There were over 500 albums released in 2012. Stretch that out over however many songs per album for each of the other 44 years on this list, and it’s not surprising that there’s a vast swath of songs and artists who got left on the outside looking in when all was said and done. Some bands missed the cut because their songs kept running into more worthy conclusions, others because, by the time they became relevant to me, they were long past their prime and I was loath to include a weaker album just to get them on the list. The cuts were deep, the decisions difficult. But I don’t want to let consign them to also-ran status. So here’s a quick rundown of some of the bands and songs that could have made the list had things gone just a bit differently.
ABBA: I mentioned them briefly in the 1981 entry as my first musical fascination, and they had multiple songs in contention. “Dancing Queen” probably had the best chance, but I just had to get “Year of the Cat” on the list. “Knowing Me, Knowing You” lost out in order to get disco represented with “If I Can’t Have You,” and “The Winner Takes It All” had to stand aside in favor of getting some classic era Queen taken care of. ABBA just had the misfortune of having their biggest hits in years that were already spoken for, but as the first band I was really into, they remain a prime musical touchstone for me, and their music is as insanely listenable now as it was then.
The Rolling Stones: Yeah, this one hurt. But again, it was a question of timing. I really didn’t get into the Stones until Tattoo You in 1981, which the Police had locked down right from the get-go with “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” I agonized over pushing the Police back to 1983 and choosing something from Synchronicity, but that would have tumbled too many dominoes in an already difficult decade to winnow down. And really, anything after Tattoo You is a pale shadow of what the Stones once were (Steel Wheels was the closest they came to getting on the list after that). And as with ABBA, songs from their earlier albums kept running into other must-haves. Still, they have the honor of the best concert I’ve ever seen, so at least they’re on one list.
John Lennon: Another hard one, but “Instant Karma” would have bumped “Layla,” and “Imagine” would have knocked out “Baba O’Reilly,” and those two songs were too huge to ignore. And once again Queen is a culprit, as their last truly classic album hit in 1980, keeping anything from Double Fantasy from getting in. Leaving off “Watching the Wheels” was especially tough though; that song was a bit of a touchstone for me for the longest time.
John Williams: This was a more deliberate omission, as I was trying to avoid soundtracks, a genre I could easily use to fill multiple years. And I could use Williams for every year from 1976 through 1984 without even breaking a sweat: Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, 1941, Empire, Raiders, E.T., Jedi, and Temple of Doom. Star Wars and Empire had the best chances of inclusion, and I still hold Empire as one of the best films scores ever written. But as I said when I omitted Star Wars, I’ve written enough about it on this blog, so it was time to let some other folks have the spotlight.
Van Halen: They had a good number of songs I thought about but couldn’t quite pull the trigger on, especially from their earlier albums. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” was probably the strongest contender, but 1978 was my best chance to get Blondie on the list. Surprisingly, “Jump” and “Panama” from 1984 were never really in the running, because “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was always going to have that year. And as we all know, Van Halen ceased to exist after that album. No. No, I don’t want to hear it.
“Oliver’s Army,” Elvis Costello: I squeezed in some Costello in 1989, but this was the one I really wanted. But then I would have lost The Wall, my last chance for any classic Pink Floyd, and I knew I could always turn to Spike down the road a bit. This is such a great song though. I really wish I could have managed to place it.
“Cars,” Gary Numan: Hearing this song for the first time was like a light bulb going on. It was completely different from anything else I’d ever heard, and in my mind, is always the start of the New Wave 80s. But, like “Oliver’s Army,” it had to contend with the last gasp of 70s rock in The Wall, and as much as I love this song, a hard choice had to be made.
Those are the big omissions that come to mind. Given the time — and the inclination — I could probably do another 45-song list that would look completely different from this one and still have as much meaning to me. But the list I ended up with is probably the truest, since it’s got more of a gut instinct behind it. There were a lot of tough choices, but ultimately, a lot of the songs really did demand to be chosen. It was what I had to leave out that produced the most anguish, not what I chose to put in.