The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 150 to 141
150. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” The Supremes. Songwriters: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1966. The Supremes were one of the most dominant acts on the pop charts during the 1960s, releasing twelve #1 pop hits from 1964’s “Where Did Our Love Go” to 1969’s “Someday We’ll Be Together.” Songwriter Lamont Dozier on creating the captivating riff, often compared to an SOS Morse code signal, for “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” “We had four or five guitars playing that main figure. I remember hearing something like that on the radio while I was driving to the studio – the news was coming on, and the thought occurred to me in the studio…Da-da-da, da-da, like a news flash. We didn’t have certain echo and sophistication we have today, so we discovered that the more instruments – even if the guys only played units and all the same licks together – only enhanced the sound, gave us a more dynamic sound.” Motown keyboardist Johnny Griffith, “You could compare our rhythm section to anything else happing at that time and we were just better. The Motown thing was so much tighter. We were locked into a groove, it was hellacious.” A year after The Supremes took “Hangin’ On” to #1 on the pop charts, it became a Top Ten hit for psychedelic rockers Vanilla Fudge. Fudge drummer Carmine Appice, “That one was a hurtin’ song; it had a lot of emotion in it. If you listen to ‘Hangin’ On’ fast, by The Supremes, it sounds very happy, but the lyrics aren’t happy at all. If you lived through that situation, the lyrics are definitely not happy.”
149. “Let it Be,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #1 pop; 1970. The title track of either the last official Beatles album or the first post Beatles breakup release certainly has a hymnal quality, although Paul McCartney has said that “Mother Mary” referred to his biological mother and not the biblical Virgin Mary. McCartney, “I had a dream where my mother, who had been dead at that point for about ten years, came to me in the dream and it was as if she could see that I was troubled. And she sort of said to me, she said, ‘Let it be.’ And I remember quite clearly her saying, ‘Let it be,’ and, ‘It’s going to be OK. Don’t worry.’ You know, ‘Let it be.’ I woke up and I remembered the dream, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s a great idea.’” The four musicians who had completely and eternally transformed the landscape of popular music in the 1960s would no longer be working as a band, however, they delivered this message of hope and unity as a parting gift. A suitably beautiful farewell.
148. “Money Changes Everything,” Cyndi Lauper. Songwriter: Tom Gray; #27 pop; 1983. “Money Changes Everything” was penned by Atlanta singer/songwriter Tom Gray and originally released by his band, The Brains, in 1978. Gray, who was inspired to write the song by a conversation with his landlady, “We were just sort of gossiping about this couple we knew, and she said, ‘She’s going to leave him as soon as she finds somebody with money.’ And I said, ‘Wait a minute, excuse me.’ The idea of the song just appeared in my head right there. The keyboard part was something I’d been banging on the piano for a week or so. But I wrote the chorus very quickly and then the verses followed. The song was finished within a day or two.” Greil Marcus, “’Money Changes Everything’ is this terribly despairing, heartbreaking song. It starts off with a guy standing on his front porch and his woman has just walked out on him. And he says, ‘But we swore each other everlasting love,’ and she says, ‘Yeah, right, but when we did, there was one thing we weren’t thinking of — and that’s money,’ and she goes down the stairs to some guy waiting in the car. When Cyndi Lauper takes it up five years later, her producer brings in this song and he wants it to be like a Dylan song, like a folk song. And she says, ‘No, no, this is The Clash. This is ‘London Calling.’ That’s how I want to do it.’ And so it becomes, you know, a very super-charged and raucous and noisy piece of music. But what’s extraordinary about it is that Tom Gray wrote it as a man’s lament — he’s the victim. Cyndi Lauper could have easily sung the song as the victim, and her man is walking out on her for the same reason. That’s not what she does with it. She is the woman of the song. She is the one who looks over her shoulder and says, ‘Yeah, right.’ She turns it from a man’s lament into a woman’s manifesto: I’m going for what I need, I’m going for what I want and you know, good luck, loser, have a good life. And that’s a brave choice. That’s not the way most people would have approached this song.”
147. “Son of Preacher Man,” Dusty Springfield. Songwriters: John Hurley, Ronnie Wilkins; #10 pop; 1968. “Son of a Preacher Man” was the only major international hit from the “Dusty in Memphis” album, the record that made Dusty Springfield a blue-eyed soul legend. Jerry Wexler first pitched “Son of a Preacher Man” to Aretha Franklin, a daughter of a preacher man, 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.” Bassist Tommy Cogbill had an unusual trick for coaxing a smooth sound out of his instrument, he would literally dip his fingers in Vaseline before playing.
146. “Into the Mystic,” Van Morrison. Songwriter: Van Morrison; Did Not Chart; 1970. A love song that is comforting and assertive, Van Morrison ruminates on a relationship that flows into a new sensory experience on “Into the Mystic,” delivering one of his most moving vocal performances in the process. Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone, “’Into the Mystic’ is the heart of the ‘Moondance; album; the music unfolds with a classic sense of timing, guitar strums fading into watery notes on a piano, the bass counting off the pace. The lines of the song and Morrison’s delivery of them are gorgeous: ‘I want to rock your gypsy soul/Just like in the days of old/And magnificently we will fold/Into the mystic.’” Johnny Rivers had a minor hit with his 1970 cover, but nobody could replicate the visionary poetry from Morrison’s Irish utopian soul.
145. “Mule Skinner Blues,” Jimmie Rodgers. Songwriter: Jimmie Rodgers; Did Not Chart; 1930. Jimmie Rodgers was a Mississippi native who worked as a railroad water boy as a teen, when he wasn’t organizing traveling music shows. He also worked as a railroad brakeman before being diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of 24. He turned that death sentence into an extended dance with fame, traveling to Bristol, Tennessee and being signed to a record deal by talent scout Ralph Peer. Rodgers became the most significant country music superstar in the late 1920s. His trademark, hair raising yodeling which once resulted in him being described as “half man, half antelope.” “Mule Skinner Blues,” where a man requests a promotion to driving mules, was musically inspired by Tom Dickson’s 1928 song “Labor Blues,” reflecting an early meshing of African-American blues into country music. Rodgers, who never lacked in the swagger department, unsurprisingly includes a request for a bottle of booze in this number, which includes some of his most exuberant yodeling. Cover to discover – Dolly Parton’s wailing 1970 bluegrass inspired version, which peaked at #3 on the country chart.
144. “Back in the U.S.A.,” Chuck Berry. Songwriter: Chuck Berry; #37 pop/#16 R&B; 1959. Rock critic Stephen Thomas Erlwine, “Chuck Berry was too intellectually restless to only write about high school stuff. He absorbed all the fads of mid-century America, celebrating its open roads, jukeboxes, and all-night parties like a documentarian.” Supposedly written after touring Australia, “Back in the U.S.A.” celebrates the skyscrapers, freeways, and shores of America, as well as its drive-ins, sizzling hamburgers, and records that make jukeboxes jump. Background singers on this 1959 #37 pop hit included Etta James and Marvin Gaye, then a member of The Marquees. This tale of national pride was a bigger hit for Linda Ronstadt in 1978 and Paul McCartney repurposed the title for “Back in the U.S.S.R.” Best cover – The MC5 kicking out the jam.
143. “White Light/White Heat,” Velvet Underground. Songwriter: Lou Reed; Did Not Chart; 1968. Author Nate Patrin, describing the “White Light/White Heat” album, “’White Light/White Heat’ is all amphetamines and mania, body horror and bloodletting, sex and violence that treads a line between good old straightforward wild-ass rock ‘n’ roll and something more arcane and abstract and unnerving. It’s just invigorating and out-there enough that more than a few rock bands caught onto its singularly appealing ugliness long after it plummeted from its lofty #199 perch on the ‘Billboard’ album charts, though good luck to anyone trying to straight-up duplicate it – better that they channel it through their own means, and see where all the blinding flashes take them.” Velvet Underground historian Dave Thompson, “Usually regarded as another of Reed’s drug experience numbers (author’s note – Lou Reed has said that the song is about amphetamines), ‘White Light/White Heat’ is, perhaps, the quintessential Velvet Underground song, representing everything that the band itself is said to personify. Recorded at the end of a wearying bout of roadwork, it is the sound of a group kicking out all their frustrations, turning the amps up full and watching them bleed.” Lou Reed was not shy about assessing the album, “I would match it with anything by anybody, anywhere, ever. No group in the world can touch what we did.”
142. “Layla,” Derek and the Dominos. Songwriters: Eric Clapton, Jim Gordon; #10 pop; 1970. Eric Clapton on his short lived band Derek and the Dominos, “We were a make-believe band. We were all hiding inside it. Derek and the Dominos – the whole thing. So it couldn’t last. I had to come out and admit that I was being me. I mean, being Derek was a cover for the fact that I was trying to steal someone else’s wife. That was one of the reasons for doing it, so that I could write the song, and even use another name for Pattie. So Derek and Layla – it wasn’t real at all.” “Layla,” Clapton’s love letter to his future wife Patti Boyd, who was inconveniently married to George Harrison at the time, was recorded in 1970 and became a pop hit after being released to promote an Eric Clapton compilation in 1972. The song starts with one of rock music’s most famous guitar riffs, reportedly written by Duane Allman. Piercing guitar work throughout heightens the dramatic impact of Clapton’s romantic you-got-me-on-my-knees romantic pain. The piano coda was a completely different composition, which Clapton thought would fit with the piece. It was recorded separately and then spliced in by producer Tom Dowd.
141. “1969,” The Stooges. Songwriters: Dave Alexander, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, Iggy Pop; Did Not Chart; 1969. The Stooges updated Bo Diddley for the psychedelic meets garage rock era while Iggy complained about his ennui issues on “1969.” Lester Bangs, “The first thing to remember about Stooge music is that it is monotonous and simplistic on purpose, and that within the seemingly circumscribed confines of this fuzz-feedback territory the Stooges work deftly with musical ideas that may not be highly sophisticated (God forbid) but are certainly advanced. The stunningly simple two-chord guitar line mechanically reiterated all through ‘1969’ is nothing by itself, but within the context of the song it takes on a muted but very compelling power as an ominous, and yes, in the words of Ed Ward which were more perceptive (and more of an accolade) than he ever suspected, ‘mindless’ rhythmic pulsation repeating itself into infinity and providing effective hypnotic counterpoint to the sullen plaint of Iggy’s words (and incidentally, Ig writes some of the best throwaway lines in rock, meaning some of the best lines in rock, which is basically a music meant to be tossed over the shoulder and off the wall: ‘Now I’m gonna be 22/I say My-my and-a Boo-hoo’—that’s classic—he couldn’t’ve picked a better line to complete the rhyme if he’d labored into 1970 and threw the ‘I Ching’ into the bargain).”