Thursday, April 5, 2001
A century of songs - THE COMMENTARY
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER -- When the year 2000 was in the offing, the entire world began doling out lists bearing the 100 or 10 “best” of books, movies, television shows, actors, restaurants, cities, shysters, lovers etc. Well, in conversation with a friend a while back he informed me that there was a list of the greatest songs making its way in the world of information.
There must have been a list of the greatest songs ever written already, but I went to fetch myself a list of the “Songs of the Century.” It’s put out by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. Atop the list as the song of the century is Judy Garland’s rendition of “Over The Rainbow.”
The list is long. Unlike the American Film Institute’s top films of 100, this song list is 365 songs long. It doesn’t necessarily credit the authors, rather it gives credit to the artist that made the song... memorable, I guess. The number two song is Bing Crosby’s rendition of “White Christmas”. Both Garland and Crosby are some of this century’s most memorable, arguably greatest voices. Both songs essentially are their legacy to show business -- on this list, their legacy to the century.
Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” is number three, followed by Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” Don McLean’s “American Pie” is fifth and sixth is The Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” The original cast recording of West Side Story, is number seven, which is interesting, since it credits the entire score. I guess the songs “Maria”, “Somewhere”, “Tonight” etc. on their own, would be too much for the list to accommodate. Billy Murray (who?) logs in at number eight for “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” and number nine belongs to The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”. Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” is number ten.
When the list came out in early March, there were hackles regarding the fact Bob Marley was not on the list. I have no comment on that, as as you’ve seen, mixing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” and “Respect” is a far and far stretch. Frankly if I were to diagnose a judgement on the list put out by the RIAA and the NEA, I’d say hypocritical, if not an overly ambitious project that has nothing to do with excellence, rather publicity.
“Mack The Knife” is the fifteenth “Song of the Century”, yet it’s the Bobby Darin version. What about the one crooned by Louis Armstrong, or Ella Fitzgerald? Both are equally deserving. And who exactly voted for these songs? The NEA is a highly politicised government agency in Washington with supporters like Bill Clinton and Jane Alexander. And who makes up the RIAA? The last I thought, all they were were a bunch of bean counters keeping track of record store receipts so as to issue gold and platinum designations to the best-sellers.
“Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer,” by Gene Autry was thirty-one, while Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” was forty-eighth.
The Sound of Music’s original cast recording was thirty-sixth, while Hoagy Carmichael’s gem “Stardust” is fortieth.
Here’s one: The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A” was eighty-sixth, while Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changin’” was one hundred and sixth. (Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” placed ninety-fourth.)
It is an ambitious list. Nothing more can be said. Lists like these elicit attention and I think that’s what the RIAA and NEA were aiming for when composing such an inventory. They succeeded, but I think they’ve earned their place as rarely a word has been written about it, except the story I picked up on CNN’s website.
‘Best’ lists, whether they may be: restaurants, songs or movies, are interesting, yet perhaps not truly an accurate description of what exactly is good or excellent. Coming off this year’s Oscars, one wonders the validity of prizes and meritous distinctions. (There’s actually a well distributed ranking of the “great” Prime Ministers of Canadian history. Pierre Trudeau was fourth, while Louis St. Laurent was third. A commentator said upon Trudeau’s death that he’d move up the list, as St. Laurent was a mere bagman for Mackenzie King. But why would he move up later and not now? What changes?)
Our understanding of the times and the perception of ourselves changes, and that is truly a fault of human nature. In interning the Japanese at World War II, some have needed the ability of 20/20 hindsight to see fault in our collective history. The same can be said of history, the treatment of Jews and Palestinians and others less fortunate in the wheel of fortune called life.
Heavy thoughts for a reasonably light topic, ain’t it?
I’ll be back later with a list of my favourite songs. I expect no less feedback chastising me for my prejudices. I can’t wait.
You can get a copy of the list at CNN’s website: « www.cnn.com/2001/SHOWBIZ/Music/03/07/list.top.365.songs/index.html »
Questions and comments may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
An archive of Joseph Planta's previous columns can be found by clicking HERE .