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1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 100 to 91

n the heat of the day down in Mobile, Alabama.

100.  “Son of Preacher Man,” Dusty Springfield.  Songwriters: John Hurley, Ronnie Wilkins; #10 pop; 1968.  Jerry Wexler pitched “Son of a Preacher Man” to daughter of a preacher man Aretha Franklin, who turned down the chance to have the first cut on this sultry coming of age sexuality number.  After hearing Dusty Springfield’s version, Wexler commented that Springfield was “the incarnation of white soul.”  Here’s an interesting take from author Warren Zanes, “’Son of a Preacher Man,’ so full of Southern sound and image, is psychedelia at its purest, a foray into the maddest reaches of the imagination.  Because that’s where the South can be found.  Dusty Springfield, an artist associated with masquerade, costume and theater, is finally the artist who, even if inadvertently, best demonstrates the manner in which the South is a stage set, in which popular music is thick with theater.”  Coincidentally, “Son of a Preacher Man” became the title of a British stage production featuring the music of Dusty Spingfield.

99.  “Sweet Thing,” Van Morrison.  Songwriter: Van Morrison; Did Not Chart; 1968.  Author Jon Michaud, “In November, 1968, the irascible songwriter from Belfast released a jazz-influenced acoustic song cycle that featured minimal percussion, an upright bass, flute, harpsichord, vibraphone, strings, and stream-of-consciousness lyrics about being transported to ‘another time’ and ‘another place.’  ‘Astral Weeks’ was recorded in three sessions, with the string arrangements overdubbed later.  Many of the songs were captured on the first or second take.  Morrison has called the sessions that produced the album ‘uncanny,’ adding that ‘it was like an alchemical kind of situation.’   A decade later, Lester Bangs called the album ‘a mystical document’ and ‘a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk.’  Bruce Springsteen said that it gave him ‘a sense of the divine.’”  “Sweet Thing,” a song of romance that equates nature with beauty and love, serves as the most representative transitional piece between Morrison’s Them/”Brown Eyed Girl” era and the jazz influenced poetic pop songs on  his 1970 “Moondance,” album.  Morrison, “’Sweet Thing’ is another romantic song. It contemplates gardens and things like that…wet with rain.  It’s a romantic love ballad not about anybody in particular but about a feeling.”

98.  “Dance to the Music,” Sly and the Family Stone.  Songwriter: Sly Stone; #8 pop/#9 R&B; 1968.  The psychedelic soul of “Dance to the Music” was Sly and the Family Stone’s first pop hit.  Stephen Thomas Erlewine on the corresponding album, “This is exuberant music, bursting with joy and invention.  Prior to this record no one, not even the Family Stone, treated soul as a psychedelic sun splash, filled with bright melodies, kaleidoscopic arrangements, inextricably intertwined interplay, and deft, fast rhythms.”  The doo wop inspired a capella section was a great hook, mixing traditional sounds with a modern funk bass line and a gospel organ.  Greil Marcus, “There was an an enormous freedom to the band’s sound.  It was complex, because freedom is complex; sympathetic, affectionate, and coherent, like the reality of freedom.  And it was all a celebration, all affirmation, a music of endless humor and delight, like a fantasy of freedom.”

97.  “Let It Rock,” Chuck Berry.  Songwriter: Chuck Berry; #64 pop; 1960. This under two minute explosive rocker peaked at #64 in 1960 in the U.S. and went Top Ten in the U.K. in 1963.  The three verse, no chorus song describes a dice playing railroad worker who is in the midst of a panic when an off schedule train starts bearing down on a makeshift gambling operation/teepee.  Similar musically to “Johnny B. Goode,” Berry gives Johnnie Johnson the first instrumental break and replicates a train engine sound on his guitar on his spotlight turn.  Keith Richards, “Chuck adapted his guitar riffs and keys from Johnnie Johnson’s piano keys, not Johnnie playing around Chuck’s keys. Guitar keys are played in A, E, D using open strings, and if you listen to the music, it uses piano keys, jazz keys, horn keys, Johnnie Johnson keys. Chuck adapted his guitar around Johnnie’s sound and put those great lyrics behind them.”  The Stones, among other rock acts, covered “Let It Rock” during the 1970s and the song was a Top Ten country hit, retitled as “Let It Roll (Let It Rock)” for Mel McDaniel in 1985.

96.  “Mean Woman Blues,” Jerry Lee Lewis.  Songwriter: Claude Demetrius: Did Not Chart; 1964.   Fame had long escaped Jerry Lee Lewis’s clutches by 1964, when he found himself performing at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, a European port city known for embracing booze, prostitution, and any other affordable sin.  “Mean Woman Blues,” a rockabilly number that was an R&B hit for Elvis in 1957, is the opening track from the “Live at the Star Club” album and it captures The Killer pounding his piano keys as though he’s trying to exorcise unknowable demons.  He’s backed by The Nashville Teens, of “Tobacco Road” fame, who may have considered setting themselves on fire in an attempt to maintain the manic pace.  Stephen Thomas Erlewine on the album, “Compared to this, thrash metal sounds tame, the Stooges sound constrained, hardcore punk seems neutered, and the Sex Pistols sound like wimps. Rock & roll is about the fire in the performance, and nothing sounds as fiery as this; nothing hits as hard or sounds as loud, either. It is no stretch to call this the greatest live album ever, nor is it a stretch to call it the greatest rock & roll album ever recorded. Even so, words can’t describe the music here — it truly has to be heard to be believed.”

95.   “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” Bob Dylan.  Songwriter: Bob Dylan; #39 pop; 1965.  Bob Dylan on this catch phrase dropping, proto-rap number, “It’s from Chuck Berry, a bit of ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ and some of the scat songs of the ‘40s.”  The song also represented Dylan’s move away from traditional acoustic folk instruments.  Dylan, “Nobody told me to go electric. No, I didn’t ask anybody. Nobody at all.”  Author Evan Schlansky, “If you had to distill Bob Dylan down to his essence, the result would probably be “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” where he manages to cram 7 minutes worth of words into 2 minutes and 21 seconds of pop perfection. Witty, wise, rebellious, and verbally dexterous, ‘Homesick Blues’ represents all of Dylan’s greatest attributes, captured at the precise instant he was giving himself a musical makeover. Add some drums and bass to acoustic guitar, and you’ve got a brand new bag.”  Dylan, being about a decade and a half ahead of his competition, also released the famous cue card dropping video for his first pop hit.

94.   “Under My Thumb,” The Rolling Stones.  Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards; Did Not Chart; 1966.  Jagger on the lover-as-squirming-dog lyrics of “Under My Thumb,” “It’s a bit of a jokey number, really. It’s a caricature, and it’s in reply to a girl who was a very pushy woman.” The song gets its unique hook from a marimba, a lower pitched version of a xylophone. Keith Richards, “Brian (Jones) was still fantastic making records, because he was so versatile. I mean, he’d have marimbas – which is why you have marimbas on ‘Under My Thumb’ – or dulcimer, sitar. He kind of lost interest in guitar, in a way. But at the same time he added all of that other color, those other instruments and other ideas. He was an incredibly inventive musician.”  Author Eric Klinger discussing the “Aftermath” album, “I’ve really been struck by how all five Stones have this incredible approach to rhythm throughout the album. ‘Under My Thumb’ is a perfect example. Charlie Watts’ drumming has an understated, almost jazzy quality, while Richards’ guitar chops in there like Steve Cropper. Jagger punches his lyrics at just the right time to deliver a touch of menace.”  Rolling Stone magazine on the sweet and sour contrast, “The song is like a Motown number that wound up at the dark end of the street.”

93.  “Heroin,” Velvet Underground.  Songwriter: Lou Reed; Did Not Chart; 1967.  Lou Reed, “I was working for a record company as a songwriter, where they’d lock me in a room and they’d say write ten surfing songs, ya know, and I wrote ‘Heroin’ and I said ‘Hey I got something for ya.’ They said, ‘Never gonna happen, never gonna happen.’”  “Heroin” is one of the most darkly cinematic musical journeys of the 1960s, as Lou feels like Jesus’s son after putting a spike to his vein while the band alternates between warm feedback and frenzied chaos.  Author Sean Stanley, “’Heroin’ is the Velvet Underground’s masterpiece – seven minutes of pseudo-spiritualism, in which a poet intones on the divinity of his addiction. The experience of listening to Heroin is so compelling and excruciating that you want to be part of it as much as you want to help him. Reed is supported by a stellar supporting cast consisting of John Cale’s shrieking viola and Mo Tucker mimicking heartbeats on drums. The song is built around the tension between an accelerating beat and the guitar’s chords that toll to a real-time description of an opium-induced state. While the Beatles were singing that all you need is love, Reed was declaring that all he needed was drugs, and redefining how rock should sound in the process.”

92.  “Eight Miles High,” The Byrds.  Songwriters: Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn, David Crosby; #14 pop; 1966.  Author John Einarson, “’Eight Miles High’ was a groundbreaking recording that inaugurated the psychedelic era a year before San Francisco bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead put their own stamp on that label.  Initially termed raga-rock for its innovative synthesis of the extended improvisational East Indian raga form associated with sitar master Ravi Shankar, the music that the Byrds were unintentionally giving birth to was free-form acid rock.  They had succeeded in transcending their earnest dependence on Dylan covers and folk standards to craft their own distinctive sound.”  David Crosby, “It was my favorite moment.  It was when we actually started to come into our own.”  Roger McGuinn, “There was one (John) Coltrane track called India, where he was trying to emulate sitar music with his saxophone.  It had a recurring phrase, dee da da da, which I picked up on my Rickenbacker guitar and played some jazzy stuff around it.  I was in love with his saxophone playing: all those funny little notes and fast stuff at the bottom of the range.  The previous year, 1965, we’d been on a trip to England.  It was our first time on a plane, and I had the idea of writing a song about it. Gene asked: ‘How high do you think that plane was flying?’  I thought about seven miles, but the Beatles had a song called ‘Eight Days a Week,’ so we changed it to ‘Eight Miles High’ because we thought that would be cooler.”

91.  “Money (That’s What I Want),” Barrett Strong.  Songwriters: Janie Bradford, Berry Gordy; #23 pop/#2 R&B; Released in 1959, peaked on the charts in 1960.  Songwriter Janie Bradford explaining the song’s origin to Susan Whitall, “Mr. Gordy was doing a riff on the piano, and he was just really getting into the rhythm, the pattern of the song.  He said, ‘I need a title, give me a title, something that everybody wants.’  I said, ‘Money, that’s what I want!’  So that’s how he and I came to collaborate on that.” (The authorship has been questioned, Barrett Strong claims that he wrote the unforgettable piano riff).  “Money” was the first hit record under the Motown umbrella and has a more raw R&B feel than what later became “The Motown Sound.” From the Motown Junkies website, “The whole thing is just an unstoppable, nasty, MEAN, sexy groove. Everything on the record just demands attention – the raw-throated, almost-shouted vocals, the thundering bass, the spiky, twanging guitars, everything.”  Barrett Strong’s long term contributions to Motown were as a lyricist, with writing credits on Gladys Knight/Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” The Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion,” and several other major hits.

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