The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 310 to 301
310. “Under the Milky Way,” The Church. Songwriters: Steve Kilbey, Karin Jansson; #24 pop; 1988. Recording the 1988 “Starfish” album wasn’t a great experience for The Church. West Coast producers Greg Ladanyi and Waddy Wachtel forced Steve Kilbey to take vocal lessons and drummer Richard Ploog was replaced by Russ Kunkel for “Under the Milky Way.” Rob Caldwell of PopMatters, “The largely acoustic ‘Milky Way’ stands out on the mostly electric ‘Starfish.’ The chord structure is questioning, dark, and mysterious – evocative of its starry night title. Lyrically, it’s somewhat disconnected and ambiguous. It’s not a straight narrative. Rather, we’re left to color in the details.” Rock critic Ned Raggett, “If the Marty Willson-Piper/Peter Koppes guitar team is less prominent throughout much of the song than the strange, haunting keyboards, it’s all made up for with the amazing mock-bagpipe solo that adds an immediate, unexpected surge to the whole song. Calling, mournful and truly artistic, it fully transforms the song into the piece of melancholic majesty it is.” Steve Kilbey in 2011, “It’s an accidental song I accidentally wrote and accidentally became a single and accidentally became a hit. It’s been a nice earner. I’ve written 2000 songs. Thank God one of them came through! The others aren’t pulling their weight. They sit and grumble about ‘Under the Milky Way’ and I say, ‘Well, boys, go out and earn the same dough as that one.’ I never see ‘Under the Milky Way’ – it’s so busy out there working.”
309. “Since I Don’t Have You,” The Skyliners. Songwriters: Joe Rock, Jimmy Beaumont, Lennie Martin; #12 pop/#3 R&B; 1958. The Skyliners were a Pittsburgh based doo wop group who had their biggest hit with their first charting single – The Platters style romance number “Since I Don’t Have You.” Lead singer Jimmy Beaumont, “At the Apollo Theater in New York, everyone was laughing and pointing to each other when we came out. They couldn’t believe we were a white group. They got real quiet during the song, then when we went into the ‘you’s’ the women in the audience were all singing along.” Legend has it that band manager Joe Rock wrote the lyrics, while stopped at Pittsburgh traffic lights, after being devastated by a breakup. The Skyliners featured two tenor voices and one soprano, allowing them the group to sing with glass shattering intensity on this tale of romantic depression. “Since I Don’t Have You” has a multi-generational, multiple genre success, as a pop hit for Don McLean in 1981, a country hit for Ronnie Milsap in 1991, and a #10 U.K. pop hit for Guns ‘N’ Roses in 1994. From a historical perspective, Author Don Waller has noted that the prominent use of strings on this record, and on the Drifters’ 1959 hit “There Goes My Baby,” had a significant impact on R&B arrangements in the following decade.
308. “Wild Thing,” The Troggs. Songwriter: Chip Taylor; #1 pop; 1966. It’s difficult to imagine a more rudimentary and effective rock ‘n’ roll anthem than “Wild Thing.” Songwriter Chip Taylor, “’Wild Thing’ came out in a matter of minutes. The pauses and the hesitations are a result of not knowing what I was going to do next. I was on the floor laughing when I was through.” New York rockers The Wild Ones performed the original version of “Wild Thing,” using a blues rock arrangement that featured a primitive harmonica sound. The Troggs counterbalanced their stomp and crunch with an ocarina solo. The band had fifteen minutes at the end of a recording session to complete the song, which they hurried through even though Troggs lead singer Reg Presley thought the lyrics were ridiculous. Lester Bangs in 1971, “The Troggs eschewed all trendy gimmicks and kinky theatrics, delivered their proposition with sidewalk directness and absolute sincerity, and came out for any ear that half listens the most powerfully lust-driven outfit in white rock ‘n’ roll, then or now.” Speaking of theatrics, Jimi Hendrix performance of “Wild Thing” at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival famously climaxed with Hendrix setting his guitar on fire then repeatedly smashing his instrument into the stage.
307. “The Needle and the Damage Done,” Neil Young. Songwriter: Neil Young; Did Not Chart; 1972. Recorded live with no backup instrumentation, “The Needle and the Damage Done is a stark, direct look at heroin abuse and the impact in had on Neil Young as he watched fellow musicians fight a losing battle with the drug. Young, “I got to see a lot of great musicians who nobody ever got to see for one reason or another. But, strangely enough, the real good ones that you never got to see was… ’cause of heroin. And that started happening over and over. Then it happened to someone that everyone knew about. So I just wrote a little song.” Jason Isbell, “’Needle and the Damage Done’ did more to keep me away from heroin than any program or ‘drug war.’ Granted, I studied that song as if it were the only photograph left on Earth.”
306. “Potato Head Blues,” Louis Armstrong. Songwriter: Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven; Did Not Chart 1927. Inspired by the sounds of New Orleans, Louis Armstrong delivered one of the most famous trumpet solos in jazz history on the joyful “Potato Head Blues.” Jazz author Gary Giddens refers to the song as “the band’s seminal performance” noting “Armstrong’s syncopations are dazzling; his lead work in the final chorus is musical ecstasy.” Armstrong stated in 1951 that when he made the record, he mentally “could look direct into the Pelican Dance Hall, at Gravier and Rampart Streets in New Orleans” and visualize his jazz pioneers King Oliver/Papa Joe, Kid Ory, and Johnny Dodds playing from the bandstand. Armstrong, “All that good music was pouring from those instruments – making you wish to just dance and listen and wishing they would never stop…Every note that I blew in this recording, I thought of Papa Joe.” Author Ricky Riccardi, “Because of their familiarity with each other, the Hot 5 represented some of the finest examples of the traditional ensemble-based New Orleans style ever captured on record. When it came to taking improvised solos, Armstrong was light years ahead of his contemporaries in every way: command of his instrument, harmonic knowledge, a swinging rhythmic feel, and simply put, the ability ‘to tell a story.’”
305. “Eight Miles High,” The Byrds. Songwriters: Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn, David Crosby; #14 pop; 1966. Byrds guitarist Roger McGuinn on this touchstone of the psychedelic rock era, “There was one (John) Coltrane track called ‘India,’ where he was trying to emulate sitar music with his saxophone. It had a recurring phrase, dee da da da, which I picked up on my Rickenbacker guitar and played some jazzy stuff around it. I was in love with his saxophone playing: all those funny little notes and fast stuff at the bottom of the range. The previous year, 1965, we’d been on a trip to England. It was our first time on a plane, and I had the idea of writing a song about it. Gene asked: ‘How high do you think that plane was flying?’ I thought about seven miles, but the Beatles had a song called ‘Eight Days a Week,’ so we changed it to ‘Eight Miles High’ because we thought that would be cooler.” Author John Einarson, “’Eight Miles High’ was a groundbreaking recording that inaugurated the psychedelic era a year before San Francisco bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead put their own stamp on that label. Initially termed raga-rock for its innovative synthesis of the extended improvisational East Indian raga form associated with sitar master Ravi Shankar, the music that the Byrds were unintentionally giving birth to was free-form acid rock. They had succeeded in transcending their earnest dependence on Dylan covers and folk standards to craft their own distinctive sound.” David Crosby, “It was my favorite moment. It was when we actually started to come into our own.”
304. “I Try,” Macy Gray. Songwriters: Macy Gray, Jeremy Ruzumna, Jinsoo Lim, David Wilder; #5 pop; 1999. Macy Gray’s 1999 album “On How Life Is” went triple platinum, pushed to those heights by the neo-soul heartbreak, quiet storm of “I Try.” It’s a torch song about being torched, if you will, and a perfect fit for Gray’s smoky/raspy voice. Part of the power of the song is the expression of the physical impact of the emotional pain – not just crying and dreaming, but choking and stumbling. Like James Brown decades before, Macy Gray is a prisoner of love. Gray, “Back when we made it, I didn’t really get why people were so into it – I was pleased by its success, but I didn’t really understand the reasons. Now, I understand – it sounds like nothing else that was around at that time.”
303. “Down the Road a Piece,” Will Bradley Trio. Songwriter: Don Raye; #10 pop; 1940. Although the song is credited to the Will Bradley Trio, big band leader Will Bradley does not perform on this boogie woogie classic. The song was written by bassist Don Raye, whose vaudeville background is discernible from the humorous intro dialogue and his commentary throughout the song. (Raye’s writing credits also include “The House of Blue Lights” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy). Pianist Freddie Slack would later record “Cow Cow Boogie” with Ella Mae Morse. “Down the Road a Piece” includes the always relevant advice “Hey, look out where you’re stepping, that ain’t second base!,” as well as a strange jazz interlude, and a boogie woogie groove that would inspire covers by Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others.
302. “Ace of Spades,” Motorhead. Songwriters: Eddie Clarke, Ian Kilmister, Phil Taylor; Did Not Chart; 1980. After an unpleasant experience with Canadian police in 1975, Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister was invited to leave Hawkwind and he quickly established Motorhead, a band influence by the MC5 that became pioneers in the genre of speed metal. “Ace of Spades” is built from breakneck paced, industrial strength riffing and inspired headbanging in several continents. Eduard Rivadavia of Ultimate Classic Rock, “In ‘Ace of Spades,’ heavy rock has its ultimate expression of sheer decapitating efficiency. To put it another way, if Slayer’s ‘Reign in Blood’ remains the benchmark for heavy-metal intensity delivered in less than half an hour, then ‘Ace of Spades’ provides the individual-song equivalent. Every note and raspy croak is picture perfect, and the song’s collection of gambling metaphors is filled with wisdom usually reserved for scholarly texts and national constitutions. Not only is ‘Ace of Spades’ a necessary part of any list of the Top 10 Motorhead Songs, but also any list of metal’s all-time Top 10. Sorry, Lemmy, we mean ROCK ‘N’ ROLL.” Lemmy, in typically self-deprecating fasion, “’Ace of Spades’ is unbeatable, apparently, but I never knew it was such a good song. Writing it was just a word-exercise on gambling, all the clichés. I’m glad we got famous for that rather than for some turkey, but I sang ‘the eight of spades’ for two years and nobody noticed.” Q Magazine, “This song has an intro which wouldn’t be out of place ushering in the end of the world.”
301. “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” The Who. Songwriter: Pete Townshend; Did Not Chart; 1971. On this quintessential 1970s arena rock anthem, Pete Townshend was smart enough to avoid telling his audience who had been fooling them and about what – the vague lyrics keep the song from being tied to a specific event or era. Townshend’s power chords never sounded better, John Entwistile (who had the best rock death ever, a cocaine induced heart attack in Vegas surrounded by hookers) provided a monster bass riff, and Roger Daltrey delivered one of rock music’s most famous screams, whooping like a howler monkey during mating season. John Entwistle, “Of all the songs that Pete wrote during that period of the Who, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ really stands out, because he was saying things that really mattered to him, and saying them for the first time. So those lyrics came out of him in one long flood of anger and frustration, and then he built everything up around it. By the time he was finished with the demo there really wasn’t anything left for the rest of us to do, and that was always when the Who were at their best, because it was like ‘You think you’re finished? We’ll show you, you bastard.’”