The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 250 to 241
250. “Crazy,” Patsy Cline. Songwriter: Willie Nelson; #9 pop/#2 country; 1961. Songwriter Willie Nelson, “I enjoyed fooling around with the phrasing, but it made my sound noncommercial for all those Nashville ears who were listening for the same old stuff and misunderstood anything original. I had problems immediately with my song ‘Crazy’ because it had four or five chords in it. Not that ‘Crazy’ is real complicated; it just wasn’t your basic three-chord country hillbilly song.” Depending on which source you believe, either Nelson pitched “Crazy” to Charlie Dick, Patsy Cline’s husband, or songwriting peer Hank Cochran pitched the song to producer Owen Bradley. (Billy Walker had turned down the chance to cut it, noting it was a “girl’s song.”) Cline heard no potential in Nelson’s demo version, but Bradley reshaped the music, giving it a sophisticated arrangement for the genre. Author Paul Kingsbury, “Patsy had incredible vocal technique. She was a very powerful singer and very versatile, capable of growling or purring, vaulting octaves with ease. But beyond just the raw technique, Patsy was able to give you a window into her soul. You feel that you’re hearing exactly how Patsy feels, almost as if she were a neighbor coming over for a cup of coffee and spilling her heart out to you.” Willie Nelson has named this recording as his favorite cover version of one of his songs.
249. “The Long Black Veil,” Lefty Frizzell. Songwriters: Marijohn Wilkin, Danny Dill; #6 country; 1959. Lefty Frizzell released fifteen Top Ten country singles from 1950 to 1954, but his status as a major country star was completely erased by the rockabilly movement – he didn’t have one charting single from 1956 through 1959. He returned to the charts in 1959 with the nicotine/caffeine driven “Cigarettes and Coffee Blues,” but he cut a country standard that year with “The Long Black Veil.” The song a mournful tale about a preferring to keep an infidelity a secret, even though it meant being executed for a murder that the narrator didn’t commit. Rolling Stone, “The saddest moment is reserved for his lover, wailing under cover of the night winds. ‘Nobody knows but me,’ Frizzell sadly sings with his deep, gentle twang. ‘The Long Black Veil’ was written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, who say part of the inspiration for the song was based on a mysterious veiled woman who often visited the grave of Rudolph Valentino.”
248. “When the Levee Breaks,” Led Zeppelin. Songwriters: John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Memphis Minnie, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant; Did Not Chart; 1971. Memphis Minnie (nee Lizzie Douglas) ran away from home at the age of thirteen and performed on the corners of Memphis’s famed Beale Street. She recorded for several decades and is best known for her 1929 recording “When the Levee Breaks,” due to the cover version by Led Zeppelin. The song kicks off with John Bonham’s thundering drums, the booming sound was captured by recording in the hallway of a former English poorhouse. Jimmy Page, “John’s playing was so intense…he’d be able to just do a bass drum beat that went right through you.” Author Martin Power, “Full of odd angles, clever panning effects, trance-like rhythms and undulating instrumentation, ‘When the Levee Breaks’ attained an almost majestic darkness or, as one critic had it, ‘the definition of primal blues.’” Jimmy Page reflecting on Led Zeppelin IV in 2014, “The work ethic was absolutely superb so we could – did – arrive at things like ‘When the Levee Breaks,’ which is so ominous. It’s so dark that there really isn’t a color to describe it.” During the following decade, Bonham’s work was sampled for “Rhymin’ & Stealin’,” the lead track to the Beastie Boys 1987 album “Licensed to Ill,” which has sold over ten million units.
247. “I Got a Woman,” Ray Charles and His Band. Songwriters: Ray Charles, Rendald Richard; #1 R&B; 1954. Just like Hank Williams repurposed the gospel song “He Set Me Free” by the Chuck Wagon Gang for “I Saw the Light,” Ray Charles rewrote a 1954 release titled “He Must Be Jesus” by The Southern Tones for “I Got a Woman,” his first #1 R&B hit. From the “It’s All About Ray” website, “Ray and his bandmate Renald Richard stole the beat and the melody from ‘It Must Be Jesus’ wholesale, and much of its general feel and arrangement, but upped the freewheeling wildness of it, completely jettisoning any spiritual feel the original had and pointedly giving it a winking, raucous feel. It may have shocked some religious folks, but ‘I Got a Woman,’ sped up and with its proto-rock ‘n’ roll backing, introduced a whole new type of thing in American music: a kind of compelling secular southern R&B-cum-rock. Ray revels in his delicious hedonism.” “I Got a Woman,” from a recording session sometimes referred to as “the birth of soul,” became relevant again over fifty years after its original release, providing the primary musical hook to Kanye West’s #1 2005 hit “Gold Digger.”
246. “Steal My Sunshine,” Len. Songwriters: Marc Costanza, Gregg Diamond; #3 pop; 1999. Toronto siblings Marc and Sharon Costanza formed Len in 1991, inspired by alternative bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Mystery Machine, and the Descendents. The band later brought in deejays and moved to a more Human League inspired electronic sound. Len replicated the male/female dynamics of the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” on “Steal My Sunshine,” a song built from a sample from the Andrea True Connection’s “More, More, More.” Marc Costanza of Len, “I was at an outdoor electronic music festival up north, like a rave, and I just got caught up in the night. The song is about how I felt, and then it was exaggerated by the fact that I’m sitting in the middle of a field looking at the stars, about 1000 feet away from the stage, watching everybody dancing at 3 a.m. And I wrote part of it on my leg and a lot of it on a napkin. And then we were hanging out at Brendan (Canning, of Broken Social Scene)’s place, and Brendan ended up playing that Andrea True Connection record, and I just sampled it right then. I looped it and I just tied the two together.” Rock critic Richard Riegel’s summary of the song’s vibe, “(Jazz pianist) McCoy Tyner playing the Kraftwerk songbook, outlined in aural neon.” Stephen Thomas Erlewine, “This sun-kissed, sun-bleached blend of hip-hop, pop, disco, post-Beastie Boys cleverness and California culture is a priceless, timeless confection that instantly calls up sweltering, shimmering beaches the second the looped keyboard plays. It’s a monumentally great single.” Also, Sharon Costanza’s vocals are wonderfully lighter than air.
245. “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock,” Bill Haley and the Comets. Songwriters: Max C. Freedman, James E. Myers; #1 pop/#3 R&B; 1955. Bill Haley was somewhat of a rock ‘n’ roll oddity. He was blind in one eye and spent years as a Western swing cowboy yodeler before taking his spit curl to the pop charts. He scored fifteen Top 40 singles from 1953 to 1957, first finding fame with the repetitious shout along number “Crazy Man, Crazy,” which sounds like a weird marriage of rock, jazz, and Western swing. “Rock Around the Clock,” Haley’s signature song, was first recorded by a Pennsylvania novelty act named Sunny Dae and His Knights. With a melody borrowed from Hank Williams’ “Move It on Over,” Haley brought the sound of rock music into the mainstream, although it was a slow process. Originally released in May of 1954, “Rock Around the Clock” didn’t become a major hit until it was used in the intro of the 1955 social commentary film “Blackboard Jungle.” While Haley’s white boy boogie may sound tame today, it must have sounded revolutionary sandwiched between the #1 singles “Cherry Pink (And Apple Blossom White),” by big band leader Perez Prado and Mitch Miller’s militaristic take on “Yellow Rose of Texas.” Author David Cantrell describing the triumph, “Danny Cedrone plays a hypertensive electric-guitar solo that squeals and vibrates and is pure, beautiful noise. Joey D’Ambrosio, on saxophone, blats his simple line on repeat as if he’s only this moment learned to play. Everything – the chanted lyric, the acoustic guitar, the slapped bass, the skittering drums, and (a reminder of the group’s country-and-Western origins) the ‘lightning strike’ pedal-steel guitar – are all about the beat, the beat, the beat. Like nothing else on pop radio, Haley’s call to his girl is experienced collectively, a generation’s imperative to move.”
244. “Right Side of My Mind,” Angry Samoans. Songwriter: Mike Saunders; Did Not Chart; 1980. The Angry Samoans went on a strychnine space ride to the stars on their regeneration-degeneration-reincarnation punk song “Right Side of My Mind.” Mike Saunders, “I always wanted to write a song ‘like THIS type of song’ since the day i started songwriting (at age 17). Meaning = the world’s greatest two-sided hard rock 45 of all 1966 — the immortal A-side “I’M GOING TO MAKE YOU MINE” by the ShADoWs oF KNiGhT (the b-side was “I’ll Make You Sorry,” also killer) — meaning = a song that STARTED like that — four big chords!! and then a DRUM ROLL! So one afternoon in March 1977, I put the 1955 Gibson Les Paul with its pre-PAF soapbar pickups into my hands– and hit four chords that looked cool — AND THERE IT WAS! oh man i shit a brick. The chorus for the song was a breeze and the words — ha, that was just standard issue stream-of-consciousness 1966 ‘teen rebel’ rebelling against the whole world, and society, and everything getting in their way — and laid it to tape minutes later (once i had all the words in my head, to be remembered and typed out once i was done ‘recording’ to 1-track cassette-deck mono) — whooooo pig SOOOIE!” The Samoans were the most hysterically politically incorrect band of their era. Other songs that could have been on this list are the broken relationship number “You Stupid Asshole,” the drilling a hole in my head “Inside My Brain,” and “Lights Out,” a request for their listeners to poke their eyes out with a fork. Fun fact: the Samoans played sets at the Camarillo State Mental Hospital in Southern California until the clinic professionals there declared that their music was “non-therapeutic.”
243. “They Don’t Know,” Tracey Ullman. Songwriter: Kristy MacColl; #8 pop; 1984. British songwriter Kristy MacColl penned “They Don’t Know” and released the original version in 1979. After actress/comedienne Tracey Ullman scored a #2 U.K. hit with her cover of the 1964 Irma Thomas B-side “Breakaway,” MacColl pitched “They Don’t Know” to Ullman and contributed backing vocals, as well. Rolling Stone, “Ullman’s debut album, ‘You Broke My Heart in 17 Places,’ was a peak moment of new wave’s obsession with the girl-group era, covering early-to-mid-Sixties singles from Irma Thomas, Marcie Blaine, and Sandie Shaw. But it was this cover of Kirsty MacColl’s swooner ‘They Don’t Know’ that became an international smash — Ullman made the connection more explicit by amping up the kitsch, adding Spectorian production, indulging huge harmonies and performing in a brilliantly acted video that showcased her comedy chops.” An endlessly charming girl group tribute.
242. “Runaway,” Del Shannon. Songwriters: Del Shannon, Max Crook; #1 pop; 1961. Michigan native Del Shannon was a country music fan who was drafted into the Army during the mid-1950s and later worked as a truck driver and as a carpet salesman. Shannon was performing with keyboardist Max Crook, who developed an early version of a synthesizer known as a Musitron, and it was Crook who developed the extraterrestrial solo for “Runaway.” Del Shannon, “We were on stage, and Max hit an A minor and a G and I said, ‘Max, play that again, it’s a great change.’” (Paul McCartney later took “the lovely A minor we heard in ‘Runaway’ and inserted it in ‘From Me to You.’”) Author Bob Stanley, “’Runaway’ was, and remains, the ultimate fairground anthem, the 45 you’d most expect to turn up on a Wurlitzer jukebox in a forgotten, suburban diner. ‘Runaway’ was all energy and mystery, from the dense, almost discordant opening guitar chords, through its falsetto hook (‘wah-wah-wonder’) to the eerie, space-organ solo. The lyric was beyond melancholy, filled with dread and paranoia; the runaway girl may not even be alive. It was the kind of record you could build a career on, and Del Shannon didn’t disappoint. The existential angst of ‘Runaway’ became a template that he was still using at the far end of the decade on the ghostlike ‘Colorado Rain.’ He couldn’t write any other way – the fear and demons in Shannon’s music echoed the mind of its maker.”
241. “Walking the Floor Over You,” Ernest Tubb. Songwriter: Ernest Tubb; #23 pop; 1941. Ernest Tubb grew up in the rural, farming community of Crisp, Texas, now officially listed as a ghost town, and was obsessed with the music of Jimmie Rodgers. In the 1930s, he befriended Carrie Rodgers, Jimmie’s widow, and she became his first manager. Tubb did not find fame quickly and was working at a Fort Worth radio station when he wrote pacing, breakup number “Walking the Floor Over You,” most likely inspired by his own marital strife, in 1941. Often categorized as the first “honky tonk” song, it’s notable for including what may the first electric guitar solo (as opposed to steel guitar) on a country record. “Walking the Floor” was a pop hit for Tubb and eventually sold over a million copies. (Note – there were no trade magazine listings of country hit songs until 1944, it would have most assuredly been a #1 country single). Tubb was a fixture on radio for two and half decades, singing without irony or wordplay, conveying simple truths and universal emotional sentiments. His lack of a traditional good voice gave the superstar an everyman quality. It’s hard to imagine creating a musical genre and being as unpretentious as Ernest Tubb was about his accomplishment.