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The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 790 to 781


790.  “A Good Year for the Roses,” George Jones.  Songwriter: Jerry Chesnut; #2 country; 1970.  Anger, disappointment, disillusionment, denial.  George Jones went through an entire cycle of grief on the countrypolitan divorce number “A Good Year for the Roses,” and reminded us that he was the genre’s most gifted vocalist in the process. Songwriter Jerry Chesnut’s inspiration was purely practical, Chesnut had a bad experience trying to grow Hybrid Teas Roses. Chesnut pondered, “What if it’d been a good year for roses, but everything else was going to pot?  If the man’s wife was leaving, the baby’s crying, and the dog’s died? The whole world’s going to pot, but the roses are just blooming like crazy. I just started writing the song like that.” Chesnut on the 1981 Elvis Costello version, “I started getting telegrams: ‘Congratulations on the Elvis Costello record.’ I had no idea who it was. The first check we got in was $60,000, just for airplay in the British Isles. I said, ‘What is this guy?’ They said, ‘He’s punk rock.’ I said, ‘Maybe that’s the direction I want to go in.’”

789.  “Here, There and Everywhere,” The Beatles.  Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; Did Not Chart; 1966.  Art Garfunkel, “’Here, There and Everywhere’ – of all The Beatles’ records, this one truly intoxicated me. It’s beautiful in every way a song can be. What was going through Paul McCartney’s life the week he wrote this? You have to be in some kind of magical mood to come up with something this enchanting.” The harmonies at the beginning of the song were inspired by The Beach Boys and Paul was also emulating Marianne Faithfull in his vocal approach. McCartney, “That song was coming off a lot of things. At the time there was Brazilian music coming in – Joao Gilberto recorded ‘Fool on the Hill’ (Author’s note – McCartney may be thinking of Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66’s pop bossa version). There was cross-fertilization going on. You’d hear it and think how lovely those Brazilian chords were, so you’d work it into something else. At the same time I found myself really loving all these old songs and trying to write something that was comparable in skill and structure.” “Mojo” magazine rated “Here, There and Everyone” as the 4th “Greatest Song of All Time” in 2000 – behind Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow,” “Satisfaction” by The Stones, and “In My Life” by The Beatles.

788.  “Build Me Up Buttercup,” The Foundations.  Songwriters: Mike D’Abo, Tony Macaulay; #3 pop; 1968.  The Foundations were an unusual act from a demographic standpoint. They formed in London in 1967 with musicians from the U.K., the West Indies, and Sri Lanka and there was a twenty-year gap between the oldest and youngest band members. After scoring a 1967 #1 U.K. hit with “Baby Now That I Found You,” lead singer Clem Curtis was replaced by Colin Young, who performed vocals on “Build Me Up Buttercup.”  “Buttercup” was co-written by Mike D’Abo, who was singing lead for Manfred Mann at the time, and the song was originally pitched to David Essex of “Rock On” fame. The Foundations were on the wrong side of a cruel to be kind lover saga on this ba-da-day, hey-hey hey international hit. Astute pop fans heard the same melody six years later in ABBA’s “Waterloo.” ABBA keyboardist Benny Andersson, “If ‘Waterloo’ is similar to ‘Build Me Up Buttercup,’ ‘Baby Love’ by The Supremes is also similar to it. They all have the same rhythmic structure.”

787.  “Slack Motherfucker,” Superchunk.  Songwriters: Mac McCaughan, Laura Balance, Chuck Garrison, Jack McCook; Did Not Chart; 1990.  The North Carolina indie rock act Superchunk wrote the most energetic and best song ever about a lazy work boss/colleague with “Slack Motherfucker.” David Sackllah of Consequence of Sound, “Rarely does any band deliver the anthem of a generation on their debut single, let alone a noisy power-pop group from Chapel Hill, but that’s exactly what Superchunk with ‘Slack Motherfucker.’ A cathartic kiss-off to shitty bosses everywhere, the song bursts at the seams with unhinged squalor as Mac McCaughan shouts the now legendary proclamation: ‘I’m working, but I’m not working for you.’ The song’s wry energy was antithetical to the ‘slacker’ generation that reigned in the ‘90s, even if they shared a title in common. This was a brilliant punch of furious determination that has never lost relevance in the years since.”  McCaughan in 2013, “I think it so long ago transcended whatever it was about and it’s more like a fun song to play and sing along to. People just enjoy swearing out loud—that’s one thing. (Laughs.) ‘Motherfucker’ is a very satisfying word to say.”

786.  “Strawberry Letter 23,” Shuggie Otis.  Songwriter: Shuggie Otis; Did Not Chart; 1971.  The son of the rhythm and blues bandleader who gave the world “Willie and the Hand Jive,” Shuggie Otis started recording at the age of fifteen and released three albums during the 1970s that were a quiet storm concoction of blues, rock, funk, and pop.  Legend has it that was even invited to be a member of The Rolling Stones for their 1974 world tour.  “Strawberry Letter 23” is a trippy slice of psychedelic deep groove pop that’s better know from the 1977 hit cover version by The Brothers Johnson, but I prefer the cool acid vibe of the original.  If the outro goes too long (and it does), hey, it was the ‘70s. Thomas Fawcett of The Austin Chronicle, “’Strawberry Letter 23’ twinkled celestial soul, a psychedelic love note littered with rainbows, orange birds, blue flowers, and cherry clouds.” Shuggie Otis, “I loved my version and I always will, but I also loved the Brothers Johnson version. When I first heard it, it blew my mind. I was elated when I heard about them doing it.”

785.  “Third Rate Romance,” Amazing Rhythm Aces.  Songwriter: Russell Smith; #14 pop/#11 country; 1975.  The Amazing Rhythm Aces formed in Memphis in 1974, evolving from the band Fatback that performed in Knoxville, Tennessee in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s.  “Third Rate Romance” is an amusing tale from the viewpoint of a third party watching a developing one night stand, underscored by a laid back, country groove. The song returned to the country charts in 1994 as a #2 hit for Sammy Kershaw and the Amazing Rhythm Aces, who had disbanded in 1981, reformed that year. Lead singer Russell Smith also had a successful career as a country songwriter with credits on #1 country hits for Randy Travis (“Look Heart, No Hands”), T. Graham Brown (“Don’t Go to Strangers”), Don Williams (“Heartbeat in the Darkness”) and Ricky Van Shelton (“Keep It Between the Lines”).  After his passing in 2019, his bandmates noted, “Russell’s soulful voice and artfully crafted lyrics helped develop the signature Amazing Rhythm Aces sound that defined an era and transcended genre labels. Like their sound, Russell, himself, was a little southern, a little rock ’n’ roll, a pinch of bluegrass gospel, and an endless supply of soul.”

784.  “Land of 1,000 Dances,” Wilson Pickett.  Songwriter: Chris Kenner; #6 pop/#1 R&B; 1966.  New Orleans recording artist Chris Kenner wrote and recorded “Land of 1,000 Dances” in 1962. Kenner, “It actually came from a spiritual. The spiritual was ‘Children Go Where I Send You’ and I turned it around. It was inspired by the dance tunes going around.” Kenner’s original version and a 1963 Fats Domino release were at a much slower tempo than the better known hit versions. The Mexican American group Cannibal & the Headhunters hit the Top 40 in 1965 with their aggressive R&B meets garage rock cover. Wilson Pickett scored his biggest pop hit with blasting Muscle Shoals version, a recording with arrangement input from Chips Moman and Jerry Wexler to flesh out the two-chord groove. Pickett biographer Tony Fletcher, “Pickett’s delivery was riotous, raucous, damn near Pentecostal. He name checked his sister Louella, Lucy Coot – ‘my little Lucy’ – who had attempted to teach how to dance some of these moves. When not reciting the dances by name, he grunted, shouted, screamed, exhorted, did whatever it took to keep the song moving.” Drummer Roger Hawkins, “(After the take), Jerry Wexler said, ‘Roger, you are a great drummer,’ and all of a sudden, I just kind of relaxed and became a great drummer, just like he said I was.”

783.  “Going Up the Country,” Canned Heat.  Songwriter: Alan Wilson; #11 pop; 1968.  Henry Thomas was a Texas born, African American country blues singer who was in his mid-50s when he recorded 23 songs for Vocalion Records in the late 1920s. Thomas played the quills, a set of cane pipes that was developed as a musical instrument by American slaves in the early 1800s. Canned Heat formed in Los Angeles in 1965 and developed a sound based upon bringing traditional blues into the 1960’s contemporary rock context. Alan Wilson of Canned Heat, who died of a drug overdose in 1970, took the melody from Wilson’s 1927 composition “Bull Doze Blues” and wrote a set of rural paradise lyrics to develop the hippie anthem “Going Up the Country.”  Author Larry Glickman, “Going Up the Country’ is one of those rare recordings where everything fits. The guitar matches the flute, which matches the vocals, which matches the flute. The lyrics are in perfect sync with the optimistic message of our ongoing personal and communal search for a place where ‘the water tastes like wine.’ A place we will never find. We will always be searching.”

782.  “Smoke Stack Lightnin’,” Howlin’ Wolf. Songwriter: Howlin’ Wolf; #8 R&B; 1956.  Mississippi born singer Chester Burnett was a disciple of blues artist Charlie Patton, who had recorded “A Spoonful Blues” in 1929.  Burnett’s stage name of Howlin’ Wolf was artistic perfection. He was a physically intimidating presence with a booming, unforgettable voice.  Sam Phillips, “When I heard Howlin’ Wolf, I said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.’” Wolf served in the Army during WWI, then worked the Delta blues circuit until being discovered by Ike Turner in 1951. His 1956 hit “Smokestack Lightnin’” was a revival/re-write of a blues number Wolf had been performing since the early 1930s (inspired by Patton’s “Moon Going Down”). There’s a scary energy when Wolf moans into the darkness and wonders where his baby had spent last night. Wolf, “We used to sit out in the country and see the trains go by, watch the sparks come out of the smokestack. That was smokestack lightning.” Authors James Segrest and Mark Hoffman, “’Smokestack Lightning’ is the perfect distillation of what made Howlin’ Wolf such a powerfully unique artist. Built on a driving, hypnotic, one-chord vamp that subtly accelerates like a steam locomotive, Howlin’ Wolf sings an intense field holler vocal, interspersed with falsetto howls and blasts of raw country blues harmonica. The lyrics, a pastiche of traditional blues lines pared to the bone, are dark and cryptic conveying a mood of metaphysical agony.”

781.  “Rock Lobster,” The B-52’s.  Songwriters: Fred Schneider, Ricky Wilson; #56 pop; 1979.  “Rock Lobster” was the song that launched the B-52’s, a raw 1978 single sold over 2,000 copies and landed the band their first New York gigs. A more polished version was included on their debut album, resulting in a #1 hit in Canada and peaking at #3 in Australia. American radio was more conservative, but the Farfisa organ hooked twisted tale of sea life is now a recognized classic of the new wave era. Singer Cindy Wilson, “I came home one day, and (her brother) Ricky (Wilson) was just working on his guitar. He was just laughing to himself. He said, ‘I just made up the stupidest riff there ever was.’” John Lennon was particularly inspired by the song. Lennon, in his last interview, “I was at a dance club one night in Bermuda. Upstairs, they were playing disco, and downstairs I suddenly heard ‘Rock Lobster’ by the B-52’s for the first time. Do you know it? It sounds just like Yoko’s music. I said to meself, ‘It’s time to get out the old ax and wake the wife up!’”

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