1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 300 to 291
Welcome back, baby, to the poor side of town.
300. “Think,” James Brown. Songwriter: Lowman Pauling; #33 pop/#7 R&B; 1960. The “5” Royales had a Top Five R&B hit with “Think” in 1957, recording the composition as a typical blues rock number of its era. The James Brown cover sounds like the beginning of his musical journey to develop and refine funk music. Peter Guralnick, “’Think,’ the radical reworking of the old ‘5’ Royales hit, established the new James Brown voice. Sung rapid-fire with the kind of sharp prompting from the Famous Flames that was the aural equivalent of their precision steps, ‘Think’ embodied an approach different from any in the past, with not only the song but the structure of the song turned inside out and a classic shuffle blues rhythmically and melodically transformed.” Rock critic Cliff White, “Suddenly ‘50s R&B was yesterday, and James Brown was tomorrow.” Author Douglas Wolk,” Brown’s singing is wild-eyed and suspicious – he elongates every key syllable, lagging behind the beat so he can jump out front again, worrying notes until they threaten to wreck the microphone. It was his first great dance record.”
299. “Shapes of Things,” The Yardbirds. Songwriters: Jim McCarty, Keith Relf, Paul Samwell-Smith; #11 pop; 1966. The tentatively anti-war “Shapes of Things” has been described as the first psychedelic rock track to become a pop hit. Bassist Paul Samwell-Smith on an unlikely influence, “I just lifted part of a Dave Brubeck fugue to a marching beat. It’s a sort of protest song.” Drummer Jim McCarty, “With ‘The Shapes of Things’ I came up with a marching type of rhythm that I tried to make interesting. And at the end of each line we’d build up like we used to do with some of our stage stuff – the rave ups.” Guitarist Jeff Beck on his contribution, “There was mass hysteria in the studio when I did that solo. They weren’t expecting it and it was just some weird mist coming from the East out of an amp. (Producer) Giorgio (Gomelsky) was freaking out and dancing about like some tribal witch doctor. ‘Shapes of Things’ was the pinnacle of The Yardbirds. If I did nothing else, that was the best single.”
298. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Darlene Love. Songwriters: Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector; Did Not Chart; 1963. Phil Spector released his girl group holiday album “A Christmas Gift for You” in November of 1963, but perhaps due to the national mood with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, it was a commercial disappointment. The album was reissued in the 1970s and was heralded as a lost classic. Author Gavin Edwards, “’A Christmas Gift for You’ may have been Phil Spector’s crowning achievement: majestic Wall of Sound production, electrifying vocals from the Crystals and Ronnie Spector, and best of all, Darlene Love singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” like it was her one chance at happiness.” Darlene Love, “It was the one original song on the Christmas album, and I had no idea it was going to really do anything. I knew at the time when we recorded it it was a great song, but a Christmas song then a hit? That doesn’t happen. It’s like everybody has now started to do it in their Christmas shows. It’s becoming the song to do and that makes me proud, that I was the original person that recorded it.”
297. “Poor Side of Town,” Johnny Rivers. Songwriters: Johnny Rivers, Lou Adler; #1 pop; 1966. “Poor Side of Town” was a major departure for Johnny Rivers, a move away from his dance oriented, R&B influenced rock ‘n’ roll toward a more lush pop sound. Rivers, “It took me about five months to write it. It was one of those things where I had the chord changes and I kept working on it. I had the guitar riff and then I got the hook, ‘Welcome back, baby, to the poor side of town,’ and the idea of a gal taking off with some wealthy guy and really finding out later on that he was kind of a jerk and coming back to her boyfriend on the poor side of town. It’s kind of a story of forgiveness and redemption and reconciliation.”
296. “Night Life,” Willie Nelson. Songwriter: Willie Nelson; Did Not Chart; 1960. Author Joe Nick Patoski, “’Night Life’ was from another realm. Mature, deep, and thoughtful, the slow, yearning blues had been put together in his head during long drives across Houston. At Gold Star (Recording Studio), he was surrounded by musicians who could articulate his musical thoughts. He sang the words with confident phrasing that had never been heard on any previous recording he’d done. Paul Buskirk’s and Willie’s guitar leads were straight out of the T-Bone Walker playbook, while Dick Shannon’s bluesy saxophone was pure Texas tenor. If not for Herb Remington’s low-note hokum on his steel guitar and his Hawaiian flourishes, the song could have passed for race music.” Nelson sold “Night Life” to guitar instructor Paul Buskirk, for the grand sum of $150, and Nelson’s 1960 recording of the song was released under the name Paul Biskirk and the Little Men featuring Hugh Nelson.
295. “Ain’t That Peculiar,” Marvin Gaye. Songwriters: Pete Moore, William “Smokey” Robinson, Bobby Rogers, Marv Tarplin; #8 pop/#1 R&B; 1965. Smokey Robinson on working with Marvin Gaye, “I’d show him a song one time and I knew he would sing it better than I envisioned it. He’d always do something unexpected and wonderful. He sounded like he knew it even before I showed it to him.” Miracles guitarist Marv Tarplin developed the melody of “Ain’t That Peculiar” and the song was written during a European tour. The main riff was a variation of what Bill Doggett played on his 1956 instrumental #2 pop hit “Honky Tonk.” From the Motown Junkies website, “The rolling, chiming repeated riffs that underpin the song allow Marvin to float over the top, giving him room to extemporize with his vocal as and when he feels the need without it coming across as self-indulgent. Smokey and the Miracles stock the cupboards with hooks and tricks to boost the signal: a riveting pre-chorus break, a series of infectious call and response Ah-ah-ah!s, and a backing vocal-led chorus that must rank among Smokey’s catchiest efforts.”
294. “Give Peace a Chance,” John Lennon. Songwriter: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #14 pop; 1969. In 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono stayed in bed for eight days, executing the world’s laziest protest event. To promote his agenda, Lennon duplicated Dylan’s proto-rap style on “Give Peace a Chance,” resulting in his personal mission statement for a short life that ended in gun violence. Lennon, “When we did the bed-ins, we told the reporters that and they responded, ‘Uh-huh, yeah, sure…’ But it didn’t matter what the reporters said, because our commercial went out nonetheless. It was just like another TV commercial. Everybody puts them down but everybody knows them, listens to them, buys the products. We’re doing the same thing. We’re putting the word ‘peace’ on the front page of the paper next to all the words about war.”
293. “Baby, Now That I Found You,” The Foundations. Songwriters: Tony Macaulay, John MacLeod; #11 pop; 1967. Tony Macauley on the production of “Baby, Now That I Found You,” “I woke up that morning with a stinking hangover and when I got to the studio and heard The Foundations, I thought they were pretty terrible. I decided that it was my hangover that was to blame and so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and the only song I could think of was something John McLeod and I had had some time, ‘Baby, Now That I Found You.’ I didn’t have a lot of faith in that song but they recorded it with a lot of energy and I learned a lot from making that record.” The song became a #1 U.K. hit through counterprogramming – the newly formed BBC Radio 1 was seeking material that was not being played by pirate radio stations. Ironically, the song was knocked out of the #1 slot in the U.K. by Long John Baldry’s “Let the Heartaches Begin,” a composition by Macaulay that was rejected by The Foundations. The music on “Now That I Found You” bounces along so cheerily, one barely notices the obsessive stalker tone of the lyrics. Alison Krauss had a minor country hit in 1995 with her doleful bluegrass take.
292. “The Village Green Preservation Society,” The Kinks. Songwriter: Ray Davies; Did Not Chart; 1968. Perhaps no other song describes Ray Davies’ outlook on life as succinctly as this one, where he bemoans “progress” such as office blocks and skyscrapers and reflects on the need to maintain “little shops, china cups, and virginity.” The record has been described by author Andy Miller as “an oblique protest song,” but Ray Davies was focusing on timeless themes on the “Village Green” album. Davies, “It’s where I set my imaginary world. It’s a series of dreamscapes. It’s to do with innocence and lost youth. The village green is beyond fashion, news, war, the media.” From the altrockchick website, “The title song (an anthem, really) is a lovely way to begin a record. Beneath the pleasant melody, wonderfully varied harmonies and deceptively simple structure, we find a profound rejection of what we are conditioned to believe is progress. What Ray Davies insists we preserve are the traditions and human-scale experiences that give us both community and continuity. The village green is a symbol of a truly human-scale environment where people can gather together naturally to talk, play or just sit and enjoy the sunshine.” The album was a complete commercial flop when it was released, but is now reportedly the band’s best selling studio release.
291. “Mr. Tambourine Man,” The Byrds. Songwriter: Bob Dylan; #1 pop; 1965. Dylan biographer Bob Spitz, “’Mr. Tambourine Man’ augured the spirit of the times. It was breathtaking, indulgent, utopian, extemporaneous, hypnotic, cajoling, hallucinatory.” Perhaps it was adjective inducing as well. In any event, The Byrds first heard “Mr. Tambourine Man” as a demo with vocals by Dylan and Ramblin’ Jack Eliot. Gene Clark, “(Byrds manager) Jim (Dickson) suggested that we try something really out of left field and do a Bob Dylan song. Something a little more intellectual, something a little more poetic, and a little more together. And we thought, ‘That’s a pretty far out idea,’ doing some real poetry to this kind of folk-rock.” Dylan’s reported reaction, “Man, this is a great, an electrified version of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’ What a trip.” Jim McGuinn, “(David Crosby) would tell me, ‘We can’t do these Gene Clark songs, they’re all just chinka chinka, nothing, but he would tell Gene his songs were the greatest. He hated Dylan even more. He was anti-Dylan until we had a hit, then he became an expert on Dylan. David was very changeable.” Author Fred Bronson on the impact of this #1 pop hit, “Before the Byrds recorded ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ there was folk music and there was rock music. Electrifying Bob Dylan’s song with a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar, the Byrds created an amalgam of folk rock music that influenced and spawned a generation of musicians and supergroups.”