Let's keep it simple here:
1) I Think We're Alone Now - Tommy James and the Shondells
Let's introduce the mix, let the listener know that it's just them and the music. Give it a little punch to get the shoulders moving, but this isn't about dancing, and it isn't about a party-- this is about great music. Enjoy.
2) Follow you Down - The Gin Blossoms
Again, we're in this together. Let's not waste the punch from the last song, but let's not go too big too fast.
3) Don't Stop Believin' - Journey
Obvious, but still worth it. You knew it was coming, we're putting it in early, it carries the flow, and let's you sit back and think about the rest of the mix instead of just waiting to see if it's on there.
4) Total Eclipse of the Heart - Bonnie Tyler
So we're into the power ballads section of the mix, and this isn't the last Jim Steinman song that's going to find its way onto the list. But the slow start to the song gives you a breather, and the song's orchestrations turn on your brain so you're paying attention, now.
5) November Rain - Guns 'N Roses
They have songs that are more divergent (Welcome to the Jungle, say) but that don't have the technical execution on this song. Keeps your attention for longer than you'd expect Axl Rose to be able to pay attention to his own song.
6) All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You - Heart
Don't think about the content of this song too seriously. Or actually, go ahead and think the hell out of it, since it is totally fucking awesome that Ann Wilson can rip the hell out of this soul-achingly great song despite the fact that it's about how her husband was impotent so she got pregnant from an anonymous bum on the side of the road.
7) Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow - Carol King
We're getting a little weepy here, but better to get these songs out of the way all together, set an emotion, let it bloom, and move on. This song communicates a universal, simple emotion without being cheap. A democracy that respects its citizens intelligence. Where have we gone since the 70s?
8) I Would do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) - Meat Loaf
Yet another Jim Steinman pick, and it brings us back to big sound and some faster music, and some more positive, if complicated emotions. I prefer the long version-- 13 minutes is a lot to ask, but there's a lot packed in there to experience.
9) Basket Case - Greenday
Defined an era of music, created a new genre, and, separately, and more importantly, an awesome song. Even has little hooks to obsess over-- what's with the genders on the shrink and the whore?
10) Land of Confusion - Genesis
Oh look! Phil Collins wants to play political! How the hell did he accidentally stumble on an anthem that's all at once vague and mushy and effective? The marvel of this song is that it works as well as it does despite being some asshole's idea of trying to connect to the previous decade's ethic. Bonus points for not being afraid to put a little testosterone into their political action music. And, to their credit, they bring something that U.S. protest music never could bring, which is a deeper understanding of facism, since over in the U.K. they have *real* facists (for real, in the middle of WWII there were actual political figures who were Nazi sympathizers. Not stay-out-of-the-war types like we had here, but real, honest-to-god 'hey! will to power! woohoo!' types), while we just have the Republican Party and its malcontents.
11) Rockin' in the Free World - Neil Young
Oh, is this the real version of that last song? oh, my mistake.
12) Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
You might criticize this list for being single-heavy, but artists are mostly smart enough to put their best work out there for maximum review. Especially the most creative artists, whose work is frequently inaccessible on a massive scale; Springsteen's body of work is all over the place, but this song stirs the blood and, again, holds your attention way past when it should.
13) Take Me Home Tonight - Eddie Money
It's not that Eddie Money is so great or anything, but this song combines old and new in a totally natural way. Points for respecting history.
You may, at this point, notice that I hate the British.
14) Here Comes The Sun - George Harrison
Enough minor key, huh? Also, this is as close as I get to complimenting the Beatles, who I have not willingly listened to since I got bored with them at age 16. Not that I'm a Rolling Stones fan, either, because they don't really write songs, just noise, except for, I guess, "Angie."
15) (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher - Jackie Wilson
Holy Cow, is this the first black guy on this list? That's weird. Rock is really their music anyway.
16) My Girl - The Temptations
See? It's really theirs.
17) Isn't She Lovely - Stevie Wonder
Maybe I'm getting old and I've lived through too many weddings and baby births now, but I'm starting to get this. Not that I'm a dad or anything, but, you know, I've got so many freakin' long songs on here, and I had to put on something from Songs in the Key of Life, and As is like seven minutes long, so (insert additional lame excuses. it's a great song).
18) A Little Less Conversation - Elvis Presley
So sue me, I'm a member of that very brief slice of humanity that was in college at the adolescence of the internet, when there was a viral video of a remix of this song going around, and I think it's Elvis' best song.
19) Kodachrome - Paul Simon
I was wrestling with how to work some Bob Dylan in here, do some acknowledgment of 60s protest songs and how they reshaped America and the world, and I was thinking about his peers and contemporaries, but the fact is, Dylan's oeuvre is what's important, and not any one song, and none of the songs are all that great, just as songs. I think you had to be there. And much of the same goes for Simon & Garfunkel (although bridge over troubled water blah blah isn't there enough orchestral music on here?) but this solo song by Paul Simon is brilliant.
20) So Long Frank Lloyd Wright - Simon & Garfunkel
Okay, so I lied. This is also maybe the least melodic song on the list, but it's a great way to close. To be continued.