1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 30 to 21
29. “I Can See for Miles,” The Who. Songwriter: Pete Townshend; #9 pop; 1967. Pete Townshend, “I always feel that the best constructed early song that I ever wrote was ‘I Can See for Miles.’ I put about two solid days into that and when it actually worked…I think the lyrics are great, they create a great sort of impression of images and the music is harmonically exciting.” Townshend was devastated that the Top Ten single about romantic obsession didn’t top the pop charts: “That was a real heartbreaker for me. It was a number we’d been saving, thinking that if The Who ever got into trouble this one would pull us out. On the day I saw it go down (the charts) I spat on the British record buyer. To me this was the ultimate Who record and yet it didn’t sell.” Rock critic Richie Unterburger, “’I Can See for Miles’ boasts one of Keith Moon’s greatest performances, and ergo, one of the best drum parts ever on a rock record, right from the time Moon responds to the guitar twang with a couple of crackling beats. Ever-shifting, frequently pausing to increase the tension, the drums brilliantly convey the onset of a dramatic, doomy showdown. The verses are in a most uncommon irregular meter, slowing to a near-crawl for Roger Daltrey’s menacing accusations of unfaithfulness and speeding to a frenzy (paced by furious Moon drum rolls) for the riffs that separate the lines of the verse. The chorus is a harmonized repetition of the title — mostly the last two words of the title, actually — that, combined with the battlefield guitars and drums in the background, creates the psychedelic effect of a dizzying echo on the verge of spinning out of control.”
28. “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” The Temptations. Songwriters: Norman Whitfield, Eddie Holland; #13 pop/#1 R&B; 1966. The lean, hard hitting “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” was Norman Whitfield’s first production for The Temptations, a role he coveted, taking that job from Smokey Robinson after “Get Ready” failed to hit the Top Twenty on the pop charts. Author Joel Francis, “If you’re not hooked in the first five seconds of this song, you haven’t been paying attention. All the elements attack immediately: the drum roll coupled with the insistent clanging cymbal, the knuckle-roll piano riff and, of course, David Ruffin’s raspy vocal. The stinging staccato guitar that shows up later in the initial verse is a direct homage to James Brown. Throw in the glorious backing vocals from the rest of the Temptations and a stellar horn line and you’ve got not only an incredible song, but a definitive snapshot of Motown in full glory.” Whitfield created the sense of desperation by pushing David Ruffin to sing above his vocal range; Otis Williams of the Temptations later recalled that by the end of the session, Ruffin was “drowning in sweat and his glasses were all over his face.” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” returned to the Top Twenty of the pop charts in 1974, courtesy of the Rolling Stones.
27. “God Only Knows,” Beach Boys. Songwriters: Brian Wilson, Tony Asher; #39 pop; 1966. Brian Wilson on his melancholy and introspective love song, “Tony Asher and I tried to write something very spiritually. It’s got a melody similar to the song (recites lyric to ‘The Sound Of Music’), ‘I hear the sound of music…’ (Sings lyrics to ‘God Only Knows’) ‘I may not always love you…’ It was similar to it. Tony came up with the title ‘God Only Knows.’ I was scared they’d ban playing it on the radio because of the title but they didn’t.” Sound engineer Eugene Gearty, “What we learned with Brian was how much he modulated from key to key. He was far more complex than The Beatles and mostly like Stravinsky in orchestral music where the key changes and key centers change four or five times within a pop tune, which is unheard of. And ‘God Only Knows’ is one of those perfect examples of that.” Matthew Bolin of PopDose also made the classical connection, “There are a few moments in this life that are both exhilarating and sad at the same time. The first time I listened to ‘God Only Knows,’ in 1991, was one of them. Exhilarating because from the first notes I had goosebumps: it is simply one of the most beautifully composed and arranged songs in the history of not just pop music, but Western music. To place ‘God Only Knows’ in its proper context is to compare it not just to 1966 Paul McCartney, but 1836 Frederic Chopin. And the sadness? It’s the realization that, like with a drug, the first high is the greatest. Unlike a drug, though, the trance that ‘God Only Knows’ leaves upon the listener does no damage; it only elevates, leaving the listener wanting more.” A succinct appraisal from Paul McCartney, “It’s a really, really great song.”
26. “Try A Little Tenderness,” Otis Redding. Songwriters: Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly, Harry M. Woods; #25 pop/#4 R&B; 1966. “Try a Little Tenderness” was originally recorded as a big band number by the Ray Noble Orchestra in 1932 and was covered by Aretha Franklin three decades later. Isaac Hayes arranged Redding’s version, a #25 pop hit, which begins with sparse instrumentation and ends with Otis being propelled by Booker T. and the Memphis Horns as he passionately belts out his instructions to “LOVE her, SQUEEZE her.” (Tenderly, of course.) Jim Stewart of Stax, “The drum part always killed me because (Al) Jackson was like a metronome, how he changed the tempo. I defy any drummer to do that exactly the same. It’s one of my favorite Stax records of all time. From beginning to end, it’s like the history of Stax is wrapped up in it.” Author Emily Lordi, “This paternalistic ballad about the power of male affection to revive female morale had been covered by Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke in the years preceding Redding’s version. But whereas Franklin and Cooke maintained the song’s basic ballad structure, Redding revolutionized it. The recording owes its drama not just to Redding’s throaty vocals and lyrical embellishments, but also to the synergy of the band as a unit. As Jonathan Gould writes in his wonderful new biography ‘Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life,’ ‘the track is … a musical microcosm of the Stax sound, a seamless synthesis of the pleading ballads and pounding grooves that (Stax artists) played better than anyone else.’”
25. “The Kids Are Alright,” The Who. Songwriter: Pete Townshend; Did Not Chart; 1965. Pete Townshend, reflecting on one of his band’s most melodic efforts in 2000, “When I wrote this song I was nothing but a kid, trying to work out right and wrong through all the things I did. I was kind of practicing with my life. I was kind of taking chances in a marriage with my wife. I took some stuff and I drank some booze. There was almost nothing that I didn’t try to use. And somehow I’m alright.” Author Joe Tangari, “That big opening chord sounds like a challenge to the Beatles of a ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’ Sure enough, the Who turn in a gorgeous, sophisticated pop song that focuses the band’s sick instrumental prowess into three minutes of kinetic melancholy. Those vocal harmonies positively soar on Pete Townshend’s guitar jangle, and the modulation at the end is brilliant, preceded by Daltrey’s vocal has just the right tinge of sadness as he heaves the inner conflict stoked by his relationship on the table for all to see.” Author John Atkins, “It is the archetypal Who performance of the era, more representative than ‘My Generation’ and more mature than ‘I Can’t Explain.’ The middle section is very well achieved, culminating in one of the best recorded examples of Townshend’s revolutionary power-chord solo technique – a ringing, cascading succession of distorted riffs and variations.”
24. “In My Life,” Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; Did Not Chart; 1965. John Lennon on his meditative/personal journey composition “In My Life”: “There was a period when I thought I didn’t write melodies, that Paul wrote those and I just wrote straight, shouting rock ‘n’ roll. But of course, when I think of some of my own songs – ‘In My Life,’ or some of the early stuff, ‘This Boy’ – I was writing melody with the best of them. Paul helped with the middle eight musically. But all lyrics written, signed, sealed, and delivered. And it was, I think, my first real major piece of work. Up till then it had all been sort of glib and throwaway. And that was the first time I consciously put my literary part of myself into the lyric. Inspired by Kenneth Allsop, the British journalist, and Bob Dylan.” Lennon looks backwards and forwards in the lyrics – cherishing the people who have shaped his life, yet feeling excited about building a future with his lover. Lennon wanted a baroque feel in the instrumental section, so George Martin played a piano solo and sped up the tape, resulting in what sounds like a harpsichord.
23. “Wooly Bully,” Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs. Songwriter: Domingo Samudio; #2 pop; 1964. Domingo “Sam” Samudio formed his first band of Pharaohs in Dallas during the early 1960s, but was based out of Memphis when he released the Tex Mex, bewildering garage rocker “Wooly Bully.” Sally O’Rourke on the anti-L7 rocker, “The Kingsmen’s version of ‘Louie Louie’ may have sparked the garage rock revolution, but ‘Wooly Bully’ managed to be both more commercially successful and much, much weirder. Beneath the primitive arrangement and muffled vocals, ‘Louie Louie’ is a straightforward R&B song about a girl. ‘Wooly Bully,’ on the other hand, is about…? A hirsute bovine? Sam the Sham’s cat? An attempt at a new dance craze, but without any instructions for how to do it? Something risqué? ‘Wooly Bully’ is somehow ever rawer than ‘Louie Louie,’ with a one-chord verse, a two-word chorus, and 15-bar structure that sets the song on an odd, wobbling groove. Sam the Sham — real name Domingo Samudio — supposedly took voice classes in college, but there’s no sign of any classical training in his bellowing bleat that struggles to stay on key. Sax player Butch Gibson toots out a decent solo in the middle of the song, but all of the other musicians sound as though they discovered their instruments for the first time at the song’s recording session. Yet it’s this boneheaded simplicity that makes ‘Wooly Bully’ such a classic, standing out both from the diluted faux-rock of the early ’60s, and from the increasingly artistic ambitions that rockers like the Beatles were beginning to explore.” The Pharaohs also inspired the best title ever for a tribute album – “Turban Renewal.”
22. “Wichita Lineman,” Glen Campbell. Songwriter: Jimmy Webb; #3 pop/#1 country; 1968. After scoring a #2 country hit and getting crossover pop airplay with the 1967 Jimmy Webb composition “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” Campbell wanted Jimmy Webb to write another song “about a town.” Webb had “prairie goth” images in his head and went much deeper. Webb, “You can see someone working in construction or working in a field, a migrant worker or a truck driver, and you may think you know what’s going on inside him, but you don’t. You can’t assume that just because someone’s in a menial job that they don’t have dreams or extraordinary concepts going around in their head, like ‘I need you more than want you; and I want you for all time.’ You can’t assume that a man isn’t a poet. And that’s really what the song is about.” Campbell’s plaintive vocals are both beautiful and heartbreaking, singing about a man who toils endlessly to help others communicate and, due to his occupational and personal loneliness, is desperate for a meaningful interpersonal connection.
21. “I’d Rather Go Blind,” Etta James. Songwriters: Bill Foster, Ellington Jordan; Did Not Chart; 1968. Etta James would rather lose her eyesight than see her man walk away on the heart wrenching “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Although Etta didn’t write the song, she was involved in a personal relationship where life imitated art. James, “I was blind. I was blind in my love life, and I was blind in my personal ways. Like the song says, ‘I just don’t want to be free.’” Songwriter Ellington Jordan had his own reasons to be depressed, he was imprisoned for robbery when he wrote the song. (According to James, former doo wop vocalist Bill Foster received a writing credit as part of Chess Records’ creative way of conducting accounting and business finance, not for any artistic contribution). James writing about the reaction that label president Leonard Chess had to the song in her autobiography: “he got up and left the room ’cause he started crying… When he came back in the room, he said, ‘Etta, it’s a mother … it’s a mother.” Music critic Matthew Greenwald, “Heartbreaking and soulful, the premise of the title is affecting enough, yet the sheer poetry of the words takes it to an even higher place. James’ vocal delivery is, of course, unparalleled and positively drips with emotion, giving the entire song and recording a bittersweet feeling that is undeniable.”