Rushmore Revisited: a Rock-n-Roll Roundtable

T: Hey, guys, what four songs would make your Mt. Rushmore of the rock-n-roll era? I don’t mean just rock songs, but the songs of the 1955-2018 era. We are all freaking old so I assume most of them will be old, but that’s up to you. Here are the criteria we came up with yesterday:

  • Popularity at the time
  • Staying power – especially if it gained in popularity over time
  • Anthemness (like, say, “Don’t Stop Believing”)
  • Zeitgeistness (like, say, “For What it’s Worth”)
  • Everybody knows the words
  • Everybody covered it
  • Emotional Impact
  • Great on earphones / buds
  • Good Art

Or you can just wing it.

T:  My top choice is — pending your disapproval, mockery and outright threats:

1) Bohemian Rhapsody. verybody knows it, it keeps getting covered, and it’s as anthemy as it gets. It’s not really a zeitgeist song, but three generations now have their own “when I first heard it” memories: us in the mid-1970s, when it topped the British charts for over two months, the Wayne’s World generation when it was reborn in the movie, and the current generation by endless reworkings on television singing shows, cable stalwarts like Sons of Anarchy, and new covers by novelty retro bands like Pentatonix and Post-Modern Jukebox. And it’s a total magnum opus of a song. I submit that this is the ultimate Rock-n-Roll era song, the song of all songs. Humbly, of course. If you’ll buy me being humble. 

J:  It’s a great song, no doubt, but it might not even be Queen’s most anthemy; “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” is as deeply woven into pop culture as any song ever written.

T:  Is Queen the most anthemy band? In a stadium I can’t argue, but anthemness is just one criteria. Bohemian Rhapsody is Willie Mays to Rock/Champ’s McCovey, maybe? Also, I typed “crowds” and this popped up. In a stadium. I rest my case.

G:  Of course my choices change within minutes if not seconds…but I might go with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” which probably qualifies most strongly under the Zeitgeist category. Lyrics to some may seem silly or humorous but to me are deceptively insightful. Bohemian Rhapsody…great, great song. I always remember the Waynes World bit which leads into the ‘Grey Poupon’ moment.

T:  Teen Spirit is on my short list.

G:  I also really recommend ‘Heart Shaped Box.’ I get four, right? My perhaps all time favourite might be Bob Dylan’s ‘Just Like A Woman’ which for me is almost devastating in the emotional impact category, plus there are several versions done by Dylan himself which bring something different each time…the original studio release is great, but I also love the live effort from ‘Before The Flood.’

J:  “My Back Pages” would be on my honorable-mention list. Dylan is probably the greatest living songwriter.

G:  What’s with the… oh, Mt. Rushmore, I get it.

J:  As far as emotional punch… my pick would be “I’ll Be There” by the Escape Club. I want that song played at my funeral; it really captures my belief that no one truly dies as long as they are remembered. So, when my loved ones gather for the last time, I hope they’ll think of me. I’ll be there.

G:  Leonard Cohen’s ‘Closing Time.’ Brilliant lyrics melded to the music and the video. I love it even more as I get really old and closing time hovers on the horizon. I like the side boob moment in the video, too.

T:  Cohen has one on my list.

G:  I’m going to guess…Democracy? Or Suzanne?

T:  “Hallelujah.” You are joking, right?

G:  Oh, I like Halleleujah well enough. Great song, but I’m tired of it. No, not joking. Another Cohen favourite: Tower Of Song…one of the greatest lyricists ever, no question.

T:  Well, getting tired of it is part of the deal, I think, with anthems. We only get tired of the ones that maintain so much of their popularity that they get done to death.

G:  Two from Frank Zappa, Zomby Woof and Dina-Moe-Humm, which are excellent in the headphones and musicianship areas and also just plain stick yer face in it filthiness, esp Dina-Moe-Humm. Zomby Woof actually gets at something about, I dunno, something. That’s a fantastic album…Fifty-Fifty with an amazing vocal by Rick Lancelotti is also there. G:  Zomby Woof qualifies in the zeitgeist category…the spirit of 1950s sexual desire/evil and enjoying it because of the ‘we know this is bad and that’s why we like it’ aspect.

J:  OK, here goes.

George Washington: “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. It was a No. 1 song at the time and it’s still all over the place almost 50 years later. It’s a ballad, so it’s not really anthemic, but it was almost the quintessential ’70s song. I can sing it through from memory, and I bet a lot of people our age can just from sheer repetition. There are literally hundreds of versions of it. And, last but not least, leaving everything else aside, it’s a beautiful piece of music.

Abraham Lincoln: “Yesterday”. The Beatles had such a huge impact on pop culture, they pretty much have to have a place on the mountain. Of all of their body of work, though. “Yesterday” is probably the most covered, most iconic, and most beautiful piece of music. It’s also close to 50 years old, and I guarantee you that it’s been playing, somewhere, 24/7/365 since it was released.

Thomas Jefferson: “Hound Dog”. Again, Elvis’s impact on pop culture was so massive that he has to have a spot on the mountain. There are several of his early songs that could justifiably be included instead of “Hound Dog”, but I picked it because I like it better, and this is my post, dammit. There haven’t been a lot of covers of it that I know of; there really aren’t huge numbers of covers of ANY Elvis song, maybe because pretty much anyone is going to suffer when comparing themselves to the King. It isn’t a GREAT piece of music, but it was so different from the “mainstream” music of the day that nostalgia has carried it for 60 years.

Teddy Roosevelt: “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion)”. To my mind, it’s the most anthemic song of the ’80s; you hear that intro and it’s 1984 all over again. The video is classic ’80s as well, darkness and rain and big, big hair. It hasn’t held up quite as well popularity-wise, but if you have an ’80s-themed radio show in your town I’d bet you a dollar that you’ll hear it at least once a day. And it’s a good song musically too; the backing band is Toto except for the drummer (Billy Squier, pre-“Stroke”.)

G:  I like ‘Bridge’ about as much as I like ‘Hey Jude,’ which is to say I like them both a helluva lot, but neither is a favourite. With S&G I’d probably go with ‘The Boxer’ or ‘Mrs Robinson.’ There’s so much great Beatles material, tough to pick one out…but I still listen to ‘I saw her standing there.’ ‘Love you too’ is also great…those two really capture the excitement and teenage girl craziness of the early Beatles.

J:  Yeah, that’s a problem all right.. there’s SO MUCH good Beatles stuff, it’s hard to pick just one.

T:  Of course, “Hound Dog” was a cover, written by Leiber and Stoller and first made famous by Big Mama Thornton …

J:  A lot of Elvis’s stuff was covers, but I think we all know why the originals weren’t as widely popular. That’s a discussion for another post.

T:  Yeah,; Elvis was something of a door stop, making any song he sang HIS song. Big Mama Thornton is one of the women argued over as the true “queen” of rock-n-roll, though, and her version was no pipsqueak. Her version spent 7 weeks at No. 1.

J:  Seven weeks at #1 on the R&B charts; and, again, we know what that meant in 1952. Not to take anything away from Big Mama; she absolutely deserves the accolades, but it’s a damn shame that the institutional racism of the day kept her from being a bigger star. “Hound Dog” was her only hit.

G:  As a lad I was a Jesus-Disciple like lover of Elvis Presley. I bought some fan mag thing about him that said his first hit, ‘That’s All Right, Mama’ was a declaration of love for his mother. Sure…

T:  I liked Elvis fine, but … have you guys seen the deleted scene from Pulp Fiction, where Uma Thurman asks John Travolta if he’s an Elvis guy or a Beatles guy? She said you can’t be both, and I mostly agree with her – and I’m a staunch Beatles fan. HUGE Beatles fan. So sorry, Elvis, you have to go. And tell Jim Reeves to take his bitch, too. But don’t leave on a jet plane. That goes for John Denver, except just make sure you don’t run out of $##*&ing gas.

J:  I’d probably go Beatles over Elvis. The Beatles were closer to me in time; I was about seven when they broke up. Elvis died when I was about 13; by that time he had become a parody of himself. I didn’t really appreciate him at the time, not the way that I did the Beatles.

T:  I think of this as bigger than just “who do you love?” (which neither one did, as far as I know). To be Elvis is to be the lone, lead singer type, individualist. To be a Beatles guy is to like working off others, either as a team or in competition. Beatles types can be loners and Elvis types can be parts of teams, but their styles are clearly, respectively, part of something bigger or standalone. Elvis is Manny Ramirez, Dick Allen, Jack Morris. Beatles is Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Stan the Man.

G:  I happen to love The Doors. You could go with Light My Fire I guess, although among their most well known works I’d prefer The End, When The Musics Over, LA Woman or Riders On The Storm…but because I hate to always cite the most played stuff, I might go with Five To One, which captures the other side of The Doors…how in touch they were with the raw, primitive animal combined with intellectual capacity that is the human race.

J:  I don’t know that one. I’ll have to check it out.

T:  I’m not a fan of theirs, but they illustrate the fun and fury of these sorts of lists. Their seminal song was “Light My Fire,” but their most recognized song today would probably be either “Roadhouse Blues” or “People are Strange,” Roadhouse Blues is the one most covered and anthemic, Light My Fire the most famous,; Strange probably the most zeitgeisty.

G:  White Bird, by It’s A Beautiful Day…in the zeitgeist category, the hippy era…also Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and the Shondells.

J:  For sheer zeitgeist I would go with Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco”. To me, that’s the definitive hippie song.

G:  Right. See, every minute I get reminded of equal or even better choices.

J:  There’s nothing wrong with that. Hell, you introduced me to a great Doors song that I’d never even heard of.

T:  Zeitgeist 1960s songs, I usually think of “For What it’s Worth,” San Francisco” and “Eve of Destruction.”

G: San Francisco, the Animals, or San Francisco Girls, Fever Tree?

T:  What?

G:  Fever Tree – San Francisco Girls (1968)

or The animals- San Francisco nights.

C:  Johnny B. Goode, All Along the Watchtower, Solsbury Hill, Heart of the Sunrise. Tomorrow it might be completely different.

G:  I love Solsbury Hill. I never heard of Heart of the Sunrise…so I’m gonna look it up.

T:  I used Johnny B. too! Not that I didn’t get pretty sick of playing it … speaking of, my Mt. Rush-bore of songs I got really sick of playing, that I actually liked at one point first (I hated “Your Cheating Heart” from the beginning, so it doesn’t count):

Achy Breaky Heart (right, Chris? Hell, I got even sicker of my version, eventually)

House of the Rising Sun

Gimme Three Steps (drums only; I still like playing it on the other instruments)

Johnny B. Goode (but I still love to watch Chuck Berry sing it)

J:  There’s an idea… Mount Rushbore, songs that I’m thoroughly sick of.

“More Than A Feeling”, Boston. It was a fine song the first 10,000 times or so I heard it. Since then (1995) not so much.

“Margaritaville”, Jimmy Buffett. Now, I actually am very much a Parrothead, but not for that song. Not anymore, anyway.

“Total Eclipse of the Heart”, Bonnie Tyler. A very fine power ballad until she starts singing. I can’t deal with that voice.

Anything by Taylor Swift. She has the most slappable face in music history and an equally annoying voice. (Note; I am in no way advocating slapping Ms. Swift; she just looks like a spoiled child who needs that smug, supercilious look slapped off her face.)

T:  Oh Margaritaville should be on my mountain .. I played that dammed thing so many times that I could play the guitar lead on the stinking SPOONS by now. I still love MTAF and I like Taylor Swift, but that’s mostly because I almost never listen to her. If I had to listen to her every day, I’d probably be as sick of her are you are. I can’t agree about the face, though. I have a picture of Jess where she looks a LOT like Taylor Swift.

J:  That must’ve been some kind of fluky pic; Jess is a beautiful young woman but I don’t think she bears any resemblance to Taylor Swift.

C: Old Time Rock n Roll. Jesus God, if I have to play that POS one more time, I’m going to kill someone…

ABH: You’ll remember we had about six different very disrespectful (hey, it was Crazy Jake) ways to play it, which bought it about six months with us. Gary,  Heart of the Sunrise is the last real song on Yes’ Fragile album. Bill Bruford gives a drum clinic for the first three or so minutes. Chris Squire’s bass lines are melodies in themselves. It’s beautiful.

T:  I don’t mind Old Time Rock and Roll, as long as (1) it’s done at the right fucking tempo, not all fast and weirdly syncopated, and (2) the band plays the right fucking intro, and not just the stupid run down at the end. Lots of the seminal songs that bands get sick of – Sweet Home Alabama, Old Time RR, etc. – are still fun to play, as long as you play them well and not stupidly, lazily wrong. Can you tell this is a peeve? The next three-chord hero asshole who tries to tell me he plays it shitty because that’s HIS way is going to get whatever instrument I am holding shoved up his talentless hack ASS. I think I’m more the historian of the bunch. I’ll get my list together and post it in a few minutes.

*Jeopardy music plays*

T:  Ok, here’s mine:

Washington – Bohemian Rhapsody. The era’s magnum opus, covered and reissued to massive success, and still as popular today as it was when it first hit Tower Records.

Jefferson – Johnny B. Goode. Chuck Berry wrote the template for rock-n-roll, still honored to this day.

Teddy – Smells Like Teen Spirit. The anthem for a new rock template, bringing the era back from the abyss of that horrible decade of synthesizers and huge dorks telling us that having good rhythm was against the rules.

Franky – Don’t Stop Believing. Play the intro anytime, anywhere, and listen to the girls start singing at the top of their lungs. The ultimate karaoke song, far more popular now than it was when it came out.

G:  “…and took a midnight train, going anywhere.” Great, great line, sung perfectly, and captures the bedrock spirit of young people who still need to do something, anything.

J:  Who’s Franky?

G:  uh…Frankie Goes To Hollywood (?)…I know the name, but that’s about it

T:  FDR. Oh wait, it’s not FDR, is it? Lincoln … well, Steve Perry freed the slaves, so what the hell.

G:  Just coming back now from a world of misunderstandings and misdirection… The Who, Won’t Get Fooled Again, and My Generation, deserve mention.

J:  I’m surprised the Stones didn’t get a mention.

T: If I was to go with one of the Who’s songs, I’d go with “The Kids are Alright.”

G:  Who. That’s not a question. Oh I knew you knew.

J:  If I had to pick a Stones song, I’d go with “Satisfaction”. The opening guitar riff is probably the most recognizable lick in history.

G:  I had a friend whose take on the Stones was, “I never think that I want to listen to them, but when I do I think, hey, these guys are good!” J:  Tied with Smoke On The Water

J:  Most recognizable riffs:

Guitar; “Satisfaction” or “Smoke on the Water”

Keyboard: “Don’t Stop Believin’ ”

Drums: “In The Air Tonight”

G:  A couple of the sweetest guitar moments ever occur on ‘Back On The Chain Gang’ and on ‘Baba O’Riley.’

J:  The keyboard work on “Teenage Wasteland” is astounding, and I think babies emerge from the womb knowing the drum fill to “In The Air Tonight”. If you like guitar, here’s a mighty sweet instrumental.

G:  I think the newest song I know of is about 10 years old now.

J:  I listen to commercial radio here in Connecticut; there are about two new songs per year that are actually any good, at least in my humble opinion.

T:  Not yet mentioned, my addition to your worthy lists:

Guitar riff – Johnny B. Goode

Piano – Light My Fire

Drums – hard to beat Phil, so I’ll leave it alone

Horn (any horn) – Tequila

J:  I’d go with “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” for most recognizable horn riff. “Tequila” is up there, but I think there’s a regional bias because the UW uses it a lot. I just thought of a keyboard riff that’s gonna be hard to beat; the electric-organ break in Del Shannon’s “Runaway”. Now that I’ve mentioned it, you’re whistling it right now, aren’t you?

G:  T,  I don’t doubt that the saxophone is a horn, not a phone, so greatest horn work – Baker Street, Year of the Cat, Walk On The Wild Side. Drums on Teen Spirit are terrific in my opinion. I love Elton John’s piano on Burn Down The Mission. I can’t argue with Clapton’s guitar on Crossroads, but gotta like that solo on the Beatles ‘Hey Bulldog’ and Paul Kossoff especially on the All Right Now live performance (Isle of Wight)

T:  My favorite instrumental parts:

Guitar – Little River Band’s – well, anything, but “Down on the Border” and “It’s a Long Way There” stand out.

Drums – Anything by John Cougar Melon-head’s drummer, but “Jack and Diane” is probably his best.

Bass – Hotel California, and it was Randy Meisner, not Timmy Schmidt (but Felder most likely wrote it anyway, since he wrote the rest of it).

Piano – “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” – Johnny Rivers’ guy.

Horns – Chicago, but a different song – “Make Me Smile” (also numbers 2 through about 200, after LRB, for guitar work. Terry Kath was a monster)

Vocals – Seminal vocal song is “Your Love” by the Outfield, but favorite rock vocalist was John Farnham from the Little River Band. He could reach the rafters without sounding like a tenor. Amazing lungs, that guy.

LRB with John Farnham – ‘Down On The Border’

J:  Larry Knechtel played piano on “Rockin’ Pneumonia”. He also played on “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. He was one of the “Wrecking Crew” group of studio musicians who basically played everything recorded between about 1965 and 1975.


Johnny Rivers – Rockin Pneumonia 1973:

J:  As far as pure vocal talent, my list goes like this:

  1. Roy Orbison
  2. Everybody else

There’s never been a voice like Orbison’s for range, power, expressiveness… even Elvis, as great an entertainer as he was, refused to appear with Orbison for fear of being overshadowed.

T:  If Orbison hadn’t died, how long do you think the Wilburys would have played together? That was one tremendous group, and it’s a shame that they got cut off so quickly like that.

J:  I think they had a lot more music in them. They might have lasted till Harrison died, just kinda getting together and jamming and putting out an album once in a while.

T:  Plus maybe George, out touring with the Wilburys, changes his paradigm enough to fade – or treat – his cancer. And maybe not get stabbed, too.

J:  There was as much talent in that group as there was in any group of the last 50 years. Dylan, Harrison, Orbison, Petty, Lynne… well, maybe the Beatles, but top to bottom the Wilburys were just loaded.

T:  I’d take the Wilburys over the Beatles in talent alone – not the same thing as accomplishment, of course. George is a wash, but the rest:

McCartney and Lennon, plus Ringo

Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne

As hard to beat as Lennon and McCartney were, we are talking about the most famous songwriter, the “voice,” and a pair of singer-songwriters who fronted iconic bands, found themselves in the middle of any number of iconic concerts – one for George – and kept their cool factor the whole time.

J:  Petty and Lynne were no slouches as songwriters either. Of course, when you have Bob Dylan in the band, you’re competing for second-best songwriter, but both Petty and Lynne had solid cred in that department. And of course Orbison had no peers vocally.

T:  Jeff Lynne is one of my all-time favorites, and I take fannish pride in the fact that the Wiburies were created in his living room.

J:  Well, he did have the cred. When you’re the driving force behind ELO, you can call anyone, even a Beatle, even a Nobel Prize-winning songwriter, even the greatest singer to ever live, and they’ll take your call.

G:  Orbison had a great gift and he knew how to use it. (wow…) Great singers in my experience:

Bob Dylan…I can’t think of anybody better at finding a way to sing lyrics that would seem impossible to fit into the framework of a song-and still make sense and impart meaning in the right places

Eric Burdon…In his heyday no singer was ever more in charge, ever sang with more authority than Burdon. A guy who could have been a terrific songwriter but his singing talent consumed the best part of his career…kind of like Tony Joe White, whose songwriting was a distant second priority to his tremendous guitar playing.

Mary Gauthier…Terrific lyricist but her singing makes the lyrics shine and break your heart at the same time. More knowledgeable people could explain her technique, I imagine.

Chrissie Hynde…I loved how smart she sounds and how different it is that you can understand every single words. Understated style that delivers full impact.

I’ll leave at those four, but I have tens of favourites.

J:  The Everly Brothers are probably my second-favorite singers; no one before or since ever did two-part harmony like they could.

G:  Loved the Wilburys by the way, partly by the way they obviously enjoyed playing together.

There’s a great clip of Tom Petty talking about Orbison dying. George Harrison called him up about it, and Petty was talking about how upset he was and George says, “Aren’t you glad it wasn’t you?” It took courage to say that, but I thought it was perfect, and sensitive to the situation, too. Bonny Dobson…I have several of her songs in my library and I have no idea what they are about or even if they have any meaning at all. Her voice is so pretty and pleasing; I just can’t get past that.

J:  The greatest woman singer you’ve never heard of; Anita Darian. Listen to the sax solo on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (I know). That’s not all horns; that’s Anita Darian singing call-and-response with the sax.

T:  I found this on the ‘Tube

The True History of the Traveling Wilburys

J: Some interesting choices here, guys. I’ll be back in a couple hours, got some You Tubing to do.

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