Top 50 Favourite Songs: Rick McGinnis

I could have done another fifty, but I’m sure everybody says that. These aren’t in order of preference as much as the order I remembered them; I did a similar list when I turned 50 so this cannibalizes that a bit. As my friend Chris Buck said about his list, the period when I really, intensely connected to music lasted roughly from the ‘70s till maybe the turn of the millennium. It’s not that I don’t listen to music any more as much as not having the same emotional connection I had when I was younger. Maybe it’s good not to feel some things so intensely.

I’m not going to have to explain why that is, but it means a list of songs released before I turned 40, so no Fleet Foxes or Tindersticks or Thomas Feiner or Alabama Shakes or St. Paul & The Broken Bones. I stuck to “pop” songs—a few country hits but no jazz or blues or classical music, even though I listen to a lot of that these days. And there are glaring oversights—no Scott Walker or Four Tops or Roy Orbison or Nick Drake, but I had to stop at fifty, right?

George Clinton photos, 1991. Courtesy Rick McGinnis


1. Mina – “Se Telefonando” (1966) – Ennio Morricone does Spector’s Wall of Sound. An Italian hit single that basically sums up the plot of L’Eclisse by Michelangelo Antonioni. A song that’s basically all crescendos. I mean, yeah.

2. Beach Boys – “God Only Knows” (1966) – Could have chosen “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” or “Good Vibrations” or “Caroline No” but you have to make room.
3. George Jones – “He Stopped Loving Her Today” (1980) – They wrote a whole book about this song.
4. Conway Twitty – “It’s Only Make Believe” (1958) – I love the Robert Gordon cover from 1979 but the original demands preference.
5. Staple Singers – “Respect Yourself” (1971) – A highlight of my life recently was meeting David Hood, the bassist on this track, in the parking lot of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio on Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama. I’d been humming his bass line for this track since I was a kid, so it was sort of a thrill.
6. Arcwelder – “White Elephant” (1995) – If I ever have a podcast I want to use this as my theme music.
7. Raspberries – “Go All The Way” (1972)
8. Herb Alpert – “This Guy’s In Love with You” (1968) – My memories of this song are closely woven into the first couple of years of becoming a father, and the feelings I had for my wife and kids.
9. Cheap Trick – “Auf Wiedersehn” (1978)
10. Gang of Four – “He’d Send In The Army” (1980)
11. Frank Zappa – “Peaches en Regalia” (1969) – Not even a big Zappa fan but I love this song, and it really doesn’t sound like much else he did.
12. Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes – “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (1972) – Teddy Pendergrass. That is all.
13. Velvet Undergound – “I Can’t Stand It” (1969, released 1985)
14. Diana Ross & The Supremes – “Love Child” (1968) – This and “I’m Living In Shame” from the same sessions nearly reduce me to tears. Personal reasons.
15. Dwight Twilley Band – “Sleeping” (1975) – An evocative, melancholy, elegiac, emotional song that puts me in mind of the death of a close friend or a beloved pet.
16. Zombies – “Tell Her No” (1965) – My favorite British Invasion band.
17. The Who – “I Can’t Explain” (1965) – Being young.
18. The Creation – “For All That I Am” (1968)
19. Cream – “Badge” (1969)
20. George Harrison – “What Is Life” (1970) – No Beatles songs on this list but this instead. I can’t tell you why.

21. Bob Dylan – “Positively 4th Street” (1965) – A song about hate. Sweet, sweet hate.
22. Can – “I’m So Green” (1972)
23. Desmond Dekker – “Israelites” (1968)
24. The Motors – “Love and Loneliness” (1980)
25. Sparks – “Here in Heaven” (1974) – Not the only song on this list about suicide. Hmm.
26. Squeeze – “If I Didn’t Love You” (1980)
27. Steely Dan – “Rose Darling” (1975) – Not a new song by any means but a band I only really got into in the last few years, so does that count? (Sorry, Tim Powis, for giving you so much stick about them for all those years.)
28. The Spinners – “It’s a Shame” (1970)
29. Todd Rundgren – “Hello It’s Me” (1972)
30. The Marvelettes – “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game” (1967)
31. Pulp – “Something Changed” (1996) – A song that reminds me of meeting my wife.
32. Sonic Youth – “Tom Violence” (1986)

Sonic Youth, 1991. Courtesy Rick McGinnis

33. The Skids – “Into the Valley” (1979) – Amazing song. I haven’t a clue what it’s about.
34. Ray Price – “Crazy Arms” (1956)
35. Ramones – “Judy is a Punk” (1976) – Sometimes you just have to choose one.

36. American Music Club – “Johnny Mathis’ Feet” (1993)
37. Badfinger – “No Matter What” (1970)
38. Buzzcocks – “Harmony in My Head” (1979)
39. David Bowie – “Life on Mars” (1973) – Why this and not “Golden Years” or “Fame” or “Breaking Glass” or “Sound and Vision” or “Heroes”? I don’t know.
40. Elvis Costello & the Attractions – “No Action” (1978) – Basically a continuous solo by Attractions drummer Pete Thomas, so all action, really.
41. Flamin’ Groovies – “Shake Some Action” (1976)
42. Louvin Brothers – “The Christian Life” (1958)
43. Funkadelic – “Super Stupid” (1971)
44. Freda Payne – “Band of Gold” (1970)
45. Dramatics – “Whatcha See is Whatcha Get” (1971) – My favorite radio music when I was a kid was R&B or soul, mostly stuff from Gamble & Huff, Thom Bell, Holland, Dozier and Holland and the like. There’s a lot of it here.
46. Stevie Wonder – “If You Really Love Me” (1971)
47. Talk Talk – “It’s My Life” (1984) – Also, youth.

48. The Lawn – “Peace in the Valley” (1986) – There were three Toronto bands I loved seeing when I was young and somehow part of the scene, including Change of Heart and Plasterscene Replicas. But the Lawn was my favorite for some reason. I could have included “Shady Street” or “The One That Never,” an old Woods are Full of Cuckoos song that they still played, but this is the one that’s here. Still not as amazing as any dozen or so live versions I might have heard, but you had to have been there.
49. Wire – “Map Ref. 41N 93W” (1979)
50. Minor Threat – “Seeing Red” (1984) – Because wrath is my top pick of the seven deadly sins. Could have included “Screaming at a Wall” or “I Don’t Want To Hear It” or Black Flag’s “My War” but blah blah blah….


Rick McGinnis is a photographer and columnist who lives in Toronto. You can see his work here and here and here and here and here.


4 thoughts on “Top 50 Favourite Songs: Rick McGinnis

  1. “16. Zombies – “Tell Her No” (1965) My favorite British Invasion band.”

    Hmm, you’re Canadian, they’re British, and yet, they’re your “favorite.” (FWIW I did notice this before posting, I generally leave American spellings as provided by Americans, Canadian/British spellings as provided by Canadians/Brits. And here you’ve gone and messed up the entire Rockcritics.com Style Guide.)

  2. Weirdly, there are more of my own karaoke greatest hits on your list than my list, in particular the Conway Twitty, which in my village has been known in my hands to make grown men weep. Also, Shake Some Action should have made my 50. Very interesting, and you’re right, Skids lyrics are inscrutable.

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