1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 350 to 341
If I don’t love you, baby, grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry, and Mona Lisa was a man.
350. “One,” Harry Nilsson. Songwriter: Harry Nilsson; Did Not Chart; 1968. Harry Nilsson’s “One” was released before he had his breakthrough single with “Everybody’s Talkin’” and failed to chart (Three Dog Night took the song to #5 on the pop charts the following year). The opening notes of “One” replicate a busy signal, a smart way to introduce a chamber pop song about loneliness. The spare arrangement enhances the sense of isolation. Songwriter Jimmy Webb, “I don’t think there was anybody who could touch (Nilsson) as a singer. He had this grace of moving from note to note, warbling and twirling, doing little imitations of birds, and then just screaming flat out so that it would tear your wig off. There was an unpredictability and effervescence and a tremendous range. One of the problems is his performances were so great, they were like mountains.”
349. “She’s Leaving Home,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; Did Not Chart; 1967. In February of 1967, a seventeen-year-old girl named Melanie Coe ran away from her London home, confounding her parents who thought she has been kidnapped. Unknown to McCartney, he had met Coe when she was thirteen and auditioned as a dancer for the ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ television program. Paul McCartney, “We’d seen that (newspaper) story and it was my inspiration. There was a lot of these at the time and that was enough to give us the storyline. So I started to get the lyrics: she slips out and leaves a note and the parents wake up, it was rather poignant. I like it as a song and when I showed it to John, he added the Greek chorus and long sustained notes. One of the nice things about the structure of the song is that it stays on those chords endlessly.” Melanie Coe in 2008, “I can’t listen to the song. It’s just too sad for me. My parents died a long time ago and we were never resolved. That line, ‘She’s leaving home after living alone for so many years’ is so weird to me because that’s why I left. I was so alone. They gave me everything – coats, cars. But not love.”
348. “Can I Get A Witness,” Marvin Gaye. Songwriters: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland; #22 pop/#3 R&B; 1963. Holland/Dozier/Holland went back to their church roots on “Can I Get a Witness.” Lamont Dozier, “When I was coming up, my aunt played piano and my grandma instructed her what to sing in church since she was one of the church’s directors. My aunt played different classical music and I remember sitting on the stool and she would serenade me with these tunes and they sort of stuck with me, influenced me throughout the years. The gospel music on the other hand influenced myself and the Holland brothers because it was the thing you had to do every Sunday – go to church. Black gospel music was part of the lifestyle.” The producers were shocked that Gaye cut the vocals in one take and they also provided backing vocals along with a still unknown act named The Supremes.
347. “Wendy,” The Beach Boys. Songwriters: Brian Wilson, Mike Love; #44 pop; released in 1964, peaked on charts in 1967. Brian Wilson is emotionally devastated on “Wendy,” unable to comprehend how the love of his life could so callously dump him. Author Phillip Lambert, “What’s going on in the introduction to ‘Wendy?’ We hear some long low notes in the guitars, a D, then a G, then another D, then a B flat, followed by some incongruous hits on the snare drum, before the song finally gets going in F major, a key hardly anticipated by what’s just happened. It sounds like they’re warming up, not sure how to get started. But that’s precisely the point: the confessional lyric isn’t sure how to get started, it is stammering and fumbling for the right words to describe the despair of lost love. ‘What went wrong?’ asks the Boys in full chorale mode when the verse finally begins – ‘we went together for so long,’ but now ‘you made it with another guy’ and the narrator is fighting back tears as he tries to make sense of it.”
346. “Baby What You Want Me to Do,” Jimmy Reed. Songwriter: Jimmy Reed; #37 pop/#10 R&B; released in 1959, but peaked on the charts in 1960. Reed’s love interest has him runnin’, hidin’, goin’ up, goin’ down, and peepin’ on this blues number of romantic confusion. Reed never actually sings the song’s title – this crossover pop hit was most likely written by his wife Mama Reed and the couple spent valuable studio time arguing about the title just before the song was recorded. Musician/author Cub Koda writing about “Baby What You Want Me to Do,” “Probably the single most covered blues song of all time, the lyrics, chord progression, and melody of this are so deceptively simple that when anybody attempts to sing and play the blues, they’ll usually try their hand with this number.” Elvis covered this song on his “’68 Comeback Special,” looking like a sleek lion who could conquer anything on the planet by either power or charisma.
345. “Diggy Liggy Lo,” Rusty and Doug. Songwriter: J.D. “Jay” Miller; #14 country; 1961. Cajun music was always treated like a novelty sub-genre in commercial country music, somewhat like the midgets…um…little people…on a wrestling card. Louisiana natives Rusty and Doug Kershaw grew up immersed in Cajun culture, it was all they knew, and started performing as teenagers, originally singing in French. Rusty and Doug scored three country hits in the 1950s, but their act when on hiatus when they both enlisted in 1958. “Diggy Liggo Lo” was penned by famed/infamous swamp pop producer Jay Miller (Miller produced Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee” and horribly racist material from Louisiana white supremacist Johnny Rebel). “Diggy Liggy Lo” is a Cajun dance and romance number, with a bit of Western swing in the melody, that had been first been recorded by Jimmy Newman in 1954, but the Kershaws took ownership of the song, a reality that later versions by Commander Cody and the Nitty Gritty Dirty Band strongly reinforced.
344. “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” Little Milton. Songwriter: Titus Turner; #73 pop/#13 R&B; 1969. “All Around the World” was a song written and originally performed by Atlanta R&B artist Titus Turner in 1955 and Little Willie John had his first hit that year with his cover version. The differences in the vocal performances demonstrate why Turner is better known as a songwriter. Little Milton was the first artist to retitle the song to “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” on this 1969 soul/blues powerhouse cover. Mississippi Delta native Milton viewed versatility as the key to being successful in the music business and he certainly doesn’t sound like a blues traditionalist on “Grits Ain’t Groceries.” He sounds like a gifted entertainer, fully committed to putting over the material.
343. “Iko Iko,” The Dixie Cups. Songwriters: James Crawford, Barbara Hawkins, Rosa Hawkins and Joan Johnson; #20 pop/#20 R&B; 1965. James “Sugar Crawford first released “Iko Iko” in 1953 under the title “Jock-a-mo” by his band Sugar Boy and His Cane Cutters. Crawford, “It came from two Indian chants that I put music to. ‘Iko Iko’ was like a victory chant that the Indians would shout. ‘Jock-A-Mo’ was a chant that was called when the Indians went into battle. I just put them together and made a song out of them. Really it was just like ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy.’ That was a phrase everybody in New Orleans used. Lloyd Price just added music to it and it became a hit. I was just trying to write a catchy song.” The Dixie Cups version resulted from a studio session where they started performing the tune to kill time, using a drumstick, a chair, a Coke bottle, and an ashtray as accompaniment. Producers Leiber and Stoller knew a hit when they heard one and quickly arranged the song with a simple rhythm section accompaniment.
342. “7 and 7 Is,” Love. Songwriter: Arthur Lee; #33 pop; 1966. The band Love formed in 1965 and evolved into an interesting mixture of folk and psychedelic rock. Their first single was “My Little Red Book,” a garage rock version of a Bacharach/David composition that did nothing to prepare the world for the violent assault of “7 and 7 Is.” Author Jon Savage, “Even by the standards of 1966, ‘7 and 7 Is’ was extreme. On the one hand, it was a trip back to childhood trauma – soon to be a staple concern of LSD-altered consciousness – written by Athur Lee, whom (guitarist Johnny) Echols typified as ‘a brilliant, misunderstood young boy crying to be heard.’ On the other, it took the harsh threat and bad attitude of The Rolling Stones and amplified it into an intended holocaust of rage and frustration.” Stewart Mason from the AllMusic Website, “’Seven and Seven Is’ retains its primo punk power due to both Michael Stuart’s galloping double-time drums (he plays so fast and so hard that it takes several listens to realize that the song’s actual tempo is actually fairly stately) and Arthur Lee’s career-high-point performance both as a guitarist (that reverb-heavy opening riff alone makes his case) and as a compelling singer.”
341. “These Arms of Mine,” Otis Redding. Songwriter: Otis Redding; #20 pop/#9 R&B; 1962. Steve Cropper on Otis Redding’s first recording at Stax, “The first time we saw Otis was in 1962, and he was driving a car for Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers out of Macon, Georgia. They had a moderate hit, an instrumental called ‘Love Twist,’ and they wanted to record a follow-up in Memphis with my band, Booker T. and the MG’s. I saw this big guy get out from behind the wheel and go to the back of the truck and start unloading equipment. That was Otis. We had no idea he was also a singer. We had a few minutes left at the end of the session, and Al Jackson, our drummer, said, ‘This guy with Johnny, he wants us to hear him sing.’ Booker had already left for the day, so I sat down at the piano, which I play only a little for writing. Otis said, ‘Just gimme those church things.’ We call them triplets in music. I said, ‘What key?’ He said, ‘It don’t matter.’ He started singing ‘These Arms of Mine.’ I just said, ‘Stop.’ He said, ‘What, you don’t like it?’ I said, ‘No, I love it. Just hold it right there, don’t move.’ I went running up to the control room. I said, ‘Jim Stewart, you’ve gotta come down and hear this guy’s voice. You’re gonna die.’ Cause the hairs stood up on my arm.”