1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 330 to 321
Down in Louisiana, where the alligators grow so mean.
330. “She’s Not There,” The Zombies. Songwriter: Rod Argent; #2 pop; 1964. Author David Luhrssen, “’She’s Not There’ was a haunting two and a half minutes of minor chords whose obsessive lyric of lost love was delivered by Colin Bluntstone with the voice of a frightened ghost. Rod Argent’s short solo on electric piano suggested Dave Brubeck on amphetamines, and Bluntstone’s gulps for air signified the terror of loss.” Rod Argent, “If you play that John Lee Hooker song (‘No One Told Me’) you’ll hear ‘no one told me, it was just a feeling I had inside’ but there’s nothing in the melody or the chords that’s the same. It was just the way that little phrase just tripped off the tongue. I know I was very concerned with the lyrics on ‘She’s Not There’ but in the sense that they had to really complement the melody. They had to stand on their own, and had to have their own rhythm and, in that last section I was using the words with different stresses at different times to propel it along towards the final chord. So lyrics have always been very important to me in that way, but not necessarily in a sense of having to explain something concrete. They’re an important part of the jigsaw, because I think bad lyrics can screw up a song.”
329. “Ya Ya,” Lee Dorsey. Songwriters: Lee Dorsey, Clarence Lewis, Bobby Robinson, Morris Levy; #7 pop/#1 R&B; 1961. New York producer Billy Robinson is an unsung hero of rock ‘n’roll, he produced everyone from Wilbert Harrison to Grandmaster Flash and started several record labels. He traveled to New Orleans in 1961 to meet Lee Dorsey and was impressed with his singing, but they needed to develop material. After hearing local children chanting, “Sittin’ on the slop top/Waitin’ for my bowels to move,” the gentlemen reworked that scatological phrase into “Sittin’ here in la la/Waitin’ for my yaya.” Despite the simple, playful nature of the song, Allen Toussaint’s jazz influenced piano playing gives “Ya Ya” that undeniable New Orleans flavor. Record executive/mobster Morris Levy surely did no writing on “Ya Ya,” but probably helped make it a hit. After Levy sued John Lennon for copyright infringement concerning “Come Together” and its similarities to Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me,” Lennon became legally obligated to record two Levy owned songs. That’s why “Ya Ya” appears on two of Lennon’s 1970’s albums – his joke recording on “Walls and Bridges” infuriated Levy more than it appeased him and people who infuriated Levy did not lead comfortable lives.
328. “Misirlou,” Dick Dale. Songwriter: Traditional; Did Not Chart; 1962. Boston native Dick Dale (Richard Monsour) started his career as a rockabilly performer, but his interest in surfing lead to him developing a guitar sound that mimicked his wave riding experiences. In the early 1960s, he became known as “The King of Surf Guitar,” a titled he grew to dislike as it pigeonholed his work and image. “Misirlou” was a traditional folk song, popular among Greek Anatolions, that was first recorded by Tetos Demetriades in 1927. Dale, a man of Lebanese heritage, was challenged by a fan to play a song with one guitar string and, remembering a performance by his uncle, performed “Misirlou.” His reverb heavy, lightning fast, staccato double picking style became a hallmark of the surf sound. Dale commenting on the use of “Misirlou” in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” “Quentin makes movies from the energy of songs. He said, ‘Misirlou’ is a masterpiece. I would love to have your permission to make a movie that will be a masterpiece that will complement the masterpiece of ‘Misirlou.’”
327. “Cantaloupe Island,” Herbie Hancock. Songwriter: Herbie Hancock; Did Not Chart; 1964. Chicago native Herbie Hancock transitioned from classical piano lessons to jazz music at an early age and started performing with Miles Davis in his early twenties. Hancock was still a Davis sideman when he recorded his 1964 “Empyrean Isles” album, a set that included the future jazz standard “Cantaloupe Island.” Ted Gioia, “When jazz players want to poke fun at rock and roll musicians, they ridicule their ‘three chord songs.’ But, here, Herbie Hancock constructs a taut composition built on just three chords, and no one will demean this gem. Hancock’s piano vamp is the key hook here, but Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet solo is just as compelling, and one of his career highlights.” “Cantaloupe Island” made the pop charts in 1994, sampled by Us3 on their jazz rap hit “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia).”
326. “I’m A Loser,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; Did Not Chart; 1964. “I’m a Loser” was inspired by a variety of sources – the acoustic songwriting/lyrical style of Bob Dylan, the guitar work of Carl Perkins, and the relentless self-pity of country music. John Lennon, “’I’m a Loser’ is me and my Dylan period, because the word ‘clown’ is in it. I objected to the word ‘clown,’ because it was always artsy-fartsy, but Dylan had used it so I thought it was all right and it rhymed with whatever I was doing. Parts of me suspects I’m a loser and part of me thinks I’m God almighty.” Ian McDonald, “The pained lyrics is autobiographical, masked with a smile. Lennon later saw this as built in ambivalence, but the tune of the verse, with its comic drop of a fifth into the bottom of his range, can only be voiced tongue in cheek and the humor of the words must have followed accordingly. With its graphic match of melody and meaning, ‘I’m a Loser’ is expression of rueful self-ridicule, this time with a hint of genuine expression.”
325. “For Your Love,” The Yardbirds. Songwriter: Graham Gouldman; #6 pop; 1965. Graham Gouldman was an unknown nineteen-year-old musician when Harvey Lisberg, his manager, tried to pitch “For Your Love” to The Beatles, who weren’t looking for outside material. However, Jeff Beck heard the demo and The Yardbirds quickly recorded the song, changing the instrumentation, and getting their breakthrough U.K. and U.S. pop hit. Gouldman, “The harpsichord was an absolute stroke of genius. The record just had a weird, mysterious atmosphere about it.” Drummer Jim McCarty, “’For Your Love’ was an interesting song, it had an interesting chord sequence, very moody, very powerful. And the fact that it stopped in the middle and went into a different time signature, we liked that, that was interesting. Quite different, really, from all the bluesy stuff that we’d been playing up till then. But somehow we liked it. It was original and different.”
324. “Under the Boardwalk,” The Drifters. Songwriters: Kenny Young, Arthur Resnick; #4 pop/#1 R&B; 1964. Rudy Lewis of The Drifters died of a heroin overdose on May 21, 1964. Instead of mourning the next day, with studio time booked, former Drifters lead singer Johnny Moore replaced Lewis to record “Under the Boardwalk.” Author Joel Selvin, “(Producer) Bert Berns considered ‘Under the Boardwalk’ a lightweight throwaway by a couple of unknown Brill Building songwriters, Artie Resnick and Kenny Young, still looking for their first big song. Arranger Mike Leander’s crisp take on Berns’s Afro-Cuban approach to the Drifters’ trademark sound, first tried out on the Solomon Burke album track ‘You Can’t Love ’Em All’ gave ‘Boardwalk’ a familiar yet fresh sound for the tired vocal group, ten years down the road from Clyde McPhatter. Written in a cubicle at TM Music on the same Brill Building floor as Leiber and Stoller’s office, Kenny Young strumming the guitar and Artie Resnick scrawling out the lyrics, ‘Under the Boardwalk’ practically invented the summer song genre, in addition to revitalizing the Drifters’ marquee value just when Atlantic needed it badly.”
323. “In My Room,” The Beach Boys. Songwriters: Brian Wilson, Gary Usher; #23 pop; 1963. The psychological safe haven of a bedroom was an unusual topic for a 1963 pop song. In 1998, Brian Wilson described the song as about being “somewhere where you could lock out the world, go to a secret little place, think, be, do whatever you have to do.” Wilson in 1990, “When Dennis, Carl and I lived in Hawthorne as kids, we all slept in the same room. One night I sang the (1956 Cathy Carr hit) song ‘Ivory Tower’ to them and they liked it. Then a couple of weeks later, I proceeded to teach them both how to sing the harmony parts to it. It took them a little while, but they finally learned it. We then sang this song night after night. It brought peace to us. When we recorded ‘In My Room,’ there was just Dennis, Carl and me on the first verse and we sounded just like we did in our bedroom all those nights. This story has more meaning than ever since Dennis’s death.”
322. “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” Loretta Lynn. Songwriters: Loretta Lynn, Peggy Sue Wright; #1 Country; 1966. While some sources state that Loretta Lynn was inspired to write “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’” after a fight with her spouse, her first #1 country hit originated with Peggy Sue Wright, a younger sister. Lynn, “She was married and had a little girl and was starting to find out that no matter how good life is, it does have its ups and downs.” Still, it’s one of the numbers that admirers cite as an example of Lynn’s proto-feminism. The song also resulted in a minor hit for another member of Loretta’s family. Jay Lee Webb, Loretta’s younger brother, peaked at #37 on the country charts in 1967 with “I Came Home A-Drinkin’ (To a Worn-Out Wife Like You).” Meanwhile, Peggy Sue Wright, billed as Peggy Sue, had a string of minor country singles from 1969 to 1980 with her biggest hit being the 1969 temptation number “I’m Dynamite” (so, please, don’t light the fuse), which peaked at #28. She later became a background singer for her younger sister, Crystal Gayle.
321. “Polk Salad Annie,” Tony Joe White. Songwriter: Tony Joe White; #8 pop; 1969. Louisiana native Tony Joe White, the king of the swamp rockers, moved to Nashville to record in the late 1960s. His only U.S. Top 40 hit as a performer was “Polk Salad Annie,” a humorous tale about a Southern culinary delight and a woman who made alligators look tame. White, “Annie, she could have been one of maybe three or four girls along that river there because all the girls were kinda tomboys. They loved to fish, climb trees shoot rifles. That kind of stuff.” And the polk salad? “I ate a bunch of it growing up on the cotton farm. It grows wild, and you pick it a certain time during the year, and you boil it and cook it like greens. I still eat some every spring.” Elvis Presley recorded “Polk Salad Annie” in 1970 and White also wrote Brook Benton’s 1970 Top Five single “Rainy Night in Georgia.”