Prompted by a very old friend to compile a personal ‘Top Twenty’ during a recent email exchange, my brief to myself was to select 20 singles as a kind of desert island collection. The songs not only have to have been singles, they must ideally have been experienced first as singles, so songs like The Doors’ Light My Fire can’t really count, in the UK at least, where Jose Feliciano had the hit 45. I sort of think the same about The Beatles’ Something, which was released off the Abbey Road album.
It’s not a selection of ‘best classic songs’ to appear on 45 rpm, although some fall into this category. Like A Rolling Stone would obviously have made that cut, so why not here? Because it doesn’t have that subjective dash of emotional heft for me – I admire rather than feel transported by it. And that’s what these 20 do, even though a few of them are palpably ‘not up to much’ in the aesthetic scheme of things. In each case, once I start listening to them, however many times (and with a song like You Really Got Me it must be some way into the thousands by now), I soon stop being aware that I’m listening and instead just align myself with something – inside the song and inside me. So, every single time, I don’t so much play these songs as enter them, and then often get lost in them.
Oh, and it’s not about thinking, ‘Hey, I love Bowie, Love and The Who, so they’ve got to have one in there’ – none of these figure in person, primarily because it’s their album work that speaks to me.
My ‘chart’ isn’t arranged in strict #1, #2, #3 order, but as a playlist which might repay a listen that isn’t on shuffle! That’s all, really. You then look at what you’ve come up with, and what is revealed?
- One is supposed to start losing interest in the pop charts at 25, and the latest song in my list was released when I was 23. The earliest dates from when I was nine. So that’s a floruit of 14 years from 1964 to 1978. And what a fertile time this was for pop. I selected with no eye to period, but 10 songs happen to come from the 1960s and 10 from the 1970s. (About half could also be termed ballads and ten classed as rockers, or at least slower ones/faster ones.)
- Only six of the songs aren’t performed by English artists.
- Only four weren’t written by the chaps who perform them, and three of those are American.
- None of these songs has ‘grown on me’ over time. I loved them all when they were released and I love them all still. (Possibly the Elvis number has been a bit of a grower, arguably on account of loving the later Willie Nelson version so much, then going back to it.)
- They’ve mostly got pretty distinctive openings, or maybe they just sound that way to me. But in the main there’s no messing around, and very soon you know what you’re in for.
- I myself obviously don’t deserve a place in the diverse modern world: there are no female artists here, hardly anyone who isn’t white, Western and hetero-normative.
- Too many of the artists met early deaths and in at least ten cases, from Lennon and Marriott and Brian Jones to Bolan and Gaye and Al ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson, in garish circumstances.
- Ten of the songs got to #1 in the UK (and Waterloo Sunset, Strawberry Fields and Man of the World all deserved to go that crucial one place higher), so my tastes aren’t all that rarefied.
So here are my results, with no apologies offered!
MY TOP TWENTY – AS OF 6 MARCH 2019
PLAYING ORDER SUGGESTION:
Waterloo Sunset – Kinks 1967
Jumpin’ Jack Flash – Rolling Stones 1968
Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) – Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel 1975
I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Marvin Gaye 1969
Let’s Work Together – Canned Heat 1970
Hey Jude – Beatles 1968
God Only Knows – Beach Boys 1966
Natural Born Bugie – Humble Pie 1969
Man of the World – Fleetwood Mac 1969
You Really Got Me – Kinks 1964
Always On My Mind – Elvis Presley 1972
Superstition – Stevie Wonder 1973
All or Nothing – Small Faces 1966
Strawberry Fields Forever – Beatles 1967
Get It On – T Rex 1971
Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick – Ian Dury & the Blockheads 1978
All the Young Dudes – Mott the Hoople 1972
How Long – Ace 1974
Layla – Derek & the Dominos 1972
Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel 1970