The 1,001 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century – 880 to 871
880. “I Get Around,” The Beach Boys. Songwriters: Brian Wilson, Mike Love; #1 pop; 1964. John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful on this tune about cruising and girls, “Felix Pappalardi, the wonderful bass player — he and I were kind of a duo that accompanied a lot of folk groups. We also had classical backgrounds somewhere or another. And when we heard ‘I Get Around,’ we both looked at each other and we said, ‘Bach!’ It’s wonderful to hear a set of changes. There isn’t just a verse and a chorus, that there’s something that leads you from one of those to the other.” According to musician Randy Bachman, Wilson’s chorus heavy hot rod and girl admiring number was inspired by the 1920’s number “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?,” sometimes known as “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue.” Bachman, “I said, ‘How did you do that?’ He said, ‘Well, when they say to stay on the C chord for two beats, I stay on it for four. Or if they say stay on the C chord for eight beats, I stay on it for two.’ So if you listen to ‘Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue, oh, what those five feet could do,’ that’s ‘I Get Around.’ But they went, ‘Round, round, get around, I get around.’ And then he put his own, ‘Woo oo,’ and then he wrote his own song and he put in his own lyrics.” “I Get Around” was a breakthrough hit for The Beach Boys, their first #1 in the U.S. and their first Top Ten U.K. release.
879. “Kids in America,” Kim Wilde. Songwriters: Marty Wilde, Ricky Wilde; #25 pop; 1982. Kim Wilde was a major pop star in the U.K., releasing thirteen Top Twenty pop hits from 1981 to 1983. In the U.S., her success was limited to her 1987 #1 cover of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and her synth pop youth-will-conquer-all anthem “Kids in America,” a song written by her brother and father. Kim, describing her brother’s mode of operation, “Ricky’s influences at the time included Ultravox, John Foxx, Gary Numan, The Skids, Sex Pistols, Clash, Kraftwerk and The Stranglers. Those were the records he was listening to non-stop, and those were the kind of records he wanted to make. He wanted to combine that synth element with a pop and rock sensibility to make the new sound. He had it very clearly in his head, and ‘Kids in America’ really embodies that sound.” And the lyrics? “My dad’s head went into a fantasy, this idea of everything being better in America. for his generation, that was very true. Everyone was going to drive in movies and drinking milkshakes and having hamburgers in America. We weren’t doing things like that in the UK. When Elvis and rock ‘n’ roll was imported over from America, it was to a generation of kids whose parents had dealt with the war, and rationing, and they’d all been brought up in pretty poor conditions. When rock ‘n’ roll came along, it was a great thing for the kids to dream about again. That’s where the great love affair started for my father – as soon as he heard an Elvis Presley record.” “Kids in America” has been covered by dozens of artists, to include a roaring version by The Muffs for the 1995 soundtrack to the film “Clueless.”
878. “Everyday People,” Sly and the Family Stone. Songwriter: Sly Stone; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1968. After working as a disc jockey, songwriter (to include co-writing Bobby Freeman’s 1964 #5 pop hit “C’Mon and Swim”), and producer, Sylvester Stewart formed Sly and the Family Stone, originally named Sly and the Stoners, in 1966. They had their breakthrough hit in 1968 with “Dance to the Music,” then topped the charts later that year with the anti-discrimination, different strokes for different folks “Everyday People.” Author Bill Friskis-Warren, “’Everyday People’ might be sweet soul music, but it is also a tough minded prescription for the solidarity and justice that were needed to mend the soul of a nation torn by riots, assassinations, a war abroad and another, against poverty, at home. Rooted in the spiritualities of blues, jazz, and gospel music, ‘Everyday People’ articulates a vision of what the human family, at its best, might look like.”
877. “Walk, Don’t Run,” The Ventures. Songwriter: Johnny Smith; #2 pop; 1960. Alabama native Johnny Smith, perhaps best known for his 1952 recording of “Moonlight in Vermont” with Stan Getz, was a jazz guitarist who wrote and recorded “Walk, Don’t Run” in 1954. Smith performed in a cool jazz style, reminiscent of Django Reinhardt, and his composition stayed in obscurity throughout the ‘50s, even after being covered by Chet Atkins in 1957. The surf rocking, Tacoma, Washington based band the Ventures heard the Chet Atkins take, but due to their musical limitations, recorded a simpler and more dynamic version. Ventures guitarist Don Wilson, “(Chet Atkins) played it in a classical jazzy style and we couldn’t play it like that. We weren’t good enough. So we decided to make our own arrangement of it and simplify it and that’s how that happened.” Don Wilson’s mother started an independent record label to support the band and the single, after picking up national distribution, went to #2 on the pop charts. The Ventures have performed together since 1958 and went Top Ten two more times during the 60s – first with a kitschy remake of “Walk, Don’t Run” titled “Walk, Don’t Run ‘64” and with the 1968 television theme song cover “Hawaii Five-O.”
876. “Willie and the Hand Jive,” Johnny Otis. Songwriter: Johnny Otis; #9 pop/#3 R&B; 1958. Johnny Otis, the father of Shuggie “Strawberry Letter 23” Otis, was a big band leader in the 1940s, who moved into R&B during the 1950s, discovering Big Mama Thornton, Etta James, and Sugar Pie DeSanto. He had his only crossover pop hit with the Bo Diddley inspired “Willie and the Hand Jive.” When asked about the similarity to the sound that Diddley made famous, Otis would note that he instructed on how to play the “shave and a haircut, six bits” beat when he was first hired as a drummer in 1939. According to Otis, “Willie and the Hand Jive” was inspired by his manager who had recently managed a different act in Europe and had seen seated audiences “dancing” with their hands (much to his chagrin, Otis was often asked if the song was about self-gratification). Otis, “People say, ‘Don’t you get tired of playing ‘Hand Jive’? I say no. It’s a piece of nonsense, it’s not deathless art, but it’s fun and as long as somebody out there likes it, I’m delighted.” Johnny Otis was of Greek heritage and his given name was Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes. Reflecting on his life he noted, “As a kid I decided that if our society dictated that one had to be black or white, I would be black.”
875. “Bennie and the Jets,” Elton John. Songwriters: Elton John, Bernie Taupin; #1 pop; 1973. Elton John didn’t want “Bennie and the Jets” released as a single, he thought it was too odd for pop radio. Elton, “I knew it had to be an off-the-wall type song, an R&B-ish kind of sound or a funky sound. The audience sounds were taken from a show we did at the Royal Festival Hall years earlier. The whole thing is very weird.” Bernie Taupin on his vision, “I saw Bennie and the Jets as a sort of proto-sci-fi punk band, fronted by an androgynous woman, who looks like something out of a Helmut Newton photograph.” Musically, it’s filled with strange touches including the overdubbed applause and an exaggerated echo sound, yet the syncopated piano and downbeats provide a nice hook. Maybe Buh-Buh-Buh Bennie simply serves as a testament to the power of stu-stu-stuttering in tune.
874. “Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee,” “Stick” McGhee and His Buddies. Songwriter: Stick McGhee, J. Mayo Williams; #26 pop/#2 R&B; 1949. Knoxille native Granville Henry McGee was professionally known as both “Stick” and “Sticks” McGhee. He settled in New York City after serving in World War II and penned the original version of “Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee,” with the lyrics, “Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’ wine! Goddam!” He was convinced to change the lyrics to “Drinkin wine spo-dee-o-dee, drinkin’ wine! Bop ba!” for the marketplace. A clear precursor to the rock ‘n’ roll sound and attitude, “Drinkin’ Wine” became a hit three times in 1949, to include a version Stick cut for Atlantic Records and cover versions by Wynonie Harris and Lionel Hampton. Author Nick Tosches has documented that Jerry Lee Lewis started performing “Drinkin’ Wine” at public appearances at the age of fourteen (Tosches, “howling a song that was about nothing but getting drunk and fucking up”) and Lewis had a #20 country hit with his 1973 cover. Still, nothing has the spark of the original, with McGhee screaming out “Elderberry” and “Port Sherry” like he was Bob Wills on a bender.
873. “New Orleans,” Gary U.S. Bonds. Songwriters: Frank Guida, Joseph Royster; #6 pop/#5 R&B; 1960. Gary Anderson performed on Norfolk, Virginia street corners with his high school vocal group The Turks, before recording with producer Frank Guida in 1960. Bonds, “Before Frank Guida released my first record he changed my name, unbeknownst to me. Until I heard it on the radio I didn’t know that Gary ‘U.S.’ Bonds was my name. I heard Jack Holmes say it on WRAP when they first released the record. I thought somebody had stolen my record.” His first hit was “New Orleans,” a party record with a percussion sound and honking sax style that would later influence Bruce Springsteen’s music. Author Megan Heutmaker, “Guida had a unique approach from the outset when it came to aural reproduction, utilizing overmodulation on ‘New Orleans’ to make the sound seem to jump right out of the grooves. ‘Nobody ever dared to experiment with echo systems like I did, with playback from one speaker tonally attacking the actual recording and creating ‘live’ recordings that were not live,’ he asserted. ‘These were techniques that were unheard of!’ Emmett “Nabs” Shields came up with an innovative double beat on his bass drum to further distinguish the record.” Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt displayed their admiration by producing the 1981 Gary “U.S.” Bonds album “Dedication,” which included the #11 Springsteen penned pop hit “This Little Girl.” Joan Jett released a cover to discover version of “New Orleans” in 1984, displaying her understanding that rock ‘n’ roll is generally better when it’s messy.
872. “Needles and Pins,” The Searchers. Songwriters: Jack Nitzsche, Sonny Bono; #13 pop; 1964. “Needles and Pins” was written for Jackie DeShannon, two years before she found fame with the Top Ten hit “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” and her original version peaked at #84 on the U.S. charts in 1963. The U.K. pop band Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers included “Needles and Pins” in their live show and The Searchers, who started as a skiffle outfit in Liverpool in 1959, heard Bennett’s version while performing in Hamburg, Germany. The Searchers accidentally created a sound that would become important in folk rock circles. Guitarist John McNally, “That 12-string sound on ‘Needles and Pins’ was a total mistake, and it wasn’t even done with 12-string guitars. We used two regular six-string guitars playing the same riff and added a little echo and reverb, and suddenly it sounded like a 12-string. We thought it sounded great and decided to leave it like that, and everyone thought we were using 12-strings. To recreate the sound on the road, we actually had to go out and buy 12-string guitars.” The Searchers had their biggest pop hit in the U.S. with their 1964 cover of The Clovers’ “Love Potion No. 9,” which peaked at #3. Despite not having a charting single after 1971, a version of the band, including John McNally, continued to perform until 2019.
871. “Dear God,” XTC. Songwriter: Andy Partridge; Did Not Chart; 1987. Rock ‘n’ roll music has been known as Satan’s sock hop ever since Elvis swiveled his hips, but the most blasphemous song in the history of recorded music wasn’t released by Black Sabbath or Slayer or Marilyn Manson. The music nerds in XTC have that honor. Andy Partridge on his famous look at atheism, “As a kid, I was really…I got myself worked into such a sweat over religion. I remember that, about the age of eight or nine, one afternoon I had visions in the sky of clouds parting, and there was God on His throne, surrounded by angels, talking to me and grinning at me. I mean, if I lived in a Catholic community, I could’ve milked that and made myself a fortune! But, no, I think it happened because I was in such a hysterical state about religion as a child, and about the existence of God and that sort of thing. Religion is a source of a lot of problems, and if there is a God, he would hate Christianity, he would hate Islam, he would hate Buddhism, he would hate everything that’s done in His name, because nobody behaves in a way that you’re supposed to behave.” “Dear God” was originally left off the “Skylarking” album, then added later. Producer Todd Rundgren, “Andy (Partridge) was afraid that there would be personal repercussions for taking on such a thorny subject. What a pussy. They put ‘Dear God’ on the B-side of ‘Grass,’ what’s supposed to be the first single. Everybody flips the record. ‘Dear God’ becomes a giant phenomenon, saves their career.”