The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 330 to 321
330. “Rebel Girl,” Bikini Kill. Songwriters: Kathleen Hanna, Billy Karren, Tobi Vail, Kathi Wilcox; Did Not Chart; 1993. Bikini Kill formed at a liberal arts college in Olympia, Washington in 1990 and became one of the defining bands of the riot grrrl movement. On “Rebel Girl,” Kathleen Hanna screams about her girl crush while her backing band rocks out like the Sex Pistols in 1977. Kathleen Hanna, “Me and Allison Wolfe (of the band Bratmobile) had started doing this group that later became riot grrrl, and it was a bunch of girls talking about starting bands and zines and how we could be feminist in the scene, including doing benefits for other groups that weren’t directly, you know, feminist with a capital ‘F.’ I was also being mentored at the time by the spoken-word artist Juliana Luecking, who has always given me great advice and shown me the ropes as a feminist artist. All of those girls were totally inspiring me, and the riot grrrl thing was inspiring me, and it was really like I just stuck my hand up in the air and there it was. I don’t really feel like I can take credit for writing it — I feel like it just kind of wrote itself.” Rolling Stone, “’Rebel Girl’ is an anthem for the neighborhood girl with the revolution in her hips. (It) keeps every radical promise punk rock ever made.”
329. “Freak Scene,” Dinosaur Jr. Songwriter: J Mascis; Did Not Chart; 1988. The Amherst, Massachusetts rock band Dinosaur Jr. mixed classic and punk rock influences resulting in much greater influence than immediate impact. Journalist Rob Hughes, “’Freak Scene’ was the definitive alt-rock anthem, a three-and-a-half-minute barrage of sound that opened the door for grunge while also finding room for not one but two face-melting guitar solos.” Nirvana biographer Everett True, “Dinosaur Jr. were a huge influence on the Seattle scene. The description that was applied to grunge early on – ‘ hard music played to a slow tempo’ – could have been designed for Dinosaur. The opening song on 1988’s ‘Bug’ (album), ‘Freak Scene,’ invented the slacker generation.” J Mascis on his slacker approach to songwriting, “Generally, my songs are just some riffs slung together as an excuse for a guitar solo.”
328. “Stagger Lee,” Lloyd Price. Songwriter: Traditional/Ray Lopez (credited); #2 pop/#1 R&B; 1959. The song “Stagger Lee” was based on the murder of a St. Louis pimp, so say the history books, on Christmas of 1895 and was included in folklore music books in the early 20th century. Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians recorded an instrumental big band take of “Stack O’Lee Blues” in 1923 and it became somewhat of a standard of its era with versions by Ma Rainey, Mississippi John Hurt, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Woody Guthrie. New Orleans singer Archibald (nee John Leon Gross) had an R&B hit with his piano only take in 1950. Lloyd Price cut the definitive rock ‘n’ roll version of the song, with a sound more like a N’awlins Saturday night than a murder dirge (Dick Clark convinced Price to release a less violent version of the song, but that sanitized version is virtually forgotten today). Greil Marcus, “Price’s record was hard rock, driven by a wailing sax, and in retrospect his manic enthusiasm seems to be what many earlier versions lacked.”
327. “Gimme Some Lovin’,” The Spencer Davis Group. Songwriters: Steve Winwood, Spencer Davism, Muff Winwood; #7 pop; 1966. The Spencer Davis Group formed in Birmingham, England in 1963 and had their first significant hit in the U.S., following two U.K. #1 singles, with “Gimme Some Lovin’.” Steve Winwood in 1988, “’Gimme Some Lovin’ is obviously the bane of my life in some ways, because I’ve got to do it all the time. But now you actually have a lot more people who have heard ‘Higher Love’ than ‘Gimme Some Lovin’.’ Or, often, people have heard ‘Gimme Some Lovin” and don’t know it’s me. That happens a lot. They say, ‘Why are you covering that Blues Brothers song?’” “Gimme Some Lovin’” sounds like a U.S. Southern soul song for a reason, the intro riff was copied from a 1966 single by Stax artist Homer Banks titled “(Ain’t That) a Lot of Love.” Spencer Davis, “Muff (Winwood) had a bass riff from an old Homer Banks record. Steve played a Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ kind of thing and said to me to play minor (chords), not majors.” Muff Winwood, “Steve had been singing ‘gimme some lovin’,’ just yelling anything, so that became the title. It took about an hour to write, then down to the pub for lunch.” Despite going Top Ten in the U.S. and U.K. with “Gimme Some Lovin’” and the followup single “I’m a Man,” Winwood left The Spencer Davis Group in 1967 to direct (my apologies) Traffic.
326. “I’m Eighteen,” Alice Cooper. Songwriters: Alice Cooper, Michael Bruce, Glen Buxton, Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith; #21 pop; 1970. The Alice Cooper band was associated with Frank Zappa in the late 1960s and set the standard during the 1970s for theatrical outrageousness in a rock ‘n’ roll setting. “I’m Eighteen,” a rocker about confusion and doubt while transitioning to manhood, was the band’s breakthrough hit. The song was originally an eight minute jam that producer Bob Ezrin thought was titled “I’m Edgy.” Cooper on Ezrin’s contribution, “’Eighteen’ was a jam that we’d warm up with, it wasn’t even a song, and Bob said, ‘That’s a hit.’ ‘How?’ we said. He kept saying, ‘Dumb it down. Make it simpler.’ He’d add a piano on the bassline, and we’d go, ‘You can’t put a piano on an Alice Cooper song.’ But he was absolutely correct. When we got done listening to ‘Eighteen,’ we just could not believe it.” Lyrically, what did Alice Cooper decide to do about his late teen angst trepidation? He thoroughly embraced it.
325. “All Shook Up,” Elvis Presley. Songwriters: Otis Blackwell, Elvis Presley; #1 pop/#1 country/#1 R&B; 1957. Elvis in 1957, “I’ve never even had an idea for a song. Just once, maybe. I went to bed one night, had quite a dream, and woke up all shook up. I phoned a pal and told him about it. By morning, he had a new song, ‘All Shook Up’.” Otis Blackwell, with a different take and how it impacted his songwriting “partnership” with Elvis, “(Music publisher) Al Stanton walked in one day with a bottle of Pepsi, shaking it … and said, ‘Otis, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you write a song called ‘All Shook Up.’’ Two days later I brought the song in and said, ‘Look, man. I did something with it.’ After that song, the agreement about sharing song writing credit was washed. We had both proved how good we were and had a good thing between the two of us.” This buttercup loving tune topped the three major U.S. charts and was Presley’s first #1 U.K. hit. Rock critic John Bush, “Alluding vaguely to his trademark hiccuping vocal style and spitting out syllables like he can’t keep them down any longer, Presley manages to sound volcanic even while he’s slightly restrained. The result is one of Elvis’ quintessentially mainstream early hits, a lightweight pop song given a deceptively bravura performance.”
324. “Summer in the City,” The Lovin’ Spoonful. Songwriters: John Sebastian, Mark Sebastian, and Steve Boone; #1 pop; 1966. “Summer in the City” was inspired by, depending on what source you believe, a poem or a bossa nova song that John Sebastian’s brother Mark wrote at the age of 15. John Sebastian’s grand description of this explosive, hotter than a match head #1 pop hit, “That song that came from an idea my brother Mike had. He had this great chorus, and the release was so big. I had to create some kind of tension at the front end to make it even bigger. That’s where that jagged piano part comes from. I tried to write this angular thing in a minor key that then opens up like a Jewish folk song by going to the subdominant chord in a major way. Like ‘Exodus.’ And ‘Evening of Roses’ – from which it was stolen. The idea was to start with something that has that minor mode and then move into the major for the chorus. In the process of recording it Seven Boone, the bassist for the Spoonful, had a fragment that he played constantly in rehearsals. I thought this could be the bridge and it was also in a different time signature, so it did a thing that was almost classical in really taking you from one mood to another. Between that and just a nice accident, then it started to sound like Gershwin, like ‘American in Paris’ to me. And in that he was imitating traffic. So let’s imitate traffic. We hired this old radio sound man who came in and helped us find traffic and particular car horns. Then we ended it up with that pneumatic hammer.”
323. “Sexual Healing,” Marvin Gaye. Songwriters: Marvin Gaye, Odell Brown, David Ritz; #3 pop/#1 R&B; 1982. Marvin Gaye used modern drum machine technology with a lyric of sexual desire to construct what Blender magazine called “the plaintively blue-balled model for basically every slow jam” since its release. Chris Norris of The New Yorker, “By 1982, Marvin Gaye had fled drug, money, and family problems to the small Belgian city of Ostend, severing his ties with Motown. Fragile and paranoid, Gaye began working on new music, gravitating to an instrument that would preserve his isolation. ‘He wanted to use synthesizers and drum machines so he could do it all himself,’ the engineer Frank Butcher says in the documentary. ‘He didn’t want anyone else involved.’ Butcher recalls Gaye pushing buttons, setting levels, programming beats and cueing rhythms, without singing or saying a thing. Once he was finished building the song, Gaye pushed ‘play’ and sang the vocal line to the song ‘Sexual Healing.’ It sounds nothing like hip-hop or techno, despite being made almost entirely with a Roland TR-808 drum machine. That song sounds like it does because it was Marvin Gaye using the 808. Surprisingly often, the ghost in this machine is the human standing beside it.”
322. “Just Like Honey,” The Jesus and Mary Chain. Songwriters: William Reid, Jim Reid; Did Not Chart; 1985. Scottish gloom rockers The Jesus and Mary Chain formed in 1983 and received heaps of scorn and praise for their 1985 “Psychocandy” album, with critics torn about whether their dark, feedback drenched sound was revolutionary or a poor man’s version of The Velvet Underground. On “Just Like Honey,” brothers William and Jim Reid replicated the drum beat from “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes and played guitar chords that sounded like shredded barb wire. Cam Lindsay of Noisey, “The music was self-produced and alien, their marriage of melody and noise was as original as pop music could get in 1985. The lyrics, on the other hand, were dripping with sexual allegories even the best erotica novelists couldn’t put to paper. The best and only real way to interpret ‘Just Like Honey’ is as a celebration of cunnilingus, as Jim sings, ‘Moving up and so alive in her honey dripping beehive…/ I’ll be your plastic toy.’ This was coming from the mouth of a shy Scottish boy newly relocated out of his familial home.” One additional reason to love this song, if needed – its association with Scarlett Johansson.
321. “Fly Like an Eagle,” Steve Miller. Songwriter: Steve Miller; #2 pop; 1976. Steve Miller recycled the guitar riff from his 1969 album track “My Darkest Hour” for his spacey blues rock hit “Fly Like an Eagle.” Miller, “I wrote the song in reaction to what I saw on the road. In ’73, things hadn’t gotten all juicy and ’70s yet. American ground troops were returning home from Vietnam to a recession, and people were living on the streets. It was a bad time. Originally, I wrote the lyrics as a political statement. The words were from the perspective of Native Americans and the despair they felt. At some point on tour, I broadened the lyrics’ focus. I wanted to make the song’s message more universal to reflect everyone who was suffering and wanted change. Revising the song, I had a visual image of a mirror ball with light bouncing off of it. The song needed sparkle. As soon as I began fooling around with the Roland (synthesizer) on ‘Fly Like an Eagle,’ the song sounded great. I created effects on the keyboard that felt like an eagle taking off and flying.” Or, to summarize all of this in the language of music: “Tick tock tick/ Doo doo doo-doo.”