Top 50 Favourite Songs: Frank Kogan

The Shirelles’ “Tonight’s The Night” isn’t about the night, it’s the need for the night. And Debbie Deb, from her other dance hit, “Lookout weekend, here I come,” not the party but anticipating the party. “When I hear music it makes me dance, you’ve got the music, here’s my chance.” Something about to happen, something asking to happen, something needs to happen; longing and fear of what might happen. This song is the ache, the need. Say you’re gonna meet me (tonight’s the night), but I don’t know, I just don’t know, I might…

On the other side there’s the Stones, something twisted, something off: I’m watching my TV, a man comes on and tells me he can’t be a man, I can’t get no, no no no, the drums, wham wham, pop-pop-pop, and the guitar, the (in its day) subversion, the daring fuzz noise, the great drama (in its night), aggression and excitement, anticipation… Fast forward to Brazil, DJ Guuga, don’t worry about your ex-wife, come to the cabaré. DJ Wesley Gonzaga—my friend David Cooper Moore’s description, “For a good stretch this song is propelled primarily by a gun being cocked and a synth piano line that sounds like what happens when you’re about to change the battery in your smoke detector and it chirps right in your face. And it fucking rocks.” So the dance is no longer coming up from the bass but down from that high annoying screaming beep. And if you forgot or never knew what 1965 was like, the impact of the guitar, it was the piercing smoke alarm, the noise that Keith Richard unearthed, a man comes on the radio… the need, the night in the distance, I can’t get no.

This list. It’s all Shirelles and Rolling Stones, in different times and places, inhabiting different bodies, wearing different clothes. That’s the trouble with best-of lists; it’s a highlight reel, but a highlight reel isn’t the game. So my list (top 50 songs, hah) not only doesn’t represent the world, or music, it barely represents me, either. You wouldn’t know that at age 9 I’d memorized every silly song on the 1st Allan Sherman record and the 3rd Tom Lehrer, or that from 2004 to 2016 my end-of-year lists had almost all female singers (on this list they get superseded by 2003 earlier and male Soundcloud creeps later), or that funk didn’t just reorganize my sense of musical relations but of human relations.

Methodology: I was going to take 5 songs per decade from the 1930s to the 2010s, no more than 2 from the Stones; only 2 or 3 from the 1920s, ’cause I know fuck-all about the ’20s, and anyway the record industry didn’t rev up big until ’25; and 1 or 2 from 2020-21—so that’s maybe a total of 5 from the ’20s!—and if there are a couple spots left I’ll give one more each to the ’70s and ’80s. Anyway, I got 2 from the 2020s and only 2 from the 1920s, and it turns out I also know fuck-all about the ’40s, so only 3 there, and I know fuck-all about the ’30s but have no shortage—so with 3 spots in hand I give one extra to the ’70s, pass over the ’80s, and give one more to the ’10s and another to the ’30s—and since I know fuck-all about the ’30s I don’t know the grumpy old peak achievements so instead I have fun, Billie swinging and Stanley yucking it up on behalf of Anne Boleyn and all the joke songs and show songs and folk songs I’d otherwise left off (first heard it on a Kingston Trio record), and we finally get our party.

Here’s the playlist.

In reverse alphabetical order:

Waring’s Pennsylvanians “Love For Sale” (1931)
The Wailers “Jailhouse” (1965)
V.I.M. “Maggie’s Last Party” (1991)
Hugh Roy (U-Roy) & Hopeton Lewis “Drive Her Home” (1971)
Trick Daddy & Trina “Nann Nigga” (1998)
Les Têtes Brulées “Têtes Brulées” (1990)

Teddy Yo “Gurage Tone” (2007)
t.A.T.u. “Kosmos” (2005)
T-ara “Lovey-Dovey” (2012)
Donna Summer “I Feel Love” (1977)
The Stooges “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell” (1973)
Spoonie Gee “Spoonin’ Rap” (1979)
Britney Spears “…Baby One More Time” (1998)
Slade “Cum On Feel The Noize” (1973)
The Shirelles “Tonight’s The Night” (1960)
Sheck Wes “Do That” (2018)

The Sex Pistols “Anarchy In The U.K.” (1976)
The Ronettes “Be My Baby” (1963)
The Rolling Stones “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965)
Elvis Presley “Baby Let’s Play House” (1955)
Playboi Carti “Magnolia” (2017)
Charley Patton “Mississippi Boweavil Blues” (1929)
Charlie Parker’s Ri Bop Boys “Ko Ko” (1945)

Panjabi MC ft. Jay-Z “Beware Of The Boys” (2003)
The Orioles “It’s Too Soon To Know” (1948)
Ninety One “Ah!Yah!Ma!” (2017)
MC Teteu “Dingo Bell Sou Seu Papai Noel” (2019)
Kim Wan-sun “The Dance In The Rhythm” (1987)

Mory Kanté “Yéké Yéké” (1987)
Lonnie Johnson “Tomorrow Night” (1948)
Blind Willie Johnson “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed” (1928)
Little Willie John “Fever” (1956)
Stanley Holloway “With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm” (1934)

Billie Holiday “Swing! Brother, Swing!” (1939)
Hole “Violet” (1994)
Lefty Frizzell “Long Black Veil” (1959)
The Flamingos “I Only Have Eyes For You” (1959)
The Fall “Totally Wired” (1980)
DJ Wesley Gonzaga, MC Cyclope & MC Laureta “Sarra Nela Com Fuzil Na Bandolera” (2021)

DJ Guuga & MC Pierre “Cabaré” [flashing lights in the vid] (2020)
Debbie Deb “When I Hear Music” (1983)
Bing Crosby “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” (1932)
Alfred Cortot “Prelude No. 4 In E Minor (Opus 28 No. 4)” by Frédéric Chopin (1934)
Company B “Fascinated” (1986)
Jerry Byrne “Lights Out” (1958)
Brown Eyed Girls “Smile Chock Chock” (2009)

James Brown “Prisoner Of Love” live at the Apollo Vol. II (1968)
Baauer “Harlem Shake” (2012)
Louis Armstrong “Laughin’ Louie” (1934)
50 Cent “In Da Club” (2003)

6 thoughts on “Top 50 Favourite Songs: Frank Kogan

  1. By year:

    –’20s (2): MC Wesley Gonzaga et al.; DJ Guuga & MC Pierre
    –’10s (6): Sheck Wes; MC Teteu; T-ara; Playboi Carti; Baauer; Ninety One
    –’00s (5): Brown Eyed Girls; Teddy Yo; t.A.T.u.; Panjabi MC ft. Jay-Z; 50 Cent
    –’90s (5): Trick Daddy & Trina: V.I.M.; Britney Spears; Hole; Les Têtes Brulées
    –’80s (5): Debbie Deb; Kim Wan-sun; Mory Kanté; Company B; The Fall
    –’70s (6): Spoonie Gee; Sex Pistols; Donna Summer; Stooges; Slade; U-Roy & Hopeton Lewis
    –’60s (5): Rolling Stones; Wailers; Ronettes; James Brown; Shirelles
    –’50s (5): Little Willie John; Flamingos; Elvis Presley; Jerry Byrne; Lefty Frizzell
    –’40s (3): Charlie Parker; Orioles; Lonnie Johnson
    –’30s (6): Waring’s Pennsylvanians; Alfred Cortot; Louis Armstrong; Stanley Holloway; Billie Holiday; Bing Crosby
    –’20s (2): Charley Patton; Blind Willie Johnson

    I notice that ’70s and earlier are more canonical than what comes later. For ’20s through ’50s that may be because the canon helped direct what I went back and heard and because, as I noted in my essay, I basically know fuck-all about those decades. The ’60s and ’70s are when people psychosocially like me were making good music and making the canon. Around 1980 we stopped being all that good, and in the ’00s I could start romping through YouTube, with a spillover effect on how I heard the two decades previous.

  2. Frequently asked questions:

    Do you really prefer “Totally Wired” to “Change On Me” and “West End Girls”?

    Yes, and to “That’s The Joint” and “Welcome To The Jungle,” at least in the moment I made this list. But I don’t prefer it to “Sister Ray” or “Like A Rolling Stone” or “Remember (Walking In The Sand)” or “96 Tears” or “Funky Broadway” or “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” The decade shenanigans were to stop the Sixties from dominating the list and to save me from serious boredom.

    Um, Frank, just because a party is fraught doesn’t mean it isn’t a party. In fact, being fraught might make the party more interesting.

    Okay, yes, don’t pick on me for my rhetorical devices. (And before Chuck throws it in my face, I do remember him quoting to me that I’d once said something like we don’t add fear and uncertainty to a party to make the party more realistic, we do it to make it a better party).

    Since you’re alphabetizing by surnames where applicable, and Little Willie John is alphabetized under John, why isn’t DJ Wesley Gonzaga alphabetized under Gonzaga?

    I don’t know. (And Gonzaga and Guuga end up next to each other either way.)

  3. To date (and there are at least a few more lists to come), Frank takes the prize for most exclamation points on his list (keeping in mind that some contributors may not have included them in the titles and I haven’t been diligent enough to always check). Five exclamation points here!

    On the other hand, it depends how you think of such things (there must be a sabremetrical way to tabulate all this). For while Frank’s list contains five exclamation points, they are spread among two entries only (Ninety One’s “Ah!Yah!Ma!” and Billie Holiday’s “Swing! Brother, Swing!”). Ioannis’s list, on the other hand, has three exclamation points but they are dispersed among three different artists (Usher’s “Yeah!,” Cameo’s “Word Up!,” and Outkast’s “Hey Ya!”) Phil’s list also has three exclamations, all gobbled up by Los Campesinos: “You! Me! Dancing!”

    I’ll get back to you with an update on question marks, parentheses, and commas.

  4. Back in October 2021, Scott emailed me a couple of questions about my Top 50 essay, I answered, and he or I was going to post the conversation here in the comments and then neither of us did. Here it is. [Note: When I say here that in my essay I’d exempted my 1930s choices from my Stones-and/or-Shirelles dynamic, I ought to add that this is not the clearest thing in the world, that I’d exempted those choices.]


    These two thoughts come to mind about your post.

    1) “It’s all Shirelles and Rolling Stones, in different times and places, inhabiting different bodies, wearing different clothes.” I get it, I think, and am in awe of your ability to shape your list that way but genuinely wonder if this applies to, say, Chopin? I’m not doubting it, I’m intrigued by what it might mean. It might come a little more into focus when I get around to listening to your Chopin selection. (Your list subverts the boys-girls/English language thing in various places, so my inquiry applies elsewhere too; I can SORT of get it with Charlie Parker, I think, though I’m probably half-bullshitting my way through that too.) (“Ko Ko” is the only Parker song to date I’ve been able to truly hear, and I had a lot of help even getting to that – via documentaries, podcasts, written exegeses, etc.) (And I don’t want to suggest that every song on your list adheres to some “theory,” lest the inquiry itself sound reductionist.)

    2) “funk didn’t just reorganize my sense of musical relations but of human relations” – this feels brilliant, but I’m still half-lost. Musical relations I would assume means something along the lines of how funk emphasized rhythm, turned drums into lead instruments, etc.? I need to think about how this applies to relationships – I’m sure there’s something here that could resonate deeply in my own life but I guess that I just don’t know.


    (1) Well, the Cortot Chopin prelude is one of my ’30s choices, and in “Methodology” I was exempting them from the Stones-or-Shirelles dynamic: but that brings up another aspect of the alleged similarities, which is that I’m clever so I can take any song and find a way to link the dynamic, e.g., could claim that Billie’s not the swing but the need for the swing, the anticipation of swing (“Don’t stop to diddle daddle, Stop this foolish prattle”), except actually I think in “Swing! Brother, Swing!” she is the swing, not the ache and the need for it; so I’m really talking more about feel than lyrical strategies; whatever the words are doing, “Swing! Brother, Swing!” doesn’t feel Stonesish or Shirellesy. But a whole shitload do!

    Stones, a hard dissatisfaction that feels it can potentially beat what it’s challenging, and in the meantime enjoys thumbing its nose and rocking out to its own discontent. –I wouldn’t define the Stones this way, or any of their songs, ’cause it’s just a sense, just a part, a piece of the whole, that gets linked to tones and music and you can dance to it. But this is maybe what I’m hearing in it that I’m also hearing in, say, “Ko Ko” and Wesley Gonzaga (which I also wouldn’t reduce to that definition), and believe it or not the Brown Eyed Girls (it helps to know they did the Nivea Lipcare ad only months after radically redefining themselves as aggressive and sexual). Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” is frustration audiblized, defiantly not arriving anywhere, and you can hear similar strategies in DJ Guuga.

    And Sheck Wes and Playboi Carti, and a lot of trap and Soundcloud rap, came into existence so that I could take my description of the last 30 seconds of “Heart Of Stone” – frontman’s acting tough while the music cries tears in the background – and apply it to the rest of the world.

    Anyway, I haven’t gone over the list song-by-song to justify my hyperbole. James Brown’s “Prisoner Of Love” and T-ara’s “Lovey-Dovey” and U-Roy’s “Drive Her Home” don’t actually feel Stones or Shirelles to me, but Lonnie Johnson’s “Tomorrow Night” and the Orioles’ “Too Soon To Know” and Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” do (first two Shirelles; Donna, the Stones).

    The point is there is a narrower social and emotional range to my list than its apparent diversity would suggest. But also, [the hyperbole is my way of] trying to throw the readers into the music, make ’em hear it or hear ways of hearing it, rethink it no matter how much they’ve already heard it.

    (2) Music as an interplay of sounds and people that are not necessarily all pulling in the same direction with a set and settled “lead” voice or instrument, but a collective enterprise nonetheless. Ditto life as a collective enterprise, though not a happy communal one but rather the swirl of conflicts and cohesion surrounding an endeavor.

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