The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 520 to 511
520. “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game,” The Marvelettes. Songwriter: Smokey Robinson; #13 pop/#2 R&B; 1966. Like the title suggests, “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game” is a song that sneaks up on you. It doesn’t overwhelm you with obvious hooks, it slowly lures you into its mysterious web. Author Paul Williams on this “auteur record,” “Not everything that Smokey (Robinson) has written is poetry, but the first verse of ‘Hunter’ stands up to the best of Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, or Robert Johnson. And what an astonishing vocal performance!” Bill Dahl, “’Hunter’ was special, even for the indefatigable Smokey. Its melody introduced by a unison line of low-end guitar and plaintive harmonica and (Wanda) Young (Rogers) barely raising her voice above a whisper while singing Smokey’s vivid metaphors.” The Marvelettes, who had formed as a high school vocal group in 1960, had their last Top 40 hit in 1968 with the Robinson number “My Baby Must Be a Magician.” In a typically sad Motown story of that era, the legal rights to the name “The Marvelettes” were sold to a New York businessmen in the 1970s and the original singers could no longer advertise themselves as having any association with the music they made famous.
519. “Promised Land,” Chuck Berry. Songwriter: Chuck Berry; #41 pop/#41 R&B; 1964. Chuck Berry often wrote about racial issues in ways that could be easily overlooked by casual listeners. On the surface, “Promised Land” is an updated travelogue rewrite of “Wabash Cannonball” – a song about a physical trek from Virginia to California, where Los Angeles provides the ultimate opportunity for the American dream to come true. However, on deeper inspection, the lyrics are about the 1961 Freedom Riders, a group of civil rights activists who made a series of bus trips to protest segregation in interstate bus terminals. The cities listed replicate the travels of the Freedom Riders and notes the conflicts that were part of the journey (the Freedom Riders were attacked by a mob when they entered a bus station in Montgomery, Alabama). “Promised Land” was a #41 pop hit for Berry in 1964 and a #14 pop hit for Elvis, the ultimate poor boy made good, in 1974. Author W.T. Lhamon, Jr., “’Promised Land’ smuggled black reality and black anxieties into the smiling heart of America, grafting them there so artfully that most listeners never dreamed Berry’s incubus had visited them.”
518. “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” William Bell. Songwriters: William Bell, Booker T. Jones; #45 pop/#10 R&B; 1968. As a youngster growing up in Memphis, William Bell was part of a neighborhood group of kids who would regularly dance on the sidewalk in front of the Satellite Records Shop. As an adult, he was signed by the owners of that store to work for their other business, Stax Records. William Bell was considered a house regular for Stax as a songwriter and recording artist during the 1960s, but he never had a Top 40 hit for that label. His only crossover success came with his 1976 Southern soul meet disco #10 pop hit “Trying to Love Two.” His biggest hit for Stax was “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” a regret filled performance that sounds like it came from a whiskey drenched lonely night. Billy Idol retitled the song as “To Be a Lover” for a modern rock dance number in 1986 that resulted in a #6 pop hit. Other covers of William Bell material include Linda Ronstadt’s 1973 version of “Everybody Loves a Winner,” Cream’s 1968 white boy “Born Under a Bad Sign,” and Carole King’s 2011 Stax meets Xmas reading of “Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday.”
517. “Games People Play,” The Spinners. Songwriters: Joseph B. Jefferson, Bruce Hawes, Charles Simmons: #5 pop/#1 R&B; 1975. Harvey Fuqua, onetime leader of the 1950’s doo-wop group the Moonglows (of “Sincerely” and “Ten Commandments of Love” fame), signed the Spinners to the Tri-Phi label in 1961 and the Detroit soul group had their first pop hit that year with “That’s What Girls Are Made For.” Motown bought out the entire Tri-Phi roster in 1963 and for the rest of the decade the Spinners had such limited chart success, they were often relegated to doing office jobs or working as chaperones. Stevie Wonder helped to bring them back to the airwaves by co-writing their 1970 his “It’s a Shame.” Still, the Spinners had their best success after leaving Motown for Atlantic Records in 1972. “Game People Play” sometimes titled “The Just Can’t Stop It (The Games People Play)” was a smooth vocal ensemble soul song that ignored the nascent disco trend. Producer Thom Bell on using bassist Pervin Jackson on a few lead vocal lines, “Basses are not usually designed to do anything but hold the root. So I said I’m going to come up with something for that guy. And from the moment I gave him that part, his whole personality, his whole everything changed.” Jackson’s vocal turn was so memorable that for the rest of his life he was known as “Mr. 12:45.”
516. “Love is for Lovers,” The dB’s. Songwriter: Peter Holsapple; Did Not Chart; 1984. The dB’s were a power pop band, which is music biz terminology meaning, “this act will go into great debt for their label and their records will never sell.” Still, the dB’s should have been famous and everyone in the world should know “Love is for Lovers,” a song that soars with the feeling of new found love while also questioning whether the experience is too good to be true. Songwriter Peter Holsapple, “Once upon a time, though, I think I wrote a hit. It was called ‘Love is for Lovers’ and the dB’s recorded it for an album called ‘Like This’ in 1984. It had (and has, I believe) an undeniable hook, the kind you’d find yourself singing in the shower or pounding along to on your steering wheel while driving. The performance, produced by Chris Butler at the old Bearsville Studio in upstate New York, has all the power of the best kind of rock: slamming drums, inventive bass, a solid riff and a fantastic solo. We mixed the song, and everyone was dancing giddily around the control room, patting one another on the back and referring to it as our ‘grandchildren’s college education fund.’ Then we submitted it to the powers-that-be at Bearsville.” Producer Chris Butler, “Listening to the song now some 25 years later, there is much to be proud of. It swings and struts, and it’s as pretty damn pure a piece of pop craft as was ever recorded.”
515. “Wish You Were Here,” Pink Floyd. Songwriters: Roger Waters, David Gilmour; Did Not Chart; 1975. Much of Pink Floyd’s 1957 album “Wish You Were Here” was influenced by former lead singer Syd Barrett’s descent into mental instability. The title track, though lyrically vague, is a heartbreaking look at alienation and loneliness. David Gilmour, “Although ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ is specifically about Syd and ‘Wish You Were Here’ has a broader remit, I can’t sing it without thinking about Syd. Because of its resonance and the emotional weight it carries, it is one of our best songs.” Barrett surprised the band by appearing at the recording studio during the “Wish You Were Here” sessions, but the band barely recognized the heavy, bald figure who was once on the U.K.’s most promising rock stars.
514. “I Will Dare,” The Replacements. Songwriter: Paul Westerberg; Did Not Chart; 1984. “I Will Dare” was the perfect lead track for the lead track to The Replacements 1984 “Let it Be” album, this was a band that sought confrontation at every possible opportunity. Replacements guru Peter Jesperson, “The joke was, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to be rich! He’s written THE song.’” Replacements biographer Bob Mehr, ‘I Will Dare’ was another song influenced by the anthemism of U2. ‘That might have been another answer to ‘I Will Follow,’ said Westerberg. ‘Part of it has to do with the band: we’ll dare to flop, we’ll dare to do anything. ‘I Will Dare’ was a good slogan for a Replacements single. On the other hand, it was a kind of love song: ‘Ditch the creep and I’ll meet you later. I don’t care, I will dare.’ The song’s element of illicit romance was rooted in Westerberg’s reality. ‘I think Paul had some dalliances with girls that he probably shouldn’t have at that time,’ noted one of the band’s confidantes. After getting the basic take down, Westerberg borrowed Peter Buck’s twelve-string electric Rickenbacker to add to the song’s jangle, while the bouncy riff that threaded the tune was Bob Stinson’s invention. Buck delivered a spindly sixties folk-rock figure (solo), à la the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Zal Yanovsky. ‘That’s exactly who I was thinking of when I did it,’ said Buck. ‘It only took a minute.’”
513. “Stand!,” Sly & the Family Stone. Songwriter: Sly Stone; #22 pop/#14 R&B; 1969. Author Miles Marshall Lewis, “’Stand!’ was the most sophisticated arrangement Sly had laid on the public as a single till that point, the horns more subtle and nuanced than ever; it moves along at a measured pace underneath lyrics steadily becoming more brilliant. (‘You’ve been sitting much too long/There’s a permanent crease in your right and wrong.’) But at the end of the third ‘Stand!’ rave-up chorus at 2:17, the song totally shifts into something different. Faster, funkier. Once you’ve heard ‘Stand!’ a few times, the song becomes foreplay for the orgasm of a break at the end.” Guitarist Freddie Stone on the “Stand!” LP, “’Stand!’ was where we reached our peak as a group. ‘Stand!’ was the album that said this is what we’ve been wanting to tell you in the other albums, and we’re at a place now where we can, plus things were happening in our country at that time. We felt like we were taking a stand, and we wanted to encourage our fans to do the same, hence ‘Sing a Simple Song,’ and we wanted people to remember who they were with a song like ‘Everyday People.’”
512. “Middle of the Road,” The Pretenders. Songwriter: Chrissie Hynde; #19 pop; 1984. After the deaths of former band members James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, the Pretenders returned to the U.S. pop Top Ten with the reflective “Back on the Chain Gang,” then Chrissie Hynde showed she still had the ability to spit fire with the blazing 1984 hit “Middle of the Road.” Timothy and Elizabeth Bracy of Stereogum, “The lead track from (the 1984 album) ‘Learning To Crawl’ is a killer garage style rocker in which Hynde makes utterly apparent that she has lost nothing off her fastball in the period required to reconstitute the Pretenders. To the contrary, this is one of the great rockers in the catalog — a litany of the villainous industry flacks who would compel Hynde both into a more radio friendly (MOR) sound as well as into their chosen lifestyle of excess fueled decadence. Hynde, for the record, will have nothing to do with it: ‘I’m not the cat I used to be/I gotta kid /I’m 33’ she memorably avers, shaking off her previous party girl image with the assurance of one who knows that edgy and grown up are not mutually exclusive propositions.” Chrissie Hynde contributed a harmonica solo that sounded like a hard rock guitar break, rescuing that instrument from the teary folk crowd.
511. “Tired of Being Alone,” Al Green. Songwriter: Al Green; #11 pop/#1 R&B; 1971. Al Green had a few minor hits before his first collaboration with producer Willie Mitchell on the “Al Green Gets Next to You” album, which established his famous sound. The rhythm section provides a deep, but unobtrusive soul groove, while Al’s feelings of loneliness and unrequired love are accentuated by the Memphis Horns. Author Jimmy McDonough, “In an era given to endless guitar solos, big production, and general pomposity, Mitchell shrewdly took it in the opposition direction. ‘Tired of Being Alone’ didn’t sound like anything on the radio. And despite sharing the same town and some of the same musicians, it sure didn’t sound like Stax. (From guitarist Teenie Hodges point of view, Hi Records was ‘pop R&B.’ Stax was ‘R&B pop’).” Ultimately, “Tired of Being Alone” is a simple sentiment transformed into a palpable wound by a great soul singer.