1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 5 to 2

Written by | August 18, 2018 3:00 am | No Comments

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5.  “ All Along the Watchtower,” Jimi Hendrix.  Songwriter: Bob Dylan; #20 pop; 1968.  Bob Dylan on the Hendrix version of “All Along the Watchtower, “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.”  Hendrix gave Dylan’s allegory of imminent doom an epic feel with his dramatic guitar solos.  Author Jeremy Allen, “All Along the Watchtower’ sounds like one of Hendrix’s own compositions, aided no doubt by one of his most elegant and soaring solos. There’s no flab, no flubs and no filler – it communicates in a language none of us can speak but we all understand. It’s mesmeric in the way it slips and slides, grunts and grinds, hollers and howls. Hendrix came across an interesting new device deployed by Frank Zappa called a wah-wah pedal, and he soon made that sound all his own, too. It’s still phenomenal when it comes on a stereo somewhere, no matter how many times you’ve heard it.” Dylan in 2015, “I actually saw Jimi Hendrix perform when he was in a band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames — something like that. And Jimi didn’t even sing. He was just the guitar player. He took some small songs of mine that nobody paid any attention to and pumped them up into the outer limits of the stratosphere and turned them all into classics. I have to thank Jimi, too. I wish he was here.”

4. “A Day in the Life,” The Beatles.  Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; Did Not Chart; 1967.  Author Nicholas Dawidoff, “’A Day in the Life’ is my idea of a perfect song. It is the epitome of The Beatles’ master building, of fitting stone upon stone, each section troweled together with such ingenuity and care that upon completion the whole thing feels seamless, a structure not built at all, but a whole that simply was. Some of Lennon’s songwriting contemporaries were lifting their lyrics from old blues or from overheard conversations in bars. That Lennon extracted his details from the daily throng of public images and then transposed them with his own everyday experiences means the song is his life. I can’t think of a popular song that references more different forms of art—photography, film, literature, architecture. In that respect, ‘A Day in the Life’ is autobiography as interior still life, a person selecting representative images to show you how he experiences the world.” George Martin, “John’s voice was the kind of thing that would send shivers down your spine. If you hear those opening chords with the guitar and piano, and then his voice comes in, ‘I heard the news today, oh boy.’ It’s just so evocative of that time. He always played his songs to me on the guitar and I would sit on a stool as he strummed. The orchestral section was Paul’s idea. We put two pieces of songs together that weren’t connected in any way. Then we had that 24-bars-of-nothing in between. I had to write a score, but in the climax, I gave each instrument different little waypoints at each bar, so they would know roughly where they should be when they were sliding up. Just so they didn’t reach the climax too quickly. With ‘A Day in the Life,’ I wondered whether we were losing our audience and I was scared. But I stopped being scared when I played it to the head of Capitol Records in America and he was gob smacked. He said, ‘That’s fantastic.’ And of course, it was.” Author Colin Fleming, “A 40-piece (orchestra) unit recorded their part – a glissando to sound like the end of a Wagnerian world – on February 10th. The classical musicians were given costume pieces – and plastic nipples – to don, thus lightening the mood, as Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Donovan, Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful and others cavorted at the session. Martin and McCartney wanted each musician to begin as quietly as possible and end at what was tantamount to a musical orgasm.” George Martin reflecting decades later, “Part of me said ‘We’re being a bit self-indulgent here.’ The other part of me said ‘It’s bloody marvelous!’”

3.   “Like A Rolling Stone,” Bob Dylan.  Songwriter: Bob Dylan; #2 pop; 1965.  After “Subterranean Homesick Blues” barely snuck into the Top 40 in 1965, “Like a Rolling Stone” was a groundbreaking six minute single that turned Dylan into a rock ‘n’ roll star. Rock critic James Gerald, “One of the most self-righteous and eloquent indictments ever committed to wax, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ filters Bob Dylan¹s indignation for pseudo-bohemian sixties scenesters through his legendary wit. If Dylan¹s first incarnation was as a protest singer, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ signals the era of Dylan as court jester/verbal assassin.” Bruce Springsteen, “The first time that I heard Bob Dylan I was in the car with my mother, and we were listening to, I think, maybe WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody kicked open the door to your mind, from ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ I knew that I was listening to the toughest voice that I had ever heard. It was lean, and it sounded somehow simultaneously young and adult, and I ran out and I bought the single. Dylan was – he was a revolutionary, man, the way that Elvis freed your body, Bob freed your mind. And he showed us that just because the music was innately physical, it did not mean that it was anti-intellect. He had the vision and the talent to expand a pop song until it contained the whole world. He invented a new way a pop singer could sound. He broke through the limitations of what a recording artist could achieve, and he changed the face of rock and roll forever and ever.” Bob Dylan in 1966, explaining how his most acclaimed song started as a poem, “It was ten pages long. It wasn’t called anything, just a rhythm thing on paper all about my steady hatred directed at some point that was honest. In the end it wasn’t hatred, it was telling someone something they didn’t know, telling them they were lucky. Revenge, that’s a better word. I had never thought of it as a song, until one day I was at the piano, and on the paper it was singing, ‘How does it feel?’ in a slow motion pace, in the utmost of slow motion.”  Organist Al Kooper on the recording session, “There was no sheet music, it was totally by ear. And it was totally disorganized, totally punk. It just happened.”  Rolling Stone magazine, “The most stunning thing about ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ is how unprecedented it was: the impressionist voltage of Dylan’s language, the intensely personal accusation in his voice (‘Ho-o-o-ow does it fe-e-e-el?’), the apocalyptic charge of Kooper’s garage-gospel organ and Mike Bloomfield’s stiletto-sharp spirals of Telecaster guitar, the defiant six-minute length of the June 16th master take. No other pop song has so thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and artistic conventions of its time, for all time.”

2.  “Gimme Shelter,” The Rolling Stones.  John Lennon may have been chanting “Give Peace a Chance” in 1969, but The Stones were realists who understood the counterculture dreams of the 1960’s were dead and buried by the end of the decade.  No longer chasing the self-actualization of “Satisfaction,” they just wanted a goddamn safe haven on “Gimme Shelter.”  Hunter S. Thompson reflecting on that era, “There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.  Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.  So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”  Mick Jagger, “Well, it’s a very rough, very violent era. The Vietnam War. Violence on the screens, pillage and burning. And Vietnam was not war as we knew it in the conventional sense. The thing about Vietnam was that it wasn’t like World War II, and it wasn’t like Korea, and it wasn’t like the Gulf War. It was a real nasty war, and people didn’t like it. People objected, and people didn’t want to fight it … That’s a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It’s apocalypse; the whole record’s like that.”  Keith Richards, “I had been sitting by the window of my friend Robert Fraser’s apartment on Mount Street in London with an acoustic guitar when suddenly the sky went completely black and an incredible monsoon came down. It was just people running about looking for shelter — that was the germ of the idea. We went further into it until it became, you know, rape and murder are ‘just a shot away.’”  Seeking a duet partner, a pregnant Merry Clayton crawled out of bed to a midnight recording session.  Author Michael Parker on her contribution, “Merry Clayton pulls off the unfathomable: She steals a song—not just a song, but one so powerful that it is routinely, rightly or not, credited with pronouncing the death of the flower-power Sixties—from Mick bloody Jagger. She opens her mouth and heart and out pours truthful, beautiful fire. When she sings her last ‘it’s just a shot away,’ her voice cracks slightly on the ‘shot,’ and on the final ‘murder,’ her highest note breaks so painfully that someone in the background—sounds like Mick to me—salutes this moment with a congratulatory ‘Woo!’”  Mick Jagger on one of the unintended legacies of the song, “It’s been used a lot to evoke natural disaster.”

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