Every Tuesday morning I make a brief appearance on 101.9 RXP, a local radio station that serves up a remarkably fresh mix of classic rock, alternative rock and contemporary hits. You're probably familiar with the station's morning-show host, Matt Pinfield, essentially the face of alternative rock on MTV during the late 1990s as the host of 120 Minutes and its successors.
I've always admired Matt for his encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and his unbridled enthusiasm, so working with him has been a serious treat. I've also come to hugely dig his co-host, RXP program director Leslie Fram (a radio vet whose amazing track record earned her the nickname "First Lady of Modern Rock"), and cool-headed, efficient producer Matt Ianni.
In my capacity as Time Out New York music editor, most Tuesdays I shout out the week's biggest shows, and also mention a few newly announced bookings for which tickets will soon be available. This week was different: The station is currently asking its listeners to submit their lists of the top 20 rock songs of all time; during Labor Day weekend they'll be counting down the top 1,019 picks. They asked me to submit a list, then had me come in and reel it off this past Tuesday, where I turned up between a live performance by Dolores O'Riordan (who seized the moment to announce a Cranberries reunion) and a chat with Imogen Heap.
Pulling my list together over the weekend was surprisingly easy, since I tailored it to RXP's format; had it been open to pop (hello, Thompson Twins), R&B (Stevie, Diana, Marvin, Michael, ad infinitum) and hip-hop (Run-DMC, Public Enemy, De La Soul, Jay-Z...), I'd probably still be wrestling with it. RXP's rules made it even easier: You couldn't repeat an artist, and six iconic acts -- Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones (pre-Sticky Fingers), the Beatles (pre-Rubber Soul) and Bob Dylan -- could be set apart as "Legacy Artists," the equivalent of bonus cuts.
Compiling my list required 10 minutes of flow -- what are the songs I absolutely can't get out of my head, the ones I'll drop everything to hear any time they're playing -- plus about 30 minutes of finessing and a quick consult with Dr. LP, who pointed out a few glaring omissions.
So here, for your delectation or dismissal, is my admittedly very personal countdown:
Top 20 Rock Songs
1. Kiss, "Detroit Rock City"
2. Cheap Trick, "Surrender"
3. Thin Lizzy, "The Boys Are Back in Town"
4. Joy Division, "Love Will Tear Us Apart"
5. Bram Tchaikovsky, "Girl of My Dreams"
6. Public Image Ltd., "Public Image"
7. Black Sabbath, "Paranoid"
8. Talking Heads, "Life During Wartime"
9. The Clash, "London Calling"
10. Electric Light Orchestra, "Telephone Line"
11. Bruce Springsteen, "Born to Run"
12. Steve Forbert, "Romeo's Tune"
13. Yes, "Your Move/I've Seen All Good People"
14. Living Colour, "Cult of Personality"
15. Queen, "You're My Best Friend"
16. Romeo Void, "Never Say Never"
17. Aerosmith, "Dream On"
18. Squeeze, "Tempted"
19. Paul McCartney and Wings, "Live and Let Die"
20. R.E.M., "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville"
Elvis Presley, "Blue Suede Shoes"
Chuck Berry, "Roll Over Beethoven"
Buddy Holly, "Not Fade Away"
The Rolling Stones (pre-Sticky Fingers), "Gimme Shelter"
The Beatles (pre-Rubber Soul), "If I Fell"
Bob Dylan, "Sweetheart Like You"
Kudos to Matt Ianni for having "Girl of My Dreams" ready to play on the air as my spiel ended. It killed me to cut Michael Penn's "No Myth," the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" and, yes, Kansas's "Carry On Wayward Son." Other almost-rans included "Suite Judy Blue Eyes," "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," "Touch of Grey" and "Barracuda." And "Killer Queen" threatened to replace "You're My Best Friend" right up until the moment I hit send.
Still, overall I'm plenty happy with this tally. Comments? Criticisms? Bring it. Then go cast your own vote and see if you still feel so tough.