Writer's Viewpoint: Disputing An Iconic Song List
This is because Joe Posnanski has suggested on his blog that we stop voting artists into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame and shift our focus to Hall-Worthy songs. Songs he deems "Iconic". His criterion for including a song on the ballot is that it be "A song that represents a set of beliefs or a way of life. So, I see these songs being the ones that best represent the times we live in, and the emotions of our time." Whatever that means.
He also included only one song per artist. With that in mind, here is his list of 52 possible Iconic Songs:
Alive - Pearl Jam
American Pie - Don McLean
Another Brick in the Wall - Pink Floyd
Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen
Born to be Wild - Steppenwolf
Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon & Garfunkel
Crazy - Gnarls Barkley
Crazy - Patsy Cline
Fight the Power - Public Enemy
Fortunate Son - Creedence Clearwater Revival
Freebird - Lynyrd Skynyrd
Friends in Low Places - Garth Brooks
Georgia on my Mind - Ray Charles
God Save the Queen - Sex Pistols
Good Vibrations - The Beach Boys
Hey Ya! - Outkast
Hotel California - The Eagles
Hound Dog - Elvis Presley
I Feel Good - James Brown
I Love Rock and Roll - Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
I Walk the Line - Johnny Cash
I Want To Hold Your Hand - The Beatles
Imagine - John Lennon
Johnny B. Goode - Chuck Berry
Layla - Eric Clapton
Like a Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan
Like a Virgin - Madonna
London Calling - The Clash
Louie Louie - The Kingsmen
Mack the Knife - Bobby Darin
Melt With You - Modern English
My Generation - Who
My Way - Frank Sinatra
Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang - Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg
Oh Pretty Woman - Roy Orbison
Peggy Sue - Buddy Holly
Purple Haze - Jimi Hendrix
Purple Rain - PrinceThe Sugar Hill Gang
Redemption Song - Bob Marley
Respect - Aretha Franklin
Rock Around the Clock - Bill Haley and the Comets
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - The Rolling Stones
Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin
Staying Alive - The Bee Gees
Sunday Bloody Sunday - U2
The Weight - The Band
Thriller - Michael Jackson
Welcome to the Jungle - Guns N Roses
Y.M.C.A. - The Village People
Any list, ANY list is ripe for debate. That's a quality inherent in lists, but it's rare that you find a list so littered with poor choices and inexplicable exclusions that something must be said. This is one of those lists. So here are the songs that shouldn't be on, and why, and a few that were passed over for some unknown reason with each snugly fit into its own sub-category.
SHOULD BE OFF
Right Artist/Wrong Song
"Freebird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd - should be "Sweet Home Alabama"
Yes, "Freebird" is iconic, as any drunken man at a low point in a concert will tell you, but if we're only selecting one song per artist, how could "Sweet Home Alabama" come in second? Is there a person anywhere in this country who doesn't instantly know this song the second it comes on and can sing 90% of the lyrics? The same really can't be said for "Freebird".
"I Want to Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles - should be "Hey Jude"
The Beatles really should be afforded three songs on this list, because they really were three bands: The Moptops ("Please Please Me" through "Help"), Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band ("Rubber Soul" through "Magical Mystery Tour") and finally The Beatles ("The Beatles (White Album)" through "Let it Be").
"I Want to Hold Your Hand" is the right choice for the first era, but if you want to define their whole career you can't do much better than "Hey Jude" - their biggest hit and arguably the most recognized bit of nonsense lyrics ever recorded.
"Purple Rain" by Prince - should be "1999"
"Purple Rain" is best remembered as an album or a movie, there aren't many people who know the song. Prince deserves representation but from this song. The obvious two choices are "1999" and "When Doves Cry". The former wins due to the fact that it transcended music and the phrase/idea became part of popular culture for nearly two decades. Actually, it still is.
"Redemption Song" by Bob Marley - should be ????
Bob Marley has to be represented somewhere, but with which song? "Jammin'"? "One Love"?, "I Shot the Sheriff"? "No Woman, No Cry"? "Get Up, Stand Up"? Let's leave this open to debate, but certainly it isn't "Redemption Song".
"Sunday Bloody Sunday" by U2 - should be "With or Without You"
This is really a strange choice for U2, but they're a tricky band as they've reinvented themselves with such aplomb that's it's hard to nail down their definitive song.
When in doubt, select their biggest hit - certainly not a song that didn't even hit the Hot 100.
If we're going to select novelty songs as iconic, then we'd have to include something like "The Wheels on the Bus" or "99 Bottles of Beer". Just because a song permeated everything doesn't mean it's iconic. Those on this list are:
"I Love Rock and Roll" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts - Joan Jett in full post-Runaways sell-out mode.
"Melt With You" by Modern English - Great song, but it didn't achieve any type of success until it was used in a Burger King commercial. Does that mean "By Mennen" and "Bring out the Hellman's, and Bring out the Best" are iconic songs?
"Y.M.C.A." by The Village People - No explanation required.
The Over-Proliferation of Hip-Hop
Here's a note to hip-hop snobs: Nobody Cares. Nobody cares what songs actually influence hip-hop, nobody cares what you consider good, nobody cares if a song is brilliant or revolutionary. For a song to be iconic, everybody should know it and care about it. The closes thing to that from the hip-hop genre is probably "Ice Ice Baby" - don't even try to argue.
These are the hip-hop songs that should be excluded:
"Fight the Power" by Public Enemy - 10 years from now the majority of people in this world will only know Public Enemy as the group that guy from "The Flavor of Love" used to be in.
"Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang" by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg - Find ten people under the age of 18 or over the age of 40 who even know what this song is. Double Dogg dare ya.
"Rapper's Delight" by The Sugar Hill Gang - Ostensibly on here because it's credited as being the first rap song. So do we put every "first" song on here - not at all, what is even the first Country/Western song?
Songs That Simply Aren't Iconic
"Alive" by Pearl Jam - Does Pearl Jam even really have an iconic song? Don't think so.
"Crazy" by Gnarls Barkely - This was intended as a joke, right?
"London Calling" by The Clash - "Rock the Casbah" may actually be their most iconic song (since it was a sizable hit) - this is more a classic amongst the cognoscente and not one that really effected the casual or even avid music lover.
"The Weight" by The Band - We all love it, but is it really Iconic? Probably not.
SHOULD BE ON
Where is the Motown?
There isn't a single Motown song on this list unless you count "Thriller" which is a bit of a stretch. How did that happen? Where is The Temptations' "My Girl" or Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On?" or ANYTHING by Stevie Wonder?
There's also plenty of songs by the Jackson 5 (like "I Want You Back"), The Supremes (like "Stop, In the Name of Love") and The Four Tops (like "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch") to consider. Are we really ignoring a form of music that dominated the charts for about fifteen years and still resonates today?
The two biggest-selling singles of all time are missing. Those would be "White Christmas" (which could be considered ineligible since it's not really in the Rock Era) and Elton John's "Candle in the Wind '97". Another massive seller, Band-Aid's "Don't They Know It's Christmas?", should be included for its popularity and the endless imitators it spawned.
Then there's the chart hits like the longest-running number one "One Sweet Day" from Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men and other hits like Santana's "Smooth" and Eminem's "Lose Yourself" (a hip-hop song that actually permeated pop culture). Are we really going to ignore songs with empirical data showing their popularity?
Songs From Movies
Other than "Stayin' Alive" there isn't a single soundtrack song on this list.
The two obvious choices for inclusion are "My Heart Will Go On" and "I Will Always Love You" from "Titanic" and "The Bodyguard", respectively. Also, "Over the Rainbow". Maybe?
Bob Dylan is the only folk artist represented. How about "If I Had a Hammer" by Pete Seeger or the Joan Baez version of "Blowin' in the Wind"? At least "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie for cryin' out loud.
Artists Who Deserve Representation
No Billy Joel? How about "Piano Man"? How did that get left off the list?
People may laugh at ABBA and AC-DC, but they both have sold over 200 million albums, so their iconic status can't be ignored. "Dancing Queen" and "You Shook Me All Night Long" make the most sense, respectively.
No David Bowie? No David Bowie? Meaning no "Space Oddity" - there are really fifty more iconic songs than the one that gave us "Ground control to Major Tom"?
Bon Jovi is another group that people laugh at, but there's no denying their iconic status in the eyes of most of America. "Livin' on a Prayer" is the song from their catalog that is most iconic.
Un-Categorized Iconic Songs
A partial list:
"A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum
"Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey (even moreso after "The Sopranos")
"Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple
"Bo Diddley" by Bo Diddley
"American Girl" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
"Close to You" by The Carpenters
"Enter Sandman" by Metallica
"More Than a Feeling" by Boston
"Hungry Like the Wolf" by Duran Duran
"Angels" by Robbie Williams (the biggest hit by the biggest artist in everywhere but America for the last 10 years)
"In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel
"Every Breath You Take" by The Police
"Big Pimpin'" by Jay-Z
All of these far more iconic than "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley
If you think there is absolutely nothing wrong with Posnanski's list you can vote for your ten favorite on his blog.
If you have your own thoughts, feel free to post them below. Try not to be too harsh - this is what happens when a sportswriter tries to write about music.
Story by Andrew Payne
Starpulse contributing writer
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