From 1994 to 2002, I held monthly single elimination “music tournaments” to determine my favorite song. I took great pleasure in pitting some of the all-time greats, most of whom I was just discovering at the time, against each other to see which song rang most true no matter what mood I was in, no matter what time of day. Songs like “Thunder Road”, “Rock the Casbah” and “Bad”(U2) were among the repeat champions.
During college the monthly tournaments eventually came to an end, largely due to the stale music scene at Dartmouth and the collapse of Napster, but since then I have resurrected the tournaments on a number of occasions. Most notably, the volunteers of Hands on Gulf Coast participated in a mass music tournament that lasted over a month and ended with “Superstition” taking home the crown.
Rolling Stone magazine has been shedding credibility for years, but this summer’s Top 500 Songs of All-Time list put me over the edge. First of all, they had the audacity to name “Like a Rollin’ Stone” the #1 song of all-time. It’s a fine song, but for Rolling Stone magazine to coincidentally claim it as the benchmark of all rock music is just embarrassingly transparent. More importantly, the magazine’s list, purportedly made in consultation with numerous musicians, panders far too much to the early decades of rock and roll, with very few songs released after the mid-1970s. As with sports, comparing across generations is a tricky business, but no one who grew up on Nirvana and Radiohead could possibly stomach the idea that there were more great rock songs in the 1950s than 1990s.
Soon after the magazine’s list was released, VH1 put together a highly touted list of the 100 greatest artists of all-time. This list, also done in collaboration with today’s artists, who have little taste, was even more of an abomination than Rolling Stone’s Top 500! The top 20 was completely out of whack, Prince and Cheap Trick were ranked way too high, and the Grateful Dead didn’t even make the top 100. I felt like it was time for my own list. This list would be born out of a 512 song single elimination tournament.
Once I got down to picking songs, done in collaboration with legit music fans, it seemed like about 430 songs definitely belonged in the tournament. Rather than make arbitrary picks on the other 82 songs, I decided to have 164 songs do an extra “play-in” round. Thus, ten rounds from now, we should have the best song of all time. Any song that can survive such a gauntlet will be worthy of that title.
I say “we” because I want to democratize the process as much as possible. Every two days I will post ten match-ups. You can judge a match-up simply by listening to both songs, back to back, at the same volume, paying equal attention to both. When you are done, note on a ten point scale which song you like better (ie, Thunder Road 9, Changes 7). Ties are ok, because other people will break the tie for you. You can judge one match-up or ten, but do it within 48 hours, after which I’ll post the next set of match-ups.
Tomorrow I’ll release the 430 songs that have automatically qualified for the 512 song tournament, and on Wednesday I’ll post the 164 songs that have to “play-in”. It goes without saying that people will detect omissions, and if any glaring mistakes are identified right away, I might be able to do something about. Finally, these songs are all the greater ‘rock and roll’ tradition- which leaves room for some hip-hop, country, folk and soul.
This Music Tournament will be one of the main activities buzzing on Living the Dream for the next couple months, so get fired up and ready to go!