've Got A Woman and What'd I Say -- Ray Charles; Fever -- Little Willie John; Tutti-Frutti -- Little Richard; Johnny B. Goode -- Chuck Berry; Higher and Higher -- Jackie Wilson; (Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean -- Ruth Brown. Only You -- The Platters; Speedoo -- The Cadillacs; Since I Met You Baby -- Ivory Joe Hunter; In The Still Of The Night -- The Five Satins; I Only Have Eyes For You -- The Flamingos; Sh-Boom -- The Chords; Earth Angel -- The Penguins; I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man and Got My Mojo Workin' -- Muddy Waters; Evil and Smoke Stack Lightnin' -- Howlin' Wolf; Dust My Broom -- Elmore James; Big Boss Man -- Jimmy Reed; I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry and Your Cheatin' Heart -- Hank Williams; I Walk The Line -- Johnny Cash; Crazy Arms -- Ray Price; All The Way -- Frank Sinatra; Mack The Knife -- Bobby Darin; Mona Lisa -- Nat King Cole; How High The Moon -- Les Paul and Mary Ford; I Left My Heart In San Francisco -- Tony Bennett; That Old Black Magic -- Louis Prima and Keely Smith.
COMMENTS: Again a list heavy on R & B, blues, doo-wop and country and light on teen idols. This was also the first decade where it got harder to make selections, even with the extra picks. Then again, it just would have meant more R & B and doo-wop selections.
1960-1970: (75 songs) The Times They Are A-Changin' and Like A Rolling Stone -- Bob Dylan; Turn, Turn, Turn and Mr. Tambourine Man - The Byrds; Blowing In The Wind -- Peter, Paul and Mary; Sounds of Silence -- Simon & Garfunkel; Angel Of The Morning -- Merilee Rush; Runaway -- Del Shannon; Cryin' and Oh Pretty Woman -- Roy Orbison; Runaround Sue -- Dion; Sherry and Working My Way Back You -- The 4 Seasons; Sweet Caroline -- Neil Diamond; He's A Rebel and Do Doo Ron Ron - The Crystals; Be My Baby -- The Ronettes; River Deep, Mountain High -- Ike and Tina Turner; You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' -- The Righteous Brothers; Papa Was A Rolling Stone -- The Temptations; Reach Out I'll Be There -- The Four Tops; Dancin' In The Streets -- Martha & The Vandellas; Heard It Through The Grapevine -- Marvin Gaye; Shotgun -- Junior Walker and The All Stars; My Guy -- Mary Wells; Tracks Of My Tears -- Smokey Robinson; Twist and Shout -- The Isley Brothers; Tighten Up -- Archie Bell and The Drells; Will You Love Me Tomorrow -- The Shirelles; My Boyfriend's Back -- The Angels; Leader Of The Pack -- The Shangri-Las; One Fine Day -- The Chiffons; Iko, Iko - The Dixie Cups; Hold On I'm Comin' -- Sam & Dave; In The Midnight Hour -- Wilson Pickett; Shake/A Change Is Gonna Come -- Sam Cooke; Tell It Like It Is -- Aaron Neville; Papa's Got A Brand New Bag -- James Brown; A Rainy Night In Georgia -- Brook Benton; Boom Boom - John Lee Hooker; The Thrill Is Gone -- B.B. King; Respect -- Aretha Franklin; Walk On By -- Dionne Warwick; Tell Mama/I'd Rather Go Blind -- Etta James; Goin' Out Of My Head -- Little Anthony & The Imperials; People Get Ready -- The Impressions; Green Onions -- Booker T. and The MGs; Save The Last Dance For Me -- The Drifters; I Fall To Pieces -- Patsy Cline; King Of The Road -- Roger Miller.
Good Vibrations -- The Beach Boys; Wipeout - The Surfaris; Walk Don't Run -- The Ventures; I Want To Hold Your Hand, Yesterday, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band -- The Beatles; Satisfaction and Jumpin' Jack Flash -- The Rolling Stones; Sunshine Of Your Love -- Cream; Gloria -- The Shadows of Knight; The Letter -- The Box Tops; Louie, Louie -- The Kingsmen; 96 Tears -- ? and the Mysterians; She's About A Mover -- Sir Douglas Quintet; Proud Mary -- Creedence Clearwater Revival; Devil With A Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly -- Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels; Born To Be Wild -- Steppenwolf; Light My Fire -- The Doors; Piece Of My Heart -- Big Brother& The Holding Company; White Rabbit -- Jefferson Airplane; Stand/I Want To Take You Higher -- Sly & The Family Stone; The Star Spangled Banner -- Jimi Hendrix; For What It's Worth -- Buffalo Springfield; Wooly Bully -- Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs; Hang On Sloopy -- The McCoys.
COMMENTS: By far, the toughest decade to pick by virtue of how fertile the music was then. This was also the decade where Joyce and I disagreed the most. I wanted more Motown and Stax-Volt. She wanted more California rock. Country was the genre that took the worst beating this decade. I could've easily added 50 more songs, most of which didn't make the ballot.
1970-1980 (60 songs) Fire and Rain -- James Taylor; City Of New Orleans -- Arlo Guthrie; American Pie -- Don McLean; It's Too Late/I Feel The Earth Move -- Carole King; Big Yellow Taxi -- Joni Mitchell; You're So Vain -- Carly Simon; Killing Me Softly With His Song -- Roberta Flack; What's Goin' On -- Marvin Gaye; Superstition -- Stevie Wonder; Love Train -- The O'Jays; I Want You Back -- The Jackson 5; Serpentine Fire -- Earth, Wind & Fire; One Of A Kind (Love Affair) -- The Spinners; Midnight Train To Georgia -- Gladys Knight & The Pips; It's Your Thing -- The Isley Brothers; You Make Me Feel Brand New -- The Stylistics; Lady Marmalade -- La Belle; You're The First, The Last, My Everything -- Barry White; Theme From Shaft -- Isaac Hayes; Superfly -- Curtis Mayfield; Let's Stay Together and Tired of Being Alone -- Al Green; Ain't No Sunshine and Lean On Me -- Bill Withers; Drift Away -- Dobie Gray; Looking For A Love -- Bobby Womack; I Can See Clearly Now -- Johnny Nash; That's The Way I Like It -- K.C. & The Sunshine Band; Hot Stuff -- Donna Summer; Disco Inferno -- Trampps.
Ramblin' Man -- The Allman Brothers Band; Walk This Way -- Aerosmith; Uncle John's Band -- The Grateful Dead; Rock and Roll All Nite -- Kiss; Oye Coma Va --Santana; You're No Good and Blue Bayou -- Linda Ronstadt; Imagine -- John Lennon; Lola and You Really Got Me -- The Kinks; Layla -- Derek & The Dominoes; Brown Eyed Girl -- Van Morrison; Maggie May -- Rod Stewart; Stayin' Alive -- The Bee Gees; Go Your Own Way -- Fleetwood Mac; Rikki Don't Lose That Number -- Steely Dan; Heart Of Gold -- Neil Young; Kodachrome --Paul Simon; Hello It's Me -- Todd Rundgren; More Than A Feeling -- Boston; Coal Miner's Daughter -- Loretta Lynn; Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue -- Crystal Gayle; Before The Next Teardrop Falls -- Freddy Fender; For The Good Times -- Ray Price; Blue Skies -- Willie Nelson; Third Rate Romance -- The Amazing Rhythm Aces; Behind Closed Doors -- Charlie Rich.
COMMENTS: A lot easier to pick than the 1960s. For a decade universally derided as the time that taste forgot, there was a lot of surprisingly good music. One glaring omission on the ballot is the total absence of punk/new wave. Without the Ramones, The Clash, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith and The Sex Pistols, any 1970s list is incomplete. This is a reflection of the Grammy's bias against non-pop and this ballot's bias toward top-40 singles.
1980-1990: (38 songs) Beat It -- Michael Jackson; Purple Rain and 1999 -- Prince; Celebration -- Kool & The Gang; Super Freak -- Rick James; You Dropped A Bomb On Me -- The Gap Band; Freeway Of Love -- Aretha Franklin; Slow Hand -- The Poynter Sisters; What's Love Got To With It -- Tina Turner; Barracuda --Heart; I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For -- U2; Enter Sandman -- Metallica; Born To Run and Born In The U.S.A. - Bruce Springsteen; Higher Love -- Steve Winwood; Bette Davis Eyes -- Kim Carnes; Like A Virgin-- Madonna; Heart Of Glass -- Blondie; Love Shack --The B-52s; Burning Down The House -- Talking Heads.
Legs -- ZZ Top; Pink Houses and Jack and Diane -- John Mellencamp; I Love Rock 'n' Roll -- Joan Jett & The Blackhearts; Girls Just Wanna Have Fun -- Cyndi Lauper; We Got The Beat -- The Go-Gos; Hit Me With Your Best Shot -- Pat Benatar; Guitar Town -- Steve Earle; Cowboy Man -- Lyle Lovett; Elvira -- The Oak Ridge Boys; Streets of Bakersfield -- Dwight Yoakam & Buck Owens; No Getting Over Me -- Ronnie Milsap; Seven-Year Ache -- Rosanne Cash; Rapper's Delight -- Sugarhill Gang; The Breaks -- Kurtis Blow; The Message -- Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five; Fight The Power -- Public Enemy.
COMMENTS: I had 40 choices, and was hard-pressed to find 38 songs I really liked. As with the 1970s, a lot of songs that formed my soundtrack of what Barbra Erhenreich dubbed "The Worst Years Of Our Lives" weren't on the ballot.
1990-2000: (17 songs) Friends In Low Places -- Garth Brooks; Boot Scootin' Boogie -- Brooks & Dunn; Down At The Twist & Shout -- Mary Chapin Carpenter; No Diggity -- Blackstreet/Dr. Dre; Baby Got Back -- Sir Mix-a-Lot; U-N-I-T-Y -- Queen Latifah; Killing Me Softly -- Fugees; No Scrubs -- TLC; Fast Car -- Tracy Chapman; Smooth -- Santana & Rob Thomas; Livin' La Vida Loca -- Ricky Martin; Losing My Religion -- R.E.M.; Smells Like Teen Spirit -- Nirvana; Run-Around --Blues Traveler; Black Hole Sun -- Soundgarden; Loser -- Beck; All I Wanna Do -- Sheryl Crow.
COMMENTS : I had 25 choices, and it took a lot of padding to get 17. I could not bring myself to put Britney Spears, 'N Sync, Christina Aguilera, Eminem or Puff Daddy on this list. Grunge/Alt Rock got shortchanged on this ballot (Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Stone Temple Pilots and Smashing Pumpkins weren't on the list) and R.E.M.'s 1980s songs were much better than their 1990s work.
GOSPEL: (10 songs) Take My Hand Precious Lord -- Thomas Dorsey and Marion Williams; Strange Things Happening Every Day -- Sister Rosetta Tharpe; Move On Up A Little Higher -- Mahalia Jackson; Don't Let No One Turn You Around -- The Fairfield Four; By And By -- The Soul Stirrers; O Happy Day -- Edwin Hawkins Singers; How I Got Over -- Clara Ward Singers; I Can See Everybody's Mother -- Five Blind Boys of Alabama; He's Still Working On Me -- The Hemphills; How Great Thou Art -- George Beverly Shea.
COMMENTS -- I worked at a Christian radio station for several years, so I wasn't totally unfamiliar with this category. The picks were heavily weighted towards black gospel performers.
MUSICALS: (10 shows) -- Show Boat (1932); Anything Goes (1934); Porgy and Bess (1935); Oklahoma (1943);Carousel (1945); Kiss Me Kate (1949); Guys and Dolls (1951); Gypsy (1957); West Side Story (1957); The Music Man (1958).
COMMENTS: It was tough to leave out "South Pacific" and "Hair." It was easy to leave out anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
JAZZ: (15 songs) Just You, Just Me -- Lester Young Quartet; Orinthology - Charlie Parker Sextet; Salt Peanuts -- Dizzy Gillespie Quintet; Round Midnight -- Thelonius Monk; Miles Ahead, Kind Of Blue, Sketches Of Spain and Bitches Brew -- Miles Davis; Take Five --Dave Brubeck; A Love Supreme -- John Coltrane; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy -- Cannonball Adderley; The Girl From Ipanema - Stan Getz/Astrud Gilberto; Birdland - Weather Report; Vocalese - Manhattan Transfer; When I Look In Your Eyes -- Diana Krall.
COMMENTS: An extremely meager list to pick from in this category, especially post-1970. The reason why Miles only got four picks was because that's all they put on the ballot.
WRITE-INS: We were allowed five of them. Here's what I picked and why.
My Generation -- The Who: The all-time, timeless song of teenage rage and alienation.
Miserlou -- Dick Dale: The King of the Surf Guitar and the man who invented loud in rock.
All Along The Watchtower -- Jimi Hendrix: The alpha and omega of the electric guitar in one of his greatest performances.
I Shot The Sheriff -- Bob Marley & The Wailers: Mainly because Eric Clacton's version was on the list and didn't deserve to be, not when Bob Marley's original was infinitely better.
Blitzkrieg Bop -- Ramones: Hey, Ho, Let's Go! The band that inspired thousands of punk rockers on both sides of the Atlantic.
SUMMING UP -- There were many flaws with this ballot. It was heavily weighted toward top 40 hits and ignored the switch from singles to albums that took place starting in the late 1960s. Pop outweighed all other genres. The choices presented to voters were very safe and limited. They also cheated on dates with some artists, carrying songs by one artist into different decades (which explains why songs like "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks are in the '70s and Springsteen's "Born To Run" is in the '80s).
But if one thing can be drawn from looking over this list, it would be this: the huge influence of African-Americans on popular music in the 20th Century. Urban and country blues, jazz, rhythm & blues, rock and roll, soul, funk, disco, rap and hip-hop all were created, shaped and perfected by black performers. Without them, the century's musical landscape would be barren.
Like any list, this one is open to endless arguments. Joyce and I were admittedly biased in our choices. But then again, that's the fun of making lists.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).