1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 170 to 161
169. “My Girl,” The Temptations. Songwriters: Smokey Robison, Ronald White; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1964. Smokey Robinson, “David Ruffin, I knew, was like this sleeping giant in this group because he had this—it’s sort of like a mellow gruff-sounding voice. And all I needed was the right song for his voice and I felt like I would have a smash hit record. So I sat down at the piano to write a song for David Ruffin’s voice. I wanted to make it something that he could belt out, but yet make it melodic and sweet.” After penning “My Guy” for Mary Wells, Smokey changed the gender for the so-much-honey-the bees-envied-him “My Girl.” Author Ed Hogan, “The track begins with James Jamerson’s bass line, which mirrors a gentle heartbeat. Along with Robert White’s sinewy guitar lines, it’s one of pop music’s most recognizable melody riffs.” Smokey Robinson on Berry Gordy’s reaction, “Berry called me to his office because we had a thing in those days whereas if you got a number one record, then you got a thousand-dollar bonus as the producer of that record. So he called me into his office and he said, ‘Hey, man, I want to give you your producer’s bonus check.’ So I said, ‘Wow. For what?’ He said, ‘You got a smash hit.’ I said, ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘My Girl.’ It’s not number one yet, but it’s most definitely going there.’”
168. “Dead End Street,” The Kinks. Songwriter: Ray Davies; #73; 1966. Once again, Ray Davies returned the lighthearted British Music Hall tradition (could that be a session man on trombone?) as a vehicle to express complete existential despair. Davies, “My whole feeling about the ’60s was that it’s not as great as everyone thinks it is. Carnaby Street, everybody looking happy, that was all a camouflage. That’s what ‘Dead End Street’ was about. I don’t like it when people are out of work and hungry, obviously. I even made a film to go with that song on ‘Top of the Pops,’ but it showed slums and poverty, so they wouldn’t run it.” “Dead End Street” ended the relationship between producer Shel Talmy, who was more interested in commerce than art, and The Kinks. Davies, “’Dead End Street’ was produced by (Talmy), but he wasn’t there. But that was the contract.”
167. “Many Rivers to Cross,” Jimmy Cliff. Songwriter: Jimmy Cliff; Did Not Chart; 1969. Jimmy Cliff started performing as a teenager in Jamaica and was lured by Island Records to relocate to the U.K. in the mid-1960s. “Many Rivers to Cross,” originally released in 1969, became known in America as part of the soundtrack to the 1972 Jamaican film “The Harder They Come.” In fact, it was this song that influenced filmmaker Percy Henzell to cast Jimmy Cliff in the movie’s starring role. The church organ and backup vocals give a gospel flavor to this tale of an unfulfilled physical and spiritual journey. Cliff, “When I came to the UK, I was still in my teens. I came full of vigor: I’m going to make it, I’m going to be up there with the Beatles and the Stones. And it wasn’t really going like that, I was touring clubs, not breaking through. I was struggling, with work, life, my identity, I couldn’t find my place; frustration fueled the song. I came to England with very big hopes and I saw my hopes fading. And that song came out of that experience.” UB40, Cher, and Annie Lennox have hit the U.K. and U.S. pop charts with their respective covers.
166. “You Don’t Know Me,” Ray Charles. Songwriters: Cindy Walker, Eddy Arnold; #2 pop/#5 R&B; 1962. Cindy Walker once reflected that the best songs “have a face.” Walker, “You recognize them. You know them. It’s like a person. They have a face that’s outstanding. Other songs don’t have a face; you just hear them, that’s all. The really good ones are few and far between.” Eddy Arnold gave Cindy Walker the title “You Don’t Know Me” and the theme of an infatuated man who can’t communicate his emotions. It took Walker several weeks to develop the story and determine the ending of the song. Eddy Arnold had a #10 country single with “You Don’t Know Me” in 1956 and it was also a pop hit for Jerry Vale that year. Ray Charles took the song to #2 on the pop charts and while, as usual, there’s too much syrup in the arrangement, the vocal is pure country soul heartbreak.
165. “She’s About A Mover,” Sir Douglas Quintet. Songwriter: Doug Sahm; #13 pop; 1965. “She’s About a Mover” was the breakthrough hit for one of the most eclectic bands of the 1960s. Producer Huey Meaux, after hearing “She’s a Woman” by the Beatles, “It dawned on me that they were playing the Lake Charles two-step that me and my daddy used to play in Cajun country. I (called Dough Sahm and) said, ‘Bring your guitar and come over, Doug. I’m drunk, but I’ve got that beat.’ And that’s how we got off into ‘She’s About a Mover.’” Author Jan Reid, “The song came about one night when they were playing and a young man and woman were putting on a dance show in front of the stage. She was throwing a long skirt over her head, and Sahm turned to the others and said, ‘She’s about a mover, isn’t she?’” Keyboardist Augie Meyers went back to the German influence on Texas music for his contribution. Meyers, “Ooom pah pah came first. ‘She’s About a Mover,’ that’s just a polka with a rock ‘n’ roll beat. I played what a bajo sexto (a 12-string bass guitar) player in a Conjunto band would do.” The band tossed in a bit of Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say” into the mix and had an instant Tex Mex party smash.
164. “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” Solomon Burke. Songwriters: Solomon Burke, Jerry Wexler, Bert Berns; #58 pop/#4 R&B; 1964. Solomon Burke on his signature song, “I used to do it in church when I was a kid and it was a march for the offering. We would play it with tubas, trombones and the big bass drum and it sounded really joyful. I played it to Jerry Wexler and Bert Berns, who thought that it was too fast, and had the wrong tempo.” Burke had no problem taking the writing credit for the church march, but held a grudge for decades against Jerry Wexler and Bert Berns for grabbing a slice of the songwriting/publishing pie. Author Joel Selvin on the performance, “As Cissy Houston and the girls stop shouting in the background and gather themselves into his gospel choir to kick the song into motion, Burke launches into sermonized soul that would be his grand moment, his greatest truth, nothing less than his magisterial summation of the whole human condition, ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.’ The spirit pours out of Burke in a torrent. Arranger Phil Medley’s horn punches barely contain him as he barrels his way through the message, the winds of love filling his sails. If ever a pop song summoned the power of God, it was ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.’ It is not a song so much as a performance, a blast of Burke’s towering, commanding presence funneled into a three-minute sermon.”
163. “Please Please Me,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #3 pop; 1963. John Lennon, “I remember the day I wrote it, I heard Roy Orbison doing ‘Only the Lonely,’ or something. And I was also always intrigued by the words to a Bing Crosby song that went, ‘Please lend a little ear to my pleas.’ The double use of the word ‘please.’ So it was a combination of Roy Orbison and Bing Crosby.” George Martin, “The songs the Beatles first gave me were crap. This was 1962 and they played a dreadful version of ‘Please Please Me’ as a Roy Orbison-style ballad. But I signed them because they made me feel good to be with them, and if they could convey that on a stage then everyone in the audience would feel good, too. So I took ‘Love Me Do’ and added some harmonica, but it wasn’t financially rewarding even though Brian Epstein bought about 2,000 copies. Then we worked for ages on their new version of ‘Please Please Me,’ and I said: ‘Gentlemen, you’re going to have your first #1.’” Keith Richards after being asked what is his favorite Fab Four number, “I’ve always told McCartney, ‘Please Please Me.’ I just love the chimes, and I was there at the time and it was beautiful. Mind you, there’s plenty of others, but if I’ve got to pick one, ‘Please Please Me’… oh, yeah!”
162. “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” The Byrds. Songwriters: Jim McGuinn, Chris Hillman; #39 pop; 1967. “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” is a cautionary tale about the music industry (there are conflicting opinions about whether the lyrical cynicism related to The Monkees phenomenon). Jim McGuinn, “Some people have accused us of being bitter for writing that song, but it’s no more bitter than ‘Positively 4th Street.’ In fact, it isn’t as bitter as that. We were thumbing through a teen magazine and looking at all the unfamiliar faces and we couldn’t help thinking: ‘Wow, what’s happening…all of a sudden here is everyone and his brother and his sister-in-law and his mother and even his pet bullfrog singing rock ‘n’ roll.’ So we wrote ‘So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ to the audience of potential rock stars, those who were going to be, or who wanted to be, and those who actually did go on to realize their goals.” Rock critic David Fricke, “For all of its twangy sass and playful smarm, ‘So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’ was a song of deeper, implicit irony. As the Byrds knew quite well, making the big time isn’t the hard part. They had ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ to thank for their own sudden, good fortune. But staying sane, in the game, ahead of the curve – that was the rough stuff, and it was never truer in rock & roll than during the mad crush of young genius that characterized the mid-1960s.” Trivia note – Hugh Masekela of “Grazing in the Grass” fame performed the trumpet solo.
161. “Mrs. Robinson,” Simon and Garfunkel. Songwriters: Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Roy Halee; #1 pop; 1968. The Simon and Garfunkel song “Mrs. Robison” is often associated with the 1967 satirical/comedy/drama film “The Graduate” and both the song and the movie are products of their time. Asked to provide material for the film, Paul Simon began reworking a nostalgia composition that was originally planned as an ode to Eleanor Roosevelt. Referencing America’s lost heroes, Simon namechecked Joe DiMaggio, a baseball player who meant less to him than Mickey Mantle, but in songwriting syllables matter. Simon on meeting The Yankee Clipper, “I happened to be in a restaurant and there he was,” recalls Simon. “I gathered up my nerve to go over and introduce myself and say, ‘Hi, I’m the guy that wrote ‘Mrs. Robinson,’ and he said ‘Yeah, sit down . . . why’d you say that? I ’m here, everyone knows I’m here.’ I said, ‘I don’t mean it that way – I mean, where are these great heroes now?’ He was flattered once he understood that it was meant to be flattering.”