The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 860 to 851
860. “Hey Porter,” Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. Songwriter: Johnny Cash; Did Not Chart; 1955. “Hey, Porter” was the a-side of Cash’s first single, but the b-side “Cry! Cry! Cry!” was the hit. Cash penned “Hey Porter,” according to first wife Vivian Liberto, in a rush of excitement as he was leaving military service and Germany to return home. Author Robert Hilburn, “The song was a victory statement of sorts. Just twenty-two, Cash felt he had emerged from the from the challenges and temptations of Landsberg (Germany) in relatively good shape. He could now look forward to everything that mattered to him. He’d be back with Vivian, his family, his faith, and his music. The joy of that moment was what ‘Hey, Porter’ was all about. Johnny Cash was returning to his personal promised land.”
859. “September Song,” Lou Reed. Songwriter: Kurt Weill, Maxwell Anderson; Did Not Chart; 1985. “September Song” was written by German composer Kurt Weill with lyricist Maxwell Anderson for the 1938 Broadway production “Knickerbocker Holiday.” The song was specifically written for actor Walter Hudson with consideration given to his limited vocal range. Hudson’s version of this aging romance number hit the pop charts in 1939 and the song has been a hit for Liberace, Jimmy Durante, and Willie Nelson, among others. Lou Reed, who had stated that he wanted to be the “Kurt Weill of rock ‘n’ roll” hit the sweet spot on his version, perfectly combining reflection, poignancy, and determination. The bouncy bass work from Fernando Saunders and the swinging contribution by The Uptown Horns keep Lou upbeat about his romantic prospects.
858. “These Foolish Things,” Billie Holiday. Songwriters: Jack Strachey, Eric Maschwitz; Did Not Chart; 1952. Billie Holiday is a mysterious figure to modern music listeners, a jazz/blues singer with a heroin addiction who passed away from abusing her body at the age of 44. What gets lost in that image is that she was a legitimate pop star, who had a string of over thirty Top Forty singles between 1935 and 1941, both under her name and as a lead vocalist for the Teddy Wilson’s Orchestra. She had recorded the jazz standard “These Foolish Things” in 1936, but her slower paced 1952 version emphasized her way of expressing physical pain through song. With no histrionics, Holiday sings as though her heart is being slowly ripped apart. English poet Philip Larkin, “I have always thought the words were a little pseudo-poetic, but Billie sings them with such passionate conviction that I think they really become poetry.”
857. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Darlene Love. Songwriters: Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector; Did Not Chart; 1963. Phil Spector released his girl group holiday album “A Christmas Gift for You” in November of 1963, but perhaps due to the national mood with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, it was a commercial disappointment. The album was reissued in the 1970s and was heralded as a lost classic. Author Gavin Edwards, “’A Christmas Gift for You’ may have been Phil Spector’s crowning achievement: majestic Wall of Sound production, electrifying vocals from the Crystals and Ronnie Spector, and best of all, Darlene Love singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” like it was her one chance at happiness.” Darlene Love, “It was the one original song on the Christmas album, and I had no idea it was going to really do anything. I knew at the time when we recorded it, it was a great song, but a Christmas song then a hit? That doesn’t happen. It’s like everybody has now started to do it in their Christmas shows. It’s becoming the song to do and that makes me proud, that I was the original person that recorded it.”
856. “Must of Got Lost,” J. Giels Band. Songwriters: Seth Justman, Peter Wolf; #12 pop. The J. Geils Band, a rhythm and blues based rock band from Massachusetts, formed in 1968 and released their debut album in 1970. While they received more than their fair share of positive reviews, the band had trouble translating their sweat soaked grooves into Top 40 hits. “Must of Got Lost” is an exception to that rule, which has a lyric of romantic heartbreak, even if Peter Wolf sounds like he’s going to dance away his blues. The band atones for Wolfe’s romantic sins of omission by bringing fire and brimstone intensity, serving up some soul salvation rock ‘n’ roll.
855. “You Got Lucky,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Songwriters: Tom Petty, Mike Campbell; #20 pop; 1982. Tom Petty is masking his romantic failings with bravado on his synth pop hit “You Got Lucky.” Billboard magazine, “A delectable moment of synth-pop swagger from the rarely malevolent Petty. ‘Good love is hard to find/ You got lucky, babe, when I found you,’ Petty taunts on the chorus, with the keys chiming in like backing singers to provide further shoulder-dusting.” Singer/songwriter Johanna Warren, on whether Petty’s being a jerk or insecure, “’You Got Lucky’ used to be one of my least favorite Petty songs because it struck me as kind of arrogant and slightly misogynistic, but at some point I realized the genius of the recording is that it’s got this slippery, layered psychological depth to it that is so human. When you get down to the emotional core of the song, what’s being expressed is really a lot of pain and insecurity, fear of abandonment, and a need to feel honored and special.” Mike Campbell on the writing of the song, “’You Got Luck’” was written to a drum loop. I had made a drum loop in my studio and put the music together. The guitar solo was Tom’s idea, he suggested we do an Ennio Morricone guitar sound, kind of a vibrato arm strat kind of solo. Sort of a surf guitar with a tremolo arm, like a Clint Eastwood movie, a ‘Good, The Bad And The Ugly’ kind of thing.”
854. “Hello Mary Lou,” Ricky Nelson. Songwriters: Gene Pitney, Cayet Mangiaracina; #9 pop; 1961. “Hello, Mary Lou” is a simple song with a somewhat complicated history. Future priest Cayet Mangiaracina wrote a song for his New Orleans high school rock band titled “Merry, Merry Lou” in 1957. Bill Haley covered the upbeat rocker as “Mary, Mary Lou” later that year. Gene Pitney wrote “Hello Mary Lou” for Ricky Nelson and despite the different tempos and lyrics, Mangiaracina was given a songwriting credit after Decca Records sued on his behalf. Author Alan di Perna, “One thing that nearly all of Ricky Nelson’s hits have in common is a concise, compelling James Burton guitar solo. These are some of the records that help establish the rock guitar solo as a set piece, a mini-composition in its own right.” Burton, “I played the solo in one take and off the top of my head on ‘Hello Mary Lou’ and all those tunes.” As for songwriter Pitney, he was perplexed by the song’s long term popularity, saying, “I’ve spent a lifetime trying to analyze why it was as big as it was.”
853. “Oppenheimer,” Old 97’s. Songwriters: Rhett Miller, Ken Bethea, Murry Hammond, Philip Peeples; Did Not Chart. 1999. “Oppenheimer” is one of the most traditional pop songs from the Old 97’s – a love tale about a girl with stars in her hair where singer Rhett Miller finds awestruck wonder about working out their relationship beneath a quarter moon. Still, the title is enough to give one pause. Lynn Margolis of Lone Star Music, “’Oppenheimer,’ a song about falling in love on a street named after the father of the atomic bomb, is impossible to scrub from the brain’s running soundtrack once it lodges itself there.” Blogger Sean Carman, “The tar on the roof and the stars in her hair are the perfect mix of low and high, earthly and celestial, just like the moment they are describing, and ‘quarter moon’ sounds exactly the right amount like ‘paper moon.’ Is it just that time of night, or is the beauty in the singer’s life as plentiful as loose change? ‘Oppenheimer’ is a short story condensed down into a 4-4 rock song. Rhett Miller can write.” It’s possible the ringing, recurring instrumental break is meant to replicate shooting stars.
852. “Mama Said Knock You Out,” LL Cool J. Songwriters: James Todd Smith, Marlon Williams, George Clinton, Gregory Jacobs, James Louis Mccants, Leroy Mccants, Sylvester Stewart, Walter Morrison, William Collins; #17 pop/#12 R&B; 1990. LL Cool J went from a teen oriented rapper to an artist with broad appeal with his 1990 double platinum album “Mama Said Knock You Out.” The opening phrase of the title cut – “Don’t call it a comeback/I’ve been here for years” – became one of the notable catch phrases of the era. Rolling Stone, “James Todd Smith returned to street-fighting hip-hop pledging to ‘bash this beat like a skull,’ and returning fire from a Kool Moe Dee diss record. The beat, one of Marley Marl’s best, rides a four-count chant from Sly and the Family Stone‘s ‘Trip to Your Heart,’ and the track peaks with J repeating, ‘Damage! Damage!’ like he’s done rhyming and is ready to break shit.” Producer Marley Marl, ““He was rhyming over some hard tracks. His other tracks were hard, too, but this had a little street element to it this time. A little dirt. A little Queensbridge dirt was sprinkled on it, you know. It’s one of the albums that helped shape the direction of where rap and everything was going at that time.”
851. “Fame,” David Bowie. Songwriters: David Bowie, Carlos Alomar, John Lennon; #1 pop; 1975. John Lennon was an idol of David Bowie’s, who became a friend and provided advice on management and financial issues. The two also discussed the shallowness of fame as a goal unto itself. Those discussions and a studio jam session lead to this off kilter R&B song, Bowie’s first #1 single in the U.S. Bowie in 2016 discussing the concept and the song, “Fame itself, of course, doesn’t really afford you anything more than a good seat in a restaurant. I’m just amazed how fame is being posited as the be-all and end-all, and how many of these young kids who are being foisted on the public have been talked into this idea that anything necessary to be famous is all right. It’s a sad state of affairs. However arrogant and ambitious I think we were in my generation, I think the idea was that if you do something really good, you’d become famous. The song was a guitar riff that Carlos Alomar had. He used to play in James Brown’s band and he’d come up with this riff for a song called ‘Foot Stompin’.’ When we were in the studio with John Lennon, I asked Carlos, ‘What was that riff you had?’ And it went from there.”