The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 590 to 581
590. “I’m Coming Out,” Diana Ross. Songwriters: Bernard Edwards, Nile Rodgers; #5 pop/#6 R&B; 1980. Nile Rodgers, “Diana was an icon in the gay community. ‘What would it be like,’ I wondered, ‘if Diana celebrated her status among gay men with a song?’ Bernard (Edwards) agreed that it would be a cool idea to have Diana talk to her gay fans in slightly coded language. ‘I’m Coming Out’ was the smash result. We originally envisioned the song as the opening to Diana’s live show for the new album. The horns in the song’s intro were a soul fanfare for the pop diva.” Ross, “I like songs that are positive and say something inspirational and make a difference in people’s lives. ‘I’m Coming Out’ is still one of those messages, whether it’s for gays or whether it’s for women.” Rock critic Matthew Greenwald, “This track has all of the hallmarks of such Chic hits as ‘Good Times,’ particularly the fine horn arrangement and superb rhythm electric guitar, which holds this dancefloor anthem together. Dating much better than almost any of Diana Ross’ other efforts from the era, the song still remains a classic from the early ’80s.”
589. “Wish Fulfillment,” Sonic Youth. Songwriters: Lee Renaldo, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Steve Shelley; Did Not Chart; 1992. “Wish Fulfillment,” a song about unrequited love or romantic obsession or stalking, would be a power ballad in the hands of a more traditional band. Instead, Sonic Youth highlighted the beautifully dark guitar interplay between Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo, meshing their sound into the dynamics of classic rock. Author David Weltzner, “For nearly twenty-five years, the Lee-penned ‘Wish Fulfillment’ has elicited the most powerful emotions in me not tied to a particular place, time or associative experience as pop songs may, but through the immersion in its three and a half minutes of dissonant envelopment.” Blogger Lazerock, “Butch Vig’s production made this sound extremely expensive, which it doubtless was. It also made the Sonic Youth guitars sound monstrously powerful, whilst still ensuring they serve the song, rather than overwhelming it.” Also, drummer Steve Shelley, who has been described by Thurston Moore as having “a certain physicality about him,” knows when to lay back and when to bring the wood.
588. “Ya Ya,” Lee Dorsey. Songwriters: Lee Dorsey, Clarence Lewis, Bobby Robinson, Morris Levy; #7 pop/#1 R&B; 1961. New York producer Bobby Robinson is an unsung hero of rock ‘n’ roll, artists he worked with include Wilbert Harrison, The Shirelles, Elmore James, Gladys Knight, and Grandmaster Flash. He traveled to New Orleans in 1961 to meet Lee Dorsey and was impressed with his singing, but they needed to develop material. After hearing local children chanting, “Sittin’ on the slop top/Waitin’ for my bowels to move,” the gentlemen reworked that scatological phrase into “Sittin’ here in la la/Waitin’ for my ya ya.” Despite the simple, playful nature of the song, Allen Toussaint’s jazz influenced piano playing gives “Ya Ya” that undeniable New Orleans flavor. Record executive/mobster Morris Levy surely did no writing on “Ya Ya,” but probably helped make it a hit. After Levy sued John Lennon for copyright infringement concerning “Come Together” and its similarities to Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me,” Lennon became legally obligated to record two Levy owned songs. That’s why “Ya Ya” appears on two of Lennon’s 1970’s albums – his joke recording on “Walls and Bridges” infuriated Levy more than it appeased him and people who infuriated Levy did not lead comfortable lives. “Ya Ya” found a new generation of fans in the 1970s, after its inclusion on the “American Graffiti” soundtrack.
587. “Lipstick Vogue,” Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Songwriter: Elvis Costello; Did Not Chart; 1978. Elvis Costello’s 1970’s work was defined by his rage and he was tossing pipe bombs on “Lipstick Vogue,” railing at his lover’s shortcomings and comparing his relationship to cancer. The rhythm section, with Bruce Thomas on bass and Pete Thomas (no relation) on drums, were fully up to the task of matching Costello’s ire. Costello, “The furious, skittering arrangement of ‘Lipstick Vogue’ seemed to blur the fact that the chorus is actually ‘It’s you, not just another mouth in the lipstick vogue.’ Not a dismissive ‘You’re just another mouth in the lipstick vogue.’ It was some kind of love song. If anything, there was an improbable romantic idealism, along with a nasty little self-righteous Puritan streak that I quickly realized was very convenient when tempted. It was impossible to live up to while traveling at speed or on speed.”
586. “Heat Wave,” Martha and the Vandellas. Songwriters: Songwriters: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland; #4 pop/#1 R&B; 1963. Martha and the Vandellas evolved from a Detroit teenage vocal group, known as The Del-Phis, that formed in 1957. Martha Reeves joined the act in 1960 and they recorded for Chess Records before becoming Motown stars. They had their first Top Ten single with 1963’s “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave.” Rock critic Dan Wiess, “The most ferociously swinging girl-group song of all time, ‘Heat Wave’ shuffles along raucously and magnificently even before a Vandella horns in. The drums are just so BUSY, and the knot of women singing ties together beautifully at the end of those tangled verses – let’s not even get started on the sax breaks.” British music journalist Richard Williams, looking at a bigger picture, “I can remember the feeling of being overwhelmed when ‘Heat Wave’ by Martha and the Vandellas came surging out of the wireless one night in the autumn of 1963. A controlled explosion of kinetic energy, it seemed to pick the listener up and hurl them into a new world. In the combination of gospel voices, thrusting piano chords, steady bass and swaggering drums, Motown had found its sound.”
585. “Where Have all the Good Times Gone,” The Kinks. Songwriter: Ray Davies; Did Not Chart; 1966. At the grand age of twenty-one, Ray Davies discovered what would become his major theme as a songwriter – his position that the romanticized past was always better than the confusing present. Davies, “I remember rehearsing it and our tour manager said ‘that’s a song that a 40 year old person would write.’ I was aware of feeling older. I was aware that it’s not always going to be this good.” Author Chris O’Leary, “’Where Have All the Good Times Gone’ also doubled as a commentary on the Kinks’ current state (broke, feuding and blacklisted) and on the 1965 British pop scene, which had gone from the Liverpool docks to the Hollywood Bowl and was sifting winners from losers, with Davies predicting he was heading for the latter pile.”
584. “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” The Doors. Songwriters: Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Robby Krieger; Did Not Chart; 1967. The intro song on The Doors’ debut album set the tone for the band’s dark populism. Morrison, “I like ideas about the breaking away or overthrowing of established order. I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that seems to have no meaning.” Author John Kruth, “’Break On Through (To The Other Side)’ kicks off with Densmore’s hard-grooving Latin beat and an electric piano vamp reminiscent of Ray Charles’ ‘What I’d Say.’ If one song sums up the Doors’ take-no-prisoners philosophy, its ‘Break On Through.’ Like Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ metaphorical manifesto ‘Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night’ or James Dean’s tortured teenager in ‘Rebel Without A Cause,’ the song stands as a testament against societal complacency, challenging you to forge your own individual path through life, no matter the risk or how emotionally messy it may get.” Guitarist Robby Krieger, “If it hadn’t been for Butterfield going electric, I probably wouldn’t have gone into rock & roll. I got the idea for the riff (on ‘Break on Through’) from the Paul Butterfield song ‘Shake Your Money-Maker,’ which was one of my favorites. We just changed the beat around.”
583. “Rock the Casbah,” The Clash. Songwriters: Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Topper Headon, Paul Simonon; #8 pop; 1982. I’m not sure any band had a more bifurcated audience than The Clash. For hardcore music fans, The Clash was one of the most significant bands of the punk rock era, and by extension, one of the most important bands ever. People took the marketing tagline “The Only Band That Matters” way too seriously in the pre-MTV era. For pop music fans, they were simply another band from England with a few catchy pop hits. “Rock the Casbah” made light of Middle Eastern leaders who, as part of their national identity, banned Western music. However, most listeners didn’t know or care about the subject matter and the dance friendly single was the band’s only U.S. Top Ten pop hit. Bill Wyman of Vulture, “Drummer Topper Headon crafted the music for this mind-bendingly catchy song. The poesy Strummer set to it is highly Dylanesque, both in its manic spew and the contrarian unexpected turns.” Strummer later reflected, “There’s no tenderness or humanity, in fanaticism – that’s what I was trying to say.”
582. “Downtown Train,” Tom Waits. Songwriter: Tom Waits; Did Not Chart; 1985. As a singer, Tom Waits sounds like he’s gargling concrete and much of his material is too eccentric for my tastes. Still, he’s had his material covered by many major artists to include Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (“Trampled Rose”), Norah Jones (“The Long Way Home”), Diana Krall (“Temptation”), the Ramones (“I Don’t Want to Grow Up”), and The Eagles “(Ol’ 55”). Surprisingly, his only appearance on the U.S. pop charts as a songwriter has been with “Downtown Train.” The first (minor) hit version of “Downtown Train” was by Patty Smyth in 1987 (which is worse than you can possibly imagine), then Rod Stewart took it Top Five in 1989. Tom Waits fills “Downtown Train” with vivid lyrical imagery, shining like a new dime as he hopes to see his elusive love interest, then waving his hands at the packs of train riding Brooklyn girls, who scatter like crows. Waits describes a parallel universe on “Downtown Train,” one that listeners can visit for a mental vacation and marvel at its details and depth.
581. “Back of a Car,” Big Star. Songwriters: Alex Chilton, Andy Hummel; Did Not Chart; 1974. By 1974’s “Radio City” album, troubled founding member Chris Bell had departed, but Alex Chilton was still updating 1960’s jangle guitar sounds into his new vision of power pop. With Chilton’s urgent take on teen love, the shimmering guitar tones, and Jody Stephens’ British Invasion influenced drum style, “Back of a Car” demonstrates why Big Star was one of the most influential bands of their era. Author Bruce Eaton, “Along with ‘September Gurls,’ ‘Back of a Car’ is the album’s standard bearer for straight-ahead, unadulterated power pop – a track that would have easily held its own, if not stood out, on the ‘Beatles for Sale’ (album).”