(I’m not a music critic, though I’ve published several music critics over the years. What I am is a serious fan who literally grew up with rock music. From the day I was born [on Elvis’s birthday, by the way], there has been rock music playing, and my earliest memories involve a rock and roll soundtrack.
I do have some credentials as a novelist, so when I put this list together, I decided that the best way I could present each selection was to create a fictional conversation between “me” and a former close friend who I reconnect with through these rankings.)
* * *
Peggy and I were music buddies all through college and into our early years in the real world. A great night together for us was dropping a brand-new album and reading to each other from the liner notes while sharing a six and a pizza from Carlo’s with meatballs and extra cheese. Even when one of us was seriously involved in a relationship, we’d find at least once a month to listen and talk music.
Then Peggy moved to Austin for that teaching gig. Then Stevie came into her life, and I should have realized right away that it was the real thing because our long-distance music dates went from sparse to nonexistent within the span of a few months. I saw her exactly twice after the wedding: when I was part of a panel on publishing at U of T and when she came up for her mother’s funeral. That was eighteen years ago. When Facebook came along, we friended each other so I could learn how the three dogs were doing and she could see my kids grow up. But we never spoke, because we just weren’t in each other’s orbits.
I didn’t specifically create my Top 100 list to reconnect with Peggy. When I was finished preparing it, though, she was one of the first people I let know that I’d done so. She suggested a call about #100. Ninety-nine others followed. Here’s the first:
“You were always a sucker for a great opening,” she said when she answered the phone rather than “Hello.”
“It’s an awfully good opening.”
“Almost ‘California Girls’ good. And this song is actually about something.”
“That song was about something, too. If you had ever been a teenage boy, you would understand.”
“I’ll take your word for it. Bono wrote the lyrics in Ethiopia, you know.”
“Yeah, I heard that. He was taken by how much less status conscious that culture was, and he longed for that.”
“Funny coming from a guy who wound up being the most famous rock star of his generation.”
I grinned over Peggy’s observation. “He’s always been a great conveyor of messages, though. Messages you can dance to. The supreme rock and roll mission.”
“So is the rest of your list filled with messages you can dance to?”
“Not so much. There are plenty of songs where the message is nothing more profound than ‘sex is great.’ And there are lots of songs you can’t dance to.”
“Nope, no sneak peeks.”
“What about telling me what isn’t on the list.”
“You want me to name all of the songs ever recorded except for the hundred songs I chose?”
“Maybe some other time. I was thinking about the songs that just missed.”
I considered this. Would Peggy glean too much from knowing what wasn’t on the list? In college, she would have spent days reading the signs. We were a long way from college, though.
“The first ten out were 'Walking in Memphis,' 'Piece of My Heart,' 'Monday Monday,' 'Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,' 'Nineteen Forever,' 'The Needle and the Damage Done,' 'Here Comes the Sun,' 'The Tracks of My Tears,' 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,' and 'Mr. Tambourine Man.'”
“You found a hundred songs better than 'Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood?'”