300. “Omaha”- Moby Grape (1967): Some groups have “it”; the alchemy of greatness. Moby Grape had many of its components except for the decisive one, luck. Mismanaged and acrimonious, they fell apart before they could become much more than a group admired by 60s music buffs. But listen to this track- it’s psychedelic and summer of lovey, it owes a debt to surf music, yet points the way to Zeppelin and punk (even the Pretenders have listed them as an inspiration.) For a group so inclined to acrimony, they had discipline that many of their peers lacked. As NPR put it, “when other San Francisco bands were stretching out with long jams, Moby Grape was producing catchy three-minute songs that were composed, played, and sung by each member.”
299. “Hey! Baby”- Bruce Channel (1961): Forget Bruce Channel. I am far more interested in his harmonica player (and future country music star) Delbert McClinton, who plays this song’s first-rate harmonica part (and even gave John Lennon a few harmonica pointers when Channel was on a jaunt through Europe.)
298. “Amen”- The Impressions (1964): There aren’t many times where rock has been more gospel than this simple, uplifting track by The Impressions (which included a young pre-Superfly Curtis Mayfield.)
297. “Hole in the Ground”- Bernard Cribbins (1962): Half-sung, and half-spoken, this song is in the best English music-hall tradition, with a strong working-class bite. A couple points of trivia: Cribbins went on to become a famous actor (I most love his turn as old Wilfred Mott in David Tennant-era Dr. Who), and it was the first hit song produced by George Martin.
296. “Another Saturday Night”- Sam Cooke (1963): So many of Sam Cooke’s songs are in such earnest that its great to hear his soulful voice on a fun lark like this, whose narrator’s greatest problem is not having a weekend date. The track has legs, historically, having been covered by everyone from Cat Stevens to Jimmy Buffett.
295. “Palisades Park”- Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon (1962): Cannon was little more than a one-note novelty artist promoted by record companies with little native talent. Still, its hard to deny the charm of “Palisades Park” and Cannon’s unbridled enthusiasm for his fairground love affair, replete with carnival sound effects and electric organ.
294. “When Will I Be Loved”- The Everly Brothers (1960): When I hear this song in my head, it sounds pretty slow and pretty sad. Listening to the song itself, I am surprised at what a beat there is behind it. More than any of the first-generation rock and rollers besides Elvis, the Everlys were thought of as teen idols, and it is incredibly hard to produce work of artistic merit when you have the teen idol stigma. Even though Linda Ronstadt’s cover was better (a clause that shows up about three or four times on this list), there’s still plenty of merit in the original.
293. “Hooked on a Feeling”- B.J. Thomas (1968): Thomas was a blue-eyed soul singer who became famous at the wrong time (the early days of proto-funk), and his material (“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head”, etc.) would later become known (and ridiculed) as adult contemporary. This song, however, is beautiful late 1960s soul-infused pop, with a dramatic and uber-cool appearance by an electric sitar.
292. “Save the Last Dance for Me”- The Drifters (1960): This song was one of the finest hours by one of the finest vocal groups in rock and soul history. It’s author, Doc Pomus, actually wrote it about his own wedding reception, according to Lou Reed; struck by polio, Pomus watched as his bride, a Broadway actress, danced with guests while he could not, imploring her to save one finale round on the dance floor for him when he had gathered his strength.
291. “Victoria”- The Kinks (1969): Inventive as ever, the Kinks hearken back to the 1800s and the glory days of the British Empire. As with everything the Kinks did, there’s a strong application of tongue in cheek.
290. “Daydream”- The Lovin’ Spoonful (1966): Geez…it’s difficult to evoke a lazy Sunday afternoon in the countryside better than this track. It’s a testament to John Sebastian’s underrated range as a songwriter and arranger, and one of the only times that whistling has ever been justified on record.
289. “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”- Herman’s Hermits (1965): It’s composer, Trevor Peacock, was a regular on one of my favorite BBC series, The Vicar or Dibley. For a 1965 British Invasion song, its strikingly inventive from a storytelling standpoint, as a jilted boyfriend conveys a message through his beloved’s mum.
288. “Hot Fun in the Summertime”- Sly and the Family Stone (1969): The 1960s were actually filled with warmer than average summers– possibly one factor among many that helps explain the inner-city riots that exploded throughout the decade. But a hot summer can also be a time of relaxing and evenings with friends, which the Family Stone evokes nicely. Sly’s songwriting is underrated–most listeners go for the funky beats rather than the lyrics–but it’s in fine form here.
287. “Only a Pawn in their Game”- Bob Dylan (1964): Woah- Dylan sang a song about how Byron De La Beckwith wasn’t directly responsible for the death of Medgar Evers? It took some serious cojones to sing that at the March on Washington, but in doing so, Dylan voiced a sophisticated argument, how a toxic environment permits social and economic elites to have patsies like Beckwith (or James Earl Ray or Lee Harvey Oswald or Mark David Chapman or Scott Roeder) to do their dirty work for them.
286. “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice”- The Lovin’ Spoonful (1965): It’s amazing how quickly the Lovin’ Spoonful had transitioned from being starving folkies in the Greenwich scene to creating consistent radio hits. It’s soaring melody, pitch-perfect harmonies, and strong production paid off; Brian Wilson later said that the song helped inspire “God Only Knows.”
285. “The Mighty Quinn”- Manfred Mann (1968): Dylan’s story about “Quinn the Eskimo” probably lends itself to over interpretation and seeking allegory when none might be intended. Manfred Mann delivers Dylan’s circumlocution with aplomb and some of the best sense of timing I’ve heard on a 1960s record.
284. “I’m a Man”- Spencer Davis Group (1966): Psychedelic before its time, with plenty of fascinating observations about gender and generational relationships in an era where masculinity was being re-defined by the counterculture. Chicago loved this song so much that it was the only cover song they formally recorded for the first fifteen years of their career.
283. “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”- Jackie DeShannon (1969): There weren’t too many female artists in this collection of twenty, but DeShannon was one of the first female singer-songwriters in the rock and roll milieu, before Joni got started, before Carole King started performing on records. Fun fact: DeShannon opened for The Beatles during their 1964 U.S. tour.
282. “In Dreams”- Roy Orbison (1963): Orbison’s soaring tenor voice was never in finer form. It is a crime that this song is so rarely played on classic rock and oldies radio. It’s an even greater crime that he wasn’t Elvis; he may not have been as pretty, he may not have conjured the same swagger, but he was a better singer, songwriter, guitarist, and human being than the King.
281. “Old Friends/Bookends”- Simon & Garfunkel (1968): Simon paints a charming and evocative picture with these lyrics about two aged companions enjoying their dotage together, and their effect is amplified by his peerless harmonies with Garfunkel.