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The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 180 to 171

 

180. “Common People,” Pulp. Songwriters: Jarvis Cocker, Russell Senior, Steve Mackey, Nick Banks, Candida Doyle; Did Not Chart; 1995. “Common People,” Pulp’s almost six minute long anthem about sex and class slumming with synth sounds from the new wave era, was a #2 U.K. hit and was anointed by NME as the best song of the 1990s. Songwriter Jarvis Cocker, “I’d met the girl from the song many years before, when I was at St Martin’s College. I’d met her on a sculpture course, but at St Martin’s you had a thing called Crossover Fortnight, where you had to do another discipline for a couple of weeks. I was studying film, and she might’ve been doing painting, but we both decided to do sculpture for two weeks. I don’t know her name. It would’ve been around 1988, so it was already ancient history when I wrote about her.” That nameless woman gave Cocker his song inspiration when she mentioned she “wanted to move to Hackney (England) and live like ‘the common people.’” From the Pop Matters website, “It is one of the most witty, intelligent left-of-center pop songs to have ever achieved such widespread (critical) consensus. ‘Common People’ isn’t simply a great song, it is an occasion. That synth streaking out of the sky is like the snare whack in ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ signaling that a story is about to begin, and it will hold you through every word. Pulp had made a long career up to this point representing for the outsiders. This ageless anthem was one of those moments when the outsiders took over and everyone wanted in.”

179. “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell),” Squeeze. Songwriters: Chris Difford, Glenn Tilbrook; Did Not Chart; 1980. Chris Difford, recalling a resort vacation that inspired the lyrics to “Pulling Mussels,” “We stayed in the caravan at a holiday camp. There was a club there where bands played and the song reflects that atmosphere of the traditional working class ‘get away from it all’ weekend. It was the first time I had really looked up into the sky to see what it was like. It was a beautiful dark sky and it felt amazing to be away from London. Lyrically, I tried to imagine how Ray Davies might write a song about this most English type of holiday, and the words came quickly and easily.” Amy S of Classic Rock History, “’Pulling Mussels (from the Shell)’ is a killer 4/4 pop tune full of upbeat melodies, with a theme that got past all the censors, because who really uses the phrase ‘pulling mussels’ to describe having sex? Yet the song is, for all intents and purposes, a summer vacation with a, shall we say, happy outcome. You’ll want to sing along, and you can do so safely because no one will have any idea what you’re talking about.” A quite smashing tune with resplendent piano work courtesy of future television host Jools Holland.

178. “Having a Party,” Sam Cooke. Songwriter: Sam Cooke; #17 pop/#4 R&B; 1962. Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party” is an oddly wistful song, he sings as though he’s more worried about the social engagement ending than enjoying the moment. The recording was no slapdash affair as conductor René Hall hired an eighteen piece band for the occasion, including six violins, two violas, and two cellos. Author Peter Guralnick, “They overdubbed the additional voices and hand claps of just about everyone in the room, and the music swelled and took on an almost anthemic quality – it had all the uncalculated fervor that defines a group of people who have lived through good times and bad times together and cherish the good times despite the near-certain knowledge that they are not going to last.” Music historian Mark Deming, “’Having a Party’ was, like many of Cooke’s hits, a savvy bit of record-making in which the rough surfaces of his deeply soulful vocal style were buffed smooth with a sophisticated pop-styled production. A Duane Eddy-esque guitar line and a shimmering string arrangement kick off the record, and as Cooke’s always-stunning vocals sink in, you can’t help but wonder if he happened to wander into the squarest party in town, with Coca-Cola and popcorn the most exotic refreshments being offered and AM radio setting the scene. But as innocuous as the material may be, Cooke’s performance is nothing short of sublime, and as he calls out to the DJ, he manages to communicate both joy and urgency, calling up the sound of a man lost in the music and not wanting the spell to end.”

177. “Roll Me Away,” Bob Seger. Songwriter: Bob Seger; #27 pop; 1983. “Roll Me Away” is a Bob Seger anthem about a motorcycle and an open highway representing hope and opportunity, but also, perhaps, chasing a feeling of self-actualization that is always slightly beyond reach. Rolling Stone, “Many 1970s rock giants struggled as MTV began taking over the airwaves in the early 1980s, but Bob Seger kept on scoring hits. It helped that he was delivering songs as powerful as ‘Roll Me Away,’ a song about frustration, the desire to flee and finding redemption on the road.” Seger, “This was written about a motorcycle trip I took to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I wanted to do that for a long time. It was fascinating being out. The first night it was 42 degrees in northern Minnesota; the second day it was 106 in South Dakota and all I had on was my shorts, and my feet were up on the handlebars to keep them from boiling on the engine. It was just silence and feeling nature.”

176. “She’s Got You,” Patsy Cline. Songwriter: Hank Cochran; #14 pop/#1 country; 1962. Songwriter Hank Cochran was living under pressure in 1961. Despite having co-written “I Fall to Pieces,” the lagging royalties put him under significant financial stress. Additionally, Cline was pushing for him to write another hit single for her. Working under a deadline, Cochran opened his desk one evening and found a picture. Inspiration hit and he had the lyrics in a few minutes. Cochran called Cline with the exciting news that he had written her next #1 single. She instructed to bring the song to her house, along with a bottle of liquor. “She’s Got You” was recorded the following day and it took three weeks from its release for this inventory of possessions to hit #1 on the country charts. Rock critic Bill Janovitz has stated the vocal performance “demonstrates (Cline’s) stature as a masterful interpreter on par with the best in pop, Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin included.” For his part, Hank Cochran viewed simplicity as the key to his songwriting success, once saying, “I always tried to make it short, make it sweet, and make it rhyme.”

175. “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” Creedence Clearwater Revival. Songwriter: John Fogerty; #2 pop; 1970. Often viewed as a commentary about the political upheaval during the late 1960s, John Fogerty has stated that “Who’ll Stop the Rain” was written more about universal struggles than specific events. Fogerty provided quite the contrast between the pleasing, reassuring melody and the foreboding sense that the world is filled with unsolvable problems. Fogerty, “I think the song was done enough like a fable that you don’t necessarily have to know what it means or even worry about it. There’s a lot of drumming on ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain.’ Some would say too much. It’s sort of surprising in the context of Creedence, but I think the mind-set was to sound biblical or historical. I know I had the concept of ‘folk rock’ in mind.”

174. “Runaround Sue,” Dion. Songwriters: Dion DiMucci, Ernie Maresca; #1 pop; 1961. Pure happiness: ‘Hape! Hape! Bum-da hey-di hey-di, hape-hape, whoa-oooo-ah-oooh! Whoa-oooo-ah-ooohhhhh!” Dion DiMucci left the Belmonts in 1960, but continued to be a major pre-British Invasion star with the hits “The Wanderer,” “Lovers Who Wander,” “Ruby Baby,” “Donna the Priman Donna,” and his only #1 single, the “Quarter to Three” inspired “Runaround Sue.” Dion, “It came about by partying in a schoolyard. We were jamming, hitting tops of boxes. I gave everyone parts like the horn parts we’d hear in the Apollo Theater and it became a jam that we kept up for 45 minutes. I came up with all kinds of stuff. But when I actually wrote the song and brought it into the studio to record it, well, her name wasn’t actually Sue. It was about, you know, some girl who loved to be worshiped but as soon as you want a commitment and express your love for her, she’s gone. So the song was a reaction to that kind of woman.” Author Toby Creswell, “With his Italian tough guy attitude and a magnificently expressive voice, Dion was New York’s first white rock ‘n’ roll star. His background was street corner doo wop, but with ‘Runaround Sue’ he created a crossover hit that prefigured rock ‘n’ roll writing. Most of all, though, there are incredible rhythms in the vocal parts. The song bounces around like a pinball. Sue may be running around with other guys, but Dion isn’t wasting tears over her.”

173. “Twist and Shout,” The Beatles. Songwriters: Bert Berns, Phil Medley; #2 pop; 1963. Songwriter/producer Bert Berns wrote “Twist and Shout,” with Phil Medley, as a variation of “La Bamba” and the original version was released in 1961 as a Phil Spector production of a Detroit duo named The Top Notes. Berns hated Spector’s production of his song, which resulted in Berns moving into producer’s seat for the 1962 recording by The Isley Brothers. The Isley Brothers, not enamored by the song, were surprised that their version resulted in their first Top 40 hit. The Beatles had inserted this screaming crowd pleaser into their marathon sets in Germany during the early 1960s and it was the final song recorded as part of a thirteen hour session for their first album. John Lennon’s voice was ragged from singing all day and his pushing-through-the-pain raspy vocals add to the sense of frenzied euphoria. Author Ian McDonald, “The results were remarkable for its time: raw to a degree unmatched by other white artists and far too wild to be accepted by an older generation.”

172. “Bring It On Home to Me,” Sam Cooke. Songwriter: Sam Cooke: #13 pop/#2 R&B; 1962. “Bring It On Home to Me” was an update/rewrite of Charles Brown’s 1959 single “I Want to Go Home,” with a much more distinctive gospel feel. Cooke sings “Bring It On Home to Me” as a duet with Lou Rawls and in the words of guitarist René Hall, “We were after The Soul Stirrers type thing, trying to create that flavor in a rhythm and blues recording.” Peter Guralnick, “They nearly got it all in one take. This was the closest Sam had come to the classic gospel give-and-take he had once created with Paul Foster (of the Soul Stirrers), and the only adjustment that he chose to make on the second, and final, take was the decision to use Lou alone as the echoing voice and dispense altogether with the background chorus. What comes through is a rare moment of undisguised emotion, an unambiguous embrace not just of cultural heritage but of an adult experience far removed from teen white fantasy.” “Bring It On Home to Me” returned to the pop charts during the 1960s with covers by The Animals and Eddie Floyd, and was a #1 country hit for Mickey Gilley in 1976 who Pat Boone’d the hell out of that song.

171. “Ana Ng,” They Might Be Giants. Songwriters: John Flansburgh, John Linnell; Did Not Chart; 1988. “Ana Ng” is a song about not being able to find your soulmate, who you know exists, but lives on the opposite side of the world. From the S. Alexander Reed/Philip Sander book “Flood,” “’Ana Ng’ is They Might Be Giants most iconic love song, but it serenades a complete stranger – one whose very appeal is, in fact, her status as a stranger. Says (John) Linnell, ‘In the phone book…there were about four pages of this name that contains no vowels, Ng. I was fascinated.’” Timothy and Elizabeth Bracy of Sterogum, “Part love song, part war story, and partly a critique of the human condition, this is TMBG at the intimidating height of their intellectual powers, cranking out what is essentially rock and roll’s own poignant take on ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ in 3:22 of astoundingly efficient storytelling.” Jean Luc-Bouchard of BuzzFeed, “The verse chords are iconic and perfectly match the halting nature of the narrative.” Rock critic Steve Huey, finding the bottom line, “The total package is a masterpiece of pop absurdism.”

 

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