Posted: July 15, 2022 in Personal Blog Stories
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What exactly is it that makes a song great? Is it meaningful words that take listeners on a lyrical journey or escape? A universal theme people can easily relate to? Is it a beautiful melody that pulls at your emotional heartstrings? An unforgettable catchy hook or chorus that you cannot get out of your head? An undeniable beat that shakes you from your seat? Excellent marketing, promotion and distribution from a major record label sure helps. Is it all these elements combined?  Or is that just half the story and something much deeper is involved — like the specific memories a person relates to a song or the role a particular song has played in someone’s life? 

Music is a very personalized thing. The reasons for liking or disliking a particular song, artist or genre of music are very individualized. While there are known formulas for writing commercially successful hit songs, many of which get labeled as “great” based on their popularity and performance on record charts, ultimately true success is defined by the connection a song makes the listener. This connection can be made through a song by a superstar songwriter with millions of adoring fans worldwide – like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” Or a smash pop hit with over 1 billion YouTube views like “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen. The 80s was filled with alternative bands like The Cure, Depeche Mode, and The Replacements who found success by connecting with a generation of young music fans who identified with songs about being different and on-the-outside-looking-in. Or it can happen on a smaller scale with a killer under-the-radar track by an independent songwriter that resonates with someone who just happened to cross paths with their original song. The true effect of a song being ‘great’ is ultimately determined by who hears it, who remembers it, and most importantly, why they remember it. 

Music has always been an important part of my life. I remember my Mom playing songs to get me to stop crying when I was a small child. Had my 1st record player, with real 45s and albums, at age 3. Worked at a couple local record stores: Camelot Music and Stars. Played drums in Nothing Like Vaudeville, an original alternative rock band. I studied music theory, songwriting, and graduated from The Recording Workshop and Beachwood Studios (now Lava Room Recording) audio engineering programs. My own countless sticky notes, scrap pieces of paper, and notebooks filled with lyrics represent a lifelong passion for trying to write some of these suckers called songs myself. Stacks of cassette tapes and SD cards in my small home studio, plus voice memos on my iPhone, capture hundreds of original melodies, song ideas, and partial or somewhat complete tunes from over the years, especially the past demi decade. In my younger days, friends often suggested I should be a disk jockey, and several excellent producers and recording engineers I had the good fortune of working with consistently told me “you have great ears.” While a full-time career as a DJ, musician, or audio engineer never materialized, my strong core passion for great songs and songwriting has never waned. Discovering. listening to and analyzing songs is simply what I love best.

One of the unique benefits of having a very good memory is my absolutely useless ability to remember songs and the time period — year and even the month of year — I first spent listening to a particular song. From the time I was three years old until now, decades later in my 50s, I have compiled thousands and thousands of songs in my chronological musical memory-bank, but really more in my heart and soul. 

Give me a book or a movie, and any retention is gone almost before I am finished reading or watching. But with music, it never leaves me. Rock, alternative, pop, heavy metal, country, rap, or even big band jazz – the genre does not matter — if it resonates and hooks me, I am all in. Instead of favorite bands or music artists, I have always naturally zeroed-in on collecting a plethora of favorite songs (there is an exact number, but more about that later.) I relate every one of my favorite tunes to a specific period or event in my life. It is how I can so easily remember. It’s my continuous gigantic soundtrack. I can tell you what songs I listened to each day before going to afternoon kindergarten when I was 5. I can tell you the songs I discovered from albums I received as gifts for Christmas in 1983. I can tell you what songs were out when I graduated from high school. And when I met my wife. And lost my Dad. And then my Mom. And when I had cancer. And even times that did not include any notable events. The song examples go on and on and on — I can always tell you exactly when I was listening to it and why.

About 10 years ago I began to think about all the songs that truly impacted me over the course of my life, and for the first time ever I started to go back and listen to my entire music collection — from the late 60’s through to current day — albums, 45’s, cassette tapes, CD’s, plus I utilized YouTube for quick access to those I did not have physical copies of. Then, mostly off the top-of-my-head, I began to loosely compile what I refer to as ‘The List’. In 2014, I created a GREATSONGSNEVERDIE Facebook Group, where for the past 8 years I have shared short backstories and fun-facts behind many of the songs on ‘The List’, along with a link to give group members an opportunity for an immediate listen.    

In 2021, I finally disciplined myself to sit down and fully quantify ‘The List’ as I originally intended. Working a couple of hours a day for five straight months – from August through December – I officially documented a complete GSND List – 1,838 songs (as of this day, writing these words.) I am an absolute music geek, so of course I used an Excel spreadsheet to capture it all. 54 tabs. 1969 through 2022. Each song organized chronologically by the year it was released, along with the artist or band who performed. If I wanted to create a list of songs that I simply have ‘liked’ over the years, that definitely would have been a far greater number. But no, ‘The List’ is my ‘cream of the crop’ from over 5+ decades and it will continue to grow since it is never too late for a past or new song to be discovered and make ‘The List’.

Songs on ‘The List’ all have a certain ‘it’ for my ears that attracted me. If I were a record executive or radio program director, these are the songs that would have gotten the artist signed or added to the playlist rotation. These are the songs I would dream to have written. These are the songs I listened to so often that I may know the songs better than the original songwriters. These are the songs that have made my life a better place to live. 

It is hard to totally define, but for my personal listening tastes, a song with a certain ‘it’ always contains one or more consistent musical traits: a unique or catchy vocal phrasing, a great riff, interwoven melodies and instrumentation turn on the emotions, guitar melodies that talk, beats and bass lines that won’t let your legs stand still, backing vocal harmonies, take-on-the-world lyrics, a subtle note or melody laying back in the mix, a groove with space to catch created musical overtones, and without fail, an intense energy and mix that build to a crescendo over the course of the song. I normally know an ‘it’ song immediately. When I find one, I will listen, replay, dissect and analyze the song repeatedly for a period of time, sometimes only a couple of days but more often weeks or months. The song becomes a permanent part of me, then the search for the next ‘it’ song continues.  

Like many other people I’m sure, music, and songs specifically, has always been a colorful accent to everything I experience in life, both good and bad. Music is my place to celebrate all that I love in this world; and my escape and defense mechanism against everything I find wrong with it. Music has also played a huge part in the healing process for me. During the difficulties of some serious health challenges and resulting recovery periods, music acted almost as a tangible extension of faith — helping provide strength, determination, positive energy, and hope. More often though, music has simply served as a beautiful distraction.

I aim to continue to share stories and fun-facts behind the songs, songwriters and artists that make up my mega GSND soundtrack, along with intertwining some personal stories from collective parts of my life. I hope you find it to be an interesting menu and discover something new. But most importantly. . . WHO’S ON YOUR LIST?     

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