I couldn’t find middle C on a piano if my life depended on it. In instrumental music in 5th grade, I failed to grasp that the intent was not to saw away at all the violin strings at once. Even the recorder exceeded my abilities. Some people are born to play an instrument. Others are born to play the radio. Or phonograph. Or tapes. Or CDs. Or digital music on their computers. I had no hope of ever joining a band, but would become adept at babbling about bands more than any normal human being would ever care to know. Not only did I listen to music, but I absorbed, collected, charted, ranked, researched and wrote about it.
My collection of 40,000+ songs in various formats began with a short, but unfortunate fling with 8-tracks in the late 1970s. Then I became a cassette-recording fiend, obsessed with plucking my favorite songs off the radio, even if they were mangled by DJ chatter. By the mid-’80s, I was well known in college for my crates and crates of tapes and a habit of borrowing handfuls of music from people soon after meeting them.
However, it wasn’t enough to collect music; I needed to know its status in the musical universe. Sure, I might like it, but how did it rate with the rest of the world? I became an avid follower of Billboard charts, feeding a need to see where songs ranked in comparison to each other.
New possibilities emerged in the ‘90s. The impending close of the millennium stirred up a slew of best-of-all-time lists. At worst, these were fueled by lone critics bent on berating the unwashed masses about their unsophisticated aural palettes. At best, a semi-credible music publication or entity would gather a gaggle of “expert” opinions into a list that largely served as a promo for the list generator’s idiosyncrasies.
Nonetheless, I scooped up every music-related list I could. I compiled over 140 into a database along with awards, chart peaks, and sale figures. Dave’s Music Database (DMDB for short) was born. By crunching the data together, the quirks of individual lists (such as too narrow a focus on a specific genre) were weeded out in favor of a master list which more effectively captured which songs were truly iconic.
I created DavesMusicDatabase.com to share the results. Album reviews became a primary feature, but instead of crafting personal insights, I took the same approach as with the lists. I consolidated multiple reviews into one best-of review with plenty of quotations and footnotes. Some of us are freaks who didn’t mind writing term papers in college.
Since I obviously enjoyed the research and the writing, the next logical step was a book. My intent was to capture the top 100 songs of all time. That proved challenging since the majority of lists claiming to be “the best of all time” are apparently of the belief that civilization began around the early 1950s. After I crunched the numbers, a scant ten songs from pre-1954 made the cut.
I refocused the project on what is generally called “the rock era.” However, I use the term merely as shorthand for “second half of the 20th century.” Rock ‘n’ roll, country, R&B, and adult contemporary all crop up here, acknowledging that musical greatness, and even individual taste, is not limited to one format.
It has taken more than a decade, but all that research and list gathering and website building has birthed the first Dave’s Music Database publication. Yep, now I want people to fork over dough for my efforts. This book will undoubtedly close all debate over the best songs from the ‘50s through the ‘90s with a definitive list which all will praise and none will challenge. Well, okay, eyebrows are bound to rise regarding some of what makes the cut and toes will be stepped on regarding what doesn’t. Truth be told, I fought my own temptation to “tweak” the list. I realize “My Heart Will Go On” was a huge song, but can I just pretend Celine Dion doesn’t exist in my universe? If I bumped “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction)” to #1, who would be the wiser? I can proudly say I resisted. This is what the database says and I’m sticking with it. For better or worse, the results unfold in the pages to come. Read on and wince, debate, and, hopefully, nod occasionally in approval.
By the way, if you need a dose of subjectivity, check out my rants and raves at DavesMusicDatabase.blogspot.com.
This page last updated March 16, 2011.