The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 850 to 841
850. “Manish Boy,” Muddy Waters. Songwriter: Muddy Waters, Mel London, Elias McDaniel; #5 R&B; 1955. Mississippi native McKinley Morganfield moved to Chicago in 1943, at the age of thirty, and became the “father of modern Chicago blues” under his stage name Muddy Waters. His 1955 R&B hit “Manish Boy” is a celebration, a sexual boast, and a political statement all at the same time, made with one of the hardest rocking blues units theretofore ever recorded. While the band stomps and hollars, Muddy unequivocally declares that he will never be defined as a “boy,” a common pejorative for black men of his era. “Manish Boy” was somewhat of an answer song to Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” but Waters broadened the subject matter/context beyond purely sexual swagger, although he was never lacking in that department. On this record, you can clearly hear how and why Waters served as a key link between the era of the Delta blues and the blues based rock of the British Invasion during the 1960s.
849. “Cynical Girl,” Marshall Crenshaw. Songwriter: Marshall Crenshaw; Did Not Chart; 1981. The television hating Marshall Crenshaw hoped to ditch mass culture with a worldly wise female on “Cynical Girl.” Crenshaw, “The lyrics have an oddness to them, and humor too; they said some things that I wanted to say. People have sometimes asked me, ‘Who’s it about?’ ‘Did you find her yet?’, etc. It’s really not about a girl – that’s just off-the-shelf rock-and-roll language. To me, what the song says in a funny way is ‘I hate brain-dead mass-culture bullshit and I want to hang around with people who feel the same.’ People have always really loved that song and identified with it and of course I love that!” Music journalist Steve Peake, “Crenshaw extols the many virtues of his ‘Cynical Girl,’ the one who never manages to behave in the ways attractive young women are supposed to and yet casts a spell on him he doesn’t wish to escape. Thematically, it’s Crenshaw at his romantic best, and musically the artist establishes wonderfully churning guitar swirls that betray the power pop sensibilities he’s neither announced nor desired to shake.”
848. “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” Carly Simon. Songwriters: Carly Simon, Jacob Brackman; #10 pop; 1971. Carly Simon, the daughter of Richard Simon who co-founded the publishing house Simon and Schuster, started her recording career in 1964. During that year, The Simon Sisters, comprised of Carly and her sister Lucy, had a #73 pop hit with the Peter, Paul, and Mary inspired “Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod.” Carly signed a deal as a solo artist in 1970 and scored a most unusual breakthrough hit. In “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” Simon chronicles failing marriages, unhappy friends, her boyfriend’s controlling nature, then decides to wed anyway. Sometimes tortured fatalism serves as a surrogate for romantic bliss.
847. “Drown in My Own Tears,” Ray Charles. Songwriter: Henry Glover; #1 R&B; 1956. Songwriter Henry Glover wrote a string of R&B hits during the 1950s, then crossed over to pop music the following decade with writing credits on Joe Dee & the Starlighters’ “Peppermint Twist” and The Rivieras’ “California Sun.” “Drown in My Own Tears” was first recorded by gospel/pop singer Lulu Reed and was a #5 R&B hit in 1952, despite featuring vocals that could tear the bark off a tree. Ray Charles was several years from being a pop star in 1956, but “Drown in My Own Tears” features the key elements – the deeply soulful singing, gospel musical flourishes, and the prominent backing vocals – that he would take to superstardom. Paul Janeway of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, “I remember first hearing this song when I was young. I just heard the heartbreak and sadness. It changes you when you hear a song like this.”
846. “Sweet Thing,” Van Morrison. Songwriter: Van Morrison; Did Not Chart; 1968. Author Jon Michaud, “In November, 1968, the irascible songwriter from Belfast released a jazz-influenced acoustic song cycle that featured minimal percussion, an upright bass, flute, harpsichord, vibraphone, strings, and stream-of-consciousness lyrics about being transported to ‘another time’ and ‘another place.’ ‘Astral Weeks’ was recorded in three sessions, with the string arrangements overdubbed later. Many of the songs were captured on the first or second take. Morrison has called the sessions that produced the album ‘uncanny,’ adding that ‘it was like an alchemical kind of situation.’ A decade later, Lester Bangs called the album ‘a mystical document’ and ‘a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk.’ Bruce Springsteen said that it gave him ‘a sense of the divine.’” “Sweet Thing,” a song of romance that equates nature with beauty and love, serves as the most representative transitional piece between Morrison’s Them/”Brown Eyed Girl” era and the jazz influenced poetic pop songs on his 1970 “Moondance,” album. Morrison, “’Sweet Thing’ is another romantic song. It contemplates gardens and things like that…wet with rain. It’s a romantic love ballad not about anybody in particular but about a feeling.”
845. “Dublin Blues,” Guy Clark. Songwriter: Guy Clark; Did Not Chart; 1995. Guy Clark made a name for himself as a Texas troubadour with his 1970’s compositions “Desperados Waiting on a Train” and “L.A. Freeway.” His primary commercial success came as a songwriter, including the country hits “Heartbroke” by Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell’s “She’s Crazy for Leaving,” and Steve Wariner’s “Baby I’m Yours.” Clark knows that trying to move past a lost love would be futile on “Dublin Blues,” an instrumentally Celtic inspired song about an anguished expatriate (“Well, I wished I was in Austin/In the Chili Parlor bar/Drinkin’ Mad Dog margaritas/And not carin’ where you are”). The melody was taken from the traditional Irish ballad “Handsome Molly.” Clark, “That melody has just always charmed the pants off of me. I guess I’m still going through that period of where I want to preserve those old songs that are so incredibly beautiful. I’ve been called on it several times, and my answer is, ‘You bet, I did steal it.’ I know what I’m doing.” Clark’s song of alcohol, sorrow, and regret has become something of a modern standard on the Texas music scene, having been covered by Joe Ely, Asleep at the Wheel, and Steve Earle. (Also, Austin’s Chili Parlor bar is quality dining experience, just a stone’s throw for the State Capitol).
844. “The Bottle Let Me Down,” Merle Haggard. Songwriter: Merle Haggard; #3 country; 1966. Merle Haggard could have made a career out of drinking songs and this #3 single was one of his best. He wasn’t shy about describing how influential Buck Owens was on his early material. Haggard, “The only person that either of us (Merle and Bonnie Owens) knew that had any success at all, that we knew personally, was Buck Owens. We had to kind of pattern most everything from what Buck would talk to us about.” On “The Bottle Let Me Down,” Bonnie Owen’s harmony vocals drops off after singing “tonight the bottle” and Merle appropriately completes the line “let me down” all alone. Merle, “The only reason for harmony is to accent… Buck always taught me that.”
843. “All My Loving,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #45 pop; 1963. Paul McCartney, “It was the first song (where) I’d ever written the words first. I never wrote words first, it was always some kind of accompaniment. I’ve hardly ever done it since either. I had in my mind a little country and western song.” Many sources state that McCartney’s then girlfriend Jane Asher was the inspiration for the lyrics. The melody appears to have been based on a small piano section from Dave Brubeck’s 1959 release “Kathy’s Waltz.” John Lennon, who didn’t often go out of his way to applaud McCartney’s work, once commented, “It’s a damn good piece of work, I play a pretty mean guitar in back.” Surprisingly, “All My Loving” was never released as a single in the U.S., but charted based upon Canadian import sales. Author Ian McDonald, “The innocence of early Sixties British pop is perfectly distilled in the eloquent simplicity of this number.”
842. “You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover,” Bo Diddley. Songwriter: Willie Dixon; #48 pop/#21 R&B; 1962. Bo Diddley’s biggest pop hit of the 1960s didn’t feature the famous Bo Diddley beat. Instead, it was a straight ahead rocker written by Willie Dixon about the shallowness of appearances. Dixon, “If you put a picture of Superman on the cover of The Bible, you might thing you are getting a comic book. The cover hides a lot of things, that is what people judge folks by a lot of the times, by what they look like on the outside. And you can’t actually judge anything by the cover – no individual, no part of life.” The concept was a good fit for Diddley, who is often only thought of in terms of his famous beat. Author Robert Palmer on the variety of Diddley’s music, “Add occasional claves and other percussion instruments, occasional minimal bass lines, judicious seasoning from piano and/or harmonica and/or second guitar, and Bo’s own wizardry in the use of deliberate distortion and feedback, deliberately plucked bell-tone harmonics, and fluid, watery textures, and you have a concept or philosophy of rhythmic orchestration that is much more varied and mutable than it initially seems.”
841. “I Can’t Explain,” The Who. Songwriter: Pete Townshend; #93 pop; 1964. “I Can’t Explain” was the Who’s first pop hit, peaking at #8 on the U.K. charts, with a sound similar to the early aggressive style of The Kinks. Roger Daltrey, “We already knew Pete (Townshend) could write songs, but it never seemed a necessity in those days to have your own stuff because there was this wealth of untapped music that we could get hold of from America. But then bands like The Kinks started to make it, and they were probably the biggest influence on us – they were certainly a huge influence on Pete, and he wrote ‘I Can’t Explain,’ not as a direct copy, but certainly it’s very derivative of Kinks music. When we turned up to record it there was this other guitarist in the studio – Jimmy Page. And (producer Shel Talmy) brought in three backing vocalists, which was another shock. He must have discussed it with our management, but not with us, so we were thrown at first, thinking, ‘What the fuck’s going on here?’ But it was his way of recording.”