189. “Crossroads,” Cream. Songwriter: Robert Johnson; #28 pop; 1968. Legendary Delta blues artist Robert Johnson recorded “Cross Road Blues” in 1936. In popular mythology, the crossroads represents the spot where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, but no supernatural transaction is referenced in the song. During the mid-1950s, Elmore James updated the concept with his single “Standing at the Crossroads” and John Hammond released a faithful cover of Johnson’s song in 1963. Eric Clapton on discovering Johnson’s music, “I kind of got hooked on it because it was so much more powerful than anything else I had heard or was listening to. Amongst all of his peers I felt he was the one that was talking from his soul without really compromising for anybody.” Clapton simplified Johnson’s guitar style for a hard rock context and the results were formidable, even if they didn’t meet Slow Hand’s perfectionist standards. Clapton, “It’s so funny, this. I’ve always had that held up as like, ‘This is one of the great landmarks of guitar playing.’ But most of that solo is on the wrong beat. Instead of playing on the two and the four, I’m playing on the one and the three and thinking, ‘That’s the off beat.’ No wonder people think it’s so good—because it’s fucking wrong.”
188. “Care of Cell 44,” The Zombies. Songwriter: Rod Argent; Did Not Chart; 1967. Author John Motley, “’Care of Cell 44,’ which opens the Zombies’ psych-pop masterpiece ‘Odessey and Oracle,’ is the sunniest song ever written about the impending release of a prison inmate. At the end of the first ineffably sing-song verse, Colin Blunstone tells his sweetie, ‘You can tell me about your prison stay’ – and sounds positively tickled. To be fair, describing the song’s lush arrangement and ecstatic melodies as ‘sunny’ is a vast understatement. Every time Blunstone belts out, ‘Feels! So! Good! You’re coming home soon!’ after the lull of a Beach Boys–style multi-part harmony, it sounds like his heart’s burst with joy.” Rod Argent on the unusual theme, “It just appealed to me. That twist on a common scenario, I just can’t wait for you to come home to me again.” Pop music’s finest post incarceration euphoria moment.
187. “Alone Again Or,” Love. Songwriter: Bryan MacLean; Did Not Chart; 1968. Creem scribe Richard Riegel on Love’s “Forever Changes” album, “In ‘Forever Changes,’ Love’s resident genius, Arthur Lee, who’d already created and lived the black hippie persona his friend Jimi Hendrix would take to the heavens, had now written a broken-vase-of-flower-power eulogy for the Summer of Love, from its very heart. Lee hadn’t necessarily foreseen the political and cultural cataclysms that would wilt the decade’s promise so savagely in 1968; instead, that acid-washed summer convinced him that he wouldn’t survive 1967, so he composed the songs on ‘Forever Changes’ as if they might be his ‘last words to this life.’ Arthur Lee’s shiver of impending mortality informs the entire album, gives it that seductive, seamless mix of beauty and terror that many who were there in late 1967 were beginning to feel.” Despite Lee’s dominance of the band, the psychedelic swirl of “Alone Again Or” was penned by Bryan MacLean as a tribute to his flamenco dancing mother. Jac Holzman of Elektra Records, “’Forever Changes’ would have never worked without ‘Alone Again Or,’ which is a portal song. You choose to enter, and if you didn’t get into it after that, you would never be ready. If you surrendered to the song, the entire trip that followed was simply stunning. ‘Alone Again Or’ demanded that the listener set aside judgment and surrender to it.”
186. “Farmer John,” The Premiers. Songwriters: Don “Sugarcane” Harris, Dewey Terry; #19 pop; 1964. Has anybody seen Kosher Pickle Harry? The Premiers formed in the east L.A. barrio of San Gabriel in 1962. Originally, they were a neighborhood act that practiced in the backyard of brothers Lawrence and John Perez. “Farmer John” had been written and released in 1959 by the California rock duo Don and Dewey as a traditional 1950’s rocker. After the success of “Louie Louie,” Billy Cardenas, who managed The Premiers, suggested the band record “Farmer John” in a similar style. Rock critic Richie Unterberger, “The Premiers gave ‘Farmer John’ a raw, careening interpretation that threatened to spin into anarchy at points. The key touch in putting it over in the studio, however, was supplied not by the group but by the all-girl Chevelles Car Club. They provided most of the audience noise heard so prominently on the final recording, one unidentified Chevelle in particular screaming as loud as any fan in the front row of a Beatles concert.” Co-producer Eddie Davis, “We had a party at the studio and had all the kids come down. Everybody was having a good time and we put the record on — in those days they had three-track recording — and while everybody was having a party we recorded the crowd on top of it.” Neil Young released howling covers of “Farmer John,” both a studio and a live recording, in the early 1990s.
185. “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game,” The Marvalettes. Songwriter: Smokey Robinson; #13 pop/#2 R&B; 1966. Like the title suggests, “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game” is a song that sneaks up on you. It doesn’t overwhelm you with obvious hooks, it slowly lures you into its mysterious web. Author Paul Williams on this “auteur record,” “Not everything that Smokey (Robinson) has written is poetry, but the first verse of ‘Hunter’ stands up to the best of Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, or Robert Johnson. And what an astonishing vocal performance!” Bill Dahl, “’Hunter’ was special, even for the indefatigable Smokey. Its melody introduced by a unison line of low-end guitar and plaintive harmonica and (Wanda) Young (Rogers) barely raising her voice above a whisper while singing Smokey’s vivid metaphors.” The Marvalettes had their last Top 40 hit in 1968 with the Robinson number “My Baby Must Be a Magician.” In a typically sad Motown story of that era, the legal rights to the name “The Marvelattes” were sold to a New York businessmen and the original singers could no longer advertise themselves as having any association with the music they made famous.
184. “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” Bob Dylan. Songwriter: Bob Dylan; Did Not Chart; 1965. Dylan serves up an epic comedy on his “115th Dream,” discovering an unwelcoming America (with talking cows), getting refused like Jesus, and having a passing encounter with Christopher Columbus. “They asked me for some collateral and I pulled down my pants” might be my favorite line in popular music. Author Evan Schlansky, “’115th Dream’ comes off like a way for Dylan to show off his exploding verbal abilities: look how easy it is for me to spin a yarn, just based on whatever comes in my head next. The song is famous for its false start and Dylan’s stoned laughter. ‘Start again!’ the bemused producer’s voice says over the intercom. And then the band comes crashing in, locomoting along for six and a half minutes, and playing by the seat of their pants. Together they whipped up a loose-and-bluesy sound that has never been recreated.” Guitarist Bruce Langhorne on Dylan’s stoned cackling intro, “We didn’t know where to cut the groove. So he went, ‘I was ridin’ on the Mayflower’…and we should have all come in on ‘Mayflower,’ but everyone sat there.” Producer Tom Wilson quickly called for take two and the horses were off and running.”
183. “Sing Me Back Home,” Merle Haggard. Songwriter: Merle Haggard; #1 country; 1967. This #1 country single is a folk influenced ballad/meditation about a prisoner who Haggard personally knew and his journey to the electric chair. Haggard, “Even though the crime was brutal and the guy was an incorrigible criminal, it’s a feeling you never forget when you see someone you know make that last walk. They bring him through the yard, and there’s a guard in front and a guard behind – that’s how you know a death prisoner. They brought Rabbit out…taking him to see the Father…prior to his execution. That was a strong picture that was left in my mind.” One of his strongest compositions, “Sing Me Back Home” has been covered by The Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, and Gram Parsons.
182. “Here, There and Everywhere,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; Did Not Chart; 1966. Art Garfunkel, “’Here, There and Everywhere’ – of all The Beatles’ records, this one truly intoxicated me. It’s beautiful in every way a song can be. What was going through Paul McCartney’s life the week he wrote this? You have to be in some kind of magical mood to come up with something this enchanting.” The harmonies at the beginning of the song were inspired by The Beach Boys and Paul was also emulating Marianne Faithfull in his vocal approach. McCartney, “That song was coming off a lot of things. At the time there was Brazilian music coming in – Joao Gilberto recorded ‘Fool on the Hill’ (Editor’s note – McCartney may be thinking of Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66’s pop bossa version). There was cross-fertilization going on. You’d hear it and think how lovely those Brazilian chords were, so you’d work it into something else. At the same time I found myself really loving all these old songs and trying to write something that was comparable in skill and structure.” “Mojo” magazine rated “Here, There and Everyone” as the 4th “Greatest Song of All Time” in 2000 – behind Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow,” “Satisfaction” by The Stones, and “In My Life” by The Beatles.
181. “Turn on Your Love Light,” Bobby Bland. Turn on Your Love Light. Songwriters: Joseph Scott, Deadric Malone (Don Robey); #28 pop/#2 R&B; 1961. Bobby Bland is singing straight from the pulpit on “Turn on Your Love Light.” On this rare crossover pop hit, the music alternates between blaring horn interludes and verses where most of the band, except for the drummer, steps aside to give Bland center stage. While lyrically it’s a typical broken relationship blues number, Bland sings like someone who has just discovered salvation. “Love Light” was often covered in the ‘60s and ‘70s, most generally recognized in rock music as a Grateful Dead concert staple. Meanwhile, you may notice Don Robey again on the song credits, a gentleman known for his questionable business ethics. Singer Roy Head, noting he received a new Cadillac each year from Robey, commented in 2011, “Songwriters in particular had grievances with him. Singers loved him. Writers were the ones who got screwed. He was bad about that. Most of those songs were written by other people. Don would give them 25 or 50 bucks and they’d let him have their songs.”
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