Origin, Biases, and Limitations of the Gold Standard Song List
Origin of the Gold
Standard Song List
“How Come My Favorite Song Isn’t on the List?”
Gold Standard Song List Selection Criteria, a. k. a.
Biases and Limitations (and Exceptions)
Purpose: Educational, Not
No Rank Ordering
One Genre per Song,
Regardless of Crossover Interpretations
Popular Music, Not
Date Composed: 1900 to
1999—no Earlier, No Later
English-language Songs of
the 7 Main English-speaking Nations
No Music Industry
Involvement or Consultation
Selections Not Based on
Record Sales or Chart Rankings
Totally Obscure Songs
No Songs Without Songwriter
Never Mind “Offensiveness”
Secular, Not Sacred
No Christmas Songs
Songs for Adults, Not
~ ~ ~
OF THE GOLD
In 2001, Roedy Black Publishing Inc.
H.U.M.S. Committee to draw up list of outstanding songs of the
English-speaking world in all major genres.
Although the original list (about 1,000
songs) was never published or named, it served as a resource of examples
that were cited throughout How Music REALLY Works, 1st Edition,
which was published online at Roedy Black Publishing’s
In 2002, Roedy Black Publishing asked
the H.U.M.S. Committee to expand the list to 5,000 songs. It would serve
as a major resource for readers of How Music REALLY Works, 2nd Edition.
This time, the list would have a formal identity: the
Song List, or GSSL.
The H.U.M.S. Committee was given a set
of guidelines—that is, biases and limitations—for song selection, to
ensure the quality and practical value of the list, and to keep it from
expanding to an impractical length.
For the most part, the H.U.M.S.
Committee followed the selection criteria. However, in the spirit of
independent-mindedness, they made some exceptions, which the
publisher accepted (see below).
1. Exclusion of "Eligible" Songs.
Given the guidelines listed below, the H.U.M.S. Committee did its best to
include as many of the greatest, most beautiful and influential songs as
possible within each genre. Inevitably, though, some songs that you
personally consider great and important— and also satisfy all the
selection criteria— are not on the list.
The H.U.M.S. Committee simply didn’t think the song was
good enough to warrant a spot on the list.
A song may have been well-known in one country, or within a
specific community of fans, but unheard-of everywhere else, and unknown to
the H.U.M.S. Committee.
Great song, but simply not enough room
on the list. At first, 5,000 songs seems like a lot, but when you’re
trying to represent 100 years and 14 genres, 5,000 songs ain’t all that
many. To get the GSSL down to 5,000,
the H.U.M.S. Committee had to reluctantly chop
hundreds of fine songs that met all the
2. Glaring Omissions.
If you feel that something terribly important is missing from the list,
send an email to Roedy Black Publishing. We’ll forward it to the H.U.M.S.
Committee in Sweden:
propose to add a new title to the GSSL, another song on the list will have
to be removed, so you will need to suggest both the title to be added and
the title to be removed.
4. Errrrors. If you spot what you believe to be a factual error on
the GSSL, please let the H.U.M.S. Committee know. We’ll forward your email
to the H.U.M.S. Committee in Sweden:
need to provide evidence of the error and correction. For example, if you think a certain
song was composed in 1945, and the GSSL lists it as having been composed
in 1942, you will need to provide evidence of your claim (other than your
insistence that “my Dad said it was 1945 and he always tells the truth”).
Without evidence, the H.U.M.S. Committee will probably not take your claim
too seriously and will instead crack a few more beers and resume jamming.
A. K. A. BIASES
1. PURPOSE: EDUCATIONAL, NOT
The Gold Standard Song List's main
purpose is educational—a resource for readers of How Music REALLY Works!, 2nd
Edition, which cites a large number of the GSSL songs as examples to
illustrate excellence in various aspects of songwriting and performing.
Songwriting doesn't get any better than
the songs on the GSSL. However, the GSSL is emphatically not
intended as a comprehensive or definitive list of the 5,000 “greatest
songs of all time.” See
Hypothetical Lists of Great Songs.
2. NO RANK ORDERING
If you happen to love jazz intensely
but hate country music (like jazz great Buddy Rich), you might wonder how
hundreds of country songs found their way onto the same list as hundreds
of jazz songs, since, in your estimation, all jazz songs are obviously
superior to all country songs.
3. ONE GENRE PER SONG,
REGARDLESS OF CROSSOVER INTERPRETATIONS
Every song on the GSSL is associated
with only one genre, even though many have been recorded by artists
working in a variety of genres.
For example, the Rodgers and
Hammerstein classic, “My Favorite Things” is listed on the GSSL as a
“Jazz” song instead of a “Musical/Film” song. That’s because John
Coltrane’s 1961 interpretation inspired a host of recordings and
performances by other jazz artists. The many jazz interpretations of “My
Favorite Things” have eclipsed the popular Julie Andrews rendition from the filmed
musical, The Sound Of Music.
Although every song has only one
associated genre, the same does not apply to songwriters. Even if a
songwriter’s material usually fits one particular genre, he or she may
have several songs on the GSSL, each in a different genre. A number of
great songwriters (e. g., Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell) have songs
in three or more GSSL genres.
4. POPULAR MUSIC, NOT
The Gold Standard Song List focuses on
popular music, as
distinct from the formal compositions of conservatory-trained composers,
usually called “classical music” or “contemporary music” or even “art
music” (including opera).
EXCEPTIONS: The H.U.M.S.
Committee did include a few “classical/contemporary” compositions (20 in
all) on the GSSL. These pieces have become widely known even among those
who claim they never listen to classical music.
Many 20th Century “classical” pieces, such as Ravel’s “Bolero” (1929) and
Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” (1900) have had numerous
interpretations by popular musicians.
The GSSL identifies these modern classical pieces in the “Genre” column as
5. DATE COMPOSED: 1900 TO
1999—NO EARLIER, NO LATER
Some songs usually associated with the
turn of the 20th Century do not appear on the GSSL because they were
written in the 1890s, such as Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” one
greatest of all ragtime songs.
At the other end of the century,
excellent songwriters whose careers began in the late 1990s (e. g., Kanye
West and Jack White of The White
Stripes), have few or no songs on the GSSL because the list has no material composed after
In any case, the age of a song
hardly matters. Only excellence matters.
In fact, the older the song, the more
likely it’s a song most people regard as a timeless classic. (The GSSL
contains nearly 1,200 songs composed between 1900 and 1949.)
Classic plays such as Shakespeare’s
Hamlet, and classic ballets such as Tchaikowsky’s Swan Lake transcend
time, place, and interpretation. So do classic songs, such as
Gershwin & Heyward’s “Summertime,” written in 1935. Like Hamlet and
Lake, “Summertime” has never lost its appeal and today is known and
performed the world over.
6. ENGLISH-LANGUAGE SONGS OF
THE 7 MAIN ENGLISH-SPEAKING NATIONS
The GSSL is limited to English-language
songs from the seven main English-speaking nations: USA, UK, Ireland,
Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Jamaica.
As for songs with lyrics in other
languages, doing justice to a century’s worth of, say,
Spanish-language or French-language or Portuguese-language popular songs
would require a separate “Spanish” or “French” or “Portuguese” Gold
Standard Song List.
Songs with lyrics in North American aboriginal languages
the French-language popular songs of Quebec
Spanish-language songs by Hispanic-American songwriters
French-language Cajun songs.
70% of the citizens of
the above-named 7 countries are Americans; and
African American and, to a lesser extent,
Jewish-American musicians and songwriters created most of the main
popular music genres that emerged in the 20th Century. See
About the 14 Genres.
EXCEPTIONS: The H.U.M.S. Committee did
include some classic non-English-language songs on the GSSL, such as
Gilles Vigneault’s “Mon Pays” and Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va.” Also, the GSSL has quite a few songs that originated outside of the 7
English-speaking nations, such as Weill & Brecht’s 1928 classic “Moritat
vom Mackie Messer” (“Mack the Knife”),
Repliado's "Chan Chan,"
Edith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose," and a number of
7. NO MUSIC INDUSTRY
INVOLVEMENT OR CONSULTATION
The Gold Standard Song List was created
without any influence by music media professionals such as reviewers of
records and concerts, and without any input from song publishers, record
labels, professional musicians, producers, etc.
SELECTIONS NOT BASED ON RECORD SALES OR CHART RANKINGS
While some songs on the GSSL were #1
smasheroo hits at one time, most were not. Billboard magazine’s
chart rankings were not consulted in creating the GSSL. Some
songwriters who have had lots of multi-platinum-selling records have
little or no representation on the GSSL.
The quality of a song usually
correlates weakly with Billboard chart status. Instead,
factors such as long-term staying power and appeal, influence on
songwriters and musicians, and multi-genre crossover interpretations
better indicate whether a song has classic potential.
9. TOTALLY OBSCURE SONGS
In any case, a list of thousands of
obscure songs would defeat the purpose of the GSSL. It exists to educate
songwriters and performers about songwriting excellence by providing
information on great songs that people can get their hands on.
Recordings of the overwhelming majority of GSSL songs are available without much difficulty at legal download
websites such as iTunes or Puretracks, or from retail outlets.
10. NO SONGS WITHOUT
Many traditional folk, blues, country,
and gospel classics are widely known and performed today. Songs such as
“Man of Constant Sorrow” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”
No one knows who composed the first versions of these traditional songs,
or exactly when (certainly well before 1900). So these songs, despite
their widespread appeal today, and obvious status as classics, do not
appear on the GSSL.
EXCEPTIONS: In some cases, a
particular individual was responsible, during the 20th Century, for
transforming or adapting a traditional song profoundly enough to warrant
“co-authorship” with “traditional.” These songs are listed on the GSSL
with “/Traditional” as co-writer, like this:
Williams, Big Joe/Traditional
Carter, A. P./Traditional
lists more than 40 songs that name a 20th Century songwriter as having
modified a “traditional” song.
11. NEVER MIND “OFFENSIVENESS”
12. SECULAR, NOT SACRED
The H.U.M.S. Committee was asked to keep the GSSL
secular. No hymns, no New Age, no sacred songs generally.
This guideline does not reflect a bias
against religion or against sacred or spiritual music. In truth, the
world’s religions have inspired the creation of massive quantities of
superlative music. So much great music that, in the 7 English-speaking
countries alone, there would need to be separate “Sacred” Gold Standard
Song Lists for each of several major religions.
EXCEPTIONS: Despite the
“secular” selection criterion, the H.U.M.S. Committee decided to include a
total of 40 religious songs, primarily gospel songs such as "Peace In The
Valley" and "Touch The Hem Of His Garment," because gospel music has
significantly influenced secular popular music, especially in America.
Songwriters usually associated with
secular genres of popular music (e. g., Hank Williams, Sr., Paul Simon,
Bob Dylan) wrote most of these songs, which the GSSL identifies in the
“Genre” column as “Gospel” songs.
13. NO CHRISTMAS SONGS
14. SONGS FOR ADULTS, NOT
As with sacred songs, Christmas songs,
and foreign-language songs, there are just too many brilliant songs for
children—certainly enough to warrant a “Children’s” Gold Standard Song