The Twentieth Century’s Greatest Hits

“Best of” lists are a staple of alternative press coverage, an entertaining opportunity to see what our favorite magazines and local weeklies herald as the very best in music, movies, books, art, and other achievements over the past 12 months.

Rock critic Paul Williams took the exercise one step further in his cool new book, The 20th Century’s Greatest Hits: A Top 40 List (Forge, $13.95), bringing together everything from Henri Matisse to Hank Williams to Winnie the Pooh. It’s a worthy and fun piece of scholarship, and in examining his list, I frequently found myself whooping in agreement: Billie Holiday, On the Road, Howlin’ Wolf, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And yet, I found myself seriously questioning some of his picks, like the Velvet Underground at No. 2 and James Joyce’s Ulysses at 5. Right then and there, I pulled out a pencil, grabbed an old envelope and got to work on my own list of the best.

Everyone on Utne Reader’s editorial and art staff joined in the action, and now–after weeks of spirited discussion–each of us is ready to unveil our (sometimes highly personal) picks for the top cultural achievements of the 20th century. Just in time to celebrate the real turn of the century.

Look it over, think about what’s missing, scribble out your own 20th century top 10, and send it to us. We’ll tally the results and publish our readers’ top picks in a future issue. (Greatest Hits, Utne Reader, 1624 Harmon Place, Minneapolis, MN 55403 or — Jay Walljasper

Paul Williams’ Top 10
1. “Things We Said Today” by The Beatles (1964 song)
2. “Sister Ray” by the Velvet Underground (1967 recording)
3. Girl Before a Mirror by Pablo Picasso (1932 painting)
4. The I Ching or Book of Changestranslated by Richard Wilhelm (1923 book)
5. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922 novel)
6. “God Bless the Child” and “I Cover the Waterfront” by Billie Holiday (1941 recordings)
7. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Eleanor Roosevelt et al. (1948 document)
8. Winnie the Poohby A.A. Milne(1926 children’s book)
9. Martian Time Slipby Philip K. Dick(1964 science fiction novel)
10. “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg (1955 poem)

Kristi Anderson
Being There directed by Hal Ashby (1979 film)
Belovedby Toni Morrison (1987 novel)
The Big World and the Little Houseby Ruth Krauss, pictures by Marc Simont 1949 children’s book)
Photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson (1932-74)
The Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business, The Manticore, World of Wondersby Robertson Davies(1970-75 novels)
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (opened 1988)
Modern Starts: People, Places, Things (1999, Museum of Modern Art exhibition)
A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Constructionby Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein (1977 design book)
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Culturesby Anne Fadiman (1997 book)
This is Spinal Tap directed by Rob Reiner (1983 rockumentary, if you will)

Craig Cox
Essays of E.B. White (1977 book)
The Third Man directed by Carol Reed (1949 film)
Bob Marley in concert at Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis (1978)
The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood (1946 fiction collection)
Death of a Salesmanby Arthur Miller (1949 play)
The Maltese Falcon directed by John Huston (1941 film)
Sixth game, 1991 World Series (Twins beat Braves)
Tao Te Ching translated by Stephen Mitchell (1988)
Catch-22by Joseph Heller (1961 novel)
Music of Tom Waits (1973-present)

Jessica Coulter
The music of the Chieftains (traditional Irish folk band, 1963-present)
The works of Marc Chagall (painter and printmaker, working 1907-77)
Harold and Maude directed by Hal Ashby (1971 film)
“Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Mama Cass Elliot (1969 song)
London Underground map designed by Henry C. Beck and Edward Johnston (1933)
James and the Giant Peachby Roald Dahl (1961 children’s book)
“Keeping Quiet (A callarse)” by Pablo Neruda (1958 poem)
The Glasgow School of Art designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1909 Art Nouveau architecture)
The Secret of Roan Inish directed by John Sayles (1995 film)
The music of Ofra Haza (Yemenite Jewish musician, recordings 1976-2000)

Jeremiah Creedon
The Fire Next Time (and other essays)by James Baldwin (1963 book)
La Dolce Vita directed by Federico Fellini (1960 film)
Zen in the Art of Archeryby Eugen Herrigel (1953 book)
The diaries of Anaïs Nin (1914-74)
Pather Panchali directed by Satyajit Ray (1955 Indian film)
The Don Juan narrativesby Carlos Castaneda (1968-93 books)
“Blue in Green” from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959 jazz composition)
by Michael Herr (1977 book)
The raw TV network news feeds for the year 1968
The gold-plated plaque on the space probe Pioneer 10 showing a naked human couple and directions to Earth (launched in 1973)

Chris Dodge
The Complete Blue Note Recordings by Thelonious Monk (1947-57 jazz collection)
Factsheet Five (1982-98 networking/review zine)
Death on the Installment Planby Louis-Ferdinand Celine, translated by Ralph Manheim (1936 novel)
The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova (1992 collection)
Aguirre: The Wrath of God by Werner Herzog (1972 film)
Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Maya Lin (1982)
The Quintessential Billie Holiday (1933-42 jazz collection)
The Sex Radicals: Free Love in High Victorian America by Hal Sears (1977 book)
Kaya by Bob Marley (1978 reggae album)
“Dykes to Watch Out For” by Alison Bechdel (comic strip, 1983-present)

Nicole Duclos
Pre-Millenium Tension by Tricky (1996 trip-hop album)
The fiction of Jorge Luis Borges (Argentinian writer, working 1923-86)
The movies of Gene Kelly (1942-73)
Mstislav Rostropovich’s performance of Bach’s Cello Suites (1995 recording)
Lolitaby Vladimir Nabokov (1958 novel)
Jules et Jim directed by Francois Truffaut (1961 film)
“Portrait of a Lady” by T.S. Eliot (1915 poem)
“I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl” by Nina Simone (1967 recording)
Persona directed by Ingmar Bergman (1966 film)
Nude Girl with Crossed Arms by Egon Schiele (1910 painting)

Mark Odegard
The Beatles’ performances on the Ed Sullivan Show (1964)
Slow Train Coming by Bob Dylan (1979 album)
Robert Bly men’s retreat in northern Minnesota (1988)
Mad magazine (1952-present)
Apocalypse Now directed by Francis Ford Coppola (1979 film)
The Bob & Ray Radio Show (1960-90)
San Francisco music scene
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (founded 1997 in Santa Fe, New Mexico)
“My Favorite Things” by John Coltrane (1961 jazz rendition)
The Wickerman directed by Robin Hardy (1973 film)

Karen Olson
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962 environmental exposé)
Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber (1936 classical composition)
The works of Virginia Woolf (writing 1905-41)
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958 Nigerian novel)
The 1964 Wilderness Act
The Piano directed by Jane Campion (1993 film)
ABC’s Wide World of Sports(1961-present)
Nelson Mandela’s 1990 World Tour (I attended at the Oakland Coliseum)
One Hundred Years of Solitudeby Gabriel García Márquez (1967 novel)
“What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye (1971 song)

Jon Spayde
Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable (trilogy)by Samuel Beckett (1951-53 novels)
Remembrance of Things Pastby Marcel Proust (1927 novel)
Paul Tillich’s theology
Tristes Tropiquesby Claude Levi-Strauss (1955 memoir)
Art of Joseph Beuys (German artist exhibiting 1953-86)
Development of butoh dance by Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno (1959)
Interpretation of Dreamsby Sigmund Freud(1900 book)
The music of Louis Armstrong (recordings 1918-71)
Paris Peasantby Louis Aragon (1926 book of surrealist sociology)
Intolerance directed by D.W. Griffith (1916 film)

Andy Steiner
Third Album by Jackson 5 (1970 recording)
Self-portraits by Frida Kahlo (Mexican surrealist painter, 1923-54)
“Go On Girl” by Roxanne Shante (1988 rap)
Sunset Boulevard directed by Billy Wilder (1950 film)
Free to Be . . . You and Me (1972 children’s album conceived by Marlo Thomas)
West Side Story directed by Robert Wise (1961 film)
An American Exodusby Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor (1939 photo essay book)
Girls Town directed by Jim McKay (1996 film)
Foxfire: Adventures of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates (1993 novel)
Blue by Joni Mitchell (1971 album)

Leif Utne
Snow Crashby Neal Stephenson(1992 cyberpunk novel)
Sonata for Flute by Francis Poulenc (1956 classical composition)
Action for a Changeby Ralph Nader and Donald Ross (1971 manual)
Independent Media Center, (1999 Seattle community media organization)
Strawberry and Chocolate directed by Tomas Alea (1993 Cuban film)
“El Pueblo” by Pablo Neruda (1962 poem)
Reveille for Radicals (1945) and Rules for Radicals (1971) by Saul Alinsky (political organizing books)
“Manha de Carnaval” by Joao Gilberto (1961 song from the film Black Orpheus)
Karelia Visa by Hedningarna (1999 Swedish/Finnish folk-rock recording)
Guernica by Pablo Picasso (1937 painting)

Jay Walljasper
The Great Gatsbyby F. Scott Fitzgerald(1925 novel)
Small Is Beautifulby E.F. Schumacher (1973 economics and spirituality manifesto)
Howards Endby E.M. Forster (1921 novel)
Heimat directed by Edgar Reitz (1984 German film epic)
The Heartbeat of Soweto (1987 anthology of South African music)
Blues Summit by Johnny Hodges and Duke Ellington (1958-59 jazz recordings)
Helsinki Train Station by Eliel Saarinen (1914 Art Nouveau architecture)
Paintings by Boris Kustodiev (Russian painter working 1901-27)
Seleniko by Värttinä (1992 Finnish contemporary folk music album)
“La Bamba” by Los Lobos (1987 remake of Ritchie Valens’ 1958 remake of a Veracruz, Mexico, folk song)

What are your greatest hits of the 20th century? Join us in the Media conference in Cafe Utne:

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