The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 920 to 911
920. “Give Me Just a Little More Time,” Chairmen of the Board. Songwriters: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland (credited to Edyth Wayne and Ron Dunbar); #3 pop/#8 R&B; 1970. Like Freda Payne’s 1970 hit “Band of Gold,” “Give Me Just a Little More Time” was an undercover production by Holland/Dozier/Holland, who were having legal battles with Motown. The backing music was provided by The Funk Brothers, Motown’s in-house band. Lyrically, the song is about building a slow relationship for a longer lasting love and/or a request to delay sexual intimacy. Chairmen of the Board lead singer General Norman Johnson is one of pop music’s unsung heroes – he penned and sang the early 1960’s rock classic “It Will Stand” by the Showman, and had writing credits on the hits “Patches” (Clarence Carter), “Want Ads” (Honey Cone), and “Bring the Boys Home” (Freda Payne). Johnson scored a regional hit in 1980 with the breezy “Carolina Girls” and was known as the “King of Carolina Beach Music” until his death in 2010.
919. “Road to Nowhere,” Talking Heads. Songwriter: David Byrne; Did Not Chart; 1985. David Byrne, always an odd chap, embraced disorientation and perhaps purgatory on the peppy 1985 single “Road to Nowhere,” which was a pop Top Ten hit in several European countries. Byrne, “I wanted to write a song that presented a resigned, even joyful look at doom. At our deaths and at the apocalypse… (always looming, folks). I think it succeeded. The front bit, the white gospel choir, is kind of tacked on, ’cause I didn’t think the rest of the song was enough… I mean, it was only two chords. So, out of embarrassment, or shame, I wrote an intro section that had a couple more in it.” Rob Tannenbaum of Rolling Stone, “What could be more subversive than a clean and happy record? This seems to be the message of ‘Road to Nowhere,’ the sly, bubbly single that closes the (‘Little Creature’) album. Byrne admits that he’s lost, but wanders happily toward nowhere because he’s got company. You can hear him smiling, and he doesn’t seem to care too much whether we follow or not.”
918 “The Harder They Come,” Jimmy Cliff. Songwriter: Jimmy Cliff; Did Not Chart; 1972. Jamaican born reggae artist Jimmy Cliff released his first record, 1962’s “Hurricane Hatty,” at the age of fourteen and had developed an international audience by the end of that decade with the songs “Waterfall” and “Wonderful World, Beautiful People.” He was the star of the 1972 film “The Harder They Come,” a movie about a poverty stricken musician who becomes a criminal. The film’s soundtrack, with contributions from Cliff, The Melodians, The Slickers, and Desmond Dekker, eventually became more famous than the movie. The sweetness of the music on Cliff’s song “The Harder They Come” hides a darker theme of not waiting for heavenly rewards, but instead grabbing what you can while on mortal soil. By any means necessary.
917. “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” Traffic. Songwriters: Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi; Did Not Chart; 1971. Stevie Winwood, “With Traffic we wanted to actually create music which contained many elements. Not excluding blues and rhythm and blues, but also including folk music, jazz, rock and various kinds of ethnic music.” On the eleven and a half minute “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” Traffic gave its fans the complete 1970’s drug experience without the inconvenience of hitting the streets to score some pot or Quaaludes. Every time I get to Chris Wood’s distorted saxophone solo, it’s all I can do to keep myself from checking into rehab. The song title was given to Jim Capaldi by actor Michael J. Pollard, who starred in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde.” Capaldi on Pollard, “He had this tremendous rebel attitude. He walked around in his cowboy boots, his leather jacket. At the time, he was a heavy little dude. It seemed to sum up all the people of that generation who were just rebels. The ‘Low Spark,’ for me, was the spirit, high-spirited. You know, standing on a street corner. The low rider. The ‘Low Spark’ meaning that strong undercurrent at the street level.”
916. “American Girl,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Songwriter: Tom Petty; Did Not Chart; 1978. Floridian Tom Petty moved to Los Angeles in 1970, getting a record deal, but not finding success, with his band Mudcrutch. He worked as a ghostwriter for Leon Russell before establishing the Heartbreakers in the mid-1970s. “American Girl” is a bouncy rocker that may have been partially inspired by dialogue from the Francis Ford Coppola film “Dementia 13,” which includes a character stating, “Especially an American girl. You can tell she has been raised on promised.” It was also most memorably used as part of the opening scene in the 1991 psychological horror film “The Silence of the Lambs.” Petty, “I wrote that in a little apartment I had in Encino. It was right next to the freeway and the cars sometimes sounded like waves from the ocean, which is why there’s the line about the waves crashing on the beach. It was the start of writing about people who are longing for something else in life, something better than they have.” Drummer Stan Lynch, “I think everyone knew that there was a little lightning in the bottle on that one.”
915. “Love Me Two Times,” The Doors. Songwriter: Robby Krieger (although originally attributed to the entire band); #25 pop; 1967. Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, “I kind of got the idea from an old blues song that I heard, oddly enough on a record that Paul Rothchild produced called ‘The Blues Project.’ I came on to this song that was by Danny Kalb. The ‘Love Me Two Times’ thing was about some of my friends that got drafted and had to leave for Vietnam and they were going to see their girlfriends for the last time, or not for a long time, and so that’s where it came from. We all loved blues songs but when The Doors did the blues we changed it around. ‘Love Me Two Times’ was sort of like the blues but then it goes to kind of a circle where it goes D, C ,B, B-flat, A, which is unusual and then it had that kind of bouncy beat.” Ray Manzarek, who played the world’s meanest harpsichord solo on this record, described “Love Me Two Times” as, “Robby’s great blues/rock classic about lust and lost, or multiple orgasms, I’m not sure which.”
914. “Can’t Buy Me Love,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #1 pop; 1964. “Can’t Buy Me Love” was recorded in late January of 1964, just when Beatlemania began to sweep America. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was scaling the U.S. charts and the Fab Four were less than two weeks away from their much remembered debut appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Rolling Stone magazine, “McCartney has said ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ was ‘my attempt to write [in] a bluesy mode.’ But the song is much closer to the group’s primary influences: the bright gallop of uptempo Motown and brisk Fifties rockabilly. Lennon and McCartney had their own deep roots in the latter, but Harrison was the expert: His guitar style, especially in the Beatles’ early recording years, was an aggressive updating of the simplicity of Carl Perkins and Scotty Moore’s breaks on Elvis Presley’s Sun singles. In ‘Can’t Buy Me Love,’ Harrison’s solo – which takes off after one of McCartney’s Little Richard-inspired screams – is classic ’56 Memphis with jet-age sheen.” George Martin commenting on his key recommendation, “I thought that we really needed a tag for the song’s ending, and a tag for the beginning; a kind of intro. So I took the first two lines of the chorus and changed the ending, and said ‘Let’s just have these lines, and by altering the second phrase we can get back into the verse pretty quickly.’ And they said, ‘That’s not a bad idea, we’ll do it that way.’”
913. “No Sex,” Alex Chilton. Songwriters: Alex Chilton, Rene Coman; Did Not Chart; 1986. Former Box Tops/Big Star lead singer Alex Chilton dropped out of the music business for a period during the early 1980s, finding himself in New Orleans and working manual labor jobs to including being a dishwasher, a janitor, and a tree trimmer. He released a few highly regarded EPs during the mid-1980s, including 1986’s “No Sex,” which included a humorous title track about the dangers of casual coitus during the AIDS/HIV epidemic. Nice touches include the woozy contributions from the famed Memphis Horns, and, Chilton’s trashy Telecaster garage rock guitar solo. Spin magazine, “’No Sex’ isn’t about anything as pedestrian as individual human relationships; instead, it’s the exhausted whoop of a petulantly jaded American boy-king for whom random, unprotected sex and careless drug use are the only pseudo-freedoms left after the shitshow of the ’70s and early ’80s. This ‘no sex’ business was simply a disease too far (namely, HIV); and somebody had to testify.” Key lyric: “Hey, baby, it’s the 1980s/Baby Doc sent it up from Haiti /Can’t get it on or even get high/Come on, baby, fuck me and die.”
912. “99 Luftballons,” Nena. Songwriters: Uwe Fahrenkrog-Peterson, Carlos Karges; #2 pop; 1984. “99 Luftballons” was your typical Cold War era German new wave pop song with a prominent synth bassline about horrific potential military destruction that was big on the charts in 1984. The lyrics were inspired by a 1982 Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin that included release of hundreds of helium filled balloons. Guitarist Carlos Karges wondered how East German or Soviet forces might react if the balloons drifted into East Berlin. Really, as far as American audiences were concerned, the lyrics could have been about poorly prepared schnitzel and pommes frites. Lead singer Nena in 2016, “It was never meant to be a specific political song. The message was that misunderstandings between people can cause everything, can cause a butterfly effect. We were never a political band with our lyrics—but we were always people who wanted peace in the world. ‘99 Luftballons’ was this sort of a song. It was always a peace song.”
911. “My Old School,” Steely Dan. Songwriters: Donald Fagen, Walter Becker; #63 pop; 1973. From the 1973 “Countdown to Ecstasy” album, “My Old School” is a remembrance of a trumped-up drug raid (orchestrated by future Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy) that occurred when Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were attending Bard College. “My Old School” wasn’t a major hit, but it is a fine example of Steely Dan’s swinging jazz influenced rock ‘n’ roll paired with hard rock guitar and a bad attitude. Sam Sutherland of Best Classic Bands, “’My Old School’ deconstructs school-day memories into an ebullient anthem of liberation. The track soars through staccato guitar solos and a bravura Jimmie Haskell arrangement that marshals four saxophones to culminate in a sonic punchline: When Fagen’s vow to never return to his college town hinges on a Doomsday scenario, ‘California tumbles into the sea,’ the sax chorus ends with a swan-diving baritone sax note funnier than the lyric itself.”