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For gift of music, here's a uniquely American playlist

No compendium of American music would be complete without the Motown sound. Few embodied it like Marvin Gaye.

Times files

No compendium of American music would be complete without the Motown sound. Few embodied it like Marvin Gaye.

My colleague walked into the office frustrated.

Just two days before she embarked on a trip to China, she went searching for a gift. Her father lives in China with his new Chinese girlfriend, and she wanted to give her something made in America.

It sounded like a simple enough goal — until she actually started looking. Turned out some of the most sea-to-shining-sea items she found were made, well, in China.

As she lamented, a thought struck my mind, and really my ears.

Music. American music.

Not necessarily the dyed-in-the-red-white-and-blue patriotic songs we listen to on weekends like this, but the music uniquely American, and the songs and artists that reflect life in our nation.

Everybody in the office joined the discussion. We talked genres: jazz, gospel, country, bluegrass, folk — even salsa, a melding of Latin influences that occurred in New York City.

Soon, we were calling out specific songs and artists. The possibilities varied.

Finally, I offered to delve into my iTunes library and put together a CD. I had only one night, so I couldn't dally. After pulling the kind of all-nighter that made my college days memorable, I proudly walked into the office with three 80-minute CDs containing 66 tracks.

Yes, I got a little carried away.

As I explained my choices to others, however, the idea grew more intriguing. Either I questioned myself or my friends did it for me.

"Do the Doobie Brothers belong?"

"No Neil Diamond?

"What about disco?"

For the purposes of this column, I don't have room to include all 66 songs, so let's narrow the focus. First, limit your choices to artists born in the United States. Yes, the Beatles and Rolling Stones influenced life here as much as they did in the rest of the world, but we have to establish boundaries.

Assume we have songs representing the roots of those aforementioned genres. Also, move past the pre-rock era of the '30s, '40s and '50s. Don't get me wrong, I included choices from Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby on my original list, and probably should have added Glenn Miller and Nat "King" Cole.

But I only have so much space in the paper.

So start with the mid 1950s, the beginning of the Rock Era, and move forward. Now, play along with me.

Don't Be Cruel, Elvis Presley (1956) — You could pick many of the songs from the early Elvis catalog, but this was the one he performed on the legendary Ed Sullivan Show, and it also simultaneously topped the pop, country and R&B charts.

Crazy, Patsy Cline (1961) — Reportedly the most played song on American jukeboxes.

My Girl, Temptations (1965) — The Motown catalog offers no shortage of possibilities, but this one best defines the era.

What's Going On, Marvin Gaye (1971) — The lyrics still resonate today.

Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974) — If you don't understand this Southern rock anthem's broad appeal, go watch Eminem turn it into a rap song in the movie 8-Mile.

Billie Jean, Michael Jackson (1982) — It's the best song from Jackson's best album, but Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough also deserves consideration.

I Will Always Love You, Whitney Houston (1992) — If I didn't include a song by Houston, my editor doesn't publish the column. But this monster hit, originally recorded by Dolly Parton, deserves a spot.

The rest of my top 30: (We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock, Bill Haley and His Comets; Turn! Turn! Turn!, the Byrds; A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke; Respect, Aretha Franklin; Wouldn't It Be Nice, Beach Boys; Coal Miner's Daughter, Loretta Lynn; Saturday in the Park, Chicago; I Want You Back, the Jackson 5; Take It Easy, the Eagles; Piano Man, Billy Joel; I Wish, Stevie Wonder; Jack & Diane, John Mellencamp; Don't Stop Believing, Journey; The Message, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five; Glory Days, Bruce Springsteen; When Doves Cry, Prince; Livin' On A Prayer, Bon Jovi; Vogue, Madonna; Friends in Low Places, Garth Brooks; Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana; Dear Mama, 2Pac; Lose Yourself, Eminem; How 'Bout Them Cowgirls, George Strait.

So, are you wondering how Jimmy Buffett and Johnny Cash got left out? Are you stunned that Ray Charles and Carrie Underwood didn't make the cut?

Great. Send me your suggestions. Respectful debate is what this country is all about, and like our nation, my list remains a work in progress.

That's all I'm saying.

For gift of music, here's a uniquely American playlist 06/30/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 4, 2011 9:35am]
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