Monday, January 26, 2009

Why Would An Alien Even ASK About Rock Music?

The great Joe Posnanski is doing a poll on his blog to determine the ten most iconic songs of the rock and roll era. It's quite a task and quite a list of nominees, given that the trick is to pick the most 'iconic' songs, not necessarily the best songs. As Joe put it, these would be the songs you would play to an alien if you wanted to describe the last 55 years in popular music.

Here's my take on the nominees, with each of my picks bolded.

Alive, Pearl Jam — I love PJ, but this doesn't cut it

American Pie, Don McLean — An epic song, yes, but unless you wanted a quick way to describe Buddy Holly, the Bopper and Ritchie Valens all in one fell swoop, it probably doesn't make it.

Another Brick in the Wall, Pink Floyd — Tough cut.

Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen — If Joe had put We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions on the list, I would've probably voted for it.

Born to be Wild, Steppenwolf — Nope

Born to Run — I guess you could call this Bruce's most iconic song, but it's a tough call over 'Born in the USA,' 'Thunder Road,' or even 'Rosalita.' Okay, well, maybe not Rosalita, but it would've ranked high in a Bruce-fans-only voting bloc

Bridge Over Troubled Water — I would've picked Mrs. Robinson over this if I absolutely needed a Simon & Garfunkel song

Crazy, Gnarls Barkley — Maybe the oddest inclusion on Joe's list. Don't get me wrong, it's a great song, but I'm not sure if it belongs on a short list for the iconic songs of the century

Crazy, Patsy Cline — Nope

Georgia On My Mind, Ray Charles — Nope

God Save the Queen, Sex Pistols — You could make a decent case of this under the 'iconic' argument, but there are worthier choices.

Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys — Could've been a lot of Beach Boys songs on this list.

Fight the Power, Public Enemy — Nope

Fortunate Son, Credence Clearwater Revival — Obama should pass a federal law declaring that this song be played whenever George W. Bush enters a room

Freebird, Lynyrd Skynyrd — Tough, tough omission. Then again, how much of its lasting impact is due to drunks yelling requests for it at concerts?

Friends in Low Places, Garth Brooks — Speaking of songs performed by drunks, I'm pretty sure this has been sung at every karaoke night ever. People underrate Garth Brooks' impact. Do you realize he sold more records than anyone in the 90's? Add that to two very solid SNL hosting gigs, and

Hey Ya, Outkast — It'll be a few years before we can fully attest its 'iconic' status, but rest assured it'll make any Best Of Whatever We Call The Decade Between 2000-2010 list.

Hotel California, The Eagles — Nope.

Hound Dog, Elvis Presley — My first pick! Though it comes with an asterisk. I would've picked 'Heartbreak Hotel' as the definitive Elvis song, but really, any list of the rock era's most iconic songs absolutely needs an Elvis track, and this one is as good as any.

I Feel Good, James Brown — Nah.

I Love Rock and Roll, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts — Seriously? Weak entry on the ballot.

I Walk The Line, Johnny Cash — Another artist for whom it's hard to pick just one song. I love Cash, but I'm afraid I'll have to give this one a slight thumbs down.

I Want To Hold Your Hand, The Beatles — I'm picking this one too, solely on the 'there must be a Beatles song' logic. But while this might be their most important song due to it being their American breakthrough, you could easily come up with 20-25 more Beatles songs that could be judged to be more iconic overall.

Imagine, John Lennon — Tough no, but a no nonetheless.

Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry — It makes it as the 10th of my ten entries. So, when I say something like We Will Rock You would've made it had it been nominated, Johnny B. Goode is the song that would've been omitted to make room. That said, obviously, fuckin' Johnny B. Goode! One of the best songs ever.

Layla, Derek and the Dominos — I almost feel like this should be in just so Clapton could get a mention, but not quite. It would be in a hypothetical top 20.

Like a Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan — No-brainer selection, and a great pick by Joe as Dylan's signature song.

Like a Virgin, Madonna — Closer to making the list than you would think. If you distill Madonna down to her 20 best songs, that's a greatest hits disc that can stand up to almost anyone.

London Calling, The Clash — Geez Kyle, how'd you forget about this one to pick an album that you didn't even really like? If I had to pick a Clash tune, it would've been Train In Vain since it's one of my favourite songs ever.

Louie Louie, The Kingsmen — Nope

Mack the Knife, Bobby Darin — I'm resisting the temptation to reprint my third-year essay about Bertolt Brecht and epic theatre.

Melt With You, Modern English — THIS was Posnanski's pick from the New Wave era? Have mercy.

My Generation, The Who — The "I hope I die before I get old" lyric is what probably gave this one the edge over (better Who songs) Baba O'Riley, Won't Get Fooled Again, even Pinball Wizard. Then again, My Generation has yet to be absorbed into the crappy opening of a CSI show, so it's got that going for it.

My Way, Frank Sinatra — Sinatra probably 'should' be represented here, but c'est la vie.

Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang, Dr. Dre — Nope

Oh Pretty Woman, Roy Orbison — Nope. You could actually make a case for a Traveling Wilburys song just so you could get so many iconic figures onto the list as possible, but then again, "End Of The Line" isn't exactly one's idea of a rock staple.

Peggy Sue, Buddy Holly — I want to nominate 'Everyday' just because it's on the LOST mix tape. Someday.

Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix — Good one, but not quite.

Purple Rain, Prince — Nope.

Rapper’s Delight, Sugar Hill Gang — Am I being a typical honky by picking this as the iconic rap song? It was the big major rap hit, I don't think I'm too far off.

Redemption Song, Bob Marley — Very tough cut. Maybe #11 on the list.

Respect, Aretha Franklin — Gotta be there. There are a lot of great Motown classics, but put it this way: approximately a third of all Motown compilation records include the word 'Respect' in the title. Nuff said.

Rock Around The Clock, Bill Haley and the Comets — I remember singing this in choir in second grade. We did a whole concert of 50's standards, including Blue Suede Shoes, Johnny B. Goode, and Heartbreak Hotel. I presume it was cute as hell, but my main memory of our concert was almost passing out in the sweltering Oakridge auditorium.

Satisfaction, Rolling Stones — Gotta be there.

Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana — The purest test of the 'iconic' test. I HATE this song and hate Nirvana in general. They're the most overrated band of all time. I find the Foo Fighters horribly average, and yet I would happily listen to every Foo Fighters record for a year straight rather than listen to any Nirvana. But I can't deny that it was iconic.

Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin — No-brainer. I guess you could make a case for a couple other Led Zep tunes, but let's be honest, this is the signature song.

Staying Alive, Bee Gees — Best bass riff ever? Maybe so. Inarguably the best disco song ever. Wow, four songs in a row. We're rolling now!

Sunday Bloody Sunday, U2 — It kills me that I had to pick a Nirvana song and couldn't pick a U2 song. Fuck. I'm not sure if this is U2's absolute 'most' iconic track (With or Without You, One, Pride, Where The Streets Have No Name...even Beautiful Day might get a few votes when it's all said and done), but it's right up there.

Thriller, Michael Jackson — I literally can't believe Joe didn't pick Billie Jean. That is a jaw-dropping omission. Billie Jean makes it without a second thought.

Welcome to the Jungle, Guns N’ Roses — This or the other two of the GNR Big Three are all good contenders.

The Weight, The Band — Nope

Y.M.C.A., The Village People — Closer than you'd think, but no.

So here's the final list:
* Satisfaction, by The Rolling Stones
* Like A Rolling Stone, by Bob Dylan
* Smells Like Teen Spirit, by Nirvana
* Rapper's Delight, by Sugar Hill Gang
* Stayin' Alive, by the Bee Gees
* Stairway to Heaven, by Led Zeppelin
* Johnny B. Goode, by Chuck Berry
* Respect, by Aretha Franklin
* I Want To Hold Your Hand, by the Beatles
* Hound Dog, by Elvis Presley

Posnanski's notable omissions....

* NOTHING by Elton John? You could make a case for 'Your Song,' but 'Candle In The Wind' probably has to be Sir Elton's most iconic piece due to the Diana memorial.

* Piano Man deserved at least a mention.

* Superstition

* Brown-Eyed Girl

* Keep On Rockin' In The Free World

* Wonderwall's omission is inexplicable to me, but it may be due to the fact that Posnanski is American, and Wonderwall didn't have the same long-lasting impact in the USA that it did in Canada and in Europe.

* Freefallin'

* I feel like something by the Velvet Underground should be on the list, but I don't think they had one truly iconic song

* Same goes for David Bowie

* Same goes for AC/DC

* Blitzkrieg Bop


* Enter Sandman

* Lose Yourself or Stan

* Every Breath You Take

* Any number of country, rap or adult contemporary-ish pop/rock songs I'm forgetting since I don't know the genres as well.


Chad Nevett said...

My list:

Stairway to Heaven
I Want to Hold Your Hand
Like a Rolling Stone
My Generation
Hound Dog
Good Vibrations
Fight the Power

I skew a little bit towards the '60s/'70s rock. Just a bit.

Hal Incandenza said...

Re: the Clash--> to make matters worse, I believe that I later claimed (erroneously) that London Calling was their first album (it's actually their third). A real gong show all around...

Johnny Hughes, author of Texas Poker Wisdom, a novel said...

Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Joe Ely, and the Cotton Club
by Johnny Hughes,
January 2009

Elvis Presley was leaning a against his pink, 1954 Cadillac in front of Lubbock's historic Cotton Club. The small crowd were mesmerized by his great looks, cockiness, and charisma. He put on quite a show, doing nearly all the talking. Elvis bragged about his sexual conquests, using language you didn't hear around women. He said he'd been a truck driver six months earlier. Now he could have a new woman in each town. He told a story about being caught having sex in his back seat. An angry husband grabbed his wife by the ankles and pulled her out from under Elvis. I doubted that.
Earlier, at the Fair Park Coliseum, Elvis had signed girl's breasts, arms, foreheads, bras, and panties. No one had ever seen anything like it. We had met Elvis' first manager, Bob Neal, bass player, Bill Black, and guitarist Scotty Moore. They wanted us to bring some beer out to the Cotton Club. So we did. My meeting with Bob Neal in 1955 was to have great meaning in my future. I was 15.

The old scandal rag, Confidential, had a story about Elvis at the Cotton Club and the Fair Park Coliseum. It had a picture of the Cotton Club and told of Elvis' unique approach to autographing female body parts. It said he had taken two girls to Mackenzie Park for a tryst in his Cadillac.

Elvis did several shows in Lubbock during his first year on the road, in 1955. When he first came here, he made $75. His appearance in 1956 paid $4000. When he arrived in Lubbock, Bob Neal was his manager. By the end of the year, Colonel Tom Parker had taken over. Elvis played the Fair Park Coliseum for its opening on Jan. 6th, with a package show. When he played the Fair Park again, Feb. 13th, it was memorable. Colonel Tom Parker and Bob Neal were there. Buddy Holly and Bob Montgomery were on the bill. Waylon Jennings was there. Elvis was 19. Buddy was 18.

Elvis' early shows in Lubbock were:
Jan 6th 1955, Fair Park Coliseum. Feb 13th. Fair Park, Cotton Club April 29 Cotton Club June 3: Johnson Connelly Pontiac with Buddy Holly, Fair Park October 11: Fair Park October 15: Cotton Club, April 10, 1956: Fair Park. Elvis probably played the Cotton Club on all of his Lubbock dates. He also spent time with Buddy Holly on all his Lubbock visits.

Buddy Holly was the boffo popular teenager of all time around Lubbock. The town loved him! He had his own radio show on Pappy Dave Stone's KDAV, first with Jack Neal, later with Bob Montgomery in his early teens. KDAV was the first all-country station in America. Buddy fronted Bill Haley, Marty Robbins, and groups that traveled through. Stone was an early mentor. Buddy first met Waylon Jennings at KDAV. Disk jockeys there included Waylon, Roger Miller, Bill Mack, later America's most famous country DJ, and country comedian Don Bowman. Bowman and Miller became the best known writers of funny country songs.

All these singer-songwriters recorded there, did live remotes with jingles, and wrote songs. Elvis went to KDAV to sing live and record the Clover's "Fool, Fool Fool" and Big Joe Turner's "Shake Rattle and Roll" on acetates. This radio station in now KRFE, 580 a.m., located at 66th and MLK, owned by Wade Wilkes. They welcome visitors. It has to be the only place that Elvis, Buddy, Waylon, and Bill Mack all recorded. Johnny Cash sang live there. Waylon and Buddy became great friends through radio. Ben Hall, another KDAV disc jockey and songwriter, filmed in color at the Fair Park Coliseum. This video shows Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis, Buddy and his friends.

Wade's dad, Big Ed Wilkes, owner of KDAV, managed country comedian, Jerry Clower, on MCA Records. He sent Joe Ely's demo tape to MCA. Bob Livingston also sent one of the tapes I gave him to MCA. This led to a contract. Pappy Dave Stone, the first owner of KDAV, helped Buddy get his record contract with Decca/MCA.

Another disc jockey at KDAV was Arlie Duff. He wrote the country classic, "Y'all Come." It has been recorded by nineteen well-known artists, including Bing Crosby. When Waylon Jennings and Don Bowman were hired by the Corbin brothers, Slim, Sky, and Larry, of KLLL, Buddy started to hang around there. They all did jingles, sang live, wrote songs, and recorded. Niki Sullivan, one of the original Crickets, was also a singing DJ at KLLL. Sky Corbin has an excellent book about this radio era and the intense competition between KLLL and KDAV. All the DJs had mottos. Sky Corbin's was "lover, fighter, wild horse rider, and a purty fair windmill man."

Don Bowman's motto was "come a foggin' cowboy." He'd make fun of the sponsors and get fired. We played poker together. He'd take breaks in the poker game to sing funny songs. I played poker with Buddy Holly before and after he got famous. He was incredibly polite and never had the big head. The nation only knew Buddy Holly for less than two years. He was the most famous guy around Lubbock from the age of fourteen.

Niki Sullivan, an original Cricket, and I had a singing duo as children. We cut little acetates in 1948. We also appeared several times on Bob Nash's kid talent show on KFYO. This was at the Tech Theatre. Buddy Holly and Charlene Hancock, Tommy's wife, also appeared on this show. Larry Holley, Buddy's brother, financed his early career, buying him a guitar and whatever else he needed. Buddy recorded twenty acetates at KDAV from 1953 until 1957. He also did a lot of recording at KLLL. Larry Holley said Niki was the most talented Cricket except Buddy. All of Buddy's band mates and all of Joe Ely's band mates were musicians as children.

Buddy and Elvis met at the Cotton Club. Buddy taught Elvis the lyrics to the Drifter's "Money Honey". After that, Buddy met Elvis on each of his Lubbock visits. I think Elvis went to the Cotton Club on every Lubbock appearance. When Elvis played a show at the Johnson Connelly Pontiac showroom, Mac Davis was there. I was too.

The last time Elvis played the Fair Park Coliseum on April 10,1956, he was as famous as it gets. Buddy Holly, Sonny Curtis, Jerry Allison, and Don Guess were a front act. They did two shows and played for over 10,000 people. Those wonderful I.G. Holmes photos, taken at several locations, usually show Buddy and his pals with Elvis. Lubbock had a population of 80,000 at the time. Elvis was still signing everything put in front of him. Not many people could have signing women as a hobby.
Many of the acetates recorded at KLLL and KDAV by Buddy and others were later released, many as bootlegs. When Buddy Holly recorded four songs at KDAV, the demo got him his first record contract. It wasn't just Lubbock radio that so supportive of Buddy Holly. The City of Lubbock hired him to play at teenage dances. He appeared at Lubbock High School assemblies and many other places in town.

Everyone in Lubbock cheered Buddy Holly on with his career. The newspaper reports were always positive. At one teenage gig, maybe at the Glassarama, there was only a small crowd. Some of us were doing the "dirty bop." The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal had photos the next day showing people with their eyes covered with a black strip. Sonny Curtis mentions that in his song, "The Real Buddy Holly Story." When Buddy Holly and the Crickets were on the Ed Sullivan show, the newspaper featured that. The whole town watched.

Buddy was fighting with his manager Norman Petty over money before he died. They were totally estranged. Larry Holley told me that Norman said to Buddy, "I'll see you dead before you get a penny." A few weeks later, Buddy was dead. When Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, it was headline news in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Over 1000 people attended the funeral on February 7, 1959. Buddy was only twenty-two years old. His widow, Maria Elena Holly, was too upset to attend. The pall bearers were all songwriters and musicians that had played with Buddy: Niki Sullivan, Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Sonny Curtis, Bob Montgomery, and Phil Everly. Elvis was in the Army. He had Colonel Tom send a large wreath of yellow roses.
In 1976, I was managing the Joe Ely Band. They had recorded an as-yet -to-be-released album for MCA Records. I was in Nashville to meet with the MCA execs. They wanted Joe to get a booking contract and mentioned some unheard of two-man shops. Bob Neal, Elvis' first manager, had great success in talent managing and booking. He sold his agency to the William Morris Agency, the biggest booking agency in the world, and stayed on as president of the Nashville branch.

I called the William Morris Agency and explained to the secretary that I did indeed know Bob Neal, as we had met at the Cotton Club in Lubbock, Texas when he was Elvis' manager. He came right on the phone. I told him the Joe Ely Band played mostly the Cotton Club. He said that after loading up to leave there one night, a cowboy called Elvis over to his car and knocked him down. Elvis was in a rage. He made them drive all over Lubbock checking every open place, as they looked for the guy. Bob Neal invited me to come right over.

Bob Neal played that, now classic, demo tape from Caldwell Studios and offered a booking contract. We agreed on a big music city strategy: Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, London, and Austin. Bob drove me back to MCA and they could not believe our good fortune. The man had been instrumental in the careers of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Johnny Rodriguez, and many others. The William Morris Agency sent the Joe Ely Band coast to coast and to Europe, first to front Merle Haggard, then on a second trip to front the Clash. The original Joe Ely Band were Lloyd Maines, Natalie's father, steel guitar, Jesse Taylor, electric guitar, Steve Keeton, drums, and Gregg Wright, bass. Ponty Bone, on accordion, joined a little later. The band did the shows and the recording. The recorded tunes were originals from Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

However, some of the William Morris bookings led to zig zag travel over long distances to so-called listening clubs. When I complained to Bob Neal, he'd recall the 300 dates Elvis played back in 1955. Four guys in Elvis' pink Cadillac. When Buddy made some money, he bought a pink Cadillac. Joe Ely bought a pristine, 1957 pink Cadillac that was much nicer than either of their pink Cadillacs.

When I'd hear from Bob Neal, it was very good news, especially the fantastic, uniformly-rave, album and performance reviews from newspapers and magazines everywhere. Time Magazine devoted a full page to Joe Ely. The earliest big rock critic to praise Joe Ely was Joe Nick Patoski, author of the definitive and critically-acclaimed Willie Nelson: An Epic Life. After one year, MCA was in turmoil. Big stars were leaving or filing lawsuits. We were told they might not re-new the option to make a second record. MCA regularly fired everyone we liked. Bob Neal thought the band should go to Los Angeles for a one-nighter.

He booked the Joe Ely Band into the best known club on the West Coast, the Palomino, owned by his dear pal, Tommy Thomas. We alerted other record companies. They drove back and forth to L.A. in a Dodge Van to play only one night. Robert Hilburn, the top rock critic for the Los Angeles Times, came with his date, Linda Ronstadt.

The Joe Ely Band loved to play music. They started on time, took short breaks, and played until someone made them stop. Robert Hilburn wrote that Ely could be, "the most important male singer to emerge in country music since the mid-60s crop of Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson." The long review with pictures took up the whole fine arts section of the biggest newspaper in the country. Hilburn praised each of the band individually. He was blown away when they just kept playing when the lights came on at closing time. After that, several major record companies were interested.

The last time I saw Bob Neal was at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco on February 22, 1979. Little Pete, a black drarf who was always around Stubb's Bar-B-Q, was traveling with the band. To open the show, Little Pete came out and announced, "Lubbock, Texas produces the Joe Ely Band!" Then he jumped off the elevated stage and Bo Billingsley, the giant roady, caught him. Bob Neal, the old showman that had seen it all, just loved that.

This comment originally appears on Anyone may make copies of this one article or post it on any web site. Thanks to Chris Oglesby and Larry Holley.