Whistle a Happy Tune
There is no secret I am a huge music lover. In fact, if there is one mistake I’ve made in my life, it would be to not have continued my musical career, when I went to college, instead of foolishly thinking I could continue my athletic career at the next level. Fact is, I love music in nearly every form. If it well constructed, either instrumentally, or lyrically, chances are I am a fan. If the writers and performers excel at combining both great instrumentals and lyrics, well that’s a home run and it’s a pretty certain bet that I love it.
However, writing about one’s favorite types of music and favorite songs, is like comparing every type of food and picking only one favorite – it’s just impossible to matter of factly choose the best songs, in order, and have everyone agree. People’s choices in music and songs are even more diverse than all the types of people and many cultures on this earth. But today, I’m going to share my thoughts and observations.
I get my love of music honestly. I began playing the trumpet in 2nd grade and truly enjoyed playing every chance I got, although it’s been a few years since the Edinburgh Lions club put on the Christmas Madrigal Dinners where I was fortunate enough to play one of the two herald trumpets alongside my oldest daughter Nicole, who was a member of Greenwood’s state champion marching band, at that time. This would be the last time I would play in public. As fun as this was, getting to play alongside Nicole, the true musical joy of my life was being a part or arguably the best dance/jazz band in Indiana for four years from 1971-1975. Our group was outstanding and incredible, and every hyperbole you can think of. I know I’m going to miss someone, so my sincere apologies to those I have forgotten to mention (I am truly sorry) as my mind is beginning to go 😊!!! And, Certainly there were musicians who left via graduation and joined as they entered High School, whom I have also likely missed – sorry!!! However, there were saxophonists Jim Sanders, Bruce Walden, Jim Records, Jim Lazelle, Monty Sneed, Wally Bryant; Drummer Mike King, Trumpeters, Jim Beaver, Cindy McMillan, myself, trombonist Kevin Cecil, and others. This group of great musicians put together one of the finest groups in this state and it was a true pleasure getting to perform along side these super talented classmates, for many many gigs over the four years. We played Chicago’s “Make Me Smile” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’” the Duke Ellington version, but our rendition of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” was in high demand and we knocked it out of the park, everywhere we played – these classmates were truly great musicians - such joys and great memories!!! (Thanks to Jim Sanders for the Photo!!!)
From glory days to actual professional music. The title of this blog is “Whistle a Happy Tune.” I’m guessing you know this song but some may not. This song was originally released during the 1951 Broadway musical the King and I, starring Yul Brynner, with this particular tune sung by Gertrude Lawrence. The musical was such a success that Hollywood immediately made it into a film in 1956, also staring Yul Brynner but in the film version, this tune was sung by actress Deborah Kerr (dubbed by Marni Nixon). I chose this title because as much as I like a great song, from any genre, I too love musicals. You see, I was fortunate enough to have parents that loved Broadway musicals and other performances, and thus would drag me to Starlight Musicals every summer, at Butler University, to see each season’s selection of shows. As a true fan of music, I fell in love. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to see Wicked three times (My favorite), The King and I and Jesus Christ Superstar twice, and I have seen singular performances of A Chorus Line, Show Boat, The Waitress, The Grinch, The Music Man, Oklahoma, South Pacific, and several other less notable shows. Nearly everything Broadway adapts, and puts on, is worth seeing, but the truly great ones will last forever. [See my list of my favorite musicals at the end of this Blog]
Now for recorded music. I have excluded classical music even though there is a great deal to love with this genre as well. As I said, I love nearly every form of music but if I had to say I’m partial to one it would be Rock or what most would say is Pop-Rock. I also like a great deal of Christian music and Country music, although both of these genre’s have become far more pop than the twang and steel guitars of older Country and the bellowing gospels of older Christian music. As you will see from my own personal top 500 list, at the end of this blog, there is a huge variety in my choices, from 50’s to today, from the lounge singers of the 50’s-80’s to some Christmas music and some novelty songs. My personal top choices for the various genres (in alpha order) are:
Big Band – Glen Miller
Christian – MercyMe
Country – Brad Paisley
Jazz – Louis Armstrong
Lounge Singers – Frank Sinatra
Pop Rock – The Eagles
Rock – The Rolling Stones
R&B – The Platters
Ironically, two of my very favorite musicians are actually comedians; Victor Borge and Heywood Banks. Both Victor Borge and Heywood Banks, have very rare, yet hysterical comedy routines, that everyone would love, but they especially resonated with those who have a music background. I have seen both Mr. Borge and Mr. Banks, three times in person. Heywood Banks is a comedian with musical talent whom writes comedic songs based on the oddest themes or characters, all of which are hilarious, like Toast, and The Cat Got Dead, just to name a few.
Victor Borge was more of a musician who became a comedian. Mr. Borge, known at birth as Børge Rosenbaum, was affectionately called the Great Dane. Borge began piano lessons at the age of two, and it was soon apparent that he was a prodigy. He gave his first piano recital when he was eight years old, and in 1918 was awarded a full scholarship at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, studying under Olivo Krause. At the height of his young career, the Nazi’s were overrunning Europe and Borge escaped with his life as he was literally on the last boat out to America. However, he had begun to dabble in comedy because there were far too many great pianists in Europe to make a living so his natural sense of humor gave him the opportunity to mix his music with stand-up. When he got to the US, he didn’t speak a word of English, so he quickly managed to adapt his jokes to the American audience, learning English by watching movies. He took the name of Victor Borge, and in 1941, he started on Rudy Vallee's radio show. He was hired soon after by Bing Crosby for his Kraft Music Hall programme, and as they say the rest is history.
I greatly recommend looking up videos of Victor Borge or researching recordings of Heywood Banks, if you have never heard these brilliant performers before. I promise you, watching or listening to these two greats perform will bring you hours of laughter and enjoyment.
Now to the artists who intentionally brought their musical talents into our cars, homes, and onto our local stages. First off, I love the Eagles – all of their stuff. The pre-supposed break-up material from 1971-1980, their solo stuff in-between, and their more recent material from 1994 to today. Although we lost Eagles founder Glenn Fry in 2016, the Eagles have continued to tour with Glenn’s son Deacon Frey and Vince Gill sharing lead vocals for Frey's songs. It’s uncertain whether or not new material will be forthcoming but one can only hope, and wonder a bit, as to whether or not it will be the same without the groups’ founder and key writing collaborator; Glenn Fry.
The Eagles have run the gambit of great songs. They are one of the world's best-selling bands, having sold more than 200 million records, including 100 million sold in U.S alone. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and were ranked number 75 on Rolling Stone's 2004 list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. They have five number one singles and six number one albums, six Grammy Awards, and five American Music Awards. The band was one of the most successful musical acts of the 1970s in North America. Founding members Glenn Frey (guitars, vocals), Don Henley (drums, vocals), Bernie Leadon (guitars, vocals) and Randy Meisner (bass guitar, vocals), were recruited by Linda Ronstadt as band members, some touring with her, and all playing on her third solo album, before venturing out on their own on David Geffen's new Asylum Records label. In 1974, guitarist Don Felder joined. In 1975, guitarist and vocalist Joe Walsh replaced Leadon, and Meisner was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit in 1977.
Their early songs were Influenced by 1960s rhythm and blues, soul, bluegrass, and rock bands such as the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. Their overall sound was described as "California rock". In their later years they became a bit more cynical and challenging of the “Southern California” lifestyle and influence. Their solo careers were equally successful as Fry and Henley each had significant successes, and Walsh hooked up with several bands as a marquee performer on many tours. When they reunited, they launched several newly recorded hits while riding the success of their old standards and crowd favorites. I am particularly fond of Best of My Love, Peaceful Easy Feelin, Get Over It, The Last Resort, How Long, and What Do I Do with My Heart. The last song listed would be the final hit song written by Glen Frey, about 8 ½ years before his passing. My wife’s personal favorites are Desperado, Take it to The Limit, and Just Too busy Being Fabulous. Quite frankly, there isn’t a single Eagles release that I don’t truly like!!!
Finally, I will add my own list of bests below. As I said, choosing the best in music is sure to have agreements, disagreements, and some debate, but I have done my best, at least in my mind, to choose the top 500 songs, and the top ten performers in a few genres. However, I have highlighted a few songs as having significant thoughts or memories for me. Here are those highlighted songs and why they stand out to me:
Let it Be by the Beatles - This made the top of my list – not because it is brilliantly written but because it marked the beginning of the end of one of the greatest groups of all time.
Fooled Around and Fell in Love/Elvin Bishop – Great song but many may not know that Starships (aka Jefferson Starship) own Mickey Thomas actually sang the lead vocal on this song.
The Long and Winding Road/Beatles – Not actually the last song written by the Beatles, but in my mind the final hit song whose story is ironically fitting for the end of this great bands career as a group.
Born to Run/Bruce Springsteen – Springsteen was already known as a good writer, at the time of this recording, but this is the song that convinced the world he could be a singer-performer as well.
Desperado/Eagles – Already mentioned as my wife’s favorite, it is a great message in song to seize the moment and not wait on love or your loved one.
The Last Resort/Eagles – The Eagles had clearly embraced the Southern California brand and lifestyle but quickly learned that having too much of a good thing can be bad. In this song, they clearly depict how the rush to this California lifestyle was not necessarily a good thing and ultimately turned negative. In the punch line – “Call some place paradise – Kiss it goodbye,” the Eagles accurately painted the picture of how the California story line had drastically changed over the years – Brilliant song!!!
Swayin to the Music/Johnny Rivers – A great return to the charts for a legendary performer – great song – I love the crickets in the background!
Cruisin'/Smokey Robinson – Just like the above, A great return for the legendary performer, with the silky voice- Smokey!!!
Me and Mrs. Jones/Billy Paul – Not necessarily the greatest story line in the lyrics, but OH what an instrumental sound – the blues/jazz mix makes this one of the best instrumental arrangments of the R&B genre!
Handle with Care/Travelling Wilburys – Many may have blinked and missed the Traveling Wilburys but when you bring together legendary performers Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty, you have a can’t miss band with some very great songs like this one!
You Got It/Roy Orbison – Roughly at the same time as his stint on the Traveling Wilburys, and shortly before his death, Roy released this great tune which has always been a favorite of mine.
There was Jesus/Zach Williams - Dolly Parton – I personally think this is the greatest duet performance ever, at least the greatest in Christian music – love this song!
God Bless the USA/Lee Greenwood – Not blessed with the greatest of voices, Lee’s recording of this song is by all means the greatest tribute to this great country of ours. I love his rendition of Amazing Grace and O Holy Night as well!
Mr. BoJangles/Sammy Davis JR – I love Nitty Gritty’s, and Jim Croce’s, versions of this song but Sammy Davis blended singing and acting, and when he performed this song live, it was breathtaking. I personally was a huge Bill “Bojangles” Robinson fan and Sammy’s rendition truly paid him the respect he so deserved!
Blueberry Hill/Fats Domino – The incredible Fats and his rendition of this song is a classic. The song depicts young love, sought after and found, in the 1950’s. I love Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong’s version as well but Fats version is truly the best and without equal!
My Sweet Lady/John Denver – Now I will agree with anyone who feels this song should not be as lofty as number 41 on the top 500, but it is a personal and sentimental favorite of mine. You see there were two young men who used to perform this song at impromptu mini performances at Ball State University, and the first time I heard their rendition of this John Denver song, I said to myself I want this played at my wedding. So, sure enough, just 3 years later, I asked one of those artists, Jeff Engledow, to perform this song, at my wedding, to my beautiful wife Sarah. FYI – this rates at #41 because Sarah and I have been married 41 years this past December 1, 2020.
Taxi/Harry Chapin – Great song from one of the very best story tellers. Harry’s songs usually were too long to make it onto the radio, but this classic story of long-lost loves, was an instant classic and actually did creep onto the charts, in spite of it’s six-and-a-half-minute run time!
Under the Boardwalk/John Mellencamp Version – Love the original by the Drifters but the Mellencamp version is by far my favorite. The story goes Mellencamp used to make his band practice old 50’s and 60’s classic songs in the off chance he chose to perform one, unplanned, at any concert. Thank you, John, for this one, because I feel it is one of your best songs.
Lola (original)/Kinks – An absolute classic, but it has to be the original with the Coca-Cola reference. You see shortly after the release of this version; Coca-Cola sued the Kinks for their unauthorized use of their trade mark name. The Kinks acquiesced and changed the reference to the now heard “cherry cola.” I have the original and if you find a copy, you should hang onto it!
Snoopy vs The Red Baron/Royal Guardsmen – There had always been novelty songs, as they call them, over the years, but this classic by the Royal Guardsmen relaunched a plethora of newer novelty songs so much so that these songs actually launched careers, like Weird Al Yankovic, or at least prolonged careers, like Jim Stafford’s. However, the two Snoopy songs, and one other mentioned two songs later, are still my favorites.
Santa Clause is Comin to town/ Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Absolutely love this version of blending Christmas with rock and roll. Springsteen did this well and I can’t say enough how I love the saxophone work of Clarence Clemmons (RIP), in this song and in many of the band’s other performances!
Monster Mash/Bobby "Boris" Picket – I am a hug fan of this novelty song, as I mentioned previously. It is so well done with it’s references to the old horror films and characters. In fact, my high school teammates liked this song as well because on our football team, we named a special defensive play and blitz the “Monster Mash” – This play did not succeed a great deal but it was fun - fond memories!
Even If/MercyMe – Only my closest family knows this but there were some times, not all that long ago, when I felt depression creeping in for the very first time in my life. Some health concerns, job concerns, and the fact that I was no longer a “Spring Chicken” as my doctors and family reminded me, all sent me on a path towards depression. Ironically one particular morning when I was at my lowest, I was stopping by Kroger at 3:30 am to buy donuts for my team at work; Kroger was the only place I could get this particular treat at this time of the morning because Longs, my top choice, does not open until 5:30 am. I put the donuts in the truck and sat there, no music on which was unheard of for me, and just thought about how bad I thought things were, then I pulled away and headed for the interstate. Just before getting to the on-ramp, I realized I had forgotten my ID Badge, something I had NEVER done in my 40+ years of work, and without my badge I would not be able to get into work at this early time. So, I had to turn around and go back home to retrieve my badge. I did so and jumped back in the truck to head to work. Again, not listening to music because I was both depressed and angry, but something told me to turn on the radio anyway. I did and the first words I heard was the DJ stating: “Here’s a song especially for you.” It was Even If by MercyMe – I don’t know if you know this song but once you listen to it you will understand why this song changed my life - thank you God!!!!!!
Blessings/Laura Story – “Even If” changed my life but the struggles did not totally go away. When I was having some serious doubts about health and job, nearly an identical occurrence as the one I described above, happened to me. This time it was the song Blessings by Laura Story – from this day forward I would never again forget God’s love, for me and for everyone, and that He has angels watching over us to set us right, we only have to listen and believe!!!
Say I Won't/MercyMe – You can see from the previous two comments, that I have a love for the Christian group MercyMe. Well yesterday I heard this new release from MercyMe and it instantly inspired me to make it the only brand-new release to make my top 500 – great song which I predict will be a big hit!
Thank you everyone for sticking with this somewhat long read, but as you can see, I love music as does our God. So here are my referenced lists – remember these are my own personal views/opinions:
*I have listed the top 11 in Rock and Pop-Rock as there is a great deal of debate as to the Beatles and Queen being on either list so I put them on both. In Musicals, Singin in the Rain is highlighted because it was predominantly a movie and not a “Broadway” musical, but it is a musical none-the-less.
Here are my top 500 songs:
1 Let it Be Beatles
2 Hotel California Eagles
3 Heart of the Matter Don Henley
4 I Can Only Imagine MercyMe
5 Piano Man Billy Joel
6 I Am I Said Neil Diamond
7 What a Wonderful World Louis Armstrong
8 Smooth Carlos Santana-Rob Thomas
9 Fooled Around and Fell in Love Elvin Bishop
10 Yesterday The Beatles
11 Good Vibrations The Beach Boys
12 The Long and Winding Road Beatles
13 Billie Jean (album / single version) Michael Jackson
14 Born to Run (version 5a) Bruce Springsteen
15 Stairway to Heaven Led Zeppelin
16 You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' (single version) The Righteous Brothers
17 Desperado Eagles
18 Bridge Over Troubled Water (original stereo mix) Simon & Garfunkel
19 Swayin to the Music Johnny Rivers
20 Cruisin' Smokey Robinson
21 Me and Mrs. Jones Billy Paul
22 Handle With Care Travelling Wilburys
23 You Got It Roy Orbison
24 Best News Ever MercyMe
25 There was Jesus Zach Williams - Dolly Parton
26 God Bless the USA Lee Greenwood
27 Impossible Dream Jim Nabors
28 Mr. BoJangles Sammy Davis JR
29 Blessings Laura Story
30 My Way Frank Sinatra
31 Mack the Knife Bobby Darin
32 Blueberry Hill (Imperial, edited) Fats Domino
33 Even If MercyMe
34 Every Breath You Take The Police