By Patrick Prince
When the idea came up to write a book about the top 1,000 rock songs, Dave Thompson knew he was the perfect author for such an undertaking. Thompson is a prolific rock journalist with a strong knowledge of rock music history, but he is also known for his wide range of rock ‘n’ roll musical tastes. It’s not uncommon for Thompson to listen to songs from the likes of Bowie and Budgie back-to-back on his iPod. This eclectic ear came in handy when it came to the challenge of choosing 1,000 rock songs and then organizing them in a coherent and exciting manner.
The outcome is “1000 Songs that Rock Your World,” 322 pages of intriguing music nostalgia and song rankings, packaged in a visually stunning paperback format.
(For a copy of “1000 Rock Songs that Rock Your World” go to shop.collect.com)
Even though songs are indexed by ranking, artist and year, the bulk of the book is arranged by categories that make it entertaining, witty and insightful (for instance, one such category is named “Stating the Bleeding Obvious”).
The criteria for a song’s inclusion became quite clear to Thompson right away: the song must transcend the artist. A song can’t be chosen based on the artist’s popularity or status.
“The songs had to have a resonance that had survived the years, “explains Thompson. “That was the most important thing.”
“I looked at all the other top 500 and top 1,000 out there, and I looked at them very critically,” says Thompson, “and it’s like, ‘OK, I can see why they say ‘Yellow Submarine’ is the greatest song of all time, but I don’t necessarily agree. I started off with a long list of songs that were on these lists, looked for the ones that appeared several times to get critical consensus, took input from others — and the occasional pop star — and then put in songs that I just thought more obscure, ones that probably aren’t on anybody’s list but are deserving for various reasons.”
This method seems to have worked, even if it meant a band like The Beatles being left out of the top 5. “I’m not being snarky, but it’s like, The Beatles … not many of their songs are that good,” explains Thompson. “I mean, there are a lot of Beatles songs there. There are a lot of solo Beatles, as well. I wouldn’t whitewash them from history. But at the same time, could you say there are any Beatles songs that are as perfect as “Bus Stop” or “Season of the Witch?” And I don’t think there are. ‘Hey Jude’ comes close.” (Spoiler Alert: “Bus Stop” by The Hollies and “Season of the Witch” by Donovan were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. “Hey Jude,” doesn’t turn up until No. 13).
It is true that when it comes to rock song lists, the Top 5 includes the obligatory Beatles, Stones or Dylan song, tunes that are instantly recognizable to many listeners. For Thompson, this was too predictable.
“Well, that is something I was very conscious of. With a book like this, you don’t necessarily buy it to find out what the great songs are. You buy it for the entertainment value, as well. And I really couldn’t see any entertainment value in the top 5 being ‘Hey Jude,’ ‘Satisfaction’ [No. 74] and ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ [No. 15]. It’s like, how boring. ‘Satisfaction’ certainly isn’t the greatest Stones song, even though it always seems to be voted as it. So I try to take that out of the equation.”
Thompson welcomes debate. In his introduction he states, “We could fill an entire book with every argument that this volume will incite, but we will leave that for another time.”
Right away, you can question the lack of attention to genres like heavy metal (“How many great metal songs are there? Could you see Johnny Cash doing ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap?’”) or contemporary artists (“Something that was a hit last week had no chance of getting in, because even if you liked it last week, you may not like it in three weeks’ time.”).
But besides inciting a wonderful share of discussion and debate, Thompson’s song rationalizations will, for the most part, have a way of making complete sense in the end. It’s a giant helping of “Oh yeah, I never thought of that.”And that alone is enough to satisfy any modern day rock ‘n’ roll appetite.
EXTRA CREDIT: What are your favorite rock songs? Go to our Twitter page and tweet under #1000songs the song that has rocked your world the most.
Also: Vote in our poll on our homepage (scroll down to the bottom right). Which of these classic tracks rocks your world the most?