Out on a limb: The 10 greatest pop songs

By Jack Sparacino
You may recall our recently launched Adage Revisitation Team and their bold efforts to assess the validity of popular sayings. Industrious souls that they were, they took time during their breaks and after the column to try to identify the 10 greatest pop songs EVER.  Egad (or words to that effect), I said as I warned them that they were really climbing out on a limb with that task, way out in fact. When they asked me to write about their list here, I shared my concerns that they were bound to leave out many peoples’ favorites and might create a musical uproar.  Undaunted and undeterred, they insisted that I go ahead and share the results of their hard work.
Just a quick note about the criteria and process they used. The songs had to have stood the test of time, so no new ones were considered. They had to span at least three to four different styles and, if possible, be great on a jukebox. The team used a wide assortment of helpful tools, including a high power telescope, two dart boards, a pair of dice, a magic 8 ball, and, of course, back issues of Rolling Stone magazine, a computer and a calculator.  I generously provided a large bottle of wood hardener to (ahem) help with that limb. Here’s what they came up with after hours of vigorous debate.
1. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  Written by Harold Arlen, performed by Judy Garland. More than 50 artists have since recorded this timeless classic from “The Wizard of Oz,” and audiences have been enchanted by Judy Garland’s rendition for almost 75 years. The flying monkeys liked it, too.
2. “Crazy.”  Written by Willie Nelson, recorded by Patsy Cline in 1962.  Country just doesn’t get any better than this bombshell, sold by Mr. Nelson for only $50! Between all of them, the team calculated they had listened to this song 1,272 times and counting and felt there was not one thing crazy about that, either.
3. “Crossroads.” Written by Robert Johnson, performed by Eric Clapton and Cream. All titans here, great lyrics, great guitar work, a real symbol of the best 10 year period in rock and roll.
4. “Statesboro Blues.” Written by Blind Willie McTell, performed by The Allman Brothers. The song practically makes you jump up and smile and was ranked #9 by Rolling Stone when they compiled the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.
5. “Gimme Some Lovin’.” Written by Steve Winwood, Spencer Davis and Muff Winwood, and originally performed by The Spencer Davis Group, lead vocal by Steve Winwood.  This one got bonus points both for being  associated with numerous terrific films, including “The Blues Brothers,” “Good Morning, Vietnam,” and Beaufort’s own “The Big Chill.” Not to mention the fact that Mr. Winwood was only 18 when the song was recorded and I seldom saw a better performer in concert (just had to stick my two cents in on this one).
6. “All Along the Watchtower.”  Written by Bob Dylan, performed by Jimi Hendrix.  This song first appeared on Dylan’s 1967 album John Wesley Harding and he’s performed it in concert more often than any of his other songs. The lyrics alone are spectacular, including the opening “There must be some kind of way out of here, said the joker to the thief.”
7. “Nothing I can Do About It Now.”  Written by Beth Nielsen Chapman, performed by Willie Nelson. This one is a gangbuster, tight as a drum and light as a cloud, with a ton of bonus points for the poignant, wistful lyrics. They begin with “I’ve got a long list of real good reasons for all the things I’ve done”, and build beautifully from there.
8. “Respect.”  Written by Otis Redding, performed by Aretha Franklin.  The team had some good data to back them up on this one, as it is #5 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. A real blockbuster is this one, and Ms. Franklin is of course still going strong as she digs into her sixth DECADE as a headline performer.
9. “Unforgettable.”  Written by Irving Gordon, sung by Nat King Cole.  This one got a “slew” of points, according to team leader Slick Whistler, and even more credit for the simply lovely and haunting posthumous duet recorded with daughter Natalie Cole.
10. “Midnight Rambler.” Written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, performed by The Rolling Stones. This song got the team’s “can’t go on a road trip without it” special designation and several bonus points for the cool title. Mr. Whistler was ready to stuff everyone into his minivan and head off with it blasting on the stereo, but sanity prevailed and the team got back to work.
Well, there you have it, the 10 greatest tunes as selected by our immodest team.  And what did they charge us for this labor of love? Nothing. We got it for a song.

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