The rock ‘n’ roll era, now known simply as the rock era, started around the time I was born and peaked, in terms of the best songs ever performed, the year I graduated from high school in 1965. Don’t take my word for it. That is confirmed in the Bible of rock ‘n’ roll, Rolling Stone magazine, which recently released a special edition, “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”Relying on dozens of experts in the field, including performers, producers and journalists, it turns out the year with the most songs in their 500 greatest was 1965. The decade of the sixties accounted for 195 of those top 500, making it the most fruitful decade by far. The oldest song on the list was “Rollin’ Stone” by Muddy Waters from 1948 and “Moment of Surrender” by U2 barely a year ago was the newest. Obviously, this does not include centuries of great classical music or even back as far as the Big Band Era. For instance, there are no songs from Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett or Count Basie in this compilation, though I might submit “Strangers in the Night” or “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” as belonging on the list since they were hits within the required time frame. Their “greatest songs” are basically rock, though there are crossover country hits and others that don’t seem to fit the genre that qualified because they had such an impact on the music or are so familiar.It might appear that Rolling Stone is somewhat prejudicial regarding its own name. The Muddy Waters’s song indicates that, and the greatest of the great on their list was Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” with the number two song written and performed by the Rolling Stones, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”I suppose I can’t take issue with either of those choices, but that is not the case with all that top the list. “Imagine” by John Lennon and “What’s Going On?’ by Marvin Gaye are ranked three and four, and though they both profess veneration for worldwide peace and racial harmony, that doesn’t make them among the greatest of the great. I like both songs, and respect their messages, but I’d put them a bit lower on the list.“Respect” by Aretha Franklin and “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry are fifth and seventh on the list, with “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys sandwiched between them at No. 6. I love the Beach Boys and their harmonies, but I’m not sure that is their best. The first Beatles song on the list —“Hey Jude”—comes in at No. 8, but don’t feel sorry for them. As one might expect, they have the most total songs on the list—23 (and 26 if you include solo hits by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison)— as well as the most in the top 20 (four) and top 100 (eight).Believe it or not, Bob Dylan, not Elvis Presley, was the solo performer with the most hits on the list with 13. That’s not bad for a singer who can’t sing very well. However, you have to admit he could write some great ones, and his husky wail was just right for several of his songs. Many of Elvis’s hits (11 on the list) were covers of previous songs. Elvis just did them better. Even “Hound Dog” (No. 19) was an old blues song and “Blue Suede Shoes” was actually a hit by Carl Perkins before Elvis took it over. Both versions made the top 500, by the way. Personally, I think “Jailhouse Rock” (No. 167) and “Heartbreak Hotel” (No. 149) were better songs, but “Hound Dog,” with a song called “Don’t Be Cruel” on its flip side, is the one that first shocked the old folks and a big reason why that disc was 11 weeks at No. 1 in the Billboard Charts—still a record.It is interesting that the “King of Pop” did not fare all that well in this compilation—his best showing being “Billie Jean” at No. 58. “Beat It” was the only other of his songs to make the list. I think Roy Orbison, one of the most distinctive voices in rock, should have been treated better. “Crying” at No. 69 was the highest ranked of three of his that made the list (the others were “Pretty Woman” and “In Dreams”). I’m not sure why “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana was ninth on the list. Even Curt Cobain, who wrote and performed it, hated the song. By the way, “You Shook Me” didn’t even make the list, though AC/DC did score with “Back in Black” and “Highway to Hell.” I am not sure there is a better party song than “You Shook Me,” and you can count the guys who can hit those solo notes on one hand.And when it comes to not being included, why was “Takin’ Care of Business” left off the list? Is there a more recognizable rock song than this classic from BTO? How does BTO get left off the list when Chubby Checker (the Twist) and Little Eva (the Locomotion) make it? Both of the latter were about the dance and not the song itself. They were clearly novelty songs that caught on. Jimi Hendrix was an amazingly gifted performer when he died at the age of 27, but, like Cobain, I don’t think he was around long enough to earn the seven he had on this list. His virtuosity was the performance, not the song, and unless you are into air guitar, they are not a lot of fun to sing along to. It is the tragedy of dying young that did it. Chuck Berry, who influenced virtually all the great rock bands of the sixties and is still performing as a senior citizen, had fewer songs on the list (six) than Hendrix.In closing, I do have one compliment I’d like to pass on to Rolling Stone and those who judged all those songs. Thanks for not including Meatloaf.
Wes Skillings is a Pennsylvania-based copywriter whose recent emergence into this field brings a freshness and vitality that will make the words on your website, newsletter, direct mail marketing or news release reach out and grab the customer base you are seeking.