A Primer in Music History

I am a man of many talents. I'm loquacious, charismatic, charming, musically gifted, one of the finest actors I've ever met, a writer of supreme ability and to top it all off, I'm very humble. I'm an educated man too. I know a good deal (more than the proverbial average bear) about politics, technology, sports, television, and film just to name a few. There is one area that my wife absolutely owns me in (well, there's a lot of areas but we're just discussing the one today).

Mrs. Rogue is a veritable music encyclopedia. While my appreciation and knowledge of music are pretty broad, Ella's dwarf mine. So it was no surprise that when my sister-in-law was looking to expand her musical interests she consulted not the Drunken Rogue, but the little woman. Good call, T. Tara asked for Ella to make her a CD (a mix-tape as we used to call them, back when we actually used tapes) containing the fourteen or fifteen songs that Ella considered her all-time favorites. Now, as I said, the request was to Ella but it got me thinking, what are my favorite songs of all time. More precisely, how do you even go about picking a limited number (Tara suggested 14 or 15, but let's say 20) of "all-time favorites"?

First of all, we should look at making a mix-tape (or compilation CD, if you prefer) period. Now a lot of people just take some songs they like throw them together and call that a mix-tape. This is nonsense. While it's not true of all modern albums, it is historically the case that the composition of an album is a well-thought out and deeply considered affair. Songs are chosen not only for their individual value but for the ability to pleasantly reside next to each other. If you look at an album like "Revolver" from the Beatles (one of if not my favorite album of all time), the songs flow from one to another. They sound like they belong on an album together. Your goal should be the same with a mix-tape.

Secondly, you can't just make a CD with your 20 "all-time favorites." It would be nearly impossible to narrow it down to 20 without further limitations and even if you got 20 they wouldn't sound good together. So, what do you do? You make a primer of Music history.

Sure, we don't really mean "Music History" here since we're likely to leave out the Brahms and Beethoven, but we do mean modern popular music. I'd use the term "rock music" but people put too narrow a connotation on that label. Now how do we create a primer?

Pick 20 artists, not songs. Pick the 20 most influential, best, your favorite, whatever. By picking artists and not songs you leave yourself open to do the next step.

Pick songs from those artist that, while representing the artist and their place in music history, also sound good together. You don't have to build your mix-tape chronologically (although that would be a real accomplishment), instead focus on flowing from artist to artist, song to song. You can use tempo, lyric similarities, beat structure, chord progression or just mood to help guide you from one to another. But make sure they flow.

There you go, now you're ready to go out and create an awesome mix-tape. I'm working on my own right now. I'll gladly post the results (tracklist, not the actual album that would be illegal) when it's finished. For now here are my 20 artists that make the cut. Let me know what you think.

The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Aerosmith, Aretha Franklin, Counting Crows, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, The Beta Band, Otis Redding, Counting Crows, Led Belly, Weezer, Louis Armstrong, The Dave Matthews Band, and Bob Marley.