1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 70 to 61
All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey.
70. “Soul Man,” Sam and Dave. Songwriters: Isaac Hayes, David Porter; #2 pop/#1 R&B; 1967. Isaac Hayes, “’Soul Man’ was written when there was a lot of racial unrest in the country. There was uprising in various cities, people burning buildings. I was watching TV and one of the news commentators said, ‘If the black businesses write ‘soul’ on the building, the rioters will bypass it.’ I realized the word soul keeps them from burning up their establishments. Wow, soul. Soul. Soul man.” Stax historian Robert Gordon, “As Sam’s lead vocal kicks in, he’s nearly growling, singing of a daring love rescue. Each part is perfectly placed as the song progresses, a carousel of leads and hooks, none battling the other, each a support when not in the spotlight. The horns have applied all they’ve learned from Otis Redding, alternating between complicated but catchy lines and bedrock foundations for the other instruments. Steve Cropper injects such exciting bluesy slide-guitar parts that Sam Moore can’t contain himself during one of the choruses and, seeing him create these sounds by moving his Zippo lighter along the strings, Sam hollers out, ‘Play it, Steve!’” Author Jim Cogan, “One of the greatest moments on any Stax record comes in ‘Soul Man’s’ first chorus. Sam and Dave incant, ‘I’m a soul man!’ and the horns answer with a strong Hayes flourish. Then Double Dynamite repeat.”
69. “I Am the Walrus,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; 1967. “I Am the Walrus” came from a number of inspirations – John Lennon’s acid trips, the writing of Lewis Carroll, a playground nursery rhyme, and a desire to bewilder listeners who spent undue energy pontificating the band’s lyrics. Lennon, “In those days I was writing obscurely, ala (Bob) Dylan, never saying what you mean but giving the impression of something, where more or less can be read into it. It’s a good game.” George Martin, “’I Am the Walrus’ was organized – it was organized chaos.” It wasn’t a pleasurable experience for Martin, who recalled Paul McCartney guiding Ringo on the slow paced beat, “Even listening to the record today you can hear that they’re distracted, that their minds are not really on what they’re doing. I distinctly remember the look of emptiness on all their faces while they were playing ‘I Am the Walrus.’ It’s one of the saddest memories I have of my time with The Beatles.” Still, George Martin worked with an orchestra and The Mike Samms Singers to add layers or intrigue and whimsy to one of the Beatles’ most psychedelic moments. Goo goo g’joob.
68. “Oh, Pretty Woman,” Roy Orbison. Songwriters: Roy Orbison, Bill Dees; #1 pop; 1964. Author Bill Dahl, “A strong, sinuous bass line intro was a primary consideration to win concentrated rock airplay as the British Invasion raged during the mid-’60s. Seldom was a stronger or catchier one devised than the pulsating kickoff to Roy Orbison’s immortal ‘Oh, Pretty Woman.’ Pounding drums and what sounds like a 12-string acoustic guitar immediately set the tone for the Big O’s biggest hit of all, Orbison navigating a chord progression unlike any the Texas native had ever introduced before.” According to songwriter Bill Dees, “Oh, Pretty Woman” was inspired by a flirtatious encounter between Roy Orbison and his wife, Claudette. Dees, “(Roy) started singing ‘Pretty woman walking down the street’ while I was banging my hand down on the table. From the moment that the rhythm started, I could hear the heels clicking on the pavement. I can’t do that growl like Roy, but the ‘Mercy’ is mine. I used to say that all the time when a saw a pretty woman. The ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ probably came from The Beatles.”
67. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” The Supremes. Songwriters: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1966. Lamont Dozier on creating the captivating riff, often compared to an SOS Morse code signal, for “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” “We had four or five guitars playing that main figure. I remember hearing something like that on the radio while I was driving to the studio — the news was coming on, and the thought occurred to me in the studio…Da-da-da, da-da, like a news flash. We didn’t have certain echo and sophistication we have today, so we discovered that the more instruments — even if the guys only played units and all the same licks together — only enhanced the sound, gave us a more dynamic sound.” Motown keyboardist Johnny Griffith, “You could compare our rhythm section to anything else happing at that time and we were just better. The Motown thing was so much tighter. We were locked into a groove, it was hellacious.” A year after The Supremes took “Hangin’ On” to #1 on the pop charts, it became a Top Ten hit for psychedelic rockers Vanilla Fudge. Carmine Appice, “That one was a hurtin’ song; it had a lot of emotion in it. If you listen to ‘Hangin’ On’ fast, by The Supremes, it sounds very happy, but the lyrics aren’t happy at all. If you lived through that situation, the lyrics are definitely not happy.”
66. “Light My Fire,” The Doors. Songwriters: Jim Morrison, Robbie Krieger, John Densmore, Ray Manzarek; #1 pop; 1967. Robby Krieger, “I was living with my parents in Pacific Palisades – I had my amp and SG. I asked Jim, what should I write about? He said, ‘Something universal, which won’t disappear two years from now. Something that people can interpret themselves.’ I said to myself I’d write about the four elements; earth, air, fire, water. I picked fire, as I loved the Stones song, ‘Play with Fire,’ and that’s how that came about.” Ray Manzarek has described the song as having a jazz structure with his extended organ solo influenced by John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” and “Ole Coltrane.” Drummer John Densmore had some interesting inspiration as well, “I loved ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ in 1964 and all the bossa nova albums that followed. So I went with a bossa nova beat during Jim’s vocals, but kept it stiffer.” Rock critic Wayne Robins on the band’s image, “While everyone else in 1967 was enjoying the sunshine, both real and hallucinated, the Doors and Morrison, ‘the Lizard King,’ grasped the darkness; even in their Summer of Love hit, ‘Light My Fire,’ there was an apocalyptic edge the celebration. The line ‘Girl we couldn’t get much higher’ wasn’t an expression of joy as much as a warning.”
65. “California Dreamin’,” The Mamas & The Papas. Songwriters: John Phillips, Michelle Phillips; #4 pop; 1965. “California Dreamin’” was written by John and Michelle Phillips while living in New York with the lyrics inspired by Michelle’s homesickness for the West Coast. It was originally recorded by Barry McGuire of “Eve of Destruction” fame. The Mamas & The Papas version added the alto flute solo performed by jazz artist Bud Shank, which reportedly was improvised on the spot. Guitarist P.F. Sloan, “The ‘California Dreamin’ session was magical. John (Phillips) was very nervous. Nobody particularly liked the song, and to be honest with you, ‘California Dreamin’ was maybe three or four chords. I added the ‘Walk – Don’t Run’ Ventures guitar riffs for that ‘da da da da da da.’ That was all creative work inside the studio when I heard them singing on mic. I had recorded them with Barry McGuire on his second album, so I knew how good they were.” Author Holly Hughes, “While folk music had harmonies, they weren’t harmonies like this, a dense wall of vocals you could almost climb into. Because the song had ‘California’ in the title, I used to associate those harmonies with the Beach Boys’ sound, but the Wilson brothers always sounded sunny, their mellow voices blending in Four-Freshman-inspired polyphony; there’s nothing sunny about the minor-key dissonances of ‘California Dreamin.’ No, these harmonies owe more to the British Invasion, to the Zombies’ ‘She’s Not There’ and the Yardbirds’ ‘For Your Love’ and the Beatles’ ‘Things We Said Today.’ Denny Doherty’s lines are constantly overlapped by Cass Elliott and Michelle Phillips’ counterpoint, so there’s scarcely a beat without vocals, their voices crunching together at the end of every verse in a haunting dissonant chord.”
64. “When A Man Loves a Woman,” Percy Sledge. Songwriters: Calvin Lewis, Andrew Wright; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1966. There are several stories about how “When a Man Loves a Woman” was written. In interviews, Sledge always claimed to be the primary writer, inspired by either humming the melody while working in cotton fields or penning the soul classic after a heartbreak. He went on to claim that he generously gave away the credits to members of his backing band, The Esquires. Hmmm. In any event, the song was recorded in Muscle Shoals, not at Rick Hall’s FAME studio, although Hall did coordinate the licensing agreement with Atlantic Records. Jerry Wexler found the murky recording unsatisfactory and requested a new version of the horn parts. David Hood, “They went back in the studio and changed the horns, got different horn players to play on it. But then the tapes got mixed up and Atlantic put out their original version. So that’s the hit.” Author Tom Moon, “It’s a melody made for pleading, a graceful rainbow arc that holds all the romance (and concomitant distress) a singer can muster. English producer Denny Cordell, “We used to try and crib the Stax sound, but at the time, on (the Procol Harum hit) ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale,’ what I was trying to copy was ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ by Percy Sledge.”
63. “Stay,” Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs. Written by Maurice Williams; #1 pop/#3 R&B; 1960. Rock critic Tom Breihan on the shortest #1 song in pop music history, “We’re only 30 seconds into ‘Stay’ when it arrives. The blaring, exaggerated falsetto hits like an air-raid siren, electric and absurd in its urgency. It’s the sort of sound that belongs to an alley cat in a Warner Bros. cartoon, not to an actual rational human reaction. ‘Stay’ was a pretty great little doo-wop song before that falsetto showed up. When the falsetto arrived, it became immortal.” The falsetto didn’t belong to Maurice Williams, it was the product of Henry “Shane” Gaston. Williams, “There wouldn’t have been a ‘Stay’ without Shane. The high part made the song – Lord knows that. We had so many covers of ‘Stay,’ it’s hard to keep up with. My favorite was The Four Seasons. I was big fan of the Four Seasons. When Frankie did ‘Stay,’ I said, ‘Wow!’ That blew my mind.” A revised version of “Stay,” released in 1977 by Jackson Browne as a medley with his composition “The Load-Out,” has long been an AOR staple.
62. “Time of the Season,” The Zombies. Songwriter: Rod Argent; #3 pop; 1967. “Time of the Season” was an unusual hit in that The Zombies had disbanded over a year prior to the single peaking on the pop charts. As mysterious and threatening as some of the lyrics sounded, the inspiration was most innocent. Rod Argent, “I remember thinking it sounded very commercial. One of my favorite records was George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime.’ We used to do a version of it when we started out. The words in the verse – ‘What’s your name? Who’s your daddy? Is he rich like me?’ – were an affectionate nod in that direction.” Argent also utilized a more contemporary influence in that the bass line is replicated from Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” Author Tom Doyle, “From its opening bars of loping drums, rising bass line, reverberated offbeat clap and sigh of ‘aah’, the Zombies’ ‘Time of the Season’ is an unmistakable track.” Argent, “We liked the result very much. We had no idea when it was finished that it would be a hit eventually. And in fact, it was released as a very last gasp over in the U.S. We only put out one single in the U.K., and that was ‘Care of Cell 44,’ which didn’t do anything. I do think it captures a mood. However that was and whatever it is, it does capture a mood.”
61. “I Second That Emotion,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Songwriters: Smokey Robinson, Al Cleveland; #4 pop/#1 R&B; 1967. During a shopping trip, songwriter Al Cleveland misstated the phrase “I second the motion,” giving Smokey Robinson all the inspiration he needed to write a Top Five pop hit. Professor Perry Meisel, “’I Second That Emotion’ is a model for Robinson’s work as a whole. By crossing excruciatingly beautiful singing with greeting-card idioms, Robinson shows how each one lends the other credence and irony alike.” Smokey on being narrow, but deep, “You can write about cars, or political situations, or dances or something like that, but those subjects, pretty soon, become passé. Love is something that’s here to stay, I hope, and that’s why I choose it as my subject matter the great majority of the time.”