1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 590 to 581
Bright light city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire.
589. “Your Precious Love,” Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell. Songwriters: Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson; #5 pop/#2 R&B; 1967. Motown producer Johnny Bristol, “They (Ashford and Simpson) knocked me out when they came in as writers. With their material, I thought they were incredible.” Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson met in 1964 and after finding no success initially as performers, they focused on songwriting, penning the Ray Charles #1 R&B single “Let’s Go Get Stoned” in 1966. After moving to Motown, Ashford and Simpson wrote a string of hits for Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrill, with none charting higher than the seductive, finger snapping soul of “Your Precious Love.” Also, check out the stellar bass work by James Jamerson.
588. “Tell It Like It Is,” Aaron Neville. Songwriters: George Davis, Lee Diamond; #2 pop/#1 R&B; 1966. New Orleans native Aaron Neville had his first R&B hit with the rather undistinguished “Over You” in 1960, which peaked at #21. He went six years without another hit and was working as a longshoreman when he recorded “Tell It Like It Is,” a song co-written by Neville’s childhood friend George Davis who signed him to his Parlo Records label. Neville, “A lot of people come up to me and say, ‘That song got me and my wife together,’ and others say, ‘It broke me and my wife up.’ I remember guys (who’d served) in Vietnam telling’ me that record was burnin’ up over there. That time they called it a social song, but to me it was a love song.” Neville would later work with The Wild Tchoupitoulas, the Neville Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, and had his second Top Ten single twenty-five years after “Tell It Like It Is” with his 1991 cover of The Main Ingredient’s “Everybody Plays the Fool.”
587. “A Little Bit of Soap,” The Jarmels. Songwriter: Bert Berns (Bert Russell); #12 pop/#7 R&B; 1961. The Jarmels were a Richmond, Virginia based doo wop/R&B group who got their big break after opening for Ben E. King in 1960. King pitched the act, then known as The Cherokees, to several labels in New York and they became the first African American group signed to Laurie Records. The Jarmels’ only hit was “A Little Bit of Soap,” a doo wop vocal number with the unidentified lead singer comparing the effectiveness of soap on his ex-lover’s makeup in contrast with how little the suds will do for his tears. Joel Selvin, “The record would have been just another Drifters knockoff if it wasn’t for the way the lyrics seared the melody into the brain. Nathaniel Ruff’s lead vocal gave the piece the requisite urgency, and the clinking clave put the Latin under-beat into overdrive.”
586. “Let’s Work Together,” Wilbert Harrison. Songwriter: Wilbert Harrison; #32 pop; released in 1969; peaked on the charts in 1970. North Carolina native Wilbert Harrison began his recording career in 1953 with “This Woman of Mine,” a song that has the exact same melody as his 1959 signature hit “Kansas City.” Harrison recorded a twelve bar blues, marital woes number titled “Let’s Stick Together” in 1962 that failed to chart. He reshaped the lyrics as a call for society to lock arms and unify resulting in a Top 40 hit for the 1969 release “Let’s Work Together.” The song was a Top 40 hit for Canned Heat in 1970 and Bryan Ferry returned to the 1962 version for his 1976 U.K. single “Let’s Stick Together.”
585. “Viva Las Vegas,” Elvis Presley. Songwriters: Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman; #29 pop; 1964. Elvis didn’t release any Top Ten singles during 1964, the year of The Beatles. “Viva Las Vegas” was his best release of the year and it was a b-side that charted almost as high as the pushed single, his generally forgotten version of “What I’d Say.’ The song was written for the 1964 film of the same name, where Elvis and Ann-Margret’s sexual chemistry sizzles on the screen. The song represents Vegas well, in both being kitschy and captivating, while touching on subjects like easily available women and one armed bandit financial drains. “Viva Las Vegas” peaked at #15 on the U.K. pop charts after being re-released in 2007.
584. “Let Them Talk,” Little Willie John. Songwriter: Sonny Thompson; #100 pop/#11 R&B; Released in 1959, peaked on charts in 1960. Detroit product Little Willie John was known both for powerful voice and his propensity for the dark side of life. He had his first hit when “All Around the World,” also known as “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” went to #5 on the R&B charts in 1955 and had his first crossover pop hit in 1956 with his definitive version of “Fever.” With its heavy orchestration and John’s experience with pop standards, “Let Them All Talk is more pop than R&B with an open declaration of love to defeat “idle gossip” from “the devil’s workshop.” “Let Them Talk” was written by pianist Sonny Thompson who topped the R&B charts in 1948 with the instrumentals “Late Freight” and “Long Gone,” then worked with Freddie King during the early 1960s. “Let Them Talk” was also a minor R&B hit in 1974 for Texas blues singer Z.Z. Hill. (Hill, by the way, had his biggest hit in 1977 with the smile inducing title “Love Is So Good When You’re Stealing It.”)
583. “I Can’t Help Myself,” Four Tops. Songwriters: Holland/Dozier/Holland; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1966. The Four Tops were formed by Detroit high school vocalists in 1953. They recorded sporadically without success until signing with Motown a decade later and being paired with the Holland/Dozier/Holland songwriting trio. Lamont Dozier recycled the chords he used for The Supremes “Where Did Our Love Go” on this summer of ’66 #1 single. Dozier, “I had a bassline for ‘I Can’t Help Myself.’ That phrase ‘Sugar pie, honey bunch’ was something my grandfather used to say when I was a kid, and it just stayed with me and went in the song. Lots of childhood memories came back to me and I started using them as song titles.”
582. “Good Lovin’,” The Young Rascals. Songwriters: Rudy Clark, Arthur Resnick; #1 pop; 1966. The Olympics were a Los Angeles based doo wop act who hit the Top Ten in 1958 with their single “Western Movies.” They continued to record singles through 1966 and peaked at #81 on the pop charts in 1965 with their version of “Good Lovin’.” The Young Rascals changed little about the arrangement of the song with their 1966 #1 pop cover, but their performance has considerably more energy. Felix Cavaliere, “”We weren’t too pleased with our performance. It was a shock to us when it went to the top of the charts.” The band displayed their garage rock chops with their next single, the aggrieved “You Better Run,” but after that single peaked at #20, they focused on their more popular blue eyed soul sound.
581. “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine,” The Seeds. Songwriter: Sky Saxon; #41 pop; released in 1965, peaked in the charts in 1967. The angst filled “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” was the first song recorded by The Seeds and it just missed the Top 40 on the heels of “Pushin’ Too Hard.” Despite the unrequited love lyrics, Saxon creates an aura that sounds more determined than fatalistic. A few viewpoints on The Seeds punk rock ethos: author Jonny Whiteside, “They went on to spark so many careers and inform the sound of so many different bands that the impact can to this day scarcely be measured.” Lester Bangs, “For my money, The Seeds best epitomized the allure L.A. had then: There was real smog in Daryl Hooper’s organ melodica, and Sky Saxon’s Mick Jagger routine seemed somehow more convincing than, though every bit as trashy as, all of the others of the era.”