What is the Timeline?
The Rock 'n Soul Alley Timeline is an interactive list of over 2300 songs from the last six decades in strict chronological order, including factual details about each song, commentaries on many of them, and brief, illustrative sound samples of a selected few. It aims to recreate the sequential flow of music history as many of us once experienced it.
Most of these songs were heard on the radio continuously for several months during their initial popularity. So to recapture the historical flow, time travelers need to shift focus occasionally from individual songs back to the three-month (or longer) "wave" of songs that preceded them, and ahead to the wave of songs that followed them, since all these songs were part of the mix at that time. A little graduation cap icon marks the beginning of each school year.
How were the songs chosen?
The songs are mainly my top picks from the world of rock & soul music I know about--my "desert island" tunes. While doing the compiling I consulted many comprehensive references to be sure no stone was left unturned, and listened anew to every candidate for a fresh take and to select the best-sounding version of each song from my CD collection. After the first draft I sliced and diced the whole list to see where holes needed filling, and added some songs for purely historical reasons.
What did you leave out?
The Timeline includes only genres that are part of rock & soul music (broadly defined, including doo-wop, reggae, funk, and hip-hop). Classical and jazz music don't appear at all; pop, blues, country, folk, and gospel songs are included only when their impact crosses over. Lots of terrific songs, like "Sixteen Tons" and "The Battle of New Orleans," don't fit the concept. Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" made the cut; Peter, Paul & Mary's version wasn't even considered. Some calls were arbitrary. Categorizing music is inherently problematic. We're sure to be discussing boundary and definition issues all over this site! Join this discussion here.
Will more songs be added?
Yes, more songs from all eras will be added over time, and Cats' opinions will definitely figure in. Gator naturally favors certain styles over others, and these preferences are evident in the initial Timeline. Cats use lists and comments to make the case for their own favorite songs. Timeline Omissions and Updates is likely to be a popular discussion topic. The Timeline will also be updated each year in January or February.
How do I comment on a song?
Click on the song's title.
How do I get best results with Timeline Search?
Timeline Search is completely literal. If you don't spell the whole entry perfectly, it won't find a match. For example, "Bad Moon on the Rise" does not find "Bad Moon Rising." What usually works best is to search for just a part of what you want. For example "bad moon" will find "Bad Moon Rising." The best way to find all Neil Young combinations is to search for "neil young." To find both "Barbara Ann" and "Barbara-Ann," search for "barbara."
What factual details are available for every Timeline song?
Besides the title, artist, and date for each song, you can click on its "information" icon to open a window including three kinds of factual details.  The "CD Source" field lists the CD from my collection that contains the best-sounding version of the song and the track's running time. In compiling the Timeline, I imagined actually burning CDs of the songs; these data are notes for that purpose. Click on the name of the CD to view further details about that album in the CD Database. (Sometimes this option isn't available.)
 The "Sequenced by" field identifies which data I used to sequence that song. The vast majority are sequenced by dates from weekly Billboardª pop charts, either singles or (beginning in 1963) albums. If album chart dates were used, the album's name is listed. All exceptions (such as using R&B or Country chart dates, or extrapolating from release dates) are noted.  The "Honored by" field credits songs included in one (or more) of three "best of" rankings: the Rolling Stone Greatest 500 songs of All-Time (2010), Dave Marsh's 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989, then updated through 1998), and Gator's own top 500 songs (2009).
Why do some songs have Commentaries?
Commentaries are offered for a variety of reasons. Many of them provide additional information about the CD Source or about how the song or album was sequenced in the Timeline. Others tell a little story about the song's history, or a connection of one song to another, or differences between two versions of the same song--that sort of thing. Commentaries that accompany music samples also call attention to something you can hear by listening to the sample(s).
How do you decide which songs to provide samples for?
Samples are provided to illustrate facts and stories about music history that must be heard to be understood.
Why won't Timeline music samples play on my iPad?
The sample player is implemented using Adobe Flash, which is not supported on the iPad.
What's the difference between a Timeline playlist and a Timeline Summary?
The Timeline is, of course, one enormous playlist that can be broken down into any number of smaller playlists. "Timeline Doo-Wop" and "Timeline Motown" are examples. Like all other playlists, Timeline playlists live on the Playlists page. Timeline Summaries, on the other hand, are analyses of the Timeline as a whole broken down by artists, songwriters, years, and other facts of interest. These summaries are accessible, along with Timeline Help and the Printer-Friendly function, at the top of the Timeline page.
How was "strict chronological order" determined?
Each song's chart history is represented as an "arc" of four dates mapping its entry, rise, peak, and decline in relative popularity. Timeline sequencing is based on the premise that most of us, most of the time, first became aware of each song during its rise. Dates for the vast majority of songs were taken from weekly Billboardª charts; other references provided additional data like release dates when needed. If a song eventually reached the top 10, I usually made the first week it did so its "breakout" rise date. If a song charted lower (or not at all), all available data were used to map its arc and assign it a breakout date using the same logic.
All songs were sorted on these breakout dates into strict chronological order, which was then tweaked to adjust for unusual arc patterns (such as the occasional song that hovered just below the top 10 for several weeks before finally hitting its peak and then disappearing). This approach to identifying breakout dates was adapted as needed to accommodate new arc patterns in the 1990s, when multiple charts began to proliferate and record companies began manipulating the timing of the release or non-release of retail singles to game the charts. Increasingly over the last two decades, entry date and breakout date are the same.
How were songs assigned to particular months?
Music popularity charts are based on surveys covering a week's time and conducted a known number of days before the chart is published. This lag between the survey period and the chart's official issue date is factored into the Timeline month assignments in order to most accurately date listeners' radio listening and record buying experiences in real time.The lag has varied from 11 to 16 days over the years, so the breakout chart date is typically about two weeks later than the "real time" date on which Timeline sequencing is based.
Accuracy is unavoidably limited by the fact that national charts aggregate local data. So, for example, listeners in Los Angeles may have been a week or two ahead of--or behind--listeners in Philadelphia in catching on to any particular song. With that caveat, the idea is that most of us, most of the time, actually tuned into these songs for the first time during the month listed in the Timeline.
How may Timeline "years" be different from other lists I see?
If the other list is based on release dates or the first date a song charted, the Timeline will seem late. Most songs released or first charted in December will not show up on the Timeline until January of the following year. If the other list is based on when songs peaked on published charts, the Timeline will seem early. Most December songs in the Timeline did not reach their chart peak until the following year.
What other details might I be curious about?
 You may notice missing accent marks above letters in artists' names or missing elipses (...) in song titles. With sincere apologies to those thereby misrepresented, we removed them all intentionally to avoid technical problems in both searching and display across multiple platforms with multiple character sets.  Many recommended CD sources for Timeline songs are multi-volume collections or box sets. You should be able to identify which individual disc is the source from sales information on Amazon.com or the iTunes store. If you need the information and can't find it, please email me.
Can I change anything about the Timeline display?
Yes, you can affect the display by using the tools at the top and bottom of the Timeline. You can jump to any year, search for any artist or title, and change the number of titles per page. Timeline Help describes how to use the tools. Enjoy!