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1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 10 to 6

10.  “Eleanor Rigby,” The Beatles.  Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #11 pop; 1966.  A forgotten woman dying a lonely death was a quite unusual subject for a pop song.  Paul McCartney, “When I was a kid I was very lucky to have a real cool dad, a working-class gent, who always encouraged us to give up our seat on the bus for old people. This led me into going ‘round to pensioners’ houses. It sounds a bit goody-goody, so I don’t normally tell too many people. There were a couple of old ladies and I used to go ‘round and say, ‘Do you need any shopping done?’ These lonely old ladies were something I knew about growing up, and that was what ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was about – the fact that she died and nobody really noticed. I knew this went on.”  Rolling Stone magazine on the staccato chords of the string ensemble, “None of the Beatles actually play an instrument on ‘Eleanor Rigby’ — McCartney sings the double-tracked lead vocal, and Lennon and Harrison contribute harmonies, but the music is performed entirely by a pair of string quartets, arranged by George Martin. ‘Paul wasn’t immediately enamored of the concept,’ said engineer Geoff Emerick. ‘He was afraid of it sounding too cloying.’ When he agreed to the idea, McCartney said he wanted the strings to sound ‘biting.’ With that in mind, Emerick was determined to capture the sound of bows striking strings with an immediacy previously unheard on any recording, classical or rock & roll. Instead of recording the octet on a single microphone, he miked each instrument individually. ‘I was close-miking the strings — really close,’ he said. ‘So close that the musicians hated it, because you could see them sort of keep slipping back on their chairs to get away from the mic in case they made any errors.’”  Jerry Lieber, “The Beatles are second to none in all departments. I don’t think there has ever been a better song written than ‘Eleanor Rigby.’”

9.  “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.”

8.  “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.”

7.  “My Generation,” The Who.  Songwriter: Pete Townshend; Did Not Chart; 1965. Pete Townshend, “’My Generation’ was very much about trying to find a place in society. I was very, very lost. The band was young then. It was believed that its career would be incredibly brief.” Rolling Stone magazine on the sonic chaos, “Townshend opened the song with a two-chord assault that beat punk rock to the punch by more than a decade. Bassist John Entwistle took the solo breaks with crisp, grunting aggression — he had to buy three new basses to finish the recording, since his Danelectro’s strings kept breaking and replacement strings weren’t available. (He ended up playing the song on a Fender.) Roger Daltrey’s stuttering, howling performance, Townshend and Entwistle’s R&B-inspired backing vocals, and the upward key changes created a vivid, mounting anxiety that climaxed with a studio re-creation of the Who’s live gear-trashing finales, with Townshend spewing feedback all over Keith Moon’s avalanche drumming.” Author John Atkins, “As a lyrical statement, ‘My Generation’ is the Who’s most discussed work, containing what have become Pete Townshend’s most famous lines. It is a short, sharp, incisive attack on the older generation (the generation in power at every level, the Establishment), who represent society at large. ‘I hope I die before I get old’ is usually taken as a literal wish to die young rather than join the Establishment. What it really means is ‘death would preferable to becoming like you,’ a rebuke to an older order. This is the ultimate negation of what are seen to be corrupting values in society. The voice here would prefer the ultimate opt-out over accepting conformisn.”

6.  “The Tracks of My Tears,” The Miracles.  Songwriters: Smokey Robinson, Warren Moore, Marvin Tarplin; #16 pop/#2 R&B; 1965. Smokey Robinson, “’Tracks of My Tears’ was actually started by Marv Tarplin, who is a young cat who plays guitar for our act. So he had this musical thing (sings melody), you know, and we worked around with it, and worked around, and it became ‘Tracks of My Tears.’ One day I was listening, and it just came – the tracks of my tears. Like footprints on my face. So that was what I wrote about.”  Journalist Leonie Cooper, “Smokey’s heart-string tugging falsetto sits front and center in this slow burning beauty. Motown knew what being in love felt like, but, even better, knew what falling out of love was like. This was pop as poetry and ‘Tracks of My Tears’ is basically a Shakespearian sonnet.” Author John Lingan, “Smokey’s songs were linguistically clever, emotionally direct, melodically indelible, and never overlong. By marrying these elements to a finger-snapping beat, he and Berry Gordy essentially created modern pop music as we know it. Then of course there is the song that crushes all others, his ‘Born to Run’ or ‘Mama Tried’ or ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ only it’s better than all of them. I refer, of course, to ‘Tracks of My Tears.’ Sadder than any country song, more beautiful than any jazz ballad, and more vulnerable than just about anything you can dance to.”

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