The other day I drove up to Cleveland. I tuned in to Sirius XM’s Symphony Hall for the drive, and learned that they were counting down the Top 76 classical recordings, as voted by their participating listeners. I caught the countdown at number 11, which was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. I was immediately intrigued by the countdown notion, and then was immediately astonished when the countdown continued and I learned that Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue came in at number 10. Rhapsody in Blue, over Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony? Seriously? In what universe?
By the time I reached Cleveland the countdown was at number six — Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons — and I was sorry that my drive had ended. When I got home that night, I checked out the final few songs that rounded out the Top 10. Beethoven dominated, with three pieces in the Top 10 and the Ninth Symphony coming in at number one, but the more modern composers did pretty well too, with Rachmaninoff, Barber, and Copland — as well as Gershwin — all getting Top 10 slots. But wait a minute . . . no Bach? No Handel? No Haydn? No Boccherini? The baroque era and Haydn got horribly short-changed by Symphony Hall listeners, in my view. You can check out the Symphony Hall list here.
Why are people like me interested in countdown lists? Those of us who grew up listening to Casey Kasem doing American Top 40 every week, to see which songs were moving up, which were moving down, and who was up there at number one, are pretty much conditioned to pay attention to countdown lists. But ultimately, the lists are just a way of keeping your finger on the pulse of the world at large and what other people are thinking, and liking. They don’t really mean much in terms of actual quality or lasting significance — after all, the Pipkins’ Gimme Dat Ding reached the American Top 10 in 1970. Retrospective lists, like the Symphony Hall list, provide great fodder for argument, though and you might just learn something or try something new as a result. I’m going to give a listen to some of the unfamiliar pieces on the Symphony Hall countdown list.