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1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 620 to 611

Sam Cooke lies for affection.

620.  “A Six Pack to Go,” Hank Thompson and His Brazos Valley Boys.  Songwriters: Hank Thompson , Johnny Lowe, Dick Hart; #10 country; 1960.  Hank Thompson is a name largely unknown to modern country fans, although he scored over fifty Top 40 country songs from 1948 to 1980.  A native of Waco, Texas, Hank served in World War II, then started his musical career, landing a contract with Capitol Records in 1947. His 1952 release “The Wild Side of Life” was one of the biggest country hits of that decade and triggered the Kitty Wells counterpunch “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”  Penned by regional journeymen musicians Dick Hart and Johnny Lowe, Thompson narrates a jumpy Western swing tale about a man who needs more alcohol than his bartender can provide on “A Six Pack to Go.”  Johnny Lowe was surprised to find that once the single was released, Thompson’s name had magically appeared as a co-writer.  George Strait recorded “A Six Pack to Go” as a duet with Hank Thompson for his 1995 “Strait Out of the Box” release.

619.  “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” The Bee Gees.  Songwriters: Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb; #14 pop 1967.  The Bee Gees, brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb, started performing as children in England during the mid-1950s and continued to develop their act, and their harmony singing, after relocating to Australia in 1958.  They started releasing singles in 1963 and had their first Top Twenty Australian single with the 1965 drinking song “Wine and Women.”  “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” a fictional account of a man’s worried monologue while trapped underground, was their first major international hit, peaking in the Top Twenty in Australia, the U.K., and the U.S.  Maurice Gibb, “The opening chord doesn’t sound like a conventional A minor. Barry was using the open D tuning he’d been taught when he was nine, and I was playing it in conventional tuning. It gives an unusual blend. People went crazy trying to figure out why they couldn’t copy it.”

618.  “Wonderful World,” Sam Cooke.  Songwriters: Lou Adler, Herb Alpert, Sam Cooke; #12 pop/#2 R&B; 1960.  Lou Adler had penned “Wonderful World” with Herb Alpert, but wasn’t too impressed with the results.  Adler, “Sam kept coming back to it.  His idea – since it was all about reading and books and what you didn’t have to do in order to (find love) – was to take to take it more towards school, and that’s how it evolved.  I don’t know what it would have been if he didn’t get involved, but what it became was because of him.  Sam always told me, ‘You got to be talking to somebody.’  Even if the lyric was heavy, his approach to it wasn’t that intense.”  Peter Guralnick, “What it became was a perfect pop confection in which the simplest elements were allowed to coalesce in such a way as to form a whole much greater (and more memorable) than the sum of its somewhat flimsy parts.”  Before the single was released, Cooke reportedly would sing it for women he was pursuing, telling them he made up the song for them on the spot.

617.  “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” Dionne Warwick.  Songwriters: Burt Bacharach, Hal David; #10 pop/#23 R&B; 1968.  New Jersey native Dionne Warwick was raised by parents who both worked in the gospel music industry in record promotion and artist management.  Warwick was a member of a vocal trio named The Gospelaires, who reportedly performed on Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” and “Spanish Harlem.”  Discovered by Burt Bacharach, Warwick had her first pop hit in 1962 with “Don’t Make Me Over.”  The escapist “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” a song she didn’t want to record, became one of Warwick’s biggest hits.  Warwick, “I thought it was a really silly song. Obviously, Hal David had a great affinity for San Jose as I believe he was stationed there during his time in the Navy and he loved the place and he wrote a song about it. I just giggled all the way to the bank, what can I tell you?”

616.  “Sloop John B,” The Beach Boys.  Songwriter: Traditional, arranged by Brian Wilson; #3 pop; 1966.  If you’ve been looking for the connection between the American poet/Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg and the “Pet Sounds” album, you’ve come to the right place.  “The John B. Sails” was a Bahamian folk song, first transcribed in the United States by a magazine article written by Richard Le Gallienne and later included in the 1927 Carl Sandburg book “The American Songbag,” a collection of folk songs.  The Cleveland Simmons Group recorded the song as “Histe Up the Sail John B” in 1935, but Al Jardine recommended a Beach Boys recording after hearing The Weavers’ 1950 release “The Wreck of the John B.”  Jardine, “I modified the chord changes so it would be a little more interesting. The original song is basically a three-chord song, and I knew that wouldn’t fly.”  As a nod to the times, Wilson reshaped “the worst trip” line, so it could also apply to acid casualties.

615.  “Bring Me Sunshine,” Willie Nelson.  Songwriters: Arthur Kent, Sylvia Dee; #13 country; 1969.  “Bring Me Sunshine” is an example of Nelson wrenching a jazz influence into commercial country music.  This finger snapping, big band style composition was penned by Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee, the same duo who wrote the Skeeter Davis classic “The End of the World.”  “Bring Me Sunshine” was first recorded by The Mills Brothers in 1968 and became the signature song of the U.K. sketch comedy duo (Eric) Morecambe and (Ernie) Wise.  Although the song would fit Frank Sinatra much better than it would Hank Williams, Nelson had one of his biggest hits of the 1960s with his cover, peaking at #13 on the country charts.  A remixed version of the song was the lead track on the disturbingly titled 2009 album “Naked Willie.”  Willie wouldn’t have a more successful single until his major commercial breakthrough arrived via 1975’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”

614.  “Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird),” Chuck Jackson.  Songwriters: Burt Bacharach, Bob Hilliard; #23 pop/#2 R&B; 1962.  Pittsburgh native Chuck Jackson performed in gospel and doo wop groups during the 1950s, including a stint in The Del-Vikings.  After being mentored by Jackie Wilson, Jackson became a solo artist and had his first Top 40 hit in 1961 with “I Don’t Want to Cry,” a song with an arrangement by Carole King that was reminiscent of The Drifters material during that era.  “Any Day Now,” a song performed from the perspective of a man knowing his lover his about to leave him, was Jackson’s biggest single and would later be covered by Elvis Presley, James Brown, and Ronnie Milsap, among others.  Although famed for his partnership with lyricist Hal David, Burt Bacharach penned this song with Brill Building writer Bob Hilliard, as well as hits by The Drifters (“Please Stay”) and Gene McDaniels (“Tower of Strength”).

613.  “Guitar Man,” Elvis Presley.  Songwriter: Jerry Reed; #43 pop/#53 country; 1967.  Georgia native Jerry Reed was known for his speed, both verbally and with his guitar licks.  He started his recording career in the mid-1950s, did a stint in the Army, and went to Nashville in 1961. His 1967 single “Guitar Man,” which was a showcase for his guitar chops and has colloquial touches reminiscent of Chucky Berry, was only a #53 country hit.  Elvis Presley covered “Guitar Man,” with Jerry Reed on guitar, for a #38 pop hit later that year.  Reed, “I got a call from Felton Jarvis (then Presley’s producer). He said, ‘Elvis is down here. We’ve been trying to cut ‘Guitar Man’ all day long. He wants it to sound like it sounded on your album.’ I finally told him, ‘Well, if you want it to sound like that, you’re going have to get me in there to play guitar, because these guys are straight pickers. I pick with my fingers and tune that guitar up all weird kind of ways.’”

612.  “Ninety Nine and a Half Won’t Do,” Wilson Pickett.  Songwriters: Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett; #53 pop/#13 R&B; 1966.  Wilson Pickett began his solo career in 1962 and hit #7 on the R&B charts the following year with his composition “I Found a Love.”  That success lead to a contract with Atlantic Records and he had his first crossover pop success in 1964 with “In the Midnight Hour.”  The Memphis soul of “Ninety Nine and a Half Won’t Do” didn’t have the pop hooks for Top 40 airplay, but Wilson Pickett’s demand for undivided affection shouldn’t be ignored.  In the words of YouTube commenter Colin6768, a man who may be castrated by now, “Damn – that’s the ticket.  Gritty, greasy, funky, soul!  One bad ass, righteous song.  I’d give my nuts to sing like this.”

611.  “But It’s Alright,” J.J. Jackson.  Songwriters: J.J. Jackson, Pierre Tubbs; #22 pop/#4 R&B; 1966.  J.J. Jackson was a Bronx based singer/songwriter who had writing credits on releases by Mary Wells (“My Mind’s Made Up”), The Shangri-Las (“It’s Easier to Cry”), and The Pretty Things (“Come See Me”), among others.  The R&B dance number “But It’s Alright” wasn’t recorded in Detroit or Memphis, but in England with top session jazz musicians.  “But It’s Alright” was anchored by a razor sharp, stuttering guitar riff that was once described by music journalist Don Waller as “strong enough to levitate a block of communists.”  It was also one of the first songs of the decade to include a glockenspiel solo.  “But It’s Alright” was Jackson’s only Top 40 record and his second highest charting single happened when this song was re-released in 1969.

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