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Houston's Very Best Songs Ever

...otherwise known as the H-Town 20

When we originally set about attempting to catalogue a list of Houston's top songs ever, we thought it was a stretch. How could there be a list of ten, much less 100, world-recognized songs from this relative backwater of a music city? In fact, the exact opposite is true. The more you look back through our history, the richer it looks, and the harder it is to keep the list at a reasonable size. Few cities on earth have a more fertile musical heritage.

This was made abundantly plain when we blogged about the project on Houstoned Rocks last month. Debate raged for ten days over the course of a 100-plus-post Internet discussion. No two people hear the city with the same ears, and all have the makings of lists of their own in their heads. One reader wanted a few recent indie rock classics included; others stumped for 1990s punk classics they adored; still others touted cult classics of '70s blues, '50s rockabilly, '60s country and a bevy of Blue October tunes.

I got smacked around for favoring some superstars of 1920s blues over lower-­profile, more recent artists. Others feared the list would be overrun by rap songs and thought that "Bootylicious" deserved little more than scorn.

But the crux of the debate boiled down to this: Would the list be about pure aesthetics — the songs we here at the Press liked the best, regardless of popularity — or would it be an attempt at gathering history?

And the answer is, a little of both, but much more of the latter. The songs had to have some measure of widespread popularity. Tempting as the impulse may be, lists like this are no place to try to spread the word about obscure works of genius.

Perhaps the best way to explain this is to use a sports analogy. This list is intended as a sort of Hall of Fame for Houston songs. In every sport, the Hall of Fame is reserved for those people who best combined talent, hard work and a not-­insignificant amount of dumb luck in their rise to and continued existence atop the very apex of their game.

Sadly, for every Babe Ruth, Earl Campbell or Michael Jordan, there are probably a dozen people just as talented who didn't make it anywhere near as far. Maybe they lost the desire along the way, or maybe they never caught the break they needed at the time it should have come, or maybe they were cut down by an injury.

The same applies to music. For every song on this list, I can think of five others I love just as much, if not more, by people who never sold more than a few hundred or thousand records, or who never played for an audience of more than 300. Of the top 20 in this article, perhaps five or six would make my own personal list. But it is my belief that if we tried to pass off my roll call of personal favorites as the definitive Best Songs from Houston Ever, we would be doing our readers and the music community of this city a disservice.

So, in short, the records on this list are not necessarily our favorite Houston songs, they are our ranking of the world's favorite Houston songs. And for those of you who want to see numbers 21-100, as well as our own self-indulgent lists of our personal favorite Houston songs ever, check out the blog. After all, blogs are all about self-indulgence.

And those of you tired of the relentless positivity in this issue of the Press might want to check out this week's Racket — a list of the ten worst songs in the history of Houston. — John Nova Lomax

20."Before the Next Teardrop Falls"

Freddy Fender

Before the Next Teardrop Falls

1974

About ten years ago, Sonny Landreth told me the story of how Huey Meaux and Freddy Fender resurrected each other's careers. Landreth was then living at Meaux's Sugar Hill Studios, sleeping on a pool table and cutting some sessions that wouldn't come out for more than 20 years. The early '70s had not been a particularly fertile period for Meaux or Fender — most of the Crazy Cajun's gold records were behind him, and Fender's status as the Mexican Elvis was one stretch in the army and another in Louisiana's notorious Angola prison behind him.

According to Landreth, Meaux was working late one night when Fender burst in the door, a guitar strapped on his back, a jug of tequila in one hand and a bag of psychedelic mushrooms in the other, and all Meaux could do was wonder, "What de hell I'm gonna do wid Freddy Fender?"

What the two wound up doing was creating two of the most enduring classics of Gulf Coast music — the pop top ten hit "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" and the chart-topper "Before the Next Teardrop Falls."

The latter had been a minor country hit for Charley Pride in 1968, and according to Meaux, it almost met the same fate again. In 1989, he told the Chronicle that he launched the record with a desperation $5,000 loan from a Spring Branch bank.

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