The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 980 to 971
980. “Tower of Song,” Leonard Cohen. Songwriter: Leonard Cohen; Did Not Chart; 1988. Leonard Cohen had his first book of poetry published in 1956 (“Let Us Compare Mythologies”) and was in his mid-thirties when he decided to become a songwriter. He started receiving recognition in the late 1960s with his compositions “Bird on a Wire,” which has been covered by Johnny Cash and the Neville Brothers (among others), and his hypnotic, sexual attraction number “Suzanne.” He received international attention for his 1988 album “I’m Your Man,” which included the terrorist fantasy “First We Take Manhattan” and an ode to his craft on “Tower of Song.” On the latter number, Cohen playfully compares the act of songwriting to being institutionalized while he pays tribute to Hank Williams, who labors away “a hundred floors above him.” Some perky doo-wop background chirping and Cohen’s droll take on his “golden voice” add to the lighthearted atmosphere. Still, he was correct about his conclusion, “You’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’m gone/I’ll be speaking to you sweetly from a window in the Tower of Song.”
979. “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)” The Byrds. Songwriter: Pete Seeger; #1 pop; 1965. Not a driving instruction, Pete Seeger took a particularly poetic section from the Book of Ecclesiastes, attached a gorgeous melody to it, and gave the world one of its most beautiful folk rock songs. Originally recorded by The Limeliters in 1962, Roger McGuinn brought the number to the attention of The Byrds and the group scored a #1 pop hit with it in 1965. Pete Seeger, “I don’t read the Bible that often. I leaf through it occasionally and I’m amazed by the foolishness at times and the wisdom at other times. I got a letter from my publisher, and he says, ‘Pete, I can’t sell these protest songs you write.’ And I was angry. I pulled out this slip of paper in my pocket and improvised a melody to it in fifteen minutes. I got a letter from him the next week that said, ‘Wonderful! Just what I’m looking for.’ Within two months he’d sold it to the Limelighters and then to the Byrds. I liked the Byrds’ record very much, incidentally. All those clanging, steel guitars – they sound like bells.” Roger McGuinn, “It was a standard folk song, but I played it and it came out rock ‘n’ roll because that’s what I was programmed to do like a computer. I couldn’t do it as it was traditionally. It came out with that samba beat, and we thought it would make a good single.”
978. “Take Me Back to Tulsa,” Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Songwriters: Bob Wills, Tommy Duncan; Did Not Chart; 1941. Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan took the music from the traditional fiddle tune “Walkin’ Georgia Rose” and turned it into a Western swing classic about fear of matrimony. This buoyant nonsense number, which was never a hit but became one of the band’s signature songs. features Wills in peak form in terms of energy and his exuberant interjections. Like many songs of this era, the lyrics include references to race that would seem completely inappropriate to the modern ear. On a personal level, Wills was based in Tulsa from 1934 to 1942 and the band was such a significant party of the community that they regularly performed at local funerals for their fans who had passed away. After moving to California in 1942, he could never find a real sense of home again. Biographer Charles Townsend, “There was a sense of the tragic and pathetic in the life of Bob Wills, which stemmed from his fruitless twenty-year search for another Tulsa.” He is buried in that city, with a rather humble headstone for a man of his historical stature. Other tunes by Bob Wills hovering right outside of this list: “Right or Wrong,” “Sugar Moon,” “She’s Killing Me,” “Osage Stomp,” “Roly Poly,” “Cherokee Maiden,” and “Stay a Little Longer.”
977. “Round and Round,” Ratt. Songwriters: Robbin Crosby, Stephen Pearcy, Warren DeMartini; #12 pop; 1984. L.A. glam metal rockers Ratt went triple platinum with their 1984 debut album “Out of the Cellar,” fueled by the “with love we’ll find a way” pop hit “Round and Round.” This song hit the perfect sweet spot of melodic hard rock, appealing to glam rockers and hip moms. Steve Peake of ThoughtCo, “One of the finest singles of the ’80s regardless of genre, this 1984 classic epitomizes the unique alchemy of Ratt, which at its best provides equal proportions of filthy guitar riffs, skittering solos, and a keen pop sensibility. The power guitars of Warren DeMartini and Robbin Crosby fully celebrate the roots of hair metal here, namely twin leads and menacing speed and volume. Some bands of this ilk never got around to actually making hard rock, but even on this highly accessible track, Ratt manages to spotlight two entertaining sides of the same coin.” After being used in a Geico ad in 2020, “Round and Round” returned to the Billboard Digital Song Sales chart, reinforcing the truism that what comes around goes around.
976. “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Joy Division. Songwriters: Ian Curtis, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Bernard Sumner; Did Not Chart; 1980. Joy Division formed in Manchester, England in 1976, inspired by the Sex Pistols but developing a completely different sound. Music critic John Bush, “Joy Division became the first band in the post-punk movement by emphasizing not anger and energy but mood and expression. Though the group’s raw initial sides fit the bill for any punk band, Joy Division later incorporated synthesizers (taboo in the low-tech world of ’70s punk) and more haunting melodies, emphasized by the isolated, tortured lyrics of its lead vocalist, Ian Curtis.” Ian Curtis became a tragic legend, committing suicide after “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was released. Music journalist Ben Hewitt, “’Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is Joy Division’s whole history carved into one stone tablet: the legend that’s inscribed on Curtis’s memorial stone, and an entire legacy distilled into three minutes and 46 seconds of perfect pop music. It’s also unlike anything else in their entire back catalogue. There’s no heavy murk or gothic doom, just that gorgeous, squirrelling synth that’s sad and sweet, vulnerable and lost. And while Curtis’s words are so often rooted in morbid fantasy worlds, there’s no concept here: just the harsh reality of a relationship withered and gone wrong. ‘Why is this bedroom so cold? You’ve turned away on your side,’ he asks, bitter and bruised, as two people lie next to one another but can’t bring themselves to talk or touch.”
975. “Would I Lie to You?,” Eurythmics. Songwriters: Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart; #5 pop; 1985. The Eurythmics had their pop breakthrough with the 1983 synth pop hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” but made a transformation into a classic rock ‘n’ roll sound with the adrenaline pumping sound of “Would I Lie to You?” Dave Stewart, “When we started putting it down the song had a lot of energy and inspired Annie to come up with the great lyric, ‘Would I Lie to You’ and a melody with very odd answering harmonies, ‘Now, would I say something that wasn’t true.’ These harmonies are very unusual and Annie is a genius at working them out very quickly in her head. The song started to be a fusion between Stax type R&B and Eurythmics.” Rock critic Stewart Mason, “Sounding like Dusty Springfield’s even brassier kid sister, Annie Lennox lets rip on this song, delivering a feisty smackdown of a lyric to Dave Stewart’s head-bobber of a lead guitar riff.”
974. “Ruby Tuesday,” Rolling Stones. Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards; #1 pop; 1967. The Rolling Stones were known for their classic guitar rock ‘n’ roll guitar riffs, but moved into the world of chamber/baroque pop on “Ruby Tuesday,” with Mick singing over a piano, cello, and recorder on the soft, melodic verses. It’s either strange or entirely predictable that the wistfully beautiful sentiment was inspired by a groupie. Keith Richards, “That’s one of those things – some chick you’ve broken up with. And all you’ve got left is the piano and the guitar and a pair of panties. And it’s goodbye you know. And so it just comes out of that. And after that you just build on it. It’s one of those songs that are easiest to write because you’re really right there and you really sort of mean it. And for a songwriter, hey break his heart and he’ll come up with a good song.” Mick Jagger, “That’s a wonderful song. It’s just a nice melody, really. And a lovely lyric. Neither of which I wrote, but I always enjoy singing it.”
973. “Move on Up,” Curtis Mayfield. Songwriter: Curtis Mayfield; Did Not Chart; 1970. Curtis Mayfield first found fame at the age of sixteen, performing as part of the Impressions, the backing band on Jerry Butler’s 1958 pop hit “For Your Precious Love.” Starting in 1961, Mayfield became the leader/creative force of the Impressions and was heard on the pop charts throughout the decade with the hits “Gypsy Woman,” “It’s All Right,” “Keep on Pushing,” “People Get Ready,” and “We’re a Winner,” among others. Mayfield’s music perfectly meshed with the Civil Rights era, as he often wrote lyrics with political, social, and spiritual themes. He released “Curtis,” his debut solo album, in 1970 and the corresponding hit single “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go.” He had a U.K. hit with an edited version of the upbeat, musically adventurous “Move on Up.” “Move on Up” works as a song of encouragement, a push to improve social standing through industriousness, and as a spiritual message, with a goal of moving up to the promised land. Upbeat horns weave in and out of orchestration that would sound like disco in a later era. The percussion section is relentless. This is jazz, pop, soul, and funk brilliantly mixed together to transport the listener to a higher dimension.
972. “Love Potion No. 9,” The Clovers. Songwriters: Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller; #23 pop/#23 R&B; 1959. The Clovers ruled the R&B charts during the early 1950s, but faded from that scene after 1956. “Love Potion No. 9,” a tale of buying a liquid aphrodisiac from a gypsy and quickly degenerating into hysteria, was the Clovers biggest crossover pop hit and their final charting single. After the psychedelic era hit pop music, Jerry Leiber defensively noted, “’Love Potion No. 9’ does not represent a disguised advocacy for other kinds of drugs in the pre-hippie era.” Mike Stoller on the numerical choice, “We always loved the word ‘nine’ because it resonates in song. Remember ‘Riot in Cell Block #9’? When my doctor holds a stethoscope to my back, he always asks me to say ‘nine.’ Nine’s a lucky number.” “Love Potion” was one of the last successful comedic, story songs by Leiber and Stoller. The Coasters scored one more hit in that style with 1961’s “Little Egypt (Ying-Yang).”
971. “Angels Don’t Fly,” George Jones. Songwriters: John R Fountain; William J. Webb; Did Not Chart; 1991. George Jones signed with MCA Records in 1991 and producer Kyle Lehning, who was on a hot streak working with Randy Travis, spent nine months recording the “And Along Came Jones” album. Despite the renewed corporate investment, radio wasn’t interested and the first single (“You Couldn’t Get the Picture”) stalled at #32 on the country charts. Two successive singles fared even worse. Still, the real gem is the album cut “Angels Don’t Fly,” where Jones revisits the theme of being unable to cope with his loneliness when his woman leaves – the tag line is “Angels don’t fly, they just walk out the door.” Jones always excelled when singing at a tortoise paced, savor every note tempo.