The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 320 to 311
320. “Sweet Little Rock and Roller,” Chuck Berry. Songwriter: Chuck Berry; #47 pop/#13 R&B; 1958. Chuck Berry documented childhood innocence on “Sweet Little Rock and Roller,” where a nine- year-old girl, “all dressed up like a downtown Christmas tree,” discovers the life affirming qualities of his genre of music; a theme that Lou Reed revisited on The Velvet Underground’s “Rock & Roll” in 1970. Ray Davies may have discovered the phrase “well respected man” from this 1958 #47 pop hit. Best cover – Rod Stewart’s 1974 version, when he had the voice, the band, and the attitude for sloppy arena rock excellence.
319. “Sunny Afternoon,” The Kinks. Songwriter: Ray Davies; #14 pop; 1966. This U.K. #1 single was the final U.S. hit for The Kinks during the 1960s. Ray Davies drolly took on the role of the abused aristocrat on “Sunny Afternoon,” having lost his yacht to a pernicious federal government. Rolling Stone magazine, “This Ray Davies tune taps into English music hall tradition with a jaunty wistful melody; Davies plays a rich kid who’s been busted out by the tax man, scrapped by his girlfriend and left with little more than ‘my ice cold beer/lazing on a sunny afternoon in the summertime.’ It’s like the Beatles’ ‘Taxman’ as satire.” Ray Davies biographer Thomas Kitts has opined that “Sunny Afternoon” was “borne out of (Davies’s) struggle with class identification” and Johnny Rogan compared the song to The Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping” in that “both songs reveled in the vacuous delight of doing nothing whatsoever.” The descending bassline would become a common feature for The Kinks and was revived by Slade on their 1974 U.K. hit “Far Far Away.”
318. “Oh Boy!,” The Crickets. Songwriters: Sonny West, Bill Tilghman, Norman Petty; #10 pop/#15 R&B; 1957. “Oh Boy!” and “Rave On” are permanently associated with Buddy Holly, although both were penned by West Texas songwriter Sonny West. West had recorded “Oh Boy!” as “All My Love” and the song, which was not widely released, made its way from producer Norman Petty to Buddy Holly. West had mixed emotions about the record, knowing that he was being compromised on the songwriting credits by Norman Petty. West, “We (Sonny and Bill Tilghman) talked it over and went back and signed the contracts and we were real happy and a little sad. I knew the song would sell – for one reason, as a follow-up to ‘That’ll Be The Day’, and also Norman played it to us when we first walked in, and it is one of the most exciting songs Holly ever recorded. It’s smooth and it’s exciting – his excitement level is way up there. It’s a great recording, and he did a great job on it. His version made my hair stand up.”
317. “Somebody to Love,” Jefferson Airplane. Songwriter: Darby Slick; #5 pop; 1967. This Haight-Ashbury summer of love rocker was written by Grace Slick’s brother-in-law and, like “White Rabbit,” was a song that Grace updated from her band The Great Society and turned into a hit for Jefferson Airplane. Rock critic Joe Viglione, “The opening with Grace Slick’s voice booming an acappella ‘When the truth is found’ is such a great top of the hour lead-off call to arms that classic rock and oldies radio do just that with it decades after its initial sojourn at the upper reaches of the charts.” Grace Slick, “Darby wrote the words simply, without pedantry, suggesting that adhering to the old Puritan cliché ‘it’s better to give than to receive’ might actually make you a happier person. The idea of service and selflessness may sound like a tedious task reserved for bald monks, but the way Derby wrote the lyrics, altruism didn’t seem like such a lofty and unattainable state.”
316. “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” Jerry Lee Lewis. Songwriter: Dave ‘Curlee’ Williams, James Faye ‘Roy’ Hall; #3 pop/#1 country/#1 R&B; 1957. Trivia question: who produced the original version of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On?” It wasn’t Sun Studio’s Sam Phillips, but a young Quincy Jones who produced Big Maybelle’s R&B version in 1955. Originally, African American songwriter Dick ‘Curlee’ Williams was credited as the songwriter. Eventually, boogie woogie pianist James Faye ‘Roy’ Hall received a credit as well. Hall enjoyed a drink now and again. Here’s how he described the creative process, “We was down in Pahokee, on Lake Okeechobee.. out on a damn pond, fishin’ and milkin’ snakes .. drinkin’ wine, mostly. This guy down there had a big bell that he’s ring to get us all to come in to dinner, an’ I’d call over [and] say, ‘What’s goin’ on?’ Colored guy said, ‘We got twen’y-one drums, we got an old bass horn, an’ they even keepin’ time on a ding-dong.’ See, that was the big bell they’d ring to git us t’come in.” That must have been quite an interview. “Shakin’” was the world’s introduction to Jerry Lee Lewis, who as a young man embodied the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll perhaps more definitively than anyone else ever has.
315. “Cruel to Be Kind,” Nick Lowe. Songwriter: Nick Lowe; #12 pop; 1979. Nick Lowe on adaptability, “All those years we’d spent learning these chops, and all those gigs in Germany where you’d play all night, and along comes punk. It has nothing to do with that. A lot of people went out of business.” Lowe changed with the time, scoring his only U.S. Top Forty hit with the tuneful, smartly arranged, superbly written “Cruel to Be Kind,” which some critics viewed as a sly wink at an S&M relationship. Lowe had penned the song during his pub rocker days with Brinsley Schwarz, using the bass line from “The Love I Lost” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Lowe, “We loved that Philly disco stuff from the 70’s, The O’Jays, all that stuff, we loved that.” The end result, however, was more classic pop instead of leisure suit disco. The backing band, soon to be known as Rockpile, contributed spot on, quasi-Beach Boys harmonies. In the right measure, of course.
314. “Shove,” L7. Songwriters: Suzanne Gardner, Donita Sparks; Did Not Chart; 1990. The female punk/grunge unit L7 formed in Los Angeles in 1985 and started getting noticed by critics with their 1990 “Smell the Magic” album, which kicks off with this take no prisoners, get out of my way explosion. “Shove” is a classic rock ‘n’ roll song – from the opening adrenaline guitar riff to Donita Sparks raw, hostile vocals. There’s also a fine list of grievances, which include a host of authority figures, a crumbling environment, and sexual harassment. Sparks, “’Shove’ was an underground hit, and what shook the ground for us. Like an earthquake, it busted up the ground for us as far as clearing a path to get noticed, because before that we were not noticed.” Jonathan Poneman of Sub Pop Records, “’Shove’ singularly blew my top off. I compare L7 with Motorhead or the Ramones, a real primal rock machine.” L7 went on to have a Modern Rock hit in 1992 with the success-via-conformity theme of “Pretend We’re Dead” and I should mention their 1994 “Hungry for Stink” LP, just because the title is “Hungry for Stink.”
313. “I Second That Emotion,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Songwriters: Smokey Robinson, Al Cleveland; #4 pop/#1 R&B; 1967. During a shopping trip at Hudson’s department store in Detroit, songwriter Al Cleveland misstated the phrase “I second the motion,” giving Smokey Robinson all the inspiration he needed to write a Top Five pop hit. Professor Perry Meisel, “’I Second That Emotion’ is a model for Robinson’s work as a whole. By crossing excruciatingly beautiful singing with greeting-card idioms, Robinson shows how each one lends the other credence and irony alike.” Smokey on being narrow, but deep, “You can write about cars, or political situations, or dances or something like that, but those subjects, pretty soon, become passé. Love is something that’s here to stay, I hope, and that’s why I choose it as my subject matter the great majority of the time.” Berry Gordy was once asked by a Detroit high school student, “How do you find guys like Smokey Robinson?” He simply responded, “You don’t find guys like Smokey Robinson.”
312. “Jump,” Van Halen. Songwriters: Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony, David Lee Roth; #1 pop; 1983. Eddie Van Halen successfully made the um…leap from being a guitar god to a synth-rock specialist on the risk taking rocker “Jump.” Author Chuck Klosterman, “As an articulation of unadulterated joy and the unprecedented power of six rudimentary keyboard chords arranged in the best possible sequence, ‘Jump’ is without flaw or peer.” Producer Ted Templeton, “Eddie wrote this thing on a synthesizer. I really hadn’t heard it for a long time, then they laid it down one night at the studio in Ed’s house. I went it the next day, I heard it and it just killed me. It was perfect. And I played it for the people at Warner Brothers, just the track, there wasn’t a song, it was just his synthesizer part. And everybody at Warner Brothers flipped out and we went in and cut the track the same way, almost identical.” According to David Lee Roth, the “might as well jump” theme was inspired by seeing a television account of a man threatening to kill himself by jumping off a building ledge.
311. “Every Picture Tells a Story,” Rod Stewart. Songwriters: Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood; Did Not Chart; 1971. On the title track of Rod Stewart’s 1971 album, a loose, sloppy, positively endearing rock ‘n’ roll band buttressed a peacock proud lead singer. Culturally, it wasn’t a problem to have a #1 single about slave owner sex (“Brown Sugar”) during this era, so Rod’s search for international adventure that ends with him falling in love with a “slit eyed lady” raised few eyebrows. Author Michael Little, “’Every Picture Tells a Story’ is one raucous yawp of pure joy. What’s more, it’s a moral fable (‘Make the best out of the bad/Just laugh it off/Ha!/You didn’t ask to come here anyway’) about coming to learn the only real lesson life has to teach, namely to not take life so damned seriously.” Drummer Micky Waller deserves a salute for his hard-hitting stick work. Author Mick Wall on Waller’s approach to his job, “Prized for his ‘Waller Wallop,’ his other affectionate nickname being ‘Wanker Waller,’ little Mickey didn’t own his own drum kit. He hated cymbals but always hit the snare’s sweet spot. If he had to play a solo, he’d demand more money.”