Monday, September 28, 2009

The Quest for the 20 Greatest Songs Ever Written Begins

It's late Sunday afternon in January in the California desert. No, on reflection, it's a perfect Sunday late afternoon in Rancho Mirage, Ca. The weather is warm, dry and the air is clean and clear. We are out for Sunday dinner at a local restaurant, The Blu Embers. We saw an ad in the Desert Sun Newspaper that they were having late afternoon dining outside with live music. Over the past 15 years, we have learned that the California desert for professional musicians is very much like the place where,"Elephants go to live out the last part of their lives". If you like great live music, this is the place to be in the winter, no question about it. It's one of the principal reasons we love to come to the desert. The fact that the weather in winter is warm and sunny, of course, is no small consideration.

As the sun sets and we are seated outside sipping our glass of wine, we both realize, life just doesn't get any better than this.

Suddenly, the small 4-piece band starts playing and they get my full attention immediately. The leader of the group is a trumpet player dressed in black named Steve Madaio and the songs and sounds were a delight. The songs they were playing were mostly current popular tunes that sounded great. I became fascinated with the soft and personal sound coming from Steve's trumpet. At one point in the evening, Steve starts to talk about a song that is an old standard and is his number 3 on his "Top Ten" list of the best standards ever written. I leaned over and said to my wife, I bet it's "What's New". Sure enough, it was "What's New", written in 1939 by Bob Haggart & Johnny Burke that has been on my "Top Ten" list for a long time, but I did not have it in the 3rd spot. I guessed that this was his number 3 song on his list of all time best songs because his trumpet style would be perfect for this song. After the band's 2nd set, I went up to Steve and told him how impressed I was with his song selection and his outstanding trumpet performance. I told him about guessing that his number 3 song was going to be "What's New" and that I had been working on my list of greatest songs for years. We talked for a short time. After the next set, Steve came over to our table and asked if he could sit and talk with us for a while. He wanted to talk some more about the greatest songs ever written, and we did. This meeting of chance happened three years ago and Steve and I have been friends ever since. As we left the restaurant, I told Steve that I would burn a play list of my top 20 greatest songs by rank and would give him the CD at our next visit. Steve later related to me that he never expected to see me again no less get the CD because many customers have made comments to him about favorite songs but the discussion usually ended at closing time, never to be followed up again.

Two weeks later, we were back at Blu Embers to hear Steve. We said hello but I was not sure he would remember me. To my surprise, after the first break he came over and sat with us. That's when I pulled out the play list I had made for him and he was absolutely blown away. Of the 20 greatest standard songs I listed, 17 of them were also on Steve's list. The conversation then launched into a discussion of my rankings compared to his.

Ever since this meeting, Steve has been putting more discussion of the "Top Ten" greatest songs into his act and receiving great interest from his audiences. Since that evening, Steve and I have spent endless hours of time talking about great songs and great artists. This encounter was was the major reason why I started this blog .

My next blog will put forth my list of the "Top Twenty" greatest songs ever written. My hope is that you will share your ideas of what songs should be on the list and in what position.


  1. Hi Bobby ...,

    The "Bass Man" here and looking forward to learning more about your Top 20 of all time. Quick question ..., where does Paul McCartney's song book place on your list?

  2. Hi "Bass Man"! Your question is a good one. The list of the Top 20 songs of all time will not contain any McCartney songs because in order to be on this list, the song must be over 50 years old. However, you will be happy to hear that as soon as I get a chance, I intend to develop a 2nd list of the Top 20 greatest songs for songs written less than 50 years ago. I would guess you will see a few McCartney songs on that list. But in the meantime, it would be great if you would send me the songs you think should be on the "new" standards
    By the way, I assume you are a bass player and I would also be very interested in learning who you think are the best bass players of all times or the best playing today. Regards, Bobby


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