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The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 80 to 71

80. “Sabotage,” Beastie Boys. Songwriters: Michael Diamond, Adam Horovitz, Adam Yauch; Did Not Chart; 1994. The Beastie Boys originally penned “Sabotage” as an instrumental track, but added the lyrics of persecution after having studio battles with engineer Mario Caldato Jr. Adam Horovitz, “We were totally indecisive about what, when, why and how to complete songs. Mario was getting frustrated. That’s a really calm way of saying that he would blow a fuse and get pissed off at us and scream that we just needed to finish something, anything. I decided it would be funny to write a song about how Mario was holding us all down, how he was trying to mess it all up, sabotaging our great works of art.” Musically, the band returned to their hardcore roots, merging their natural aggressiveness with studio tricks learned in the world of hip hop. Flying off the handle like Buddy Rich, “Sabotage” is a pure adrenaline joy ride – the scream coming off the instrumental break feels like speed blast, roller coaster drop. And how weird is it that rapper Adam Yauch executed one of the most memorable bass performances of all time?

79. “Wichita Lineman,” Glen Campbell. Songwriter: Jimmy Webb; #3 pop/#1 country; 1968. After scoring a #2 country hit and getting crossover pop airplay with the 1967 Jimmy Webb composition “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” Campbell wanted Jimmy Webb to write another song “about a town.” Webb had “prairie goth” images in his head and went much deeper. Webb, “You can see someone working in construction or working in a field, a migrant worker or a truck driver, and you may think you know what’s going on inside him, but you don’t. You can’t assume that just because someone’s in a menial job that they don’t have dreams or extraordinary concepts going around in their head, like ‘I need you more than want you; and I want you for all time.’ You can’t assume that a man isn’t a poet. And that’s really what the song is about.” Campbell’s plaintive vocals are heartbreaking, as he sings about a man who toils endlessly to help others communicate and, due to his occupational and personal loneliness, is desperate for a meaningful interpersonal connection. Also, check out the Freedy Johnston cover. Freedy is another man who knows about the isolation of wide open spaces.

78. “96 Tears,” Question Mark and the Mysterians. Songwriter: Rudy Martinez; #1 pop; 1966. Question Mark and the Mysterians were comprised of Hispanic children of migrant farm workers who had relocated from Texas to Michigan. The ever enigmatic Question Mark (Rudy Martinez), who claims to be an alien from Mars, on the song’s origin, “Little Frank (keyboard player Frank Rodriguez) comes in singing a tune, and I said, ‘I’ve heard that before. And I ain’t going to do nothing until I’ve heard where that music and the title of it comes from.’ He played it for like 45 minutes. Everybody’s getting mad. And then all of a sudden it dawned on me, I said, ‘Oh, I know where I heard that. I wrote that song long time ago.’ Then the lyrics came out: ‘Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying,’ all that came out just like that. Boom. See, it was meant to be. There are certain things that are meant to be.” Author Bill Holdship, “’96 Tears’ is one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs in the history of the genre. In fact, it may be the greatest. John Lennon reportedly once said exactly that, and Question Mark — the Michigan native who wrote and recorded it — claims Brian Wilson told him the same thing in 1987. Those three-and-a-half minutes of brilliance alone helped launch garage and punk rock, as well as helping to shape the whole R&B-trash rock aesthetic.”

77. “A Hard Day’s Night,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; 1964. George Martin, “People in England at that time never really understood what great conquering heroes they were and that the success was so complete and total.” One of the conquering sounds was the famous opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night,” an intro that bewildered guitarists for decades. Author Brooke Halpin on the complexity of the seemingly simple intro, “George ignites the song ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ with a sensational, harmonically complex chord played on his newly acquired electric Rickenbacker twelve-string guitar. The same chord is doubled on the piano, played by George Martin, while John plays a D suspended chord on his acoustic Gibson guitar and Paul plays a high D on his bass. It was the first time that the Beatles used the electric twelve-string guitar so boldly.” The title, which was also used for the Beatles’ 1964 comedy film, came from a quip that Ringo made about working extended hours. George Martin commenting on Harrison’s fade-out, “Again, that’s film writing. I was stressing to them the importance of making the song fit, not actually finishing it but dangling on so that you’re into the next mood.”

76. “Running on Empty,” Jackson Browne. Songwriter: Jackson Browne; #11 pop; 1977. Musically and lyrically, “Running on Empty” is a masterful piece of writing. Using the road as a metaphor for life’s travels, Browne details the impetuousness and arrogance of youth as compared to the trials of a middle-aged man who wonders if the search for contentment is perpetually elusive. Recorded live, the energy of his band matches the poignancy of the lyrics. “Running on Empty” shares the theme of rootlnessness of “Tangled Up in Blue,” yet is untethered from a knowable destination. From the website Society of Rock, “’Running on Empty’ became the song of a generation of young adults running towards something but not knowing what, loving the thrill of the chase but deathly afraid of running behind and never being able to leave the race.” Browne on the touring lifestyle, “If someone said, ‘You can go live in this little town in Costa Rica for a couple of weeks and all you’ve got to do is sing for us,’ I would do that. That’s more exciting to me than the prospect of going on some national tour, where you’re going to play arenas or sheds every night, because of the crushing repetition of that kind of line.”

75. “Roll over Beethoven,” Chuck Berry and his Combo. Songwriter: Chuck Berry; #29 pop/#2 R&B; 1956. Chuck Berry was raised in a middle class, African American community in St. Louis. His father was a carpenter and his college educated mother was a school principal. The Berry family piano was most often occupied by older sisters Thelma and Lucy, who took lessons in classical music. There was little time for Chuck to engage in his self-taught, rudimentary skills. On “Roll over Beethoven,” Berry was somewhat teasing his sisters with his glow worm wiggling wink at the masters of classical music, whose shelf spaced had been replaced by his electric guitar. Louis Jordan, Carl Perkins, and Bo Diddley are indirectly referenced, but, in the bigger picture, this was Berry defining the mood of the new youth culture. He was too old to be a part of that culture, but documenting their lifestyle in exquisite detail was his greatest achievement. Author Bruce Pegg on the opening guitar lick (lifted from the guitar playing of Carl Hogan on Louis Jordan’s 1946 release “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman”), “Chuck Berry saw fit to graft onto ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ an incendiary intro, a blistering guitar riff that became the rock and roll equivalent of viewing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and seeing Michelangelo’s autograph on the sole of God’s foot.”

74. “Marquee Moon,” Television. Songwriter: Tom Verlaine; Did Not Chart; 1977. The New York band Television debuted in late 1973, finalized their classic lineup in 1975 (after Richard Hell left the band), and became one of the defining acts of the CBGB’s punk era. “Marquee Moon” is ten minutes of guitar hero exploits; Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd mixed elements of blues, jazz, and punk to create a dreamlike journey to an alternate musical universe. The cryptic lyrics (“I remember how the darkness doubled/I recall, lightning struck itself/I was listening, listening to the rain/I was hearing, hearing something else”) give your brain something to chew on while you are coming down from the dizzying guitar explorations. Tom Verlaine, on the classification of Television’s music, “As peculiar as it sounds, I’ve always thought that we were a pop band. You know, I always thought (the) ‘Marquee Moon’ (album) was a bunch of cool singles. And then I’d realize, Christ, (the title track) is ten minutes long. With two guitar solos.”


73. “Kiss Off (Live),” Violent Femmes. Songwriter: Gordon Gano; Did Not Chart; 1993. Eight years after the release of their debut album, the Violent Femmes recorded a live version of “Kiss Off” in a Norfolk, Virginia club that was later wrecked by a hurricane. The crowd sang along with every word of their impudent anthem and the band worked itself into a frenzy, having spent years sinking their fangs into the song’s sense of teenage desperation. This version sounds more like a communal event than a rock song. Steve Huey of AllMusic, “’Kiss Off’ was by turns funny, playful, vulnerable, heartbreaking, combative, furious, self-conscious, despairing, hopeful, and hopeless.” Every one of those emotions is immeasurably amplified by a crowd who loved flipping off authority figures over the content of their permanent record.


72. “God Only Knows,” Beach Boys. Songwriters: Brian Wilson, Tony Asher; #39 pop; 1966. Brian Wilson on his melancholy and introspective love song, “Tony Asher and I tried to write something very spiritually. It’s got a melody similar to the song (recites lyric to ‘The Sound Of Music’), ‘I hear the sound of music…’ (Sings lyrics to ‘God Only Knows’) ‘I may not always love you…’ It was similar to it. Tony came up with the title ‘God Only Knows.’ I was scared they’d ban playing it on the radio because of the title but they didn’t.” Sound engineer Eugene Gearty, “What we learned with Brian was how much he modulated from key to key. He was far more complex than The Beatles and mostly like Stravinsky in orchestral music where the key changes and key centers change four or five times within a pop tune, which is unheard of. And ‘God Only Knows’ is one of those perfect examples of that.” In addition to the vocalists and the string section, the song is layered with sleigh bells, an accordion, flutes, clarinets, and a French horn. Matthew Bolin of PopDose, “It is simply one of the most beautifully composed and arranged songs in the history of not just pop music, but Western music. To place ‘God Only Knows’ in its proper context is to compare it not just to 1966 Paul McCartney, but 1836 Frederic Chopin.” A succinct appraisal from Paul McCartney, “It’s a really, really great song.”


71. “Louie Louie,” The Kingsmen. Songwriter: Richard Berry; #2 pop; 1963. Doo wop singer Richard Perry penned “Louie Louie” during the 1950s, lifting the basic riff directly from “El Loco Cha Cha” by the Latin band Ricky Rillera and the Rhythm Rockers. Berry’s single failed to chart, but found its way to the Pacific Northwest where it was covered by Rockin’ Robin Roberts and the Fabulous Wailers, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and, most famously, The Kingsmen. The Kingsmen version was reportedly recorded at a cost of $36 and was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for being possibly obscene. The agency concluded that the lyrics were “unintelligible at any speed.” Singer Jack Ely, “(Producer Ken) Chase directed us to set up our amplifiers and the drums in a circle. I stood in the middle of the circle and sang or rather almost yelled up at a boom mic that was suspended about four or five feet above my head. Basically the whole thing was recorded on the one overhead mic in order to capture that ‘live sound.’ Mr Chase said we sounded like we did at his teen club.” Dave Marsh on the results, “’Louie Louie’ is the most profound and sublime expression of rock and roll’s ability to create something from nothing. Built up from a Morse code beat and a ‘dub duh dub’ refrain, with scratchy lead vocal, tacky electric piano, relentless rhythm guitar, and drums that sound like the guy who’s playing ‘em isn’t sure what comes next, ‘Louie Louie’ scales the heights of trash rock to challenge the credentials of all latter-day rockers: If you don’t love it, you’ve missed the point of the whole thing.” Me gotta go, now. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

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