The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 430 to 421
30. “Get Back,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #1; 1969. “Get Back” was an attempt for the Beatles to return to their roots as a live rock ‘n’ roll band, following the lengthy studio experiments on “The White Album” and “Abbey Road.” Billy Preston was on board for the funky keyboard solo and the original lyrics addressed immigration issues in England, an idea that McCartney smartly rethought. McCartney, “Many people have since claimed to be the Jo Jo and they’re not, let me put that straight! I had no particular person in mind, again it was a fictional character, half man, half woman, all very ambiguous. I often left things ambiguous, I like doing that in my songs.” John Lennon’s conclusion, “A better version of ‘Lady Madonna,’ a potboiler rewrite.”
429. “That’s the Joint,” Funky 4 Plus 1. Songwriters: Clifton “Jiggs” Chase, Sylvia Robinson, Keith Caesar, Sharon Green, Jeffrey Myree, Rodney Stone; Did Not Chart; 1980. Are you ready for this? The Funky 4 Plus 1 just couldn’t miss with a beat like this. “That’s the Joint” pops like a novelty can of snakes and is the lost classic of rap – a better dance number than “Rapper’s Delight” and released before hip hop became a long run commentary on urban hardships. Rolling Stone, “’That’s the Joint’ captures the essence and energy of hip-hop’s party-hearty early glory days: nearly 10 minutes of exhortations and boasts, sprawling across a hopped-up disco beat. By today’s standards, the braggadocio is quaint – ‘We got rhymes on our minds, we got rockin’ in our heart’ – but the rappers can flow, and the bass breakdown, by four-string god Doug Wimbish, is as funky as anything this side of Bootsy Collins. The real star of the show, though, is the Funky 4’s ‘plus-one woman,’ Sha-Rock (a.k.a. Sharon Green), the first female MC featured on a hit rap record.” “That’s the Joint” samples A Taste of Honey’s “Rescue Me” and you’ll never find a better silk purse/sow’s ear reclamation project.
428. “Fingertips (Part 2),” Stevie Wonder. Songwriters: Clarence Paul, Henry Cosby; #1 pop/#3 R&B; 1963. Marvin Gaye, who is frequently and most likely erroneously credited with playing drums on this record, “You really had to start paying attention to Stevie after ‘Fingertips.’ No matter what else you might be doing, you knew that Stevie had a superior musical intelligence and was learning as fast as you.” “Fingertips (Part 2)” was a grand fluke, a boisterous, chaotic live recording where Wonder was supposed to be exiting the stage for Mary Wells, but gets lost in the moment. It is a lightning caught in the bottle explosion that became the first live record to go to #1 on the pop charts. Joe Swift, the clearly confused bass player can be heard yelling “What key? What key?” Berry Gordy, “We’re not sure why the record was such a big hit, but leaving that mistake in didn’t hurt. There are certain kind of mistakes I love.” Brian Holland on that night at Chicago’s Regal Theater, “When Stevie got to ‘Fingertips,’ the closing tune, people jumped up and down, clapped their hands, and stomped their feet. They just went wild. The atmosphere was pure electricity. At the end, they were more exhausted by all the hand-clapping stuff than Stevie was.”
427. “Wake Up Little Susie,” The Everly Brothers. Songwriters: Felice Bryant, Boudleaux Bryant; #1 pop/#1 country/#1 R&B; 1957. “Wake Up, Little Susie” was the follow up single to “Bye Bye Love” and was a bigger success on the pop and country charts. Written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, the song is a distressed tale of a teenage couple falling asleep at a drive-in theater, then wondering what ensuing harm might happen to their reputations from their parents and peers. The brilliance in the song is not describing any outcomes, just focusing on the adolescent angst. “Susie” topped the pop charts for one week, but stayed on top of the country charts for two months. Phil Everly describing his brother’s contributions to popular music, “Donald’s chord inversions, fills, and rhythmic things on songs such as ‘Wake Up Little Susie,’ ‘Bird Dog,’ and ‘Bye Bye Love’ are very important, and his style is still emulated today. You have to think about the history of it. That kind of playing didn’t exist in rock music back then. We had our dad showing us things, and we had Bo Diddley’s rhythmic thing, and Don kind of melded together those rhythms with his own ‘incongruous’ chords.”
426. “Highway 61 Revisited,” Bob Dylan. Songwriter: Bob Dylan; Did Not Chart; 1965. The appearance of God to demand a killing by Abraham is one of His/Her odder appearances in popular music, but Dylan viewed Highway 61 as more of a symbol of possibilities than violence. Dylan, “Highway 61 begins about where I came from, Duluth, to be exact. I always felt like I’d started on it, always had been on it, and could go anywhere from it.” Music historian Toby Cresswell, “While Highway 61 Revisited is full of dark imagery, essentially it’s black comedy. The words are very much in the style of Dylan’s talking blues, rather than being a specific commentary. It’s likely also that Dylan loved the way that Mike Bloomfield mimicked the sound of the police siren in his guitar licks. Al Kooper had brought the whistle to the sessions and used to blow it when someone was using drugs. Dylan fixed the toy whistle into his harmonica rack and blew so hard producer Bob Johnston thought his head was coming off.” Dylan, on his early material, “I had no songs in my repertoire for commercial radio. Songs about debauched bootleggers, mothers that drowned their own children, Cadillacs that only got five miles to the gallon, floods, union hall fires, darkness and cadavers at the bottom of rivers weren’t for radiophiles. There was nothing easygoing about the folk songs I sang. They weren’t friendly or ripe with mellowness. They didn’t come gently to the shore.”
425. “Ode to Billy Joe,” Bobbie Gentry. Songwriter: Bobbie Gentry; #1 pop/#17 country; 1967. Bobbie Gentry brought Southern goth mystery into the mainstream with her 1967 pop and country hit “Ode to Billy Joe.” Gentry was raised in Mississippi and moved to Los Angeles as a teenager. Prior to finding fame, Gentry worked in a Vegas nightclub revue, was a model, and studied at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. There is a sense of denial and unresolved motives that gives her signature hit an aura of lingering mystery. NPR journalist Meredith Ochs, “(‘Ode to Billy Joe’) bleeds into you from the first bar and winds around your bones like a creeping vine.” Bobbie Gentry, “It’s entirely a matter of interpretation as from each individual’s viewpoint. But I’ve hoped to get across the basic indifference, the casualness, of people in moments of tragedy. Something terrible has happened, but it’s ‘pass the black-eyed peas,’ or ‘y’all remember to wipe your feet.’ The message of the song revolves around the nonchalant way the family talks about the suicide. The song is a study in unconscious cruelty.” Arranger Jimmie Haskell, “The song sounded to me like a movie—those wonderful lyrics. I had a small group of strings—two cellos and four violins to fit her guitar-playing. I was branching out in my own head for the first time, creating something that I liked because we thought no one was ever gonna hear it.”
424. “Victoria,” Old 97’s. Songwriters: Rhett Miller, Ken Bethea, Murry Hammond, Philip Peeples; Did Not Chart; 1995. The Old 97’s hadn’t conquered the world, or even Dallas/Fort Worth, in 1995 – Rhett Miller’s reported income for that year was $3,800. The band raised their profile on the “Wreck Your Life” album, released on Bloodshot Records. “Victoria” is the lead track and was inspired by an ex-girlfriend of Miller’s. He describes her pill popping, boyfriend drowning, troubled soul by stating, “She started out on Percodan and ended up with me.” Musically, this is an excellent representation of their early rockabilly meets Texas twang sound and Miller’s deft wit. Option Magazine, “Victoria’ layers its hooks in a rich blend of riffs and refrains that disguise the tune’s bittersweet story.” Deeper attention spans are duly rewarded with this band.
423. “Powderfinger,” Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Songwriter: Neil Young; Did Not Chart; 1979. Neil Young’s “Powerderfinger,” wherein a twenty-two-year old man tells the story of his violent death, could be interpreted in many ways. In a broad sense, the song could be viewed as an inevitable result of a nation obsessed with arming itself and resolve conflicts with violence. It could also be viewed more narrowly as a simple slice of film noir folk story telling. In either event, it’s performed with a harrowing, claustrophobic fatalism and it’s a song that only Neil Young and Crazy Horse could perform with such primal power. Dave Marsh, “Young wrote as brilliant a statement of American nihilism and despair as any rock writer has created.” Nice power chords, too. Trivia note: Young originally sent the song to Ronnie Van Zant for Skynyrd to take a crack at, but, well, you know, the plane didn’t clear the trees.
422. “Little Red Corvette,” Prince. Songwriter: Prince; #6 pop/#15 R&B; 1983. Prince became a mainstream pop star with the release of his 1982 album “1999,” which was eventually certified quadruple platinum. Rock critic Jason Ankeny on that record’s biggest hit single, “Prince notched his first Top Ten entry with one of the most sensual and frankly explicit hits ever to crack the charts. ‘Little Red Corvette,’ a slow-burning funk-pop odyssey which is most definitely not about a sports car, is an after-dark masterpiece, aural soft porn rendered with the inextricable combination of perversity and sophistication which defines virtually all of his best work. Everything about the song is suggestive, from its moaning synthesizers to its bump-and-grind rhythm to the orgasmic squeals which punctuate Prince’s vocals; even the lyrical metaphors are so persuasive — in addition to cars, there are horses (Trojans, in fact, some of ’em used) — that it’s virtually impossible to discuss ‘Little Red Corvette’ without lapsing into double entendres of one’s own. (Really, how else to describe the incendiary coda which closes the song but as a climax?) Making a brilliant case for innuendo as an end unto itself, ‘Little Red Corvette’s triumph is that even while the song — much like the body of its lusty heroine — is ‘just on the verge of being obscene,’ it never succumbs to blatant tastelessness; even as an evocation of pure sexuality, it appeals to the imagination as much as the libido. Not just Prince’s first major hit single, ‘Little Red Corvette’ may be his very best — only fitting that a song about staying power would have so much of its own.”
421. “Web in Front,” Archers of Loaf. Songwriters: Erich Bachmann, Eric Johnson, Matt Gentling, Mark Price; Did Not Chart; 1993. Asheville, North Carolina natives Archers of Loaf released a series of critically acclaimed albums during the 1990s, but never reached an audience beyond college radio. While Kurt Cobain wanted to eat your cancer during the 1990s, Archers of Loaf, just as oddly, but more melodically, wanted to be your spine. Author Paul Thompson, “Web in Front,’ the glorious gutpunch that opens (the) 1993 ‘Icky Mettle’ album, isn’t just their finest song, it’s their defining moment, their rocket-shot into the canon.” Matt LeMay of Pitchfork, “’Web in Front’ is quite simply among the finest indie rock songs ever written. That a song whose lyrics are all but impossible to parse literally comes off as so immediate and relatable speaks both to Bachmann’s skill with words-as-sounds, and to his bandmates’ ability to put force and nuance behind his voice.” It’s a pretty impressive legacy for a song that last two minutes and nine seconds.