Three Long-Ago Lists

Over the ten years I’ve been blogging here, I’ve offered up numerous lists ranking albums and individual tracks in various ways (the thirty-eight week Ultimate Jukebox of 2009 being no doubt the best organized). I’ve recently been reminded as I dug through a box of stuff my dad saved that such rankings and listings didn’t start here.

Among the newspaper pieces of mine that my dad saved over the years were two columns – one from the Monticello Times and one from the Eden Prairie News – detailing lists of favorite tracks. There’s little overlap between the two – the first put together in about 1980 and the second coming from 1995. The contrasts are intriguing, and even more so are the contrasts between those two and a third listing that came between them, in 1988. We’ll get to that intervening list in a bit.

Here are the tracks from the Monticello list, put together, again, in about 1980:

“Layla” by Derek & The Dominos
“Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan
“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)/A Day In The Life” by the Beatles
“Loan Me A Dime” by Boz Scaggs
“A Whiter Shade Of Pale” by Procol Harum
“Dreams” by the Allman Brothers Band
“(Sooner or Later) One Of Us Must Know” by Bob Dylan
“Southern Man” by Neil Young
“Miracles” by Jefferson Starship

Honorable mentions:
“Stage Fright” by The Band
“Touch Me” by the Doors
“Somebody To Love” by Jefferson Airplane
“Question” by the Moody Blues
“Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers Band

(A few years later, I shared that list with a fellow grad student over a beer in a favorite hangout for journalism students at the University of Missouri. “Good list,” she said, “but it’s all white boys.” She was, of course, right: there was no diversity there.)

Fifteen years later in Eden Prairie, likely straining for a column idea as deadline approached and 275 words’ worth of space waited blank for me on Page 4, I packaged my top eight tracks as my prescription for beating the winter blues:

“Layla”
“Into The Mystic” by Van Morrison
“Loan Me A Dime”
“Be My Baby” by the Ronettes
“Forever Young” by Bob Dylan
“The Weight” by The Band
“Hungry Heart” by Bruce Springsteen
“Drift Away” by Dobie Gray

Honorable mentions:
“American Pie” by Don McLean
“Bernadette” by the Four Tops
“Born To Run” by Springsteen
“Closing Time” by Leonard Cohen
“Something In The Air” by Thunderclap Newman

“Layla” and “Loan Me A Dime” are the only holdovers there. I don’t think that’s an indication that I liked the other tracks on the earlier list any less. It’s more a result, I think, of change in me: In the early 1980s, I was an interested listener who knew a little bit about the music on his record player; by 1995, I had expanded my listening and had begun to dig deeper into the history of the music I heard. The 1995 list was, I think, a more thoughtful list.

Then there was the intervening list: In early 1988, I was asked by a colleague at the public radio station at Minot State University to put together a desert island list of music and then to come to the studios, where we would listen to and then talk about those records for an hour. I have the tape somewhere, but I no longer have the written list of the ten tracks I chose. I actually recall only four of the ten:

“Layla”
“Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers
“Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
“Us and Them” by Pink Floyd

Two of those last three now strike me as odd, and one of them just hurts. The Pink Floyd track remains a favorite, being a time-and-place artifact of my days in Denmark. It has its place among the 3,700 or so tracks in the iPod, but to place it in the top ten now seems strange. The CSN&Y track – it popped up the other day on a cable channel – is fine, but its elevation to my top ten in 1988 is even more baffling. It doesn’t even make it into the iPod these days.

Then there’s “Unchained Melody,” which led off my desert island tape in 1988. It was the No. 1 record for my love life at the time, a life-altering relationship that was luminous and enervating while it lasted but one that left me devastated and flailing for years when it ended. Nearly thirty years later, when the record pops up on an oldies station, I still hear only echoes of grief.

So, where to go for a tune after that admission? That turns out to be a question that’s easy to answer. And it’s a little surprising to learn that in ten years here, I’ve never once mentioned Aretha Franklin’s “Don’t Play That Song.” It went to No. 11 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970, and it topped the magazine’s R&B chart for three weeks.

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