The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 680 to 671

Written by | March 9, 2021 6:17 am | No Comments

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680. “Only Sixteen,” Sam Cooke. Songwriter: Sam Cooke; #28 pop/#13 R&B; 1959. Sam Cooke started his professional career as a teenager in the world of gospel music, before becoming a pop/soul legend. He penned this tale of teenage angst/unrequited love for a young actor named Steve Rowland, a friend of Ricky Nelson’s, and it was inspired by the sixteenth birthday party of Eunice Rawls, the stepsister of Lou Rawls. Rowland’s producer rejected the song and it became a hit for Cooke. “Only Sixteen” is an outstanding representation of Cooke’s softer, pop persona. Questlove on Cooke’s ability to appeal to R&B and pop fans, “He put on two personas so he could survive in the ’50s and ’60s. His pop side was sort of Nat King Cole with a slight gospel edge. But he had a completely different show for the black audience. There are two landmark Sam Cooke live albums. One was downtown at the Copa dinner theater, suit and tie. The other (at the Harlem Square Club in Miami) was fire and brimstone, sweat on my brow, take tie off, open a few buttons, down and dirty, gritty performance.”

679. “Working in the Coal Mine,” Lee Dorsey. Songwriter: Allen Toussaint; #8 pop/#5 R&B; 1966. Country music wasn’t the only genre voicing the trials of the working class during the 1960s. On soul singer/auto body repair man Lee Dorsey’s “Working in the Coal Mine,” manual labor results in too much physical exhaustion to enjoy the weekend. Dorsey was backed by the future Meters on this Top Ten pop hit/future Devo cover tune and a simple pickaxe sound effect reinforced the labor camp feel. Allen Toussaint, “There wasn’t as much percussion as you might think on there. My brother hit the mike stand with a drum stick for the pick sound. We didn’t know anything about a coal mine. When (Lee Dorsey) would come off the road at the end of a successful tour, he would go and get into his grease clothes, his dirty work gear and go and work on cars. Straightening out fenders and painting bodywork. But really it was his finest hour when he was singing. He was a very good person for me to work with and he totally trusted me every step of the way.”

678. “Take Me to the River,” Talking Heads. Songwriters: Al Green, Mabon “Teenie” Hodges; #26 pop; 1978. On “Take Me to the River,” Al Green and Teenie Hodges found a love that was like a baptism, like being born again. Al Green’s original upbeat, Memphis horns version was an album cut and it became an R&B hit when covered by Mississippi soul singer Syl Johnson in 1975. Foghat, Levon Helm, and Bryan Ferry cut album versions before the Talking Heads’ new wave with funk take became their first Top Forty hit. David Byrne, “A song that combines teenage lust with baptism. Not equates, you understand, but throws them in the same stew, at least. A potent blend. All praise the mighty spurtin’ Jesus.” Years later, songwriter Teenie Hodges reflected on how the most lucrative cover came from a 1990’s animatronic toy fish, “Big Mouth Billy Bass made me more money than any song I ever recorded. What a world! What a world.”

677. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” Bob Dylan. Songwriter: Bob Dylan; Did Not Chart; 1963. Bob Dylan, “A lot of people make it sort of a love song – slow and easygoing. But it isn’t a love song. It’s a statement that maybe you can say something to make yourself feel better. It’s as if you were talking to yourself.” Dylan learned the melody of “Don’t Think Twice,” from folksinger Paul Clayton, who had used a slower version of this traditional folk melody for his 1960 release “Who’s Gonna Buy You Ribbons When I’m Gone?” Author Evan Schlansky, “Pop quiz: what’s the appropriate amount of times to think about a lover who has just walked out your door? Correct Answer: ONCE. ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ is his perhaps Dylan’s best, saddest, and sweetest kiss-off song, evoking feelings that are equally world weary, tender, forgiving, and spiteful. It’s a classic on an album of classics that introduced Dylan to the world at large (‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’), and its poignant, knowing refrain has been burned into our hearts and minds for decades.”

676. “Getting Might Crowded,” Betty Everett. Songwriter: Van McCoy; #65 pop/#28 R&B; 1964. Mississippi native Betty Everett moved to Chicago to pursue a career in music in 1957 and had her first chart hit in 1963 with “You’re No Good,” a song that Linda Ronstadt would take to greater heights in the 1970s. She went pop Top Ten with “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” in 1964. The following year, Everett cut the first version of Van McCoy’s “Getting Mighty Crowded,” a defiant romance/Chicago soul number targeted just as much for pop audiences as it was for R&B. The song moved into the world of British rock ‘n’ roll with a 1966 cover by The Alan Price Set and Elvis Costello’s 1980 uptempo take. Singer and sometimes Everett duet partner Jerry Butler, “Betty Everett had a natural tear in her voice. I used to make a joke that she was the black Dolly Parton. She just had a natural thing in her voice that’s hard to duplicate.” Songwriter Van McCoy became a brief pop sensation with his 1975 doot doot doot disco hit “The Hustle.”

675. “Fever,” Little Willie John. Songwriters: Eddie Cooley, Otis Blackwell; #24 pop/#1 R&B; 1956. Detroit product Little Willie John was known both for powerful voice and his propensity for the dark side of life. He had to be strong-armed into recording “Fever,” his signature song, and it took all night recording session to get the goods. Author Susan Whitall, “Still four months shy of his 19th birthday, Willie sings with a voice taut with melancholy, and an almost ecstatic lovesickness. His voice catches at one point, as if overwhelmed by the exquisite pain of love. The arrangement gave the two minute and 44 second pop song the complexity and pleasing arrangement of jazz, perfect for a tune that celebrated both romantic longing and fulfillment. While the song is in a minor key, the combination of blues and jazz licks gives it an uptown, urbane feel. Willie, the veteran of so many Count Basie gigs, swings effortlessly with his voice, echoed by a bluesy backup chorus. Even the finger-snapping ends up adding to the charm, giving the recording a cool, late-night vibe.” Peggy Lee took a Pat Boone style version of “Fever” to #8 on the pop charts in 1958.

674. “1999,” Prince. Songwriter: Prince; #12 pop/#4 R&B; 1982. After hitting the pop charts in 1979 with “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” it was three years until Prince returned to mainstream radio with “1999.” Prince was both dreaming about a projected apocalypse and contemplating the roaring lion in his pocket on this new wave influenced dance hit. Keyboardist Matt Fink, “To some extent, he was trying to make the music sound nice, something that would be pleasing to the ear of the average person who listens to the radio, yet send a message. I mean, ‘1999’ was pretty different for a message. Not your average bubblegum hit.” The Jehovah’s Witness community had previously predicted the world would end in 1914, 1918, 1925, and 1970, so Prince was working in a grand tradition of his faith on this dance hit. Rock critic Alex Flood, “Probably the most Prince track out there, ‘1999’ encompasses every bit of his musical genius. From soaring synth riff to funky bass-line to pop-banger chorus it’s got it all. Dancing on the tables is not an option, it’s a necessity. So stick it on, turn up the volume and party like it’s 1999.”

673. “Land (Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer(de)),” Patti Smith. Songwriters: Patti Smith, Chris Kenner, Fats Domino; Did Not Chart; 1975. “Land,” like Patti Smith’s “Gloria,” is a song from Patti Smith’s “Horses” album that merged free association, beatnik inspired lyrics and frightening energy with a 1960’s rock classic, this time using Chris Kenner’s “Land of a Thousand Dances” as a sanctuary. “Land” is violent street poetry as a garage rock sock hop. Music journalist Alex Young, ““Land’ is everything punk is and isn’t. It was unlike the songs you heard on the radio and made by a few rockers with no fancy gadgetry. Yet it was nearly a third of the running time of the Ramones’ debut album and didn’t talk about 1970s culture—it wove together bits of cross-generational culture.”

672. “Bo Diddley,” Bo Diddley. Songwriter: Elias McDaniel; #1 R&B; 1955. Bo Diddley had his first and biggest R&B hit with a song title that replicated his stage name and featured not only his famous beat but beautiful waves of tremolo guitar work. Author Ed Komara, “The rhythm was traditionally known as either ‘hambone,’ ‘patting juba,’ or ‘shave and a haircut, two bits.’ Long exercised in African American folklore, this rhythm was well known enough in many cultures to be invoked or imitated. The English operetta creators Gilbert and Sullivan mentioned it in their 1888 success ‘The Yeoman of the Guard.’ It was embedded in such songs as ‘At a Darktown Cakewalk’ (composed by Charles Hale, 1899) and ‘Jesus Got His Arms All Around Me’ (as heard in the performance recorded by the Delta Big Four for Paramount Records in 1930). Claims for relevance to the Cuban claves and the Latin rhumba have also been made. If none of these uses is the origin of that rhythm, at least they show how widespread the rhythm had spread across America. When the guitarist Bo Diddley brought that rhythm from the background to the front and center, he was going to have a massive hit.” Rolling Stone magazine stated that “Bo Diddley,” “Immortalized the bedrock beat that would power everything from Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’ to the Smiths’ ‘How Soon Is Now.’”

671. “Crescent City,” Lucinda Williams. Songwriter: Lucinda Williams; Did Not Chart; 1988. Lucinda Williams released an eponymous album in 1988 that is a strong as many singer/songwriter’s greatest hit collections. She takes a nostalgic look at Louisiana culture on “Crescent City,” which includes a seamlessly integrated Cajun influenced fiddle sound. Darryl Smyers of the Dallas Observer, “With a chorus partly sung in French, the song is a perfect example of Williams’ exemplary gift of wordplay and melody.” Geoffrey Himes of American Songwriter, “Anyone who ever grew up in a straitlaced small town along the Gulf Coast knew that if you wanted to get inspired or get in trouble, you should head straight for New Orleans. Williams lived in Louisiana between the crucial ages of 12 and 16, and ‘Crescent City’ captures that coming-of-age experience better than any other. When Williams sings of crossing the long, long causeway across Lake Pontchartrain, you can hear her voice melt a bit with joyous anticipation.”

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