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1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 880 to 871

Smokey Robinson classic


Catch a painted pony on the spinning wheel ride.

880. “Tall Dark Stranger,” Buck Owens. Songwriter: Buck Owens; #1 country; 1969. Reflections from The Baron of Bakersfield, “My mother used to tell me to ‘always beware of tall, dark strangers.’ That saying just kind of stuck with me over the years, so when I wrote the song ‘Sweet Rosie Jones,’ I had a tall, dark stranger come and steal her away. I liked the image of the mysterious character so much, I went back to him again when I wrote ‘Tall Dark Stranger.’ When we recorded it in early ’69, I decided it needed to sound more dramatic. I felt it was the kind of song that needed strings and background vocals. Ninety-nine percent of the time I didn’t think that sort of thing was right for the kind of records I was making, but this was that other one percent.” The Jordanaires provided backing vocals and Buck’s stranger/danger tune resulted in his twentieth #1 country hit.

879. “Restless,” Carl Perkins. Songwriter: Carol Perkins; #20 country; 1969. Surprisingly, Carl Perkins had more success on the country charts than as a pop artist during his Sun Records/”Blue Suede Shoes” era. He had his biggest country hit of the 1960s with the rockabilly meets gospel leg shaker “Restless,” where part of the urgency of the recording comes from the drummer sounding completely lost during the instrumental break. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Member Perkins only had one more country hit after the 1960s, the nostalgic “Birth of Rock and Roll” peaked at #31 in 1986. Perkins remained active throughout his life, recording with NRBQ, Paul McCartney, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty (covering “Restless”) during the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. He passed away in 1998 at the age of 65 and seemed like such a good man that I barely want to mention that he wore some of the most ridiculous hairpieces ever tossed upon a human head. One of his biggest fans, George Harrison, performed at his funeral.

878. “Kind of a Drag,” The Buckinghams. Songwriter: Jim Holvay; #1 pop; 1966. The Buckinghams were a Chicago based pop band, who changed their name from the Pulsations for the obligatory mid-1960s British Invasion innuendo. The band sounded like blue eyed soul merging with sunshine pop on the lost puppy dog love number “Kind of a Drag,” which was sandwiched at #1 on the pop charts in early 1967 by The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” and The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday.” The Buckinghams had two more Top Ten singles in 1967, including a cover of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” which had been an instrumental pop hit in 1966 for the jazz unit the Cannon Adderley Quintet. The group faded from the charts in 1968 and, despite often sounding like a poor man’s Neil Diamond, a version of the band still performs at casinos and oldies package shows.

877. “Monday, Monday,” The Mamas & the Papas. Songwriter: John Phillips; #1 pop; 1966. “Blue Monday,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “I Don’t Like Mondays.” One day of the week is just infinitely more depressing than the rest. John Phillips captured the drab spirit of that untrusty calendar entry with “Monday, Monday,” a song that nobody in his group liked, but still topped the pop charts. Perhaps, the strength of their Wall of Harmony sound helped to overcome the universal depression of the working week alarm. Interestingly, “Monday, Monday” became a jazz staple during the 1960s with covers by Art Blakely, The Paul Horn Quintet, Chico Hamilton, Herbie Mann, and Sergio Mendes.

876. “Funky Broadway,” Wilson Pickett. Songwriter: Arlester “Dyke” Christian; #8 pop/#1 R&B; 1967. There’s no clear etymology of how the word “funk” became to define a genre of music. The original meaning of funk referred to a strong odor, so funk may have derived from dance music that made the participants perspire. Dyke and the Blazers were working as the backing band for the O’Jays when they got stranded in Phoenix and decided to become a recording act. Their record “Funky Broadway” is credited as being the first 1960’s song with a reference to “funk” in the title. After hearing the original version, Wilson Pickett quickly recorded his cover in Muscle Shoals, given the track clearer production values and an infectious organ riff courtesy of Spooner Oldham. Session drummer Roger Hawkins reflecting on Wicked Pickett’s demeanor, “One of those guys you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of.”

875. “What’s So Good about Goodbye,” The Miracles. Songwriter: Smokey Robinson, #35 pop/#16 R&B; 1961. The Miracles formed as a high school act in 1955, known as the Five Chimes, and their first single was the Berry Gordy produced 1958 release “Got a Job,” an answer song to The Silhouettes 1958 doo wop #1 pop hit “Get a Job.” The Miracles had their pop breakthrough with the 1960 #2 hit “Shop Around,” but their next four singles failed to make the Top 40. “What’s So Good about Goodbye” was a minor comeback hit that combined Smokey Robinson’s wordplay with his wounded soul falsetto vocals. John Lennon used this song as a template for The Beatles’ “Ask Me Why.”

874. “Spinning Wheel,” Blood, Sweat & Tears. Songwriter: David Clayton-Thomas; #2 pop/#45 R&B; 1969. Former Dylan sideman Al Kooper had the original concept for Blood, Sweat & Tears, merging contemporary jazz and rock music, with some influence from The Buckinghams “brass rock” sound. Kooper left after the first album and new lead singer David Clayton-Thomas took the band in a more traditional pop direction. “Spinning Wheel” was a composition that Clayton-Thomas had “written for my bar band in Canada” and became Blood, Sweat & Tears’ signature song. The painted pony lyrics might be dimestore psychedelia, but the gauche pop hooks are not without impact. BS&T are somewhat of a Canadian driven Creedence Clearwater Revival, hitting #2 on the pop charts three times and never having a #1 single.

873. “Okie from Muskogee,” Merle Haggard. Songwriters: Roy Edward Burris, Merle Haggard; #1 country; 1969. There are a few different takes on the anti-longhair/anti-LSD/anti-marijuana/pro manly footwear “Okie from Muskogee,” Haggard’s famous/infamous conservative values anthem. One theory is that Haggard was writing from the perspective of his long lost father and what he would think of the anti-war movement. Another point of view is that Haggard was simply naive about American politics, which he later admitted. Whether satirical or serious, this #1 single still resonates strongly in flyover country and has been covered by the Grateful Dead, The Flaming Lips, and The Melvins, three bands that never had any aversion to mind altering substances

872. “Can I Change My Mind,” Tyrone Davis. Songwriters: Barry Despenza, Carl Wolfolk; #5 pop/#1 R&B; 1968. Tyrone Davis worked as a valet/chauffer for Freddie King in the early 1960s and then transitioned into a performer on the Chicago nightclub scene. After being advised by Bobby Bland to “be you, don’t be me,” Davis developed a softer approach to soul music and had his commercial breakthrough with “Can I Change My Mind,” which topped the R&B charts in early 1969. On the recording, Davis pleads with his former lover to stay while competing with blaring horns, but the secret hero of the recording is sideman “Mighty” Joe Young for his ear catching rhythm guitar work. Davis played the sad ex-lover card again for the 1970 Top Ten single “Turn Back the Hands of Time.”

871. “Gimme Little Sign,” Brenton Wood. Songwriters: Alfred Smith, Joe Hooven, Jerry Winn; #9 pop/#19 R&B; 1967. Alfred Jesse Smith grew up in Compton, California and first recorded in 1958 as a member of the doo wop band Little Freddy and The Rockets. Changing his name to Brenton Wood, he had no success as a solo act until releasing “The Oogum Boogum Song” in 1967, a song whose closing chant “Check out the boots, hey!” could be easily misinterpreted. Wood’s only Top Ten hit was his request for romantic reassurance on the AM radio pop number “Gimme Little Sign.” How fun was being a pop star for Wood? “I went from working in the steel mill to out on the road, not getting any sleep, not getting any rest…nervous, working every night…trying to get from one interview to the next interview. I did a tour with six guys pulling a U-Haul in a station wagon.”

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