The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 190 to 181
190. “Bye Bye Love,” The Everly Brothers. Songwriters: Felice Bryant, Boudleaux Bryant; #2 pop/#1 country/#5 R&B; 1957. “Bye Bye Love” was written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, starting a long relationship between the married songwriters and the well-coiffed singing duo. Boudleaux Bryant, “‘Bye Bye Love’ was shown over 30 times before it was ever cut. It was even shown the very morning of the same day the Everly Brothers heard it in the afternoon. When it was turned down, the fella said, ‘Why don’t you show me a good strong song?’ So nobody really knows what a good song is.” Music historian Brian Mansfield on this hello-loneliness number that was the Everly Brothers’ first hit, “The juxtaposition of heartbroken lyrics and carefree melody, combined with the brothers’ singular two-part harmony, made them instant stars.” Fab Four Trivia – “Bye Bye Love” was the first song Paul McCartney ever performed on stage.
189. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” The Beatles. Songwriter: George Harrison; Did Not Chart; 1968. George Harrison, “I worked on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ with John, Paul, and Ringo and they were not interested in it at all. I knew inside of me that it was a nice song. The next day, I was with Eric Clapton, and I said, ‘We’re going to do this song. Come on and play on it.’ He said, ‘On, no. I can’t do that. Nobody ever plays on Beatles records.’ I said, ‘Look it’s my song, and I want you to play on it.’ So Eric came in, and the other guys were as good as gold – because he was there. Also, it left me free to just play the rhythm and do the vocal. So Eric played that, and I thought it was really good. Then we listened to it, and he said, ‘Ah, there’s a problem, though – it’s not Beatle-y enough.’ So we put it through the ADT (automatic double-tracking) machine, to wobble it a bit.” John Lennon must have been impressed. When George Harrison quit the band for a few weeks in early 1969, Lennon immediately proposed Clapton as his replacement.
188. “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” Lucinda Williams. Songwriter: Lucinda Williams; Did Not Chart; 1998. “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” is a remembrance of a sad childhood – the childhood of Lucinda Williams. The lyrics describe a rootless loneliness, with her pain being reinforced by domineering parenting tendencies. Williams, “I moved around a lot as a kid because my dad was teaching in different places, but I also think it’s part of the American folklore tradition. My mother suffered from pretty severe mental illness. It wasn’t always there, but she suffered from manic depression. There was some horrible medicine with some horrible side effects that she was supposed to take and, of course, she wouldn’t want to take it. Some of the little trips with my dad was to actually get out of the house, ’cause my mother was having a bad day. So that’s the darkness underneath the song.” The reaction of her father Miller Williams after hearing “Car Wheels” for the first time: “Honey, I’m sorry.” The gold selling “Car Wheels” album not only raised Lucinda’s profile, but was also won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
187. “I’ll Be Around,” The Spinners. Songwriters: Thom Bell, Phil Hurt; #3 pop/#1 R&B; 1972. The Spinners left Motown for Atlantic Records in 1972, but still had some Detroit baggage. Producer Thom Bell, “Motown did such a number on them that they never wanted to see another black producer again.” Bell made a friendly wager with the band – if he didn’t produce a #1 hit for them, he’d give each member of The Spinners $10,000. If he did, they would buy him a Cadillac. “I’ll Be Around” was an accidental #1 R&B hit, originally released as the B-side to “How Could I Let You Get Away.” MFSB, the studio house band, reportedly laughed when they discovered how simple the arrangement was. However, the story about a hurting man who had lost his woman, yet will continue waiting indefinitely for another chance, clicked with the public. Thom Bell, on the unique rhythm, “I wanted the Spinners to record more uptempo dance stuff, so I had the drummer, Earl Young, emphasize the second and fourth beats. The flavor he came up with was fantastic. It became the start of the Philly dance beat that was adapted for many disco hits that came later.”
186. “Go Your Own Way,” Fleetwood Mac. Songwriter: Lindsey Buckingham; #10 pop; 1976. “Go Your Own Way” was the lead single from Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” album, which as of this writing has sold over 45 million copies worldwide. Lindsey Buckingham aimed his venom directly at Stevie Nicks, declaring “Packing up, shaking up’s all you want to do.” Mick Fleetwood on the unconventional drum beat (and misquoting the key lyrical phrase), “’Go Your Own Way’s’ rhythm was a tom-tom structure that Lindsey demoed by hitting Kleenex boxes or something. I never quite got to grips with what he wanted, so the end result was my mutated interpretation. It became a major part of the song, a completely back-to-front approach that came, I’m ashamed to say, from capitalizing on my own ineptness. There was some conflict about the ‘crackin’ up, shackin’ up’ line, which Stevie felt was unfair, but Lindsey felt strongly about. It was basically, On your bike, girl!” Nicks, “It was certainly a message within a song. And not a very nice one at that.”
185. “I Got You (I Feel Good),” James Brown. Songwriter: James Brown; #3 pop/#1 R&B; 1965. “I Got You” evolved from a song that James Brown wrote for Yvonne Fair in 1962 titled “I Found You” – the lyrics and rhythmic structure are similar, but lack the percussive funk sound that became Brown’s niche. Public Enemy’s Chuck D on Brown’s influence, “James presented the best grooves. To this day, there has been no one near as funky. No one’s coming even close. Whenever I see a frozen pond, I take myself to 1967 when us kids did the James Brown ‘I Feel Good’ dance on any patch of ice.” Melvin Parker, the brother of saxophone player Maceo Parker, on playing drums on Brown’s biggest pop hit, “I was just trying to be different. Clean, funky and different. That’s why I did a rim click, because a rim click is always clean.” Maceo Parker, who reportedly once pulled a gun on his temperamental boss, knew that Brown didn’t always feel good. Parker, “It didn’t matter where I was, I was always strapped. Because sometimes James had good days; sometimes he had bad days. I didn’t want to be a part of the bad days.”’
184. “Pusherman,” Curtis Mayfield. Songwriter: Curtis Mayfield; Did Not Chart; 1972. Nobody sounded like Curtis Mayfield, who had an almost femine falsetto and used an open F-sharp tuning for his signature guitar sound. “Pusherman” was never released as a single, despite being the best track from the 1972 “Superfly” soundtrack album. Insistent percussion rolls (later sampled for “Egg Man” by the Beastie Boys) underscore Mayfield’s tale of a doomed dope dealer. The narrator romanticizes his criminal lifestyle while at the same time acknowledging that he is just as trapped as his junkie customers. Mayfield, who always had a worldview based on empathy, “The first thing I wanted to do was not condone what was going down, but understand it, and speak in terms of how one can keep from getting locked into these things which youngsters and a lot of people see all around them.”
183. “Fortunate Son,” Creedence Clearwater Revival. Songwriter: John Fogerty; #14 pop; 1969. The reflexively anti-war John Fogerty on his Vietnam era protest song, “Julie Nixon was hanging around with David Eisenhower, and you just had the feeling that none of these people were going to be involved with the war. In 1969, the majority of the country thought morale was great among the troops, and like eighty percent of them were in favor of the war. But to some of us who were watching closely, we just knew we were headed for trouble. The song speaks more to the unfairness of class than war itself. It’s the old saying about rich men making war and poor men having to fight them. With this kind of song, you’re carrying a weighty, difficult idea. I didn’t want the song to be pulled down into that ‘Now we’re serious; everybody get quiet’ place. If I was going to write a quote unquote protest song, a serious song, I didn’t want it to be a lame song.” Sooner or later we all learn that the rich and powerful live in a different stratosphere than other carbon life forms. Still, John Fogerty made it righteous fun to sing about.
182. “Blank Generation,” Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Songwriter: Richard Hell; Did Not Chart; 1977. Kentucky bred Richard Lester Myers moved to New York in the early 1970s, performed with Tom Verlaine in an early version of Television, and is credited with creating the torn shirts and spiky hair look that would symbolize punk fashion. “Black Generation,” a reworking of a 1959 comedy record by Rod McKuen titled “The Beat Generation,” became a rallying cry for disenfranchised punk rock fans during the CBGBs era. Richard Hell on his concept, “The whole point was to make you struggle to figure it out. Any way you interpret it is correct, but obviously it carries these connotations of emptiness and these connotations of ‘fill in the blank.’ It was kind of a defensive thing that kids that age will use. I felt just overwhelmed by input: the Vietnam war and the collapse of the ‘60s and the proliferation of the media. It felt like everything was too much to handle and you just tuned out.” Hell was an idea man, his best one was hiring former tax accountant Robert Quine as his lead guitarist.
181. “Mystery Train,” Elvis Presley. Songwriter: Junior Parker; #11 country; 1955. Delta blues musician Herman “Junior” Parker performed with Howlin’ Wolf, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and B.B. King in the late 1940s/early 1950s. He recorded for Sam Phillips in 1953, releasing his composition “Mystery Train” at that time (his Sun Records cut “Feelin’ Good” was a #5 R&B hit and was most likely the template for the 1977 Brownsville Station single “Martian Boogie”). “Mystery Train” recorded by Elvis is impenetrable in terms of meaning. Billy Black and Scotty Moore provide perfect accompaniment, building a mood of tense urgency without competing with the vocalist. Rolling Stone, “Much of the song’s lasting appeal comes courtesy of the almost otherworldly tone that Moore pulled from his trusted Gibson ES-295. ‘Mystery Train’’ became like a signature thing for me,’ Moore explained. ‘That was the first one I played through my custom-made amplifier. It had the same slapback effect that Sam had been using on the overall record.’” Sam Phillips, “It was the greatest thing I ever did on Elvis. It was a feeling song that so many people had experienced – I mean, it was a big thing, to put a loved one on a train. Are they leaving you forever? Maybe they’ll never be back. ‘Train I ride, sixteen coaches long’ – you can take it from the inside of the coach, or you can take it from the outside, standing looking in. It was pure rhythm. It was a fucking masterpiece!”