1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 230 to 221
I am a dull and simple lad.
230. “My Girl Sloopy,” Vibrations. Songwriters: Wes Farrell, Bert Berns; #26 pop/#10 R&B; 1964. “My Girl Sloopy,” a #1 1965 pop hit for The McCoys as “Hang On Sloopy,” was co-written by Bert Berns, using “La Bamba” and “Guantanamera” (sometimes referred to as the unofficial Cuban national anthem) for inspiration. The Vibrations recording is rambunctiously loose and chaotic with fake crowd noise and a funky Latin percussion sound. Author Joel Selvin, “When the group faced a studio full of top sidemen and heard the badass backbeat they laid down, the Vibrations began to see the beauty of ‘My Girl Sloopy.’ The record turned out to be a masterpiece of production by Berns. He brings the compact, expertly orchestrated piece to two brisk crescendos— shades of ‘Twist and Shout’— and manages to distill unfiltered Afro-Cuban voodoo for the pop charts. The obviously fake crowd noise turns up the heat on the track. He draws from vocalist Carl Fisher a peerless, loopy performance that straddles the borders of humor, lust, and hard soul, leavened with just the right touch of jive.”
229. “Land of 1,000 Dances,” Wilson Pickett. Songwriter: Chris Kenner; #6 pop/#1 R&B; 1966. New Orleans recording artist Chris Kenner wrote and recorded “Land of 1,000 Dances” in 1962. Kenner, “It actually came from a spiritual. The spiritual was ‘Children Go Where I Send You’ and I turned it around. It was inspired by the dance tunes going around.” Kenner’s original version and the 1963 Fats Domino release were at a much slower tempo than the better known hit versions. The Mexican American group Cannibal & the Headhunters hit the Top 40 in 1965 with their aggressive R&B meets garage rock cover. Wilson Pickett scored his biggest pop hit with blasting Muscle Shoals version, a recording with arrangement input from Chips Moman and Jerry Wexler to flesh out the two-chord groove. Pickett biographer Tony Fletcher, “Pickett’s delivery was riotous, raucous, damn near Pentecostal. He name checked his sister Louella, Lucy Coot – ‘my little Lucy’ – who had attempted to teach how to dance some of these moves. When not reciting the dances by name, he grunted, shouted, screamed, exhorted, did whatever it took to keep the song moving.” Drummer Roger Hawkins, “(After the take), Jerry Wexler said, ‘Roger, you are a great drummer,’ and all of a sudden, I just kind of relaxed and became a great drummer, just like he said I was.”
228. “Honky Tonk Women,” The Rolling Stones. Songwriters: Mick Jaggers, Keith Richards; #1 pop; 1969. Mick Jaggers was singing about alcohol, cocaine, and sex on “Honky Tonk Women,” behavior that was perfectly acceptable from white British rock stars. The vocal trio Reperata and the Delrons, who we met earlier in this countdown with their 1966 single “I’m Nobody’s Baby Now,” providing backing vocals. Keith Richards, “’Honky Tonk Women’ started in Brazil. Mick and I were sitting on the porch of this ranch house and I started to play, basically fooling around with an old Hank Williams idea. ‘Cause we really thought we were like real cowboys. We were sitting in the middle of nowhere with all these horses, in a place where if you flush the john all these black frogs would fly out. It started out a real country honk put on, a hokey thing. A couple of months later we were writing songs and recording. Somehow by some metamorphosis it suddenly went into this little swampy, black thing, a blues thing.” “Honky Tonk Women” is historically significant for being the first Stones recording to include guitarist Mick Taylor.
227. “David Watts,” The Kinks. Songwriter: Ray Davies; Did Not Chart; 1967. On one level, “David Watts” is a simple appreciation for a well to do, big man on campus. Below the surface, it’s a story about sexual identity and longing. In the words of Jon Savage, this is one of Davies’ “sharpest homoerotic songs.” David Watts was actually the name of a British concert promoter. Ray Davies once either tried to arrange a marriage between David Watts and Dave Davies as a practical joke or, in Dave’s estimation, his sibling was acting like a pimp. Dave Davies, “What stuck in my mind the most was the fact that my older brother, whose guidance and defense I had counted on, was ready to trade me for a piece of architecture. Ray Davies in 2016, “My brother, Dave, was in a flamboyant mood and I could see David Watts had a crush on him. So I tried to do a deal and persuade Dave to marry David Watts ‘cause he was connected with Rutland brewery. See, that’s how stupid my brain was. I thought if I can get Dave fixed up with this Watts guy I’ll be set up for life and get all the ale I want. But the song’s about complete envy. It was based on the head boy at my school. He was captain of the team, all those things, but I can’t tell you his real name as I only spoke to him a few months ago.” The Jam covered “David Watts” for a #25 U.K. pop hit in 1978.
226. “People Are Strange,” The Doors. Songwriters: Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger; #12 pop; 1967. Being a social outcast was still a major part of the 1960’s rock ‘n’ roll experience, leading Jim Morrison to write the alienation anthem/European cabaret number “People Are Strange” after a bout of depression. Doors drummer John Densmore, “(Morrison) said, ‘Yeah, I feel really good about this one. It just came to me all of a sudden … in a flash – as I was sitting up there on the ridge looking out over the city.’ His eyes were wild with excitement. ‘I scribbled it down as fast as I could. It felt great to be writing again.’ He looked down at the crumpled paper in his hand and sang the chorus in his haunting blues voice. Jim’s latest song was especially poignant to me because the lyrics not only had his patented strange and dark trademark, but now they were raw and lonely, even personal.”
225. “Take Me,” George Jones. Songwriters: George Jones, Leon Payne; #8 country; 1965. “Take Me,” a pledge of eternal love written by George Jones and Leon Payne (of “Lost Highway” and “I Love You Because” fame), doesn’t sound like a country record of its era. With soft acoustic guitar work and delicate violin accompaniment, it sounds like a romantic pop ballad. Jones never strains or tries to overwhelm the material, but still gives one of his most soulful and moving vocals. “Take Me” went to #8 on the charts for Jones in 1965 and returned to the Top Ten as a duet between George and Tammy Wynette in 1972, the married couple’s first single release. Nick Tosches on Jones’s legendary voice, “For the old-timers and young bloods alike, his voice possesses a quality that others can only envy and emulate. Working the hidden veins beneath the phrase and rhyme of every song, his voice is one of rare prismatic inflections that transmute the familiar light of the timeworn into subtle new glimmerings.”
224. “It’s All Right,” The Impressions. Songwriter: Curtis Mayfield; #4 pop/#1 R&B; 1963. When you are a genius, sometimes it’s easy to write a hit song. Curtis Mayfield, “I was just running my mouth over dreams and creative things and every time I’d talk, Fred (Cash) would say, ‘Well, all right.’ And all of a sudden that hit me as a song. By the time we got dressed (they were backstage) and all, we could’ve gone on-stage and sang that song.” When you are a genius, you’re not too proud to learn from others. Smokey Robinson, discussing The Temptations hit “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “(Curtis Mayfield) had a song out with The Impressions called ‘It’s Alright” and they sang with this great harmony and I knew The Temptations could sing like that because they had a great harmony sound. Curtis had this high voice like Eddie Kendricks and I wanted to simulate that if possible.” Author Bill Janovitz on the vocal arrangement, “This ensemble approach to the vocals was obviously taken from the men’s gospel background. They each take a lead vocal line or two, slipping back into harmonies at the ends of lines, weaving like jazz players.”
223. “Bus Stop,” The Hollies. Songwriter: Graham Gouldman; #5 pop; 1966. Graham Nash and Allen Clarke were childhood friends who started performing as a skiffle duo during the late 1950s. They formed The Hollies, the name a tribute to Buddy Holly, in 1962 and that band was a fixture on the U.K. pop throughout the rest of the decade. They had less success in the U.S. with their true breakthrough hit with the public transportation romance number “Bus Stop.” Songwriter Graham Gouldman, “I had the title and I came home one day and (my father) said ‘I’ve started something on that ‘Bus Stop’ idea you had, and I’m going to play it for you. He’d written ‘Bus stop, wet day, she’s there, I say please share my umbrella’ and it’s like when you get a really great part of a lyric or, I also had this nice riff as well, and when you have such a great start to a song it’s kind of like the rest is easy. It’s like finding your way onto a road and when you get onto the right route, you just follow it.” The combination of the minor chord melody, Greek influenced guitar work, and distinctive three part harmony singing in “Bus Stop” resulted in one of the finest British pop records of the decade.
222. “Communication Breakdown,” Led Zeppelin. Songwriters: John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant; Did Not Chart; 1969. Mickey Leigh from his book “I Slept with Joey Ramone,” “One day I started playing Led Zeppelin’s ‘Communication Breakdown,’ and John (Cummings/Johnny Ramone) was really impressed. ‘You know about downstrokes? That’s really important. Most people don’t realize that. That’s how rock ‘n’ roll should be played. All of it!’” Andy Shernoff from the band the Dictators has also commented that the blueprint for the Ramones comes directly from “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath and “Communication Breakdown.” Author Gregg Akkerman, “Zeppelin did not invent hard rock or heavy metal, but they codified the parameters and formulated the mission statement for others to adopt as their own. It lasts less than 2:30, but that’s all the time it takes for ‘Communication Breakdown’ to change the road you’re on.”
221. “I Can’t Explain,” The Who. Songwriter: Pete Townshend; #93 pop; 1964. “I Can’t Explain” was the Who’s first pop hit, peaking at #8 on the U.K. charts, with a sound similar to the early aggressive style of The Kinks. Roger Daltrey, “We already knew Pete (Townshend) could write songs, but it never seemed a necessity in those days to have your own stuff because there was this wealth of untapped music that we could get hold of from America. But then bands like The Kinks started to make it, and they were probably the biggest influence on us – they were certainly a huge influence on Pete, and he wrote ‘I Can’t Explain,’ not as a direct copy, but certainly it’s very derivative of Kinks music. When we turned up to record it there was this other guitarist in the studio – Jimmy Page. And (producer Shel Talmy) brought in three backing vocalists, which was another shock. He must have discussed it with our management, but not with us, so we were thrown at first, thinking, ‘What the f–k’s going on here?’ But it was his way of recording.”