Of late, people have been trying to categorize pop/rock tunes as liberal or conservative, with mixed success at best. And it's not difficult to see why this should be so: pigeonholing doesn't even do justice to pigeons, let alone actual artifacts on the verge of becoming an art form.
So for my own list of songs, I'm going for a category more personal (and perhaps less disputable, since I arguably know me better than you do): Records That Actually Defined Some Aspect of My Existence. Each and every one of these tracks made a substantial impression on the impressionable me, sometimes good, sometimes not so good. Life, and therefore rock and roll, can be like that sometimes.
Big Joe Turner, "Shake, Rattle and Roll" (Atlantic, 1954)
The amazing thing about this record was that we had it. We had very few records when I was a kid, and most of them seemed to be Mitch Miller or some variation on "This Old Man" or Jerry Murad and his goddamn Harmonicats. There was one lone Elvis single, one side of which was "Good Luck Charm." And there was this weirdly rhythmic thing, shouted over piano triplets: "Get outta that bed, wash your face and hands." At the time, I thought this was a rebuke to someone who had fallen down on the job, housework-wise; I knew nothing of sexual innuendo in those days. Still, it was old and weird and incredibly scratchy and I played it as often as they'd let me near the Victrola, which wasn't very often. This was not, however, my introduction to High Musical Weirdness: that's next.
Del Shannon, "Runaway" (Big Top, 1961)
When I was eight, I managed to inveigle the parental units into buying me an actual Japanese Transistor Radio with, as the late Allan Sherman said, "a wire with a thing on one end that you could stick in your ear, and a thing on the other end that you can't stick anywhere because it's bent." This thing could eat 9-volt batteries faster than alligators could eat your pet poodle, and even at 19 cents at the five-and-dime, it was horribly expensive to operate. But it was mine, dammit, and I took the fool thing to bed with me, undoubtedly resulting in the premature deaths of many of those batteries. And the first Sunday night, I decided to stay up a few extra minutes late and listen to an actual classical program: the CSC Concert Hall on WCSC. Cheap AM sections being what they were in those days, with more space between 540 and 900 than between 900 and 1600, I missed 1390 altogether and wound up on some hitherto-unnoticed station, where somebody apparently with his nuts in a vise was wailing: "Why, why, why, why, why, she ran away...." And I wondered just what the h