1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 570 to 561
Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve played the silver ball.
570. “With a Little Help from My Friends,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #71 pop; released in 1967, peaked on the charts in 1978. “With a Little Help from My Friends” was a collaboration between John Lennon and Paul McCartney and written specifically for Ringo Starr’s limited vocal range. Lennon had an injured finger while composing the song and its working title was “Bad Finger Boogie,” a title later recycled to name the band Badfinger. It was John Lennon’s idea to start each verse with a question, but Ringo, fearing red projectiles, changed the second line from “would you throw tomatoes at me?” to “would you stand up and walk out on me?” “With a Little Help from My Friends” became a signature song for Ringo, one that helped shape his sense of community/”peace and love” persona. Joe Cocker scored a #1 U.K. pop hit in 1968 with his slow tempo, high bombast reinterpretation.
569. “Chug-A-Lug,” Roger Miller. Songwriter: Roger Miller; #9 pop/#3 country; 1964. Roger Miller became a major star in country music in 1964, hitting #1 on the charts with “Dang Me” and #3 with “Chug-A-Lug.” Both songs were also crossover Top Ten pop hits. Drinking homemade moonshine was a rite of passage for Southern boys during the 1950s and ‘60s and the more bounce to the ounce “Chug-A-Lug” takes a comic look at backyard liquor and its mind altering qualities. There’s no obvious antecedent to Miller’s phrasing/vocal hiccups. In a genre built upon traditionalism, nobody’s ever replicated his folksy, affable, quick witted originality.
568. “Lazy Sunday,” Small Faces. Songwriters: Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane; Did Not Chart; 1968. “Lazy Sunday” started as a lark, became a major U.K. pop hit, and lead to the breakup of The Small Faces. Keyboardist Ian McLagan, “When Steve came in with this it was slower. We started taking the piss out of it while he was out of the room. The ‘Root-ti-doo-ti-di-day’ thing. He laughed when he came back in and heard us. So, we cut it like that. It was a piss take!” Marriott brought his cockney accent and stage performance background to the song, which he wanted to be nothing more than an album cut. Marriott, “We were on tour in Germany, picked up ‘Melody Maker’ and this was a hit! Andrew (Loog Oldham) had released it without our knowledge. This dragged us back into poppy-land. We wanted to be known for being as good as the Claptons of this world. We wanted a tougher image. It wasn’t a fair representation of (the album) ‘Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake.’” This was the band’s seventh and last U.K. Top Ten single. Steve Marriott left the band at the end of 1968 and joined forces with Peter Frampton in Humble Pie.
567. “Catch a Wave,” Beach Boys. Songwriters: Brian Wilson, Mike Love; Did Not Chart; 1963. “Catch a Wave” was never a hit single, but appears on several Beach Boys “best of” collections, perhaps as a personal favorite of Brian Wilson. Wilson saw the record as a major step forward for the band, commenting in 1990, “‘Catch a Wave’ was more rhythmic. The guitars (Carl Wilson and David Marks) were more clean and driving as if to say they didn’t wanna stop. The piano was played by me and it was perfectly synchronized with the guitars. The three different sounds combined to make one unique sound. I was ecstatic about this.” Maureen Love, Mike Love’s sister, was a last minute addition to the recording, playing a few harp flourishes.
566. “Pinball Wizard,” The Who. Songwriter: Pete Townshend; #19 pop; 1969. The Who evolved from a teenage London band named The Detours and released their first single, 1964’s “Zoot Suit,” using the name The High Numbers. They had their breakthrough U.K. single in 1965 with The Kinks’ rip “I Can’t Explain” and quickly thereafter became viewed as one of the premier bands in rock ‘n’ roll. “Pinball Wizard” was part of the 1969 rock opera album “Tommy.” As an example of the power of the rock press in those days, Townshend developed the concept album theme of the “deaf, dumb, and blind kid” after a discussion with rock critic Nik Cohn. Townshend, “The chordal structure for the intro was inspired by (English Baroque composer) Henry Purcell, who did this very short piece called ‘Symphony Upon One Note.’ It’s very plaintive, a single bowed note runs throughout that whole piece. I found that a stunning thing to call upon while I was in the process of writing ‘Pinball Wizard.’”
565. “We Can Work It Out,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #1 pop; 1965. It is generally believed that Paul McCartney developed the title concept of “We Can Work It Out” based upon his relationship with then girlfriend Jane Asher. The song is notable for being almost equal parts Lennon and McCartney, who usually wrote individually but shared writing credits. McCartney, “I took it to John to finish it off, and we wrote the middle together. Which is nice: ‘Life is very short. There’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.’ Then it was George Harrison’s idea to put the middle into 3/4 time, like a German waltz. That came on the session, it was one of the cases of the arrangement being done on the session.” Stevie Wonder brought his clavinet to his 1971 cover of “We Can Work It Out,” resulting in a Top Twenty single.
564. “The House that Jack Built,” Aretha Franklin. Songwriters: Bobby Lance, Fran Robbins; #7 pop/#2 R&B; 1968. Jerry Wexler on recording Aretha Franklin, “We build the arrangements around Aretha’s conceptions, her musical approach, the way she winds out a song, particularly the way she accompanies herself on the piano.” “The House That Jack Built” takes its title from a centuries old British nursery rhyme and turns it into a regretful divorce number. The arrangement includes a blaring horn section and soul sister backing interjections, but Aretha commands the spotlight throughout the short, explosive number. By design or coincidence, lyrically the song sounds like a continuation of the broken romance from Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack.”
563. “Choice of Colors,” The Impressions. Songwriter: Curtis Mayfield; #21 pop/#1 R&B; 1969. Curtis Mayfield wasn’t writing music that sounded anything like James Brown during the 1960s, but both artists could target the black community with their lyrics and still crossover to pop audiences. Mayfield lays down a challenge, with the tone of a friend instead of a godfather, on “Choice of Colors,” asking his audience to reflect on their own views of racial bias and social norms. The Impressions almost walked off the set of “The Joey Bishop Show” after being told they couldn’t perform “Choice of Colors” on the program. A meeting with the show’s host change the producer’s mind on the issue. Mayfield became a solo artist in 1970 and spent the next several years exploring issues of race, class, and discrimination.
562. “This Love Starved Heart of Mine (Is Killing Me),” Marvin Gaye. Songwriters: Kay Lewis, Helen Lewis; Recorded 1967, Released 1994. Sisters Kay and Helen Lewis were a songwriting/performing sister duo who had worked in the Los Angeles jazz scene during the late 1950s, then received a recording contract with Motown. They failed to capture the airwaves as performing artists, but had several writing credits for Motown, including “This Love Starved Heart of Mine,” originally penned for Al Wilson. Marvin Gaye’s 1967 recording stayed in the vault until the 1990s for unknown corporate reasons. “Love Starved Heart” would have been treasured in the Northern soul genre had it been released in 1967. Noah Guiney, “Gaye, the song’s mad conductor, urges the band on with the sort of screams and yelps that you almost never hear in his early work. This might just be the best song ever recorded at Motown.”
561. “Walk Away Renée,” The Left Banke. Songwriters: Michael Brown, Bob Calilli, Tony Sansone; #5 pop; 1966. The Left Banke formed in New York City in 1965 with Michael Brown, a sixteen year old classically trained pianist, as the guiding force. Brown’s infatuation with the girlfriend of the band’s bassist inspired him to write the baroque pop classic “Walk Away Renee,” a song about ending pursuit of an unrequited love. Linda Ronstadt, “It became just one of those haunting songs you can’t forget. There’s the feeling when you give up on somebody and you just let it go. That song nailed that arc of emotion and the arc of how it works. I love that song.” The Left Banke had another Top Twenty hit in 1967 with “Pretty Ballerina” and, although they quickly fell of the airwaves, fans of Michael Brown speak in rapturous tones about his 1967 composition “Desiree.”