1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 490 to 481
No such number, no such zone.
490. “Soothe Me,” The Sims Twins. Songwriter: Sam Cooke; #8 pop/#4 R&B; 1961. Rural Louisiana natives Bobbie and Kenny Simms relocated to Los Angeles at the age of 11 and performed with the Simms Sextet, the family gospel group. (The attentive reader will notice that the “Simms” sometimes lost an “m” on their recordings). They later worked as a duo and provided backing vocals on Sam Cooke’s 1961 hit “Cupid.” “Soothe Me” was written and produced by Sam Cooke who, according to Peter Guralnick, “coached (The Sims Twins) on their articulation, phrasing, harmony, dynamics, and pronunciation.” Ultimately, “Soothe Me” is a first rate Sam Cooke number, in the same vein as his 1964 hit “Good Times,” performed by two brothers who had superb guidance and never charted again.
489. “Return to Sender,” Elvis Presley. Songwriters: Winfield Scott, Otis Blackwell; #2 pop/#5 R&B; 1962. Otis Blackwell wrote several songs for Elvis, including “Return to Sender” for the 1962 movie “Girls! Girls! Girls!” He was often required to include Elvis on the writing credits of his material, but he figured that half a loaf was better than no bread at all. Blackwell, who never met Elvis, once said, “We had just a great thing going and I just wanted to leave it alone.” On “Return to Sender,” The King can’t connect with his lover, but displays how to sell a solid pop song without any musical or vocal bombast. It’s been said that during the ‘60s, diehard Elvis fans would address letters to imaginary Elvis addresses, just to receive a “Return to Sender” return envelope. This postal caper phenomenon happened again after the 1993 Elvis postage stamp was issued. Let’s give Blackwell the last word on how he lived his life, ”I wrote my songs, I got my money, and I boogied.”
488. “Mustang Sally,” Wilson Pickett. Songwriter: Mack Rice; #23 pop/#6 R&B; 1966. Sir Mack Rice was a member of the Detroit R&B vocal group The Falcons from 1957 to 1963 and had a #15 R&B hit with “Mustang Sally” in 1965. The original title was “Mustang Mama” and was changed at the suggestion of demo pianist Aretha Franklin. Tony Fletcher on Wilson Pickett’s definitive cover, “’Mustang Sally’ belonged to (Muscle Shoals organ player) Spooner Oldham. Oldham held a high note, then offered what he called ‘my representation of what it would sound like if I drove a Harley Davidson motorcycle through the studio.’ (Producer) Rick Hall observed that the result ‘sounded like a dog barking in a cave,’ although many a listener would presume it to be a female chorus letting out a collective ‘whoop-whoop.’” Oldham, “It was one of those days when those magical components all came together, working for the same cause, making a good record. If you’re on a session and you’re a player, you know when it’s right.”
487. “Oh Well (Part 1),” Fleetwood Mac. Songwriter: Peter Green; #55 pop; 1969. Peter Green was only twenty years old when he replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1966. The following year he formed Fleetwood Mac and scored a #1 U.K. single with the 1968 atmospheric instrumental “Albatross.” The blues licks of “Oh Well” were a complete departure from “Albatross” and this can’t sing, ain’t pretty, thin legged number peaked at #2 on the U.K. charts, surprising drummer Mick Fleetwood who bet Peter Green that the song would bomb. Green, “The best bit was Part 2 on the other side of the record. You miss the best bit, the Spanish guitar break. The first side was what we played on stage. I wanted a bit of moody guitar playing. They wanted the bit that was easy to do, that everyone knew.” The Rockers, an underappreciated Detroit band, reached #30 on the U.S. pop charts with their 1979 cover of “Oh Well.”
486. “Tell Him,” The Exciters. Songwriter: Bert Berns; #4 pop/#5 R&B; 1962. The Exciters were a pop soul vocal group that formed in Queens in 1961 and shortly thereafter started working with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. R&B artist Gil Hamilton had recorded the Bert Berns’ composition “Tell Her” in 1962, but his version went nowhere. The Leiber/Stoller produced version of “Tell Him” is equal parts urgency and sophistication, a girl group production with staccato violin riffs. Dusty Springfield stated that the song inspired her to leave the pop folk act The Springfields and start a solo career. Springfield, “The Exciters sort of got you by the throat. We first heard it briefly in New York; we were stopping in New York for the first time ever, and, I was going past a record shop…out of the blue comes blasting at you ‘I know something about love,’ and that’s it. That’s what I wanna do.”
485. “Chain of Fools,” Aretha Franklin. Songwriter: Don Covay; #2 pop/#1 R&B; 1967. There are few different schools of thought on the origin of “Chain of Fools.” One common story is that after Don Covay was asked to provide material to Jerry Wexler, Covay went back into his catalogue from his teenage gospel years and retrieved this song. Another theory is that “Chain of Fools” is a blatant ripoff of “Pains of Life,” a 1967 gospel record from an obscure Houston act named Elijah Fair & the Sensational Gladys Davis Trio. However, with no verifiable release date on the Fair single, it’s impossible to know who’s zoomin’ who. Elvis biographer Spencer Leigh has written that “Chain of Fools” was a particular favorite of The King, who loved singing “chain, chain, chain” along with the background vocalists.
484. “Don’t Forget About Me,” Barbara Lewis. Songwriters: Gerry Goffin, Carole King; #91 pop; 1966. The stirring “Don’t Forget About Me” was released after “Baby I’m Yours” and “Make Me Your Baby,” two Barbara Lewis singles that peaked at #11 on the pop charts, making its failure on the airwaves particularly inexplicable. The opening guitar licks sound like a faster version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” intro, but it quickly evolves into a sophisticated pop arrangement. The lyrics reflect a mature viewpoint of a broken relationship, where the breakup is inevitable, but respect still exists for the other party. Songwriter Carole King would revisit this theme in the early 1970s with “It’s Too Late.” Dusty Springfield released “Don’t Forget About Me” as the followup single to 1968’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and also failed to grace the Top 40 charts.
483. “I’m Your Puppet,” James & Bobby Purify. Songwriters: Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham; #6 pop/#5 R&B; 1966. Florida cousins James Purify and Robert Dickey started working together in 1965 and had immediate success with “I’m Your Puppet,” their first single. Dan Penn, “I broke out this cheap 12–string, cooked up the rhythm, Spooner got behind the piano and the magic happened. Who knows where it came from, but I was walking around singing, ‘The Puppet,’ and we cut the demo right then and there.” Manager Don Schroeder, “It was a twenty-something-hour session, ‘cause we were cutting mono. You had to get it all in one time.” Also, you had to work odd hours in Muscle Shoals. Spooner Oldham, “We had to wait till the midnight shift was over at the factory to get the horn players in to do their part.”
482. “No Expectations,” Rolling Stones. Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards; Did Not Chart; 1968. Bill Wyman discussing guitarist Brian Jones, “He formed the band. He chose the members. He named the band. He chose the music we played. He got us gigs. … he was very influential, very important, and then slowly lost it – highly intelligent – and just kind of wasted it and blew it all away.” Jones acoustic slide guitar work shapes the feeling of hopelessness the despondent blues number “No Expectations.” Mick Jagger, “We were sitting around in a circle on the floor, singing and playing, recording with open mikes. That was the last time I remember Brian really being totally involved in something that was really worth doing.” Brian Jones was fired from The Rolling Stones in June of 1969 and died less than a month afterwards.
481. “Night Train,” James Brown and His Famous Flames. Songwriters: Oscar Washington, Lewis P. Simpkins, Jimmy Forrest; #35 pop/#5 R&B 1962. The origin of “Night Train” is commonly traced back to a 1940 jazz number by Johnny Hodges titled “That’s the Blues, Old Man,” however, the similarities between that number and James Brown’s “Night Train” are tenuous at best. The main riff clearly appears in Duke Ellington’s 1946 record “Happy Go Lucky Local” and was given a slow blues treatment by Ellington’s former sideman Jimmy Forrest in 1952. Famous Flame saxophone player/bandleader J.C. Davis brought “Night Train” to James Brown and it became a showstopper for the live act. On the record, Brown shouts out a list of cities, which just happened to correspond with an upcoming tour schedule. “Night Train” was radically rearranged for the legendary 1962 “Live at the Apollo” album.