The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 1,001 to 991

Written by | December 12, 2020 4:30 am | No Comments

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1,001. “Revolution,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #12 pop; 1968. John Lennon was obsessed with the concept of “Revolution” in 1968, releasing the sound collage “Revolution 9” on “The White Album,” as well as the blues rock “statement” song “Revolution 1.” A faster, grittier version of “Revolution” backed “Hey, Jude,” with one theory that Lennon recorded the song several times attempting to get consensus for a singles push. The future “Dr. Winston O’Boogie” preached a non-violent ideology towards social change, consistent with his later “make love, not war” stance. Lennon, “I thought it was about time we spoke about it (revolution), the same as I thought it was about time we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese war. I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India.” Lennon was also thinking about Texas blues guitarist Pee Wee Crayton, the intro to “Revolution” is a direct copy from Crayton’s 1954 record “Do Unto Others.”

 

1,000. “Ramblin’ Man,” The Allman Brothers Band. Songwriter: Dickey Betts; #2 pop; 1973. Artistically, the Allman Brothers Band had established themselves as one of the most important bands in rock history in the early 1970s, however, commercial radio paid them no attention. In 1973, Dickey Betts took over as the de facto leader of the group and provided the majority of the material for the “Brothers and Sisters” album. That record included two of the band’s signature songs – the Django Reinhardt instrumental tribute “Jessica” and “Ramblin’ Man,” the Allman Brothers only Top Ten single. Inspired by a 1951 Hank Williams son with the same title, “Ramblin’ Man” moved the band’s sound toward a country direction and the lyrics hinted at both the pleasures and pitfalls of a gypsy musician lifestyle. On the outro, guitarist Les Dudek delivered a fine Duane Allman imitation/tribute.

 

999. “Rock Awhile,” Goree Carter & His Hepcats. Songwriter: Goree Carter; Did Not Chart; 1949. Houst native Goree Carter was a teenage rocker in 1949, who took his appreciate of T-Bone Walker and jump blues to record one of the first records that could be labelled as “rock ‘n’ roll.” Author John Lomax of Texas Monthly nails the specifics, “’Rock Awhile’ was uproarious. The song teeters on the brink of chaos without ever quite going over the edge, especially during Carter’s guitar solo and Conrad ‘Prof’ Johnson’s sax solo, which features a madcap snatch of ‘Jingle Bells.’ Pianist Lonnie Lyons holds down the low end with a driving boogie-woogie beat, while drummer Allison Tucker splashes the cymbals with aplomb. And right there at the beginning is the song’s opening riff, which will sound very familiar to anyone who has heard the first few seconds of Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode,’ ‘Roll Over Beethoven,’ and ‘Sweet Little Rock ‘N’ Roller,’ all of which came out a few years later.” The year after releasing “Rock Awhile,” Goree was drafted to fight in the Korean War and afterward he lived in relative obscurity in Houston until his death in 1990.

 

998. “Uptown Top Ranking,” Althea & Donna. Songwriters: Althea Forrest, Donna Reid, Errol Thompson; Did Not Chart; 1977. Virtually unknown in the U.S., the reggae number “Uptown Top Ranking” hit #1 on the U.K. pop charts in February of 1978. The rhythm of the song had been floating through Jamaica for a decade, being first used on the 1967 “I’m Still in Love” by Alton Ellis, a song that was covered for a major hit on the island by Marcia Aitken in 1977. With rhythm section legends Sly Dunbar and Robert Shakespeare providing the groove, Althea & Donna demonstrated some glorious pre-hip hop swagger on “Uptown Top Ranking,” singing about styling in a Benz and causing heart attacks with their skimpy clothing. After becoming the youngest female due to score a #1 hit in the U.K., at the ages of 17 and 18, they never touched the charts again.

 

997. “Jack the Ripper,” LL Cool J. Songwriters: Rick Rubin, J.T. Smith; Did Not Chart; 1988. Queens, New York native James Todd Smith started rapping as a teenager and received immediate attention with his 1985 debut album “Radio.” Produced by Rick Rubin and Jazzy Jay, that record included the club hits “I Can’t Live without My Radio” and “Rock the Bells.” Rap pioneer Kool Moe Dee felt that LL Cool J had ripped off his rap style and addressed that issue on his 1987 rap hit “How Ya Like Me Now,” labelling LL Cool J “a punk,” among other epithets. “Jack the Ripper” is a continuation of this old lion/young cub feud and LL Cool J cut Kool Moe Dee to ribbons on “Jack the Ripper,” proving he could hit much harder and faster than his old school counterpart. Best representation of their different career paths – “How ya like me now?/I’m getting busier/I’m double platinum/I’m watching you get dizzier.” Rick Rubin ensured the music hit as hard as LL Cool J’s take no prisoners attitude.

 

996. “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Songwriters: Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson; #8 pop/#1 R&B; 1968. “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” was the first song that Ashford and Simpson produced at Motown. Valerie Simpson on the recording process, “In our case, because we were singers, we could lay out a pretty well-defined demo for Marvin or for Tammi, then because they were so special in their artistry, they could add that little extra something.” The lyrics describe a physically separated couple who take solace in the strength of their relationship. Author David Freeland, “Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sang, it has been remarked, like lovers, although they weren’t. The sense of unity extends to every level of construction: not one element in ‘Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing’ sounds discordant or out of place. In best Motown fashion, the song glides along like a precisely fashioned unit.” Aretha Franklin won a Grammy for Best Female R&B Performance in 1974 for her radically rearranged cover version, a Top Ten R&B hit. Gaye and Terrill released six Top Ten singles between 1967 and 1967, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.” Terrell tragically died of brain cancer at the age of 24. Marvin Gaye, commenting on his loss, “I felt that I had somehow died with her.”

 

995. “Ah! Leah!,” Donny Iris. Songwriters: Mark Avsec, Donny Iris; #29 pop; 1981. Donny Iris, a visual proponent of the Buddy Holly school of nerd rock, was a member of The Jaggerz in the early 1970s. The Jaggerz went to #2 on the pop charts in 1970 with the sleazy come on commentary “The Rapper” and Iris also was a member of Wild Cherry after they recorded “Play That Funky Music.” He had three Top 40 hits in the early ‘80s with this testimony to the powers of evil lust being his biggest. Iris, “Originally Mark (Avsec) had the idea of an anti-war song. It started out just as a chant – it’s not a chick’s name, it’s not a certain person or individual, in particular. We wanted to have a hook, or a chorus, to the tune, that sounded almost like a Gregorian chant, and somehow Mark came up with the ‘Ah, Leah’ just like a chant. I said, ‘You know what, Mark, that’s a chick’s name,’ so that’s how we named it ‘Ah, Leah.’ It just so happens that there was a girl by the name of Leah who had dated one of the guys in The Jaggerz years ago, and I always loved that name. It sounds kind of passionate, when you talk about not being able to be with a chick, and every time you see this girl, you just go nuts, but it ain’t right, you know, something’s wrong with it. We thought that it was a passionate kind of tune.” Ed Masley of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “That sound was perfect for the New Wave ’80s, taking a cue, as it did, from Roy Thomas Baker’s production on those early records for the Cars but with a more insistent bass line and an arty vocal breakdown that was damn near Bowie-esque.”

 

994. “Girls Like Me,” Bonnie Hayes with the Wild Combo. Songwriter: Bonnie Hayes; Did Not Chart; 1982. “They got a word for girls like me/They got a name but I don’t want to use it.” San Francisco musician Bonnie Hayes had her biggest commercial success as the songwriter of the Bonnie Raitt hits “Love Letter” and “Have a Heart,” but should have broken pop with the spirited girl group styled new wave single “Girls Like Me.” Music journalist Stewart Mason, “One of the great lost singles of the American new wave, this song, based on Hayes’ rollicking piano riffs (including an outstanding electric piano solo) and her cheerfully sassy vocals, is every bit the equal of any Go-Go’s or Bangles single. A sly portrait of the modern teen with an endearing level of both sweetness and self-reliance, not to mention a fizzy power-pop kick, ‘Girls Like Me’ was begging to be an anthem, but never got the exposure it really needed.” Fans of movies from the 1980s may remember this song from the underwear dance scene in the Nicholas Cage film “Valley Girl.” I certainly do.

 

993. “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” Elvis Presley. Songwriter: Roy Brown; Did Not Chart; 1954. Louisiana native Roy Brown was a club performer in Galveston, Texas, when he recorded “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” a jump blues number in the style of Louis Jordan that reached #13 on the R&B charts in 1947. Wynonie Harris cut a version that sounded more like early rock ‘n’ roll in 1948, although vocally Harris sounds somewhat distracted, as though his bartender was not meeting his needs. The Elvis version is, of course, leaner, with Scotty Moore getting the spotlight on two instrumental breaks. Rolling Stone, “It’s Moore’s pair of expressive guitar solos, coming first around the :40 mark and again a minute later, that steal the show. ‘They were completely off the cuff,’ Moore explained of his approach to soloing. ‘You might get a bass riff or something, as a hook for the song, but the solos were strictly ad lib. Even now I’ll go back and I can’t play note for note what I played then. I can get the general feel of it but I can never go back and hit it note for note. It just doesn’t feel right.’” Elvis, for his part, gave proper credit where it was due, “The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin’ now . . . for more years than I know. They played it like that in the shanties and in their juke joints, and nobody paid it no mind till I goosed it up. I got it from them.”

 

992. “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” Prince. Songwriter: Prince; #12 pop; 1979. Prince Rogers Nelson grew up in a musical family in Minneapolis and scored a three album record deal with Warner Brothers, which included creative control, when he was still a teenager. He would develop into one of the most versatile and polarizing figures in pop music history, but in 1979, he was just another young musician seeking a bigger stage. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” was his first hit single and demonstrated he was adept at pop hooks and could get you on the dance floor with a lighter touch than the then ubiquitous disco beat. Rolling Stone, “The song packs a boldly sculpted beat, the singer’s spine-tingling falsetto and a sleek revamping of the disco template. With ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover,’ Prince threw down his glittery gauntlet – from there on out, the world had to meet his challenge.”

 

991. “I’ll Be You,” The Replacements. Songwriter: Paul Westerberg; #51 pop; 1989. The Replacements were the bad boys of rock ‘n’ roll during the 1980s and were on the third major label release without a breakthrough hit by 1989’s “Don’t Tell a Soul” album. The band and Sire Records were clearly taking a different approach, implementing more contemporary (i.e., radio friendly) production values. As always, Paul Westerberg remained conflicted about any success, “We were noticing the audience was doubling at our shows, and all of them came because the heard ‘I’ll Be You.’ Once we started getting hip to it, we would play it right off the bat and half the people would leave. It was: ‘Here’s your fucking hit – fuck you.’” Long time fans viewed the record as a sellout and even though it went to #1 on the Modern Rock charts, Sire Records couldn’t break it into the Top Forty. Publicist Mary Melia on the aftermath, “They were plastered and kept talking to me about trying to get famous – they didn’t say it in those words exactly. I never thought they cared.” In terms of The Replacements commercial hopes and career arc, “I’ll Be You” represents the messy endgame – a beautiful failure.

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