The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 600 to 591
600. “I Only Want to Be with You,” Dusty Springfield. Songwriters: Mike Hawker, Ivor Raymonde; #12 pop; 1963. Dusty Springfield started her singing career in folk music and had her first U.S. success in 1962 as a member of The Springfields, peaking at #20 on the pop charts with their cover of “Golden Threads and Silver Needles.” She decided to become a solo artist in 1963 and followed in the footsteps of The Beatles, becoming the second British Invasion act to hit the U.S. airwaves in 1964. Mike Hawker had written “I Only Want to Be with You” in 1961, but it had only been recorded as a demo when a label executive requested a “guaranteed hit” to break Springfield as a solo artist. Rock critic Jason Ankeny, “Occupying the middle ground between the Wagnerian teen pop operas of producer Phil Spector and the string-sweetened sophistication of the Motown sound, ‘I Only Want to Be with You’ ranks among the great white soul records of all time, a swooning, dramatic pledge of devotion wrought with rare emotional depth.” Proving the durability of the song, “I Only Want to Be with You” was a hit for The Bay City Rollers in 1976, in the U.K. for The Tourists (fronted by Annie Lennox) in 1980, and for Samantha Fox in 1989.
599. “A Matter of Time,” Los Lobos. Songwriters: David Hidalgo, Louie Perez; Did Not Chart; 1984. The Los Angeles Mexican/American band Los Lobos was writing about an issue that deeply impacted the people of their culture in “A Matter of Time,” a man leaves his family to find employment with no idea when he will reunite with his loved ones (“I hope it’s all it seems/Not another empty dream/There’s a time for you and me/In a place living happily”). Los Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo, “‘A Matter of Time’ was a big breakthrough. It was a big step, and it helped pave the way.” Music journalist Chris Morris, “The song immediately commanded the listener’s attention. Cast as a dialogue, the hushed number depicts a farewell between a Mexican laborer, leaving to cross the U.S. border in search of possibly illusory work, and his uncertain wife. Painted with focused economy, the song unfolds like a brilliantly told short story. For the first time, Los Lobos were writing about the fabric of their own people’s difficult experience, not as any sort of political broadside, but with artfulness, a fine-tuned clarity, and powerful emotional affect. And, like most great songs, it retained its potency over time.”
598. “Can’t Hardly Wait,” The Replacements. Songwriter: Paul Westerberg; Did Not Chart; 1987. Songwriter Paul Westerberg tires of a cigarette bumming deity on the endlessly world weary “Can’t Hardly Wait,” noting “Jesus rides beside me/He never buys any smokes/Hurry up! Ain’t you had enough of this stuff?/Ashtray floors, dirty clothes and filthy jokes.” The warm sounds of the Memphis Horns draw in the listener and set the mood. Westerberg, “We had really gotten into the Memphis thing, ‘cause hanging all these Southern funky cats down there. The Memphis Horns played on all the Otis Redding records and the Wilson Pickett records, and Arthur Conley and all the stuff. And we figured, ‘Fuck, we ain’t ever gonna have another chance to do this, why not?’” Rock critic Bill Janovitz, “Featuring a quiet and simple circular guitar riff, the instrumentation is made up mostly of horns and strings, and Memphis legend Jim Dickinson’s reigned-in production is crisp and clean. Clearly the group was aiming for the sort of bright, early-’70s AM-radio sounds of songs like B.J. Thomas’ ‘Hooked on a Feeling.’ It was as if Westerberg realized that his gifts as a songwriter were enough to let his melodies and lyrics shine through without the din of distortion and edgy performances for which his band had been known.” Dave Lifton of Ultimate Classic Rock on the emotional tug of the song, “A gorgeously fragile look at life on the road and a desire to return home.”
597. “Only Shallow,” My Bloody Valentine. Songwriters: Kevin Shields, Bilinda Butcher; Did Not Chart; 1992. If there has ever been a band built to maximize hearing loss, it’s the Dublin based shoegaze/dream pop act My Bloody Valentine.On “Only Shallow,” the listener feels literally bathed in waves of guitar sounds in an entrancing and comforting manner. Guitarist Kevin Shields created previously unheard sounds from his guitar by using his tremolo bar as a modified strumming device. The riff for “Only Shallow” was derived from experimenting with a 1960’s Burman amp and a Fender Showman amp. Shields, “I set them up facing each other with one microphone in the middle and both of them with the tremolo going,” he explains. “So the base sound of the thing was these two amps with the tremolos shaking at different rates. I overdubbed that, so you had four different rates of tremolo. Then I sampled it in the Akai (digital sampler) and played it backwards, so it was backwards and forwards at the same time, and then played it an octave higher.” The impact? Ira Robbins, “Songs like ‘Only Shallow’…send the listener falling weightlessly through space, a fantastic journey of sudden perspective shifts and jagged audio asteroids. In My Bloody Valentine’s magical kingdom, cacophony is the mind-altering path to beauty.”
596. “Boxcars,” Joe Ely. Songwriter: Butch Hancock; Did Not Chart; 1978. Joe Ely’s 1978 “Honky Tonk Masquerade” album is the best representation of his specialized Americana by way of Lubbock rock ‘n’ roll, incorporating elements of Buddy Holly, introspective Texas songwriting, and conjunto/Tejano influences. His eclecticism never subsumed his knowledge that passion and song quality are more important than instrumentation. On the Butch Hancock penned “Boxcars,” Ely is trapped in a dead end small town, haunted by the possibilities of the train that leads elsewhere, but unable to break free from the drudgery of his existence. Hancock on the level of concentration that Lubbock facilitates, “The great thing about West Texas is that, with any idea you have out there, you’re kind of stuck with it for awhile; or you have the opportunity to hang with it. You see something over on the horizon thirty miles ahead when you’re driving down the highway and it’s gonna be in your consciousness for the next thirty minutes, until you’ve driven over there those thirty miles.”
595. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” Lead Belly. Songwriter: Traditional; Did Not Chart; 1944. Huddle William Ledbetter, professionally known as Lead Belly or Leadbelly, was no stranger to violence, music, or the Louisiana state penitentiary. He was in his mid-40s when folkorists John and Alan Lomas visited him at the Louisiana’s Anglo Prison Farm in 1933. “Goodnight Irene,” a fatalistic love ballad, was one of the songs recorded during their session and was a #1 pop hit in 1950 by the Weavers. Lead Belly recorded “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” a spooky song about a missing wife and her decapitated husband, in 1944. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” evolved from a traditional folk song from the 1800s and was recorded, with lyrics about a disturbing train ride, as “In the Pines” by Bill Monroe in 1941. Sometimes titled “Black Girl,” the repetition of the chords and lyrics reinforce the darkness of the subject matter. Nirvana closed out their 1993 MTV Unplugged performance with a slow, dramatic, grim cover of Lead Belly’s tale of backwoods death.
594. “Low Rider,” War. Songwriters: B.B. Dickerson, Charles Miller, Harold Brown, Howard Scott, Jerry Goldstein, Lee Oskar, Lonnie Jordan, Papa Dee Allen; #7 pop/#1 R&B; 1975. A “low rider” can refer to either a car or a person involved in that subculture. Popularized by Mexican Americans in Southern California, low riding involves hydraulically retrofitting an automobile to ride lower in the back and to give the car four wheel independent suspension. War drummer Harold Brown had worked as a mechanic and driven low riders, so the band was singing about a pop culture trend within their own community. The song is built on a slinky funk groove with Latin polyrhythms and a sliding bassline, topped with a melodic harmonica riff. The vocals are dark shades, pre-hip hop, spoken jazz cool. “Low Rider” is eternal smile inducing, funk happiness.
593. “Dancing Queen,” ABBA. Songwriters: Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Stig Anderson; #1 pop; 1976. ABBA is one of the most commercially successful bands in the history of pop music. From 1972 to 1982, they had over thirty Top Ten singles throughout the world and have sold over 380 million records. The sweepingly dramatic “Dancing Queen” was the band’s sole U.S. #1 hit. The chorus sounds like the aural equivalent of an endorphin rush, a celebration of post adolescent freedom and empowerment, set on the dance floor. Singer Anni-Frid Lynstand was moved to tears the first time she heard it. Her counterpart, Agnetha Fältskog, “It’s often difficult to know what will be a hit. The exception was ‘Dancing Queen.’ We all knew it was going to be massive.” Author Tom Breihan, “’Dancing Queen’ only works if Lyngstad and Fältskog put everything into the song. You can’t be neutral with ‘Dancing Queen.’ You have to belt it, and you have to put feeling into it. ‘Dancing Queen’ isn’t a song about apocalypse, or even about romantic desolation. It’s just a night out in a nightclub. But if you’re 17, if a nightclub is the only place where you really feel at home, then the importance of that night is massive and all-consuming. It obliterates everything else.”
592. “Long May You Run,” The Stills-Young Band. Songwriter: Neil Young; Did Not Chart; 1976. Due to friction between Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young during the mid-1970s, the quartets split into competing duos for a short time. Young partnered with his Buffalo Springfield colleague Stephen Stills for the 1976 album “Long May You Run.” The title track, a mid-tempo folkie remembrance of Young’s “first car and my last lady,” was the highlight of the project. Neil even tosses in a nice little hat tip to the Beach Boys, showing his ability to be sentimental and humorous at the same time. Young dropped out of this project by sending Stills a telegram in the middle of a scheduled concert run that said, “Dear Stephen, funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil.”
591. “Pineola,” Lucinda Williams. Songwriter: Lucinda Williams; Did Not Chart; 1992. The most gripping song from Lucinda Williams’ 1992 album “Sweet Old World” is a return to the type of stark tragedy that folk and country music often detailed during the genre’s infancy. “Pineola,” with a lyric that Lucinda Williams has compared stylistically to Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” begins with a suicide, emphasized with a drumshot that sounds like a shotgun blast, and then details the emotional aftermath of the death. The lyrics were inspired by death of Arkansas poet Frank Stanford, who killed himself at the age of 29, and the different worlds he inhabited. Williams, “Most of those lyrics are factual. It was really surreal. My dad and all of his writer friends were in one group, and his (Stanford’s) mother and sister were off to themselves. They didn’t know anyone. In fact, none of his friends knew anything about his family. It was a very Southern Gothic kind of thing.”