The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 440 to 431
440. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” The Animals. Songwriters: Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell, Sol Marcus; #15 pop; 1964. Nina Simone recorded the original version of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” in 1964, using her singular blues-meets-Broadway vocal style. The Animals turned it into a pop song with its recurring organ riffs and booming chorus. Also, Eric Burdon’s angst filled performance was perfect for the teen rebellion market. Eric Burdon, “It was never considered pop material, but it somehow got passed on to us and we fell in love with it immediately.” Rock critic Rob Chapman, “When the Animals covered ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,’ a song written for Nina Simone, Eric Burdon handled its tricky phrasing as expertly as she did. In an age when even the best English pop singers – McCartney in Little Richard mode, Jagger as James Brown mannequin – offered fan-boy pastiches of their heroes, Burdon just dared you to snigger at his sincerity. He meant it, man. His band mates, Chas Chandler in particular, found it amusing that this diminutive, greasy-haired gnome should adopt the mantle of the seen-it-all bluesman, but Burdon just hunched himself against the brickbats and carried on regardless. While his fellow musicians mugged and grinned behind him, Burdon continued to look down the barrel of that light entertainment lens like the Brit-punk prototype that he was.”
439. “Well…All Right,” Buddy Holly. Songwriters: Buddy Holly, Norman Petty, Jerry Allison, Joe Mauldin; Did Not Chart; 1958. Buddy Holly drops his famous hiccupping vocal style and gives an unflinching statement of lifelong commitment on the 1958 b-side “Well…All Right.” Perhaps as a reference to the maturity of the subject matter, rock critic Bruce Eder has opined that “Well…All Right” was “years ahead of its time as a song and a recording.” British music journalist Jon Savage, “’Well…All Right’ is brutally simple but complex at the same time, with a fantastic acoustic guitar riff that has the power of a full band. Holly sounds at once tender, resigned, determined and furious. It’s a generational statement before such things were consciously thought of, and it could have been recorded yesterday.” And, a summary from blogger Brian Miller, “The song is more than lovely; it is a masterpiece of dynamics.” There are no drums on the record, Jerry Allison plays a cymbal pattern that perfectly complements Holly’s guitar work.
438. “Something,” The Beatles. Songwriter: George Harrison; #3 pop; 1969. George Harrison’s “Something” is the second most covered song by The Beatles, a dreamy romance number that Frank Sinatra once called “the greatest love song of the past 50 years.” Harrison’s starting point was the James Taylor 1968 song “Something in the Way She Moves,” but his composition far exceeded his inspiration. Geoff Emerick, “George had a smugness on his face when he came in with this one, and rightly so – he knew it was absolutely brilliant. And for the first time, John and Paul knew that George had risen to their level.” His former wife Patti Boyd wrote about the song in 2007, “George wrote a song called ‘Something.’ He told me in a matter-of-fact way that he had written it for me. I thought it was beautiful and it turned out to be the most successful song he ever wrote, with more than 150 cover versions. George’s favorite version was the one by James Brown. Mine was the one by George Harrison, which he played to me in our kitchen.”
437. “Fools Fall in Love,” The Drifters. Songwriters: Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller; #69 pop/#10 R&B; 1957. After finding out that a woman he was captivated by had married another man, Jerry Lieber thought to himself, “Fools fall in love in a hurry. Fools give their hearts much too soon.” Leiber, “Who doesn’t want to write a song about fools falling in love? Besides, isn’t that a way to chase the blues away. I remember a blues singer once telling me that the best way to lose the blues is to sing them. ‘When you’re singing, you’re happy,’ he said. ‘Even if the song is sad.’” The Drifters had not crossed over to the pop charts in 1956 (that wouldn’t happen until 1959’s “There Goes My Baby”), so the mainstream pop audience missed one of the best doo wop songs of the decade. Recorded after the Clyde McPhatter version of the Drifters and before the Ben E. King lead version of the group, Alabama native Johnny Moore performed the lead vocal duties, shortly before being drafted into the Army. Elvis recorded a Vegas ready version “Fools Fall in Love” for a b-side in 1967 with a horn section comprised of Homer “Boots” Randolph, Rufus Long, and Ray Stevens, who played the trumpet.
436. “Maybe I’m Amazed,” Paul McCartney. Songwriter: Paul McCartney; Did Not Chart; 1970. “Maybe I’m Amazed” was originally recorded for the 1970 album “McCartney,” Paul’s first post Beatles effort, and surprisingly wasn’t released as a single – it would have been a surefire hit. McCartney played all the instruments on the track, which has thematically been described as a love note to Linda for helping him through the difficulties related to ending the world’s most famous rock ‘n’ roll band. Rolling Stone, “For all the peaks he’d hit in the years and decades that followed, this early triumph remains McCartney’s solo-era signature – an understated but perfect beginning to a truly remarkable second act.” A live version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” was a #10 U.S. pop hit in 1977. McCartney, “Sometimes we’re a bit daft here. We have a bit of a funky organization, you know, which isn’t that clued into picking tracks off albums. At the time we thought ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ was a good track and maybe we should do that as a single, which it probably should have been. But we never did.”
435. “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” The Stooges. Songwriters: Dave Alexander, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, Iggy Pop; Did Not Chart; 1969. The Stooges formed in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1967, delivering a primitive and confrontational sound for souls brave enough to withstand their onslaught. Lester Bangs, “The Stooges were the first young American group to acknowledge the influence of the Velvet Underground. The insistent, monotonous piano note piercing like weird sleigh bells through ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ is very reminiscent of the piano solo on the Velvets’ ‘I’m Waiting For the Man.’ The Stooges’ music…comes out of a primal illiterate chaos gradually taking shape as a uniquely personal style, emerges from a tradition of American music that runs from the primordial wooly rags of backwoods bands up to the magic promise eternally made and occasionally fulfilled by rock: that a band can start out bone-primitive, untutored and uncertain, and evolve into a powerful and eloquent ensemble.” Iggy, explaining his canine inspiration, “Have you ever seen like a really good looking girl, really nicely dressed, and she’s walking down the street with her dog, right? And like her dog is… intimate with her body, and she likes him and everything. Basically, it’s the idea of I want to unite with your body. I don’t wanna talk about literature with you or judge you as a person. I wanna dog you.”
434. “Suspicious Minds,” Elvis Presley. Songwriter: Mark James; #1 pop; 1969. Songwriter Mark James, “Late one night, fooling around on my Fender guitar and using my Hammond organ pedals for a bass line, I came up with a catchy melody. I was married to my first wife then but still had feelings for my childhood sweetheart, who was married back in Houston. My wife suspected I had those feelings, so it was a confusing time for me. I felt as though all three of us were all caught in this trap that we couldn’t walk out of.” James recorded the song in 1968 for Sceptor Records, but his version failed to chart. Chips Moman on pitching the song to Elvis, “He was crazy about it. He wanted to hear the song over and over again, and learned it on the spot.” Author Bill Janovich, “After years of wasting his talents on B-movie soundtrack filler, a bellowing, mature-voiced Presley unleashes his full power on this watershed ballad. It alternately rages and simmers, from a driving four-on-the-floor chorus to a slow-burning, halting-tempo bridge that feels like a completely different song. It is on this Stax-like soul section — after the anguished frustration expressed in the verses — that Presley testifies like Otis Redding, beseeching his lover not to ‘let a good thing die,’ as if down on one knee. The theme is summed up in the song’s title: two adult lovers letting paranoia and mistrust drive a wedge between them.” From a real life standpoint, the similarities between the song and Presley’s relationship with Priscilla Presley were impossible to ignore.
433. “Sing Me Back Home,” Merle Haggard. Songwriter: Merle Haggard; #1 country; 1967. This #1 country single is a folk influenced ballad/meditation about a prisoner who Haggard personally knew and his journey to the electric chair. Haggard, “Even though the crime was brutal and the guy was an incorrigible criminal, it’s a feeling you never forget when you see someone you know make that last walk. They bring him through the yard, and there’s a guard in front and a guard behind – that’s how you know a death prisoner. They brought Rabbit out…taking him to see the Father…prior to his execution. That was a strong picture that was left in my mind.” Author David Cantwell, “’Sing Me Back Home’ finds Merle detailing an archetypal narrative – inspired by real life, sure, but long familiar from a thousand novels, movies, comic books, and television shows. The song unfolds like a dream you somehow understand everyone else is having, too, like a folk song that seems always to have been there. No one taches you the words. You fall in and sing along.” One of Haggard’s strongest compositions, “Sing Me Back Home” has been covered by The Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, and Gram Parsons.
432. “My Girl,” The Temptations. Songwriters: Smokey Robison, Ronald White; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1964. Smokey Robinson, “David Ruffin, I knew, was like this sleeping giant in this group because he had this – it’s sort of like a mellow gruff-sounding voice. And all I needed was the right song for his voice and I felt like I would have a smash hit record. So I sat down at the piano to write a song for David Ruffin’s voice. I wanted to make it something that he could belt out, but yet make it melodic and sweet.” After penning “My Guy” for Mary Wells, Smokey changed the gender for the so-much-honey-the bees-envied-him “My Girl.” Author Ed Hogan, “The track begins with James Jamerson’s bass line, which mirrors a gentle heartbeat. Along with Robert White’s sinewy guitar lines, it’s one of pop music’s most recognizable melody riffs.” Smokey Robinson on Berry Gordy’s reaction, “Berry called me to his office because we had a thing in those days whereas if you got a number one record, then you got a thousand-dollar bonus as the producer of that record. So he called me into his office and he said, ‘Hey, man, I want to give you your producer’s bonus check.’ So I said, ‘Wow. For what?’ He said, ‘You got a smash hit.’ I said, ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘My Girl.’ It’s not number one yet, but it’s most definitely going there.’”
431. “Born To Be Wild,” Steppenwolf. Songwriter: Mars Bonfire; #2 pop; 1968. “Born to Be Wild,” the song that equated hard rock with freedom and became synonymous with biker culture, was written by Mars Bonfire (Dennis McCrohan), the brother of Jerry Edmonton (Jerry McCrohan), who was Steppenwolf’s drummer. Mars, “I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard one day and saw a poster in a window saying ‘Born to Ride’ with a picture of a motorcycle erupting out of the earth like a volcano with all this fire around it. Around this time I had just purchased my first car, a little secondhand Ford Falcon. So all this came together lyrically: the idea of the motorcycle coming out along with the freedom and joy I felt in having my first car and being able to drive myself around whenever I wanted. ‘Born To Be Wild’ didn’t stand out initially. Even the publishers at Leeds Music didn’t take it as the first or second song I gave them. They got it only because I signed as a staff writer. Luckily, it stood out for Steppenwolf. It’s like a fluke rather than an achievement, though.” Steppenwolf lead singer John Kay, “Every generation thinks they’re born to be wild and they can identify with that song as their anthem.” Three years after the song came out, Creem rock critic (and future Angry Samoan) Mike Saunders became the first writer to use the phrase “heavy metal” (a term previously used in this song and by author William Burroughs) to describe a genre of rock music.