For her 36th birthday, a friend asked a favor: Name one great pop song for each year of her life. I added a rule of my own, not to choose more than one song by any one artist. If you’re gong to make a mix tape, you’ve really got to mix it up. For my birthday, here are 37 of’em. We’ll start in 1969 and work up to 2005.
“Something,” by The Beatles. One of the most beautiful songs ever written or recorded. Unlike most of the dreck on Abbey Road, “Something” has stood the test of time.
“Lola,” by The Kinks. First time I heard this song, I thought it was a perfectly strange combination of horny and sweet. When I finally figured out that Lola was a transvestite, I thought I’d been had. Later I realized, hey, they’re in love.
“Maggie May,” by Rod Stewart. Speaking of having sex with inappropriate people…
“Amie,” by Pure Prairie League. Next time you’re driving by yourself, play this one real loud. I dare you not to sing. I double dare you.
“Let’s Get It On,” by Marvin Gaye. ‘Nuff said.
“Black Water,” by The Doobie Brothers. This song never fails to take me back to those wasted summers on the Gasconade River, drifting downstream on an inner tube.
“Young Americans,” by David Bowie. Glam purists might not like Bowie’s blue-eyed soul persona. But who wouldn’t want (or want to be) the young American?
“Lowdown,” by Boz Scaggs. Speaking of blue-eyed soul, Boz has got it. Makes me think of day camp and my first secret crush.
“Got To Get You Into My Life,” by Earth, Wind & Fire. The Beatles never dreamed of having brass this tight, or guitar so cutting.
“Baker Street,” by Gerry Rafferty. Two words: Bittersweet lyrics. Two more words: Bittersweeter sax solo.
“My Sharona,” by The Knack. Yet another song about inappropriate sex. And just what is this song, anyway? New wave? Rock? Pop? Dunno, but it’s a classic.
“Late In The Evening,” by Paul Simon. Wasted youth, Caribbean style.
“Kids In America,” by Kim Wilde. Another tribute to wasted youth, this time in anthem form.
“Somebody’s Baby,” by Jackson Browne. Heartache – a recurring theme in those teen years.
“Pride And Joy,” by Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble. You want this on the jukebox when you’re shooting pool.
“When Doves Cry,” by Prince and the Revolution. Just as pretty and timeless as “Something,” but even more haunting.
“Don’t You Forget About Me,” by Simple Minds. Heartache and wasted youth in one slick, overproduced package.
“Cemetery Gates,” by The Smiths. This is the one must-have song for each and every teenage underachiever.
“Middle Of The Road,” by The Pretenders. Reagan-era angst. Slamming guitars. Chrissie Hynde vocals. What more does a song need?
“I’m An Adult Now,” by The Pursuit of Happiness. I laughed when this song first came out. I’m not laughing now.
“Personal Jesus,” by Depeche Mode. You might think this one is the first pop music tribute to phone sex, but you’d be wrong. That honor goes to Billy Joel’s 1980 hit, “Sometimes A Fantasy.” Joel’s song was cute, but “PJ” is sexy.
“Why Can’t I Fall In Love,” by Ivan Neville. Heartache + slow sax * bluesy vocals = good music. Listen while it plays in the background of the Christian Slater movie, “Pump Up the Volume,” and a young and curvy and topless Samantha Mathis is added to the equation.
“Girlfriend,” by Matthew Sweet. Some of the best guitar work you’ll ever hear in a Top 40 song.
“Wicked As It Seems,” by Keith Richards. So long, wicked women. You can make fun of Keith’s singing, but he’s still better than Bob Dylan.
“Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
“Closer,” by Nine Inch Nails. Best. Club. Song. Ever. If a girl dances with you to this song, and you don’t get laid, then you’re hopeless.
“I Kissed A Girl,” by Jill Sobule. Lesbian chic at its folksy best.
“Her First Mistake,” by Lyle Lovett. Only Lovett could do this song. I’d explain, but that would ruin it. But I will say this: We’ve all been there, guys. More often than we’d like to admit.
“Sex And Candy,” by Marcy Playground. Best/worst juxtaposition ever. This song is the 1990’s version of “My Sharona.”
“Let’s Live It Up,” by The Brian Setzer Orchestra. It’s all about fun. And even with a wife and child, I’m still living this song. Trying to, anyway.
“Outside,” by George Michael. George’s “coming out” single is great danceable fun. Since it came out when I was still (barely) young enough to enjoy the club scene, this song has to get its due.
“Things Have Changed,” by Bob Dylan. After dissing Bob for decades, I finally understood what all the fuss was about. The man still can’t sing though.
“Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” by Cake. New wave is back! Man, that’ll make a guy feel old.
“Curbside Prophet,” by Jason Mraz. Young Mraz is the future of pop-folk, and the future looks good.
“Everything Must Go,” by Steely Dan. Ever lose everything, then fight valiantly to stay right there at the bottom?
“Run Run Run” by Phoenix. There’s really nothing to recommend this song. It’s derivative and hackneyed. Then again, it’s got a great hook – and that’s what pop music is all about.
“Inside And Out,” by Feist. An electronica-ish cover of the old Bee-Gees song. If you think nobody should ever record anything by the Bee-Gees, then I suggest you crank up Al Green’s cover of “How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?” Then again, maybe I’m just getting senile.
2006 is still too young to choose from. With any luck – and one of them new robot livers – I’ll be around next year to add to the list.