The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 540 to 531
540. “Baby Please Don’t Go,” Them. Songwriter: Traditional; Did Not Chart; 1964. “Baby Please Don’t Go” was first recorded by Delta blues artist Big Joe Williams in 1935. The song became a blues standard in the 1950s and was introduced into the world of British pop music by Georgie Fame in February of 1964. Van Morrison had formed Them in 1964, as a result of a new R&B club needing an act for their opening night. Them’s take on “Baby Please Don’t Go” was distinctly different from Fame’s, Jimmy Page provided the dramatic opening guitar lick and Van Morrison channeled his inner Belfast bluesman. Van Morrison, “Jimmy played on everything then. He played rhythm on ‘Here Comes the Night,’ and on ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ he is playing a detuned six string. He’s actually doubling the bass part, then when it drops down low he’s playing this thing behind the vocal – it’s a tuned down guitar but it sounds like a bass. I loved it.” Them’s version peaked at #10 on the U.K. charts, leading to future covers by The Amboy Dukes, Dion, AC/DC, and Aerosmith, among others.
539. “Famous Blue Raincoat,” Leonard Cohen. Songwriter: Leonard Cohen; Did Not Chart; 1971. Quebec native Leonard Cohen had his first book of poetry published in 1956 (“Let Us Compare Mythologies”) and was in his mid-thirties when he decided to become a songwriter. He started receiving attention in the late 1960s with his dark, slow material including “Suzanne,” “Sisters of Mercy,” and “Bird on a Wire.” He was an unlikely pop star – his voice was deep and flat, the songs often creakily slow. Yet, Cohen’s mesmerizing charisma pulled in audiences that hung carefully on every lyric. On 1971’s “Famous Blue Raincoat,” he addresses another male involved in a love triangle and works up as much forgiveness as he can, while asking the Scientology informed question, “Did you ever go clear?” Author Richard Gehr, “A low-key female chorus and ghostly strings add subliminal harmonic movement to a song that, for all its obscurity, ends with a most crystalline sign-off: ‘Sincerely, L. Cohen.’”
538. “Anna (Go to Him),” Arthur Alexander. Songwriter: Arthur Alexander; #68 pop/#10 R&B; 1962. Alabama native Arthur Alexander, the son of a bottleneck blues guitarist, has a legacy that should have resulted in more fame. Besides being the first artist to record in Muscle Shoals with Rick Hall (on his 1962 single “You Better Move On”), Alexander is the only songwriter whose material was covered by Bob Dylan (“Sally Sue Brown”), The Beatles (“Anna (Go to Him)”), The Rolling Stones (“You Better Move On”), and Elvis Presley (“Burning Love”). On “Anna (Go to Him),” his biggest R&B hit, Alexander gives permission to the girl he loves to pursue another man, showing both chivalry in not shaming his love interest and pragmatism in getting his ring back. Alexander was inspired by his girlfriend named Anna to write both “You Better Move On” and “Anna (Go to Him)” and the couple eventually married.
537. “Stay with Me,” The Faces. Songwriters: Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood; #17 pop 1971. Rod Stewart had two gigs in the early 1970s, working as a solo artist and serving as the lead singer of this fabulously disheveled band. The Faces, a continuation of the core band from The Small Faces, started recording in 1967 and had their first and biggest hit with 1972’s “Stay with Me.” The band always sounded like whiskey soaked chaos, playing with a loose, sloppy spirit that evoked a rock ‘n’ roll party. On “Stay with Me,” Rod invites a lady to his room for the night and forewarns her to skedaddle as quickly as possible in the morning. Hopefully, she pinched his wallet in the process.
536. “Still Doin’ Time,” George Jones. Songwriters: Michael P. Heeney, John E. Moffat; #1 country; 1981. “Still Doin’ Time” was written by John Moffat and Michael Heeney, two Nashville songwriting pros who have their individual names on other big hits (including Reba McEntire’s 1985 #1 country single “How Blue” and Tracy Byrd’s 2002 #1 drinking number “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo”), but nothing substantial artistically. However, they are responsible for two minutes and fifty seconds of the best country music you’ll ever here, although George Jones might deserve a sizable amount of credit as well. The lyrics “The ocean of liquor I drank to forget her/Is gonna kill me, but I’ll drink till then” were art replicating life in a most powerful way. There are only a few singers that could ever compete with Jones in vocalizing pure personal agony, to include a wee lad from the Pacific Northwest named Kurt Donald Cobain and Billie Holiday. It may not be a coincidence that all three were alcohol and/or heroin addicts.
535. “Call Me (Come Back Home),” Al Green. Songwriters: Al Green, Al Jackson Jr., Willie Mitchell; #10 pop/#2 R&B; 1973. The 1973 “Call Me” album is generally considered Green’s artistic peak and the lead/title track set a high standard to follow. Willie Mitchell had a production sound that was both lush and sparse – horns, strings, and backup singers weave in and out, but nothing dominates Green’s fluid falsetto. Guitarist Teenie Hodges worked in the “less is more” tradition of Memphis guitar players and added sophisticated jazz chords into the soul groove. Lyrically, dedicated love man Al is willing and ready to accept your call.
534. “Brass in Pocket,” The Pretenders. Songwriters: Chrissie Hynde, James Honeymoon-Scott; #14 pop; 1979. Chrissie Hynde grew up in Akron, Ohio, attended Kent State’s University’s Art school for three years during the late ‘60s/ early ‘70s, and moved to England in 1973. After doing freelance work as a rock critic for the New Musical Express, she spent several years in the U.K. punk scene, frustrated with her inability to establish a successful band. With the assistance of manager Dave Hill, the Pretenders were formed in the spring of 1978 and their cover of The Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing” was a minor U.K. hit in early ’79. “Brass in Pocket,” the band’s breakthrough hit in the U.S., was a pep talk to herself concerning her attractiveness and ability to get what she wanted. Hynde had her doubts about the record. Producer Chris Thomas, “I insisted it was going to be a hit and if she didn’t want to record it she should send it over to the producer Willie Mitchell and it would make her a fortune.” Hynde, reflecting on her image making hit in 2020, “People did think I was the character in the song but I was not, really. Although I loved the anti-establishment nature of rock & roll – that’s why I got into it, because I didn’t want to be part of the establishment.”
533. “Running Up That Hill,” Kate Bush. Songwriter: Kate Bush; #30 pop; 1985. Kate Bush was a major pop star in the U.K., writing “Wuthering Heights,” a 1978 #1 hit, when she was still a teenager. The making a deal with God “Running Up That Hill” was her only U.S. Top 40 single. Bush, “I was trying to say that, really, a man and a woman can’t understand each other because we are a man and a woman. And if we could actually swap each other’s roles, if we could actually be in each other’s place for a while, I think we’d both be very surprised! (Laughs) And I think it would lead to a greater understanding. And really the only way I could think it could be done was either… you know, I thought a deal with the devil, you know. And I thought, ‘well, no, why not a deal with God!’ You know, because in a way it’s so much more powerful the whole idea of asking God to make a deal with you.” Nate Patrin of Stereogum, “It’s hard to pin an archetypal signature song on an artist with more than her share of candidates right from the get-go, ‘Running Up That Hill’ might just be it: booming enough for the dance charts, but still infused with a fearless experimentation, given a hook that’s delivered with an insistent power to latch itself onto your mind. And its lyrics, based around the struggles of love and the idea of swapping the identities of a man and a woman in an effort at bringing empathy into a relationship fraught with an uncontrollable power, are run through with a raw-nerved openness that seems intimate and anxious at the same time.”
532. “Girl from Mars,” Ash. Songwriter: Tim Wheeler; Did Not Chart 1995. The Northern Ireland band Ash was a major act on the U.K. pop scene from the mid-1990s through the early 2000s. They had their breakthrough single with “Girl from Mars,” an interplanetary love song (another girl, another planet) that Ash frontman Tim Wheeler penned at the age of seventeen. Nice production touch – how the extremely distorted, fuzz guitar sounds like a rocket ship in the short instrumental breaks. Tim Wheeler, “The first demo I did on my own sounds very much like a Teenage Fanclub song, mid tempo and jangly. When we played it as a band, we sped it up and it became more like the Buzzcocks. Live, it got a reaction straight away. I was finishing my A-levels (author’s note – U.K. high school standardized tests) when I first heard ‘Girl from Mars’ on the radio. Then two days later we were playing Glastonbury. It’s been on the setlist for every gig we’ve done ever since. I’m not sure they’d let us out of venues if we didn’t play it.”
531. “My Cherie Amour,” Stevie Wonder. Songwriters: Stevie Wonder, Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy; #4 pop/#4 R&B; 1969. Stevie Wonder was signed to Motown was in 1961, when he was 11 years old, and had his breakthrough hit with “Fingertips – Part I” in 1963. “My Cherie Amour” was a song that Wonder started writing in 1966, penned for a teenage girlfriend it was originally titled “Oh My Marcia.” Motown staff songwriter/producer Sylvia Moy recommended the title change, giving the lyrics a more universal theme and a sophisticated international flavor. Wonder later reflected on his teenage years, saying, “I was young and carefree. I didn’t think about anything, even the money I was making. I didn’t take anything seriously. I changed with ‘My Cherie Amour’ – I suddenly realized it was time I calmed down and started behaving responsibly.” “My Cherie Amour” bridged the gap between Wonder’s high adrenaline 1960’s singles and his evolution as one of the most important album artists of the following decade.