A Century of Song: Introduction

A Century Of Song

I’ve always considered myself an “album guy.” For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the way in which bands and artists go about creating a full-length record: the songwriting process; the recording environment; the underrated art of sequencing; and of course, tying it all together visually. Concept albums. Double albums. “Lost” albums. All fascinating to me.

A little over eight years ago – New Years Day 2012, to be exact – I started a “listening project.” I had cut up small bits of paper, each labeled with a year between 1950-2011, and placed them in a tiny drawstring bag from which I would pull one at a time. I decided that for each year, I would post a list of my thirty favorite albums on my RateYourMusic page. Before doing so, I determined to pick up any album from that year that I considered “missing” from my iTunes-organized collection of approximately 2500 titles. The first year that I picked was 1994. By the time I finished the last randomly-chosen year (2000) in late 2015, my collection had doubled in size.

It was at that point that I switched my focus from albums to songs. This allowed me to take a deeper dive into eras and genres that were seemingly underserved by the LP format. By this point, discovering a “new” song to love was far more likely than finding a great album that I had somehow missed out on. Somewhere around then, I determined that I would eventually have to share the results of my findings.

Perhaps it’s my long history on RateYourMusic that makes me predisposed to present those findings in list form. I thought about arranging the songs in chronological order – creating something of an historical narrative – but liked the idea of older songs rubbing shoulders with newer ones. I thought about presenting them in the rough order in which I became familiar with them, but worried about that making the project too autobiographical. Ultimately – to the almost-certain annoyance of one of the few people that I can count on reading this – I settled on a ranked list. After all, ranked list-making is a time-honored tradition of the music geek.


I set just a few ground rules for this list:

First, I set the time frame for the project from 1920 to 2019. In addition to being a full century, it acknowledges that pop music reached its true arrival point in the 1920s. While there are some worthwhile recordings from the 1910s and before, they are largely curiosities compared to everything that came after. Ending it at 2019 gave me something of a deadline to work with, and allowed me to avoid the temptation of adding new songs as the list is rolled out in twenty-song increments.

The second rule is a bit harder to define, but essentially, I decided to exclude tracks from albums that are designed to flow in a “suite-like” manner. While that descriptor is highly subjective, my application of it primarily impacted jazz records, such as In a Silent WayA Love Supreme, and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. I could have easily justified including every track on each of those records, but – seeing as how their creators will be well-represented regardless – I decided to hold discussion of them back for a later time.

Finally, as something of a “non-rule,” I decided not to place any restrictions on the maximum number of songs that an artist could have on the list. While I lament the impact that this had on some lesser-represented artists, I felt it necessary to include what I considered to be the most worthy songs, regardless of potential “over-representation.” Two artists have over twenty entries on this list. You probably won’t be surprised by who they are. With that said, there are nearly five hundred different artists who appear on the list.

In terms of presentation, each set of twenty songs will appear as its own post. They will be revealed in reverse order. I have already determined the one thousand songs that will be on the list, but their rankings won’t be solidified until each entry is posted. In addition to my thoughts on the song, I will share a YouTube video for each track. Most of these will feature the studio version of the song, though live versions will be substituted in some cases. I’m also taking the plunge into the world of streaming services, as each twenty-song set will have a corresponding playlist on the Spotify profile Strange Currencies Music. While this project will be the primary emphasis of Strange Currencies until its completion, I will continue to post new articles and features on a semi-regular basis.


Ultimately, the intention was for this to be my list of the great songs of the past century, not the list. Each entry will feature some of my thoughts on the songs, and I encourage you to share yours in the comments section. My favorite genres – garage bands, girl groups, post-bop jazz, 80s-90s American indie rock – are well-represented. There are some idiosyncratic picks, for sure. Likewise, there are “sacred cows” who were never even on the initial “long list” of songs under consideration. There are more appearances by They Might Be Giants and The Monkees than there are by Led Zeppelin. The sixties dominate, but the list is also clearly the product of someone born at the end of the seventies, who came of age in the nineties, and became a music obsessive in an online era.

Thanks for reading…

Part 1: 1000-981

Part 2: 980-961

Part 3: 960-941

Part 4: 940-921

Part 5: 920-901

Part 6: 900-881

Part 7: 880-861

Part 8: 860-841

Part 9: 840-821

Part 10: 820-801

Part 11: 800-781

Part 12: 780-761

Part 13: 760-741

Part 14: 740-721

Part 15: 720-701

Part 16: 700-681

Part 17: 680-661

Part 18: 660-641

Part 19: 640-621

Part 20: 620-601

Part 21: 600-581

Part 22: 580-561

Part 23: 560-541

Part 24: 540-521

Part 25: 520-501

Part 26: 500-481

Part 27: 480-461

Part 28: 460-441

Part 29: 440-421

Part 30: 420-401

Mid-Century: ‘A Century of Song’ at the Halfway Point

Part 31: 400-381

Part 32: 380-361

Part 33: 360-341

Part 34: 340-321

Part 35: 320-301

Part 36: 300-281

Part 37: 280-261

Part 38: 260-241

Part 39: 240-221

Part 40: 220-201

Part 41: 200-191

Part 42: 190-181

Part 43: 180-171

Part 44: 170-161

Part 45: 160-151

Part 46: 150-141

Part 47: 140-131

Part 48: 130-121

Part 49: 120-111

Part 50: 110-101

Part 51: 100-91

Part 52: 90-81

Part 53: 80-71

Part 54: 70-61

Part 55: 60-51

Part 56: 50-41

Part 57: 40-31

Part 58: 30-21

Part 59: 20-11

Part 60: 10-1

2020 Addendum

Author

  • Matt Ryan founded Strange Currencies Music in January 2020, and remains the site's editor-in-chief. The creator of the "A Century of Song" project and co-host of the "Strange Currencies Podcast," Matt enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has a particular affinity for 60s pop, 90s indie rock, and post-bop jazz. He is an avid collector of vinyl, and a multi-instrumentalist who has played/recorded with several different bands and projects.

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