180. “The End”– The Doors (1967): Listening to this track in preparation for my blog post, I was struck by how much it sounds like an evolutionary version of the Jefferson Airplane. It is dense and lost in a deep psychedelic haze with lazy, strewing guitars, and murky Ray Manzarek organ. Like a stream, it meanders through some exotic, unfamiliar, and even dangerous territory (including a Oedipal spoken word section that borders on insanity), and you really feel like you are listening to the end of all things. Small wonder it has been used in film so effectively in the last fifty years.
179. “Alone Again, Or…”– Love (1967): Every once in a while, lightning strikes and a band that seems marginal or insignificant produces something timeless. Love’s Forever Changes is probably the most familiar example of this rare phenomenon, where a band with little else to their name created an album that many regard as one of the very best from the 1960s. The opening track is, in my opinion, the best, with an finger-picking acoustic backing that anticipates indie, and some colorful flamenco flourishes.
178. “I Put A Spell On You”– Nina Simone (1965): This cover moves Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ original from the Halloween graveyard into the lounge, and it works beautifully. Simone’s staggered delivery turns a song that began life as almost a novelty into a standard for the ages.
177. “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”– Led Zeppelin (1969): Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? If so, Chicago seems smitten with Led Zep. This song is the transparent inspiration for “25 Or 6 to 4″, but written in much more of a blues medium.
176. “Iko Iko”– The Dixie Cups (1965): You probably remember the Dixie Cups for the sweet “Chapel of Love,” but this was their other hit, using whatever percussion they had available– coke cans, ashtrays– to make this traditional New Orleans standard into more of a schoolyard chant usually performed when skipping rope or doing hopscotch.
175. “Dream Baby”– Roy Orbison (1962): With little more than an acoustic guitar and what sounds like someone tapping on a suitcase at the start, it slowly builds, with organ and background vocals. Roy’s strong melodic instincts and operatic approach to rock and roll shine through.
174. “Here Comes My Baby”– The Tremeloes (1967): I rediscovered this song at a 1999 trip to Epcot Center, when the band doing British Invasion songs at the United Kingdom pavilion broke this one out. Even though Decca Records infamously picked the Tremeloes over the Beatles in 1962, “Here Comes My Baby” belies their reputation as a mere footnote in rock and roll trivia. This riotous track has a terrific unrehearsed feel to it- and to my delight, I later found out it was written by Cat Stevens!
173. “I Am A Rock”– Simon & Garfunkel (1965): Paul Simon continued to push rock and roll into more mature lyrical territory. While he can sometimes sound like an over-earnest 2nd-year English major (“It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain,”) this song tackles themes of solitude and isolation in a song that seemed hard-wired to repudiate John Dunne.
172. “She Loves You”– The Beatles (1963): It might not be the strongest song that The Beatles recorded, but it is the quintessential song from the Beatlemania era, and it thus deserves a spot on this list. Effortlessly catchy and memorable (how many songs have as simple but effective a hook as “yeah, yeah, yeah”?), it topped the British charts for 9 weeks and almost singlehandedly turned The Beatles from merely an interesting Northern pop group into legends in their home country.
171. “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me”– Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (1962): Smokey was so damn prolific in the early 60s that I’m still surprised today how deep his catalog is. This track, which was never one of his higher-charting numbers, builds up to a great climax, and the songwriting tics were enough to capture the ear of John Lennon and coax one of The Beatles’ more convincing covers.
170. “Evil Ways”– Santana (1969): Carlos was great, but let us never forget that Santana was an ensemble. From Greg Rollie’s organ lead, and Chepito Areas’ percussion, this is very much a piece that the entire band contributes to in order to succeed. Latin-tinged numbers in the 1960s always sounded a bit cheap and exploitative. In contrast, you can hear a truly latin-infused rock being developed here.
169. “I Say A Little Prayer”– Aretha Franklin (1968): No offense intended to Dionne Warwick, but Aretha mops up the floor with the original martini-hour version of this Burt Bacharach and Hal Davis track. Aretha’s performance is pure soul, pure urgency, and the unsung heroines are her robust backup singers who actually, if you listen carefully, do a lot of the heavy lifting in the song’s chorus.
168. “To Love Somebody”– The Bee Gees (1967): In our last installment, I commented in my write-up to “Words” how deep this Australian trio’s catalog was in the Sixties, even though we associate them with the 1970s and the excesses of the disco era. Self-flaggelating, slightly condescending, and earnestly harmonized in the chorus. The first time I heard it, I couldn’t believe a song this complex by The Bee Gees could have been written this early.
167. “Spirit in the Sky”– Norman Greenbaum (1969): Nigh-one-hit-wonder Greenbaum had his finger on the pulse of a major cultural phenomenon, the Jesus Freaks. The Southern California incarnation of carefree, easygoing, west-coast movement revitalized a Christianity that was, in turns, staid, unresponsive, or overly-politicized throughout much of the decade. With all the conviction and certainty of a 19th century Baptist hymn, Greenbaum taps into the “personal relationship with Jesus” angle that most people associate with historic Christianity but is in many ways deeply tied to the 1950s and 1960s consumerism. A great time capsule song; if I had to pick one representative of 1969, I might very well pick this one.
166. “Georgia On My Mind”– Ray Charles (1960): It might never top “What’d I Say” as the truly essential Ray Charles track, but Charles takes this Hoagy Carmichael standard and makes it timeless, with any trace of artifice and insincerity removed. I only wish that it had been released with just Ray and his piano, and none of the overzealous orchestration.
165. “Hawaii 5-0″– The Ventures (1968): The Ventures finally made it in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 (curiously leap-frogging over the dean of surf rock, Dick Dale.) This is everything a television theme should be- short, memorable, and evocative of its setting. College pep bands have made sure this track remains immortal.
164. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”– The Beach Boys (1966): This opening track to the epochal Pet Sounds album finds Brian Wilson harnessing a small army of musicians to make this very heavy, intensely arranged near-masterpiece. For all of its complexity (including a dramatic tempo mid-change about two-thirds of the way through), the song is disarmingly simple. He and his girl want to sleep together, but they are too young. I get it. I grew up in a conservative community in upstate NY. You’re 14, you want to be with somebody and you just…can’t. This song captures that loving sense of hopelessness. It’s a heartbreakingly beautiful track; I’d go on, but I’d only be tempted to rank it higher, and I have to stick to my plans.
163. “Ferry Cross the Mersey”– Gerry & the Pacemakers (1964): I always thought Gerry and the Pacemakers were maybe the most underrated of the British Invasion groups that found chart success in America. This track is surprising for its thoughtfulness and its themes evoking nostalgia and homesickness. With the right kind of support- a Brian Epstein and a George Martin of their own- I wonder what they could have accomplished.
162. “Build Me Up Buttercup”– The Foundations (1968): When I was in 9th grade, I tried to write a screenplay, and being in 9th grade, said screenplay was juvenile, and enamored of my own engrained sense of genius and cleverness. I wrote a daydream sequence for my main character where he skips off with the girl of his dreams with this song playing as all kinds of absurd and ridiculous Adam-Sandleresque things happen in the background. Three months after I finished work on the screenplay, There’s Something About Mary was released, which used this song for the exact same purpose. Eerie.
161. “Down on the Corner”– Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969): CCR was never a band that placed an especially high emphasis on storytelling, and their pretensions to hail from the swampland were convincing to many, but utterly fraudulent. They couldn’t recognize a bayou if an alligator bit them in their pasty Southern Californian asses. Even still, there’s something wonderfully affecting about this track about a down-on-their-luck jug band just trying to play a concert without being harassed.