The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 710 to 701
710. “All the Way from Memphis,” Mott the Hoople. Songwriter: Ian Hunter; Did Not Chart; 1973. Mott the Hoople evolved from a Hereford, England band that included guitarist Rick Ralphs and bassist Peter Overend Watts. Manager Guy Stevens installed Ian Hunter as the lead singer in 1969 and the band released three albums with minimal success in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Their fortunes changed with David Bowie penned the glam rock anthem “All the Young Dudes” for them in 1972, which scraped into the bottom rungs of the U.S. Top Forty and was a major U.K. hit. Mott the Hoople would continue to have more success in the U.K., including 1973’s “All the Way from Memphis.” This U.K. Top Ten single is about the trials and misgivings of a rock ‘n’ roll frontman and mixes elements of 1950’s rock (boogie woogie piano licks and a honking sax sound that was contribution from Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay) with the glam rock guitar style of the era. Typical of Ian Hunter’s work, the song was sharply written and vigorously performed.
709. “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” Bob Seger. Songwriter: Bob Seger; #41 pop; 1977. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” became a popular anti-establishment catchphrase during the Vietnam War era, with the number representing a symbolic line in the sand for the generational divide. Bob Seger crossed over to the dark side, age wise, in the mid-70s. Yet with “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” he reminded his fans that it was permissible, even perhaps cathartic, to still indulge in rock ‘n’ roll at a time in life when their responsibilities might start to outweigh their passions. The Chuck Berry name check was a nifty bridge for the sweet sixteen turned thirty one target audience.
708. “Academy Fight Song,” Mission of Burma. Songwriter: Clint Conley; Did Not Chart; 1981. The Boston based post-punk band Mission of Burma sounded incredibly jagged and harsh in 1981, but after bands like the Pixies and Nirvana broke into the mainstream, they seem much more accessible retroactively. Journalist Michael Azerrad on this Boston indie rock unit, “Mission of Burma took elements of free jazz, psychedelia, and experimental music and injected them into often anthemic punk rock. It was, in the words of one critic, ‘avant-garde music you could shake your fist to.’” “Academy Fight Song” sounds like a classic theme of rock ‘n’ roll rebellion, even though the law they are fighting may be somewhat lyrically obtuse. Songwriter Clint Conley on the band’s state of mind, “There was no thought given to posterity. We were focused on trying to get a gig at the local clubs and trying to crawl up the grubby little ladder we were on.” R.E.M. often performed “Academy Fight Song” in concert and Moby had a 1996 hit in Belgium and Finland with his cover of “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver,” Mission of Burma’s most popular song.
707. “Don’t Do Me Like That,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Songwriter: Tom Petty; #10 pop; 1979. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had received airplay with their 1977 and 1978 singles “Breakdown,” “I Need to Know,” and “Listen to Her Heart,” but had their real mainstream breakthrough hit with “Don’t Do Me Like That,” a bouncy, paranoid love tale. Rock critic Andrew Unterberger, “Nobody in the late ’70s was writing rock songs this tight, this seamless or this good — not Elvis Costello, not Joe Jackson, not even the goddamn Ramones. From the opening full-band crash to Petty’s closing ‘DON’T! DONT’!’ yawps, there’s not a centimeter of sonic space wasted: The economy of each drum fill, each mini-guitar lick, each couplet – who the hell else could write verse couplets as punchy as ‘If you were in the public eye/ Giving someone else a try’ – is something songwriters and producers could spend a lifetime studying and still not grasp in full.” Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band, who passed on the opportunity for the first cut on the song, “I always heard it as having a Lennon-esque quality, especially in the bridge – just the way Tom puts the edge on his voice. There is also a Dylan-esque quality (in the lyrics): ‘Well, you’re gonna get yours. In the public eye, you’re gonna humiliate me? Baby, your time is gonna come.’ That was a theme in Lennon’s work too – (the Beatles’) ‘No Reply.’ But the way Tom recorded it, it just became so Tom. I always felt, ‘Man, I wish we’d jumped on it sooner.’”
706. “Freeway of Love,” Aretha Franklin. Songwriters: Jeffrey Cohen, Narada Michael Walton; #3 pop/#1 R&B; 1985. In 1985, it had been a dozen years since Aretha Franklin’s last Top Ten pop single, 1973’s “Until You Come Back to Me.” Working with producer Narada Michael Walden, Aretha made a platinum return to pop radio with the pink Cadillac love party of “Freeway of Love” and the sexual gamesmanship of the album’s title track “Who’s Zoomin’ Who.” Producer Walden, “I had written ‘Freeway of Love’ for myself. But I flipped it and rewrote the lyrics for her. However, all those little (ad-libs) in that song, like ‘better than ever street,’ were things she worked up off the top of her head.” Susan Whitall of the Detroit News, “Part of Aretha’s appeal was that she didn’t scorn pop culture, and was open to new sounds. She could sing opera, but she never lost her love of a good party and getting down.”
705. “Lawyers, Guns, and Money,” Warren Zevon. Songwriter: Warren Zevon; Did Not Chart; 1978. Warren Zevon’s typically extravagant noir fiction was stretched by the fantasies of “Lawyers, Guns and Money” – a tale of international intrigue with potential Russian spies, Cuban gambling, and Central American hideouts. Zevon and his bandmates bash out the tune with a zeal that one would expect from a man living his life with a goal of enjoying every sandwich. I saw Zevon do a live gig in Portland in the early 1990s and his body language projected he was not only ready, but gladly anticipating, a physical altercation. Zevon explained his take no prisoners lifestyle with typical flair on his 1991 song “Mr. Bad Example” – “I’m very well acquainted with the seven deadly sins/I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in/I’m proud to be a glutton and I don’t have time for sloth/I’m greedy and I’m angry and I don’t care who I cross.”
704. “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” Al Green. Songwriters: Al Green, Teenie Hodges; #10 pop/#2 R&B; 1973. Al Greene (he would later drop the final “e” from his stage name) was born in Forrest City, Arkansas, the son of a sharecropper. He worked in both gospel and R&B music while growing up and released “Back Up Train,” his first single, on a label started by his band mates in 1968. “Back Up Train” went to #41 on the pop charts and was a #5 R&B hit, but his sustained success started in 1971, resulting from his partnership with Memphis producer Willie Mitchell. There’s an improvisational fell to Green’s 1973 hit “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” as the singer moves from a deliberate reading during the spare verses to falsetto squeals on the chorus Following their singer’s lead, the Memphis Horns provide subtle, warm phrasing in the versus, then dig hard into the chorus hook. “Here I Am” became a bigger pop hit eighteen years later, when the UB40 cover peaked at #7 on the U.S. pop charts in the summer of 1991.
703. “Yes, I’m Ready,” Barbara Mason. Songwriter: Barbara Mason; #5 pop/#2 R&B; 1965. Barbara Mason’s “Yes I’m Ready” is an early example of the silky Philadelphia soul sound – future producer Kenny Gamble sings backing vocals on the record and several future members of the Philly MFSB studio band provide the instrumentation. Mason was 18 when she wrote and recorded this lyric about her eagerness to discover romance. Mason, “I was a huge Curtis Mayfield fan, and I heard a record he had produced, Major Lance’s ‘The Monkey Time’ and he sings, ‘Are you ready?’ and I just thought, there’s my record. It only took me 10 minutes to write, and then we recorded it live in one take.” Mason never replicated the pop success of “Yes I’m Ready,” but went Top Ten R&B in the 1970s with three singles that reflected a more assertive look at sexuality with the titles “Give Me Your Love,” “From His Woman to You,” and “Shackin’ Up.”
702. “Dreams,” Fleetwood Mac. Songwriter: Stevie Nicks; #1 pop; 1977. Fleetwood Mac had their first U.S. #1 pop hit with “Dreams,” a Stevie Nicks composition about ending her eight year romantic relationship with Lindsey Buckingham. At the same time, Christine McVie was separating from her husband John McVie. Nicks, “I remember the night I wrote ‘Dreams.’ I walked in and handed a cassette of the song to Lindsey. It was a rough take, just me singing solo and playing piano. Even though he was mad with me at the time, Lindsey played it and then looked up and smiled. What was going on between us was sad. We were couples who couldn’t make it through. But, as musicians, we still respected each other – and we got some brilliant songs out of it.” Christine McVie, “’Dreams’ developed in a bizarre way. When Stevie first played it for me on the piano, it was just three chords and one note in the left hand. I thought, ‘This is really boring,’ but the Lindsey genius came into play. He fashioned three sections out of identical chords, making each section sound completely different. He created the impression that there’s a thread running through the whole thing.”
701. “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence,” Pavement. Songwriters: Scott Kannberg, Stephen Malkmus; Did Not Chart; 1993. Pavement started as a Stockton, California based studio project in 1989 and quickly evolved into a full band. “Slanted and Enchanted,” their 1992 debut album, was at the top of many critic’s polls for that year, as was their single “Summer Babe (Winter Version).” There were many elements to Pavement’s weird charisma during the 1990s, part of which was bringing a stoner rock sense of humor into the world of lo fi indie guitar rock. “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence” was part of the 1993 AIDS benefit album “No Alternative” and was recorded during the sessions for the 1994 album “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.” Using what sounds like a grunge rewrite of the riff to Eric Clapton’s “Let it Rain,” “Unseen Power” is either a salute to or a piss take on R.E.M. (“The singer, he had long hair/And the drummer he knew restraint/And the bass man he had all the right moves/And the guitar player was no saint”) that evolves into Sherman’s march through Georgia (“G-G-G-G-Georgia”) during the Civil War. Absurdly wonderful.