Songs To Learn and Sing: The First 400

by George_East on February 28, 2012

With Ray North’s posting of David Gray’s Babylon on Valentine’s Day we reached the 400 marker in our daily song feature, Songs To Learn and Sing.   I was minded before I read that post to write a comment eviscerating his choice given the brilliance of the songs that had marked #1, #10, #50,  #100, #200 and #300 – it seemed somehow wrong to follow those with one of the very worst songs we have featured, how on earth could it pass ‘the defendable down the pub’ threshold test.   But then I read his piece and what could I say against the reason for his pick.  Nothing at all.

See here for my previous reviews of the First 100, First 200 and First 300 Songs to Learn and Sing.  The pattern by decade has continued with the 1980s (83 songs) and the 1970s (79 songs), the most popular decades. However there is now clear water between the 1960s (69 songs) in third and the 2000s (65 songs) in fourth.   The 1990s remain trailing in fifth (61 songs).   The foundation of rock n roll decade of the 1950s has 22 songs.  Blind Willie Johnson’s gospel blues classic John The Revelator from 1930 has finally been replaced as the oldest song posted – with now two songs from the 1920s, Memphis Minnie’s  When The Levee Breaks from 1929, and the current earliest song the proto-country, The Wreck of the Old 97 by Vernon Dalhart from as far back as 1923.   The other pre-history of rock n roll decades have five songs between them, the 1930s is on 4, the 1940s remains represented solely by Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land.

For the first time, 1969 has lost its place as the year with most songs posted.  It is now in third place with 16 songs of the first 400 (though Jackie South’s posting of the Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun has since increased its total to 17).   There are nine years in all with 10 or more songs in the first 400 (compared to 6 in the first 300):  these are in order, 1967 (19), 1980 (17), 1969 (16), 1988 (14), 1977 (13), 1978 (13), 1979 (11), 1987 (10) and 1994 (10).    The key innovative years of the late 1960s (19671969), the punk and post-punk years (197780) and the key Brit Pop year (1994) are not at all surprising, but we now have 1987 joining 1988 in the top few years, not something that would have been predicted when we started.   I have had many an argument about whether 1987 or 1974 was the worst post-emergence of the Beatles years for pop and rock.   Songs from our late teens clearly resonate more than we knew.

In contrast the least popular years since the rock n roll explosion of 1956 (not including this year) are 1962 (which was the last year to have a song posted, and is now the only year represented by a single song, Tony Sheridan’s What I’d Say?) , 1957 (2), 1958 (2), 1960 (2), 1961 (2) and 1997 (3).  Every other year has had at least 4 songs.   All of the years are the pre-Beatles years except for the stand out surprise of the Labour landslide year (though on reflection it was a terrible year for music, the fag end of Brit pop only really redeemed by Blur’s career changing Blur).

We have a clear leader in the league for most posted artist – which is unsurprisingly The Beatles with 5 songs in the first 400 (and now 6).   A further 57 artists have had two or more picks, including 17 with 3 or more songs.   The artists on 4 songs are The Clash, The Smiths (arguably 5 if you include the Sandie Shaw version of Hand In Glove given the other 3 members play on it), Johnny Cash (who has since moved on to 5 with my posting of I Walk The Line), The Jam and Elvis Presley.  Those on 3 are Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Arctic Monkeys, Steve Earle, Blur, Joy Division, The Undertones, Drive-By Truckers, Velvet Underground, The Ramones, REM and The Fall. Since the 400 marker was reached David Bowie has also moved on to 3 songs with Sound And Vision.

Shockingly the Rolling Stones remain on 2 songs (and have not had a song posted since Gimme Shelter at #135), as does Neil Young – even more inexplicably, I have not posted a single Neil Young song even though he is one of my absolute favourite artists.   Other surprises are the Who, The Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, The Kinks, The Beach Boys, Aretha Franklin and Chuck Berry on a single song each.    Bizarrely there has still not been a self-penned song by Elvis Costello – he has only appeared with his cover of My Funny Valentine (our first guest post by Dagenham Trash back at #138), though, of course, he also wrote the wonderful Shipbuilding which featured at #4 in its original heart-wrenching Robert Wyatt version.

Four more theme weeks have been featured since 300, bringing the total to 9.  The fiasco that was Welsh artists week, covers week, songs about other artists week and Motown week.    No doubt the all important 10th theme week will follow shortly.  All we need is, er, a theme!

I Bet That You Look Good On The Dance Floor joined Gloria in the exclusive list of songs that have appeared in two different versions.

As is traditional the ten artists who are the most surprising omissions are for me: Frank Sinatra, John Lee Hooker, Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, Dusty Springfield, Al Green, Television, Kraftwerk, Massive Attack and Leftfield.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ray_North February 28, 2012 at 8:16 pm

I am used to defending the indefensible – but I am very fond of Babylon!
As for omissions – I agree Dusty is a big one, and have we had any Lieber & Stoller songs or Burt Bacharach; Neil Diamond is also an omission as are The Police (though difficult to get beyond Sting).


George_East February 28, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Leiber and Stoller certainly – Hound Dog (at #265). I think you might be right about Burt Bacharach though. Extraordinary omission.


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