1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 530 to 521
Berry Gordy protects the image of America’s sweetheart.
530. “Yeh Yeh,” Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. Songwriters: Rodgers Grant, Pat Patrick, Jon Hendricks; #21 pop; 1964. As a teenager, Georgie Fame (nee Clive Powell) was a backing musician for British rock stars Marty Wilde and Billy Fury. He eventually became the leader of Fury’s band, the Blue Flames. Unable to get airplay for Fame’s records, Ronan O’Rahilly, his manager, took the drastic step of starting his own offshore pirate radio station, named Radio Caroline. The gambit worked as “Yeh Yeh” became a #1 U.K. hit. The song was originally recorded as an instrumental by Latin jazz artist Mongo Santamaría in 1963, then lyrics were added by jazz scat singer Jon Hendricks. Georgie Fame, “I played it up and down the country for months before we recorded it. We were wondering what to do as a single and somebody said, ‘Why don’t you do ‘Yeh Yeh?’ and it went down well.” Fame had two more #1 U.K. singles during the 1960s and worked in Van Morrison’s band for most of the 1990s.
529. “Bring It Up,” James Brown. Songwriters: James Brown, Nat Jones; #29 pop/#7 R&B; 1967. By the time of “Bring It Up,” lyrical themes were almost an afterthought for James Brown. It was all about the groove, the beat, the horns, getting bodies to move. This Top Ten R&B hit changes the formula a bit by adding background soul sisters and the bridge goes to Motown, copping part of Martha and the Vandellas’s “Heat Wave.” Part of the excitement from this era comes from the twin percussionist attack of John “Jabo” Starks and Clyde Stubblefield. Stubblefield on joining the band in 1965, “I went on stage and there was five drum sets up there and I’m going, ‘Wow, what do you need me for?’ But when Clyde and I joined the group, we jelled together. And then he started letting the other drummers go.”
528. “Stephanie Says,” The Velvet Underground. Songwriter: Lou Reed; Did Not Chart; recorded in 1968, released in 1985. While The Velvet Underground is often thought of as “Lou Reed’s band,” John Cale had a major influence on their sound and performed the bass, viola, and celeste sections on the chamber pop song “Stephanie Says.” The lyrics empathize with a young woman who is an outcast at best and perhaps emotionally damaged. The band coos in a fashion than sounds more like folk rock than proto-punk, an evolution that caused disharmony among the band. John Cale, “There were a lot of soft songs and l didn’t want that many soft songs. l was into trying to develop these really grand orchestral bass parts, l was trying to get something big and grand and Lou was fighting against that, he wanted pretty songs.”
527. “Love Child,” Diana Ross and the Supremes. Songwriters: R. Dean Taylor, Frank Wilson, Pam Sawyer, Deke Richards; #1 pop/#2 R&B; 1968. Various combinations of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team wrote ten #1 singles for The Supremes from 1964 to 1967. After H-D-H left Motown due to financial disputes with Berry Gordy, “Love Child” and “Someday We’ll Be Together” were the Supremes only ensuing #1 hits. In the continuing Supremes drama, Cindy Birdsong had replaced Florence Ballard in 1967, Diana Ross had top billing, and the backing vocals for “Love Child” were performed Motown session singers The Adantes, perhaps to let the other Supremes know how expendable they were. Lyrically, “Love Child” was a move away from simple love songs, with a tenement slum daughter worrying about the potential hardships that may result from being an unwed mother. Gordy thought the original concept of “Love Child” was too heavy for The Supremes, then had the lyrics rewritten so the eternally innocent Diana Ross was avoiding premarital sex instead of engaging in it.
526. “Lay Lady Lay,” Bob Dylan. Songwriter: Bob Dylan; #7 pop; 1969. Bob Dylan travelled to Nashville to record his late 1960’s albums “John Wesley Harding” and “Nashville Skyline.” Dylan moved away from his standard nasal wheeze vocal sound to become a baritone crooner on the “Nashville Skyline” album, a transformation he attributed to quitting his smoking habit. “Lay Lady Lay,” Dylan’s last Top Ten pop hit, was written for the film “Midnight Cowboy,” but submitted too late for inclusion. Due to disagreements over the percussion sound, drummer Kenney Buttrey played bongos and a cowbell simultaneously. Janitor Kris Kristofferson had the honor of holding Buttrey’s instruments while he performed.
525. “He’s a Rebel,” The Crystals. Songwriter: Gene Pitney; #1 pop/#2 R&B; 1962. Connecticut born pop star Gene Pitney had an interesting career in that he didn’t participate in writing his four Top Ten singles – his two biggest hits, “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance” and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” were Hal David/Burt Bacharach compositions. However, he did write Ricky Nelson’s Top Ten hit “Hello Mary Lou” and the girl group classic “He’s a Rebel.” This ode to nonconformity was performed by Darlene Love and The Blossoms yet credited to The Crystals. La La Brooks of The Crystals, “The next thing you know we’re riding in a car, all of us girls going on a gig, and we hear: ‘He’s a rebel and he’ll never never be any good. At the end, the DJ said, ‘The Crystals, He’s a Rebel.’ We looked at each other like, ‘The Crystals? Where did that come from?’ So, we were confused.”
524. “Lodi,” Creedence Clearwater Revival. Songwriter: John Fogerty; #52 pop; 1969. John Forgerty, “’Lodi’ was just a title for a long time. The inspiration was those trips with my dad to those small towns in central California, a place that I felt very warm and special about. I had already started to transfer my feelings about that place to the mythical Louisiana swamps I’d been writing about. It was also childhood. I was moving place and moving time, going back to when I felt really special and good and homey. Somehow I got the idea of a traveling musician, probably a country guy, but older. A guy whose career is in the rearview mirror. The kicker is, ‘Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi… again!’ That ‘Oh Lord’ tells you how he feels. I was twenty-three writing this song, a very young man who’d just had a million-selling single all over the radio. That has nothing to do with the well you are drawing from when doing your craft. On ‘Lodi,’ I saw a much older person than I was, ‘cause it is sort of a tragic telling. A guy is stuck in a place where people really don’t appreciate him. Since I was at the beginning of a good career, I was hoping that that wouldn’t happen to me.”
523. “Slip Away,” Clarence Carter. Songwriters: William Armstrong, Marcus Daniel, Wilbur Terrell; #6 pop/#2 R&B; 1968. Blind Alabama native Clarence Carter started performing as a duo with his friend Calvin Scott during the early 1960s, billed most functionally as Clarence & Calvin. Calvin Scott was seriously injured in a car accident in 1966 and Carter started his solo career. His first major hit was 1968’s “Slip Away,” a soulful plea for an intimate experience with a taken woman. Carter on the recording, “Muscle Shoals was a dry county. We couldn’t drink beer, so instead we concentrated on making music. I had this idea for lyrics and a guitar lick that I’d been keeping in the back of my head. When we got to the studio it came together right away.”
522. “Oh Death,” Dock Boggs. Songwriter: Traditional; Did Not Chart; 1964. West Virginia banjo player Dock Boggs spent most of his life not working as a musician, but as a coal miner. Born in 1898, he learned songs from his musical family and from local African-American musicians. Boggs made his first recordings during the 1920s and spent the next few decades in the mine. Musically, he often used a lower D-modal tuning, which made his music sound darker in tone than his contemporaries. After being rediscovered during the folk revival of the early 1960s, he recorded three albums for Folkways Records. The traditional “Oh Death” was first recorded by the African American gospel group The Pace Jubilee Singers in 1927. The 1964 folk gothic Dock Boggs cover is a bleak mixture of traditional blues and Appalachian music. Country pioneer Ralph Stanley brought this Grim Reaper sidestep request to a broader audience in the 2000 film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
521. “Stop,” Howard Tate. Songwriters: Jerry Ragovoy, Mort Shuman: #76 pop/#15 R&B; 1968. Howard Tate started his performing career in a 1950’s Philadelphia doo wop act and worked as the vocalist for Bill Doggett in the early 1960s. He had his first chart success in 1966 with the #12 R&B hit “Ain’t Nobody Home” and his 1966 album cut “Get It While You Can” was covered by Janis Joplin on her 1970 album “Pearl.” “Stop” sounds like prime Stax soul and deserved a bigger audience, but Tate being signed to Verve Records, a jazz label, didn’t do him any favors in the marketplace. An instrumental version of “Stop” is one of the highlights of the 1969 “Super Session” album, an ad hoc collaboration by Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, and Stephen Stills.