Ever since I was in middle school, I have entertained myself on the coldest of December evenings by tabulating my year-end list of favorite music tracks of that year. Tidily kept in a rarely-opened drawer, the tallies have, for the most part, required a degree of culling. For an obsessive music aficionado as myself, narrowing the number to even a hundred has been challenging.
In recent years, however, I have been hard-pressed to advance beyond any brainstorm. Rarely have there been more than a few dozen songs that “trip this trigger” of mine, albeit tarnished, yet not impaired. And this year, I dare say: I’d be hard-pressed to submit a paltry “top ten” … with either generosity of criteria or a bartender’s pour. For us music mavens of Marklewood, 2010 has been an exceedingly dismal year.
Some folks might offer that one’s interest in popular music and such silly private cataloguing might diminish with maturity. I assure you, however, that my passions have never subsided. I still follow new releases fervently, read “Billboard” regularly, and follow music trends throughout the world. Yet, as I sit and jot, only a few chart entries come to mind with little coaxing.
True, there have been some stellar offerings by Martina and the Diamonds, Chris Garneau, Antony & the Johnsons, among others. But overall, this year of music has left me uninspired and therefore “listless”. I have dutifully and enthusiastically maintained my tradition since 1968. This year, however, I may just as well leave that drawer undisturbed, with hopes for a better new year.
I have, however, found myself drifting away into the past worlds of AM radio, eight tracks, cassettes, and vinyl. Visuals from my life’s sound-tracking have kept me jotting, racing, smiling, and fumbling with my ipod, Leopold II. (Many of you may remember that I tend to name appliances, electronica, cars, and plants.)
After a few hours of sifting through memories, playlists, and the statistical data that is a by-product of obsessive cataloguing, I have come up with my boldest list yet: my ten favorite songs of the past half-century. I offer them now, in no particular order, if for any reason to prove a point. When Jon and I listen to music, he often hears me exclaim: “oh, that’s one of my favorites!” and replies with: “oh, you have thousands of favorite songs!”
“Sebastian” (Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel), “How it Ends” (DeVotchKa), “The Road to Hell” (Chris Rea), “Excerpt from a Teenage Opera” (Keith West). “Love Lies Bleeding” (Elton John) … those are the easy choices. They are complex pastiches of layered melodies, vocals, and lyrics. They, my friends, arouse the aforementioned “trigger”.
There would certainly be a few dance tracks: “Nobody’s Supposed to be Here” (Deborah Cox), “Con te Partiro” (Donna Summer), and “Another Night” (Real McCoy). There have been myriad titles that, in a previous phase of life, might have made the cut but they have been sadly played to death either on my trusty walkman or on some classic FM station, back when radio stations were a more viable option. I need never hear “Bad Girls” or “I Will Survive” again. That phenomenon might explain my fondness for cover songs or at least my willingness to give them a listen.
The final two are Al Stewart’s “On the Border” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line”, usually not the hits that one mentions first when discussing those two artists. Their arrangements, however, are pop perfection and stray a bit from the norm at their time of recording.
True, there are no Pet Shop Boys, Madonna, Timi Yuro, Electric Light Orchestra, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, or Fine Young Cannibals entries on this most miniscule of lists. I assure you that they each had at least one hit that hovers near the top, “bubbling under” as it were. In fact, I dare say there are several hundred that could be my “number eleven”. Unfortunately for my list, although fortunately for you, this has been an exercise on narrowing my wide expanse of “likes” to a few choice tunes … just to prove a point to myself and, perhaps, Jon.
I will though offer my fairly honorable and humble mention of those Fab Four musical moments, although I have been “Beatled” since puberty and have thus acquired a reluctant immunity. Paul’s “Another Day” and “Band on the Run”, John’s “#9 Dream”, Ringo’s “It Don’t Come Easy”, and George’s “What is Life?” … all of these 45’s rocked my adolescence and were retired from play, after months of maniacal overplay. Mary Hopkin, that virtuous and nubile Apple maiden, caught my fancy for the clever beat with her version of “Goodbye”, which I have yet to retire, some four decades since acquisition.
I appreciate your indulgence on this chilly wintry night. I know the perfect CD to soundtrack my moment and would be more than willing to serve as your late night deejay. Chances are you’d be surprised at the selections. Jon, though, would remind you that such an invitation should be extended with a warning. Perhaps that is why he, without fail, makes certain that I have the most up-to-date headsets. Some obsessions are best enjoyed alone.
(Image: “The Little Prince” by Bin Lee)