It’s August, and I’m on vacation. Let’s try something a little different this week. We have the other 51 weeks a year to talk about TV: let’s spend this one talking about things that are not TV.
I was inspired to do this post, and all of Not-TV Week, by this article in Blender that asked Barack Obama and John McCain to submit a playlist of their top-10 songs. And I thought: God damn, it is a hard job running for President. I am not being sarcastic. How does any grown person narrow their favorite songs to ten? I sweated over my own list, below—and I’m not going to have a zillion people scouring it for inappropriate lyrics or signs of secret Islamism or senility. How did they, or their assistants, do it?
(There was some mild snarking over Obama’s choice of Yes We Can by will.i.am. Let me say it here: If someone ever sets one of my columns to music and gets Scarlett Johansson to sing it, it goes to the top of my list, no questions asked.)
Anyway, I took the challenge. A word of explanation first: These are not the ten “best” songs of all time, just personal favorites. If you asked me tomorrow, I’d probably replace at least half of them with other picks. Finally, I followed a couple rules: no more than one by the same artist, and I could only choose from songs that are in my collection. (This ruled out Sweet Child o’ Mine, which I wanted to list and realized I have never gotten around to buying or downloading.)
My list, in no particular order, after the jump:
God Only Knows, The Beach Boys
What Is Life, George Harrison
People’s Parties, Joni Mitchell
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody), Talking Heads
Sweet Home Country Grammar, Mei-lwun (an awesome mashup of Nelly’s Country Grammar and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama—see embedded video above)
September Gurls, Big Star
Big Brown Eyes, dBs
Cotton, The Mountain Goats
Ooh Child, The Five Stairsteps
Green Eyes, Husker Du
Like the Presidential candidates, I omitted The Beatles. I think the Beatles are so ubiquitous and universal that it’s hard to think of one of their songs as yours anymore. I know that objectively Lennon and McCartney were “better” than George Harrison solo, but none of their songs hits me the way What Is Life does.
My favorite songs in general don’t necessarily overlap with my favorite artists. I much prefer Bob Mould Husker Du (not to mention solo), but Grant Hart just hit it out of the park with Green Eyes. There are artists who dominated whole chunks of my life—Liz Phair, The Who, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Game Theory, Ted Leo, Ben Folds—who just didn’t have an individual song that made the list. Conversely, I don’t even like Talking Heads all that much. In fact, I suspect that it’s harder to pick a single favorite song from a favorite artist.
I was also surprised, looking at my finished list, that most of them came out when I was a kid, if not before I was born. But I think that too is the nature of favorite songs: it takes a long time to make the connection. I love the Hold Steady right now, but ask me in 10 years what my favorite Hold Steady song is. Still, even these are shaky. If I re-did my list a month from now, the only song I’m certain I would leave in is God Only Knows (which is objectively the finest pop song ever written, but that’s another, 2,000-word post)
Finally, apparently I have some kind of thing for eyes.
OK, your turn. You already know Robo-James’.