The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 230 to 221
230. “Rumble,” Link Wray and His Ray Men. Songwriters: Milt Grant, Link Wray; #16 pop/#11 R&B; 1958. The guitar sound on “Rumble” is phenomenal – the band sounds like a group of hulking dinosaurs deliberately stomping huge holes onto the Earth’s surface. Legend has it that “Rumble” was written by accident – the band was asked to perform “The Stroll” by the Diamonds, but didn’t know the chords. Author Cary O’Dell, “When someone grabbed one of the mikes and stuck it up to one of the amps, creating the tune’s signature distortion, a modern classic was born. ‘The kids just went ape,’ according to Wray.” Wray’s combination of distortion and power chords sounded so menacing, some radio stations banned the instrumental, fearing the title might incite gang fights. Wray, on that brilliantly filthy guitar tone, “In the studio, the sound was too clean, too country. So I started experimenting, and I punched holes in the speakers with a pencil, trying to re-create that dirty, fuzzy sound I was getting onstage. And on the third take, there it was, just like magic.” Contemporary native American guitarist Stevie Salas, “Jeff Beck told me that he and Jimmy Page used to jump around the bedroom at his mom’s house playing air guitar to Link Wray. To visualize these guys that are like, the Mount Rushmore of rock stars playing air guitar to a Shawnee Indian, it just blew my mind.” Also, check out Wray’s 1971 album title track “Fire and Brimstone,” a primitive produced country rocker with Baptist hymnal intensity, to include backup singers replicating a snake salvation congregation.
229. “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Songwriter: Tom Petty; #14 pop; 1993. The grunge crowd had pretty much eliminated classic rock from the pop airwaves by 1993, but Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had their penultimate Top 40 single with the “oh my my, oh hell yes” groove number “Mary’s Jane’s Last Dance.” Petty did some first rate recycling here, merging “Waiting for the Sun” by the Jayhawks with a riff from Cheap Trick’s “The Ballad of T.V. Violence (I’m Not the Only Boy).” Matthew Greenwald of All Music on another influence, “The simple, three-chord pattern is disarmingly similar to Neil Young/CSN&Y’s ‘Ohio,’ and the rising, modulating chorus is also reminiscent of that classic. However, lyrically, Petty takes the song in a different direction, utilizing his ability as a storyteller to create an autobiographical tale through romance and the artistic process.” Drummer Stan Lynch on his last recording with the band, “I was told (by Rick Rubin) that the drums should sound like ‘Gimme Shelter’ and he only wanted to hear one fill. First off, I’m going, ‘Who the fuck are you anyway? You seem like a cool guy. You seem to be successful, and that’s great. But I don’t really give a shit about you. You’re a hired gun. There’s five guys here that matter, and you ain’t one of them.’” By all accounts, your life is more pleasant if Stan Lynch isn’t a part of it.
228. “Lola,” The Kinks. Songwriter: Ray Davies; #9 pop; 1970. The Kinks released three superlative albums in the late 1960s – “Something Else,” “The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society,” and “Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)” – that received almost no attention in America. However, a clever single about a young man’s lustful encounter with a possible transvestite was not to be ignored. They are different stories about the inspiration for “Lola.” Kinks Drummer Mick Avory has stated that the song came from his personal interest in London’s transvestite bar scene, while Ray Davies has said the concept came from a former band manager being hoodwinked by a Paris drag queen. In any event, “Lola” returned the band to the mainstream, where they rightfully belonged. One minor inconvenience is that the BBC wouldn’t play the song with a reference to “Coca-Cola,” due to their product placement policy. Ray Davies had to make an international flight to change the phrase to the generic “cherry cola.”
227. “People Get Ready,” Impressions. Songwriter: Curtis Mayfield; #14 pop/#3 R&B; 1965. Curtis Mayfield, on his message about his spiritual path, “That was taken from my church or from the upbringing of messages from the church. Like there’s no hiding place and get on board, and images of that sort. I must have been in a very deep mood of that type of religious inspiration when I wrote that song.” He later reflected, “This is a perfect example of what I believe has laid in my subconscious as to the preaching of my grandmother, and most ministers when they reflect from the Bible.” Author Craig Werner, “No song bore witness to the (civil rights) movement’s trials with greater depth than ‘People Get Ready.’ From the opening bars – a gospel hum carried along by bells, Johnny Pate’s beautiful horn chart, and Mayfield’s delicately syncopated guitar chording – the song pours a healing vision over a nation poised on the brink of chaos. When the final strains of ‘People Get Ready’ faded to silence, you could almost believe that, despite what was happening on the streets of Chicago and Detroit, the promise of the movement would be fulfilled.” The use of a train as the means of transportation wasn’t by accident; it had been a symbol of freedom for the African-American community dating back to the underground railroad.
226. “Don’t Stop,” Fleetwood Mac. Songwriter: Christine McVie; #3 pop; 1977. Fleetwood Mac’s history is notable for releasing consistently solid music in several different configurations and for creating more soap opera material than a decade’s worth of “Days of Our Lives.” During 1977, the scorecard was that Stevie Nicks had dumped Lindsey Buckingham the previous year (inspiring the spiteful “Go Your Own Way”), Christine McVie was on the path toward her divorce from bassist John McVie, and just to complete the circle of life, Nicks and drummer Mick Fleetwood had a cocaine fueled affair during that year. “Don’t Stop” was a cheerful, don’t look back, life goes on love note from Christine to John regarding their split. John McVie in 2015, “I never put that together. I’ve been playing it for years and it wasn’t until somebody told me, ‘Chris wrote that about you.’ Oh, really?”
225. “Like a Prayer,” Madonna. Songwriters: Madonna, Patrick Leonard; #1 pop/#20 R&B; 1989. Madonna was like Diana Ross in that both divas had limited vocal range, but defined the sound of female pop music in their particular eras. Madonna was unlike Diana Ross in that, as a white woman, she could push cultural buttons/boundaries without sacrificing (and even enhancing) her mainstream appeal. Katie Atkinson of Billboard, “Madonna perfectly delivers on that borderline-blasphemous blend of pop culture and her Roman Catholic upbringing on the title track of 1989’s ‘Like a Prayer,’ equating love to a transcendent religious awakening. One of the main reasons the lyrics work so well is that she could be singing about a monogamous relationship, a powerful sexual connection, a platonic loved one, or even God him (or her) self — it all comes back to love. Of course, the song’s full religious experience would be incomplete without a perfectly deployed gospel choir, humming hushed harmonies over the verses and singing full-throated sermons to drive it all home. Life might be a mystery, but the mastery of this song is irrefutable.” Rolling Stone, “Ever since her early days, Madonna has been obsessed with the taboo connection between sex and spirituality. She tapped into that idea for her greatest song, the 1989 gospel-disco smash ‘Like a Prayer.’ When Madonna testifies, ‘I’m down on my knees/I wanna take you there,’ she could be singing about praying or oral sex or – most likely – both.” Let the choir sing.
224. “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” The Supremes. Songwriters: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland; #1 pop/#2 R&B; 1965. Lamont Dozier, “The title came from a fight with my girlfriend. I got caught in an embarrassing situation where I was being a little unfaithful. This particular girl was very headstrong. So we got into an argument. She started swinging, missed me, hit the floor. And I laughed and said, ‘Please stop! Stop in the name of love.’ I was being facetious. Then we busted out in laughter because it was so corny to us. She had a choke hold on me, and I said, ‘Hold it for a minute. Did you hear a cash register? Is that a hit title?’ And she started laughing again. The music stopped the fight. It came to the rescue. Then Brian (Holland) came up with the hook (musically) for it.” Author Stevie Chick, “’Stop!’ opens with an infernal swell of keyboard, before the Motown backbeat kicks in and Ross and her Supremes belt out the song’s agonized, unforgettable hook. But it’s in the verses where the real tragedy lingers: in Ross’s sad acknowledgement that she is ‘aware of where you go each time you leave my door’; in the humiliation that her fear of losing her man trumps her anger at his straying; in the way she asks, ‘Haven’t I been good to you? Haven’t I been sweet to you?’, just begging for a crumb of kindness. It’s pop heartache raised to bleakly operatic heights, and you would have to be dead inside not to be moved by the dark edge to Ross’s yearning, or to resist dancing to the combustible Holland/Dozier/Holland production.”
223. “You Win Again,” Hank Williams. Songwriter: Hank Williams; #10 country; 1952. The tumultuous marriage between Hank and Audrey Williams ended in divorce on July 10, 1952. On July 11, 1952, Hank Williams recorded “You Win Again” (the song was originally titled “I Lose Again,” but Fred Rose changed the lyric). Hank’s declaration of defeat/disgust (“You have no heart/You have no shame”) and pain dripping vocal was placed on a b-side that became a Top Ten country hit. Jerry Lee Lewis scored an even bigger hit with “You Win Again” in 1957, which was only a mere five years according to the calendar, but a completely different pop culture universe had been created by that time. Jerry Lee Lewis in 1979, “Y’know, son, there’s only been four of us: Al Jolson, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Jerry Lee Lewis. That’s your only goddam four stylists that ever lived. We could write, sing, yodel, dance, make love, or what. Makes no damn difference. The rest of these idiots is either ridin’ a damn horse, pickin’ a guitar, or shootin’ somebody in some stupid damn movie.”
222. “Walkin’ After Midnight,” Patsy Cline. Songwriters: Alan Block, Donn Hecht; #12 pop/#2 country; 1957. Patsy Cline grew up in a working class family in Winchester, Virginia and, after dropping out of high school, started performing on local radio and clubs at the age of 15. She signed with Four Star Records in 1955, recording gospel, honky tonk, and rockabilly material with no commercial success. “Walkin’ After Midnight” was written in 1954 by Alan Block and Dan Hecht and had been rejected by pop singer Kay Starr. Cline was initially unenthusiastic about the song as well, but an appearance on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” television program created demand for the single. Rock critic Ritchie Unterberger on this tale of wandering heartbreak, “More than any of the other songs she recorded for the 4 Star label in the 1950s, it anticipates the successful country-pop fusion of her crossover hits for Decca in the early 1960s.” Surprisingly, it was four years later when Cline hit Top Ten on the country charts again, with 1961’s “I Fall to Pieces.”
221. “True Faith,” New Order. Songwriters: Gillian Gilbert, Stephen Hague, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Bernard Sumner; #32 pop; 1987. New Order may have evolved from an indie, punk scene, but financial realities are always part of a band business model. Bernard Sumner, “It was a time when I set out to write a hit single. I think we got a rather large tax bill, and we sat down with Stephen Hague to write a Top 40 hit. I had an idea for the bassline, Gillian (Gilbert, keyboards) had some string ideas, Stephen got some drums down. When we got the track going, I was sent off to the flat we had in London with a bottle of Pernod and told not to show my face again until I’d written the lyrics.” The final product was a drug addiction song that you could dance to. Try that with “The Needle and the Damage Done.” Aaron Lariviere of Stereogum, “What we get is Bernard Sumner singing simply, plainly, effortlessly, somehow delivering some of the strongest lyrics of his career (‘I used to think that the day would never come/That my life would depend on the morning sun/My morning sun is the drug that brings me near/To the childhood I lost, replaced by fear’) inside one of the band’s very best songs. Verses and pre-choruses bleed together — even the chorus hits before we realize it — but it’s perfect, so who cares? We bounce to the beat, the melody leads the way, we all win.”