|Any amateur musicologist can make a top 20 list; I did myself, not so long ago, and I’m still hearing from people who feel that putting Connie Francis’ ”Stupid Cupid” on a list of the best rock songs ever was an act of insanity. Then it occurred to me that I had a less subjective source for such a list, and that was my very own iTunes library. iTunes is really nothing but a great big computer jukebox, and — like the jukes that always sat in the coffee shops and soda fountains of my misspent youth, bubbling colored lights and pumping out the beat — it keeps track of every song it plays.
So here’s another list, not of songs I claim I like, but ones I actu¬ally play when I’m working, pretending to work, or just goofing around. It’s your Uncle Stevie’s real top 20, in all its naked truth. And you may be relieved to find Connie Francis is not on it. The number in parentheses is the number of plays.
20. Rock Your Baby George McCrae (19) Divine falsetto, the spirit of ’70s soul, and music to have sexy daydreams by.
19. No Place Like the Right Time Donna the Buffalo (22) The Buffalo is an alt-country group, and here, lead singer Tara Nevins sounds like the second coming of Stevie Nicks.
18. City of the Damned The Gothic Archies (23) Let’s-all-kill-ourselves despair set to a bubblegum beat. How can you not like that?
17. The Bug Dire Straits (24) A philosophy lesson in four minutes (”Sometimes you’re the windshield/Sometimes you’re the bug”), with Mark Knopfler’s snappy — and often amusing — licks.
16. La Cienega Just Smiled Ryan Adams (25) Strange, rich imagery from one of alt-country’s most gifted songwriters.
15. Candida Tony Orlando and Dawn (25) Okay, I hear you sniggering. But before you write me that nasty note you have in mind, give another listen to this pop-calypso confection, which always sounds to me like a lost Jimmy Buffett song.
14. Wave On Wave Pat Green (26) An exuberant alt-country anthem that suggests that love can sometimes be salvation. Do you want to argue with that? I don’t.
13. If You Wanna Get to Heaven The Ozark Mountain Daredevils (27) With all apologies to Bob Dylan, here’s the best rock & roll harmonica ever, and a refrain — ”If you wanna get to heaven/You got to raise a little hell” — straight from Party Central.
12. Treat Her Right Los Straitjackets with Mark Lindsay (27) This remake of Roy Head’s 1965 soul hit smokes. And Mark Lindsay (once lead vocalist of Paul Revere & the Raiders) sounds so good you just gotta wonder where he was all those years.
11. Too Late to Turn Back Now Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose (28) With a mellow backbeat and swooping string section, this is one of the prettiest, most heartfelt soul songs ever. I put it in Lisey’s Story as the first dance at a wedding reception.
10. Yeah (Pretentious Mix) LCD Soundsystem (28) Hypnotic. I think that pretty much says it.
9. Wild, Wild West Escape Club (29) Infectious dance track laced with funny S&M lyrics (”She’s so mean, but I don’t care”). And a lot of cowbell.
8. California Stars Billy Bragg & Wilco (30) This is from an album of ”rediscovered” Woody Guthrie songs (Mermaid Avenue). Bragg is the album’s terrific featured artist, but this song is all about Jeff Tweedy’s sweet, slightly weary vocal.
7. Alabama Song Allison Moorer (33) Every time I hear Ms. Moorer’s voice — almost as pure as Judy Collins’ — I close my eyes for a minute, shut the world out, and just listen. For me, this song is her best.
6. Good Lovin’ The Young Rascals (34) I sometimes think I’ll shoot myself if I hear ”Groovin”’ or ”A Beautiful Morning” again, but I never tire of this rave-up.
5. CB Song Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers (35) I first heard a snatch of this on a Geico insurance ad. You could say, ”Just a long-haul trucker looking for love.” I say, ”What a great soundtrack for doing it.”
4. Castanets Alejandro Escovedo (38) I’ve written about this insanely cool rock song before. Basically, it’s ”Brown Sugar” for the 21st century.
3. 0394413 Beau Jocque & the Zydeco Hi-Rollers (49) This is from the live album Git It, Beau Jocque!, and it’s basically the announcement of a winning lottery ticket: extemporaneous lyrics set to a kick-ass beat. Fifty-one seconds long, hilarious, and completely surreal.
2. Going to a Go-Go Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (51) I downloaded this song after hearing the Stones’ cover. It’s a great cover, but nothing beats this monster jam with its driving backbeat.
1. Tube Snake Boogie ZZ Top (59) It’s rude, childishly dirty, and simple to the point of stupidity, but I never tire of those tight, fuzzed-out guitars. I could listen all day, and as you see, some days I almost have.
So there’s my list of the real top 20. The computer does not lie.