340. “The House of the Rising Sun,” The Animals. Songwriter: Traditional, arranged by Alan Price; #1 pop; 1964. “The House of the Rising Sun” is a traditional song with unknown origins that evolved into a folk tale about a New Orleans brothel. Although the roots of the song are most likely from England, the Animals discovered the song via Bob Dylan. Their #1 pop hit version has a tone of doomed misery, with Eric Burdon’s anguished vocals and Alan Price’s dark organ tones reinforcing the sense of despair. Guitarist Hilton Valentine on the band’s breakthrough hit, “The dynamics of the song was what The Animals used to do when we played – start off with a certain pace, move it up a few notches, really drive it – and then drop it, right back down. And then build back to a crescendo at the end. Eric was total excitement, totally on the spur of the moment. We just put our heads down. We were all into it, responding to each other.” Eric Burdon, “’’House of the Rising Sun’ is a song that I was just fated to. It was made for me and I was made for it. In my mind, the ‘house’ was a polished Gentleman’s Club. It had to be a room full of women of many colors, sizes and shapes. It would have a spiral staircase. It must have had a black man playing ragtime piano. It must be three stories high and smell of cheap perfume – and way too expensive for me to get across the threshold. I hate the word ‘whorehouse.’ In London, some of my best friends were hookers. I’ve always had a soft spot for ladies of the night, but may I add that I’ve never, ever paid for it. Every time I sing that song, it’s like having a perfect sex partner. It just climaxes naturally.”
339. “Tunnel of Love,” Bruce Springsteen. Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen; #9 pop; 1988. Bruce Springsteen approached the concept of commitment as though it were a spewing blowtorch on the 1988 album “Tunnel of Love.” Springsteen, “(The) ‘Tunnel of Love’ (album) captured the ambivalence, love and fear brought on by my new life. I was no longer a kid and now neither were the people who populated my new songs. If they didn’t find a way to ground themselves, the things they needed – life, love and a home – could and would pass them by.” Journalist Sanfraz Manzoor, “Listening to ‘Tunnel of Love’ reminds me of what Bob Dylan said about his 1975 record ‘Blood on the Tracks.’ ‘A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album,’ Dylan said. ‘It’s hard for me to relate to that. You know, people enjoying that type of pain.’ There is a fair amount of pain in ‘Tunnel of Love’ – the dull gnawing pain of seeing life stray from the hoped for script.” Springsteen summarized the turmoil in his soon to end marriage to Julianne Phillips with the lines, “There’s a room of shadows that gets so dark brother/It’s easy for two people to lose each other in this tunnel of love.” The “Tunnel of Love” album was released in October of 1987. Julianne Phillips filed for divorce in September of 1988.
338. “Tumblin’ Dice,” The Rolling Stones. Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards; #7 pop; 1972. Mick Jagger, “It started out with a great riff from Keith and we had it down as a completed song called ‘Good Time Women.’ It was quite fast and sounded great, but I wasn’t happy with the lyrics. Later, I got the title in my head, ‘call me the tumbling dice’ so I had a theme for it. I didn’t know anything about dice playing, but I knew lots of jargon used by dice players. I’d heard gamblers in casinos shouting it out. I asked my housekeeper if she played dice. She did and told me these terms. That was the inspiration.” The end result, a tale of sin and women and gambling, is a classic Stones cut with soul sisters reinforcing Jagger’s lyrics over a loose, relaxed midtempo groove. How did Keith Richards coax so many great riffs out of his Telecaster? Engineer Andy Johns, “Keith used to sleep with his guitars.”
337. “At My Front Door,” The El Dorados. Songwriters: Ewart Abner, John Moore; #17 pop/#1 R&B; 1955. The El Dorados motored into the pop music history from Chicago, scoring their only major hit with the crazy little mama doo wop rocker “At My Front Door.” The upbeat tune must have hidden some of the sexual swagger of the lyrics – it’s unusual to hear a black man during that era proclaiming on a pop hit, “If you got a little mama and ya want to keep her neat/Keep your little mama off my street.” From the website Buttsy’s Moments to Remember, “’At My Front Door’ was a landmark of the genre; it had every ingredient, from a simple, catchy theme to first-rate harmonizing and Pirkle Moses’ finest lead. The song featured Al Duricati’s pounding drum rhythm and a rousing sax solo. The so-called ‘baby talk’ pre-finale by Moses Jr. made the record soar even further, and the lyrics about that ‘crazy little mama’ became legendary.” The El Dorados went to #8 on the R&B charts in 1956 with their rhythmically challenged followup single “I’ll Be Forever Loving You” and then drove into the pop music sunset.
336. “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile),” Van Morrison. Songwriter: Van Morrison; #61 pop; 1972. On the lead cut from his 1972 “Saint Dominic’s Preview” album, Van Morrison sang with unabashed joy while fronting a horn heavy rhythm and blues band. Scatting and giving one of his most assertive vocal performances, Morrison translated his love of Jackie Wilson and of the blues/soul music that he represented into a rousing tribute. James Young of the BBC, “Soulful and uplifting, it’s awash with lyrical hooks powered by his increasingly mellifluous voice, and backed with pumping horns and rhythm section. It also showcases his signature utterances and vocalizations, the do-de-de-doos and dang-a-lang-a-langs, which are pure homage to his soul and doo-wop influences.” A well meaning, if not particularly inspired, cover version by Dexys Midnight Runners was a #5 U.K. pop hit in 1982.
335. “Band of Gold,” Freda Payne. Songwriters: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland (credited to Edythe Wayne and Ron Dunbar); #3 pop/#20 R&B; 1970. This honeymoon breakup song gets the Best Supporting Cast award for 1970. Motown legends Holland/Dozier/Holland wrote the song using lawsuit avoiding pseudonyms and Motown’s session players The Funk Brothers performed on the track. Ray Parker Jr., who was still attending classes at Detroit’s Northwestern High School, handled the lead guitar duties. Two of the background singers, Joyce Vincent Wilson and Telma Hopkins, would later become Tony Orlando’s Dawn. Freda Payne came from the world of jazz music and initially balked at singing “Band of Gold,” thinking the lyrics were better suited for a younger performer. However, she was able to convey a pained confusion that gave the song its emotional impact. Payne in 2016 “I thought that the song wasn’t about a mature woman at all but that it would better suit a fifteen or sixteen year old girl. The guys (Holland/Dozier Holland) just looked at me and said ‘you don’t have to like it, just sing it’ (laughter). And that as they say is how I came to record ‘Band of Gold’ (laughter). Back then if you had told me that that record was going to become timeless I would have said ‘you’ve got to be crazy. No one is going to want to play that record fifty years from now. Come on give me a break.’”
334. “She’s Not There,” The Zombies. Songwriter: Rod Argent; #2 pop; 1964. Rod Argent started the band that would become The Zombies as a young teenager in Hertfordshire, England during the late 1950s. Six years later they won a local contest that lead to the recording “She’s Not There,” a #2 pop hit on the U.S. charts. Author David Luhrssen, “’She’s Not There’ was a haunting two and a half minutes of minor chords whose obsessive lyric of lost love was delivered by Colin Bluntstone with the voice of a frightened ghost. Rod Argent’s short solo on electric piano suggested Dave Brubeck on amphetamines, and Bluntstone’s gulps for air signified the terror of loss.” Rod Argent, “If you play that John Lee Hooker song (‘No One Told Me’) you’ll hear ‘no one told me, it was just a feeling I had inside’ but there’s nothing in the melody or the chords that’s the same. It was just the way that little phrase just tripped off the tongue. I know I was very concerned with the lyrics on ‘She’s Not There’ but in the sense that they had to really complement the melody. They had to stand on their own, and had to have their own rhythm and, in that last section I was using the words with different stresses at different times to propel it along towards the final chord. So lyrics have always been very important to me in that way, but not necessarily in a sense of having to explain something concrete. They’re an important part of the jigsaw, because I think bad lyrics can screw up a song.”
333. “I’m A Loser,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; Did Not Chart; 1964. “I’m a Loser” was inspired by a variety of sources – the acoustic songwriting/lyrical style of Bob Dylan, the guitar work of Carl Perkins, and the relentless self-pity of country music. John Lennon, “’I’m a Loser’ is me and my Dylan period, because the word ‘clown’ is in it. I objected to the word ‘clown,’ because it was always artsy-fartsy, but Dylan had used it so I thought it was all right and it rhymed with whatever I was doing. Parts of me suspects I’m a loser and part of me thinks I’m God almighty.” Author Ian McDonald, “The pained lyrics is autobiographical, masked with a smile. Lennon later saw this as built in ambivalence, but the tune of the verse, with its comic drop of a fifth into the bottom of his range, can only be voiced tongue in cheek and the humor of the words must have followed accordingly. With its graphic match of melody and meaning, ‘I’m a Loser’ is expression of rueful self-ridicule, this time with a hint of genuine expression.”
332. “Blue Yodel #9 (Standing on the Corner),” Jimmie Rodgers. Songwriter: Jimmie Rodgers; Did Not Chart; 1930. “Blue Yodel #9” was a collaboration between the two most prominent music legends of their era. Jimmy Rodgers was the first true household name in the field of country music. Louis Armstrong would become an icon in pop music history for his innovative performances and magnetic personality. Armstrong played trumpet on “Standing on the Corner,” while his wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong, provided piano accompaniment. Musically, its country blues meets uptown jazz number. Lyrically, it’s all about the downtown Memphis thug life. Author Thomas Brothers, “The moment was heavily laden with racist ideologies. Two southern musicians found themselves in a recording studio in exotic Los Angeles. The white one was stretching out with his ‘Blue Yodel’ series as a creative extension of black-faced minstrelsy; the black one was making a comfortable berth for himself by blues-crooning pop hits for white America.”
331. “Rock This Joint,” Jimmy Preston and His Prestonians. Songwriters: Harold Crafton, Wendell Keane, Harold Bagby; #6 R&B; 1949. Pennsylvania born saxophonist Jimmy Preston had three R&B hits in 1949 and 1950 (one being a cover of Louis Prima’s “Oh Babe”) and his music represented a move from jump blues to what would later be labelled as rock ‘n’ roll. “Rock This Joint” features spirited background whoops and hollers, Preston declaring his intent to “ball tonight,” while the saxophones (performed by Jimmy Preston and tenor sax man Danny Turner) are busy throwing a party. Author Allan Moore, “The tempo is fast, and rendered in a shuffle (swing) rhythm with a very strong backbeat bound to a rollicking boogie line. The harmonies follow a straightforward blues progression, with a few of the interpolations typical of more sophisticated jazz. The effect is intense, celebratory, and highly danceable; the title and lyrics evoke dancing and never use the word ‘blues.’” Bill Haley had a #20 U.K. pop hit in 1957 with a remarkably tame cover. As for Preston, he left the music industry for another contingent of the entertainment sector, spending most of his adult life as a preacher.
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