1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 80 to 71
It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day.
80. “White Light/White Heat,” Velvet Underground. Songwriter: Lou Reed; Did Not Chart; 1968. Author Nate Patrin, describing the “White Light/White Heat” album, “’White Light/White Heat’ is all amphetamines and mania, body horror and bloodletting, sex and violence that treads a line between good old straightforward wild-ass rock ‘n’ roll and something more arcane and abstract and unnerving. It’s just invigorating and out-there enough that more than a few rock bands caught onto its singularly appealing ugliness long after it plummeted from its lofty #199 perch on the ‘Billboard’ album charts, though good luck to anyone trying to straight-up duplicate it – better that they channel it through their own means, and see where all the blinding flashes take them.” Velvet Underground historian Dave Thompson, “Usually regarded as another of Reed’s drug experience numbers (author’s note – Lou Reed has said that the song is about amphetamines), ‘White Light/White Heat’ is, perhaps, the quintessential Velvet Underground song, representing everything that the band itself is said to personify. Recorded at the end of a wearying bout of roadwork, it is the sound of a group kicking out all their frustrations, turning the amps up full and watching them bleed.”
79. “Are You Experienced?,” Jimi Hendrix. Songwriter: Jimi Hendrix: Did Not Chart; 1967. From the Harry Shapiro/Caesar Glebbeek book “Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy,” “’Are Your Experienced?’ is a majestic set piece of declamatory anthem rock. Mitch (Mitchell)’s military snare raps out behind the startlingly contemporary hip-hop scratch sound-effects of tapes running backwards punctuating Jimi’s condition for being your guide (‘If you can get your mind together’). To what? Sexual ecstasy? Altered states of consciousness? Or just finding yourself, taking time out to view what you’re doing from the outside, ‘from the bottom of the sea’, letting go of the daily grind of the ‘measly world’. It is all there for the taking. The secret is being at peace with yourself – ‘not necessarily stoned, but beautiful.’” Producer Eddie Kramer, “’Are You Experienced?’ is a very interesting song as was the way it was constructed. Jimi and the lads played a basic track of drums, bass and guitar then we flipped the tape so that all of the music was backwards. We then overdubbed a regular forward rhythm guitar, lead guitar, a tack piano, drums, vocals. So in the final mix there was ONLY backwards bass, a mixture of backwards and forwards drums, backwards guitar solo and Jimi’s voice normal along with the track piano. Plus of course loads of effects courtesy of yours truly!!” A high-water mark for rock’s psychedelic era.
78. “You Never Can Tell,” Chuck Berry. Songwriter: Chuck Berry; #14 pop/#2 R&B; 1964. Like his 1955 hit “Maybellene,” “You Never Can Tell” was inspired by hillbilly music, having a melody similar to Mitchell Torok’s 1953 #1 country hit “Caribbean.” In tandem with the “c’est la vie” attitude, Berry takes a more relaxed vocal approach, spurning his guitar for piano and sax solos. In an era of teen tragedy, these Coolerator cramming lovers have found fulfillment with employment, love of music, and their honeymoon period marriage. Quentin Tarantino gave new life to “You Never Can Tell,” incorporating the song in an unforgettable manner into his 1994 masterpiece “Pulp Fiction.” Author Michael Gray, “Berry was ahead of his time, offering an urban slang-sophistication slicker than any city blues man before him. He offered a bold and captivating use of cars, planes, highways, refrigerators and skyscrapers, and the accompanying details: seat-belts, bus conductors, ginger ale and terminal gates. And he brought all this into his love songs. He put love in an everyday metropolis, fast and cluttered, as no one had done before him.”
77. “Please Mr. Postman,” The Marvalettes. Songwriters: Georgia Dobbins, William Garrett, Freddie Gorman, Brian Holland, Robert Bateman; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1961. From the website Motown Junkies on their namesake label’s first #1 pop single, “The hole it smashed in the charts left the path clearer for dozens of future Motown artists to follow. This was a watershed; the nation’s top record, the best-selling record across America, in jukeboxes and on radios all over the nation, was by five African-American schoolgirls on a black-owned independent label. And it was BRILLIANT. That supreme pop craft is evident right from the beginning, with an off-beat start – a drum beat, a backing vocal shout of ‘Wait!’ before the lead vocals kick in, ‘oh yes, wait a minute, Mister Postman’ – just enough to grab your attention, when a straightforward start would have perhaps called more attention to the song’s simplicity. The illusion of complexity is created by having the Marvelettes sing a flat verse (on backing vocals) while Gladys does a melismatic, powerful, hairs-standing-on-end vocal riff, and then she and the other Marvelettes swap places, Gladys singing the words of the verse to create the ‘chorus,’ leading to an almost unbroken loop of self-reinforcing pop perfection.”
76. “Do You Believe in Magic,” The Lovin’ Spoonful. Songwriter: John Sebastian; #9 pop; 1965. Greil Marcus, “We’ve all been transported by music — swept away, taken out of ourselves. It’s what the Lovin’ Spoonful meant in ‘Do You Believe in Magic’ when John Sebastian sang about ‘a smile on your face and you don’t even know how it got there’; it’s part of what Pentecostal preachers mean when they damn rock ‘n’ roll as devil music; it’s what theorists mean when they bump into the limits of their theories and start talking about the ineffable. When you step back from the experience and try to make sense of it, nothing is sufficient.” Author Jim Connelly, “It’s almost preternaturally catchy, with its bouncy chord changes, perfectly-placed ‘ahhhhhhhhhhhh’ backing vocals, and guitarist Zal Yanovsky’s hooky licks and low-down guitar solo. And of course, lyrics about getting lost in the music. As sung with an open-hearted smile by Sebastian, that last line (‘How the magic’s in the music and the music’s in me’) doesn’t come across as a brag, but more like him matter-of-factly pointing out how connected he is with his muse and the music that comes from it.”
75. “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” Jackie Wilson. Songwriters: Gary Jackson, Carl Smith; #6 pop/#1 R&B; 1967. Jackie Wilson’s signature hit was a combination of Detroit and Chicago sounds with the vocals being completed in New York. Producer Carl Davis on hiring The Funk Brothers from Motown, “They used to come over on the weekends. They’d load up in the van and come over, and I would pay ‘em double scale, and I’d pay ‘em in cash. There was a girl group called the Andantes, and they did the background on ‘Higher and Higher.’” Author Richard Williams, “When Jackie Wilson approached the microphone to overdub the lead vocal on an uptempo song called ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher’ in a New York recording studio one day in 1967, he adopted a gentle, crooning style, as if the song were a ballad. Carl Davis, the producer of the record, quickly put him straight. A more urgent approach was required. If Wilson refused to accept his advice, Davis threatened, he would put his own voice on the record – ‘and sell millions.’ Wilson did it the producer’s way, and the result became a classic of 60s soul music.” Sam Moore of Sam and Dave on Wilson’s vocal abilities, “Oh, God, was he exciting. One time I was watching him from the wings at the Apollo, singing, ‘You better stop . . . yeaahh!’ — and he twists, jumps, falls into a split and slides back up holding the note — ‘your doggin’ around!’ James Brown could do that, but he was a shouter. Jackie Leroy Wilson had a pure voice. He was a complete singer within himself.”
74. “Highway 61 Revisited,” Bob Dylan. Songwriter: Bob Dylan; Did Not Chart; 1965. Bob The appearance of God to demand a killing is one of His/Her odder appearances in popular music, but Dylan viewed Highway 61 as more of a symbol of possibilities than violence. Dylan, “Highway 61 begins about where I came from, Duluth, to be exact. I always felt like I’d started on it, always had been on it, and could go anywhere from it.” Music historian Toby Cresswell, “While Highway 61 Revisited is full of dark imagery, essentially it’s black comedy. The words are very much in the style of Dylan’s talking blues, rather than being a specific commentary. It’s likely also that Dylan loved the way that Mike Bloomfield mimicked the sound of the police siren in his guitar licks. Al Kooper had brought the whistle to the sessions and used to blow it when someone was using drugs. Dylan fixed the toy whistle into his harmonica rack and blew so hard producer Bob Johnston thought his head was coming off.”
73. “The House of the Rising Sun,” The Animals. Songwriter: Traditional, arranged by Alan Price; #1 pop; 1964. “The House of the Rising Sun” is a traditional song about a New Orleans brothel that The Animals learned from Bob Dylan’s 1962 folk version. Their take is one of doomed misery, with Eric Burdon’s anguished vocals and Alan Price’s dark organ tones reinforcing the sense of despair. Guitarist Hilton Valentine, “The dynamics of the song was what The Animals used to do when we played – start off with a certain pace, move it up a few notches, really drive it – and then drop it, right back down. And then build back to a crescendo at the end. Eric was total excitement, totally on the spur of the moment. We just put our heads down. We were all into it, responding to each other.” Eric Burdon, “’’House of the Rising Sun’ is a song that I was just fated to. It was made for me and I was made for it. In my mind, the ‘house’ was a polished Gentleman’s Club. It had to be a room full of women of many colors, sizes and shapes. It would have a spiral staircase. It must have had a black man playing ragtime piano. It must be three stories high and smell of cheap perfume – and way too expensive for me to get across the threshold. I hate the word ‘whorehouse.’ In London, some of my best friends were hookers. I’ve always had a soft spot for ladies of the night, but may I add that I’ve never, ever paid for it. Every time I sing that song, it’s like having a perfect sex partner. It just climaxes naturally.”
72. “Quarter to Three,” Gary U.S. Bonds. Songwriters: Gene Barge, Frank Guida, Joseph Royster; #1 pop/#3 R&B; 1961. Greil Marcus, “There is no more exciting passage in rock than the slow build of pressure that finally erupts into the celebrations of ‘Quarter to Three.’” This all-night dance party record was written by adding lyrics to an instrumental titled “A Night with Daddy G” (a reference to saxophone player Gene Barge) by the Church Street Five. Producer Frank Guida, “When ‘Quarter to Three’ came out, we stood the world on its heels. There was nothing like it, nothing.” The constant overdubbing of claps and vocals resulted in the fuzzy chaotic sound. Gene Barge, “When they started mailing it to jocks, they wouldn’t play it. They said, ‘This sounds like it was cut in the crapper.’ Gary has a talent to be able to overdub himself. He could sing ‘Quarter to Three”’ and then go back and sing another version exactly the same, with the same inflections. A lot of people can’t do that. They forgot what they did. He must have multi’d that about seven times—ping-ponging and overdubbing. Give (engineer) Joe Royster the credit there. It was like five or six Garys on that record.” Gary U.S. Bonds on inspiring another hit from that era, “Dion, every time I see him—every time I see him, I get so tired of it—the first words out of his mouth are ‘If it wasn’t for you, there’d be no ‘Runaround Sue.’”
71. “Ode to Billy Joe,” Bobbie Gentry. Songwriter: Bobbie Gentry; #1 pop/#17 country; 1967. NPR journalist Meredith Ochs, “(‘Ode to Billy Joe’) bleeds into you from the first bar and winds around your bones like a creeping vine.” Bobbie Gentry brought Southern goth mystery into the mainstream with her 1967 pop and country hit “Ode to Billy Joe.” Gentry was raised in Mississippi and moved to Los Angeles as a teenager. Prior to finding fame, Gentry worked in a Vegas nightclub revue, was a model, and studied at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. There is a sense of denial and unresolved motives that gives “Ode to Billy Joe” a sense of lingering mystery. Bobbie Gentry, “It’s entirely a matter of interpretation as from each individual’s viewpoint. But I’ve hoped to get across the basic indifference, the casualness, of people in moments of tragedy. Something terrible has happened, but it’s ‘pass the black-eyed peas,’ or ‘y’all remember to wipe your feet.’ The message of the song revolves around the nonchalant way the family talks about the suicide. The song is a study in unconscious cruelty.” Arranger Jimmie Haskell, “The song sounded to me like a movie—those wonderful lyrics. I had a small group of strings—two cellos and four violins to fit her guitar-playing. I was branching out in my own head for the first time, creating something that I liked because we thought no one was ever gonna hear it.”