1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 370 to 361
369. “S.Y.S.L.J.F.M. (The Letter Song),” Joe Tex. Songwriter: Joe Tex; #39 pop/#9 R&B; 1966. Wilson Pickett scored a #13 pop hit in 1966 with the Eddie Floyd/Steve Cropper telephone romance number “634-5789 (Soulsville, USA).” A few months later, Joe Tex increased the tempo of that song for the not-as-easy-as-ABC/123 “S.Y.S.L.J.F.M. (The Letter Song).” The single may have had too much acronym alphabet soup for pop radio, but it was a hard hitting soul jam floorshaker. Peter Guralnick, “Once Joe Tex found his groove, it seemed as if he would never slip out of it. What was rarely appreciated about Joe Tex, both the man and his music, was the seriousness of purpose behind the comic mood, the intellectual and emotional depth of his art, and the evident sincerity which lay behind even the most flippant or bathetic of his messages.” “The Letter Song” was one of five consecutive Top Ten R&B hits for Tex during 1965 and 1966, marking his most consistent era of success within his primary genre.
368. “Palisades Park,” Freddy Cannon. Songwriter: Chuck Barris; #3 pop/#15 R&B; 1962. Chuck Barris found fame during the 1970s as the host of “The Gong Show,” but had his first creative success in the entertainment industry as the songwriter of “Palisades Park.” Freddy Cannon was a Boston area rock singer who first had success with the 1959 single “Tallahassee Lassie,” a song that Dick Clark helped to arrange and that was released on Swan Records, which Clark co-owned. “Palisades Park” simulates the thrill of a roller coaster ride, while Cannon dances with a new love interest and explores the tunnel of love. Freddy Cannon, “Dion was supposed to get the song ‘Palisades Park.’ Chuck Barris sent that song to Swan Records and Bernie Binnick and asked him if he knew how to reach Dion. He didn’t know, so Bernie says, ‘Well, I’ve got an artist here – let me hear the song,’ and that’s how I got it. I don’t think Dion could’ve sung that kind of song anyway. It was more my kind of record. It was too upbeat, too fast. If I don’t sing it on the shows, people throw tomatoes at me.”
367. “More Love,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Songwriter: Smokey Robinson; #23 pop; 1967. Claudette Rogers was the wife of Smokey Robinson and, as a member of The Miracles, was the first female artist to be signed to a Motown related label. She suffered through a series of emotionally draining miscarriages that made her feel like she was disappointing her husband. Smokey Robinson, “After she had a miscarriage (Claudette) would always tell me she was sorry she had let me down. I would explain that she had not let me down because she was there, she was alive; I wanted the babies, but I didn’t know them. I wrote ‘More Love’ to let her know how I felt about her.” Author Susan Whitall, “Claudette was married to the writer of some of the most romantic songs in the world. She doesn’t hesitate to name the Smokey Robinson song with the most personal meaning for her: “’More Love.’ ’Cause that’s the only one I felt that he wrote specifically for me.”
366. “I’m Blue (The Gong-Gong Song),” The Ikettes. Songwriter: Ike Turner; #19 pop/#3 R&B; 1962. The Ikettes (or, more correctly, the singers who would become the Ikettes) were first used as backing singers on the 1960 Ike and Tina Turner hit “A Fool in Love.” Sometimes a trio and sometimes a quartet, they became part of the touring act and recorded as an R&B girl group. “I’m Blue” is, quite simply, the funkiest song of the girl group era. Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, “A static sequence of stylized, transparent cells, this is Ike’s overarching masterpiece.” (In a less pretentious moment, Fagen notes that Dolores Johnson delivers a “kick ass” vocal performance). “I’m Blue” was later covered by The Sweet Inspirations, among others, and Salt-n-Pepa sampled their version for their 1994 Top Five pop hit “Shoop.”
365. “I’m Tore Down,” Freddie King. Songwriter: Sonny Thompson; #5 R&B; 1961. Freddie King’s bag of tricks included combining a thumb pick with a metal banjo finger pick to get a “steel on steel” sound unlike any of his contemporaries. Eric Clapton, “I was interested in the white rock ‘n’ rollers until I heard Freddie King and then I was over the moon. I knew that was where I belonged, finally.” King is lamenting his romantic problems on “I’m Tore Down,” but The Texas Cannonball always projected an aura of strength. Clapton saluted his idol by releasing his version of “Tore Down” in 1994 and although King passed away in 1976, he continues to be a major influence on Texas blues artists.
364. “Ruby Tuesday,” Rolling Stones. Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards; #1 pop; 1967. The Rolling Stones went back to the world of chamber/baroque pop on “Ruby Tuesday,” with Mick singing over a piano, cello, and recorder on the soft, melodic verses. It’s either strange or entirely predictable that the wistfully beautiful sentiment was inspired by a groupie. Keith Richards, “That’s one of those things – some chick you’ve broken up with. And all you’ve got left is the piano and the guitar and a pair of panties. And it’s goodbye you know. And so it just comes out of that. And after that you just build on it. It’s one of those songs that are easiest to write because you’re really right there and you really sort of mean it. And for a songwriter, hey break his heart and he’ll come up with a good song.” Mick Jagger, “That’s a wonderful song. It’s just a nice melody, really. And a lovely lyric. Neither of which I wrote, but I always enjoy singing it.”
363. “New Orleans,” Gary U.S. Bonds. Songwriters: Frank Guida, Joseph Royster; #6 pop/#5 R&B; 1960. Gary Anderson performed on Norfolk, Virginia street corners with his high school vocal group The Turks and started recording with producer Frank Guida in 1960. Bonds, “Before Frank Guida released my first record he changed my name, unbeknownst to me. Until I heard it on the radio I didn’t know that Gary ‘U.S.’ Bonds was my name. I heard Jack Holmes say it on WRAP when they first released the record. I thought somebody had stolen my record.” His first hit was “New Orleans,” a party record with a percussion sound and honking sax style that would later influence Bruce Springsteen’s music. Cover to discover: Joan Jett, who understands that rock ‘n’ roll is better when it’s messy.
362. “One More Heartache,” Marvin Gaye. Songwriters: Warren Moore, Smokey Robinson, Bobby Rogers, Marv Tarplin, Ronald White; #29 pop/#4 R&B; 1966. “One More Heartache” must be one of the darker songs in the Smokey Robinson and the Miracles catalogue, the band who wrote and performed on this 1966 Marvin Gaye single. Gaye sounds like a man having a losing battle with his demons, while Marv Tarplin’s guitar chimes like a closet Byrds fan. The music builds into a claustrophobic swirl, while Gaye pushes himself toward a breakdown. “One More Heartache” moved into the world of blues rock with covers by The Artwoods and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
361. “Things We Said Today,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; Did Not Chart; 1964. Paul McCartney, “It was a slightly nostalgic thing already, a future nostalgia. We’ll remember the things we said today sometime in the future, so the song projects itself into the future and then is nostalgic about the moment we’re living in now, which is quite a good trick.” Paul McCartney wasn’t only writing silly love songs in 1964, but also projecting about how an extended absence from his lover would impact their relationship. While the lyrics paint a positive scenario, the minor key melody suggests potential difficulties. The song was inspired by his relationship with Jane Asher, which ended in 1968. McCartney commented at that time, “We see each other, and we love each other, but it hasn’t worked out. Perhaps we’ll be childhood sweethearts and meet and get married when we’re about 70.” Of course, that didn’t happen, despite Asher’s leg up on the competition. John Lennon summarized his thoughts on “Things We Said Today” in three words: “Paul’s. Good song.”