280. Otis Redding- “Try a Little Tenderness” (1966): James Brown sang for showmanship, but Redding sang with conviction in one of the great soul performances of the decade. I’m seriously pissed off that Redding died in that plane crash- I would have loved to have seen what he could have done in the late 60s and beyond.
279. Peter, Paul & Mary- “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (1969): In a way, this song did incalculable damage to the United States by introducing John Denver to a largely innocent and wholly unsuspecting public. Yet, its a tender goodbye song masquerading as a subtle Vietnam protest. My mom used to sing this one as a lullaby, and Mary Travers’ vocal style certainly gives it that quality.
278. Jimi Hendrix Experience- “Hey Joe” (1966): In a riotous, psychedelic blur, Hendrix gives us a character sketch of the violent, vengeful, homocidal Joe, out to shoot his old lady. It’s a great example of the violent underside of the 1960s- its not all just hope and peace.
277. The Beatles- “Hey Jude” (1968): Up there with “A Day in the Life” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” as the most overrated Beatles songs, and to be sure, it was the band’s most successful single, topping the charts for eight weeks. For something of a knock-off track that shows less care and concentration than most McCartney-penned songs from this ear, it became a transcendent song of hope in the years that followed– fitting, as Jude is also the patron saint of seemingly hopeless causes.
276. Dave Clark Five- “Catch Us If You Can” (1965): As a British Invasion band, the Dave Clark Five were strictly second-tier. But the infectious enthusiasm of this song is hard to miss– and it inspired The Monkees’ sound more than anything else from this decade that I can think of.
275. Richie Barrett- “Some Other Guy” (1962): Barrett’s keyboard player had been clearly listening to too many Ray Charles records, and yet this song works as a neat and unassuming Lieber-Stoller piece. Not surprisingly, the song became a form of currency, almost a secret handshake, among Merseyside bands in the early 60s. The Beatles covered it on their very first televised appearance.
274. Chicago- “Beginnings” (1969): One of the things I love about Chicago keyboardist Robert Lamm is his ability to write a great guitar song with only limited guitar skills himself. On a twelve-string acoustic, a simple two-chord strumming pattern sets the backdrop for the greatest love song of Lamm’s almost 50-year career, complete with the band’s trademark punchy horn lines.
273. The Five Americans- “Western Union” (1967): The two part harmonies are clearly the work of singers who sat at the feet of Lennon and McCartney. The song makes the list for having one of the cleverest devices in a radio-friendly 60s hit: using the dit-dah cadences of Morse code to set the rhythm for this song of a long-distance “dear John” letter.
272. The Grass Roots- “Let’s Live for Today” (1967): I love the Roots. This was their first big hit, with a message that echoed the times perfectly in an era of transition and deep uncertainty. When singer Rob Grill died a couple years ago, the song’s lyrics were his last words.
271. Joan Baez- “Sweet Sir Galahad” (1969): Drawing upon Arthurian legend, Baez sings an enchanting song of love made poignant and even painful by the fact that it was written with her sister’s recently-deceased husband in mind.
270. The Band- “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (1969): There’s no kind of song that pisses me off more than lachrymose Southern ballads about their suffering after the Civil War. (I think we should have treated the South as a conquered territory for decades afterward and made sure the Reconstruction ordinances were enforced, but that’s neither here nor there.) But the song still kicks an immense amount of ass, it drives, it has a force, it has narrative power, and the hardscrabble times are perfectly suited to the voices of Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, and Rick Danko. It set the stage for years of the Rolling Stones and Elton John ripping off this kind of sound and faux-Dixie mythos.
269. The Association- “Along Comes Mary” (1966): The Association was in a dire, dire place by the mid-60s, as a Four Freshman-style vocal group in an age of growing psychedelia and experimentation. The Association wisely decided that if you can’t beat them, join them. The result was this song: employing their mastery of vocal harmony to create a trippy, disorienting atmosphere in a song that is an almost painfully obvious ode to pot.
268. Otis Redding- “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (1965): With great Stax horn parts, Redding delivers a virtuoso soul performance begging his woman to stay with him. This is the kind of song I wish I could sing well.
267. Dusty Springfield- “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” (1966): Springfield’s plaintive delivery makes a song that could have been quite maudlin into something rather memorable.
266. Herman’s Hermits- “I’m Henry the Eighth I Am” (1965): It might be a novelty track in some ways, and hilariously repetitive, but some have argued that its the first punk song with unsophisticated instrumentation and half-shouted lyrics. They might be right.
265. Paul Butterfield Blues Band- “Born in Chicago” (1965): I should hate Butterfield and his ilk, because it seems like every year, they take up one precious spot on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot of nominees that could have gone to someone the public actually remembers, like, say, the Steve Miller Band or Jethro Tull or The Spinners or something. But Jann Werner loves them, so they get another hopeless shot at the rock hall. Still, these are some talented musicians, and they were at the forefront to blues revival that paved the way for Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray, and second-wave Albert King, among others.
264. James Brown- “I Got the Feelin’” (1968): Brown made a career out of having his tracks sampled by funk records in the 1970s and forever afterwards. Nowhere are the possibilities of proto-funk better demonstrated than in this track.
263. The Drifters- “Up on the Roof” (1962): The Drifters evoke a sense of moonlight, intimacy, and wonder on one of the finest songs that Carole King and the late, lamented Gerry Goffin ever wrote.
262. Bob Dylan- “Ballad of the Thin Man” (1965): I originally had Barbara Lewis’s “Baby I’m Yours” in this spot before I realized I forgot “Thin Man” and struck it from my top 400 outright. Anyway, this is a brilliant, accusatory Dylan song, following poor, daft Mr. Jones in a world he doesn’t quite understand and can’t get a hold of.
261. Tommy James & the Shondells- Crimson & Clover (1968): The most famous song by a band that never really got their due, its got some great studio effects, including an echo-reverb on the bridge that amazed the first time I heard it as a ten-year-old and still impresses me every time I’ve heard it since. Great bass playing, and fine harmonies- all about losing one’s innocence in a field of grass.