(Pictured: Queen, 1977.)
Over at Kent Kotal’s Forgotten Hits, he’s just announced the results of a poll that determined the 3,333 most essential classic-rock songs of all time. The list started with reader nominations and votes at Classic Rock Essentials, then factored in classic-rock radio airplay and download statistics to yield what Kent says is not the opinion of radio or rock critics about which songs are most beloved, but that of listeners around the world.
The depth and breadth of the list is remarkable, from Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley in the 50s to new-millennium songs by Coldplay, Green Day, and others. All the classic-rock warhorses are present, and a fabulous array of deep cuts, including a handful even I have never heard of. The list includes a fair amount of R&B, which album-rock radio would have played in the 70s but classic-rock radio doesn’t play today. There’s also a lot of pop music, especially from the 80s and 90s, that you might hear on some classic-hits stations, as distinct from straight-up classic-rock radio. There are a few acts I wouldn’t consider either classic-rock or classic-hits radio acts, but with 3,333 songs on the list, the net is cast wide by definition, and there’s little point in quibbling about it.
Given today’s deeply conservative radio programming philosophy—attract a well-defined sliver of an ever-more-fragmented audience and then do nothing that remotely risks driving away a single listener—no terrestrial station would play all of them. As Kent remarks, classic-rock stations seem to play only about 300 of the listed songs. But if an Internet operator were looking to start up a station, he or she could do far worse than to base their list on Kent’s list.
The complete list is far too daunting for me to attempt a deep dive. But since we recently had a lively discussion here and on Facebook regarding the top four classic-rock warhorses, we can discuss how Kent’s list treated some of those songs.
My opinion is that “Stairway to Heaven,” “Free Bird,” and “Layla” constitute the classic-rock top three, and the consensus of our recent discussion of what should be #4 settled on “Hotel California.” Kent’s top four turned out to be “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Hotel California,” “Layla,” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” He says that the final top two changed positions more than 50 times over the course of the voting. “Layla” was #1 after the first day of voting, but never at any other point. “Stairway to Heaven” wound up at #6 and “Free Bird” was at #18.
“Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones was #5 on Kent’s list, which seems entirely too high to me. Four other Stones songs placed among the top 13: “Satisfaction” (#7), “Start Me Up” (#10), “Honky Tonk Women” (#12), and “Brown Sugar” (#13), any one of which seems a more likely candidate for top Stones tune. Others in the top 13 not heretofore mentioned are “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (#8), “Dream On” (#9), and “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” (at #11, which again seems entirely too high to me).
My earlier post mentioned some plausible candidates for the fourth spot behind my personal big three. Here’s how they ranked on Kent’s list:
“Light My Fire” #16
“Born to Run” #17
“More Than a Feeling” #20
“Don’t Stop Believing” #31
“Hey Jude” #37
“A Day in the Life” #44
“Pour Some Sugar on Me” #81
“Come Sail Away” #99
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” #110
“Smoke on the Water” #143
“Nights in White Satin” #204
“White Room” #232
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” #1139
In most cases, each of these songs represented each performer’s highest-ranking hit. Exceptions are Fleetwood Mac, with “Go Your Own Way,” “Dreams,” and “Landslide” ranking higher; Cream, with “Sunshine of Your Love”; and Yes, with “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” (Higher than “Roundabout”? Sorry, that’s just wrong.)
The highest-ranking Beatles songs were two nobody mentioned in our earlier discussion: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at #14 and “Here Comes the Sun” at #19. A song I considered at #4 for a while before leaving it out of the post entirely, “Rocky Mountain Way,” came in at #156.
I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovery within Kent’s list any more than I already have. You will certainly want to poke around in it for yourself. If you notice anything that interests you, let me know. And let Kent know, too. I am guessing the list will provoke some discussion.
Legal Fine Print: Research and final tabulations conducted by Kent Kotal/Forgotten Hits/Classic Rock Essentials, © 2020, Forgotten Hits Publishing.
Late-but-Timely Addendum: Bill Withers has four songs on the list: “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” “Use Me,” and “Lovely Day.” Sounds about right.