1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 270 to 261
Take a load off, Fanny.
270. “Tender Years,” George Jones. Songwriters: George Jones, Darrell Edwards; #76 pop/#1 country; 1961. George Jones returned to boyhood friend/fellow songwriter Darrell Edwards for “Tender Years,” his second #1 country hit. The East Texas gospel influence is heard in the music, while lyrically George voices his determination to wait for the woman that she loves, no matter how long she is in love with another man. George was moving to a countrypolitan production sound with this record, but that was just another style for him to master. Songwriter Darrell Edwards fell on hard times later in his life and in the words of Nick Tosches “blew his brains out” in 1975. Journalist Ian Crouch wrote in “The New Yorker” in 2013 that “Tender Years” “may have been the best” song that George Jones ever released, an informed opinion that covers a sea of potential options.
269. “Beck’s Bolero,” Jeff Beck. Songwriter: Jimmy Page; Did Not Chart; 1967. French composer/conductor Maurice Ravel was commissioned to write the classical music piece “Bolero” for a Russian dancer in 1928. Thirty eight years later Jeff Beck was fired from The Yardbirds and recorded the dramatic guitar piece “Beck’s Bolero” with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins, and Keith Moon. (Contractual obligations kept a potential supergroup album from occurring at that time). Martin Power, “’Beck’s Bolero’ featured Jeff at his very best, the guitarist weaving his way across an alternating major/minor melody before launching a barrage of sighing slide effects that soaked the track in slow waves of echo and reverse phrasing.” Jimmy Page, “I’m playing the electric 12-string on it. Beck’s doing the slide bits, and I’m basically playing around the chords. The idea was built around Maurice Ravel’s ‘Bolero.’ It’s got a lot of drama to it; it came off right. It was a good lineup too, with Keith Moon, and everything.”
268. “Soldier of Love,” Arthur Alexander. Songwriters: Buzz Cason, Tony Moon; Did Not Chart; 1962. Arthur Alexander wants his woman to surrender to his needs on the love-is-a-battlefield R&B number “Soldier of Love.” Songwriter Buzz Cason, “I’m pretty sure that (cowriter) Tony (Moon) had that idea of ‘lay down your arms and surrender to me.’ Then that was the title of it, but ‘soldier of love’ was just kind of mentioned in there one time. But he had that idea and then we used military terms in it to make it commercial, make it fit.” Despite not being a hit, the record was quickly discovered by The Beatles, who performed the song on the BBC in 1962. Paul McCartney, “If the Beatles wanted a sound it was R&B. That’s what we used to listen to and what we wanted to be like. Black, that was basically it. Arthur Alexander.” Marshall Crenshaw, no slouch as a songwriter, covered the song on his 1982 debut album.
267. “Spoonful,” Howlin’ Wolf. Songwriter: Willie Dixon; Did Not Chart; 1960. Mississippi born singer Chester Burnett was a disciple of blues artist Charlie Patton, who had recorded “A Spoonful Blues” in 1929. Burnett’s stage name of Howlin’ Wolf was artistic perfection. He was a physically intimidating presence with a booming, unforgettable voice. Sam Phillips, “When I heard Howlin’ Wolf, I said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.’” Author George De Stefano, “’Spoonful’ fits Wolf stylistically like a glove, yet there’s a dissonance between the singer and the song. It’s hard to believe that Wolf, a man known for his big appetites (for food, booze, sex, and performing), would ever be satisfied with a spoonful of anything. But, consummate artist that he was, he makes you believe he’s so desperate for his woman’s ‘precious love’ that he’d accept even a stingy dose of it.” Supposedly, drummer Sam Lay purchased a large flea market soup spoon that Wolf turned into a phallic symbol when performing this number. Memphis photographer Ernest Withers, “Well, he did that ‘Spoonful’ in a vulgar fashion, which was not apropos to a kid audience. Of course, now you get the same vulgarity on television all day long. But then, it just wasn’t tolerated. They closed the curtains on him to discipline him. That was the only way to stop him because he got vulgar with that spoon.”
266. “Desolation Row,” Bob Dylan. Songwriter: Bob Dylan; Did Not Chart; 1965. Bob Dylan demonstrates his unparalleled gifts as a songwriter on “Desolation Row.” Despite the use of cryptic lyrics that include a parade of historical and fictional characters, there’s an overwhelming sense of sadness on “Desolation Row,” a fabricated destination where souls are lost, never to be recovered. Dylan, asked in 1969 if he was influenced by Allen Ginsberg, “I think he did at a certain period. That period of… ‘Desolation Row,’ that kind of New York type period, when all the songs were just city songs. His poetry is city poetry. Sounds like the city.” Nashville session man Charlie McCoy on the recording process, “(Producer) Bob Johnston introduced me to Dylan and he said to me, ‘I’m getting ready to record a song, why don’t you pick up the other guitar and play?’ We had time for one take, one playback and then for another session. And that was ‘Desolation Row.’”
265. “The First Cut is the Deepest,” P.P. Arnold. Songwriter: Cat Stevens; Did Not Chart; 1967. P. P. Arnold (nee Patricia Ann Cole) was a Los Angeles gospel singer who became an Ikette in 1964. She relocated to England in 1966 and started a solo career. British songwriter Cat Stevens (Steven Georgiou) had written “The First Cut is the Deepest” in 1965 and according to some sources sold the song to Arnold for thirty pounds. Arnold’s pop/soul version peaked at #18 on the U.K. charts and was her biggest hit. Arnold related to the lyrics, having been in an abusive relationship as a teenager: “It encapsulated everything that I was at the time. Having the courage to get out of that (relationship) and create a life for me and my kids. What a blessing.” Rod Stewart had an international hit with his 1977 cover version and Kennett, Missouri girl Sheryl Crow brought the song to the new generation of Top 40 music fans in 2003.
264. “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” 13th Floor Elevators. Songwriter: Roky Erickson; #55; 1966. Dick Clark, “Who is the head man of the group here, gentlemen?” Electric jug player Tommy Hall, “Well, we’re all heads.” Descriptions of “You’re Gonna Miss Me”: Robert Dimery, “the apogee of early U.S. psychedelic rock”; Jim DeRogatis, “a stinging slice of lysergically fueled garage rock’; Steve Taylor, “a concise blast of proto-psychedelic punk.” Roky Erickson, once called, “the haunted howling wolf of psychedelia” sounds possessed on “You’re Gonna Miss Me” while Tommy Hall provides fluttering fills with his electric jug, giving the band an unearthly sound that nobody else dreamed of having. Tommy Hall on his ambitions, “I never considered myself a musician and still don’t. I was real interested, however, in introducing people to ideas and insights I was gaining through my use of LSD. Everything I wrote was inspired through my taking LSD. I invented the electric jug totally out of my desire to find a place onstage with this new group, so I could be a part of it, and so I could communicate my new ideas through the lyrics I wanted to write.”
263. “Lead Me On,” Bobby Bland. Songwriter: Deadric Malone (Don Robey); #9 R&B; 1960. Author Charles Farley, “’Lead Me On’ may be the ultimate Bobby Bland song that unloads just about everything Bobby and the band had to offer: flute, organ, strings, piano, choir, guitar, Bobby, everything melding perfectly together in one tight, billowing package, and, of course, opening with one of the most ominous couplets of all bluesdom: ‘You know how it feels, you understand/What it is to be a stranger in this unfriendly land.’” John Floyd, “A song of despair so bottomless it can crumble even the most stable of emotional foundations.” Heavy stuff, indeed, and never mind the legal credit, “Lead Me On” was written by Al Braggs, not by label executive Don Robey who has been described by Michael Corcoran as “half black, half Jewish, all gangster.”
262. “It Will Stand,” The Showmen. Songwriter: General Johnson; #61pop; 1961. General Norman Johnson was raised near the shipyards in Norfolk, Virginia and joined a local act named the Humdingers when he was twelve years old. A trip to New Orleans resulted in Allan Toussaint producing “It Will Stand” and a name change to The Showmen. “It Will Stand” is an R&B dance number that extols the virtue of rock ‘n’ roll, claiming the genre would last forever. Author Bob Johnson, “Possibly the first song to give modern pop – or rock ‘n’ roll, at least – the stature of a religion.” General Johnson went on to lead the Chairmen of the Board of “Give Me Just a Little More Time” fame and spent his later years as a beloved elder statesmen of the Carolina beach music circuit.
261. “The Weight,” The Band. Songwriter: Robbie Robertson; #63 pop; 1968. Writer Barry Nicholson, “Has any piece of music ever sounded so cosmic, or indeed so American, as the Band’s signature track? By the time Levon Helm’s road-weary traveller has pulled into Nazareth – not in biblical Galilee, but eastern Pennsylvania – he’s already ‘feeling ’bout half-past dead’; with light years on the clock, and no end to his journey in sight. So ingrained is the sense of the mythological and metaphysical that even after you learn the more prosaic truth behind its cast of characters – that ‘Luke’ refers to their former Hawks bandmate Jimmy Ray Paulman, ‘Anna Lee’ was a childhood friend of Helm’s and ‘Crazy Chester’ was an eccentric club owner from North Carolina – it still feels as esoteric and inscrutable it did on your first listen.” Robert Christgau on a well meaning cover, “I admit that when Aretha Franklin sings ‘The Weight’ it sounds as if she knows what she means. But I still don’t.”