The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 900 to 891
900. “Evil Woman,” Electric Light Orchestra. Songwriter: Jeff Lynne; #10 pop; 1975. After leaving the popular U.K. band The Move, Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra had a built-in audience in their home country and had immediate success with their debut album in 1971. They didn’t hit the U.S. Top Forty until 1974’s #9 hit “Can’t Get it Out of My Head” and returned to the U.S. Top Ten with their late 1975 single “Evil Woman,” a song that Lynne penned in thirty minutes, intended as last minute filler for the remaining needed slot on the “Face the Music” album. The final product was one of the best representations of the band’s sound with a string section performing in the normal guitar solo spot, a hooky clavenit riff in the chorus, and a simulated gospel choir reinforcing the subject woman’s infernal wickedness. A victory for sound over substance, but well worth the tradeoff.
899. “In the Ghetto,” Elvis Presley. Songwriter: Mac Davis; #3 pop/#60 country; 1969. “In the Ghetto” was a major comeback hit for Elvis, his first Top Ten pop single since 1965’s “Crying in the Chapel.” Songwriter Mac Davis, “I grew up with a little kid whose daddy worked with my daddy, and he was a black kid. We were good buddies, 5 or 6 years old. I remember him being one of my best buddies. But he lived in a part of town, and I couldn’t figure out why they had to live where they lived, and we got to live where we lived. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we didn’t have broken bottles every six inches. It was a dirt street ghetto where he lived.” Elvis reportedly had reservations about the generational poverty song, since Colonel Parker had advised him to always avoid politics and cultural issues. However, the palpable empathy of Elvis was as important as the song’s message. Rock critic Jason Ankeny, “There’s no mistaking Elvis’ deep connection to the song’s tale of poverty and desperation — after all, it could have been his story had things worked out any differently.” “In the Ghetto” has been covered by, check out these names, Nick Cave, Bobby Bland, Candi Station, Marilyn Manson, Dolly Parton, and Merle Haggard, among others.
898. “I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow,” The Stanley Brothers. Songwriter: Traditional; Did Not Chart; 1951. Brothers Carter and Ralph Stanley were Virginia natives who formed their band, the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys, after World War II. Heavily influenced by Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers paired a bluegrass instrumentation sound with Appalachian music. The sibling duo were never major country stars, they charted once with 1960’s “How Far to Little Rock,” but are revered pioneers in their field. It took over seventy-five years for the despondent “Man of Constant Sorrow” to become a country hit. It was first published circa 1913 by Kentucky fiddle player Dick Burnett, who couldn’t recall later in life if he had written the song or learned it from someone else. Originally known as “Farewell Song,” Indianapolis musician Emry Arthur retitled the composition to “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” for his 1928 release. The Stanley Brothers learned the song from their father and their piercing version traveled into the world of folk music in the 1950s and 1960s. A fictional group known as The Soggy Bottom Boys, using the Stanley Brothers arrangement, scored a #35 country hit with “Man of Constant Sorrow” in 2002, after the song was popularized in the Coen Brothers film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
897. “Is She Really Going Out with Him?,” Joe Jackson. Songwriter: Joe Jackson; #21 pop; 1979. Joe Jackson studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music and was well versed in jazz and classical music before releasing 1979’s “Look Sharp!” album, which was defined as a new wave record. Both The Shangri-Las (in “Leader of the Pack” and The Damned (in “New Rose” had previously pondered the romantic query “Is She Really Going Out with Him?,” but Jackson’s international hit turned the question into a perplexing joke. Jackson, “That is just one of those songs that started with the title. I heard the phrase somewhere and I thought that could be a funny song about gorgeous girls going out with monsters. It just started from there. It was just a funny song, or supposed to be funny. It was a great surprise to me when some people interpreted it as being angry.” Jack White revisited the intro to his song with “Steady As She Goes,” a 2006 single from his side project The Raconteurs.
896. “Me and the Boys,” NRBQ. Songwriter: Terry Adams; Did Not Chart; 1980. The New Rhythm and Blues Quartet/Quintet is a difficult band to classify due to their inherent eclecticism, on their debut 1969 album they covered Eddie Cochran and Sun Ra. Often performing rock ‘n’ roll with jazz influences, the music of NRBQ sounds like an angular trick shot – one that regularly hits the mark on quality and degree of difficulty. Rock critic Lindsay Planer, putting this power pop ode to male bonding in good company, “A few bars in, the band buckle up for a rock and roll joy ride highlighted by some chuggin’ guitar licks from Al Anderson and a nimble back beat courtesy of Tom Ardolino. For songwriter Terry Adams this is a fairly straight-ahead and full-bodied rocker, much in the vein of ‘Howard Johnson’s Got His Ho-Jo Working’ and ‘Do You Feel It.’ Likewise, it draws on the same youthful spirit that informed such pop classics as Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ or the Beach Boys’ ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ and ‘I Get Around.’”
895. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love,” Van Halen. Songwriters: Michael Anthony, David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen, Eddie Van Halen; Did Not Chart; 1978. Van Halen had been working the L.A. hard rock scene since 1972, and despite Eddie Van Halen’s creative finger taping guitar technique and David Lee Roth’s simultaneous rock god personification/impersonation, the band struggled for years to get a record deal. They exploded into the rock mainstream with their 1978 debut album which originally sold over ten million copies. The record included the AOR hits “Runnin’ with the Devil” and “Jamie’s Cryin’,” a Top Forty hit in their cover of The Kinks “You Really Got Me,” and an updated take on minstrelsy with the Chicago blues cover “Ice Cream Man.” “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” which Eddie later said originated as a two chord parody of a punk song, is Roth’s rotten to the core attempt to bed a semi-good looking woman after losing some of his friends at “the edge.” With its stoner raps and burning guitar solos, you can almost smell a ‘70’s beer bash and pot party when you crank this one up. (A few of the girls at the party will be wearing Daisy Dukes and tank tops. Whoo-Hoo!).
894. “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles),” Gary Stewart. Songwriter: Wayne Carson; #1 country; 1975. Gary Stewart, the 1970’s king of honky tonk music, moved from his native Florida to Nashville in the mid-1960s, picked up a gig as Charley Pride’s piano player, and penned Top Ten country singles for Nat Stucky and Billy Walker. He first hit the country charts with a rather lackluster cover of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Ramblin’ Man,” but his eccentric, vibrato-laden vocal style was made for heartache and drowning his sorrows in a bottle material. After reaching the Top Ten in 1974 with “Drinkin’ Thing” and “Out of Hand,” Stewart had his sole #1 country hit in 1975 with “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles).” A lesser singer would have emphasized the wordplay in the lyrics. Stewart sounded like a man with a knife in his chest. Songwriter Wayne Carson also penned The Box Tops hit “The Letter” and co-wrote the pop standard “Always on My Mind.”
893. “I Want You to Want Me,” Cheap Trick. Songwriter: Rick Nielsen; #12 pop; 1979. A little after three decades removed from World War II, America arena rock helped to bridge the cultural gap between Japan and the United States. Cheap Trick had a #1 single in Japan with their wimpy studio version of “I Want You to Want Me” from the 1977 “In Color” album (Rick Neilsen hated the old-timey sound of the tack piano that producer Tom Werman used in the song; Werman also brought in studio musician Jay Graydon to play the guitar solo, further making it sound less like a Cheap Trick record). “I Want You to Want Me” has been performed live since 1975, was recorded but not used as part of the group’s debut album, was released as an unsuccessful single in the U.S., then surprisingly became the band’s Top 40 hit from what was originally an import only live album. Bassist Tom Petersson, “The idea was to have it like a heavy metal pop song. Cheap Trick doing ABBA – except a very heavy version.” Rick Nielsen, whose melodic guitar is perfect for this number, “It was our silly pop song. I wish I could be that silly and stupid more often. We had to go to Japan to be known in Chicago.” (On a personal level, Cheap Trick was the first rock ‘n’ roll band that I fell in love with, so “I Want You to Want Me” was my pop culture gateway drug).
892. “Love is the Drug,” Roxy Music. Songwriters: Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay; #30 pop; 1975. Roxy Music was categorized as a “glam rock” act coming out of the gate in 1972, but these art school students turned musicians were a one of a kind avant-garde dance rock band. “Love is the Drug” was their only U.S. hit and peaked at #2 on the U.K. charts. A bass hooked look at red light districts and singles bars, “love’ seems to be defined as the pursuit of a one-night stand. This is a rare instance when Bryan Ferry appeared to have dropped his calculated distance from his subject matter. Joe Lynch of Billboard, “’Love Is the Drug’ is one of the sexiest, most irresistible songs from the oft-challenging band. But even on one of their more digestible songs, Roxy Music remains restlessly innovative; the disco-leaning bass line is particularly influential, having inspired Nile Rodgers’ bass line in Chic’s ‘Good Times’ which, in turn, would help lay the foundation for hip-hop as the bones of Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight.’”
891. “Crossroads,” Cream. Songwriter: Robert Johnson; #28 pop; 1968. Legendary Delta blues artist Robert Johnson recorded “Cross Road Blues” in 1936. In popular mythology, the crossroads represents the spot where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, but no supernatural transaction is referenced in the song. During the mid-1950s, Elmore James updated the concept with his single “Standing at the Crossroads” and John Hammond released a faithful cover of Johnson’s song in 1963. Eric Clapton on discovering Johnson’s music, “I kind of got hooked on it because it was so much more powerful than anything else I had heard or was listening to. Amongst all of his peers I felt he was the one that was talking from his soul without really compromising for anybody.” Clapton simplified Johnson’s guitar style for a hard rock context and the results were formidable, even if they didn’t meet Slow Hand’s perfectionist standards. Clapton, “It’s so funny, this. I’ve always had that held up as like, ‘This is one of the great landmarks of guitar playing.’ But most of that solo is on the wrong beat. Instead of playing on the two and the four, I’m playing on the one and the three and thinking, ‘That’s the off beat.’ No wonder people think it’s so good—because it’s fucking wrong.”