Replacing The Icons

Recently, the esteemed and highly entertaining Joe Posnanski was trying to determine the most iconic songs of the rock era.  Along with a team of writers and blog readers he came up with a final list* of iconic songs. I’ve got a comment about the list but first go see the final list complete with Joe’s commentary and the follow up post here.

* Some writers like ESPN’s Keith Law  have made their list public.

Overall I can’t argue with the list, all of the songs are certainly iconic.  The list contains nothing but outstanding songs but now that the list of iconic songs has been established I’d like to propose something:

Let’s take every song on the list and place it in a vault for one year where no one can listen to them.

It’s not that I don’t like the songs, take another look at the list:

Alive, American Pie, Another Brick in the Wall, Bohemian Rhapsody, Born to be Wild, Born to Run, Bridge Over Troubled Water, (Gnarls Barkley), Crazy, Crazy (Patsy Cline), Georgia On My Mind, God Save the Queen, Good Vibrations, Fight the Power, Fortunate Son, Freebird, Friends in Low Places, Hey Ya, Hotel California, Hound Dog, I Feel Good, I Love Rock and RollI Walk The Line, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Imagine, Johnny B. Goode, Layla, Like a Rolling Stone, Like a VirginLondon Calling, Louie Louie, Mack the Knife, Melt With You, My Generation, My Way, Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang, Oh Pretty Woman, Peggy Sue, Purple Haze, Purple Rain, Rapper’s Delight, Redemption Song, Respect, Rock Around The Clock, Satisfaction, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Stairway to Heaven, Staying Alive, Sunday Bloody Sunday Thriller, Welcome to the Jungle, The Weight, Y.M.C.A.

Those songs are great but I’ve heard them all many, many (and in some cases MANY) times before.  I could sing every song on this list without having to look up the words.   It’s not that I never want to hear them again, I just don’t NEED to hear them anymore.  I can play them in my head from memory.

I think we could all benefit from putting these songs away and hearing some different voices; songs and artists that while not iconic today could become iconic  if given a chance.   Here are five of my choices to replace songs on the icon list, some are well know and some are not but they are all worth checking out. I’m not saying they are better than all of the songs listed above.  I’m just saying that if you removed any of the five songs above with the ones I’m about to name I would be okay with it.  I can name about 200 more but these will do for now.  Feel free to suggest some alternate icons in the comments.

Townes Van Zandt – Pancho and Lefty: Not the best Townes van Zandt song (that’s To Live is To Fly) but the best story he ever told, that makes it icon worthy.

Greg Cartwright -Live The Life: Greg Carwright originally recorded this traditional gospel song song as a member of The Compulsive Gamblers then again with The Oblivians, here he is  playing a quieter acoustic version.

FYI – This version was recorded at Goner Records which I mentioned yesterday in reference to a very good cause.

The Replacements – Bastards of Young: Over the past few years I’ve listened to the Replacements less but this makes my list no matter what.

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – The Ballad of the Sin Eater: The iconic version appears on the Hearts of Oak record but here is a live version from a solo Ted Leo show that captures the feeling of it very well.

Toots & The Maytals – Pressure Drop: Far superior to the version the Clash later recorded (and I love The Clash).

Note: If you’re wondering:  Am I just trying to call attention to some of my favorite songs?  Yes, of course I am but for a good reason.  While my choices may never become iconic rock anthems they derserve to be heard by a wider audience and it’s hard to for these voices to be heard when the airwaves are  filled with the same old songs.  I would love to see everyone retire some of the classic rock standards, just for a little while, and try something else.



Filed under Music Nerdery

28 responses to “Replacing The Icons

  1. billy joel

    Let me understand.

    You hate everything I’ve ever done, but YMCA is an “outstanding” song?

  2. Nice choices. Although I’m with Billy Joel. YMCA is not “great.”

  3. I will agree that all of those songs are “iconic,” but I still hate at least five of them. I’m surprised there’s no Elton John.

  4. ty

    when i was an undergrad we had to write a paper on pancho and lefty. the topic was, “what does van zandt mean when he says, ‘the dust that pancho bit down south ended-up in lefty’s mouth,’ mean?

    i don’t remember a lot from those days, but i definitely remember that paper.

    oh and there is a version of that song somewhere on the web by a guy called the Tiki King. I just tried to Google the vid to give you a link but unfortunately can’t find it.

  5. ty

    sorry. back again. i’d like to submit carmelita to your list.

  6. betheboy

    Remember, I didn’t make the original list, I’m just reporting on it. Also, the fact that all of you can sing along to YMCA makes it an outstanding song. Not a great one, not even a good one, but one that stands out.

  7. pacolongisland

    While these songs are also overplayed they also are as, if not more, iconic than some of the songs on the list already.
    Master of Puppets-Metallica
    You Shook Me All Night Long-AC/DC
    Light My Fire-The Doors
    Hey Jude-The Beatles
    Mannish Boy-Muddy Waters
    I Wanna be Sedated-The Ramones
    Piano Man-Billy Joel(sorry Will)
    Iron Man-Black Sabbath
    Jump-Van Halen

  8. betheboy

    Paco – here’s one for you on Billy Joel.

  9. pacolongisland

    While I know you don’t like Billy Joel and so does that writer, but the vitriol he spews is a little much. I can understand not liking him or actually not liking his music but for him to be so high and mighty is pathetic. I don’t have a problem with anyone not liking his music but to totally discount him is wrong. I look at it this way, if he were truly that bad why would Ray Charles record with him and Frank Sinatra sing one of his songs. His article truly shows why I hate critics.

  10. pacolongisland

    Also he obviously only wrote the line “making love to his tonic and gin” because it rhymed that way. Anybody who has drank as much as him knows the difference.

  11. betheboy

    You make a good point Paco but he should have chosen a different rhyme.

  12. What about:
    Many of these aren’t even my favorite song by these artists.

    Karma Police – Radiohead
    Rockin’ in the Free World – Neil Young
    Losing My Religion – R.E.M.
    How Soon is Now? – The Smiths
    Fuck Tha Police – N.W.A.
    Linus & Lucy – Vince Guaraldi Trio
    Fairytale of New York – The Pogues
    What’s So Funny About Peace, Love & Understanding – Elvis Costello
    Walk This Way – Aerosmith
    Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
    More Than A Feeling – Boston
    Celebrated Summer – Husker Du
    Eight Miles High – The Byrds
    I Am A Scientist – Guided by Voices
    Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way – Waylon Jennings
    Free Falling – Tom Petty
    Sweet Jane – Velvet Underground
    Don’t Fear The Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult
    Arcade Fire – Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
    Green Day – Longview

  13. betheboy

    Excellent choices for replacement icons Jim. A case can be made for a few of them being more Iconic that Posnanski’s list. That is the beauty and the frustrating part of this exercise. How is Smoke on the Water not in the original list or Iron Man?

  14. Or “Rockin in the Free World?” or “Losing My Religion” for that matter.

    I can’t argue with the original list (or the additions that you or Paco came up with), it’s just that in 50 or so years, there are dozens and dozens of iconic songs.

  15. betheboy

    Losing my Religion more iconic that – “End of the World as We know It” or “The One I Love”?

    It’s probably my inner 80’s REM Fanboy talking but I think there is room for discussion on this one. Also, if we’re sticking to one song artist per artist I bet Heart of Gold is more recognizable that “Rockin’ in The Free World” but again we could debate this all day.

  16. Fair enough: so here are my points.

    I love both of those R.E.M. song you mentioned more than “Losing My Religion,” and gods know that “End of the World” is almost as annoying as “I Feel Good” in terms of movie shorthand.

    That said, I have more than one R.E.M. bootleg where they introduce “Losing My Religion” by talking about how it seems to be their most popular song worldwide, and how people who don’t even know what it’s called requested by calling it “aahhhhh life”

    As far as Rockin in the Free World? At one of my last stadium shows (either Stones “Steel Wheels” or U2 “Zoo TV”), I have a full memory of it coming on the PA and a huge amount of the audience singing along, even though it was never a huge hit and only a couple of years old.

    Which brings up my point that a song doesn’t have to be a huge hit — originally — to end up being iconic.

    Here’s another one: “Blister in the Sun.”

  17. I was pondering this more as I was going to bed at 4am and made notes on my cell phone! A couple of artists/songs I thought weren’t covered actually are, so this comment isn’t too interesting.

    First though, I have to agree w/barefootjim and “Losing My Religion” is probably the most iconic REM song. The best? No. I also agree w/him on “Blister In The Sun.” (Which was used brilliantly in the under appreciated and viewed film Rocket Science).

    I think “Roxanne” should be on list and maybe “Heart of Glass” and “Brown Eyed Girl”

  18. aliastaken

    Debate all day! Debate all day! Debate all day!

    *pounds both fists on desk*

  19. betheboy

    Fine we will debate all day.

    I think we are getting slightly away from my intention which was to find lesser known songs that are worthy of icon status but so many great suggestions about Iconic songs have come up I can’t ignore them. I doubt that the author of the original post has read this so if you have alternate suggestions you can pass them on to him here: or just tell me and we’ll hope he makes his way over here.

    As for the REM thing I defer to the smarter than I Jim and Jodi.

    Also, Blister, Roxanne and Brown Eyed Girl belong on the original list as does Sweet Caroline but I disagree on Heart of Glass. Keep in mind this is purely my instinct speaking not any informed opinion.

    No votes for Sister Ray yet?

  20. Sorry about the hijacking, Will. But, weirdly enough, I think that all of the greater-known iconic songs need to be rooted out first.

    So, I’d still go with Sweet Jane over Sister Ray, and fully agree w/ Brown Eyed Girl and Roxanne. Just this week, Flight of the Conchords paid homage to that one.

    Also, I think that Angela Chase made Blister in the Sun iconic, if anything did.

  21. Sherwood

    Part of the issue with list is one of taxonomy. What do you want to call Rock & Roll? There were a few songs that were iconic but I wouldn’t clasify as rock. “Bridge over troubled waters”: folk song
    My Way: Frank Sanatra not Rock & Roll.

    Even within Rock category there are such disparate sub categories that it is hard make comparisons…But I guess that’s what makes this fun.

    BTW – Townes VanZandt was incredable song writer. He reminds me of another favorate John Prine. Which brings me to a replacement nominee

    Angel From Montgomery – and all the cover versions Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi, John Prine

  22. betheboy

    Good Question Sherwood – The criteria was defined as the Rock Era so roughly 1954 to the present.

  23. Sherwood


    I missed rule number 4 – Songs don’t have to be rock songs just iconic

  24. pacolongisland

    To use what your original intent for this post I give my choices for relatively unknown but should be more known:
    Anthem to the Estranged-Metal Church
    Fuck and Run-Liz Phair
    Stone the Crow-Down
    Blue on Black-Kenny Wayne Shepherd

    Those are what I can think of at the moment.

  25. Dara Y

    achy, breaky heart didn’t make the list?


  26. I love that you still hold Bastards of Young in high regard. You were the one that exposed me to this song, you know that right? Since then, I think I’ve managed to work it into any playlist I build. That’s saying a lot since I have over 55K songs to pick from.

  27. Paul L.

    This was a list was of iconic songs, that is, the songs are meant to be representative of… something.

    Of what? A generation? A revolution in studio technique? I’m not sure. And that is why I run the other way when confronted with anyone’s opinion–informed or otherwise (why is it we run into so much of the latter?)–of which songs should are Be All And End All representative of… something.

    Personally, I could go on for the rest of my days in blissful deafness if it meant these were the only games in town. But they are, like it or not, iconic of… something.

    It just so happens I agree with the list one hundred percent: These songs are iconic. They are iconic of the usual songs you see on lists like this.

    ‘Scuse me, I got ‘Confirmation’ as rendered by Bird and Diz in my cd player. Thankthealmighty.

  28. Paul L.

    erratum — strike the word “should” at the end of that second paragraph, please? Thank ya, sugar.

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