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'Songs of the Century' list: The debate goes on

Bob Marley is considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, but as many readers of the "Songs of the Century" list have noticed, none of his work passed the RIAA and NEA's muster  

In this story:

'They didn't do such a terrible job'

'It's absurd'


(CNN) -- You know the drill. Someone puts out a list ranking the top movies or books or rock bands of the last 100 years. Then the masses speak up, claiming the lists don't accurately reflect their opinions.

It's happening again with the Wednesday release of "Songs of the Century" by the Recording Industry of America Association (RIAA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The ranking of the top 365 songs of the last 100 years, picked by voters "from all walks of life," is topped by Judy Garland's version of "Over the Rainbow."

 The Top Ten
1. "Over the Rainbow," Judy Garland
2. "White Christmas," Bing Crosby
3. "This Land Is Your Land," Woody Guthrie
4. "Respect," Aretha Franklin
5. "American Pie," Don McLean
6. "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," Andrews Sisters
7. "West Side Story" (album), original Broadway cast
8. "Take Me out to the Ball Game," Billy Murray
9. "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," Righteous Brothers
10. "The Entertainer," Scott Joplin
What do you think of the 'Songs of the Century' list?

It's a good overview for its education initiative
I disagree with some of it, but it's an argument starter if nothing else
It's all wrong, and I don't like it
View Results
  • Songs of the Century Part 1

  • Part 2

  • Part 3

  • Part 4

  • Part 5

  • Part 6

  • Part 7

  • Part 8

  • Part 9

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    The rest of the top ten: Bing Crosby's "White Christmas"; Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land"; Aretha Franklin's "Respect"; Don McLean's "American Pie"; The Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"; the original Broadway cast album of "West Side Story"; Billy Murray's "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"; The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' "; and Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer."

    On's message boards, cyber-critics who have pored over the 365 song titles wasted no time in voicing their outrage. One poster, going by the handle "LearnedHand," had a problem with ranking M.C. Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" (201) above Jimi Hendrix's version of the Bob Dylan song "All Along the Watchtower" (365).

    "What a crock," posted LearnedHand. "And to add insult to injury, Jimi Hendrix doesn't make the list until 365 ... 'U Can't Touch This' is on the list, but the song he stole, 'Superfreak,' was left off."

    LearnedHand, and several others, were also bothered by the fact that reggae king Bob Marley was left off the list completely.

    "Excuse me, but, no Bob Marley? Talk about an influential artist!" posted LearnedHand.

    Poster Cliff Shubs agreed. "The list is invalid without him! Heck, even Time magazine recognized his import."

    Greg Pitts sent his feelings on this issue by e-mail.

    "Bob Marley is recognized by world-class musicians around the world as one of the greatest song writers to ever walk the earth," said Pitts. "But he was completely ignored on the RIAA's list. Why is that?"

    'They didn't do such a terrible job'

    Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau, reached at his New York home for comment on the list, didn't have an answer to that question. He didn't vote in the project.

    But he says he wasn't "especially outraged" by the final tallies.

    "Given that it's an impossible thing that they set themselves to do, they didn't do such a terrible job," says Christgau.

    Christgau did, however, have some troubles with the list. For instance, both Tim McGraw and Faith Hill -- modern country music stars, and also husband and wife -- were separately listed.

    "I thought the fact that there was both a Tim McGraw song and a Faith Hill song, that seemed a little peculiar," he says. "Somebody had to dime in on that one."

    The ranking of McGraw's "Please Remember Me" at 96 particularly irked Christgau.

    Aretha Franklin's "Respect," written by Otis Redding, was No. 4  

    "I thought that was the single most outrageous thing I noticed," he says. "What is that song anyway? That's ranked 96 and George Jones 'He Stopped Loving Her Today' is 336?"

    'It's absurd'

    Another mistake, according to Christgau: Don McLean's "American Pie," reliving the death of Buddy Holly and the turbulent 1960s that followed, shouldn't be ranked No. 5.

    "It's absurd," he says. "(The song) is a stupid myth ... (The voters) believe rock 'n' roll died in 1959? Maybe they do."

    Christgau would also have been happier to see more hip-hop music, and an entry by punk rockers the Sex Pistols.

    It's unclear what criteria was used to rank the songs -- influence? popularity? historical significance?

    An inquiry to the RIAA, seeking ballots used by the project, yielded a faxed copy of part of press release that read, in part: "Participants were asked to keep in mind the historical significance of not only the song, but also of the record and artist."

    Still, leaving Frank Sinatra out of the top 100? And then only listing two of Ol' Blue Eyes songs?

    "It seems to me that one of his '50s albums goes in there because they're as important as records as (the Beatles' album) 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," says Christgau. "As achievements, they're amazing."

    Christgau, LearnedHand, et al, are not alone, apparently. In a poll on the "Songs of the Century" project, over 70 percent of those who answered did not agree with at least some of the list.

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    September 3, 2000

    Recording Industry Association of America
    National Endowment for the Arts
    America Online
    The NPR 100

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