The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 370 to 361
370. “Trust in Me,” Etta James. Songwriters: Ned Wever, Milton Ager, Jean Schwartz; #30 pop/#4 R&B; 1961. Jamesetta Hawkins had a difficult childhood raised in poverty in Los Angeles and San Francisco, never knowing who her father was, although she speculated he was famed pool player Rudolf “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone. She met Johnny Otis as a teenager and had a Top Five R&B hit in 1955 with “The Wallflower” (sometimes known as “Roll with Me, Henry” or “Dance with Me, Henry”) credited to Etta James and The Peaches. She found continued R&B success early in the 1960s recording for Chess Records and later in the decade with records produced in Muscle Shoals by Rick Hall. “Trust in Me” came from the 1930’s pop era – songwriter Milton Ager wrote for Hollywood (“Ain’t She Sweet,” “Happy Days Are Here Again”) and lyricist Jean Schwartz wrote for Tin Pan Alley and Broadway (“Chinatown, My Chinatown”). Mildred Bailey (“The Queen of Swing”) recorded an orchestra ballad version of “Trust in Me” that peaked at #4 on the pop charts in 1937. Serial husband Eddie Fisher scored a Top 40 hit with “Trust in Me” in 1952 and canine admirer Patti Page cut a high school prom version in 1959. None of those precedents sounded anything like Etta’s vocal showcase, where the spare instrumentation allows her to go from tender sweet to full throated passion. Bonnie Raitt, “There’s a lot going on in Etta James’ voice. A lot of pain, a lot of life but, most of all, a lot of strength.”
369. “Save My Soul,” Wimple Winch. Songwriters: Demetrius Christopholus, Johnny Kelman; Did Not Chart; 1966. Wimple Winch formed in Liverpool in 1963, first recording Beatles influenced material using the name Just Four Men. They changed their name in 1966 when they adopted a more aggressive rock sound, which has alternately been described as psychedelic rock, protopunk and freakbeat. The band carries their pride like a burning cross on “Save My Soul,” which is carried by a heavy bassline in the verses then explodes in the chorus. Author Kieron Taylor, “Once heard, Wimple Winch’s ‘Save my Soul’ is never forgotten. It is one of the most tightly coiled British records from the Sixties and has sudden explosions of tension suggesting the band are ready to punch anyone within reach. Late the previous year, The Who’s ‘My Generation’ had taken pop music to new, hitherto unexplored, levels of aggression. ‘Save My Soul’ went much further. It is a landmark.” Wimple Winch demonstrated their diversity by creating an interesting, self-contained rock opera with their 1967 single “Rumble on Mersey South Square.” Shunned by the marketplace, Wimple Winch disbanded during the summer of love.
368. “Go West,” Pet Shop Boys. Songwriters: Jacques Morali, Henri Belolo, Victor Willis, Neil Tennant, Chris Lowe; Did Not Chart; 1993. “Go West” was originally a minor pop hit for The Village People in 1979, peaking at #45 in the U.S. pop charts, but, perhaps more importantly, it was a #15 U.K. pop hit. The Pet Shop Boys significantly restructured the song, resulting in a European soccer anthem and their biggest international hit of the 1990s (“Go West” went Top Ten in fifteen countries while only “Bubbling Under” the U.S. pop charts). In addition to adding a new bridge and using a Broadway choir, the arrangement brought to the forefront the chord progression to German composer’s Johann Pachelbel’ “Canon in D.” Journalist Robbie Daw, “Lyrically, ‘Go West’ describes a gay utopia, though lifting it out of the ’70s and re-setting it as an AIDS-era anthem enabled the Pet Shop Boys to add new shades of both irony and sorrow to the song.” Neil Tennant in 2017, “I never know whether ‘Go West’ didn’t establish such a strong idea of us in the public eye that it became an albatross. It’s such a strong thing, it’s difficult to escape from – assuming you want to escape from it. People expect you to doof-doof, four-on-the-floor and we don’t necessarily do that.”
367. “Please Mr. Postman,” The Marvelettes. Songwriters: Georgia Dobbins, William Garrett, Freddie Gorman, Brian Holland, Robert Bateman; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1961. The Marvelettes were Detroit area high school teenagers who auditioned for Motown in 1961. After Berry Gordy asked them to bring in a composition, Georgia Dobbins reworked a blues number by songwriter William Garrett for the initial version of “Please Mr. Postman.” The song was polished by Motown staff writers and became #1 pop single for the label. From the website Motown Junkies on their namesake label’s first #1 pop single, “This was a watershed; the nation’s top record, the best-selling record across America, in jukeboxes and on radios all over the nation, was by five African-American schoolgirls on a black-owned independent label. And it was BRILLIANT. That supreme pop craft is evident right from the beginning, with an off-beat start – a drum beat, a backing vocal shout of ‘Wait!’ before the lead vocals kick in, ‘oh yes, wait a minute, Mister Postman’ – just enough to grab your attention, when a straightforward start would have perhaps called more attention to the song’s simplicity. The illusion of complexity is created by having the Marvelettes sing a flat verse (on backing vocals) while Gladys does a melismatic, powerful, hairs-standing-on-end vocal riff, and then she and the other Marvelettes swap places, Gladys singing the words of the verse to create the ‘chorus,’ leading to an almost unbroken loop of self-reinforcing pop perfection.” Kat Anderson of The Marvelettes reminiscing in 2011, “When ‘Please Mr. Postman’ became a No. 1 pop hit in December 1961, we didn’t find out until later. We were touring. Besides, we didn’t even know there were things called ‘charts.’”
366. “Daydream Believer,” The Monkees. Songwriter: John Stewart; #1 pop; 1967. “Daydream Believer” was the third and final #1 pop song for The Monkees, coming after the 1966 chart toppers “Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer.” Peter Tork, “This comes from what I called the ‘mixed-mode’ period. ‘Mixed’ was us and some pros in the studio. With ‘Daydream Believer,’ I was on the piano and I came up with this opening lick which I thought was just sparklingly original. When you play it today, everyone thinks of ‘Daydream Believer.’ What really makes the song work, I think, is the chord change on ‘Jean’ in ‘Cheer up sleepy Jean.’ It goes from a IV chord to a V chord to a III. That’s a very unexpected and sweet chord change. It really grabs your attention. Then there’s the line, ‘What can it mean to a daydream believer and a homecoming queen.’ It doesn’t go right in your face, but when you think about it you figure it out. You’re like, ‘Okay, the guy is in a workaday world and he’s got his head in the clouds. His girlfriend was a homecoming queen, but they’re still scratching.’ You don’t get all that until you think about it for a long time. Davy sings this one, and he was such a talented guy, and a good actor. He was probably the best actor among us. He probably had the best musical mind, too. The best brain and maybe the best heart.” Davy Jones, reflecting on how many takes the song took has said, “You can tell from the vocals that I was pissed off!” (He must have been a real beast when he was angry.) Songwriter John Stewart, who once said, “’Daydream Believer’ kept me alive for all these years,” reached the pop charts in 1979 with his #5 pop hit “Gold.”
365. “You’re No Good,” Betty Everett. Songwriter: Clint Ballard, Jr.; #51 pop/#5 R&B; 1963. “You’re No Good” – penned by Clint Ballard who also wrote the Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders’ hit “Game of Love” – was the first charting single for Chicago singer Betty Everett who had her biggest hit the following year with “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss).” A famous 1970’s musician also had his recording debut on this single. Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire reflecting on his first session work as a drummer, “I was scared to death, but I agreed to do it. When I got down to the recording session it turned out to be for Vee-Jay Records – Betty Everett’s ‘You’re No Good.’” Dee Dee Warwick had released the original version of “You’re No Good,” produced by Lieber and Stoller, two months before Everett’s more soulful/proto-funk take raced up the R&B charts. Calvin Carter of Vee-Jay Records initially pitched the song to an unreceptive Dee Clark and later involved The Dells in an unusual way for the record. Carter, “The Dells were sitting there on the playback and just stomping their feet on this wooden platform to the beat of the song as it was playing back. I told the engineer, ‘Let’s do it again, and let’s mike those foot pounds, ‘cause it really gave it a hell of a beat.’ So we did that, and boom, a hit. Betty Everett with the Dells on feet.” Linda Ronstadt took her more histrionic reading of this defective man song to #1 on the pop charts in 1975.
364. “Hey Jude,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #1 pop; 1969. As every Beatles fan knows, “Hey Jude” was written by Paul McCartney as a song of encouragement to Julian Lennon. Julian Lennon in 1987, “Paul told me he’d been thinking about my circumstances, about what I was going through and what I’d have to go through. Paul and I used to hang out quite a bit – more than Dad and I did. There seem to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing at that age than me and Dad. It surprises me whenever I hear the song. It’s strange to think someone has written a song about you. It still touches me.” Author Ian McDonald on the recording of “Hey, Jude,” “They packed thirty-six highly trained classical musicians into a small room to play four chords over and over again, closing the evening by requesting them to clap and sing along. Persuaded by a double fee, all but one complied.” The length of the song and the extended coda created a communal feel. Author Kenneth Womack, “Ultimately ‘Hey Jude’ ponders the notion that individual healing is rendered possible through a renewed relationship with the human community that exists beyond the self.” Author Tim Riley reflected on McCartney’s vocal performance, “It’s weirdly imbalanced. It’s as if Beethoven wrote a concerto and the cadenza went on longer than the sonata. (McCartney is) Baryshnikov at the end, dancing all over the place. It’s a tour de force. He goes from extreme intimacy to ecstatic shouting – wild euphoria – all in the span of a single track. The range is what separates it from every other vocal display.”
363. “Kiss,” Prince and The Revolution. Songwriter: Prince; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1986. “Kiss” sounded different than anything else on the radio on 1986, due to its lean production values, and Prince’s fluttering falsetto vocals. I’m not sure a human being has ever sung at a higher vocal register. Prince initially wrote “Kiss” as a short acoustic demo and gave it to the Minneapolis R&B band Mazarati. After they reworked it into a minimalistic funk track, Prince took the song back from them. Douglas Wolk of Time, “’Kiss’ is a perfect dance track built out of negative space. It sounds minimal, razor-thin, barely sketched out — but its brilliant arrangement incorporates about a billion instruments (all of them in the treble range). Every sound is microcontrolled, beginning with the shifting tone of the opening guitar flourish and the orgasmic gasp and snare snap that lock it down. The most magnificent element, though, is Prince’s vocal — a fantastically acrobatic falsetto come-on, punctuated with firecracker exclamations and climaxing with roof-raising shrieks. There had never been another record that sounded anything like ‘Kiss,’ and the highest compliment it can be paid is that 25 years later there still hasn’t been one.” Mark Brown of Mazarati on not receiving a writing credit, “To be honest, every time I hear it – on the radio, in a movie, when Tom Jones covers it – I think about how much money I didn’t make.”
362. “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” The Johnny Burnette Trio. Songwriters: Tiny Bradshaw, Lois Mann (Syd Nathan); Did Not Chart; 1956. Rockabilly pioneer Johnny Burnette was a Memphis native who formed his band in 1952, then relocated to New York in his search for fame. “Train Kept A-Rollin’” was originally released by R&B artist Tiny Bradshaw in 1951, but Burnette reworked the song into a raging rocker, with a highly charged, distorted guitar sound unlike anything else during its era. (Whether the guitar playing was done by trio guitarist Paul Burlison or Nashville session ace Grady Martin has been a subject of historical controversy). In addition to the instrumental sound, one can’t forget the lead singer’s contribution. Author Billy Poore, “Johnny Burnette’s burnin’ hot, gut-wrenchin’ vocals and screams, all sounded so natural in his great Memphis drawl.” The Burnette version of “Train” has had a multi-generational legacy, being the model for the 1965 Yardbirds cover and the 1974 Aerosmith remake. It was also the first song that Led Zeppelin performed in their first rehearsal. Jimmy Page, “It was so powerful that I don’t remember what we played after that. For me it was just like, ‘Crikey!’ I mean, I’d had moments of elation with groups before, but nothing as intense as that. It was like a thunderbolt, a lightning flash – boosh! Everyone sort of went ‘Wow.’” Johnny Burnette had his biggest pop success with his 1960 cover of “You’re Sixteen” (a #8 single), a song that Ringo Starr topped the U.S. pop charts with in December of 1973.
361. “Yes We Can (Part 1),” Lee Dorsey. Songwriter: Allen Toussaint; #46 R&B; 1970. While Booker T. & the M.G.’s were laying down southern R&B at Stax Records in Memphis, the Meters were the house band for Allen Touissant in New Orleans. They developed into a first-rate funk band, based around the rhythms of drummer Ziggy Modeliste. “Yes We Can,” a brotherhood anthem, sounded nothing like Dorsey’s 1960’s hits, and should have filled dance floors, even created them, all across America. Stephen Thomas Erlwine on the “Yes We Can” album, “Dorsey, Toussaint, and the Meters all make it sound easy, when it really was the most sophisticated funk and soul of its time.” While it wasn’t a significant hit for Dorsey, “Yes We Can” had a few more lives in it – it went to #11 on the pop charts for the Pointer Sisters in 1973 (as “Yes We Can Can”) and became the unofficial New Orleans anthem for post Hurricane Katrina reconstruction in the mid-2000s.