The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 410 to 401

Written by | April 27, 2021 5:24 am | No Comments

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410. “The Passenger,” Iggy Pop. Songwriters: Iggy Pop, Ricky Gardiner; Did Not Chart; 1977. “The Passenger” is Iggy’s nocturnal travelogue – an admiration of the city, the stars, and the ocean, while being chauffeured in the dead of night. Author Chris Neill’s summary, “He’s a brooding traveler, a wandering vagrant cast out from the world. He’s never in the driver’s seat, watching the world go by as a passenger – only able to observe, never interact. A punk nomad accompanied by an incredible guitar riff and a chorus you can’t help but sing along to. It’s also a song about being stuck in the backseat of David Bowie’s car while touring the US and Europe. Inspiration strikes at weird places.” Iggy was a cult artist in 1977, however, this song became a hit single in the U.K. in 1998. He is one of the rare examples, Leonard Cohen would be another, of a cult artist staying true to his vision and eventually being discovered by a large, appreciative fan base.

409. “Alone Again Or,” Love. Songwriter: Bryan MacLean; Did Not Chart; 1967. The Los Angeles band Love moved from the fierce garage rock of 1966’s “7 and 7 Is” to a mind expanding journey into psychedelia the following year. Creem scribe Richard Riegel on Love’s groundbreaking 1967 LP, “In ‘Forever Changes,’ Love’s resident genius, Arthur Lee, who’d already created and lived the black hippie persona his friend Jimi Hendrix would take to the heavens, had now written a broken-vase-of-flower-power eulogy for the Summer of Love, from its very heart. Lee hadn’t necessarily foreseen the political and cultural cataclysms that would wilt the decade’s promise so savagely in 1968; instead, that acid-washed summer convinced him that he wouldn’t survive 1967, so he composed the songs on ‘Forever Changes’ as if they might be his ‘last words to this life.’ Arthur Lee’s shiver of impending mortality informs the entire album, gives it that seductive, seamless mix of beauty and terror that many who were there in late 1967 were beginning to feel.” Despite Lee’s dominance of the band, the psychedelic swirl of “Alone Again Or” was penned by Bryan MacLean as a tribute to his flamenco dancing mother. Jac Holzman of Elektra Records, “’Forever Changes’ would have never worked without ‘Alone Again Or,’ which is a portal song. You choose to enter, and if you didn’t get into it after that, you would never be ready. If you surrendered to the song, the entire trip that followed was simply stunning. ‘Alone Again Or’ demanded that the listener set aside judgment and surrender to it.”

408. “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” Marvin Gaye. Songwriters: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland; #6 pop/#3 R&B; 1964. Washington D.C. native Marvin Gaye began his professional music career as a member of The Marquees in 1957, a group later hired by Harvey Fuqua and renamed as the New Moonglows. As part of this unit, Gaye provided backing vocals for the Chuck Berry hits “Back in the U.S.A.” and “Almost Grown.” He signed with Tamla/Motown in 1961 and had his first Top 40 hit the following year with “Hitch Hike.” “How Sweet It Is” was his biggest pop hit as a solo artist until 1968’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Songwriter/producer Lamont Dozier on the recording process, “Marvin Gaye was pissed because it was out of his key. He hated to be cut in higher keys because he wanted to be a baritone crooner. But he has such a fire in certain keys. When you take him at the end of his range, where he had to scuffle for it, he became very imaginative, hitting his falsetto in certain places. It was effective and it made something magical happen.” “How Sweet It Is” was a much maligned charting single for James Taylor in 1975, but in the words of Iman Lababedi, “This huge hit shows how soulful Taylor can be, and how pop Gaye was, while both remained strikingly true to themselves.”

407. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #1 pop; 1967. Even with the obvious reference to LSD, John Lennon always maintained that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was not about acid. Lennon, “My son (Julian) came home with a drawing of a strange-looking woman flying around. He said, ‘It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds.’ I thought, ‘That’s beautiful.’ I immediately wrote the song about it.” Lennon has stated that the lyrical images were inspired by Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Musical experimentation on “Lucy” included altering the speed of the vocals, George Harrison playing a tamboura (a traditional Indian instrument) for a drone effect, and distorting Harrison’s guitar sound by recording it through a Leslie organ speaker. Geoff Emerick, “Instead of being opinionated about everything, John Lennon was becoming complacent; in fact, he seemed quite content to have someone else do his thinking for him, even when we were working on one of his own songs. By the spring of 1967, he was becoming increasingly disengaged…No doubt Paul was aware of the situation, and he was seizing the opportunity to step in and expand his role within the band. That manifested itself down in the studio as they worked on this song, with John’s lead vocal getting less aggressive and more dreamy with each successive take.”

406. “Watching the Detectives,” Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Songwriter: Elvis Costello; Did Not Chart; 1977. Costello’s long term backing band, the Attractions, received their first credit on “Watching the Detectives” – a bracing reggae number that Costello wrote after being awake for 36 hours, listening repeatedly to the debut album by the Clash, and downing the world’s favorite legal stimulant. Costello, “Why do you think that song is so jerky? I drank a lot of coffee.” A murder fantasy based upon lust, betrayal, and jealousy, Costello spits out the lyrics like bullets, daring anyone to match his deranged intensity while lambasting the theoretical cuteness of the object of his passion and derision. Costello, “The camera in the lyrics takes the listener in and out of the action on the television screen that is probably playing an old detective film. There’s a man who is watching a woman watching the hero with such intent that he cannot get through to her. There’s no plot to the song other than that. The inertia and frustration in the room gets jumbled up with the suspense and the action on the screen.”

405. “Gloria: In Exclesis Deo/Gloria,” Patti Smith. Songwriters: Patti Smith, Van Morrison; Did Not Chart; 1975. Patti Smith was a poet/writer/New York City scene maker who translated her love of words into the language of rock ‘n’ roll. Starting with the jaw dropper line, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine,” Smith’s version of “Gloria” is punk/garage band musicianship being fronted by a singer who mixes Dylan style lyricism with Jim Morrison’s unhinged sense of danger. Raw, uncompromising, unforgettable. Guitarist Lenny Kaye, “We bought Richard Hell’s bass guitar from him for $40, sometime in ’74. We’re in the practice room, and Patti wanted to play it. She hit a big E note: boinnnggg! She recited a bit of (her poem) ‘Jesus died for somebody sins but not mine.’ You know, moving into ‘Gloria’ seemed like a natural progression. Especially when we began, there was not a lot of forethought into what we did.”

404. “I Feel Love,” Donna Summer. Songwriters: Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte; #6 pop/#9 R&B; 1977. German bands like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream were exploring new ground with electronic music during the 1970s, but from a commercial perspective, nobody was more successful at bridging pop and electronic music during this era than producer Giorgio Moroder. Moroder merged electronic music with disco to take his new sound to radio stations and dance floors throughout the world. Co-writer Pete Bellote on the recording of “I Feel Love,” “We used a Moog synthesizer to give the song this futuristic feel, and discovered a new way to layer level upon level of sound on to the track in perfect sync. Donna was one of those phenomenal one-take artists – she could just come in, sing the song and go. She was always spot on.” Rock critic Peter Shapiro, “Its basically the blueprint for all the electronic music that came after it.” Donna Summer, “Giorgio brought me this popcorn track he had recorded and I said, ‘What the hell is this, Giorgio?’”

403. “Candy’s Room,” Bruce Springsteen. Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen; Did Not Chart; 1978. “Prove it All Night” was the only hit single from Bruce Springsteen’s 1978 album “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and it only reached the lower rungs of the Top Forty. While he didn’t hit his pop singles phase until the 1984 “Born in the U.S.A.” album, “Candy’s Room is one of the most concise and explosive performances by the E Street Band. With a lyrical theme most likely about prostitution (Springsteen when asked about the subject matter, “Does it really matter? I’ll never tell”), the song is an explosion of intensity that includes some of drummer Max Weinberg’s best 1970’s era work. Musician Craig Finn, “There’s something really romantic about that one. It’s like a rocket ship that blasts out of somewhere private into the world.”

402. “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” Little Richard. Songwriters: John Marascalco, Robert Blackwell; #10 pop/#4 R&B; 1958. Richard Penniman dropped out of high school in 1949 and worked in medicine shows, minstrel programs, and in drag before becoming a rhythm and blues singer. He took Ike Turner’s riff from “Rocket 88,” the song that inspired him to play the piano, and went Top Ten on the pop charts with “Good Golly Miss Molly.” Lyrically, the song is clearly about how much his woman enjoyed having sex. Author Avram Mednick, “’Good Golly, Miss Molly’ perfectly suited Richard’s hedonistic approach to performing, with his twisted sexuality, costumes, make-up and pompadour, and gospel-influenced delivery complete with screaming. I mean, ‘sure like to ball?!’” Rolling Stone, “Each time he exclaims the title you’d think he just thought it up on the spot.” Little Richard pithily summing up his approach, “I did what I felt, and I felt what I did, at all costs.”

401. “A Sunday Kind of Love,” Etta James. Songwriters: Barbara Belle, Anita Leonard, Stan Rhodes, and Louis Prima; Did Not Chart; 1960. “A Sunday Kind of Love” was penned in 1946 and was a Top Twenty single for pop singer Jo Stafford in early 1947. The song had been recorded by Louis Prima, Frankie Laine, Ella Fitzgerald, The Harptones, The Del Vikings, and Dinah Washington before James released the definitive version of this yearning romance number. It sounds like James is caressing each note. Author Bonnie Stiernberg, “The vocals here are so silky smooth that it’s easy to get caught up slow-dancing to it and overlook the fact that it’s actually a sad track. James can’t seem to find the kind of love she’s singing so beautifully about, and she’s ‘on a road that leads to nowhere,’ but she sounds excellent along the way.” Music historian Amanda Petrusich, “James sings, over a spare, barely-tinkling piano melody (interrupted, on occasion, by rising swells of strings), about what she wants but can’t ever seem to get: an earnest communion that lasts long past Saturday night, ‘for all my life to have and to hold.’ James isn’t necessarily having a tough time attracting men to her bedroom, but she can’t seem to land a caring or truly unafraid partner. She knows what she wants, even (especially) as it remains just out of her reach.”

 

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