Those dignified culture junkies at National Public Radio (NPR, to those in the know) have released their list of the 100 "most important" American songs of, yes, the 20th century.
Prince, the Eagles and Madonna need not apply. Same goes for R.E.M., Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Guns N' Roses, and just about anybody who committed music to vinyl and/or CD after 1975.
In the NPR compendium, compiled alphabetically, George Gershwin is king, landing three works in the Top 100--"I Got Rhythm," "Rhapsody in Blue" and the score for Porgy and Bess.
And while there's no arguing Gershwin didn't leave something of a very, very big mark, there's some arguing that the NPR-ites neglected the latter-half of the century of music. The part with R.E.M., etc.
But then that's what best-of lists do best. Start arguments.
Unlike most of the all-century lists, NPR did not limit itself to one or two genres. Its rankings cover nearly every genre--jazz, blues, rock, rap (just barely), country, folk, even Broadway show tunes. The only qualification: The song had to be born in the U.S.A. (Hence the absence of works by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc.)
To that eclectic end, composer Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" masterpiece shares honors with Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, which shares honors with Louis Armstrong's hit version of "Hello, Dolly!" (and so on and so on...)
Other NPR-certified works: Elvis Presley's double-sided punch of "Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel" (1956), the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" (1966), the Doors' "Light My Fire" (1967), Patsy Cline's "Crazy" (1961), Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" (1953), George M. Cohan's "Give My Regards to Broadway" (1904), Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story (1957), the Velvet Underground's 1967 self-titled debut album, the Ramone's "I Wanna Be Sedated" (1978), and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg-Harold Arlen's score for The Wizard of Oz (1939).
Bob Dylan is the most recognized artist of the rock era with mentions for "Like a Rolling Stone" (1965) and "Blowin' in the Wind" (1962).
The hip-hop/rap era--you know, that thing that sort of has permeated pop culture big-time the last 20 years--is represented with one--count 'em, one--entry: the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" (1979).
What of Run-D.M.C.'s groundbreaking collaboration with Aerosmith on "Walk This Way"? Or Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet? Or anything by Tupac Shakur, N.W.A., the Beastie Boys or Dr. Dre?
Snubees were not just limited to hip-hop. According to NPR, Paul Simon's Graceland (1986) and the Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" (1980), two of only three post-1980 works noted along with Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (1991), are more important than anything by R.E.M., Michael Jackson, Prince, et al.
Being a best-selling artist didn't help carry any weight with the list-makers, either. Just ask Garth Brooks, Madonna, Streisand and the Eagles. They're all no-shows, too.
The list, however, was not without its usual (and worthy) suspects: Johnny Cash ("I Walk the Line"), Stevie Wonder (Talking Book), Tammy Wynette ("Stand By Your Man"), Aretha Franklin (with songwriter Otis Redding, for "Respect"), Buddy Holly ("Peggy Sue") and Miles Davis (Kind of Blue), included.
There are also a few it's-about-time-somebody-picked-these picks: Isaac Hayes' Theme from Shaft (1971), Carl Stalling's crazed scores for the Warner Bros. cartoons of the 1930s-1950s, Max Steiner's memorable Gone with the Wind (1939) work, and Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" (1938), better known as That Pretty Music from Platoon.
The Top 100 was decided upon per an online vote of 14,000 music fans, plus the input of a blue-ribbon panel including jazz great Wynton Marsalis, country singer Kathy Mattea and cabaret performer (and Gershwin expert) Michael Feinstein.
NPR defined "important" music as music that "changed the musical landscape, opened new horizons" or "had a major effect on American culture and civilization."
And then there's James Taylor's "Fire and Rain." Apparently included on account of it's easy to sing along with.