Top 50 Favourite Songs: Howard Druckman

These aren’t what I think are the 50 best songs in the world, but the 50 songs that I like the most, which is a different thing. Every time I hear these songs, they grab hold of me, whether in the head, heart, groin, or feet (or some combination thereof). They make me think, or feel, or dance, or sing along, or jump and shout, or play air guitar, or air drums. Some, even after hearing them for 50 years. Or they allow me to re-experience my innocence, or marvel at how they capture the eternal in the commonplace. They make me want to blather on about how great they are, as I do here (along with providing some links).

There’s a fair portion of Canuck music on the list, because in my 20 years as the editor at Canadian-based music rights organization SOCAN, that’s what I’ve heard the most. After I made the list, I noticed lots of power-pop (as defined by melodious tunes, multiple vocal harmonies, and loud electric guitars) and an abundance of post-breakup songs (though I’ve been happily married for almost 20 years). Guess I’m a bit of a vampire for vulnerability. I also noticed how much I value dancing, and how much I tend to listen to the drums. I could have easily made a Top 120 or 150 Favourites List. And on any other given day, this Top 50 one would likely look very different.

Howard’s Spotify Playlist

1. “I Want You Back” – The Jackson 5 – 1969 – Because everything in the song is a hook: the descending bass line and piano slide off the top, the one-chord chunka-chunka guitar throughout almost the entire thing, the kid’s incredible vocal performance, the doo-wop breakdown, the call and response “baby!” part. Ever since I first heard it at 12 years old, it hits the pleasure centre in my brain so hard that I dance (or at least start bouncing around on my feet) every time I hear it, no matter what. Pretty embarrassing for a middle-aged man, I admit.
2. “Like A Rolling Stone” – Bob Dylan – 1965 – Mostly because “anger is an energy.” And for that killer downbeat off the top.
3. “Midnight Train To Georgia” – Gladys Knight & The Pips – 1973 – Everything is perfect: the lyric, the story, the tune, the arrangement, the production, the lead vocal, the backing vocals, all of it.
4. “Figures” – Jessie Reyez – 2017 – One of my favourite post-breakup songs ever. “I wish I could hurt you back” is as real as it gets.

5. “Back Of A Car” – Big Star – 1974 – Perfect twangy guitar tone, impeccable drumming, captivating harmonies, sweet melody.
6. “Tumbling Dice” – Rolling Stones – 1972 – Mostly because it swings, sways, and sashays. Slowly.
7. “Paper Planes” – M.I.A. – 2007 – Throwing new shapes with old Clash and smart sound effects.
8. “It’s Tricky” – Run-DMC – 1986 – If you’re gonna rap this well, might as well bite the catchiest beat around (from The Knack’s “My Sharona,” of course).
9. “King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown” – King Tubby, Augustus Pablo – 1975 – The sharpest rim shots in the world. Favourite. Drumming. Ever.

10. “Second Guessing” – R.E.M. – 1984 – Because they sound like they’re really enjoying themselves (“Woo-hoo-hoo!”), and for the backing vocals, jangling guitars, and little drum fill.

11. “Love Poisoning” – The Soft Boys – 1979 – Incredible (five-part?) harmonies, engagingly elliptical lyrics, and my favourite-ever guitar solo in a pop/rock song.
12. “I Am A Tree” – Guided By Voices – 1997 – Favourite. Electric. Rock. Guitar. Riff. Ever.
13. “The Truth Shall Make You Free” – King Hannibal – 1973 – Favourite. Southern. Funk. Ever.
14. “Magic” – Pilot – 1974 – The zenith of bubblegum pop. Until the guitar solo, which kicks major-league ass.
15. “Son Of A Matriarch” – Snotty Nose Rez Kids, The Sorority – 2019 – Haisla First Nation hip-hop male duo SNRK and Black female trio The Sorority take on the patriarchy. And win, for a few minutes.

16. “Chuco’s Cumbia” – Los Lobos- 1992 – I dug the rhythm and vocal of this song so much that I wrote out the Spanish lyrics phonetically, just so I could sing along.
17. “Someone To Talk To” – Screaming Blue Messiahs – 1986 – For its cool update of the Clash, with a military-march, returning-Messiah tale that finds Jesus coming back “just to say, ‘Surprise! Surprise, buddy!’”
18. “The Jungle Line” – Joni Mitchell – 1975 – For its unique, ominous mashup of Burundi drummers, synth drone, and allusions to primitivist painter Henri Rousseau, all stripping the thin veneer of civility from our savage impulses toward lust, addiction, and violence.
19. “Move On Up” – Curtis Mayfield – 1970 – For its aspirational lyric and captivating extended soul-jazz workout.
20. We Can Walk” – Plasterscene Replicas – 1985 – My favourite song by my favourite-ever local Toronto band, defunct since their ‘80s heyday.
21. “Newest Industry” – Hüsker Dü – 1984 – Sometimes I like it loud and pissed off. And the relatively-buried-in-the-mix piano is cool.
22. “The Waiting” – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – 1981 – A glorious pop arrangement.
23. “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” – Stevie Wonder – 1974 – My favourite song from his incredible, unbeatable run, 1970-1976.
24. “Mellow Down Easy” – Little Walter – 1954 – For the groove, the vocal, the guitar tone, the harmonica solo. Did I mention the groove?
25. “Shoot Out The Lights” – Richard Thompson – 1982 – So intense it’s a little frightening, and what a guitar solo.
26. “In Women Colour” – Haviah Mighty – 2019 – That’s her real last name, and she earns it with this hard, smart assault on racism and misogyny.
27. “Why (Must We Fall In Love)” – Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Temptations – 1969 – My favourite song by either group. A little-known gem.
28. “And Your Bird Can Sing” – The Beatles – 1966 – Mostly for the sing-song, twin-guitar melody.
29. “Best Thing Ever” – David Celia – 2007 – An unknown power-pop masterpiece by a local Toronto favourite (who tours Europe annually).
30. “Choosey Beggar” – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – 1965 – My favourite Smokey Robinson song, it’s a lesser-known nugget. And he invents the word “choicey” in the first line.
31. “Pedestrian at Best” – Courtney Barnett – 2015 – For the line “Gimme all your money and I’ll make some origami, honey,” and for making her rock-star predicament compelling.
32. “Fight The Power” – Public Enemy – 1989 – Because it takes courage to fight, nerve to call out Elvis, and musical skills to get people to accept, listen, and dance to it.
33. “Uptown Funk” – Mark Ronson, Bruno Mars – 2014 – No amount of over-playing dims the persistent dance-ability factor for me, and I still laugh at the hilarious lyrics. I mean, “I’m too hot / Make a dragon wanna retire, man” and “smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy”? Awesome.
34. “Call It Dreaming” – Iron & Wine – 2017 – A sad and beautiful meditation on mortality.
35. “Star Sign” – Teenage Fanclub – 1991 – Sugary melody and LOUD guitars, one of my favourite combinations.
36. “Jezebel” – Two Hours Traffic – 2007 – An unknown pop masterpiece from a quartet based in Prince Edward Island.

37. “This Is America” – Childish Gambino – 2018 – An essential Black state of the union address. The video is even better than the song (and I never say that).
38. “Cokane In My Brain” – Dillinger – 1976 – As addictive as the substance it’s “about.”
39. “Better Than Nothing” – Jennifer Trynin – 1994 – A little-known, loud, power-pop masterpiece that makes a perfect sonic companion/mix with Matthew Sweet’s “Sick of Myself.” Extra points for the killer opening line: “Maybe we could talk in the shower.”
40. “Takin’ You With Me” – Mike Evin – 2011 – A kind of heir to Harry Nilsson, this local Toronto piano-pop troubadour equals him here, with a gorgeous goodbye to a long-term love.
41. “There She Goes” – The La’s – 1990 – Angelic pop of the highest order.
42. “Little Johnny Jewel” – Television – 1979 (Live Version from The Blow Up) – Every now and then, I wanna hear 15 minutes of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd both trying to be John Coltrane.
43. “Tiny Dancer” – Elton John – 1971 – Mostly for the strings and pedal steel.
44. “Union Square” – Tom Waits – 1985 – Down-at-heel has never sounded so “up,” ragged, and right.
45. “Basement Apartment” – Sarah Harmer – 2000 – Without directly referencing it, for me the song sonically approximates that melancholy feeling at the tail end of a long, cold, Canadian winter spent indoors. The “indoors” part is now universally applicable, of course. Simple-but-great drum loop, too.
46. “Let It Lie” – Brothers Landreth – 2013 – Heartbreak has never sounded so sweet.
47. “Little Red House” – James Blood Ulmer – 1983 – This swamp-music shuffle is irresistible to me. I’m not even sure why, it just is.
48. “Empty Rooms” – Donovan Woods – 2016 – Push comes to shove, my favourite working songwriter. The couple in the song is breaking up, moving out of a shared home, and he perfectly captures it in four words (almost off the top): “Two carefully negotiated piles.” Genius.

49. “Ain’t That Loving You Baby” – Jimmy Reed – 1956 – Proof positive that songs of devotion don’t have to be sappy or slow. I always smile at the line about being dropped in the ocean, swimming to the bank, and crawling home to her.
50. “The Real Me” – The Who – 1973 – Obviously not the band’s best work, but as a 15-year-old kid with a turbulent and pretty dysfunctional family, it—along with the rest of Quadrophenia—helped me feel less alone. Which was important at the time, and still counts for something.

Howard Druckman, Editor in Chief, SOCAN Words & Music (SOCAN is a music rights organization based in Canada)… Music Lover. 2016 Polaris Prize Grand Juror. Sing/Write/Play in high-energy old-time duo HOTCHA! Choir singer. Blue Jays fan, despite their record. All heart, all the time.

One thought on “Top 50 Favourite Songs: Howard Druckman

  1. “it hits the pleasure centre in my brain so hard”: both I Want You Back/ABC for me, same. A jolt of excitement at ten.

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