The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 350 to 341
350. “Seminole Wind,” John Anderson. Songwriter: John Anderson; #2 country; 1992. After being left for dead by country music radio in 1987, John Anderson had a massive commercial comeback in 1992. Anderson penned “Seminole Wind,” the title track to his double platinum album released that year. The lyrics are filled with rich imagery about his native Florida and theoretical economic progress that destroyed the state’s natural habitat. However, it is such a beautiful composition that it never sounds preachy. Anderson, “I worked on it a long time. It was something I kept going back to and trying to make better. At that point, it wasn’t like we were writing a song for any particular reason other than to write a good song. Our record label deals were at a standstill. When I first started writing ‘Seminole Wind,’ it didn’t strike me as being very commercial because of the environmental (theme). By the time I finished it and played it to people, they were saying, ‘That’s a good song.’” Mike Boehm of the Los Angeles Times in 1996, “’Seminole Wind’ is an anthem of environmental warning whose epic sweep and dark grandeur qualify it for serious consideration as mainstream country’s artistic high-water mark for the decade so far.”
349. “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” Creedence Clearwater Revival. Songwriter: John Fogerty; #2 pop; 1970. Inspired by his toddler son and the imagery of Dr. Suess, John Fogerty’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” is one of CCR’s most whimsical moments, although competition in that category is rather sparse. Drummer Doug Clifford provided a snappy shuffle beat on this salute to the Bakersfield sound, which gives a lyrical salute to country innovator Buck Owens. Fogerty, “’Lookin’ Out My Back Door’ was the first time I played Dobro on a record. I’d gotten it in Nashville and learned enough to play a little part.” Fogerty created a vibrant fantasy world on this song, filled with flying spoons, musical elephants, cartwheel turning giants, high heeled sporting statues, and happy creatures dancing on his lawns. It’s a vividly blissful spot for a healing mental vacation.
348. “The Boys of Summer,” Don Henley. Songwriters: Don Henley, Mike Campbell; #5 pop; 1985. Rolling Stone, “Don Henley may not be the world’s most easy-going person, but he has a way with words. Take the line ‘Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac’ from his 1984 hit ‘The Boys of Summer.’ Is there any better way to show how the idealism of the Sixties gave way to the greed and materialism of the Eighties? He did it in 13 words, and the rest of the song is equally strong. Co-written by Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, it’s a simple tale of a yuppie who misses his summer love.” Jim Beviglia of American Songwriter, “In many ways (this is) an anti-summer song. Indeed, one of the first lines out of Henley’s mouth is ‘The summer’s out of reach.’ Instead of a treatise on sun, surf, and all the rest, ‘The Boys Of Summer’ presents a wistful portrait of a man clinging to a lover who has left him in the cold for the titular flavors of the season. Henley borrowed the title from Roger Kahn’s famous book about the Brooklyn Dodgers and used it to represent everything youthful and vibrant with which the narrator can no longer compete.”
347. “Miss You,” The Rolling Stones. Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards; #1 pop/#33 R&B; 1978. The act billed as “The World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band” wasn’t impervious to the monolithic disco music scene. In fact, they actively enjoyed it. Charlie Watts, “A lot of those songs were heavily influenced by going to the discos. You can hear it in a lot of those four on the floor rhythms and the Philadelphia-style drumming. Mick and I used to go to discos a lot.” Rock critic Tom Breihan, “The groove on “Miss You” is a sidling strut — different enough from the Stones’ old blues throb that it worked on 1978 radio, similar enough that nobody else could’ve made it. The Stones understood which parts of disco would work with the sound and the persona that they’d already built. They played disco as an insistent, bluesy slither. They made it their own.” An uncredited Billy Preston was responsible for the bassline that the song was built around. Keith Richards, on touring with the former solo star Preston as a sideman for the Stones, “There was one time in Glasgow when he was playing so loud, he was drowning out the rest of the band. I took him backstage and showed him the blade. ‘You know what this is, Bill? If you don’t turn that fucking thing down right now, you’re going to feel it.” But most of the time, I never had a problem (with him).”
346. “Wild Night, Van Morrison. Songwriter: Van Morrison; #28 pop; 1971. “Wild Night” starts with a bluesy guitar intro from Ronnie Montrose, the same man who would lead the heavy metal band Montrose later in the decade, before kicking into an upbeat dance/romance/boogie woogie rocker. The brassy horns underscore the theme of adventures and possibilities. Author Maury Dean, “Girls stand around, muses Van, all dolled up to look at each other. Guys boogie down on the corner. All wait, impatiently for something COSMIC to happen in their microcosmic lives. ‘Wild Night’ salutes that first magic night when the new luscious warm spring busts out a fine fury of raging hormones and sweet summer love dreams. The wild night is alive – down the road. Come out and join the jamboree.” “Wild Night” became a bigger hit when recorded by John Mellencamp and Michelle Ndegeocello in 1994, peaking at #3 on the pop charts.
345. “The Book of Love,” The Magnetic Fields. Songwriter: Stephin Merritt; Did Not Chart; 1999. The Magnetic Fields is a vehicle for singer/songwriter Stephin Merritt and his band floored critics with his 1999 triple CD concept work “69 Love Songs.” Not sounding anything like The Monotones of 1950’s fame, Merritt constructs a sound of lo fi beauty on “The Book of Love,” where the narrator is simultaneously bored with the concept of attachment, yet desperately needs it. Novelist Peter Straub, “It’s a romantic song expressed in decidedly anti-romantic terms. The lyrics are deliberately – or instinctively – not poetic at all, they’re ordinary ‘cat and dog’ language. And that gives Merritt’s lyrics tremendous power because it is the language we use with one another. Anytime he uses the words ‘anything’ or ‘nothing’ it carries huge emotional weight. And when he says ‘The book of love is long and boring,’ what he’s really saying is: ‘I want to read that book from beginning to end.’” Merritt on the rewards of his most famous song, “Peter Gabriel’s cover of this song paid for the down payment on my house in L.A.”
344. “Stay,” Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs. Written by Maurice Williams; #1 pop/#3 R&B; 1960. Maurice Williams first found success penning “Little Darlin’,” a 1957 R&B hit by his high school act The Gladiolas that became a #2 pop hit the Diamonds. Williams reportedly wrote “Stay” in 1953, as a fifteen-year-old boy upset by his girlfriend’s curfew. Williams, “Like a flood, the words just came to me.” Rock critic Tom Breihan on the shortest #1 song in pop music history, “We’re only 30 seconds into ‘Stay’ when it arrives. The blaring, exaggerated falsetto hits like an air-raid siren, electric and absurd in its urgency. It’s the sort of sound that belongs to an alley cat in a Warner Bros. cartoon, not to an actual rational human reaction. ‘Stay’ was a pretty great little doo-wop song before that falsetto showed up. When the falsetto arrived, it became immortal.” The falsetto didn’t belong to Maurice Williams, it was the product of Henry “Shane” Gaston. Williams, “There wouldn’t have been a ‘Stay’ without Shane. The high part made the song – Lord knows that. We had so many covers of ‘Stay,’ it’s hard to keep up with. My favorite was The Four Seasons. I was big fan of the Four Seasons. When Frankie did ‘Stay,’ I said, ‘Wow!’ That blew my mind.” A revised version of “Stay,” released in 1977 by Jackson Browne as a medley with his composition “The Load-Out,” became a staple of the AOR era.
343. “Jagged,” Old 97s, Songwriters: Rhett Miller, Ken Bethea, Murry Hammond, Philip Peeples; Did Not Chart; 1999. “Jagged” sounds like a man at the end of his rope, both Ken Bethea’s fuzzed out guitar and Rhett Miller’s raspy, exasperated vocals convey that the narrator is fighting a losing battle. Rock critic Jim Connelly, “(Rhett Miller has) probably never better than on the chorus of ‘Jagged,’ where he’s so off-kilter that he’s slipping into a near-falsetto at the end of every single one of those choruses, as if to say that his jaggedness is even affecting his vocal control.” Keith Phillips of the A.V. Club on the band’s songwriting skills, “(The) Old 97’s seem to have perfected the art of crafting songs that dare listeners not to sing along.” Really weird fact – “Jagged” was penned for, but not used in, a Vince Vaughn movie. Miller, “Sometimes writing a song is straight-up commerce.”
342. “Kicks,” Paul Revere & The Raiders. Songwriters: Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil; #4 pop; 1966. The Idaho turned Oregon garage rock act Paul Revere & The Raiders peaked in the mid-1960s with the singles “Just Like Me,” “Hungry,” and “Kicks.” Vocalist Mark Lindsay, “(Producer) Terry (Melcher) was looking for material for the group and he kinda sent out an APB (all points bulletin). Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil sent him ‘Kicks.’ As a matter of fact, we had just cut ‘Steppin’ Stone’ and were ready to release it as a single, and then Terry got ‘Kicks’ in the mail and he played it for me, and he said, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘Man, we gotta cut this NOW!.’” This anti-drug message song had been rejected by The Animals and became the first U.S. Top 5 pop hit for the unconventional Raiders. Despite being out of step with the “turn on, tune in, drop out” message of the era, the sweet hooks and garage rock sound of “Kicks” has its own addictive powers. Robert Christgau, “This was the one American garage band whose recorded output justified the ensuing mythos.”
341. “Susie Q,” Dale Hawkins. Songwriters: Dale Hawkins, Robert Chaisson, Stan Lewis, Eleanor Broadwater; #27 pop/#7 R&B; 1957. Dale Hawkins emerged from Shreveport, Louisiana with his swamp rock hit “Susie Q,” which clangs away on percussion with drums and cowbell, then adds the famed lean guitar lick from James Burton. Hawkins, “I am a perfectionist, so I put James through boot camp. He played (the riff) over and over until it was the way I wanted it to sound. I don’t think anyone else could have done it but James. ‘Susie Q’ would not be nearly as good as it is if it hadn’t been for James’ playing.” John Fogerty, “I loved ‘Susie Q.’ I remember hearing it in my mom’s car and just bangin’ away on the dashboard. It has a great riff. GREAT. You’ll notice that James Burton’s name is not among the names of the people credited with writing ‘Susie Q.’ That’s a crime. At least half of that song is that lick.”