1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 90 to 81
Some folks are born made to wave the flag.
90. “Proud Mary,” Creedence Clearwater Revival. Songwriter: John Fogerty; #2 pop; 1969. John Fogerty on writing ‘Proud Mary,’ “Pardon me for not sounding humble. This thing had landed on me and I recognized that this was truly great, far above me. Far above anything I had ever even thought about. I had grown up with my mom talking to me about Irving Berlin and Hoagy Carmichael, how they wrote standards. I knew, ‘Man, this is a standard.’ Meaning it was like ‘Stardust.’ Or ‘White Christmas.’ I had never even brushed up against anything like that. It was like being struck by God. I was sitting there quaking with this paper in my hand. I really, really knew— I just did. I was literally shaking, just jittery: ‘Oh my God.’” Rock critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine, “’Proud Mary’ is filled with details that ring so true that it feels autobiographical. The lyric is married to music that is utterly unique, yet curiously timeless, blending rockabilly, country, and Stax R&B into something utterly distinctive and addictive. ‘Proud Mary’ is the emotional fulcrum at the center of Fogerty’s seductive imaginary Americana.”
89. “At Last,” Etta James. Songwriters: Mack Gordon, Harry Warren; #47 pop/#2 R&B; 1961. “At Last” was a song from the big band era, first recorded by the Glenn Miller and His Orchestra in 1942. Ray Anthony had a #2 pop hit with his 1952 cover and Nat “King” Cole released a string heavy version of the song in 1957. NPR, “Etta James’ version of ‘At Last’ might be the strongest testament to her greatness as singer. With this song, she took a rather saccharine Tin Pan Alley melody and transformed it into one of the most soulful ballads in the history of rhythm and blues.” Amanda Petrusich once noted that “At Last” is “arguably the single greatest unburdening ever laid to tape. Here is a moment of extraordinary deliverance. Finally, James finds her man: a person who doesn’t get spooked, doesn’t waver, doesn’t leave her crumpled somewhere, alone and pining.”
88. “1969,” The Stooges. Songwriters: Dave Alexander, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, Iggy Pop; Did Not Chart; 1969. Author Stevie Chick,”’1969’ served up a mean Bo Diddley tattoo, a menacing two-chord riff, stinging bolts of acid-fried guitar (they’d once been called the Psychedelic Stooges for a reason), and Pop’s snotty drawl, yowling a bone-simple anthem to boredom, nihilism and disaffection, key ingredients in what would later be known as ‘punk rock.” Lester Bangs, “The first thing to remember about Stooge music is that it is monotonous and simplistic on purpose, and that within the seemingly circumscribed confines of this fuzz-feedback territory the Stooges work deftly with musical ideas that may not be highly sophisticated (God forbid) but are certainly advanced. The stunningly simple two-chord guitar line mechanically reiterated all through ‘1969’ is nothing by itself, but within the context of the song it takes on a muted but very compelling power as an ominous, and yes, in the words of Ed Ward which were more perceptive (and more of an accolade) than he ever suspected, ‘mindless’ rhythmic pulsation repeating itself into infinity and providing effective hypnotic counterpoint to the sullen plaint of Iggy’s words (and incidentally, Ig writes some of the best throwaway lines in rock, meaning some of the best lines in rock, which is basically a music meant to be tossed over the shoulder and off the wall: ‘Now I’m gonna be 22/I say My-my and-a Boo-hoo’—that’s classic—he couldn’t’ve picked a better line to complete the rhyme if he’d labored into 1970 and threw the I Ching into the bargain).”
87. “Runaround Sue,” Dion. Songwriters: Dion DiMuccie, Ernie Maresca; #1 pop; 1961. Dion, “It came about by partying in a schoolyard. We were jamming, hitting tops of boxes. I gave everyone parts like the horn parts we’d hear in the Apollo Theater and it became a jam that we kept up for 45 minutes. I came up with all kinds of stuff. But when I actually wrote the song and brought it into the studio to record it, well, her name wasn’t actually Sue. It was about, you know, some girl who loved to be worshiped but as soon as you want a commitment and express your love for her, she’s gone. So the song was a reaction to that kind of woman.” Author Toby Creswell, “With his Italian tough guy attitude and a magnificently expressive voice, Dion was New York’s first white rock ‘n’ roll star. His background was street corner doo wop, but with ‘Runaround Sue’ he created a crossover hit that prefigured rock ‘n’ roll writing. Most of all, though, there are incredible rhythms in the vocal parts. The song bounces around like a pinball. Sue may be running around with other guys, but Dion isn’t wasting tears over her.”
86. “A Hard Day’s Night,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; 1964. George Martin, “People in England at that time never really understood what great conquering heroes they were and that the success was so complete and total.” One of the conquering sounds was the famous opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night,” an intro that bewildered guitarists for decades. Author Brooke Halpin on the complexity of the seemingly simple intro, “George ignites the song ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ with a sensational, harmonically complex chord played on his newly acquired electric Rickenbacker twelve-string guitar. The same chord is doubled on the piano, played by George Martin, while John plays a D suspended chord on his acoustic Gibson guitar and Paul plays a high D on his bass. It was the first time that the Beatles used the electric twelve-string guitar so boldly.” The title came from a quip that Ringo made and it wasn’t an accident that the song was the title of The Beatles 1964 musical comedy film. George Martin commenting on Harrison’s fade-out, “Again, that’s film writing. I was stressing to them the importance of making the song fit, not actually finishing it but dangling on so that you’re into the next mood.”
85. “Hot Burrito #1,” The Flying Burrito Brothers. Songwriters: Chris Ethridge; Gram Parsons; Did Not Chart; 1969. The Flying Burrito Brothers’ 1969 album “The Gilded Palace of Sin” is considered one of the most important records in country rock history, although critical hosannas far outpaced retail activity. Inspired by a breakup, “Hot Burrito #1” is one of Parsons’ strongest vocal performances and was covered by Elvis Costello as “I’m Your Toy” on his 1981 “Almost Blue” album. Chris Hillman, “I only heard two great vocals out of that guy: ‘Hot Burrito #1’ and ‘Hot Burrito #2.’ The rest of it was good, and there was a lot of soul; he was a very emotional singer. But those two vocals were tearjerkers — they give you chills.” Rock critic Mark Deming, “’Hot Burrito #1’ was the song of a broken man opening up his soul for the woman who has left him behind; it’s hard to imagine anyone else blending shame, regret, anger, and troubling memories so artfully as Parsons does.” Author Kent Zimmerman, “Gram’s masterpiece represents Cosmic American Music fully realized. A pleading, soulful performance that Otis Redding could have felt at home adapting.”
84. “California Sun,” The Rivieras. Songwriter: Henry Glover; #5 pop; 1964. The Rivieras started as a teenage garage rock act from Indiana and hit it big with “California Sun,” a song that had been originally performed in 1961 by Joe Jones of “You Talk Too Much” fame. The Rivieras sped up the tempo, added lyrics about the twist and the shimmy, and reinforced the song’s riff between their surf style guitar and a wonderfully catchy Farfisa organ sound. Author Christopher Hill, “Where the Joe Jones’s version jumps, the Rivieras’ version is all forward momentum, the organ and the guitar racing each other in the break to push the speedometer as high as they can make it go. A great force is pulling that Stingray westward out of Great Bend.” The song reappeared in the 1970’s punk rock era with covers by the Dictators and the Ramones.
83. “The Letter,” The Box Tops. Songwriter: Wayne Carson; #1 pop; 1967. Songwriter Wayne Carson, “My dad came up with the first line. He was a songwriter of sorts. He would come up with ideas and pass them on to me, and say, ‘If you can do anything with this, go ahead.’ ‘Give me a ticket for an aeroplane’ was all he had. I took that one line and wrote the rest of the words and the melody.” A sixteen year old Alex Chilton wasn’t too concerned about his first recording session, he spend the previous evening getting drunk with his girlfriend. Chilton, “I was a little hungover, been out in the dewy grass in my bare feet all night, and certainly wasn’t in the best shape I could have been in. I was a little bit intimidated by my surroundings and I was singing kind of softly. Then (producer) Dan (Penn) came out and said, ‘I really want you to lay into this.’ Sounding like a soul singer myself was something I prided myself on being able to do. We ran through it a couple of times, my voice, considering the night before, didn’t have a lot left in it. So I was getting kinda hoarse, which fitted into things just fine.” The blue eyed soul number became a favorite for military men in Vietnam. Marine Chris Paul, “’Give me a ticket for an aeroplane’ became the mantra for Marines getting discharged from the Corps.
82. “Fortunate Son,” Creedence Clearwater Revival. Songwriter: John Fogerty; #14 pop; 1969. The reflexively anti-war John Fogerty on his Vietnam era protest song, “Julie Nixon was hanging around with David Eisenhower, and you just had the feeling that none of these people were going to be involved with the war. In 1969, the majority of the country thought morale was great among the troops, and like eighty percent of them were in favor of the war. But to some of us who were watching closely, we just knew we were headed for trouble. The song speaks more to the unfairness of class than war itself. It’s the old saying about rich men making war and poor men having to fight them. With this kind of song, you’re carrying a weighty, difficult idea. I didn’t want the song to be pulled down into that ‘Now we’re serious; everybody get quiet’ place. If I was going to write a quote unquote protest song, a serious song, I didn’t want it to be a lame song.” Author Jim Connelly, “’Fortunate Son’ is sparse and skeletal, an electric folk protest song that could easily been just Fogerty and an acoustic guitar. And it’s great just like that, I love the live versions even more. Sped up by anger and energy, the live versions of ‘Fortunate Son” become something else: an proto-punk song with nearly as much power as The Stooges or the MC5, and a clear antecedent to what The Clash would be doing just a few years later. Check the version on (the Creedence album) The Concert: it absolutely crackles with righteous rage.”
81. “Gloria,” Them. Songwriter: Van Morrison; #71 pop; released in 1964, peaked on the charts in 1966. Van Morrison on the first song he ever wrote, “I was just being me, a street cat from Belfast. Probably like thousands of kids from Belfast who were in bands.” “Gloria” is a mixture of howling rock ‘n’ roll and lyrical sexual gratification. Bill Janovitz, “Very few rock & roll songs rival the sexual excitement and anticipation of Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria.’ A three-chord rocker written for his band Them, this 1960s classic buzzes and pulses with tension-and-release dynamics.” Author Roy Shuker, “Them recorded ‘Gloria’ in a protopunk, garage rock style, with a basic beat, Van Morrison’s growled vocals, and a ragged chanted chorus: G-L-O-R-I-A: Gloria. The song’s lyrics emphasize the appeal of Gloria – ‘she’ll make you feel alright’ – and cater to the male fantasy of seduction by a female temptress.” Patti Smith had simple motives with her 1975 art punk cover, “I like the rhythm and we just sort of used it for our own design.”