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The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 30 to 21

 

30. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Rolling Stones. Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards; #3 pop; 1968. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” has one of rock music’s greatest guitar riffs, but with The Stones being The Stones, there is some controversy to the backstory. Bill Wyman, who did not receive a writing credit, “We got to the studio early once and… in fact I think it was a rehearsal studio, I don’t think it was a recording studio. And there was just myself, Brian and Charlie – the Stones NEVER arrive at the same time, you know – and Mick and Keith hadn’t come. And I was just messing about and I just sat down at the piano and started doing this riff, da-daw, da-da-daw, da-da-daw, and then Brian played a bit of guitar and Charlie was doing a rhythm. We were just messing with it for 20 minutes, just filling in time, and Mick and Keith came in and we stopped and they said, ‘Hey, that sounded really good, carry on, what is it?’ And then the next day we recorded it. Mick wrote great lyrics to it and it turned out to be a really good single.” For his part, Keith Richards has said the song was inspired by a nickname he gave to his gardener. Richards, “When you get a riff like ‘Flash,’ you get a great feeling of elation, a wicked glee. I can hear the whole band take off behind me every time I play ‘Flash’ – there’s this extra sort of turbo overdrive. You jump on the riff and it plays you. Levitation is probably the closest analogy to what I feel.” Pete Townshend, “When you are listening to a rock and roll song the way you listen to ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash,’ that’s the way you should really spend your whole life.”

29. “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” James Brown. Songwriter: James Brown; #8 pop/#1 R&B; 1965. James Brown, “My music – and most music – changed with ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.’” Robert Christgau, “With ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’ he discovered the deepest of his many callings, which was putting rhythm on top of American pop. James Brown was the greatest musician of the rock era, no contest.” Saxophonist Maceo Parker, “I just thought he was a little bit more raw or a little bit more urban or a little bit more street. It was a little bit more simple. And the simpler the music is, the rhythms are the changes; the more people can hear it, the more people can understand it and the more people can like it, because it’s not difficult. It’s not intricate. Da, da, da-da-da-da. Da din na, da, da, da-da-da-da. I mean, it’s simple, but it’s groovy.” Music journalist Nelson George, addressing the music and the bigger picture, “The way he orchestrated the breaks, the stops in time, the guitar signature strums and the horn interjections were very different. It wasn’t totally a smooth-flowing melody like you might find at Motown Records. It wasn’t Southern, per se, the way that the Stax records sounded. It had its own kind of universe that it existed in. The Civil Rights Act of ’65 was passed in that year. Desegregation was happening all across the country in various places, in various ways. There was a real sense of positive energy that we had made a change and were making changes and that we could not be stopped. You could also see the song and the lyric as a metaphor. Your bag was who you were, what you thought the world was about, what you believed in, and Papa having a brand new one meant that change was happening.”

28. “She Loves You,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #1; 1963. The untrained ear would not pick up any notable similarities between Bobby Rydell’s forgettable 1963 pop hit “Forget Him” and The Beatles’ don’t bore us, get to the chorus. “She Loves You.” Yet, in the words of Paul McCartney, “There was a Bobby Rydell song out at the time ‘Forget Him’ and, as often happens, you think of one song when you write another. We were in a van up in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. I’d planned an answering song where a couple of us would sing ‘She loves you’ and the other ones would answer ‘Yeah Yeah.’ We decided that was a crummy idea but at least we then had the idea of a song called ‘She Loves You.’ So we sat in the hotel bedroom for a few hours and wrote it; John and I, sitting on twin beds with guitars.” The interjection filled song was unusual in that a friendly observer narrated the love story. John Lennon, on the best selling U.K. single of 1963, “It was Paul’s idea: instead of singing ‘I love you’ again, we’d have a third party. That kind of little detail is still in his work. He will write a story about someone. I’m more inclined to write about myself.” Regarding the gleeful “yeah yeah yeah”s, Lennon said, “We’d written the song and we needed more, so we had ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ and it caught on. I don’t exactly know where we got it — Lonnie Donegan always did it. Elvis did that in ‘All Shook Up.’” Engineer Geoff Emerick on the juggernaut that would become the best selling U.K. single of the decade, “There was also a level of intensity in the performance that I had not heard before. During the playback of the final recording up in the control room, all four Beatles were beaming, and (engineer) Norman Smith was more hyped up and excited than I’d ever seen him before. He was actually dancing around the console in glee. From a chair in the back of the room George Martin looked on it pride. ‘Nice job lads,’ was all he said to us, but you could tell he was elated.”

27. “Anarchy in the U.K.,” Sex Pistols. Songwriters: Johnny Rotten, Glen Matlock, Steve Jones, Paul Cook; Did Not Chart; 1976. British entrepreneur/provocateur Malcolm McLaren was asked by guitarist Steve Jones to assist his struggling band, known as The Strand, in 1974. In August of 1975, Malcolm’s friend/fellow shop owner Bernie Rhodes spotted a teenage John Lydon wearing a personally desecrated Pink Floyd t-shirt, with “I Hate” written above the band’s name. Lydon was asked to become the lead singer of Jones’s band, now branded as the Sex Pistols. “Anarchy in the U.K.,” the band’s debut single, represented a sea change in the U.K. music scene. The snarling attitude spoke for a new generation of disenfranchised youth and served as a reaction against the increasingly bloated and pretentious standard bearers of rock music. Johnny Rotten introduced himself as an anti-Christ/anarchist with a goal to destroy passersby and the multi-tracked guitar work of Steve Jones roared in violent agreement. Less than two months after this single’s release, the Sex Pistols were dropped by their label for being too controversial. It would be almost impossible to overstate the importance and influence of this record. The Ramones provided the punk rock blueprint, but the Sex Pistols were the lightning rod for the revolution.

26. “Roadrunner,” Modern Lovers. Songwriter: Jonathan Richman; Did Not Chart; 1976. The Modern Lovers secured their place in the world of pop music culture after they broke up. Founded by Jonathan Richman in the early 1970s, the band included future Cars drummer David Robinson and future Talking Heads keyboard player Jerry Harrison. The Modern Lovers disbanded in 1974, but Beserkley records released tracks from 1971 and 1972 sessions for “The Modern Lovers” album that was released in 1976. “Roadrunner” is a Velvet Underground (the chord structure was nicked from “Sister Ray”) meets garage rock Massachusetts travelogue that celebrates radio airwaves as a source of excitement. The propulsive beat, the swirling and jarring organ sounds from Harrison, and Richman’s enthusiastic singing create a mood of buzzing excitement. Author Laura Barton, “It is a paean to the modern world, to the urban landscape, to the Plymouth Roadrunner car, to roadside restaurants, neon lights, suburbia, the highway, the darkness, pine trees and supermarkets. As Greil Marcus put it in his book Lipstick Traces: ‘’Roadrunner’ was the most obvious song in the world, and the strangest.’”

25. “Sweet Jane,” Velvet Underground. Songwriter: Lou Reed; Did Not Chart; 1970. “Sweet Jane” is a performance brimming with confidence; Lou Reed is fully aware of his musical gits and knows he is demonstrating mastery in his field (“just watch me now”). Lyrically, Lou takes a look at traditional romance, where formalities are a given, and contrasts the past to social protests and his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Conclusion – love and commitment trump jaded cynicism. Author Marc Spitz on Lou’s self awareness, “Lou sings: ‘Standin’ on the corner, suitcase in my hand. Jack’s in his corset, Jane is in her vest and me I’m in a rock and roll band… Ha!’ What makes the ‘Loaded’ version life-changing and revelatory after such a long wait is that ‘Ha.’ To me, that ‘ha’ is everything: New York City, the art demimonde, the fact that most rock and rollers don’t hold down jobs too long except for those in rock and roll bands (and sometimes not even those), the fact that ‘standin’ on the corner’ is cooler than anything you are doing, even if the suitcase is full of used books to sell at the Strand on Broadway. ‘Ha!’” Lou Reed, who penned one of rock’s great guitar riffs on “Sweet Jane,” explaining his approach to rock ‘n’ roll, “One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.”

24. “Brown Sugar,” The Rolling Stones. Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards; #1 pop; 1971. Not a song about cookie ingredients, this Stones rocker/#1 pop hit has it all – one of Keith Ricchards’ most identifiable riffs, the irresistible blues based dance rhythm, Ian Stewart’s boogie woogie piano touches, Bobby Keys’ wailing saxophone, and an absolutely filthy subject matter. Have I mentioned the slave owner initiated whippings? Mick Jagger in 1995, “I would never write that song now. I would probably censor myself. I’d think, ‘Oh, God, I can’t. I’ve got to stop. I can’t just write raw like that.” Trivia note – Texas crazed saxophone player Bobby Keys had been touring and recording for approximately half of his life when he performed on this record. He was 28 years old at the time.

23. “Another Girl, Another Planet,” The Only Ones. Songwriter: Peter Perrett; Did Not Chart; 1978. English power pop rockers The Only Ones were only one hit away from being a one hit wonder act. Bassist Alan Mair on the interplanetary rocker “Another Girl, Another Planet,” “When I listened to that number, I really heard the nuances and tone of Peter’s voice, as well as the lyrical content, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is bloody great songwriting.” Andy Claps of the All Music Guide, “Arguably, the greatest rock single ever recorded.” Britain’s New Musical Express, “The best pure pop song to emerge from the punk movement, period.” Every superlative is more than earned from as the band’s fluid and propulsive guitar work transports the listeners into previously unknowable galaxies. Songwriter Peter Perrett in 2015, confirming the song wasn’t about heroin, “It was inspired by this girl from Yugoslavia. I didn’t go out with her, but she was like a total space cadet, which when I was really young I found interesting. She was just a bit weird – she’d say crazy things, and it just got me thinking that every girl has something different to offer.”

 

22. “Bring the Noise,” Public Enemy. Songwriters: Carl Ridenhour, Hank Shocklee, Eric Sadler, James Brown, George Clinton; #56 R&B; 1988. Public Enemy created a new version of rap music during the late 1980s. Vocally, Chuck D’s angry black man attitude was counterbalanced with future reality star Flavor Flav’s court jester routine. The Bomb Squad production team couldn’t have been better named. Dense layers of drum beats, samples, cut and scratch techniques, sirens, and speech samples created a defiant and bracing sound. Public Enemy brought the energy and attitude of rock ‘n’ roll to rap music with the Lewis Farrakhan praising “Bring the Noise,” a song the band would re-record with the thrash metal act Anthrax in 1991. Chuck D, “It was actually written on three different types of cadences that, I thought, all failed. And then (producer) Hank Shocklee said ‘Well, use all three of them.’ (laughs). So there’s three different rhyme styles in ‘Bring the Noise’ to handle that 109 beats per minute. And they did. The first one is ‘Bass! How low can you go? Death row.’ So it’s sort of like spaced. And the second was more like, ‘patter, patter.’ Like, ‘Never badder than badder than badder da da na na na na,’ and then the third verse was ‘Get from in front of me the crowd,’ it really takes it on with a fury of going right at it. There was two generations there in that song. Sonny Bono; Sonny and Cher, Yoko Ono, Yoko and John Lennon, it’s almost one of those things where it’s six degrees of separation. The song was about, well, we have a great respect for these people, and you don’t think that we do, you know? If you’re going to call our music noise, then we’re all part of the musical family… It’s all the same.” Raymond Cummings of Pitchfork, “From Flavor Flav’s hype-man taunts to Chuck D’s granite-solid sixteens to the Bomb Squad’s flurrying jazzbo squall, every aspect of ‘Noise’ still stings like a provocation, a dare, a saber rattling before it carves your speakers from the inside. Verses unspool in a flood as turbulent as the production, baiting radio DJs, critics, and audience alike with a breathlessness that suggests they’re rapping through the crowd and into hip-hop posterity. A fleet fluidity informs Chuck D’s flow here, effortless in a dizzying, dazzling way—he’s circling us like a young prize fighter, landing one swift, sure blow after another.”

21. “Call Me,” Blondie. Songwriters: Debbie Harry, Giorgio Moroder; #1 pop; 1980. “Call Me” was the perfect marriage of Giorgio Moroder’s Eurodisco sound with the explosive energy of an American rock ‘n’ roll band. Debbie Harry swapped out her trademark remoteness for passion and was rewarded with a single that stayed at #1 on the pop charts for six weeks. Although Moroder was known as a dance music producer, Blondie smartly played “Call Me” like a hard rock song that just happened to have a synth solo instead of a guitar break. Music journalist Caroline Sullivan, “’Call Me’ is pure, chrome-plated hedonism. It turned out to be mutually beneficial for Moroder and Blondie. It showed that Moroder, then the world’s top disco producer, could work with a rock band, while, for Blondie, it proved that the success of ‘Heart of Glass’ wasn’t a one-off. ‘Call Me’ was a global hit, and the biggest-selling single of 1980 in the US, as well as the ninth biggest single of the whole decade; an impeccably judged rock-disco hybrid, it allowed as much room for Chris Stein’s guitar as Moroder’s swirling disco production. As ever, Harry’s lyrics were both arch and funny; the line ‘Roll me in designer sheets, I’ll never get enough’ is particularly so, given that the early 80s saw the rise of everything ‘designer.’”

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