The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 730 to 721
730. “Up for the Down Stroke,” Parliament. Songwriters: George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Clarence ‘Fuzzy’ Haskins, Bernie Worrell; #63 pop/#10 R&B; 1974. By 1974, Parliament had transported Sly Stone’s pop funk into a new hemisphere – hard funk on the bottom, weaving soul horns, overlapping vocals, chants, handclaps, and Bernie Worrell’s colorful keyboard squiggles for texture. This is funk as an explosion, an instant party, a litmus test for the groove impaired. Author Rickey Vincent, “’Up for the Down Stroke’ featured the return of Bootsy Collins’ wicked bass-crunching, some absurd time changes, and a nastayness not heard on black radio since James Brown’s ‘Sex Machine.’”
729. “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” Alan Jackson. Songwriters: Alan Jackson, Roger Murrah, Keith Stegall; #1 country; 1990. While George Jones couldn’t get airplay in the early 1990s, he was still a hip artist to name check. By osmosis, theft, or coincidence, Alan Jackson picked up the George Jones/Rolling Stones rhyme that the Bellamy Brothers had used on their 1987 #1 country single “Kids of the Baby Boom” to describe his sad sack music preference. The title phrase came when either bassist Roger Bob Wills (quite the name, eh?) or Jackson leaned on an unsteady jukebox while playing in a small town honky tonk. Jackson brought the title to Nashville songwriters Roger Murrah and Keith Stegall and left with the number one country song of that year. Smartest lyrical moment – the statement, “I ain’t got nothin’ against rock ‘n’ roll,” welcoming aging rock ‘n’ rollers into the country fold.
728. “Help Me,” Joni Mitchell. Songwriter: Joni Mitchell; #7 pop; 1974. Joni Mitchell perfected her jazz/pop synthesis on her self-produced 1974 album “Court and Spark.” Two of the album’s best known songs were about famous men, which tells you of the company she kept in that era. “Free Man in Paris,” a #22 pop hit, is a cynical look at the record business inspired by a trip with record executive David Geffen. “Help Me,” Mitchell’s only U.S. Top Ten hit, was inspired by a doomed affair with rambler, gambler, sweet talking ladies’ man Glenn Frey (Mitchell’s lyrics are a reference to Frey’s background vocals on Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin Man”). Her conclusion on “Help Me” – both parties found freedom more attractive than commitment. Mitchell on her unusual song structures, “I thrive on change. That’s probably why my chord changes are weird, because chords depict emotions. They’ll be going along on one key and I’ll drop off a cliff, and suddenly they will go into a whole other key signature. That will drive some people crazy, but that’s how my life is.”
727. “Head over Heels,” The Go-Go’s. Songwriters: Charlotte Caffey, Kathy Valentine; #11 pop; 1984. The L.A. based new wave bad the Go-Go’s formed in 1978 and broke pop in the early 1980’s with the hit singles “Our Lips Are Sealed” and the indisputably correct “We Got the Beat.” 1984’s “Head over Heels” was the group’s last Top Twenty pop hit, with an instrumental break that sounds like Charlotte Caffey was momentarily channeling Jerry Lee Lewis. Charlotte Caffey, “I played piano and I had never utilized it, really, in the Go-Go’s and I thought, ‘Well, maybe it would be a cool idea to try something with the piano, just get a little different tonality happening other than just guitars.’ I sat down and came up with the hooky part in the beginning, the 8th note-y part.” Co-writer Kathy Valentine, “It rocked like mad, and Charlotte played with an ease and comfort that still eluded her some on guitar.” Go-Go’s guitarist Jane Wiedlin, “I just think it’s a classic. Like a little pop truffle of chocolate that’s just completely delicious.”
726. “The Message,” Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five featuring Melle Mel and Duke Bootee. Songwriters: Edward G. Fletcher, Melle Mel, Sylvia Robinson, Clifton “Jiggs” Chase; #62 pop/#4 R&B; 1982. “The Message” was a groundbreaking song in the history of rap music, changing the tone of the genre from party music to social commentary. Chuck D of Public Enemy, “’The Message’ was a total knock out of the park. It was the first dominant rap group with the most dominant MC saying something that meant something.” Rolling Stone, “It was the first song to tell, with hip-hop’s rhythmic and vocal force, the truth about modern life in inner-city America. Over seven minutes, atop a Seventies P-Funk jam, rapper Melle Mel and co-writer Duke Bootee, a member of the Sugar Hill Records house band, traded lines and scenes of struggle and decay, with a warning at the end of each verse: ‘Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to lose my head.’” The song painted a picture of a bleak urban landscape where simple survival was a struggle. Author Rich Bonnell, “’The Message’ expanded the frontiers of hip-hop and paved the way for acts as diverse as Public Enemy, Boogie-Down Productions, NWA, Kendrick Lamar, Lauryn Hill, The Coup, and Janelle Monae.”
725. “Ruby, Are You Mad?,” The Osborne Brothers & Red Allen. Songwriter: Cousin Emmy; Did Not Chart; 1956. Sonny and Bobby Osbourne were raised in southwestern Ohio and formed their band after Bobby served in the Korean War. (Sonny, who was not drafted, worked for Bill Monroe in the early 1950s). Their sound was progressive bluegrass for its era, incorporating electric and percussion instruments. Vocally, they were known for their stacked harmonies. The Osborne Brothers had several minor hits in the late 1960s/early 1970s and are best known for their version of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant’s “Rocky Top.” “Ruby,” most commonly known as “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?,” was first recorded by Cousin Emmy and Her Kinfolk in 1946 (Cousin Emmy being the stage name of Kentucky born banjo player Cynthia May Carver). Red Allen was a Kentucky based bluegrass guitarist and tenor singer who joined the Osborne Brothers in 1956. The Osborne Brothers sound like a bluegrass thunderstorm on “Rudy, Are You Mad?” while Allen does some of the most distinct, consonant extending singing in the history of the genre. It sounds like blissful madness.
724. “Burnin’ for You,” Blue Öyster Cult. Songwriters: Donald Roeser, Richard Meltzer; #40 pop; 1981. It’s hard to believe that Blue Öyster Cult weren’t a Top Forty staple act, with radio friendly titles like “Tattoo Vampire,” “Harvester of Eyes,” and “Nosferatu.” Seminal rock critic Richard Meltzer had a long association with Blue Öyster Cult, writing what Buck Dharma/Donald Roeser described as “Dada-esque free-association lyrics” for their early albums. Roeser on “Burnin’ for You,” “Richard would write on a typewriter and we’d have sheets of lyrics and on the page and it would look just look like poetry with a lot of lower case and free form, free association. I wrote it my garage studio. I’m quite proud of it. It’s one of Richard’s more sentimental lyrics, something he’s not known for (laughs).” Rock critic Donald Guarisco, “In typical Blue Öyster Cult style, this crafty hard rock tune mixes obtuse lyrics with sharp riffs to create a punchy but eccentrically witty rocker. On paper, ‘Burnin’ for You’ could pass as an eccentric pop tune, but Blue Oyster Cult brings it into hard rock territory with their atmospheric but powerful recording: clipped rhythm guitar and a melodic bass line push the verses along and a combination of power chords, new wave-ish synthesizer, and harmonized vocals flesh out the chorus.” Young music listeners will never understand the highs and lows of digging into B-sides.
723. “It Takes Two,” Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock. Songwriter: Robert Ginyard; #36 pop/#17 R&B; 1988. Harlem natives Rob Base (Robert Ginyard) and D.J. E-Z Rock (Rodney “Skip” Bryce) started working together in the mid-1980s and had one of the most iconic singles in hip hop history with the James Brown sample hooked “It Takes Two.” Journalist Christopher Weingarten, “‘It Takes Two’ would have an impact on hip-hop, dance music and pop for decades. Borrowing a giddy snatch of drums and screams from the James Brown-produced 1972 single ‘Think (About It)’ by Lyn Collins, the repeating “yeah … woo” in the 1988 tune remains the single greatest use of a looped drum break in rap history – the hip-hop equivalent the guitar solo in ‘Stairway to Heaven.’” Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic, “This is party music, pure and simple, but it’s transcendent party music — it sweeps you up immediately, and you’re carried away by the sheer thrill of the bass, beat, and rhymes. It takes a few concentrated listens to realize just how immaculately the record is constructed, and, even then, it’s amazing how easy Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock make it seem.” Rob Base’s noble ambition, “I wanted people to get up and dance and not have to worry about fightin’ and arguing.’”
722. “Raising Hell,” Run-D.M.C. Songwriters: Daryl McDaniels, Rick Rubin, Joseph Simmons; Did Not Chart; 1986. While Run-D.M.C. found fame by covering Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” in 1986, their best fusion of hard rock guitar with their aggressive rap style is the 1986 album title cut “Raising Hell.” The proudly Queens based rappers announce, “Kings from Queens from Queens come Kings/We’re raisin’ hell like a class when the lunch bell rings” on this slamming track with beats harder than calculus, an AC/DC style guitar riff, and lyrics proclaiming their royal status. Author Tom Moon on the production, “Shrewdly, Rick Rubin leaves the vocals untouched, so that it’s possible to hear every last bit of the electrifying volleys between Simmons and McDaniels. These endure as some of the most intense point-counterpoint rapping in hip-hop history.” The “Raising Hell” album was the first platinum selling release in the hip hop genre, moving the music from the inner city to the suburbs.
721. “God Save the Queen,” Sex Pistols. Songwriters: Johnny Rotten, Glen Matlock, Steve Jones, Paul Cook; Did Not Chart; 1977. The Sex Pistols were seeking attention with “God Save the Queen,” nicking the title from the British national anthem and savagely attacking the most prestigious symbol of their national identity. Johnny Rotten’s raging vocals sounded unlike any other frontman in rock music history and his repeated declaration of “No Future” summed up the dashed dreams and pent up frustrations of the punk generation. The single created a furor in England, it was banned by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), yet still went to #2 on the U.K. pop charts with some cynics believing it was kept out of the top slot for political reasons. Johnny Rotten/Lydon, “You don’t write ‘God Save the Queen’ because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you’re fed up with them being mistreated.”