By Tom Ehrich

Call it a quest, not a contest.

My 20-year-old son and I are compiling “Top Songs” lists. We compare entries by text message and email, disagree about the Beach Boys, and take delight in naming the gems.

It’s the perfect mid-summer activity in air made overheated by church conventions, political campaigning, and bizarre debates over fripperies like Facebook and Google.

I’m told “there is an app for this.” But I enjoy the wonderful process by which a doughnut shop song or snatch of conversation will bring a song to mind.

This isn’t about nostalgia. Like any Baby Boomer, I’ve been nostalgia-marketed to death. I’m not trying to feel ten or sixteen or twenty again. I just enjoy the music. So does my son, a skilled classical violinist and devotee of classic rock.

Here’s my annotated list (not yet in any order).

"I Second That Emotion," by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (best R&B group of all time?)

"Dancing in the Street," Martha & the Vandellas (anthem for a movement I didn’t yet understand)

"She Was Only Sixteen," by Sam Cooke (what a voice!)

"When a Man Loves a Woman," by Percy Sledge (brilliant improv by a one-hit wonder)

"Shotgun," by Junior Walker & the All-Stars (gave me the freedom to dance)

"Under the Boardwalk," by the Drifters (what was a “boardwalk,?” this Indiana boy asked)

"First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," by Roberta Flack (love as we all imagined it)

"Staying Alive," by the BeeGees (disco’s one shining moment)

"Rescue Me," by Fontella Bass (three takes and done; one hit and done)

"The Great Pretender," by the Platters (heartbreak serenaders)

"I Want to Hold Your Hand," by the Beatles (like a first love, fresh and promising)

"Sultans of Swing," by Dire Straits (the incomparable Mark Knopfler)

"Operator," by Jim Croce (workingman’s ethic, died at age 30 in a plane crash)

"If You Leave Me Now," by Chicago (first big hit by a great group)

"You Were Always on My Mind," by Willie Nelson (sung by many, but never as poignantly as by Willie)

"I Will Survive," by Gloria Gaynor (liberation anthem)

"What a Feeling," from Flashdance, by Irene Cara (my #1 movie song)

"Let the River Run," by Carly Simon (my #2)



My son’s list? Copy for another day. Maybe I can convince him to remove the Beach Boys.

What’s your list?



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