The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 810 to 801
810. “One More Heartache,” Marvin Gaye. Songwriters: Warren Moore, Smokey Robinson, Bobby Rogers, Marv Tarplin, Ronald White; #29 pop/#4 R&B; 1966. “One More Heartache” must be one of the darker songs in the Smokey Robinson and the Miracles catalogue – the band who wrote and performed on this 1966 Marvin Gaye single. Gaye sounds like a man having a losing battle with his demons, while Marv Tarplin’s guitar chimes like a closet Byrds fan. The music builds into a claustrophobic swirl, while Gaye pushes himself toward a breakdown. “One More Heartache” moved into the world of blues rock with 1960’s covers by The Artwoods and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
809. “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” Chuck Berry and his Combo. Songwriter: Chuck Berry; #5 R&B; 1956. Released as the b-side to “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” is Berry at his sly, subversive best. The song notes social inequities and female lust for a “brown eyed handsome man” without mentioning what skin color may be attached and gives a hat tip to Jackie Robinson. His target audience got the message, the song went Top Five R&B without touching the pop charts. Berry was inspired to write the song after performances in southern California where he “didn’t see too many blue eyes.” Buddy Holly had a posthumous #3 U.K. hit with “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” in 1963 and the title lyric was referenced in John Fogerty’s 1985 single “Centerfield.”
808. “New Sensations,” Lou Reed. Songwriter: Lou Reed; Did Not Chart; 1984. On the title track to his 1984 album, Lou Reed turns into Mr. Positivity, embracing his marriage, then riding his motorcycle into rural Quaker land to play a hillbilly song on a roadside diner jukebox, while enjoying the company of strangers. Kurt Loder, “Never before has Reed seemed so completely and joyfully human as he does on ‘New Sensations,’ and the album’s title track provides its most radiant example: Here, cruising through the hills of Pennsylvania on his motorcycle, Reed reflects on his notorious past and rejoices in the straight married life he’s currently living. Seldom has the simple life been so appealingly portrayed.” Reed biographer Bill Brown describing the emotional pull of the song, “On the last 40 seconds of ‘New Sensations,’ the horizon in front of us keeps opening up wider and wider.”
807. “California Stars,” Wilco/Billy Bragg. Songwriters: Woody Guthrie, Jay Bennett, Jeff Tweedy; Did Not Chart; 1998. Billy Bragg came from England’s punk rock scene in the 1970s, eventually settling in as a leftist, politically outspoken singer/songwriter in the Woody Guthrie tradition. Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco after the disintegration of Uncle Tupelo in 1994. The two acts worked together on the 1998 “Mermaid Avenue” album, a collection of songs written using lyrics from Woody Guthrie that had never been set to music. Wilco’s standout track from the collection is the plaintive “California Stars,” where Woody uncharacteristically pined for romantic escapism. Blogger Don Lucas, “’California Stars’ oozes the warmth of a Sonoma pinot noir imbibed under starry west coast skies.” Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter, describing the song’s origin, “He hadn’t been to California in ten years at least. He probably already knew he had Huntington’s, and he wished he could go back in time — stop the progress of an illness.” Tweedy, on receiving the lyrics, “I remember it feeling like I was getting to hold the Declaration of Independence.”
806. “Communication Breakdown,” Led Zeppelin. Songwriters: John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant; Did Not Chart; 1969. Mickey Leigh, Joey Ramone’s step brother, describing Led Zeppelin’s influence on punk rock, “One day I started playing Led Zeppelin’s ‘Communication Breakdown,’ and John (Cummings/Johnny Ramone) was really impressed. ‘You know about downstrokes? That’s really important. Most people don’t realize that. That’s how rock ‘n’ roll should be played. All of it!’” Andy Shernoff from the band the Dictators has also commented that the blueprint for the Ramones comes directly from “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath and “Communication Breakdown.” Author Gregg Akkerman, “Zeppelin did not invent hard rock or heavy metal, but they codified the parameters and formulated the mission statement for others to adopt as their own. It lasts less than 2:30, but that’s all the time it takes for ‘Communication Breakdown’ to change the road you’re on.”
805. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Gil Scott-Heron. Songwriter: Gil Scott-Heron; Did Not Chart; 1971. After publishing two books, the 1970’s premier pre-rap rapper made his first major music commentary with “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” a withering criticism of American media culture and its negative impact on the African-American community. The central concept, that Americans would rather be distracted by mass media than address their own issues, remains despairingly relevant. Scott-Heron’s anti-sloganeering sloganeering is supported with righteous smooth jazz funk. Author Rickey Vincent, “Unlike the gospel rooted soul singers who preached a divine calling for change, Scott-Heron was grounded in the here and now, and dealt with the realities (of African-American life) in a clear-headed, pragmatic, nation-building fashion.” Also, check out Gil Scott-Heron’s hips-don’t-lie extended live version of “The Bottle” from 1976. You’ll want to build a time machine just to experience that groove in all of its ‘70s jazz meets funk sensory overload.
804. “I Got a Rocket in My Pocket,” Jimmy Lloyd. Songwriters: Jimmy Logsdon, Vic McAlpin; Did Not Chart; 1957. Kentucky native Jimmy Logsdon performed country music and worked as a deejay in the Louisville area during the mid-1950s. When he decided to cut a rockabilly single for Roulette Records, he used the pseudonym “Jimmy Lloyd,” not wanting to ruffle his base country audience, no matter how small it may have been. Floyd Cramer, famed Nashville session musician and short lived pop star with the 1960 hit “Last Date,” contributed dexterous piano work on “I Got a Rocket in My Pocket,” while Logsdon noted that his rocket was a walking lit fuse. Logsdon’s humorous look at lust was included in the soundtrack of the 1983 film “The Right Stuff” and the 1999 animated sci-fi flick “The Iron Giant.” The song has become a long time concert favorite of NRBQ, allowing pianist Terry Adams to display his jazz meets boogie woogie chops.
803. “Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy,” Devo. Songwriters: Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob Mothersbaugh, Gerold Casale; Did Not Chart; 1978. Devo’s early work was marked by clipped, jerky rhythms, but there’s an atypical slow build to “Gut Feeling.” Jerry Casale of Devo, “Mark Mothersbaugh had a five-chord progression on a clavinet that became ‘Gut Feeling,’ but Bob Casale came up with the arpeggiated, revolving, tingling guitar line that sounds like a twisted, devolved Byrds riff.” Tom Carson of Rolling Stone also picked up on that comparison, “The neat-Byrds-like guitar intro to ‘Gut Feeling’ coalesces into a barbed, dislocated texture that draws you in even while it sets your nerves on edge.” The gut feeling, of course, is one of outrage.
802. “I’ll Be There,” Jackson 5. Songwriters: Berry Gordy, Bob West, Willie Hutch, Hal Davis; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1970. “I’ll Be There” was the first Jackson 5 single not written by The Corporation (Berry Gordy’s handpicked songwriting team for the group) and was a move away from their bubblegum pop sound to a romantic ballad. A pre-teen Michael Jackson was able to convincingly perform an adult love song with assistance from brother Jermaine on the bridge. Rock critic Jason Ankeny, “Rarely, if ever, had one so young sung with so much authority and grace, investing this achingly tender ballad with wisdom and understanding far beyond his years.” Even though it was the Jackson 5’s fourth consecutive #1 single, years later Michael Jackson called it “our real breakthrough song, it was the one that said, ‘We’re here to stay.” Mariah Carey demonstrated the staying power of “I’ll Be There,” making it a last minute addition to her 1992 “MTV Unplugged” performance and then taking it back to #1 on the pop charts.
801. “New Year’s Day,” U2. Songwriters: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.; #53 pop; 1983. The stirring anthem “New Year’s Day” didn’t break into the U.S. Top Forty, but it did lay the foundation for the band to become a defining international act of their era. Annie Zaleski of Billboard, “A song about soldiering forward and bridging divisions despite strife, ‘New Year’s Day’ exemplifies the ways early U2 refracted the modern world in inventive ways, while still striving for timelessness. Thematically, Bono told the Los Angeles Times in 2005 that ‘New Year’s Day’ was inspired by the image of Lech Walesa, head of the Polish trade union Solidarity, helming a Jan. 1 worker’s strike. Musically, the song is fresh-sounding new wave. The Edge pulls double duty, bashing out scorching guitars and desolate piano, while Clayton contributes a livewire bass line, which evolved from him working out how to play Visage’s synth-pop gem ‘Fade to Grey.’” Bono on the twist to the “under a blood red sky” lyrical theme, “At the same time, it’s a love song. Love is always strongest when it’s set against a struggle.”