1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 500 to 491
500. “Rescue Me,” Fontella Bass. Songwriters: Raynard Miner, Carl Smith; #4 pop/#1 R&B; 1965. St. Louis native Fontella Bass had a strange introduction to performing, singing at funerals as a child and becoming a touring gospel singer while still in grade school. Fontella composed the melody line for “Rescue Me” and her memories of her signature song were often clouded by compensation issues. Bass, “I had the first million seller for Chess since Chuck Berry about 10 years before. Things were riding high for them, but when it came time to collect my first royalty check, I looked at it, saw how little it was, tore it up and threw it back across the desk.” Dave Laing, “’Rescue Me’ has been described as the best record Aretha Franklin never made. The arrangement was improvised on the spot by the producer Billy Davis and the musicians. The bass guitar player Louis Satterfield came up with the hypnotic figure that opens the track, while Davis created the memorable ending in which each instrumentalist drops out in turn, leaving Bass to complete the song a capella.” Bass on how her gospel roots influenced the song, “When we were recording that, I forgot some of the words. Back then, you didn’t stop while the tape was running, and I remembered from the church what to do if you forget the words. I sang, ‘Ummm, ummm, ummm,’ and it worked out just fine.”
499. “A-11,” Johnny Paycheck. Songwriter: Hank Cochran; #26 country; 1965. Donald Lytle wasn’t a badass based upon an “outlaw” marketing campaign, during his life he spent well-earned time in military and civilian prisons. He moved to Nashville in the late 1950s, releasing rockabilly and country sides under the name Donny Young and worked in George Jones’s band in the mid-1960s. He changed his name to Johnny Paycheck and had his first hit with the 1965 jukebox heartbreak number “A-11.” Pedal steel guitarist Dave Van Allen has called “A-11”, “A two chord shuffle from hell, complete with bizarre chromatic interludes.” It took another dozen years for Paycheck to release his first, and only, #1 country single with the blue collar anthem “Take This Job and Shove It.”
498. “Mother Popcorn (You Got to Have a Mother for Me) Part I,” James Brown; #11 pop/#1 R&B; 1969. RJ Smith, “This was a brilliant piece of lust and rhythm. ‘Mother Popcorn’ was not soul music; it spoke to the body, and it moved the body in ways soul music knew not. This was funk, possibly the moment when Brown fully moved from soul to funk -a music that didn’t even have a name yet. It was just James Brown music. Popcorn itself was another euphemism for booty. Popcorn was something he could not quit.” Brown later recorded songs titled “The Popcorn,” “Low Down Popcorn,” and “Let a Man Come in and Do the Popcorn.” Aerosmith, sounding like clumsy white boys, covered “Mother Popcorn” on their 1978 “Live! Bootleg” album.
497. “Girl Don’t Tell Me,” The Beach Boys. Songwriter: Brian Wilson; Did Not Chart; 1965. Brian Wilson, “’Girl Don’t Tell Me’ was one of the first songs that Carl (Wilson) sang lead on, and one of the only songs of that time where we didn’t sing in back of him. It was almost like a different sound. That’s because I had written it with John Lennon in mind. I even thought about giving it to the Beatles. People said it sounded like ‘Ticket to Ride,’ but I didn’t mean for it to sound like any one song of theirs. It just had that feel.” Author Christian Matijas-Mecca, who called this summer romance number a “masterpiece,” “The Beach Boys performed the majority of the instrumental track on this record, a practice that was becoming less common since Brian had begun to use studio musicians on a more regular basis. The guitars are prominent but not overwhelming, and the celeste provides a wonderful, rhythmic figure, a gesture we would hear two years later on the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning.’”
496. “Dang Me,” Roger Miller. Songwriter: Roger Miller; #7 pop/#1 country; 1964. Roger Miller reportedly spent four minutes writing his breakthrough #1 single, which passes by in a breezy one minute and forty-seven seconds. The narrator gets high and drunk while ignoring his wife and young baby. He acknowledges his sins while simultaneously requesting sympathy. The recording was meant to be a practice/“run-through” session (note Miller’s directive of “one more time” after the first chorus), but became the official release. Producer Jerry Kennedy discovered the song’s appeal through home marketing, “My kids came screaming down the stairs when ‘Dang Me’ came on. They thought that was the greatest thing they’d ever heard.”
495. “Let’s Have a Party,” Wanda Jackson. Songwriter: Jessie Mae Robinson; #37 pop; 1960. African American female songwriter Jessie Mae Robinson was born in East Texas, but raised in Los Angeles. She wrote Top Ten R&B hits during the 1940s/early 1950s for Eddie Vinson, Amos Milburn, and Charles Brown, and then penned pop hits for Patti Page, Jo Stafford, and Judy Garland. Elvis Presley first recorded “Let’s Have a Party” for his 1957 movie “Loving You” and scored a #2 U.K. pop hit with his version. Wanda Jackson was gloriously shaking a chicken in the middle of the room on “Let’s Have a Party,” the woman had a growl that would make a junkyard dog put his tail down. Holly George-Warren, “When a gutsy, guitar-playing gal from Oklahoma belted out ‘Let’s Have a Party,’ a mandate for new music, she was the rare woman among the rockabilly cats mixing up rhythm & blues and country & western, creating primal rock & roll in the process. Wanda Jackson wasn’t afraid to step outside the prim confines of a woman’s place in pop— sonically, lyrically, and aesthetically.”
494. “Hard to Handle,” Otis Redding. Songwriters: Allen Jones, Al Bell, Otis Redding; #51 pop/#38 R&B; 1968. Songwriter Al Bell, “No one was around in the studio but Allen Jones and I came in and we started bandying around lyrics. Otis said he wanted to send up guys who are real cool – badass cool – and lines just flew out, like ‘Here I am, I’m the man on the scene.’ He got rollin,’ really havin’ a ball.” Author Jonathan Gould, “With its high, bluesy melody, ‘Hard to Handle’ comes off as a swaggering sexual boast worthy of Muddy Waters of James Brown.” Redding’s dismissal of drug store lovin’ became a regular part of the Grateful Dead’s set circa 1970 and was a Top 40 hit for The Black Crowes in 1991. The Mae West version from the 1970 comedy film “Myra Breckenridge” is…um…interesting.
493. “Here Comes the Night,” Them. Songwriter: Bert Berns; #24 pop; 1965. Van Morrison was exposed to American rhythm and blues music at a young age, hearing Jelly Roll Morton and Lead Belly via his father’s vast record collection. He performed in skiffle and R&B groups as a teenager, while also working as a window cleaner. Responding to an advertisement for acts to perform at Belfast’s Maritime Hotel, a hangout joint for American sailors, Morrison put together the band Them in 1964. Brill Building songwriter Bert Berns wrote and produced “Here Comes the Night,” the band’s biggest international hit, with the simple, effective guitar work supplied by Jimmy Page. Van Morrison reacted to success in typical Van Morrison fashion, “Them were never meant to be on ‘Top of the Pops, ‘I mean miming? Lip syncing? We used to laugh at the program, think it was a joke. Then we were on it ourselves. It was ridiculous. We were totally anti that type of thing. We were really into the blues…and we had to get into suits and have make-up put on and all that.”
492. “The ‘In’ Crowd,” Dobie Gray. Songwriter: Billy Page; #13 pop/#11 R&B; 1964. Gene Page isn’t a household name, but his arrangements were highly sought during the 1960s and ‘70s for popular music and film soundtracks. His work included “You’ve Got That Lovin’ Feeling” by The Righteous Brothers, “California Dreamin’” by The Mamas & the Papas, and he had a long partnership with Barry White. Billy Page, his brother, wrote “The ‘In’ Crowd” and Gene gave the song its live club sound. The lyrics boast about being a scene making presence with flash, cash, and romance. While the original may have been the greatest, “The ‘In’ Crowd was a bigger hit in 1965 for the jazz act The Ramsey Lewis Trio. Lewis was looking for a pop tune to incorporate into his set and found inspiration from a café jukebox. “That first hit record will stay with me until the day I die,” Lewis once said. “In a period of two months, we went from earning fifteen hundred dollars a week to three thousand dollars a night.”
491. “Get Ready,” The Temptations. Songwriter: Smokey Robinson; #29 pop/#1 R&B; 1966. Few pop culture fans remember a dance from the mid-60s known as “The Duck,” a comical set of moves popularized by the Jackie Lee song of the same name that was a Top Twenty pop hit. (“Jackie Lee” was an alias for Earl Nelson from the duo Bob and Earl of “Harlem Shuffle” fame.) Smokey Robinson developed the rhythm of “Get Ready” to capitalize on “The Duck” dance craze, which reportedly was a big phenomenon in African-American communities. “Get Ready” topped the R&B charts, but its failure to scale the upper reaches of the pop charts resulted in Smokey Robinson being replaced by Norman Whitfield as the producer of The Temptations. Sally O’Rourke, “While the Temptations had released a handful of dance tunes pre-‘My Girl,’ none of them matched the potency of the pulsing, electric ‘Get Ready,’ dominated by Benny Benjamin’s energetic drumming. Eddie Kendricks, who had handled most of the Temptations’ leads before Ruffin’s breakthrough, returns to the spotlight, his smooth falsetto pleasantly contrasting with the forceful beat (and with his bandmate’s gritty angst).” Ironically, an inferior cover by the white R&B act Rare Earth was a Top Five pop hit in 1970.