1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 560 to 551
There’s a man who leads a life of danger.
560. “Here I Am (Take Me),” The Sweet Inspirations. Songwriters: David Porter, Isaac Hayes; Did Not Chart; 1967. The Sweet Inspirations, a gospel group that evolved from The Drinkard Singers, included Emily “Cissy” Houston (Whitney Houston’s mother) and Lee Warwick (Dionne Warwick’s mother) in their ranks. In addition to recording their own albums, The Sweet Inspirations were highly sought backing vocalists who worked with Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, and Dusty Springfield, among others. Not the Al Green hit, the bluesy “Here I Am (Take Me)” features Cissy Houston serving herself up as an offering to an unnamed party or spiritual being. For a gospel outfit, “Here I Am (Take Me)” sure sounds like it is addressing matters of the flesh.
559. “A Well Respected Man,” The Kinks. Songwriter: Ray Davies; #13 pop; 1965. Ray Davies didn’t introduce the phrase “a well respected man” into the pop music lexicon, Chuck Berry used those words with much less irony on his 1959 single “Sweet Little Rock and Roller.” This 1965 single represented a turning point in Ray’s songwriting, when he expanded his subject matter beyond traditional rock ‘n’ roll subjects for a more character driven, socially conscious worldview. The target of his withering criticism is a rich man’s son who knows by his social status that his perspiration has a more pleasant aroma than the sweat of his lesser countrymen. Ray, who was rather high strung emotionally during the 1960s, was inspired to write the song after being asked to play golf by a wealthy hotel guest at an English resort town. His reply? “I’m not gonna play fucking golf with you. I’m not gonna be your caddy so you can say you played with a pop singer.”
558. “Baby I Need Your Loving,” The Four Tops. Songwriters: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland; #11 pop/#4 R&B; 1964. Sandy Pearlman, future manager of Blue Oyster Cult, had this to say about the “Four Tops Live!” album from 1966 and their self-described “national anthem” “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Here we fine Levi (Stubbs) in full bloom; he is the Master of the Revels – dancing across the stage, leaping off into the audience with his million-foot microphone cable, amongst the people, dancing with them, reaching out to shake their hands, laughing like good old King Cole, singing always. He talks to them – begging from a position of strength, telling them to raise their ‘best voices’ and not to worry, because ‘it ain’t gonna cost you anything.’ And natural enough, they do just what he tells them. He is, you know, the Master.” “Baby I Need Your Loving” was the first million selling single for The Four Tops and a 1967 cover by Johnny Rivers was an even bigger hit, peaking at #3 on the pop charts.
557. “Out Of Sight,” James Brown. Songwriter: Ted Wright (James Brown); #24 pop/#5 R&B; 1964. James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” is frequently cited as the first funk song, but Brown developed the blueprint for funk on his 1964 single “Out of Sight.” Brown, “’Out of Sight’ was another beginning, musically and professionally. My music, and most music, changed with ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,’ but it really started on ‘Out of Sight.’ You can hear the band and me start to move in a whole other direction rhythmically. The horns, the guitars, the vocals, everything was starting to be used to establish all kinds of rhythms at once. I was trying to get every aspect of the production to contribute to the rhythmic patterns.” James Brown biographer RJ Smith, “The song stops cold at one point and Brown’s voice teasingly kick-starts the music again. He was having fun showing how in control and in the groove he was.”
556. “It Was a Very Good Year,” Frank Sinatra. Songwriter: Ervin Drake; #28 pop; 1965. Ervin Drake, “I wrote that in a hurry, within an hour, because it was what I call target writing. I was writing it for a young man named Bobby Shane, who was part of The Kingston Trio. After The Kingston Trio recorded it, there were seven or eight other recordings of it; groups like Chad and Jeremy, The Modern Folk Quartet, The Gaslight Singers, The Turtles and Lonnie Donegan.” Drake commenting on the Sinatra recording, “Someone played it to me down a telephone. It wasn’t a great phone line, but I knew I’d heard a masterpiece, and I fell in love with it, and I’ve never stopped loving it.” Wistfully comparing relationships to vintage wine, Sinatra creates a middle-aged motion picture of lovers lost on “It Was a Very Good Year.”
555. “Rock Me Baby,” B.B. King. Songwriters: B.B. King, Joe Josea (Joseph Bihari); #34 pop/#12 R&B; 1964. The history of “Rock Me Baby” originates with the 1939 Curtis Jones song “Roll Me Mama,” which contained references to being rolled “like a wagon wheel” and being rolled like the singer “ain’t got no bones.” The next year Big Bill Broonzy changed the verbiage from rollin’ to rockin’ with “Rockin’ Chair Blues,” the title of which hides the rather straightforward sexual plea. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup slowed the tempo, added rattlesnake percussion, and changed the title to “Rock Me Mama” in 1944. Despite these earlier recordings, B.B. King took the writing credit on his version of the song and the arrangement provides plenty of space for King’s sharp guitar licks. “Rock Me Baby” has been covered numerous times and was brought into the world of ‘70’s hard rock by Johnny Winter. Jimi Hendrix used B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby” as the template for his instrumental “Here He Comes (Lover Man).”
554. “Secret Agent Man,” Johnny Rivers. Songwriters: P. F. Sloan, Steve Barri; #3 pop; 1966. “Secret Agent Man” was originally written to serve as a television theme song and it was first released as an instrumental by The Ventures. Johnny Rivers, “We went in and recorded it for the show – just a verse and chorus with the little instrumental part. People started calling the radio stations, and the stations started calling the record companies saying, ‘You’ve got to put that out, it’s a big hit.’ So, we had to go back in and record it again with more lyrics, and that became the song that eventually became the hit. It wasn’t my biggest hit sales-wise, but impact- and image-wise, it’s probably my most important song. I run into great guitar players like Eddie Van Halen who go, ‘Man, it’s really great meeting you, I learned to play guitar listening to ‘Secret Agent Man.’”
553. “Let Me Pass,” Bo Diddley. Composer: Elias McDaniel (Bo Diddley); Did Not Chart; 1965. Bo Diddley seemed to live in a parallel universe during the 1960s, creating a body of work that was almost never heard outside of young British blues aficionados. Diddley had a theory on his lack of commercial success in that era: “When I started to asking about royalty checks and all this kind of stuff, my stuff started getting played less and less. I didn’t understand. After a while it looked like it was set before me so that I could plainly see it, that I was becoming a troublemaker because I started asking about royalty checks. The easiest way to shut you up was to pull your records off the airwaves.” On “Let Me Pass,” Diddely is urgently trying to find his lover, not knowing if she is purposely or accidentally out looking for trouble. Next time you need a smile, go to YouTube and check out Diddley’s performance of this song in 1965 on the “Hollywood A Go-Go” program.
552. “Sweet Home Chicago,” Magic Sam. Songwriter: Robert Johnson; Did Not Chart; 1967. Samuel Gene Maghett was raised in the Mississippi Delta, but relocated to Chicago during the 1950s. He became known for his tremolo guitar style, perfected on the West Side Chicago club scene, and released a series of singles on independent labels from 1957 to 1961. “West Side Blues,” his first album, was released in 1967 and became a critical favorite for Magic Sam’s ability to merge traditional blues into the contemporary soul sounds of the era. Magic Sam revs up the tempo on Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago,” where his cutting guitar licks sound like a more urbane Elmore James. He never had a chance to develop expand his audience beyond blues purists, dying of a heart attack in 1968 at the age of 32.
551. “Today I Sing the Blues,” Aretha Franklin. Songwriter: Curtis Lewis; #10 R&B; 1960. Aretha Franklin combined the influences of her parents into her music – her father was a celebrity evangelist and her mother was an accomplished pianist. She released a gospel album at the age of 14, but moved to secular music when she signed with Columbia Music in 1960. Already the mother of two sons before she turned sixteen, Aretha sounded more mature than her birth certificate would suggest in 1960. She had her first charting single with “Today I Sing the Blues,” which is closer to B.B. King than Sam Cooke on the R&B spectrum. John Hammond on hearing the demo for the first time, “She was the most dynamic jazz voice I’d heard since Billie Holiday.”