The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 870 to 861
870. “The Waiting,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Songwriter: Tom Petty; #19 pop; 1981. Tom Petty, “That was a song that took a long time to write. Roger McGuinn swears he told me the line – about the waiting being the hardest part – but I think I got the idea from something Janis Joplin said on television. I had the chorus very quickly, but I had a very difficult time piecing together the rest of the song. It’s about waiting for your dreams and not knowing if they will come true. I’ve always felt it was an optimistic song.” Greg Dull of The Afghan Whigs, “’The Waiting’ was everything I was looking for in a song when I first heard it. It made me feel alive if only for that riff. One of the hottest bands who’s ever played turning you on, full on for four minutes. A perfect song.” Music journalist Andrew Unterberger, “The ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ of the ’80s? Maybe not – less God-plagiarizing, and lower-charting – but it certainly got the guitars and the chorus right, with a beautiful lyric about the difficulty of staying patient through romantic frustration.”
869. “Substitute,” The Who. Songwriter: Pete Townshend; Did Not Chart; 1966. Pete Townshed on “Substitute,” “It was written as a spoof of ‘19th Nervous Breakdown.’ On the demo, I sang with an affected Jagger-like accent.” Townshend also found inspiration in the lyrics of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles’ “Tracks of My Tears.” “Smokey Robinson sang the word ‘Substitute’ so perfectly, that I decided to celebrate the word with a song all its own.”
From the website Ultimate Classic Rock, “Entwistle’s bass hops back and forth quicker than a Wimbledon championship. Moon’s drums sound like a tympani here, an adrenaline-charged pulse there, and a hail of bullets anytime he’s given a long enough to open fire. Daltrey injects just the right amount of contempt into lines such as, “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth.” Furthermore, there may not be a better couplet during the 1960s than the weary “Substitute you for my mum/At least I’d get my washing done.” Townshend, no surrogates needed, performed on the 1993 cover version by the Ramones.
868. “Groove Is in the Heart,” Deee-Lite. Songwriters: Dmitry Brill, Chung Dong-Hwa, Kierin Kirby, Herbie Hancock, Jonathan Davis; #4 pop/#28 R&B; 1990. Deee-Lite was comprised of an independent fashion designer (Lady Miss Kier), along with two DJs, one born in the Ukraine of the other of Japanese ancestry. The astronomical “Groove Is in the Heart” was composed by sampling an organ/bass line from Herbie Hancock’s “Bring Down the Birds,” combined with a spacy synthesizer hook and drum break from the 1980 single “Get Up,” by R&B artist Venon Butch. Sprinkled within those elements were a rap by A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip and verbal interjections from P-Funk’s Bootsy Collins. The song was a dance party that could be had in a gay club or in your parent’s living room. The “New Musical Express,” “Deee-Lite’s only real hit was a pretty faultless collage of G-Funk, Daisy Age hip-hop, salsa and dippy disco.” De-lovely and delicious.
867. “Truck Driver’s Blues,” Cliff Bruner and His Boys. Songwriter: Ted Daffan; Did Not Chart; 1939. Leon “Pappy” Selph isn’t a big name in country music, but his 1934 Western swing outfit the Blue Ridge Playboys included Ted Daffan, Moon Mullican, and Floyd Tillman, who all made notable contributions to the field. Steel guitarist Ted Daffan, most famous for composing the country standard “Born to Lose,” noticed that truck drivers were often the biggest nickel contributors into café jukeboxes. He composed the first truck driving song in an effort to collect some of that coin. His hunch was correct, with Moon Mullican providing the weary vocals, Cliff Bruner’s “Truck Driver’s Blues” sold over 100,000 copies. Fiddle man/bandleader Cliff Bruner had a lengthy career – to include working in Milton Brown’s Musical Brownies in 1935 and appearing in the Sally Fields film “Places in the Heart” in 1984.
866. “I’m Blue (The Gong-Gong Song),” The Ikettes. Songwriter: Ike Turner; #19 pop/#3 R&B; 1962. The Ikettes (or, more correctly, the singers who would become the Ikettes) were first used as backing singers on the 1960 Ike and Tina Turner hit “A Fool in Love.” Sometimes a trio and sometimes a quartet, they became part of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue and recorded as an R&B girl group. “I’m Blue” is, quite simply, the funkiest song of the girl group era. Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, “A static sequence of stylized, transparent cells, this is Ike’s overarching masterpiece.” (In a less pretentious moment, Fagen notes that Dolores Johnson delivers a “kick ass” vocal performance). “I’m Blue” was later covered by The Sweet Inspirations, among others, and Salt-n-Pepa sampled their version for their 1994 Top Five pop hit “Shoop.” There were over a dozen women who eventually performed as members of “The Ikettes” including Bonnie Bramlette, who found fame in the duo Delaney & Bonnie, and PP Arnold, who had the first hit version of the Cat Stevens song “The First Cut is the Deepest.”
865. “This Land is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie. Songwriter: Woody Guthrie; Did Not Chart; 1951. Woody Guthrie, America’s original Commie folksinger, wrote “This Land is Your Land” as a reaction to the Kate Smith version of “God Bless America,” and, perhaps to put it in modern terms, it was a leftist reaction to unquestioned American exceptionalism. Thinking that the United States should be more about the people who inhabit the country than a supernatural concept, Guthrie began writing “This Land is Your Land” in 1940, with original verses that were much more cynical about income inequality. Borrowing the tune from the Carter Family’s “When the World’s on Fire,” Guthrie penned what has become a patriotic anthem regardless of the original political intent. Author Lynne Margolis, “It fell to Pete Seeger and subsequent folk revivalists – from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Guthrie’s son Arlo to, Steve Earle, Billy Bragg, Tom Morello and so many others – to help Americans understand its dual intentions. And truly, what makes ‘This Land’ so remarkable is that it makes a patriotic statement even as it chastises the selfish and powerful.”
864. “Lonely Avenue,” Ray Charles His Orchestra and Chorus. Songwriter: Doc Pomus; #6 R&B; 1956. Ray Charles hits a pure blues groove, reinforced by the New York female vocal trio The Cookies, about his terminal sadness on “Lonely Avenue.” Doc Pomus biographer Alex Halberstadt, “The song had a rhythm like someone stomping his feet. The singer’s voice sounded desperate and hoarse.” Ray Charles biographer Mike Evans stated, “’Lonely Avenue’ sends the most shivers down the spine, a doomy mid-tempo blues in which the only let-up from the bleak lyrics is David ‘Fathead’ Newman’s authoritative tenor (sax) break.” Released nine months after “Heartbreak Hotel,” it was easy for listeners to hear the familiarity in the themes. Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) thought the song was chemically inspired. Songwriter Doc Pomus, “Mac always said that was the ‘junker blues’ – junker being the old term for junkie. It’s a certain kind of monotonous, sad, melodic, and lyrical line that, because of the continuity involved, for some reason has always attracted junkies. Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, I imagine they are shuffling along to it. Mac told me, (he) thought I was a junkie. They said somebody who wasn’t could never have written ‘Lonely Avenue.’ Mac couldn’t believe how straight I was.”
863. “Just What I Needed,” The Cars. Songwriter: Ric Ocasek; #27 pop; 1978. The Cars found a mainstream audience in the late 1970s by combining the new sounds of synth pop/new wave with elements of classic rock and strong melodies. Their 1978 debut album, which has sold over six million units in the U.S., was chocked full of sharp songwriting and high gloss production values, making it perfect for radio and headphone listening. A demo version of “Just What I Needed” received airplay in Boston in 1977 and Ocasek’s simultaneous dismissal and acceptance of his ribbon wearing, time wasting romantic obsession broke the band into the Top Forty the following year. James McMahon of the NME, finding a surprising key link, “Have you ever heard ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy,’ a 1968 hit for bubblegum pop quartet the Ohio Express? Ric Ocasek had. The intro to that and The Cars best song are nearly identical. ‘Talent borrows, genius steals’ said Oscar Wilde, and he might well have a point.” That intro was resurrected by Fountains of Wayne twenty-five years later for their hit single “Stacy’s Mom.”
862. “So It Goes,” Nick Lowe. Songwriter: Nick Lowe; Did Not Chart; 1976. Nick Lowe was a member of the U.K. pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz from 1969 to 1975, then became one of the major creative forces behind Britain’s famous punk rock/new Stiff Records label in 1976. “So It Goes,” the first single released on Stiff Records, combined Lowe’s acid wit with a hard hitting, stripped down style of rock ‘n’ roll, combined with a title phrase that referenced Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five.” Lowe biographer Will Burch, “’So It Goes’ may have been subconsciously influenced by Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back in Town,’ although Nick acknowledges Steely Dan’s ‘Reeling in the Years’ as the true source of ‘the chord trick’ he had deployed.” “So It Goes” was included on Nick’s superb 1978 debut album, released as “Jesus of Cool” in the U.K., and as “Pure Pop for Now People” in the U.S., where one can also enjoy Lowe’s professed fandom for the Bay City Rollers and his bizarre, not quite factually correct, history lesson on early 1900’s silent screen actress Mary Prevost/”Mary Provost.”
861. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Elton John. Songwriters: Elton John, Bernie Taupin; #2 pop; 1973. The 1973 “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album, which eventually sold over eight million copies, cemented Elton John’s status as the preeminent pop star of the early 1970s. Lyrically, the title track is about a breakup – a young man leaving a city woman to return to his country roots. Musically, the production is simple and grand, a quite piano melody grounded in classical music soars into a glorious bridge. Wreckless Eric summarizing Elton’s appeal, “That wonderful, blocky piano, and his voice like a big open landscape – soulful and unexpected, with an edge of loneliness and desperation.” Lyricist Bernie Taupin, “There was a period when I was going through that whole ‘got to get back to my roots’ thing. I don’t believe I was ever turning my back on success or saying I didn’t want it. I just don’t believe I was ever that naïve. I think I was just hoping that maybe there was a happy medium way to exist successfully in a more tranquil setting.”