Long Live Rock
"Best of" lists really are generated for only two reasons: 1) To stroke the critic's self-aggrandizing belief that he or she is a cultural arbiter; and 2) To generate arguments. So it's no surprise that Rolling Stone's list of the Top 500 songs of all time will elicit its share of "I can't believe they didn't include so-and-so!" responses.
But indulge me a few quick reactions ...
#1 ... Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone"
A classic Dylan track that said everything that needed to be said about the '60s counterculture, but good luck trying to recognize the song if you ever hear Mr. Zimmerman in concert today. His raspy-beyond-human vocals these days make his earlier recordings sound like Vic Damone by comparison.
#15 ... The Clash's "London Calling"
This is where Rolling Stone trips up on its own criteria. Yes, "London Calling" is a great song, but the magazine cheats a bit by somehow placing this above any other track on the 1980 album of the same name. "London Calling" the record is seminal in the history of punk and political rock, but not for the singles it produced.
#21 ... Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run"
Rock 'n' roll at its most operatic. What Michelangelo was to sculpture, the Boss was to rock ... and New Jersey.
#36 ... U2's "One"
An odd choice to be U2's top-ranked single. Personally, I woulda gone with "I Will Follow" or "New Year's Day."
#42 ... The Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset"
Pleasantly surprised to see this as the highest-ranked Kinks song instead of more obvious choices like "You Really Got Me" or "Lola." "Waterloo Sunset" is Ray Davies at his most artful, a song drenched in nostalgia and romance.
#92 ... The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop"
How do you select any Ramones song above one another? It's like determining which slice of chocolate cake is the darkest. Furthermore, how can this be deemed so much better than, say, "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," which comes in at #457?
#104 ... Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City"
The quintessential dreams-in-the-ghetto song, and funky as hell.
#133 ... The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again"
One of the no-discussion, all-time great rock anthems that even Dubya couldn't help referencing, famously, in the finale of "Fahrenheit 9/11." How is this ranked below "My Generation"? OK, now I'm pissed.
#136 ... Elton John's "Your Song"
Perhaps it has the distinction of being Reggie's first hit single, but c'mon, this ballad is as maudlin as they come. If Bread had cut this record -- and, Lord knows, they could have -- no one would be celebrating it 30 years later.
#144 ... The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated"
"Hurry, hurry, hurry, before I go insane..." We miss you guys.
#148 ... Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee"
Kris Kristofferson entered the rarefied air of songwriters with the line,"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Think about the giddy delight of crafting such a throwaway, but resonant, song lyric that became so deeply ingrained in our culture.
#159 ... The Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man"
Simple, direct, gritty, urban and almost primal; the best song ever about waiting for the pusher.
#177 ... Tom Petty's "Free Fallin' "
Huh? This nondescript radio filler is the highest-ranked Petty song? What am I missing here?
#180 ... Outkast's "Hey Ya!"
How can Rolling Stone critics possibly place a year-old song in proper historical context? Yeah, it's an infectious groove, to be sure, but placing it above scores of singles that have proven themselves to be timeless -- like, say, Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" (322nd), Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" (398th) or Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender" (432nd) -- just shows how embarrassing Rolling Stone is when it tries being relevant.
#191 ... Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird"
This is a joke. Right?
#192 ... Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman"
Forever tarnished now by the indie documentary, "Tarnation," in which filmmaker Jonathan Caoette ironically uses the number to offset the harrowing tale of his mother's mental illness, shock therapy and rape. Try whistling along to that.
#220 ... The Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee"
Great pick. One of the too-often neglected psychedelic garage bands of the Sixties.
#221 ... Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side"
Back in 1972, Reed's lyric that "she never lost her head, even when she was giving head" slipped past record executives because none of the suits knew what he was talking about. They eventually caught on and the radio version was edited. How far we've come.
#264 ... Randy Newman's "Sail Away"
Another inspired choice, this forgotten 1972 ballad -- which imagines ahow a slavetrader might have persuaded Africans to board slave ships headed for America -- illustrated how Newman's satire could be poignant and brutal simultaneously.
#279 ... The Dixie Cups' "Chapel of Love"
What a boring song.
#284 ... Elvis Costello's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding"
Perhaps the greatest songwriter of his generation, and his debut on this list is a cover of a Nick Lowe song. Oh, the injustice! The humanity! At least "Watching the Detectives," Elvis at his most misogynous, made the cut.
#306 ... The Jam's "That's Entertainment"
Another great selection. You can almost feel Paul Weller's venom stinging your face in this punk-fueled sucker punch upside the head.
#338 ... Paul McCartnery's "Maybe I'm Amazed"
Still the best solo effort McCartney ever did.
#391 ... Freda Payne's "Band of Gold"
Have you ever really listened to this words of this tune? It's about some poor schlub unable to perform on his wedding night.
#422 ... The Kinks' "Lola"
Why is this ranked so low? That's just absurd. One of the great ambiguities in rock is Davies' lyric, "I'm glad I'm a man and so is Lola." So, does that mean the narrator is glad that Lola's a dude, or that Lola's glad the narrator is a dude? Or both?
#432 ... Gladys Knight and the Pips' "Midnight Train to Georgia"
A song that never fails to mesmerize whenever I hear it on the radio.
#454 ... George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord"
Interesting. This song makes the list but the one it ripped off, the Chiffons' "He's So Fine," is nowhere to be found.
#465 ... Cheap Trick's "Surrender"
This would probably be in my personal Top 10. At its height, no one could rival Cheap Trick for cool. A special mention for the clumsy and wonderful line: "Now I have heard the WACs recruited old maids for the war / But mommy isn't one of those / I've known her all these years."
#486 ... The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?"
The zenith of the self-absorbed angst and dramatic self-loathing that made Morrissey such a vital part of growing up in the '80s. "So you go home, and you cry and you want to die / I am human and I need to be loved /Just like everybody else does." It sure sounds dopey now, but it sure struck a nerve with club kids back in 1985.