Believe it or not, the list I’ve been working on the longest is this one: a list of songs that contain lists. What can I say? It seemed a natural for a list-maker like me.
“List songs” come in many shapes and sizes, but several of them are among the best-known American songs.
They’ve been popular since at least 1934, when Ethel Merman and William Gaxton introduced Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top” (sung here by the composer himself) in Broadway’s “Anything Goes.” The song’s list of top-flight comparisons spans the globe — from the “steppes of Russia” through France (the Louvre and “Mona Lisa”), Italy (the Coliseum and Tower of Pisa) and Holland (Zuider Zee) to such U.S. landmarks as the National Gallery and Boulder (now Hoover) Dam.
A bunch of Broadway songs
List songs show up in a bunch of other Broadway musicals, too, including Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1958 “Flower Drum Song,” which deals with some of the assimilation challenges faced by Chinese immigrants. The clever song “Chop Suey” lays out a list of cultural adjustments facing those seeking U.S. citizenship.
And my favorite Broadway composer, Stephen Sondheim, is good for two list songs himself, both of them performed here by the remarkable Elaine Stritch. She introduced the first show-stopper, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” in Sondheim’s 1970 “Company.” She downs drinks as she sings, offering a slightly tipsy toast to a wide array of New York women she’s encountered and cattily point out all their flaws (including her own).
Stritch does a fine job, too, with another Sondheim classic, “I’m Still Here,” from 1971’s “Follies.” The wonderful lyrics catalog the adventures (and misadventures) of a seasoned survivor, a former “Ziegfeld Girl.” A sample:
I’ve stood on breadlines
With the best
Watched while the headlines
Did the rest
In the Depression, was I depressed?
I met a big financier
And I’m here.
Eartha Kitt also does a great version of the song here, and then Shirley MacLaine wows ’em all with updated lyrics in this scene from the 1990 film “Postcards From the Edge.”
Crooner Como has a couple
Perry Como, the classic crooner, is good for a couple of list songs, too:
• “A — You’re Adorable (The Alphabet Song),” with the help of the Fontane Sisters, a letter-by-letter bouquet of compliments. And “Sesame Street” does it up nicely, too.
• “Delaware,” his silly roll call of many U.S. states (including Mini-soda).
Rock ’n’ roll lists
And there are several in rock music, too:
• “American Pie,” of course, Don McLean’s take on some of the major events of baby-boomers’ lives.
• “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” Billy Joel’s roughly 40-year news wrap-up.
•“Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me),” Reunion’s pre-rap review of rock history. You’ll definitely need the lyrics to keep up with this one.
• “Calendar Girl,” Neil Sedaka’s month-by-month countdown.
• “Step by Step,” a 1960 guide to serious romantic relationships from the Crests, with their great lead singer, Johnny Maestro, who died way too early just last month.
• “We Got Love,” Bobby Rydell’s by-the-numbers tribute to romance.
A country classic
And there’s one incredible country classic for a wrap-up: Hank Snow’s fast-talking “I’ve Been Everywhere.” Here, again, you’ll be happy to have the lyrics handy.
I’m sure there are more list songs out there. Have you got one to add? Let me know in the Comment section below.