Sorry for switching projects. I will return to the presidents- honest I will. But I also know that I’d just be churning out mediocre stuff if I did, because my “history writing” energies are focused on finishing my book on McGovern and the Christian Left.
340. “Bernadette”– The Four Tops (1967): From the first punch of electric organ, this song is one of the most urgent of the entire Motown era. A great vocal performance (especially the tight background vocals that are barely audible unless you deliberately try to listen to them).
339. “Chapel of Love”– The Dixie Cups (1964): The Dixie Cups fall through the cracks when we talk about the great girl groups from the 1960s. That’s a shame, because this song’s sweet innocence, while antiquated, is a great relic of its time. I had it stuck in my head for most of the morning of my wedding.
338. “Mother’s Little Helper”– The Rolling Stones (1966): Showing a remarkable versatility, the Stones go from being snide and condescending toward middle-class girls to middle-class housewives. This song is intrinsically interesting because one of my professors, David Herzberg, is a historian of the ‘mother’s little helper’ drugs that proliferated in the 1950s and 1960s as the dark, self-medicating side of postwar housewifery.
337. “Walk Don’t Run”– The Ventures (1960): A bright, shining beacon in rock’s darkest hour, this nifty little instrumental combo creates a tight sound with a memorable guitar melody, and it makes history as one of the very first surf instrumentals ever (although one could neither walk nor run on a surf board…)
336. “Keep on Running”– The Spencer Davis Group (1965): They were a great little combo for a little while, giving a young Steve Winwood his start with some great blue-eyed soul vocals.
335. “Rocksteady”– Alton Ellis (1967): Ellis took ska, slowed it down to something more deliberative and even sensual, and this song became the namesake of an entirely new genre of music in Jamaica.
334. “A Sunday Kind of Love”– Etta James (1961): James gives a great R&B vocal performance with some world class crooning. Classy and brassy at the same time, James’ artistry shines through.
333. “Traces”– Classics IV (1969): These guys had a nice late-60s run that basically invented lounge-rock. Easy melodies, emotive saxophone solos, this song was made for elevators and department store, but there’s no denying its craftsmanship.
332. “White Rabbit”– Jefferson Airplane (1967): Overrated. But still a trippy journey into the subconscious, and possibly the first recorded comparison of LSD to Lewis Carroll’s flights of fancy.
331. “The Inner Light”– The Beatles (1968): One of the most important facets of what made the Beatles great was George Harrison’s attempt to bring Indian music to western audiences. This is truly a work of fusion: the text of the Tao Te Ching set against a classical Indian raga, replete with scales and instruments that most Westerners were scarcely familiar with. A hell of a lot more groundbreaking than “Revolution No. 9”, don’t you think?
330. “Guineverre”– Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969): This spartan number from CSN’s first album shows David Crosby’s fiddly approach to music and his mystical approach to life all at once. Filled with Arthurian nonsense, it remains a haunting and enchanting piece, using unusual guitar tunings and his peerless harmonies with Nash.
329. “Devil With a Blue Dress/Good Golly, Miss Molly”– Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels (1966): Detroit wasn’t just Motown– it also gave us Mitch Ryder soulful rock-revival hit. The outrageous mock-gospel background vocals give this song a great deal of camp value. And yet, it paradoxically was one of the first blue-collar, Rust Belt rock songs of the 60s. It’s a track that transgresses the genre and race boundaries in which we love to put music.
328. “I Shall Be Released”– The Band (1967): Plaintive, stripped-down and spiritual, Richard Manuel delivers an emotionally aching performance in a tenor that paves the way for Neil Young.
327. “Israelites”– Desmond Dekker (1968): This was the first time the wider public got a taste of Rastafarian theology. Dekker subtly draws the connections between the Old Testament story and the wider African diaspora in some excellent early reggae with trademark piss-poor Jamaican production values.
326. “Maggie’s Farm”– Bob Dylan (1965): Folkies love arguing about this song. Is Dylan declaring his independence from the folkie movement? From social issues? From the rock industry? He defiantly uses electric guitar on this, so….yes?
325. “No Particular Place to Go”– Chuck Berry (1964): This song vintage Berry: lots of kick-ass guitar, and cheeky lyrics (sure your safety belt was stuck, Chuck. And I’m the pope.) It’s such a great description of teenage idleness in the 50s and 60s that I use it in my class to make that very point. I’d rank it higher, but, you know, Berry ripped off his own earlier hit “School Day” to write it, making this the 2nd song plagiarized off Chuck Berry on this list. (Don’t worry, “Surfin’ USA” is coming)
324. “I Wanna Take You Higher”– Sly & the Family Stone (1969): Loud and funky, with lots of punchy horns, the exchanges between the vocalists, and the sense of barely-controlled chaos contains everything that made Sly and the Family Stone great.
323. “Barterers And Their Wives”– The Left Banke (1967): The Left Banke were a brilliant group that self-destructed far too soon (another ‘lead songwriter is attracted to the lead guitarist’s girlfriend’ scenarios. You know how that goes.) But their attempt to synthesize rock music with older forms is perfected in this track off of their amazingly good debut album. Here, they attempt an English folk tune of their own creation, all the while pointing at the futility of materialism.
322. “Village Green Preservation Society”– The Kinks (1968): The Kinks had some of the keenest eyes of the 1960s, and while sometimes this could be poignant (“Waterloo Sunset”), it more often ended up on the side of the ridiculous. “Village Green” is a wonderful send-up of local British movements opposed to any change at all in stodgy post-austerity Britain.
321. “Sail Away”– The Kingston Trio (1961): The Kingston Trio were hugely important. They had multiple albums that were #1 for 8+ weeks, invented the modern concept of touring, and took over the folky mantra from the Weavers (although they deliberately avoided the Weavers’ political controversies and were probably too preppy and collegiate.) This song about escaping to the Caribbean is sad and wistful, and eloquently harmonized (and as un-Jimmy-Buffett as could be).