The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 970 to 961
970. “Sunday Girl,” Blondie. Songwriter: Chris Stein; Did Not Chart; 1978. “Sunday Girl” was a #1 hit for Blondie in the U.K. in 1979, but was never released as a U.S. single. An early 1960’s girl group pastiche/tribute, “Sunday Girl” mocks Debbie Harry’s cold persona while showing her vulnerability and need for affection. Songwriter and Harry’s significant other Chris Stein may have been projecting a bit there. Rock critic Tom Maginnis, “The song is pure pop, a dulcet, charming throwback to the innocent sounds of the Beach Boys and uninhibited music of early rock, particularly that of girl vocal groups such as the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las.” “Sunday Girl” is included on Blondie’s 1978 “Parallel Lines” album, which is to New York pop punk what Fleetwood Mac “Rumours” album is to California studio soft rock. That is to say, an exemplary representation of the form.
969. “Dancing Days,” Led Zeppelin. Songwriters: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant; Did Not Chart; 1973. Inspired by music that Led Zeppelin heard in Bombay, “Dancing Days” pairs a string bending Indian riff with elements of pop, rock, dance, and world music. Legend has it, the band was so elated that they danced on Mick Jagger’s lawn after recording the song at his mansion. Rolling Stone magazine on the atypical vibe for a Zep number, “The lyrics are an almost Beach Boys-like vision of Edenic summer ease.” Plant and the boys, who unlike the Stones and Rod Stewart never released a disco single, also went for a Jamaican dance groove in 1973 with the reggae inspired “D’yer Mak’er.”
968. “The Great Pretender,” The Platters. Songwriter: Buck Ram; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1956. On what would become a common theme in pop music, think “Tears of a Clown” by the Miracles or “Missing You” by John Waite, The Platters display a persona of unaffected bravado to mask their romantic heartbreak on “The Great Pretender.” Jean Bennett, songwriter Buck Ram’s business partner. on the humble origins of the song, “(Buck) went into the men’s restroom at the Flamingo, where they were playing, and he sat down in the stall and he penned ‘The Great Pretender.’” The Platters reworked the vocal arrangement, much to Buck Ram’s disappointment, and the end result was the first single by an R&B vocal group to become a #1 pop hit. “The Great Pretender” had a long-term impact on pop music – Chrissie Hynde named her band after this song and a cover version was a Top Five U.K. hit for Freddie Mercury in 1987.
967. “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2),” Pink Floyd. Songwriter: Roger Waters; #1 pop; 1979. After the Syd Barrett era, Pink Floyd didn’t chase after hit singles; they developed concept albums for stoner headphone experiences. Until “Another Brick in the Wall,” the only Top 40 hit the band had in the U.S. during the 1970s was “Money” from “Dark Side of the Moon.” They hadn’t charted in the native U.K. since 1968’s “See Emily Play.” There are a few versions of how this single was shaped. According to producer Bob Ezrin, he felt like the song was a surefire hit, but the original recording was only one chorus and one verse, lasting less than a minute and a half. Thinking back on his experience on Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” he decided to use a children choir to repeat the first verse, reinforcing the theme of public education being more about discipline than intellectual advancement. For his part, Roger Waters has also claimed that it was his idea to have the children’s choir. Waters, on the song’s theme, “You couldn’t find anybody in the world more pro-education than me. But the education I went through in boys’ grammar school in the ’50s was very controlling and demanded rebellion. The teachers were weak and therefore easy targets. The song is meant to be a rebellion against errant government, against people who have power over you, who are wrong. Then it absolutely demanded that you rebel against that.” And, for rock audiences, what could have been more rebellious than a Pink Floyd hit with a disco beat topping the pop charts.
966. “Stealin’, Stealin’,” Memphis Jug Band. Songwriter: Gus Cannon; Did Not Chart; 1928. Jug bands were known for, of course, using a jug as a musical instrument, but also employing homemade instruments such as spoons, washtubs, and gourd guitars. The bands were typically comprised of African Americans, with a background in vaudeville or medicine shows, and they often gave street performances for tips. The Memphis Jug Band added a kazoo to their musical equation and performed, with frequently personnel changes, for over three decades. “Stealin’, Stealin’,” which was covered by The Grateful Dead in 1966, seems to be about a man who has connected with an old flame, one that wears a ring from another. Gus Cannon is credited as the songwriter, although many of the lyrics had been used in previous songs by other artists. Other fine contributions from the Memphis Jug Band include 1930’s “Cocaine Habit Blues,” and 1934’s comically fast “Memphis Shakedown,” which served as the basis for Bob Will’s “Osage Stomp.”
965. “Shame, Shame, Shame,” Shirley (And Company). Songwriter: Silvia Robinson; #12 pop; 1974. New Orleans native Shirley Goodman recorded her first single as half of Shirley and Lee in 1952 and that duo went to #20 on the pop charts in 1956 with the rock ‘n’ roll classic “Let the Good Times Roll.” In the early 1970s, she left the music industry and was working as a receptionist/telephone operator for Playboy’s Hugh Hefner. Singer/songwriter Sylvia Robinson, who had been half of the famed 1950’s due Mickey & Silvia (best known for their 1957 #1 R&B hit “Love is Strange) and had a 1973 #3 pop hit with “Pillow Talk.” Robinson chose Goodman to record her song “Shame, Shame, Shame” after chatting with her on the telephone, thinking that her high-pitched, peculiar voice would be a perfect fit. Her intuition was correct. “Shame, Shame, Shame,” a minimalist funk song with the sound of the Bo Diddly beat going disco was a pop success. Cuban born singer Jesus Alveraz served as the male counterpart and the song used a style of rhythm guitar licks that Nile Rodgers would popularize a few years later with Chic. Prince updated this dance funk style of music with his 1986 pop hit “Kiss.” Sylvia Robinson continued to reinvent herself, becoming the CEO of Sugar Hill Records, the label which released the seminal rap hits “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang in 1979 and “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in 1982.
964. “Voice Your Choice ,” The Radiants. Songwriters: Gerald Sims, Maurice McAlister; #51 pop/#10 R&B; 1964. The members of the Chicago vocal group The Radiants evolved from a gospel choir into secular music. Their home base becomes obvious after you hear “Voice Your Choice,” it is the best song that the Impressions never released. Or, as noted by author Andrew Hamilton, “They duplicated the Impressions’ three-part harmony and lead-switching style to perfection.” Despite the buoyant horns and beautiful singing on the relationship number “Voice Your Choice,” The Radiants never scored a Top 40 hit and were beleaguered by frequent changes of personnel. By 1966, vocalists Maurice McAlister and Green McLauren split off to work as the duo Maurice and Mac. Their 1968 Muscle Shoals record “You Left the Water Running” is a highly regarded Southern soul effort.
963. “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” Camper Van Beethoven. Songwriter: David Lowery; Did Not Chart; 1985. CVB frontman David Lowery on this satirical take on life, “I never thought that ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling’ would become a hit. If someone had traveled from the future and told me we would have a hit on our first album I would not have picked this song as being the hit. Not in a million years. We regarded ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling ‘as just a weird non-sensical song. The lyrics were purposely structured so that it would be devoid of meaning. Each subsequent line would undermine any sort of meaning established by the last line (author’s note – a fine example, ‘Everybody’s comin’ home for lunch these days/Last night there were skinheads on my lawn’). It was the early 80′s and all our peers were writing songs that were full of meaning. It was our way of rebelling.” The guitars ring like the Byrds on a punk rock bender.
962. “I Put a Spell on You,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Songwriters: Jay Hawkins, Herb Slotkin; Did Not Chart; 1956. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was a pioneer in combining comedic macabre theatre with rock ‘n’ roll – one can chart a relatively straight line between Hawkins performing in a coffin and Alice Cooper’s guillotine shtick. “I Put a Spell on You,” Hawkins’ signature song, never touched a Billboard chart, but became a classic due to his maniacal performance. Hawkins, who claimed that alcohol played a significant part in the final product, “I don’t even remember making the record. Before, I was just a normal blues singer. I was just Jay Hawkins. It all sort of just fell in place. I found out I could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death.” Hawkins, reflecting to author Nick Tosches in 1973, “This record comes out and I’ve created a monster. Man, it was WEIRD. I was forced to live the life of a monster…I’m some kinda bogeyman. I come outta coffins. Skulls, snakes, crawlin’ hands, fire, and all that mess.” “Spell on You” has been covered by over one hundred artists to include an R&B hit version by Nina Simone, as a Rickenbacker rocker by Creedence, and in a howling electronic rock format by Marilyn Manson.
961. “Lonesome Town,” Paul McCartney. Songwriter: Baker Knight; Did Not Chart; 1999. Following the death of Linda McCartney in 1998, Paul McCartney recorded his “Run Devil Run” album, which consisted primarily of songs from the 1950s. McCartney pushes his vocal range to the limit on “Lonesome Town,” a broken-hearted tale popularized by Ricky Nelson in 1958. Rock critic Jim Beviglia, “Paul’s best decision on this classic ballad made famous by Rick Nelson was to sing it in a high register throughout. Whereas Nelson’s version is brilliant for all that it holds back, Macca’s take succeeds in a different way, spilling everything on the table. (Plus the original didn’t have a top-notch David Gilmour guitar solo in its favor.) I’m not one to jump to conclusions and say that he was thinking about Linda while he sang so emotionally here, but it’s certainly tempting to connect those dots. In any case, it’s a wonderful combination of songwriting perfection and interpretive feeling. And all of us who’ve ever been denizens of that figurative location can relate and wallow right along with him.”