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The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 60 to 51

 

60. “Strawberry Fields Forever,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #8 pop; 1968. John Lennon, “Strawberry Fields is a real place…a boys’ reformatory where I used to go to garden parties as a kid with my friends Nigel and Pete. We would go there and hang out and sell lemonade bottles for a penny. We always had fun at Strawberry Fields. So that’s where I got the name. But I used it as an image. Strawberry Fields forever.” Geoff Emerick reflecting on the first time The Beatles heard the song, “There was a moment of stunned silence, broken by Paul, who in a quiet, respectful tone said simply, ‘That is absolutely brilliant.’” George Martin famously edited together two versions of the song, performed at different tempos and in different keys, to complete the recording. To create the sonic richness, the instrumentation included a Mellotron, a swarmandal (an Indian harp), as well as cello and brass sections. Time magazine, being hipper than one would expect in 1967, “(The) Beatles have developed into the single most creative force in pop music. Wherever they go, the pack follows. And where they have gone in recent months, not even their most ardent supporters would ever have dreamed of. They have bridged the heretofore impassable gap between rock and classical, mixing elements of Bach, Oriental and electronic music with vintage twang to achieve the most compellingly original sounds ever heard in pop music.”

59. “Gloria,” Them. Songwriter: Van Morrison; #71 pop; released in 1964, peaked on the charts in 1966. Van Morrison on the first song he ever wrote, “I was just being me, a street cat from Belfast. Probably like thousands of kids from Belfast who were in bands.” “Gloria” is a mixture of howling rock ‘n’ roll and lyrical sexual gratification. Bill Janovitz, “Very few rock & roll songs rival the sexual excitement and anticipation of Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria.’ A three-chord rocker written for his band Them, this 1960s classic buzzes and pulses with tension-and-release dynamics.” Author Roy Shuker, “Them recorded ‘Gloria’ in a protopunk, garage rock style, with a basic beat, Van Morrison’s growled vocals, and a ragged chanted chorus: G-L-O-R-I-A: Gloria. The song’s lyrics emphasize the appeal of Gloria – ‘she’ll make you feel alright’ – and cater to the male fantasy of seduction by a female temptress.” Patti Smith had simple motives with her 1975 art punk cover, “I like the rhythm and we just sort of used it for our own design.” When the Liberty Lunch rock club in Austin closed in July of 1999, Michael Hall conducted a closing ceremony that consisted of a revolving cast of musicians performing “Gloria” for 24 straight hours. Even the legendarily cranky Van Morrison participated, calling into the club while performing the song in Chester, England.

58. “You Really Got Me,” The Kinks. Songwriter: Ray Davies; #7 pop; 1964. The Kinks breakthrough hit was a reworking of “Louie, Louie” with a rhythmic stop and start power chord structure that would later have a major influence on punk and heavy metal music. Ray Davies, addressing the most identifiable riff in 1960’s rock music and the controversy over whether Jimmy Page played the solo on “You Really Got Me” in 1981, “There were a lot of groups going around at the time—the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones—and nobody had really cracked with a sort of R&B number one record. The songs were always sort of like the Beatles. When we first wanted to do a record, we couldn’t get a recording gig. We were turned down by Decca, Parlophone, EMI and even Brian Epstein came to see us play and turned us down. So I started writing songs like ‘You Really Got Me,’ and I think there was a sheer jealousy that we did it first. Because we weren’t a great group—untidy—and we were considered maybe a bit of a joke. But for some reason, I’d just had dinner, shepherd’s pie, at my sister’s house, and I sat down at the piano and played da, da, da, da, da. It was recorded first at Pye with a producer who made it sound like Phil Spector, and there was no way that I was going to let them put it out. I said I’d leave the music business first because I’d never write another song like it. In the end, they gave us 200 pounds—which is like 400 bucks—to re-record it. We went into a cheap little studio, and, for all I know, Jimmy Page must have been having dinner with his mother that night.” Film director Julien Temple, “I first heard the Kinks at the age of 11 – listening to Radio Caroline on a crystal radio set beneath my bedclothes. It was August 1964, and the rabid-dog riffs of ‘You Really Got Me’ came crackling through my tiny earpiece, blowing my world apart like a dirty bomb. Those distorted guitar chords went on to rearrange the sonic architecture of the 1960s.”

57. “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” Hank Williams. Songwriter: Hank Williams; #1 country; 1953. During the 1940s, Bob Wills caught the public’s imagination by bringing an unmatched spirit of enthusiasm to country music. Hank Williams, went in the complete opposite direction from Western swing, with spare instrumentation and often singing about his limitless personal pain. “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is a you’ll-get-your-just-deserts composition that Hank wrote about former wife Audrey with future wife Billie Jean Jones taking dictation. Hank biographer Colin Escot, “The song – for all intents and purposes – defines country music.” Historian Ronnie Pugh, “It’s Hank’s anthem, it’s his musical last will and testament.” Hank gives a lyrical hat tip to Ernest Tubb (“You’ll walk the floor/The way I do”) on his timeless farewell to a bad marriage. This is the signature song of the country music’s most iconic performer.

56. “That’s All Right,” Elvis Presley. Songwriter Arthur Crudup; Did Not Chart; 1954. Blues singer/guitarist Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup was born in rural Mississippi and, like many of his contemporaries, relocated to Chicago to begin his recording career. Crudup released singles for several labels, but stopped recording in 1951, due to lack of royalty payments. He eventually spent more years working as a migrant laborer and a bootlegger than he did as a musician. Crudup recorded “That’s All Right” in 1946 to little fanfare, the song was re-released in 1949 as “That’s All Right, Mama.” While the Sun Studio recording of “That’s All Right” started spontaneously, Elvis had long been a fan. Presley, “Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now and I said if I ever got to a place I could feel all old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw.” The day “That’s All Right” was released, Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips famously played the record fourteen times on WHBQ radio. While not a national hit, the cultural reverberations of “That’s All Right” are impossible to summarize. Still, here’s one nugget: fifty years after its initial release, it was a #3 hit on the U.K. pop charts.

55. “Purple Haze,” Jimi Hendrix. Songwriter: Jimi Hendrix; #65 pop; 1967. “Purple Haze” was a transformational touchstone in the evolution of psychedelic guitar rock. Author John McDermott, “Jimi was playing a small club date in London and was backstage toying with the riff of ‘Purple Haze,’ and (his manager) Chas (Chandler) heard it immediately and said, ‘Write the rest of that. That’s the next single.’ Because I think he had heard enough of Jimi, even in the two or three months that they were together, to know that that is something very special, work on that.” Hendrix on the perhaps LSD inspired subject matter, “You know the song we had named ‘Purple Haze?’ (It) had about a thousand, thousand words … I had it all written out. It was about going through, through this land. This mythical … because that’s what I like to do is write a lot of mythical scenes. You know, like the history of the wars on Neptune.” Rolling Stone magazine, “It is one of the unforgettable opening riffs in rock: a ferocious, stomping guitar march, scarred with fuzz and built around the dissonant ‘devil’s interval’ of the tritone. And it launched not one but two revolutions: late-Sixties psychedelia and the unprecedented genius of Jimi Hendrix. For the first time, Hendrix, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell got to show off their acrobatic onstage chemistry on record — and they somehow managed to condense it to an under-three-minute blaze of overdubbed guitar sorcery. In the closing solo, Hendrix echoed his screaming Strat with an additional shrieking guitar put through a new harmonic-manipulation device called an Octavia and played back at double speed. ‘Purple Haze’ captured the liberating rush of Day-Glo culture just in time for the Summer of Love.”

54. “Sultans of Swing,” Dire Straits. Songwriter: Mark Knopfler; #4 pop; 1978. Mark Knopfler worked as a reporter and graduated with an English degree before starting a rock band, giving him a more astute eye for detail than many of his contemporaries. Additionally, he developed a finger picking style more traditionally used in Nashville than in rock music. For a debut single, “Sultans of Swing” is notable both for its character development – the theme is built around a weekend warrior jazz band with a grandiose name – and for Knopfler’s arpeggio driven guitar work. Rick Moore of American Songwriter, “With “Sultans of Swing” a breath of fresh air was exhaled into the airwaves in the late ’70s. Sure, Donald Fagen and Tom Waits were writing great lyrics about characters you’d love to meet and Jeff Beck and Eddie Van Halen were great guitar players. But Knopfler, he could do both things as well or better than anybody out there in his own way, and didn’t seem to have any obvious rock influences unless you try to include Dylan. It was almost like jazz for the layman.” The late, great John Kordosh, “The greatest guitar playing in any rock song ever? Yes. Yes, indeed.”

53. “(You May Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” Aretha Franklin. Songwriters: Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Jerry Wexler; #8 pop/#2 R&B; 1967. Jerry Wexler had the “natural woman” title concept, Goffin and King penned the tune, and Aretha provided the sexual meets salvation sound. Author Bill Janovitz, “Like many of her mid- to late-’60s recordings, it is based around a gospel piano part. Jerry Wexler allows Franklin’s gospel approach to lead the track, but assures its pop success with some pizzicato strings and warm brass accents. Franklin sings it perfectly, with a lovely sense of the building arrangement, and the Sweet Inspirations provide stellar backing vocals.” Music journalist Bonnie Steinberg, “’(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ is a slow burn, building to that joyful chorus. It’s essentially the musical equivalent of shouting from the mountaintops how in love with someone you are, and when Aretha’s happy, we’re all happy.” Songwriter Carole King, “I hear these things in my head, where they MIGHT go, how they MIGHT sound. But I don’t have the chops to do it myself. So, it was like witnessing a dream realized.”

52. “Fight the Power,” Public Enemy. Songwriters: Carlton Ridenhour, Eric Sadler, Hank Boxley, Ralph Andrei Duay, Keith Boxley; #20 R&B; 1989. Both Chuck D. and Spike Lee always seemed prepared to battle, so it’s no surprise that the leading black political rapper and the leading black political film maker of their era developed a partnership for the film “Do the Right Thing.” Music journalist Stevie Chick, “‘Fight the Power’ might be Public Enemy’s greatest anthem of all. ‘I wanted it to be defiant, I wanted it to be angry, I wanted it to be very rhythmic,’ Lee told Time magazine, explaining why he chose PE. The Bomb Squad ran a library’s worth of soul and funk – including five James Brown/JBs tracks, classics by Sly Stone and Syl Johnson, and even the Isley Brothers’ own 1975 stormer ‘Fight the Power’ – through the blender to create the track’s frenetic, frenzied, fractured funk, while for the movie version Hank Shocklee sliced up three different sax solos Branford Marsalis had recorded especially for the track (‘One funky solo, one jazz solo, and one just completely avant-garde, free-jazz solo,’ he later told Rolling Stone) and added them to the stew. Chuck’s lyric nodded to Malcolm X and invoked Martin Luther King as he addressed the PE faithful as his ‘beloved,’ imploring them to get down to the business of revolution. ‘It was written to be an anthem,’ Chuck explained, and it was written at a particular time that needed an anthem.’” One major and one minor point regarding this song – Elvis wasn’t a racist and Bobby McFerrin did deserve a good backhand.

51. “Losing My Religion,” R.E.M. Songwriters: Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe; #4 pop; 1991. “Losing My Religion” is about unrequited love and about the type of unhealthy romantic obsession where a spurned party constantly questions the motives of the person he desires. The title phrase is an old Southern expression for someone who is about to lose their temper. Peter Buck, “I started it on mandolin and came up with the riff and chorus. The music was written in five minutes. The first time the band played it, it fell into place perfectly. Michael had the lyrics within the hour, and while playing the song for the third or fourth time, I found myself incredibly moved to hear the vocals in conjunction with the music. To me, ‘Losing My Religion’ feels like some kind archetype that was floating around in space that we managed to lasso. If only all songwriting was this easy.” Michael Stipe on his “oh, no, I’ve said too much” lyrics, “I love the idea of writing a song about unrequited love. About holding back, reaching forward, and then pulling back again. The thing for me that is most thrilling is you don’t know if the person I’m reaching out for is aware of me. If they even know I exist. It’s this really tearful, heartfelt thing that found its way into one of the best pieces of music the band ever gave me.” Peter Holsapple of the dB’s provided balance to the high pitch of Buck’s mandolin with his acoustic guitar work. Buck, “It was really cool: Peter and I would be in our little booth, sweating away, and Bill and Mike would be out there in the other room going at it. It just had a really magical feel.”

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