ASCAP at 100: 10 Hitmakers Reveal Favorite Songs From Past Century

9:00 AM PST 03/07/2014 by Tim Appelo
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Paul Williams, left, and Mentor Williams

Diane Warren, Jonathan Jackson, Christina Perri, "American Idol" champion Candice Glover and others tell THR their picks as selected from the organization's 100 Top Songs of the Century list.

This story first appeared in the March 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

In honor of the 100th birthday of the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers, THR invited ten music creatives to choose their favorites from the performing rights organization's 100 Top Songs of the Century list. ASCAP, home to such classics as Peter Frampton's "Baby, I Love Your Way," Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You" and 9 million other works, has long looked after royalties for its almost 500,000 members -- artists like Goo Goo Dolls' John Rzeznik, who boasts, "You can always count on your airplay check." ASCAP processes 250 billion performances a year, and distributed over $851 million in 2013 -- up almost $24 million from 2012 -- and over $5 billion in the last six years. Domestic revenues were up by $13.2 million, mostly from new media and general licensing. Litigation with Pandora Media, which seeks to lower royalties, increased ASCAP's operating expenses slightly in 2013, from 11.3 percent to 12.4 percent. ASCAP president Paul Williams is pushing Congress to pass the Songwriter Equity Act, so that music licensing rules keep up with technological change. "I can pay my bills, buy my food and put my kids through school," says Heitor Pereira. "That's how important ASCAP is." Adds Deana Carter, "I have been with ASCAP longer than any marriage." And, offers Lyle Lovett, "We are all part of the same creative family." Here, a few family favorites.

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"DRIFT AWAY"

Written by Mentor Williams

While I respect and love so many of the songs on ASCAP's 100 songs of the century list, there's one that speaks directly to my heart. It's No. 17. "Drift Away" was written by my younger brother, Mentor Williams. In the early '70s, trying to find his way around the music business in L.A., he made what was then a very bold move and headed for Nashville. He'd become friendly with Dobie Gray, who hadn't had a hit since his much earlier recording of "In Crowd" -- a terrific singer who was being treated by the industry as yesterday's news. Mentor took Dobie with him to Nashville, walked into Quadrafonic Studios on Music Row and put together a group of brilliant musicians to record a new Dobie Gray album. Almost all of the songs were Mentor's. The label wasn't impressed with the blend of country and rock and had to be coerced into releasing the first single. Mentor begged them to trust his judgment. They did, and the world was treated to a rock 'n' roll anthem that will be playing when all of us are long gone. At the very top of my "I wish I'd written that one" list is my brother's glorious song. "Give me the beat boys and free my soul / I wanna get lost in your rock and roll / And drift away!" … Takes me to a place of pure love and pride. Bravo, Mentor. The folks would be proud, too. -- Paul Williams, ASCAP president and chairman

"THE TRACKS OF MY TEARS"

Written by Smokey Robinson

The beauty of the guitar work and chord progression with Smokey's impassioned lyric and delivery -- you felt this! And the soldiers in 'Nam felt it, too. All over the world, we recognized yet another Smokey genius moment in time. The man who gave us "My Girl" and "My Guy" wrote and produced it. Brilliant! -- Narada Michael Walden, producer-songwriter

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"STILL HAVEN'T FOUND WHAT I'M LOOKING FOR"

Written by Bono, Larry Mullen Jr, The Edge, Adam Clayton

A reggae groove becomes a gospel anthem filled with aching faith. Psalm-like lyrics of honesty being sung at the top of Bono's range, surrounded by Edge's ethereal guitar. When the world was being drowned by synthesizers and electric drums, U2 gave us a glimpse of a raw, bleeding Irish soul. The result was timeless and transcendent. It's steeped in roots music and yet I can't think of another song that sounds like it.  -- Jonathan Jackson, musician and Emmy-winner.

"WHITE CHRISTMAS"

Written by Irving Berlin

I have to choose "White Christmas" because it's my favorite holiday in the whole world, and Bing Crosby is one of the greatest singers of all time. -- Christina Perri, singer

"CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' "

Written by John Phillips and Michelle Phillips

Growing up in L.A. in the '60s, how could I not identify with a song called "California Dreamin' "? The intensity with which The Mamas & the Papas got down on their knees and began to pray always got to me. And it still does. Plus, it is probably the greatest song ever to pose an existential choice between love and warm weather. -- David Lang, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer

"SINGLE LADIES"

Written by Thaddis "Kuk" Harrell, Beyonce Knowles, Terius "The-Dream" Nash, Christopher "Tricky" Stewart

I love this song because every time it comes on, me and my friends just have to dance! -- Candice Glover, American Idol season 12 winner

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"WHAT'S GOING ON"

Written by Al Cleveland, Marvin Gaye and Renaldo Benson

"What's Going On" inspired me to write politically and socially aware songs. It is the title song for an album that Gaye's label refused to release. His tenacity and belief in the message and music spoke louder than their reservations. It is a hallmark song to revolution and a supreme example of responsible songwriting. -- Aloe Blacc, singer

"BOYS OF SUMMER"

Written by Mike Campbell

If you could combine the smell of yellow leaves in October with the feeling of missing a girl you spent the week of a lifetime with in a beach town where our parents rented a house over summer vacation, that would be this song. Every time I hear Don Henley sing this, it's like a time machine that takes me right back to that place. The opening guitar riff sounds like a sunset, the lyric "You got your hair slicked back and those Wayfarers on" is so perfect, so descriptive, I felt it was written just for me. -- J.T. Harding (aka JTX), singer/songwriter

"SHE LOVES YOU"

Written by John Lennon, Paul McCartney

I didn't know who Lennon or McCartney were when I got the single as a kid at Sears on the Swan label. The artist, in this case, The Beatles, was bigger than the song. Yet without the song, what is an artist? -- Marvin Etzioni (aka The Mandolin Man), bassist/producer

"OVER THE RAINBOW"

Written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg

Simply put, "Over the Rainbow" is one of the best songs ever written. Every note, every line, is pure perfection. It goes beyond its genre and becomes a song for all genre. This song will be just as magical and significant in hundreds of years as it is now. -- Diane Warren, songwriter

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