The Crossroads on Highway 61, a famous blues landmark in Clarksdale, Mississippi (photo by Sheila Scarborough)How do you accurately reflect American music (related to the polyglot United States) in one collection of tunes?

Not very easily….

Starting in about 1981, I used to homebrew audio cassette “mixtapes” with different songs that I liked, usually grouped by theme.  They were similar to today’s iTunes or other digital playlists, but I could make as many as I wanted, wherever I wanted.  (*cough* digital rights management *cough*)

When CDs came out, I did the same thing, but my magnum opus was a seven-CD set of American music that I created to play at the “US booth” for a Culture Day at my daughter’s International School a few years ago.

Since representing American culture on one 6-foot long table in a gym was challenging enough, you can imagine the gyrations I went through to put together a set of music that covered most musical traditions in the United States.  I wanted music that represented regions, ethnic traditions, certain places, an era of music and/or were evocative of what I saw as the American spirit of adventure and individualism.  There was also a zero budget, so I depended a great deal on my own music collection (the biases are rather obvious in the final result, plus it had to “play well” for middle school kids in a noisy gym.)

My efforts are below, and I’d love to hear what you think down in the comments. Not every version of every song was available to me (I was doing all of this in the Netherlands) but I tried to find the ones closest to the “classic” or original versions where possible.

We still play these CDs today, after many years, so I hope that means I picked music that stands the test of time.

American Music CD One
1. Great Grampah’s Banjo  –  Pura Fe’
2. Cuban Pete  –  Tito Puente
3. Wouldn’t It Be Nice  –  Beach Boys
4. Hound Dog  –  Elvis Presley
5. America  –  Simon & Garfunkel
6. Big Rock Candy Mountain  –  Harry McClintock
7. Leaving on a Jet Plane  –  Peter, Paul and Mary
8. Appalachian Spring 2nd mv.  –  Aaron Copland
9. You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling  –  Righteous Brothers
10. Georgia On My Mind  –  Willie Nelson
11. Respect  –  Aretha Franklin
12. The Beat Goes On  –  Patricia Barber
13 For Once In My Life  –  Dionne Farris
14. It Don’t Mean a Thing (…. That Swing)  –  Duke Ellington
15. Fortunate Son  –  Creedence Clearwater Revival
16. Summertime  –  Miles Davis
17. Sweet Home Alabama  –  Lynyrd Skynyrd
18. Miami  –  Will Smith
19. Dubuque  –  George Winston
20. My Prerogative  –  Bobby Brown
21. American Girl  –  Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
22. Time of the Preacher  –  Willie Nelson
23. Amazing Grace  –  Dean Shostak

American Music CD Two
1. Go  –  Hiroshima
2. La Feria de las Flores  –  Flaco Jimenez
3. Sloop John B  –  Beach Boys
4. Fly Like an Eagle  –  Steve Miller Band
5. Homeward Bound  –  Simon & Garfunkel
6. I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow  –  The Soggy Bottom Boys
7. All Shook Up  –  Elvis Presley
8. XXX’s & OOO’s (American Girl)  –  Trisha Yearwood

9. Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright  –  Peter, Paul and Mary
10. Music  –  Madonna
11.“Hoe-Down” from Rodeo  –  Aaron Copland
12. Unchained Melody  –  Righteous Brothers
13. Wide Open Spaces  –  Dixie Chicks
14. Red Headed Stranger  –  Willie Nelson
15. I’m Every Woman  –  Chaka Khan
16. Why Can’t This Be Love  –  Van Halen
17. California Dreamin’  –  Mamas & Papas
18. Take (Another) Five  –  Grover Washington, Jr.
19. What’s Going On  –  Marvin Gaye
20. Miles Ahead  –  Miles Davis
21. Jack and Diane  –  John Mellencamp
22. Shenandoah  –  Dean Shostak

American Music CD Three
1. Intro and Hi`ilawe Memories  –  Hawaii Calls
2. Sabor a Mi’  –  Los Lobos
3. God Only Knows  –  Beach Boys
4. Take the Money & Run  –  Steve Miller Band
5. American Tune  –  Paul Simon
6. Love Shack  –  B-52’s
7. The Last of the Mohicans Main Title  –  Trevor Jones
8. Jailhouse Rock  –  Elvis Presley
9. I’ll Fly Away  –  Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch
10. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough  –  Diana Ross
11. Blowin’ in the Wind  –  Peter, Paul and Mary
12. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)  –  Marvin Gaye
13. Readin’, Rightin’ Route 23  –  Dwight Yoakam
14. Mexican Dance & Finale from “Billy the Kid”  –  Aaron Copland
15. Let’s Go Crazy  –  Prince
16. Couldn’t Stand the Weather  –  Stevie Ray Vaughan
17. New York State of Mind  –  Billy Joel
18. Midnight Rider  –  Allman Brothers
19. Sweet Home Chicago  –  Robert Johnson
20. Satin Doll  –  Duke Ellington
21. Pink Houses  –  John Mellencamp
22. The Claw —  Clint Black

American Music CD Four
1. Punahoa Special  –  Led Kaapana
2. La Bamba  –  Los Lobos
3. Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?  –  Paula Cole
4. Jet Airliner  –  Steve Miller Band
5. Walkin’ After Midnight  –  Patsy Cline
6. Graceland  –  Paul Simon
7. Hammer Song  –  Peter, Paul and Mary
8. Wichita Lineman  –  Dwight Yoakam
9. Fanfare for the Common Man  –  Aaron Copland
10. Don’t Be Cruel  –  Elvis Presley
11. 1999  –  Prince
12. Inner City Blues  –  Marvin Gaye
13. Bye Bye Blackbird  –  Carmen McRae
14. Brick House  –  Commodores
15. The Entertainer  –  Scott Joplin
16. Old Time Rock & Roll  –  Bob Seger/Silver Bullet Band
17. Too Young to Go Steady  –  John Coltrane Quartet
18. Ventura Highway  –  America
19. Born in the U.S.A.  –  Bruce Springsteen
20. The Kiss (Last of the Mohicans)  –  Trevor Jones

American Music CD Five
1. Jolie Blond  –  The Balfa Brothers
2. La Pistola Y El Corazon  –  Los Lobos
3. Born to Run  –  Bruce Springsteen
4. The Thrill is Gone  –  B.B. King & Tracy Chapman
5. Cash on the Barrelhead  –  Dolly Parton
6. All Along the Watchtower  –  Michael Hedges
7. Bandera  –  Willie Nelson
8. Suspicious Minds  –  Elvis Presley
9. Lily of the West  –  Joan Baez
10. Appalachian Spring 4th mv.  –  Aaron Copland
11. Ramblin’ On My Mind  –  Robert Johnson
12. Take the “A” Train  –  Duke Ellington
13. Boy From Tupelo  –  Emmylou Harris
14. Control  –  Janet Jackson
15. Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues  –  Dwight Yoakam
16. Rock & Roll Band  –  Boston
17. A Change is Gonna Come  –  Aretha Franklin
18. Stardust  –  Artie Shaw
19. Texas Flood  –  Stevie Ray Vaughan
20 A Pirate Looks at Forty  –  Jimmy Buffett
21. Maple Leaf Rag  –  Scott Joplin

American Music CD Six
1. Zydeco Boogaloo  –  Buckwheat Zydeco
2. One Time, One Night  –  Los Lobos
3. Thunder Road  –  Bruce Springsteen
4. Chicago  –  Frank Sinatra
5. Big Ball’s In Cowtown  –  Asleep at the Wheel
6. Streamlined Man  –  Michael Hedges
7. Guitars, Cadillacs, etc.  –  Dwight Yoakam
8. Do Right Woman – Do Right Man  –  Aretha Franklin
9. “Buckaroo Holiday” from Rodeo  –  Aaron Copland
10. Burning Love  –  Elvis Presley
11. The Dance  –  George Winston
12. Pride and Joy  –  Stevie Ray Vaughan
13. The “In” Crowd  –  Ramsey Lewis
14. Saturday in the Park  –  Chicago
15. You’re My Funny Valentine  –  Miles Davis
16. An American Band  –  Grand Funk Railroad
17. Talkin’ About a Revolution  –  Tracy Chapman
18. Viva Las Vegas  –  ZZ Top
19. Just As I Am  –  Willie Nelson

American Music CD Seven
1. Les Flammes d’Enfer  –  Jo-El Sonnier
2. Oye Como Va  –  Santana
3. Waltz Across Texas  –  Emmylou Harris
4. American Pie  –  Don McLean
5. Ain’t Nobody  –  Chaka Khan
6. After the Goldrush  –  Bob Taylor
7. What a Cryin’ Shame The Mavericks
8. I Loves You, Porgy  –  Miles Davis
9. La Grange  –  ZZ Top
10. Moonlight in Vermont  –  Frank Sinatra
11. Corine, Corina  –  Asleep At the Wheel
12. Rhapsody in Blue  –  George Gershwin
13. Jessica  –  Allman Brothers
14. Angel of the Morning  –  The Pretenders
15. Life By The Drop  –  Stevie Ray Vaughan