260. The Kinks- “A Well-Respected Man” (1965): My friend Jared recently included The Kinks in his write-up of the 55 musical acts that have been the most influential and appreciated in his life. I think that the Davies brothers and their cohort deserve their place. That goes double for this track, a brilliant send-up of middle-class, clock-punching respectability– it is a cutting satire of a British society forever picking its poison between Mister Heath and Mister Wilson.
259. The Animals- “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (1965): It’s already 1965, and Eric Burdon has, at that early hour, intuited that the decade can’t end well, and that dangerous and deadly dead-ends abound. Nobody else was making such a gloomy and moody and discontented song in 1965, no one.
258. The Rolling Stones- “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (1969): I love the evensong-like boys’ choir pastiche at the beginning of this track. It seems like The Rolling Stones were forever mocking The Beatles six months after The Beatles’ latest project. And so it is- mere months after Paul McCartney’s elegiac “Let It Be”, the Stones have a snotty, snide adventure through town with stately choral background vocals that send up Phil Spector’s treatment of the Get Back sessions.
257. The Beatles- “I Am the Walrus” (1967): This isn’t so much a psychedelic number, so much as a Lennon-sponsored foray into Lewis Carroll wordplay and pretzel logic. Just as much credit needs to go to George Martin for effectively combining the song’s multiple movements, choral requirements, radio tunings, and other oddities. It’s not the weirdest track The Beatles ever recorded (“You Know My Name (Look Up the Number”) earns that distinction) but it’s pretty darn close.
256. Peter, Paul & Mary- “I Dig Rock and Roll Music” (1967): Folk musicians have a well-earned reputation for lacking a sense of humor and being deadly earnest. No so here. As the golden age of folk music fell into decline, PP&M decided that if you can’t beat them, you can always send them up. In a mere 150 seconds, they manage to spoof The Beatles, The Beach Boys, backwards tape loops, melotrons, and other mainstays of a hip culture to which they no longer belonged.
255. Donovan- “Sunshine Superman” (1966): I’m going to get pilloried for saying this, but I actually like Donovan and admire his work more than I like Dylan. Donovan invites you along for the ride, Dylan demands that you acknowledge what a clever little genius he is. “Sunshine Superman” is the kind of song Dylan could never make– satisfied with life but vividly descriptive, loaded with hooks, with subtle hints of Indian musicianship that you have to strain your ear to hear deep in the mix.
254. The Guess Who- “No Time” (1969): This is perhaps the best-crafted rock song by Canada’s most well-loved musicians. Randy Bachman’s guitar part is proficient and expressive, stately without being busy, augmented by Burton Cummings’ convicted lead vocal.
253. The Safaris- “Wipe Out” (1963): The excitement of the surfing craze takes a maniacal turn here– two epic, rapid-fire drum solos unlike anything heard on top 40 radio before, and a crazed laugh that barely hangs on to its sanity at the beginning. It is one of the very best instrumentals of the 1960s, even if its guitar work pales in comparison to the dean of surf rock, Dick Dale. It’s a pity that the Safaris more or less shot their wad on this track- it would have been nice to see what else they could do.
252. Gene Pitney- “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valence” (1962): Pitney is one of the very poorest choices for induction that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ever made. I might have been okay with his being inducted as a non-performer, because he was a very good songwriter. Despite his shoddy overall resume, Pitney’s greatest triumph as a singer probably comes with this track, coming at the zenith of western television shows and comic books and that sort of thing in American society.
251. Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs- “Stay” (1960): One of the last hurrahs of the classic doo-wop era, its soaring high falsetto has made this track a mainstay in any film or television show set in the late 50s and early 60s. As a fun point of trivia, it is the shortest record to reach #1 on the charts. It’s only a minute and thirty-seven seconds- and the Zodiacs’ career wasn’t much longer.
250. Dion- “Runaround Sue” (1961): Dion was the only headliner to survive the disastrous Winter Dance Party tour in ’59 that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper. This song is part of a deplorable double standard- Dion derides the same behavior in a girl in “Runaround Sue” that he praises in himself in “The Wanderer.” Still, there’s no denying that Dion has arranged a very engaging track, which despite its gender inequality, is still sonically better than almost anything else on the radio in 1961.
249. The Meters- “Cissy Strut” (1969): Do you hear that sound? It’s funk music being created, ostensibly by a pair of brothers in New Orleans. The Meters were better as backing musicians than they were as artists in their own right, but this is still their best known track, as they attempted to find a new sound for inner-city black music that eschewed both Motown and the Stax sound associated with Booker T and the MGs in Tennessee.
248. Canned Heat- “Going Up the Country” (1968): To me, there’s no song that screams “Woodstock” more than this one. The bass flute, the hippie and pastoral treatment given to the traditional blues structure. There’s no better anthem for leaving the blight and the grime of the city and finding oneself in the wide open spaces of a certain upstate New York farm in 1969…
247. The Crystals- “Then He Kissed Me” (1962): This track rivals “Be My Baby” as Phil Spector’s very finest achievement. The Crystals don’t always get their due because of their lineup that altered at Spector’s whim. Here, though, Dolores Brooks’ vocals are the heroes as Spector’s all-encompassing, multi-tracked, multi-layered sound. And better still, it’s a sweet, complete story of a couple meeting on a dance floor, falling in love, meeting each others’ parents, and finally, getting married.
246. The Temptations- “The Way You Do the Things You Do” (1964): I am not sure if this is distinguishable from the other songs of this era of The Temptations’ career- but it has so many of the great elements of a solid, competent Motown production. Smokey Robinson’s lyrics are really just a three verses of pick-up lines, but its packaged and delivered so persuasively, that one hardly notices.
245. Jimi Hendrix- “Foxy Lady” (1967): When Hendrix hit the scene, he did not sound like anyone else on the planet– a virtuoso guitarist, not quite rock, certainly not rhythm and blues, not precisely psychedelic. Hendrix wrote his own rules, and played fast and loose with conventional genres. He employs this originality to what is, essentially, a seduction song with an urgent twist.
244. Sly & the Family Stone- “Thank You (Fallentine Me Be Mice Elf)” (1969): Speaking of the creation of funk, some major credit also needs to go to Sly Stone and his troupe– they name-check their earlier songs, and a thumping bass line and expertly timed horn augmentation make this song a tonic to the troubles America went through in the 1960s. “Be yourself” is fundamentally a trope of the 1970s, forever enshrined as the Me Decade, and Sly anticipates this message in a way that makes it impossible to avoid getting up and dancing.
243. The Happenings- “See You in September” (1966): Oh, Happenings. God love ya. By 1966, the very peak of psychedelia, this kind of song was already done and over with– declarations of love and fealty over summer vacation suggested a morality that was out of fashion and already belonging to an earlier generation by the time free love abounded and any drug store would sell you contraception. Listening to “See You in September” now, I’m shocked that the Four Seasons didn’t sue them.
242. The Grateful Dead- “Dark Star” (1969): This track also goes out to Jared, the only appearance by one of his favorite bands, The Grateful Dead, in my top 400. In a way, the Dead’s canon makes them a poor fit for this project- long, extended jams that live in the moment and thrive in the concert experience and don’t always work on record. I will say this, though- the Dead’s music is always a journey- albeit a journey in a fog of hallucinogens- and here, the Dead invite the listener far beyond the stars.
241. We Five- “You Were on My Mind” (1966): Like the Safaris, this is another group that could have been very, very big, but ultimately did not go anywhere, despite talented vocal work and expressive musicianship. Beverly Bivins’ low, deceptively sultry alto did something the Happenings could not– navigate the line between Kingston Trio-era “folk for Republicans” and the more ethereal and experimental sound of the mid-60s.