1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 240 to 231
When your rooster crows at the break of down, look at your window and I’ll be gone.
240. “Rank Stranger,” The Stanley Brothers. Songwriters: Albert E. Brumley, William York; Did Not Chart; 1960. Brothers Carter and Ralph Stanley were Virginia natives who formed their band, the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys, after World War II. Heavily influenced by Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers paired a bluegrass instrumentation sound with Appalachian music. Albert E. Brumley, no relation to Alfred E. Neuman, was a gospel composer who lived in southwest Missouri and composed over 800 songs, the most famous one being the hymnal standard “I’ll Fly Away.” (His composition “Rank Stranger” is sometimes credited to William York as a writer or co-writer, that name is most likely a pseudonym for Starday Records co-owner Don Pierce). “Rank Stranger” is a curious tale about a man who returns home, but recognizes no friends nor family members. However, the narrator is comforted that he will see all his loved ones again in heaven. The Stanley Brothers performed as a duo until Carter’s alcohol related death in 1966. Ralph Stanley soldiered on as a highly respected elder in bluegrass music, performing until he passed away in 2016.
239. “My Cherie Amour,” Stevie Wonder. Songwriters: Stevie Wonder, Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy; #4 pop/#4 R&B; 1969. Stevie Wonder was signed to Motown was in 1961, when he was 11 years old, and had his breakthrough hit with “Fingertips – Part I” in 1963. “My Cherie Amour” was a song that Wonder started writing in 1966, penned for a teenage girlfriend it was originally titled “Oh My Marcia.” Sylvia Moy recommended the title change, giving the lyrics a more universal theme and a sophisticated international flavor. Wonder later reflected on his teenage years, saying, “I was young and carefree. I didn’t think about anything, even the money I was making. I didn’t take anything seriously. I changed with ‘My Cherie Amour’ – I suddenly realized it was time I called down and started behaving responsibly.” “My Cherie Amour” bridged the gap between Wonder’s high adrenaline 1960’s singles and his evolution as one of the most important album artists of the following decade.
238. “Yesterday,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #1 pop; 1965. Paul McCartney, “I just woke up one morning with this tune in my head. I thought, ‘I don’t know this tune, or do I?’ It’s like an old jazz tune.” George Martin, “It wasn’t until he got the lyric together that we decided to record it. I said, ‘It’s a lovely song. I can’t really see what Ringo can do on it. I can’t really see what heavy electric guitars can do on it.’ I remember John (Lennon) listening to it, there’s a particular bit where the cello moves into a kinda bluesy note and John thought that was terrific.” McCartney, “I don’t know that ‘Yesterday’ was the best thing I ever wrote, it was the flukiest thing I ever wrote, ‘cause it was a dream. I think I like ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ better as a song.”
237. “Green Onions,” Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Songwriters: Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Lewie Steinberg, Al Jackson Jr.; #3 pop/#1 R&B; 1962. “Green Onions” is a perfect representation of the minimalist genius of Booker T. & the M.G.’s. It’s played with an every-note-matters sensibility that balances playful and ominous tones. Booker T. Jones, “I started playing that riff. I had played it a few times on piano, but this was the first time on the organ. It sounded different through the little organ speaker. It had more urgency, more attitude.” Author Robert Gordon, “It was sinister, with a staccato emphasis on the beat like the popular TV detective show theme song ‘Peter Gunn.’ ‘Green Onions’ also evokes the deceptive simplicity of a John Lee Hooker song, and the beat heavy ‘Think’ by the Five Royales. The guitar and bass often double, playing the same notes, guided by Booker’s left hand; it gives the band a fat sound, uncomplicated.” Producer Jim Stewart, “They came up with this fantastic groove, a funky, unbelievable groove. Everybody came into the control room and was jumping up and down.”
236. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” Bob Dylan. Songwriter: Bob Dylan; Did Not Chart; 1963. Bob Dylan, “A lot of people make it sort of a love song – slow and easygoing. But it isn’t a love song. It’s a statement that maybe you can say something to make yourself feel better. It’s as if you were talking to yourself.” Dylan learned the melody of “Don’t Think Twice,” from folksinger Paul Clayton used the traditional folk melody for his 1960 release “Who’s Gonna Buy You Ribbons When I’m Gone?” Author Evan Schlansky, “Pop quiz: what’s the appropriate amount of times to think about a lover who has just walked out your door? Correct Answer: ONCE. ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ is his perhaps Dylan’s best, saddest, and sweetest kiss-off song, evoking feelings that are equally world weary, tender, forgiving, and spiteful. It’s a classic on an album of classics that introduced Dylan to the world at large (‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’), and its poignant, knowing refrain has been burned into our hearts and minds for decades.”
235. “Little Sister,” Elvis Presley. Songwriters: Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman; #5 pop; 1961. On this tale of teenage lust, Elvis turns his affection toward a younger sister after being dumped by her elder sibling. However, the song is most memorable for its lean rockabilly sound than the lyrics. Hank Garland borrowed a Fender guitar from Nashville session guitarist Harold Bradley to get enough “throttle” for the record. Presley’s skills as an arranger/producer are often overlooked and he completely reshaped this rocker that had been rejected by Bobby Vee and Bobby Darin. Mort Shuman, “When I wrote ‘Little Sister,’ I played it in a completely different way. It had a different rhythm. Elvis cut the tempo in half and slowed it down.” Studio engineer Bill Porter quickly announced, “We’ve got a classic in here” and, depending on the source, Elvis was so excited about “Little Sister” that the band either played the song or he listened to the recording until 7:30 the following morning. A double sided hit, both “Little Sister” and “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame” went Top Five on the U.S. pop charts.
234. “Folsom Prison Blues,” Johnny Cash. Songwriter: Johnny Cash; #32 pop/#1 country; 1968. Is there anything more spine-tingling in popular music than hearing a bunch of murderers, rapists, and serial jaywalkers whooping it up after The Man in Black proclaims that he “shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die”? Sorry to pull the curtain back on this one, but the cheering wasn’t from the concert – it was added during the production process. The melody of “Folsom Prison Blues” was taken from the 1953 Gordon Jenkins’ song “The Crescent City,” a bit of theft that resulted in a significant cash (Cash?) settlement in the early 1970s. The studio version of “Folsom” peaked at #4 on the country charts in 1956 and the 1968 live version topped the country charts and was a #32 pop single. It’s a performance that’s equally compelling as both music and mythmaking. Cash, “Prisoners are the greatest audience that an entertainer can perform to.”
233. “I Can’t Get Next to You,” The Temptations. Songwriters: Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1969. “I Can’t Get Next to You” was a move away from social commentary back to love song lyrics for The Temptations, but with a decidedly funky edge. Producer Norman Whitfield had all members of The Temptations take a lead vocal turn on the song, sharing the microphone like rappers would in the future. Author Chris Morris writing about the different lead vocal sound after Dennis Edwards replaced David Ruffin, “As a teen, Edwards sang gospel, but, like Sam Cooke and many other prominent gospel performers, he turned to rhythm & blues. His presence toughened the group’s vocal sound. While David Ruffin had specialized largely in smoother romantic balladry, the gospel-trained Edwards sported a grittier style, and he left a distinctive mark on the unit’s work as both lead vocalist and in the ensemble harmonies.” Two years after “I Can’t Get Next to You” topped the pop and R&B charts, Al Green took the song to #11 on the R&B charts with his slow, bluer than blue rendition.
232. “I Got a Line on You,” Spirit. Songwriter: Randy California; #25 pop; 1968. The hard rock band Spirit formed in Los Angeles in 1967 and quickly received a record contract from producer Lou Adler. They had their only Top 40 hit with “I Got a Line on You,” a song that split the difference between melodic pop and guitar based hard rock. Rock critic Jason Heller, “’I Got a Line on You’ featured harmony galore, straddling the line between the soulful hard rock that was on the rise at the end of the Sixties and the lingering traces of peace-and-love trippiness that still informed California’s supple guitar work. California’s voice is gutsy and melodic, helping to propel the single to success – a little less sophistication, and “I Got a Line on You” could’ve been a Steppenwolf mega-hit.” Spirit’s influence emerged in the next few decades as Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” had elements of the Spirit song “Taurus” and Cheap Trick’s 1988 #1 pop hit “The Flame” was a rewrite of their 1971 single “Nature’s Way.”
231. “I Get Around,” The Beach Boys. Songwriters: Brian Wilson, Mike Love; #1 pop; 1964. John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spooful, “”Felix Pappalardi, the wonderful bass player — he and I were kind of a duo that accompanied a lot of folk groups. We also had classical backgrounds somewhere or another. And when we heard ‘I Get Around,’ we both looked at each other and we said, ‘Bach!’ It’s wonderful to hear a set of changes. There isn’t just a verse and a chorus, that there’s something that leads you from one of those to the other.” According to musician Randy Bachman, Wilson’s chorus heavy hot rod and girl admiring number was inspired by the 1920’s number “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?,” sometimes known as “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue.” Bachman, “I said, ‘How did you do that?’ He said, ‘Well, when they say to stay on the C chord for two beats, I stay on it for four. Or if they say stay on the C chord for eight beats, I stay on it for two.’ So if you listen to ‘Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue, oh, what those five feet could do,’ that’s ‘I Get Around.’ But they went, ‘Round, round, get around, I get around.’ And then he put his own, ‘Woo oo,’ and then he wrote his own song and he put in his own lyrics.” “I Get Around” was a breakthrough hit for The Beach Boys, their first #1 in the U.S. and their first Top Ten U.K. release.