The 25 Greatest #1 Singles of the 1960s

Written by | August 25, 2018 11:36 am | No Comments


One theory of why the music of the 1960s is so fondly remembered is that the best material was also the most popular.  This listing reinforces that idea.  Songs that just missed this list – Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” The Marvalettes’ “Please Mr. Postman,” The Box Tops’ “The Letter,” The Beatles’ “A Hard Days’ Night,” and Dion’s “Runaround Sue.”

25.  “The House of the Rising Sun,” The Animals.  Songwriter: Traditional, arranged by Alan Price; #1 pop; 1964.  “The House of the Rising Sun” is a traditional song about a New Orleans brothel that The Animals learned from Bob Dylan’s 1962 folk version.  Their take is one of doomed misery, with Eric Burdon’s anguished vocals and Alan Price’s dark organ tones reinforcing the sense of despair.  Guitarist Hilton Valentine, “The dynamics of the song was what The Animals used to do when we played – start off with a certain pace, move it up a few notches, really drive it – and then drop it, right back down. And then build back to a crescendo at the end. Eric was total excitement, totally on the spur of the moment. We just put our heads down. We were all into it, responding to each other.”  Eric Burdon, “’House of the Rising Sun’ is a song that I was just fated to. It was made for me and I was made for it.  In my mind, the ‘house’ was a polished Gentleman’s Club. It had to be a room full of women of many colors, sizes and shapes. It would have a spiral staircase. It must have had a black man playing ragtime piano. It must be three stories high and smell of cheap perfume – and way too expensive for me to get across the threshold. I hate the word ‘whorehouse.’ In London, some of my best friends were hookers. I’ve always had a soft spot for ladies of the night, but may I add that I’ve never, ever paid for it. Every time I sing that song, it’s like having a perfect sex partner. It just climaxes naturally.”

24.  “Quarter to Three,” Gary U.S. Bonds.  Songwriters: Gene Barge, Frank Guida, Joseph Royster; #1 pop/#3 R&B; 1961. Greil Marcus, “There is no more exciting passage in rock than the slow build of pressure that finally erupts into the celebrations of ‘Quarter to Three.’”  This all-night dance party record was written by adding lyrics to an instrumental titled “A Night with Daddy G” (a reference to saxophone player Gene Barge) by the Church Street Five.  Producer Frank Guida, “When ‘Quarter to Three’ came out, we stood the world on its heels. There was nothing like it, nothing.”  The constant overdubbing of claps and vocals resulted in the fuzzy chaotic sound.  Gene Barge, “When they started mailing it to jocks, they wouldn’t play it. They said, ‘This sounds like it was cut in the crapper.’ Gary has a talent to be able to overdub himself. He could sing ‘Quarter to Three”’ and then go back and sing another version exactly the same, with the same inflections. A lot of people can’t do that. They forgot what they did. He must have multi’d that about seven times—ping-ponging and overdubbing. Give (engineer) Joe Royster the credit there. It was like five or six Garys on that record.”  Gary U.S. Bonds on inspiring another hit from that era, “Dion, every time I see him—every time I see him, I get so tired of it—the first words out of his mouth are ‘If it wasn’t for you, there’d be no ‘Runaround Sue.’”

23.  “Ode to Billy Joe,” Bobbie Gentry.  Songwriter: Bobbie Gentry; #1 pop/#17 country; 1967. NPR journalist Meredith Ochs, “(‘Ode to Billy Joe’) bleeds into you from the first bar and winds around your bones like a creeping vine.” Bobbie Gentry brought Southern goth mystery into the mainstream with her 1967 pop and country hit “Ode to Billy Joe.”  Gentry was raised in Mississippi and moved to Los Angeles as a teenager.  Prior to finding fame, Gentry worked in a Vegas nightclub revue, was a model, and studied at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music.  There is a sense of denial and unresolved motives that gives “Ode to Billy Joe” a sense of lingering mystery.  Bobbie Gentry, “It’s entirely a matter of interpretation as from each individual’s viewpoint. But I’ve hoped to get across the basic indifference, the casualness, of people in moments of tragedy. Something terrible has happened, but it’s ‘pass the black-eyed peas,’ or ‘y’all remember to wipe your feet.’ The message of the song revolves around the nonchalant way the family talks about the suicide. The song is a study in unconscious cruelty.”  Arranger Jimmie Haskell, “The song sounded to me like a movie—those wonderful lyrics. I had a small group of strings—two cellos and four violins to fit her guitar-playing. I was branching out in my own head for the first time, creating something that I liked because we thought no one was ever gonna hear it.”

22.  “Oh, Pretty Woman,” Roy Orbison.  Songwriters: Roy Orbison, Bill Dees; #1 pop; 1964.  Author Bill Dahl, “A strong, sinuous bass line intro was a primary consideration to win concentrated rock airplay as the British Invasion raged during the mid-’60s. Seldom was a stronger or catchier one devised than the pulsating kickoff to Roy Orbison’s immortal ‘Oh, Pretty Woman.’ Pounding drums and what sounds like a 12-string acoustic guitar immediately set the tone for the Big O’s biggest hit of all, Orbison navigating a chord progression unlike any the Texas native had ever introduced before.” According to songwriter Bill Dees, “Oh, Pretty Woman” was inspired by a flirtatious encounter between Roy Orbison and his wife, Claudette.  Dees, “(Roy) started singing ‘Pretty woman walking down the street’ while I was banging my hand down on the table.  From the moment that the rhythm started, I could hear the heels clicking on the pavement. I can’t do that growl like Roy, but the ‘Mercy’ is mine.  I used to say that all the time when a saw a pretty woman.  The ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ probably came from The Beatles.”

21.  “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” The Supremes.  Songwriters: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1966.  Lamont Dozier on creating the captivating riff, often compared to an SOS Morse code signal, for “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” “We had four or five guitars playing that main figure.  I remember hearing something like that on the radio while I was driving to the studio — the news was coming on, and the thought occurred to me in the studio…Da-da-da, da-da, like a news flash. We didn’t have certain echo and sophistication we have today, so we discovered that the more instruments — even if the guys only played units and all the same licks together — only enhanced the sound, gave us a more dynamic sound.”  Motown keyboardist Johnny Griffith, “You could compare our rhythm section to anything else happing at that time and we were just better. The Motown thing was so much tighter. We were locked into a groove, it was hellacious.”  A year after The Supremes took “Hangin’ On” to #1 on the pop charts, it became a Top Ten hit for psychedelic rockers Vanilla Fudge.  Carmine Appice, “That one was a hurtin’ song; it had a lot of emotion in it. If you listen to ‘Hangin’ On’ fast, by The Supremes, it sounds very happy, but the lyrics aren’t happy at all. If you lived through that situation, the lyrics are definitely not happy.”

20.  “Light My Fire,” The Doors.  Songwriters: Jim Morrison, Robbie Krieger, John Densmore, Ray Manzarek; #1 pop; 1967.  Robby Krieger, “I was living with my parents in Pacific Palisades – I had my amp and SG.  I asked Jim, what should I write about? He said, ‘Something universal, which won’t disappear two years from now.  Something that people can interpret themselves.’  I said to myself I’d write about the four elements; earth, air, fire, water.  I picked fire, as I loved the Stones song, ‘Play with Fire,’ and that’s how that came about.”  Ray Manzarek has described the song as having a jazz structure with his extended organ solo influenced by John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” and “Ole Coltrane.”  Drummer John Densmore had some interesting inspiration as well, “I loved ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ in 1964 and all the bossa nova albums that followed.  So I went with a bossa nova beat during Jim’s vocals, but kept it stiffer.”  Rock critic Wayne Robins on the band’s image, “While everyone else in 1967 was enjoying the sunshine, both real and hallucinated, the Doors and Morrison, ‘the Lizard King,’ grasped the darkness; even in their Summer of Love hit, ‘Light My Fire,’ there was an apocalyptic edge the celebration.  The line ‘Girl we couldn’t get much higher’ wasn’t an expression of joy as much as a warning.”

19.  “When A Man Loves a Woman,” Percy Sledge.  Songwriters: Calvin Lewis, Andrew Wright; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1966.  There are several stories about how “When a Man Loves a Woman” was written.  In interviews, Sledge always claimed to be the primary writer, inspired by either humming the melody while working in cotton fields or penning the soul classic after a heartbreak.  He went on to claim that he generously gave away the credits to members of his backing band, The Esquires. Hmmm. In any event, the song was recorded in Muscle Shoals, not at Rick Hall’s FAME studio, although Hall did coordinate the licensing agreement with Atlantic Records.  Jerry Wexler found the murky recording unsatisfactory and requested a new version of the horn parts.  David Hood, “They went back in the studio and changed the horns, got different horn players to play on it. But then the tapes got mixed up and Atlantic put out their original version. So that’s the hit.”  Author Tom Moon, “It’s a melody made for pleading, a graceful rainbow arc that holds all the romance (and concomitant distress) a singer can muster. English producer Denny Cordell, “We used to try and crib the Stax sound, but at the time, on (the Procol Harum hit) ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale,’ what I was trying to copy was ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ by Percy Sledge.”

18.  “Stay,” Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs.  Written by Maurice Williams; #1 pop/#3 R&B; 1960.  Rock critic Tom Breihan on the shortest #1 song in pop music history, “We’re only 30 seconds into ‘Stay’ when it arrives. The blaring, exaggerated falsetto hits like an air-raid siren, electric and absurd in its urgency. It’s the sort of sound that belongs to an alley cat in a Warner Bros. cartoon, not to an actual rational human reaction. ‘Stay’ was a pretty great little doo-wop song before that falsetto showed up. When the falsetto arrived, it became immortal.”  The falsetto didn’t belong to Maurice Williams, it was the product of Henry “Shane” Gaston.  Williams, “There wouldn’t have been a ‘Stay’ without Shane. The high part made the song – Lord knows that. We had so many covers of ‘Stay,’ it’s hard to keep up with. My favorite was The Four Seasons.  I was big fan of the Four Seasons. When Frankie did ‘Stay,’ I said, ‘Wow!’ That blew my mind.” A revised version of “Stay,” released in 1977 by Jackson Browne as a medley with his composition “The Load-Out,” has long been an AOR staple.

17.  “Georgia on My Mind,” Ray Charles.  Songwriters: Hoagy Carmichael, Stuart Gorrell; #1 pop/#3 R&B; 1960.  Hoagy Carmichael wrote “Georgia on My Mind” with his college friend Stuart Gorrell in 1930 (Gorrell later became a banker and never had another songwriting credit) and the song was a Top Twenty pop hit for Native American jazz singer Mildred Bailey in 1932.  Charles recorded the song, some say at the suggestion of his driver, for “The Genius Hits the Road,” a 1960 theme album about U.S. cities and states.  Author Tom Breihan, “His voice is a craggy croak, tired and broken. But it’s beautiful, too. There’s sweetness and devotion in it, and he’s clearly singing about something that fills him with bliss. He’s not a showy singer, exactly, but it’s clear from the song that he’s not bound by the weariness of that voice. Late in the song, he hits a couple of dazzling falsetto notes, and stretches his syllables out, and power just crackles out of him. Charles rarely got explicitly political, but there are forces at work in this song. Charles came from Georgia, but ‘Georgia on My Mind’ isn’t a simple love letter to home. It’s complicated. The Civil Rights struggle was in full swing in 1960, and Charles’ home state was where much of that struggle was happening. If I hear a conflicted bittersweetness in Charles’ voice, in the way he lets himself sound broken-down and exhausted, I don’t think I’m imagining things.”

16.  “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” The Shirelles:  Songwriters: Gerry Goffin, Carole King; #1 pop/#2 R&B; 1960.  Journalist Joe Lynch, “For as revolutionary as the ’60s were, few songs gave voice to real life concerns of young women — especially when it came to sex.  Thanks to co-writer Carole King, The Shirelles’ ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’ was the major exception to that rule.  A stunningly gorgeous mix of country chords, R&B shuffle and orchestral pop flourishes, the ballad finds Shirelles leader Shirley Owens forcing her paramour to declare if he’s in love for real, or just until he gets what he wants. The lyrics contain some of the finest couplets in all of pop and the superb languor in Owens’ voice deftly conveys the sense she’s been burned before. While sex isn’t explicitly mentioned, the teens-fumbling-in-the-backseat subtext was clear.”  Carole King on Gerry Goffin’s lyric, “His words expressed what so many people were feeling, but didn’t know how to say.”

15.  “Save the Last Dance for Me,” The Drifters.  Songwriters: Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1960.  Author Christopher Hawtree, “’Save the last dance for me’: six simple words that, drawn together for a 1960 song lyric, remain as haunting as any 20th-century poetry. Although heard, and remembered, by millions, few could name the man – Doc Pomus – who, rather drunk, wrote them down late one night, on his own wedding invitation, three years after the event. He intended to tidy up the words the next day, but they caught perfectly the joyful agony of his life. Born in 1925, Pomus had childhood polio and, ever since, wore leg irons, walked on crutches and swelled to a great weight. His charm, however, brought a glamorous bride, Willi, who danced with other men at their wedding party.”  Pomus biographer Alex Halberstadt, “He wrote the words to a soaring Latin melody that Mort (Shuman) had played for him that afternoon.  It reminded him of a troubadour’s song.  He wanted the words to sound like a poem translated into English, so he wrote long lines, loading the measures with as many syllables as they could hold.”  “Save the Last Dance for Me” was rejected by several artists and was released by the Drifters as a b-side (Dick Clark corrected the issue by telling Atlantic Records that they were pushing the wrong song).  Songwriter/author John Sieger, “The writing is so tight, there’s nothing really to take out. He may have labored over it, but it sounds so natural you feel like you’re eavesdropping on a worried man’s thoughts.”

14.  “Help!,” The Beatles.  Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #1 pop; 1965.  Some days being in the Fab Four could be a little overbearing.  John Lennon on “Help!,” “The whole Beatles thing was just beyond comprehension. I was subconsciously crying out for help.  The lyric is as good now as it was then. It is no different, and it makes me feel secure to know that I was that aware of myself then. I meant it.  It’s real.”  Rock critic Dave Marsh asserted that the supporting music was a form of therapy, “’Help!’ is bursting with vitality. (Lennon) sounds triumphant, because he’s found a group of kindred spirits who are offering the very spiritual assistance and emotional support for which he’s begging. Paul’s echoing harmonies, Ringo’s jaunty drums, the boom of George’s guitar speak to the heart of Lennon’s passion, and though they cannot cure the wound, at least they add a note of reassurance that he’s not alone with his pain.”

13.  “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” The Supremes.  Songwriters: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland; #1 pop/#2 R&B; 1965.  Lamont Dozier, “The title came from a fight with my girlfriend. I got caught in an embarrassing situation where I was being a little unfaithful. This particular girl was very headstrong. So we got into an argument. She started swinging, missed me, hit the floor. And I laughed and said, ‘Please stop! Stop in the name of love.’ I was being facetious. Then we busted out in laughter because it was so corny to us. She had a choke hold on me, and I said, ‘Hold it for a minute. Did you hear a cash register? Is that a hit title?’ And she started laughing again. The music stopped the fight. It came to the rescue. Then Brian (Holland) came up with the hook (musically) for it.”  Author Stevie Chick on the song’s perfectly wrapped heartache, “’Stop!’ opens with an infernal swell of keyboard, before the Motown backbeat kicks in and Ross and her Supremes belt out the song’s agonized, unforgettable hook. But it’s in the verses where the real tragedy lingers: in Ross’s sad acknowledgement that she is ‘aware of where you go each time you leave my door’; in the humiliation that her fear of losing her man trumps her anger at his straying; in the way she asks, ‘Haven’t I been good to you? Haven’t I been sweet to you?’, just begging for a crumb of kindness.  It’s pop heartache raised to bleakly operatic heights, and you would have to be dead inside not to be moved by the dark edge to Ross’s yearning, or to resist dancing to the combustible Holland/Dozier/Holland production.”

12.  “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye.  Songwriters: Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1968.  Barrett Strong on his return to Motown during the mid-1960s, “I was listening to the radio and I heard the Temptations sing ‘My Girl,’ and I said, ‘Man, they’re doing my kind of music now. I want to go back. Now what do I have to take back?’ I had this song title that had been in my mind a long time, ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine.’ I said, ‘Nobody’s ever written a song about this.’ So I sat down at the piano and came up with the bass line.”  The song had been a #2 pop hit for Gladys Knight & the Pips in 1967.  Gaye’s version was released as an album track, but according to Berry Gordy, “The DJs played it so much off the album we had to release it as a single.”  Marvin Gaye, “Norman (Whitfield) had this whole new arrangement worked out and it came out pretty good.  I simply took Norman’s direction.  I was reaching for notes that made my veins bulge.”  Music critic Jason Ankeny, “Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ is Motown’s greatest record. Even obscured by years of oldies radio overkill and Big Chill nostalgia it retains a hypnotic power unmatched by any of the label’s other classics, articulating the turmoil and anguish of a soul torn apart at the seams with a clarity unmatched in the annals of popular music. On its surface a desperate plea to salvage a relationship gone terribly wrong, ‘Grapevine’ progressively probes much deeper to convey complete emotional free-fall: haunted by lies, taunted by gossip and shattered by loss, Gaye’s torment is palpable, and his performance — the signature sophistication and elegance of his voice ravaged by fear and doubt — is devastating.”

11.  “You Can’t Hurry Love,” Supremes.  Songwriters: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1966.  Motown went to church on “You Can’t Hurry Love,” a song inspired by a 1950’s recording titled “(You Can’t Hurry God) He’s Right on Time” by Dorothy Love Coates & The Original Gospel Harmonettes.  Lamont Dozier, “We were trying to reconstruct ‘Come See About Me’ and somehow it turned into ‘You Can’t Hurry Love.’ It was basically a gospel feel we were after.”  Rock critic Jason Ankeny, “The Supremes never made a more soulful record than 1966’s ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’; one of the Holland-Dozier-Holland team’s most propulsive productions, its hypnotic bass and tambourine intro hooks you immediately, maintaining throughout a lean, percussive slinkiness far removed from the slick excess common to most of the group’s biggest hits. If Diana Ross’ voice often seemed far too thin to navigate the grandeur of her material, here she transforms those negatives into positives — the lyric is all about longing and loneliness, perfect for the little-girl-lost frailty her latter-day diva posing would seek to obliterate, and her performance resonates with an honesty and vulnerability she would rarely reveal again.”  Joe Lynch of Billboard magazine, “Buoyed by one of the most underrated (and subtly influential) bass lines in pop history and an irrepressible church music energy, Diana Ross’ dexterous vocals transition from a fragile coo at the song’s heartbroken start into a joyous defiance.”

10.  “The Loco-Motion,” Little Eva.  Songwriters: Gerry Goffin, Carole King; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1962.  Little Eva (Eva Boyd) was working as a babysitter for Gerry Goffin and Carole King when that duo penned “The Loco-Motion.”  Little Eva performed the vocals as a demo recording and, after the song was rejected by Dee Dee Sharp (who had one of the biggest hits in 1962 with the dance number “Mashed Potato Time”), producer Don Kirshner decided to use Eva as the vocalist. Carole King on the dance sensation, “There never was a dance called the loco-motion until after it was a number one hit record. Everyone said, ‘How does this dance go?’, so Little Eva had to make up a dance.”  Author Peter Hales, “The beat – pushed, syncopated, even broken, came right out of the black music of Eva Boyd’s childhood in South Carolina: gospel, R&B, and blues.  That Little Eva would end up recording the song, with Carole King singing backup, also spoke for a different form of racial interplay than had characterized the conversion of race records into white hits in an early identity.”  The group participation dance number (“come on, baby”) was a #1 pop hit for Grand Funk in 1974 and a major international hit for Kylie Minogue in the late 1980s.

9.  “Runaway,” Del Shannon.  Songwriters: Del Shannon, Max Crook; #1 pop; 1961.  Michigan native Del Shannon was a country music fan who was drafted into the Army during the mid-1950s and later worked as a truck driver and as a carpet salesman.  Shannon was performing with keyboardist Max Crook, who developed an early version of a synthesizer known as a Musitron, and it was Crook who developed the extraterrestrial solo for “Runaway.”  Del Shannon, “We were on stage, and Max hit an A minor and a G and I said, ‘Max, play that again, it’s a great change.’”  (Paul McCartney later took “the lovely A minor we heard in ‘Runaway’ and inserted it in ‘From Me to You.’”)  Author Bob Stanley, “’Runaway’ was, and remains, the ultimate fairground anthem, the 45 you’d most expect to turn up on a Wurlitzer jukebox in a forgotten, suburban diner.  ‘Runaway’ was all energy and mystery, from the dense, almost discordant opening guitar chords, through its falsetto hook (‘wah-wah-wonder’) to the eerie, space-organ solo.  The lyric was beyond melancholy, filled with dread and paranoia; the runaway girl may not even be alive.  It was the kind of record you could build a career on, and Del Shannon didn’t disappoint.  The existential angst of ‘Runaway’ became a template that he was still using at the far end of the decade on the ghostlike ‘Colorado Rain.’ He couldn’t write any other way – the fear and demons in Shannon’s music echoed the mind of its maker

8.  “Paint It Black,” Rolling Stones.   Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards; #1 pop; 1966.  There is perhaps no darker 1960’s song this side of the Velvet Underground than “Paint It Black.” Mick Jagger on the theme of death and depression, “It’s been done before. It’s not an original thought by any means. It all depends on how you do it.” Keith Richards, “What’s amazing about that one for me is the sitar. Also, the fact that we cut it as a comedy track. Bill was playing an organ, doing a takeoff of our first manager (Eric Easton) who started his career in show business as an organist in a cinema pit. We’d been doing it with funky rhythms and it hadn’t worked and he started playing it like this and everybody got behind it. It’s a two-beat, very strange. Brian (Jones) playing the sitar makes it a whole other thing.”  Music historian Richie Unterberger, “The principal riff of ‘Paint It Black’ was played on a sitar by Brian Jones and qualifies as perhaps the most effective use of the Indian instrument in a rock song. The exotic twang was a perfect match for the dark, mysterious Eastern-Indian melody, which sounded a little like a soundtrack to an Indian movie hijacked into hyperdrive.” Ian Astbury of The Cult, “What an incredible comment on the late 20th century. They were smart enough to realize that all the institutions you were supposed to look up to had begun to crumble. I’m always more interested in the darker aspects of the Sixties, and for me the Stones captured that better than anyone else, especially that lascivious sexual power. The Stones really tapped into the blackness, the carcass of late Sixties society that was dying. On this track they had that urban voodoo sound down brilliantly.”

7.  “She Loves You,” The Beatles.  Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #1; 1963.  The untrained ear would not pick up any notable similarities between Bobby Rydell’s forgettable 1963 pop hit “Forget Him” and The Beatles’ “She Loves You,” but in the words of Paul McCartney, “There was a Bobby Rydell song out at the time ‘Forget Him’ and, as often happens, you think of one song when you write another. We were in a van up in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. I’d planned an answering song where a couple of us would sing ‘She loves you’ and the other ones would answer ‘Yeah Yeah.’ We decided that was a crummy idea but at least we then had the idea of a song called ‘She Loves You.’ So we sat in the hotel bedroom for a few hours and wrote it; John and I, sitting on twin beds with guitars.”  The interjection filled song was unusual in that a friendly observer narrated the love story.  John Lennon, “It was Paul’s idea: instead of singing ‘I love you’ again, we’d have a third party. That kind of little detail is still in his work. He will write a story about someone. I’m more inclined to write about myself.”  Regarding the gleeful “yeah yeah yeah”s, Lennon said, “We’d written the song and we needed more, so we had ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ and it caught on. I don’t exactly know where we got it — Lonnie Donegan always did it. Elvis did that in ‘All Shook Up.’” Engineer Geoff Emerick on the juggernaut that would become the best selling U.K. single of the decade, “There was also a level of intensity in the performance that I had not heard before. During the playback of the final recording up in the control room, all four Beatles were beaming, and (engineer) Norman Smith was more hyped up and excited than I’d ever seen him before.  He was actually dancing around the console in glee.  From a chair in the back of the room George Martin looked on it pride.  ‘Nice job lads,’ was all he said to us, but you could tell he was elated.”

6.  “96 Tears,” Question Mark and the Mysterians.  Songwriter: Rudy Martinez; #1 pop; 1966.  Question Mark and the Mysterians were comprised of Hispanic children of migrant farm workers who had relocated from Texas to Michigan.  The ever enigmatic Question Mark (Rudy Martinez), who claims to be an alien from Mars, on the song’s origin, “Little Frank (keyboard player Frank Rodriguez) comes in singing a tune, and I said, ‘I’ve heard that before. And I ain’t going to do nothing until I’ve heard where that music and the title of it comes from.’ He played it for like 45 minutes. Everybody’s getting mad. And then all of a sudden it dawned on me, I said, ‘Oh, I know where I heard that. I wrote that song long time ago.’ Then the lyrics came out: ‘Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying,’ all that came out just like that. Boom. See, it was meant to be. There are certain things that are meant to be.”  Author Bill Holdship, “’96 Tears’ is one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs in the history of the genre. In fact, it may be the greatest. John Lennon reportedly once said exactly that, and Question Mark — the Michigan native who wrote and recorded it — claims Brian Wilson told him the same thing in 1987. Those three-and-a-half minutes of brilliance alone helped launch garage and punk rock, as well as helping to shape the whole R&B-trash rock aesthetic.”

5.  “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” The Beatles.  Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #1 pop; 1963. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is a watershed single in pop music history.  With this song, The Beatles phenomenon and The British Invasion began. Rolling Stone magazine, “When the joyous, high-end racket of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ first blasted across the airwaves, America was still reeling from the November 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Beatles songs had drifted across the Atlantic in a desultory way before, but no British rock & roll act had ever made the slightest impact on these shores. The Beatles and their manager, Brian Epstein, were determined to be the first, vowing that they wouldn’t come to the U.S. until they had a Number One record. ‘I remember when we got the chord that made the song,’ John Lennon later said. ‘We had, ‘Oh, you-u-u/Got that something,’ and Paul hits this chord, and I turn to him and say, ‘That’s it! Do that again!’ In those days, we really used to write like that — both playing into each other’s noses.’ The song ‘was the apex of Phase One of the Beatles’ development,’ said producer George Martin. ‘When they started out, in the ‘Love Me Do’ days, they weren’t good writers. They stole unashamedly from existing records. It wasn’t until they tasted blood that they realized they could do this, and that set them on the road to writing better songs.’ The lightning-bolt energy lunges out of the speakers with a rhythm so tricky that many bands who covered the song couldn’t figure it out. Lennon’s and McCartney’s voices constantly switch between unison and harmony. Every element of the song is a hook, from Lennon’s riffing to George Harrison’s string-snapping guitar fills to the group’s syncopated hand claps.”

4.  “Good Vibrations,” The Beach Boys.  Songwriters: Brian Wilson, Mike Love; #1 pop; 1966.  You could say that “Good Vibrations” was a bit of an obsession for Brian Wilson.  The math: seventeen recording sessions over a six month period of time, over 90 hours of tape, and $50,000 of studio costs for a three and a half minute pop song.  Brian Wilson, “’Good Vibrations’ was going to be the summation of my musical vision, a harmonic convergence of imagination and talent, production values and craft, songwriting and spirituality.”  Bassist Carol Kaye, “That wasn’t your normal rock ‘n’ roll. I mean, it wasn’t ‘Help Me, Rhonda’ and it wasn’t ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ You were part of a symphony.”  Paul Tanner’s sci-fi sounding, high pitched Electro-Theremin has been noted as one of the first uses of an electronic instrument in pop music.  Wilson, “I was thrilled by Paul Tanner’s theremin sound. It was scary to hear that sound, but good scary. Derek Taylor had done The Beatles’ publicity and took The Beach Boys on, too. When he first heard ‘Good Vibrations,’ he said, ‘I call that a pocket symphony.’ Isn’t that brilliant? The Capitol execs loved that tune. I remember the A&R man saying what a great pop record it was.”  Drummer Hal Blaine, “It was monumental in concept and delivery. Brian was at the top of his creativity. He was such a young guy composing, arranging and directing, and all the while with no real score to work from. A brilliant young man.”  Author Peter Ames Carlin: “(The song’s) contrasting moods and rhythms – veering from the delicate, flute-filled opening verses to the rumbling, wailing cello-and-theremin chorus to the Jew’s-harp-and-honky-tonk-piano first bridge to the echoing, churchlike organ on the second bridge and the round of arching falsettos that lead to the final chorus – exploded even the most progressive notions of how a pop song could be written, constructed, and performed.”

3.  “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” The Rolling Stones.  Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards; #1 pop; 1965.  The famous/often told tale is that Keith Richards woke up from a dream with the riff to “Satisfaction” in his head, put it on a tape recorder, then went back to bed.  More cynical observers have observed that he took the horn arrangement from Martha and the Vandellas’ “Nowhere to Run” and played it on guitar.  Richards on the guitar sound, “It was the first (fuzztone box) Gibson made. I was screaming for more distortion: This riff’s really gotta hang hard and long, and we burnt the amps up and turned the shit up, and it still wasn’t right. And then Ian Stewart went around the corner to Eli Wallach’s Music City or something and came around with a distortion box. Try this. It was as off-hand as that. It was just from nowhere. I never got into the thing after that, either. It had a very limited use, but it was just the right time for that song.”  Musician Steve Van Zandt, “It’s one of the earliest examples of Dylan influencing the Stones and the Beatles — the degree of cynicism, and the idea of bringing more personal lyrics from the folk and blues tradition into popular music.”  Mick Jagger, “It was the song that really made the Rolling Stones, changed us from just another band into a huge, monster band.”  Keith Richards, “I hear ‘Satisfaction’ in ‘Jumping Jack Flash.’ I hear it in half of the songs that the Stones have done.”

2.  “Ticket To Ride,” The Beatles.  Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #1; 1966. “Ticket to Ride” sounds innocent enough, but may have had a licentious inspiration.  British journalist Don Short, “The girls who worked the streets in Hamburg had to have a clean bill of health, and so the medical authorities would give them a card saying that they didn’t have a dose of anything. John told me he coined the phrase ‘a ticket to ride’ to describe those cards.”  John Lennon has described this #1 single as “one of the earliest heavy-metal records,” which may be a bit of an overstatement, but author Johnny Black has noted, “’Ticket to Ride’ is a watershed single, the moment when the Beatles moved from cuddly mop-tops to strange and interesting sonic explorers. The song’s weird soup of hypnotically chiming, droning guitars, stuttering drums and contrasting vocal textures that, in the context of the 1965 charts, was far ahead of its time.”  Paul McCartney is credited with creating the unusual drum pattern.  Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “One of the most exciting, rhythmical patterns and parts and songs that I ever heard, which I thought was really big-time and had it all going is a track by The Beatles called ‘Ticket to Ride.’ The drum part on that I always thought was exceptional.”

1.  “Respect,” Aretha Franklin.  Songwriter: Otis Redding; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1967. Songwriter Otis Redding, who had a #35 pop with “Respect” in 1965, “That’s one of my favorite songs because it has a better groove than any of my records. It says something, too: ‘What you want, baby, you got it; what you need, baby, you got it; all I’m asking for is a little respect when I come home.’ The song lines are great. The band track is beautiful. It took me a whole day to write it and about twenty minutes to arrange it. We cut it once and that was it. Everybody wants respect, you know.” Aretha gave a new arrangement to the song and turned it into a feminist anthem.  NPR on the song’s transformation, “The track was actually a clever gender-bending of a song by Otis Redding, whose original reinforced the traditional family structure of the time: Man works all day, brings money home to wife and demands her respect in return. Franklin’s version blew that structure to bits. For one, Redding’s song doesn’t spell out ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’ like Franklin’s does. It also doesn’t have the backup singers and their clever interplay. So much of what made ‘Respect’ a hit — and an anthem — came from Franklin’s rearrangement.” Rolling Stone magazine, “In Redding’s reading, a brawny march, he called for equal favor with volcanic force. Franklin wasn’t asking for anything. She sang from higher ground: a woman calling an end to the exhaustion and sacrifice of a raw deal with scorching sexual authority. In short, if you want some, you will earn it.”


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