1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 390 to 381
Sweet Loretta Martin thought she was a woman.
390. “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” James Brown. Songwriters: James Brown, Betty Jean Newsome; #8 pop/#1 R&B; 1966. One time James Brown girlfriend Betty Jean Newsome was not intimidated by The Godfather of Soul. When Brown suggested that they have a child together, Betty Jean replied, “I ain’t gonna be having one of your little monkey babies.” Newsome came up with the concept of “It’s a Man’s World” and sued Brown decades later to receive a writing credit. Brown reused the chord progression from Tammi Terrill’s 1963 single “I Cried,” a song that Brown produced, to create what biographer RJ Smith described as “his plushest ballad yet; an elegy to cold comfort, a slow roll of shrieks and satin.” A strange, tormented sermon.
389. “So Much in Love,” The Tymes. Songwriters: George Williams, Bill Jackson, Roy Straigis; #1 pop/#4 R&B; 1963. The Tymes formed as a Philadelphia vocal group in 1956 and went to #1 on the pop charts seven years later with their first single, the doo wop romance number “So Much in Love.” Al “Ceasar” Berry of The Tymes, “Roy Straigis was a musical arranger for ‘So Much In Love,’ and on our early stuff Roy and Billy put the music together for us. ‘So Much In Love’ we did in a variety of ways. We did it with a jazz beat, we did it with a full orchestra, we did it with a calypso beat, and we did it uptempo. Finally, Bernie Lowe came along and said ‘let’s take out all the music and let’s just try something new.’ That’s me doing the finger-snaps on the record. They took out all the music, and I really thought that was going to be our first bomb, but we were lucky.” This streetlight serenade song was released at the right time, peaking on the charts four months before The British Invasion permanently altered the pop music landscape.
388. “At the Crossroads,” The Sir Douglas Quintet. Songwriter: Doug Sahm; Did Not Chart; 1969. A 1965 Corpus Christi pot bust ended the original version of The Sir Douglas Quintet. Frontman Doug Sahm relocated to San Francisco, perhaps finding the conservative Texas culture too stifling at that time. A reformed version of the band hit the pop charts with “Mendocino” in early 1969, resulting in an album release with the same title. The bluesy “At the Crossroads” is the quintessential Texas hippie breakup song, where Doug gets wigged out and succumbs to his free bird instincts. The lyric “You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul” is often quoted, has never been correct, but remains an admirable aspirational vibe.
387. “Porpoise Song (Theme from Head),” The Monkees. Songwriters: Gerry Goffin, Carole King; #62 pop; 1968. After The Monkees television program ended, the next major project for the band was the satirical, counterculture movie “Head.” The project was a box office bomb, despite Jack Nicholson’s presence as a writer and producer. The corresponding soundtrack was the last recording by all four band members until the 1996 “Justus” album. “Porpoise Song” is an ethereal chamber pop Goffin/King composition which has a texture more reminiscent of Pink Floyd than “Daydream Believer.” Davy Jones on the film experience, “We were pawns in something we helped create but had no control over. We should have made ‘Ghostbusters.’”
386. “Sunday Morning,” Velvet Underground. Songwriters: Lou Reed, John Cale; Did Not Chart; 1966. Producer Tom Wilson was concerned that “The Velvet Underground and Nico” album lacked a marketable single and that Nico (former model Christa Päffgen who was shoehorned into the band by Andy Warhol) didn’t have enough lead vocals. Lou Reed claimed the inspiration for “Sunday Morning” came from a Warhol request: “Andy said, ‘Why don’t you just make it a song about paranoia?’ I thought that was great so I came up with ‘Watch out, the world’s behind you, there’s always someone watching you,’ which I feel is the ultimate paranoid statement in that the world cares enough to watch you.” When it came to record the projected single, Reed made no friends in the room by insisting that he was going to sing the lead vocals. The always inventive John Cale played a celesta, an orchestral percussion instrument, providing a light tone to counterbalance Lou’s ominous vibe.
385. “Surfin’ Bird,” The Trashmen. Al Frazier, Carl White, Sonny Harris, Turner Wilson Jr.; #4 pop; 1963. Absurdity was a fundamental principle of early rock ‘n’ roll and few records have been more perplexing deranged than “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen. The Trashmen learned “Surfin’ Bird,” which is a combination of “The Bird is The Word” and “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” by The Rivingtons, from a local Minnnesota band known as The Sorenson Brothers. Having never heard the original versions, The Trashmen bashed out a comically amateurish record that was also irresistible fun. They originally took credit for writing the composition, an issue that was settled in court. How did a band from Minneapolis develop a surf sound? Guitarist Tony Andreason, “I brought every Dick Dale album I could find. We started playing a few of his songs at some of the venues and the kids had never heard anything like that. They’d start coming in surf outfits and dancing like they were on the surf board.”
384. “Born in Chicago,” The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Songwriter: Nick Gravenites; Did Not Chart; 1965. Paul Butterfield came from a wealthy Chicago family, where he both studied classical flute and was a track star while growing up. He became a fixture on the Chicago blues scene and switched from guitar to playing harmonica in the early 1960s. He released The Paul Butterfield Blues Band album in 1965, a record that featured the guitar prowess of Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. “Born in Chicago” is a song about street violence that doesn’t overstay its welcome while delivering enough instrumental breaks to demonstrate the band’s impressive firepower. Songwriter Nick Gravenites, “It was Bloomfield that talked Butterfield into doing ‘Born in Chicago.’ Butter didn’t want to do it. He just couldn’t figure it out. Michael insisted, taught them how to do it. It was a big hit for them and then they were off and running.”
383. “Get Back,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #1; 1969. “Get Back” was an attempt for the Beatles to return to their roots as a live rock ‘n’ roll band, following the lengthy studio experiments on “The White Album” and “Abbey Road.” Billy Preston was on board for the keyboard solo and the original lyrics addressed immigration issues in England, an idea that McCartney smartly rethought. McCartney, “Many people have since claimed to be the Jo Jo and they’re not, let me put that straight! I had no particular person in mind, again it was a fictional character, half man, half woman, all very ambiguous. I often left things ambiguous, I like doing that in my songs.” John Lennon’s conclusion, “A better version of ‘Lady Madonna,’ a potboiler rewrite.”
382. “Shotgun,” Jr. Walker and the All Stars. Songwriter: Autry DeWalt (Jr. Walker); #4 pop/#1 R&B; 1965. There is more supposition than verifiable facts regarding the recording of the party anthem “Shotgun,” so we’ll go with what we’ve got. It has been theorized that Barry Gordy was excited to have Jr. Walker join Motown as part of the acquisition of Harvey Fuqua’s record label, adding a legitimate R&B act to a roster defined by softer soul sounds. Gordy’s active interest in the All Stars is demonstrated by the fact that he did produce “Shotgun.” Other theories around the recording is that an unnamed vocalist didn’t appear at the session, creating the necessity for Walker to sing lead for the first time, and that the introductory shotgun sound effect blast was created by kicking an amplifier. Nelson George on “Shotgun,” “The definitive gutbucket sax instrumental of the sixties, it has the kick of a bull and the greasy feel of a pig’s feet dinner.” Clarence Clemons, “”Junior Walker and King Curtis were the two biggest influences on me. All those jazz cats were too abstract for me; Junior was more animated, and he got straight to the point. He knew it wasn’t how many notes you play but what each note says – quality, not quantity.”
381. “Voice Your Choice ,” The Radiants. Songwriters: Gerald Sims, Maurice McAlister; #51 pop/#10 R&B; 1964. The members of the Chicago vocal group The Radiants evolved from a gospel choir into secular music. Their home base becomes obvious after you hear “Voice Your Choice,” the best song the Impressions never released. Or, as noted by Andrew Hamilton, “They duplicated the Impressions’ three-part harmony and lead-switching style to perfection.” The Radiants were never able to break into the pop Top 40 and were beleaguered by frequent changes of personnel. By 1966, vocalists Maurice McAlister and Green McLauren split off to work as the duo Maurice and Mac. That duo didn’t release any hits but their 1968 Muscle Shoals recording of “You Left the Water Running” is a highly regarded Southern soul effort.