The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 200 to 191
200. “Night Moves,” Bob Seger. Songwriter: Bob Seger; #4 pop; 1976. Bob Seger was considered a hit one wonder, a beautiful loser if you will, by the mid-1970s. He went to #17 on the pop charts with the organ pumped rocker “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” in 1968, but his biggest mainstream success since then was 1975’s “Katmandu,” which peaked a few rungs away from being aired by Casey Kasem. “Night Moves” was a poignant coming of age tale about sexual discovery, the first of a string of hits that Seger would have through the mid-1980s. Seger, “It’s about this dark haired Italian girl that I went out with when I was 19, she was one year older than me.” The real life romance ended when the woman’s boyfriend returned from military duty. This nostalgic, bittersweet song was written decades before the concept of having a friend with benefits relationship was popularized.
199. “Welfare Music,” The Bottle Rockets. Songwriters: Brian Henneman, Scott Taylor; Did Not Chart; 1994. Bottle Rockets frontman Brian Henneman was raised in Festus, Missouri, a small town south of St. Louis on the Mississippi River. Henneman played in local bands named Blue Moon and Chicken Truck, the latter name an ode to John Anderson, before becoming a roadie for Uncle Tupelo and getting his own record deal. “Welfare Music,” an empathetic look at an unwed teen mother that resurrects the spirit of Woody Guthrie, was penned by Bottle Rockets frontman Brian Henneman with Scott Taylor, a high school teacher who was a mentor to the band. Henneman, “We don’t write fiction–every song we do is a documentation of an actual event. That’s just how we do it.” Name checking Carlene Carter and Loretta Lynn, “Welfare Music” is powerful and touching, painting a picture of an economically trapped girl, representing a class of people targeted by right wing politicians and pundits. Billboard magazine, “’Welfare Music’ is in a class all its own – a stunner mixing acoustic guitar, dobro, mandolin, and fiddle, it’s a poignant but clear-eyed take on the odds of just getting by. Literate and kickass.” With this outing, The Bottle Rockets released what sounds like a folk classic updated for realities of 1990s America. Side note: “Radar Gun,” an exceptionally detailed critique of a small town speed trap from the same album, barely missed this listing.
198. “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember,” Otis Redding. Songwriters: Otis Redding, Zelma Redding, Joe Rock; #41 pop/#6 R&B; 1968. Otis Redding is nursing his broken heart again on “Dreams to Remember,” trying to cope with his love for a cheating woman. Ironically, the song started as a love poem from his wife Zelma. Otis developed a new premise with Joe Rock, who managed The Skyliners and wrote the lyrics to their 1959 doo wop classic “Since I Don’t Have You.” Originally envisioned as spare ballad, the final version was the first Redding song to include female backing vocalists, turning his anxiety into a dialogue of pain. Author Charlotte Pence, “’I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” is Otis’s saddest song. Every time he says ‘again’ (in reference to his woman kissing another man), it’s like a door slamming on your hand, a nail going into your heart.”
197. “Carol,” Chuck Berry. Songwriter: Chuck Berry; #18 pop/#9 R&B; 1958. “Carol” is a distillation of teen romantic angst hooked by the line, “Don’t let him steal your heart away,” carried by the Berry classic guitar riff and his fleet fingered fills. The narrator knows he must learn how to dance to keep his love and fully intends to do so. Authors Phillippe Margotin/Jean-Michel Guesdon, “’Carol’ is an ode to adolescence, with the inevitable sleek automobiles, rock ‘n roll dancing joints, and, of course, the exaltation of female sensuality. To put it in a nutshell, it is a song on which the Chuck Berry legend was founded.” The Rolling Stones covered “Carol” on their 1964 debut album and the song resulted in a fascinating alpha male showdown between Berry and Keith Richards in the 1987 film “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Richards however never wavered in his admiration: “Chuck is the granddaddy of us all. Even if you’re a rock guitarist who wouldn’t name him as your main influence, your main influence is probably still influenced by Chuck Berry. He is rock ‘n’ roll in its pure essence.”
196. “Victoria,” The Kinks. Songwriter: Ray Davies; Did Not Chart; 1969. The Kinks released their brilliant concept album “Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)” in 1969. After a few releases filled with softer material, “Victoria,” the album’s lead track, was a return to a triumphant rock ‘n’ roll sound and the best song ever about colonization. Lyrically, Ray Davies hit on the themes of the wealth of the ruling class, the scope of the British Empire, and the willingness of the poor to die for his country. Guitarist Dave Davies was obviously in a celebratory mood on “Victoria,” whooping in the background, ecstatic to be rocking out again. Journalist Holly Hughes, “The guitar motif of ‘Victoria’ is a thing of glory indeed. It’s like a trumpet flourish ringing out, yet with a hint of surf guitar twang; driven by the fierce locomotive of Mick Avory’s drum beat, it charges out of the gate hellbent for whatever. Eventually Ray Davies comes in to sing, but he can barely keep up with the breakneck pace.” Journalist Keith Altham, “Ray Davies was the Noel Coward of rock and roll for me. He had that wit and that ability to conjure up a particular kind of Englishness that was very marked because most people in bands started with an R&B thing, started with a transatlantic accent and they started with songs that were embedded in the deep south of America. Those songs had nothing to do with their own roots. Ray was really the first person to come along and write from his own cultural experience, being English and being born in London, and writing about his own life.”
195. “California Sun,” The Rivieras. Songwriter: Henry Glover; #5 pop; 1964. The Rivieras started as a teenage garage rock act from Indiana and hit it big with “California Sun,” a song that had been originally performed in 1961 by Joe Jones of “You Talk Too Much” fame. The Rivieras sped up the tempo, added lyrics about the twist and the shimmy, and reinforced the song’s riff between their surf style guitar and a wonderfully catchy Farfisa organ sound. Author Christopher Hill, “Where the Joe Jones’s version jumps, the Rivieras’ version is all forward momentum, the organ and the guitar racing each other in the break to push the speedometer as high as they can make it go. A great force is pulling that Stingray westward out of Great Bend.” Lead singer Marty Fortson joined the Marines after recording the song and before it became a hit. Fortson in 1999, “Seemed like a good idea at the time. I was in Vietnam, and I kept hearing ‘California Sun’ on Armed Forces Radio. ‘Out there havin’ fun in the warm California sun’? Try the warm Vietnam sun.” This frisky in Frisco rocker reappeared in the 1970’s punk rock era with covers by the Dictators and the Ramones.
194. “Moondance,” Van Morrison. Songwriter: Van Morrison; #92 pop; 1970. Van Morrison created a soulful pop jazz fusion on the 1970 “Moondance” album and the title song is dazzling (some would say “fantabulous”). The band sounds like a small orchestra with a walking bassline, a playful flute on top, and the horn section punctuating the chorus. Morrison displays an unrestrained passion in his quest for romantic fulfillment. The smart people at Warner Brothers Records pushed “Moondance” as a single, seven years after the album was released. Morrison, on his achievement, “With ‘Moondance’ I wrote the melody first. I played the melody on a soprano sax and I knew I had a song so I wrote lyrics to go with the melody. That’s the way I wrote that one. I don’t really have any words to particularly describe the song, sophisticated is probably the word I’m looking for. For me, ‘Moondance’ is a sophisticated song. Frank Sinatra wouldn’t be out of place singing that.”
193. “Hold On, I’m Coming,” Sam and Dave. Songwriters: Isaac Hayes, David Porter; #21 pop/#1 R&B. One night during a Stax writing session, Dave Porter yelled from a bathroom to an impatient Isaac Hayes, “Hold on, I’m coming!” Author Robert Gordon, “David ran in yelling, one hand holding his pants halfway up, the other one waving wildly, ‘Hold on, I’m coming! That’s it!’ It would be the chorus, and title, to Sam and Dave’s breakout song. At the next day’s session, the built the parts quickly. For the rhythm Dave referenced the funky hit out of New Orleans, Lee Dorsey’s ‘Get Out of My Life Woman.’ That provide a good starting part for Al Jackson. Isaac’s horn part became a central riff. Steve (Cropper) dug into his James Brown trick bag for a funky guitar part. Penned as a love song, this piece transcends romance and becomes a cultural message with civil rights overtones, urging unity among African-Americans, reminding that help is always nearby – and on the way.” Sam Moore, “That was the chemistry. Sam and Dave, Hayes and Porter. Just like the chemistry between Berry Gordy and Motown and between Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones. Hayes – I believed in whatever he said. His mouth, to me, was a bible.”
192. “Twistin’ the Night Away,” Sam Cooke. Songwriter: Same Cooke; #9 pop/#1 R&B; 1962. Sam Cooke was the Cassius Clay of R&B music – deft, shifty, but packing a surprisingly powerful punch. Cooke was taken back when The Twist dance craze moved from the teen set to high society. Author Peter Guralnick, ”Sam happened to catch a television show one day featuring scenes from the Peppermint Lounge. ‘Look at those old ladies dressed in diamonds, twisting away,’ he said in amusement to (producer) J.W. Alexander, then took out his notepad and wrote a song. Like nearly every one of Sam’s songs, it was so simple, both lyrically and melodically, as to defy analysis – but so carefully put together at the same time, so perfectly matched in meter, melody, and rhyme as to be instantly memorable and, once heard, virtually unforgettable.” It has been said that Rod Stewart, who covered “Twistin’ the Night Away” in 1972, began his career singing above his natural key to replicate Sam Cooke. Stewart, “Anything Sam did, I would do. Apart from getting shot in a hotel room by a hooker.”
191. “Got to Get You into My Life,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #7 pop; released in 1966, peaked on the charts in 1976. While the horns might sound like a hat tip to Motown or Stax, lyrically this is Paul McCartney’s paean to the demon weed. Macca, “I’d been a rather straight working class lad, but when we started to get into pot it seemed to me to be quite uplifting. It didn’t seem to have too many side effects like alcohol or some of the other stuff, which I pretty much kept off. I kind of liked marijuana and to me it seemed it was mind-expanding, literally mind-expanding. So ‘Got to Get You into My Life’ is really a song about that. It’s not to a person, it’s actually about pot…like someone else might write an ode to chocolate or a good claret.” The song entered the Top Ten of the U.S. pop charts a decade after it was released and six years after the Beatles had disbanded. The ever humble John Lennon proclaimed that this was one of Paul’s best songs “because the lyrics are good and I didn’t write them.”