10. And Then He Kissed Me, The Crystals. Spector's "wall of sound," Jeff Barry's classic Brill Building songwriting, held together by five great voices. It's like a little symphony.
9. Blue Moon, Elvis Presley. Forget the blues version; forget the doo-wop version. Elvis reduced it all to a simple clip-clop beat, a guitar, and as much soulfulness as Sam Phillips had ever seen in a honky. Pay particular attention to the improvised, falsetto bridge. This kid had talent.
8. Lonely Teardrops, Jackie Wilson. He sang a bit like Chubby Checker, danced a bit like James Brown, and once took a bullet from a desperate fan. This was his best recording.
7. Only the Lonely, Roy Orbison. Almost an obvious pick, really, but when was the last time you heard it? Not out of place on a country station, a rock station, or even a roots/alternative station. He was the godfather of modern singer/songwriter stuff.
6. Peggy Sue, Buddy Holly. Between the muffled, DIY sound of the drums and the steady swing of Buddy's right hand in the solo, this is early garage music. And listen to the hiccuping way he plays melodically with the girl's name. Buddy reigned over music for just over a year, but it was a year that can claim unusual influence on what came after.
5. Who Do You Love, Bo Diddley. One of the most influential riff in rock history. Or at least one of the most frequently ripped off.
4. Ring of Fire, Johnny Cash. Back when country and rock were still kissin' cousins, Cash was tops in both worlds. This song was more daring than "I Walk the Line," with its dark lyrical conceit (it's about falling in love) and Cash's low rumble accented by mariachi band horns. It's as weird as dick's hat, this song, and great.
3. In My Room, The Beach Boys. If there's a kick-ass songwriter who owes absolutely zero to Dylan, it's Brian Wilson. They say that it wasn't until Dylan that anyone wrote a rock and roll song about anything but girls and cars. But check this one out. Simple arrangement, lovely harmonies, and a lyrical idea that relates to young adults doesn't condescend to canned "kiddy" themes, the way Chuck Berry's stuff did. A pop masterpiece.
2. Rebel Rouser, Duane Eddy/Sleepwalk, Santo and Johnny. These two early guitar-heavy instrumentals helped shift the focus of a rock and roll band from piano (e.g., Shake, Rattle, and Roll) to guitar. By the time the Beatles hit the scene, a band consisted of a guitar (or two), bass, and drums. Eddy's song, in particular, established the sexual, masculine guitar motif. Santo and Johnny made it as much of a soloists instrument as sax had been in R&B.
1. Crying in the Chapel, the Orioles. Often called the first rock and roll song. Ironically, it was cut in 1953 (two years before Bill Haley rocked around the clock) by a gospel group who had been popular since the 1940s. It established a sound that would remain current until the Beatles killed doo-wop a decade later.
Ok, so that's eleven, technically. Sue me.