December 30, 2021


The book of love has music in it
In fact that's where music comes from

The Book of Love / Peter Gabriel

My music, like yours, is the result not only of where and when I have lived, but most importantly, how I have lived. Growing up in the cultural wasteland of central Texas in the mid-70s, I was grossly limited in my exposure to music in general and certainly I had no appreciation of the unbounded genres of musical expression. This sonic desert evoked in me a lingering passion to grasp not just beautiful sounds, but meaningful songs and hold them tightly. I've annotated this list for anyone with an interest in what the song means to me.

When Paul Simon received his Grammy for Best Album in 1987 he said that Graceland (possibly the best album of all time!) was "music of power, nuance, and joy". Amen. This list, then, is music that has spoken with power, nuance, and joy to me and I recommend it to you accordingly. The first twenty-five songs (in green) are presented in roughly the order I would rank them. (It is as unfair to rank songs as it children - but you do have the ones you would beat to death last.)

Especially these first twenty songs are entwined with my love affair with my wife. Wishes, whims, wonders, and wanders are bound up in these songs. From Vivaldi on Galveston Beach well over three decades ago to discovering and sharing Norah Jones before the rest of the world, my wife's love is part of the atmosphere created and reflected in these tunes. The second set of songs (in blue) continues that theme of loving and being loved with a touch more rambunctiousness, which is also a great blessing in my marriage.

I apologize for all the great tunes that are not on this list; like Good Vibrations and Good Riddance. Chicago is under-represented in light of all they meant to me in my teen years. Likewise Led Zepplin is over-represented. I am outright ashamed that Stevie Wonder is not represented here. His Songs in the Key of Life (e.g. "On Saturn") double album set (plus a 45rpm disc) was revolutionary and beautiful. I'm going to have to reconsider a song or two from that album. If the list went to 46, Walk Like An Egyptian would be the next addition. As you see, my Top 10 is a Top 25 and the short list runs forty-five. I'll make additions... as the spirit leads. Such is Life. 
Clark H Smith

Want to see some "official" lists of the greatest songs of the Rock'n'Roll era?
Two of Us Going Nowhere / Beatles

My wife gave me this song. What a wonderful expression of a loving life at play. After a quarter century of marriage, we're still going nowhere and having best time on the journey. youtube
He Leadeth Me / The Martins

This song is near the top of the short list for its message as well as the absolute power of its presentation. If you are interested, here's a video version. It;s not as good as the vocal recording, but dang it, it's good!
First Time Ever I Saw You're Face / Roberta FlackYears before I met my bride, I believed in love at first sight. When I met her it confirmed my deepest convictions. (I bought sheet music for this song in high school. Years later, I met Roberta and had her sign the music. She called me "blessed" for still having the music. youtube
Been to Canaan / Carole KingI don't know what Carole King knows, but this song speaks to every heart's innate longing for a Garden gone and still to come. youtube
Let the River Run (New Jerusalem) / Carly SimonDitto to Carly. We pray and plead for that New Jerusalem when all things will be as they should be. youtube
Trouble in These Fields / Nanci GriffithNobody's praying for rain! This little gal hailing from the barren dirt of West Texas knows that rain is not an inconvenience, but as essential as air. youtube
The Mason’s Apron / The ChieftansAn instrumental, like Bach Preludio below, that leaves me shaking my head at what the human mind can conceive and then achieve. Here is The Chieftans' Matty Malloy cutting loose on the flute. Even Roger Daltry can't believe it. 
MacArthur's Park / Richard HarrisA poignant song of love lost, yada yada yada. This was the first song that I heard that really stretched me beyond my Top40 AM horizon. And of all the analogies of love... a green-iced cake? Maybe it is about drugs. youtube

Volte / Dances from Terpsichore / PraetoriusFive hundred years ago, Michael Praetorius scored music of incredible joy and fervor. I relish this whimsical selection for it's sheer enthusiasm. The movement I enjoy most is the climax. I believe that it is technically called "Volte 4 (201) √† 5 (full band)". For a listen, try this page and listen to the last track sample labelled "Volte". 
Somewhere Over The Rainbow / Willie NelsonWillie's whiskey-flavored crooning puts the perfect voice on an old standard. youtube
Birdland / Manhattan TransferAnother horizon-stretching tune that I met during college. Weather Report does a fantastic instrumental version, but I prefer this thumpin' vocal specimen. youtube
Big Yellow Taxi / Joni MitchellJoni rocks! "Paved paradise and put up a parking lot" is simply one of the best social commentaries every recorded. youtube
Both Sides Now / Joni MitchellA sad song of innocence lost. This was one of the first "modern" songs I played in band. The older I get, the more I understand the pathos. I strongly disagree with the songs despite of rain and snow. Pray for rain! 
Dreamboat Annie / HeartWho of us had not mused upon our "ship of dreams." Beautiful, soulful, wistful. youtube
Killing Me Softly / Roberta FlackI read a reference to this song before I ever heard it. The lyrics honor the gift of a great song-writer - to look inside and speak what goes unspoken. It is an art worth studying. youtube
Midnight At the Oasis / Maria MuldaurWhat a frisky song. I thank my wife for being my constant oasis. Hoochaaaw! youtube
She’s Always A Woman / Billy JoelAnd so it goes, that puzzling, complicated mystery of femininity - sine qua non! I think the lyrical work in the piece is among the very best in the history of music. There, I said it. youtube
Colour My World / ChicagoSimple and sweet. youtube
The Luckiest / Ben Folds FiveMy story as told by BFF. This recent discovery is biographical of me. youtube
Under African Skies / Paul Simon with Linda RonstadtPaul, Linda, and music of power, nuance, and joy. Included more for its musical quality, this song does for my soul what music is supposed to do. youtube
Wishlist / Pearl JamI'm jamming this song into the Top 25 26 for every good reason. This may be one of the finest love songs of all time (with apologies to Minnie). Take this song and mash it up against Ben Fold's The Luckiest and you have a composite of my romantic outlook. youtube

Okay, that covers the Top 25. Now let's just jam.

Hey Jude / BeatlesLet's Rock! There is a rumor that this song may be about drugs. I think it is really about camaraderie and the mutual support that we all need to get by in life. Yeah, right. youtube
Black Dog / Led ZeppelinWho knows what this song is about it? It grabs your face and screams Rock 'n' Roll. youtube
Do You Feel Like We Do / Peter FramptonA playful concert-rocker that transcends the generations, right Noah? youtube
Don’t Know Why / Nora JonesSweet Norah Jones, daughter of Beatles sitar-teaching guru Ravi Shankar, wafts her way through category-busting, small-club-jazz-combo songs that deserve her 8-in-one-night Grammies... and where did she go to college?youtube
Find Me Somebody to Love / QueenQueen was a blazing comet across the musical sky. This great song finds a big-haired rock band in a small southern church. ...found me somebody! youtube
Let It Be / BeatlesPerfect and Timeless. youtube
Loving You / Minnie RippertonSo simple and so true. This great song wound up being a cliche through its ubiquity. It's not Minnie's fault. youtube
They All Asked for You / New Orleans "folk song"Late at night, lost in some peanut town between Dallas and El Paso, a young lad would scroll across the AM radio dial and catch glimpses of Wolfman Jack in Juarez, WLS zanies in Chicago, and a strange cast of characters in New Orleans.This song was a station bumper at WNOE. It has given me hours of merriment and made my boys bust a gut.
This Night (Will Last Forever) / Billy JoelThe chorus of this song is based on the second movement of the Pathetique by Beethoven. It showcases one (well, two!) of music's great geniuses. youtube
Waters of March / Art GarfunkelSuch a playful song. The summer of 1977 was a rich, awakening season. Art was right there. youtube

Yesterday / BeatlesWistful. Wishful. youtube
You Are So Beautiful / Joe CockerThe ugliest man in showbiz growls out the most wonderful song inspired entirely by my Alyse. youtube
Preludio by BachBach picks up where Praetorius left off. This perfect instrumental once sparked a disturbing conversation about what was complex and what was complicated... but that's another story. Bach is the reigning grand master of everything musical. This piece shows why. I recommend watching it on video to prove it is just one violin at work here.
Frankenstein / Edgar WinterThis song really doesn't deserve a place on such a short list, but it's just so dang rowdy. Frank here represents Smoke on the Water, Inagoddadavida, and Earschplittenloudenboomer. youtube 
I Want to Know What Love Is / Foreigner"I want you to show me." Decent tune, perfect lyrics. youtube 
Just Wait / Blues TravelerThis song came to me at a crucial time and told me the story of a love and a lover who was waiting for me. Thank you. lyrics
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds / BeatlesNo, certainly not about drugs. Let's all lift a 'shroom to the Baby Boom. youtube 
Stairway to Heaven / Led ZeppelinVH1's #3, probably better than that. In my teens I listened to Led Zep 24/7... and hey, I turned alright. youtube 
Thick As A Brick / Jethro TullA token nod to cerebral rock. youtube 
True Colors / Cyndi LauperIn this world of gray and beige, I am thankful for the Mary Claborns who saw more than a box of 16. youtube 
Land of Make Believe / Chuck MangionePlayful, sentimental, and musically adroit - I have always regarded Chuck as much more than elevator music. youtube
Peter Gunn / Henry ManciniThis old chestnut stuck with me from my rickety old band days. I never knew how the song was supposed to sound. If you are not familiar withthis classic, wise up.
Take A Walk on the Wild Side / Lou ReedThis song puts a smirk on my face. I'm not as far out on the limb as Lou, but we ALL have a wild side. youtube
You're So Vain / Carly SimonWhack, right in the face. "You probably think this song is about you." We all know that person and the calamity that trails them. Later in life we learn to be where we should be all the time... youtube
I probably should add: (a growing list)
Life Is A Rock / Reunion (great summary on wiki / great visual on YouTube)
Blinded by the Light / Manfred Mann's Earth Band (cuz that's where the fun is!) (great back story!)
Fly Me Away / Annie Little (Amazon already discovered her. I think she's gonna make it.)
2001 Space Odyssey / Eumir Deodato (OMG! classic version | cool new version)
Think About Your Troubles / Harry Nilsson ("a point in every direction is the same thing as no point at all"
I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever) / Stevie Wonder, covered by Art Garfunkel on his killer Breakaway album

No comments:

Post a Comment