The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 460 to 451
460. “Midnight Train to Georgia,” Gladys Knight and the Pips. Songwriter: Jim Weatherly; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1973. Originally titled “Midnight Train to Houston,” songwriter/former college football quarterback Jim Weatherly originally recorded his composition as a country song. Cissy Houston (Whitney’s mom) cut a country soul version with the now famous title in 1973, but Gladys Knight producer Tony Camillo, who had worked at Motown, restructured the arrangement to include horns and a 1970’s contemporary soul sound. The vocal interplay between Gladys and her Pips was in the African-American call and response tradition, yet also cleverly advanced the storyline. Gladys Knight, “I listened to Cissy’s version and loved it – but I knew I wanted something different. I wanted an Al Green thing going, you know? Something moody, with a little ride to it. I’ve always like my tracks full – horns, keyboards, and other instruments – to create texture and spark something in me.” Knight, who had won a national television singing contest at the age of seven, imbued the lyrics with empathy, determination, and love.
459. “Don’t Worry Baby,” Los Lobos. Songwriters: Cesar Rosas, Louie Perez, T-Bone Burnett; Did Not Chart; 1984. Los Lobos is a complicated band – their merger of different styles of traditional Mexican folk music with American rock ‘n’ roll and their further exploration into sonic soundscapes have made them one of pop music’s most distinctive and versatile acts. Los Lobos sounded like a razor sharp, Hispanic version of ZZ Top on “Don’t Worry Baby,” the lead track of the excellent “How Will the Wolf Survive?” album. Rock critic Matthew Greenwald, “Led by a bruising rhythm and crossed with John Lee Hooker blues licks, the band kicks up an absolute storm here, actually dwarfing many of their early tracks. The lyrics are also a step up. Louie Perez’s cinematic tale of love lost is told in a frightening tone of urban terror — sort of Raymond Chandler crossed with rock & roll.” Also, put this tune and The Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” back to back on your mixtape of “Best Songs with The Same Title.”
458. “Girl from the North Country,” Bob Dylan. Songwriter: Bob Dylan; Did Not Chart; 1963. It is widely believed that “Girl from the North Country” was inspired by Dylan’s Hibbing, Minnesota high school girlfriend Echo Helstrom Casey, who passed away in January of 2018. Author Toby Thompson, “She was wild in a way that he wanted to be wild. She would go off with her girlfriends in the summer and hitchhike all over the place, have adventures. She was kind of an outsider and from the wrong side of the tracks, and (Dylan) was certainly attracted to that…In Hibbing, she was as bohemian as anybody in Greenwich Village.” While Dylan was known for his barbed-wire personality during the 1960s, the depthless empathy he projects in “North Country” makes it one of his most moving songs. Keith Richards, “While the British Invasion was going on, Bob Dylan was the man who really pulled the American point of view back into focus. At the same time, he had been drawing on Anglo-Celtic folk songs, and that’s certainly true of ‘Girl from the North Country.’ It’s got all the elements of beautiful folk writing without being pretentious. Before he went electric and submitted himself to the discipline of a rhythm section, there was a beautiful flow in Bob’s songs that you only get with just a voice and a guitar. He can float across a bar or let certain notes hang, and it doesn’t matter because it all goes with the song.”
457. “Twilight Time,” The Platters. Songwriters: Morty Nevins, Al Nevins, Artie Dunn, Buck Ram; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1958. Formed in Los Angeles in 1952, The Platters were one of the first African-American vocal groups who had pop success during the 1950s, to include the #1 singles “The Great Pretender” in 1955 and “My Prayer” in 1956. While vocal groups like The Coasters were representing the new rock ‘n’ roll culture of their era, songwriter/manager Samuel “Buck” Ram’s vision of The Platters was an extension of earlier singing groups such as The Mills Brothers and The Ink Spots. An instrumental version of “Twilight Time” first hit the pop charts in 1944. Recorded by The Three Suns, the primary instruments are an organ and an accordion, a decidedly odd sound. Les Brown had an instrumental hit version the following year and Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra, with singer Teddy Walters, released the first version with vocals in 1945. For the Platters version, the confident vocals by Tony Williams reinforce the ethereal beauty of the lyrics. Author Amy Longsdorf on the group’s magic touch, “The Platters perfected a smooth variation on the doo-wop style. Gospel harmonies were juggled and tightened into triplets, voices and instruments flowed in tight-knit patterns until they were allowed to reach a velvety, dramatic crescendo. Lead singer Tony Williams often stretched a single syllable over several notes – a technique that endowed even the most prosaic love song with a soulful depth.”
456. “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Sinead O’Connor. Songwriter: Prince; #1 pop; 1990. After the Prince created R&B act The Time disbanded in 1984, The Purple One created a new act, including many former members of the Time, called The Family for his Paisley Park label. The Family recorded the Prince composition “Nothing Compares 2 U” in 1985 as a synthesizer based ballad in 1985. For mainstream audiences, Sinead O’ Connor’s heart wrenching cover was the first time it was heard and it was her powerful voice that made the song so unforgettable. Author Rachel Aroesti, “O’Connor gave one of the most compelling vocal performances in pop history: shattered but single-minded, distraught yet disgusted by the idea of leaving her heartbreak behind. She’s so convincing – especially in the video, famous for the real tears she cries – that it feels almost ghoulish to witness.” Prince reportedly wasn’t happy about O’Connor covering his song without his blessing and according to O’Connor, a meeting between the two ended in a physical altercation. O’Connor, “He ordered that I don’t swear in my interviews. I told him where he could go and he went for me. We meet on the highway in Malibu at five in the morning – I’m spitting at him, he’s trying to punch me.”
455. “All I Have to Do is Dream,” The Everly Brothers. Songwriter: Boudleaux Bryant; #1 pop/#1 country/#1 R&B; 1958. The Everly Brothers found fantasy more enthralling than reality, if also a bit quixotically dangerous, on this across the board #1 hit. Phil Everly, “I remember hearing ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ on an acetate with Boudleaux’s version on it, and I said, at the time, they could have put Boudleaux’s out and it would have been a hit. It’s just a great, great song. It’s beautiful. Boudleaux was the main man who wrote all the great songs for us, and we love him.” Chet Aktins contributed the tasty tremolo guitar chords to what Dave Marsh has called “The Greatest Song About Masturbation,” beating out the likes of “Imaginary Lover” by The Atlanta Rhythm Section, “In My Room” by the Beach Boys, and “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls.
454. “Just a Little Lovin’,” Dusty Springfield. Songwriters: Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil; Did Not Chart; 1969. Although Dusty Springfield is now recognized as a legend in pop music, when Greil Marcus proposed a review of the “Dusty in Memphis” album to “Rolling Stone” magazine in 1969, his request inspired laughter. The pop breakthrough hit on the album was “Son of a Preacher Man”, but Springfield sounds breathtakingly exquisite on “Just a Little Lovin,’” a morning seduction number. Songwriter Barry Mann, “To me Dusty Springfield is one of the great female singers of all time. She has a voice like silk that can make your heart melt. Her interpretation of my song ‘Just a Little Lovin’ is as good as it can get.” Author Toby Creswell, “The opening track to ‘Dusty in Memphis’ is pop music at its most sensual. You can hear the mussed bed-hair in her playful voice and the warmy, dreamy sexuality of its come-on. The track has delightful jazz chords from Eddie Hinton’s guitar and a smooth southern groove that plays off against Dusty’s Englishness.” The Guardian, summing up her legacy, “She was the only white woman singer worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the great divas of 1960s soul music: Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick and Mary Wells.”
453. “Crying,” Roy Orbison. Songwriters: Roy Orbison, Joe Melson; #5 pop/#6 country; 1961. Roy Orbison, “I was dating a girl and we broke up. I went to the barber shop to get a haircut and I looked across the street and there was this girl that I had split up with. I wanted to go over and say, ‘Let’s forget about what happened and carry on.’ But I was stubborn. So I got in the car and drove down the street about two blocks and said to myself, ‘Boy, you really made a mistake. You didn’t play that right at all.’ It certainly brought tears to my eyes and that’s how I came up with ‘Crying.’” Rolling Stone magazine, “His near-operatic performance culminated in a high, wailing note, which Orbison never lost the capacity to hit until his death in 1988.” Bob Dylan, “He sounded like he was singing from an Olympian mountaintop and he meant business. He was now singing his compositions in three or four octaves that made you want to drive your car over a cliff. He sang like a professional criminal.”
452. “I Was Made to Love Her,” Stevie Wonder. Songwriters: Stevie Wonder, Lula Mae Hardaway, Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy; #2 pop/#1 R&B; 1967. Stevie Wonder’s born in Little Rock/childhood sweetheart song was lyrically inspired by his first romantic infatuation. Wonder, “She was my third girlfriend but my first love. I used to call Angie up and, like, we would talk and say, ‘I love you, I love you,’ and we’d talk and we’d both go to sleep on the phone. And this was like from Detroit to California, right? You know, mother said, ‘Boy, what you doing – get off the phone!’” Producer Henry Cosby reportedly took Wonder to see a local Baptist minister’s service to replicate some of the intensity and cadences from the pulpit to the recording studio. Wonder would later recall becoming “really hoarse” while recording the vocals, which gives his performance both a sense of youthful exuberance and a sense of coming of age intensity. Los Angeles session musician Carole Kaye has claimed that she played on the song, but Motown insiders have a different recollection. Henry Cosby, “Fifty per cent of ‘I Was Made to Love Her’ was James Jamerson’s bass line. No one else played bass like that.”
451. “You Send Me,” Sam Cooke. Songwriter: Sam Cooke; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1957. Sam Cooke started his professional singing career in 1950, when he joined the Soul Stirrers, a gospel outfit that had formed in Texas during the mid-1920s, taking the role of the lead tenor for the next six years. The Soul Stirrers began drawing an avid teen audience during the mid-1950s and Cooke decided to pursue secular pop music in 1957. “You Send Me” was Sam Cooke’s debut single as a solo act and a massive success, topping both the pop and R&B charts. Art Rupe of Specialty Records wasn’t impressed with the song and a business decision was made to sell the master recording to Richard “Bumps” Blackwell, Cooke’s manager. Bob Keane, the producer and manager of Ritchie Valnes, had no reservations about “You Send Me.” Keane, “I said, ‘Screw the black market. This is a pop record, daddy-o!’” Ultimately, Cooke didn’t soften the sound of soul music as much as he broadened the genre’s appeal. Author Peter Guralnick on a key to Cooke’s success, “He felt that the song was a failure if on the chorus the audience didn’t feel the impulse to sing along.”