1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 60 to 51
Can I believe the magic in your sighs?
60. “ Friday on My Mind,” The Easybeats. Songwriters: Harry Vanda, George Young; #16 pop; 1967. Aussie rockers The Easybeats had an interesting background in that all five band members were from families who had migrated to Australia from Europe. Rhythm guitarist George Young would later work as a producer and was the older brother of AC/DC members Angus and Malcolm Young. No pop song has better captured the dichotomy of nine to five work drudgery and the exhilarating anticipation of the weekend than “Friday on My Mind.” Author Chris O’Leary, “’Friday on My Mind’ was one of the last triumphs of producer Shel Talmy. A 2:45 teenage manifesto and one of a string of tough working-class pop songs in the mid-Sixties, ‘Friday on My Mind’ was loaded with hooks – the band singing guitar fills, the bassline as a factory clock – that swept out the dreariness of the working week (the E minor verses) for the liberation of the weekend (the A major chorus).” The distinctive guitar intro was inspired by a movie scene that featured a French vocal group named the Swingle Singers. Guitarist Harry Vanda, “At one point in the film, they sang a melody that went ‘tudutudutudutudu’ that made us all laugh. We transferred the melody to guitar and it became the intro to ‘Friday on My Mind.” The weekend anthem has been covered many times, most famously by David Bowie in 1973, and was voted “Best Australian Song” of all time in 2001 by the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), as determined by a panel of 100 music industry personalities.
59. “A Sunday Kind of Love,” Etta James. Songwriters: Barbara Belle, Anita Leonard, Stan Rhodes, and Louis Prima; Did Not Chart; 1960. “A Sunday Kind of Love” was penned in 1946 and was a Top Twenty single for pop singer Jo Stafford in early 1947. The song had been recorded by Louis Prima, Frankie Laine, Ella Fitzgerald, The Harptones, The Del Vikings, and Dinah Washington before James released the definitive version of this yearning romance number. Author Bonnie Stiernberg, “The vocals here are so silky smooth that it’s easy to get caught up slow-dancing to it and overlook the fact that it’s actually a sad track. James can’t seem to find the kind of love she’s singing so beautifully about, and she’s ‘on a road that leads to nowhere,’ but she sounds excellent along the way.” Music historian Amanda Petrusich, “James sings, over a spare, barely-tinkling piano melody (interrupted, on occasion, by rising swells of strings), about what she wants but can’t ever seem to get: an earnest communion that lasts long past Saturday night, ‘for all my life to have and to hold.’ James isn’t necessarily having a tough time attracting men to her bedroom, but she can’t seem to land a caring or truly unafraid partner. She knows what she wants, even (especially) as it remains just out of her reach.”
58. “Georgia on My Mind,” Ray Charles. Songwriters: Hoagy Carmichael, Stuart Gorrell; #1 pop/#3 R&B; 1960. Hoagy Carmichael wrote “Georgia on My Mind” with his college friend Stuart Gorrell in 1930 (Gorrell later became a banker and never had another songwriting credit) and the song was a Top Twenty pop hit for Native American jazz singer Mildred Bailey in 1932. Charles recorded the song, some say at the suggestion of his driver, for “The Genius Hits the Road,” a 1960 theme album about U.S. cities and states. Author Tom Breihan, “His voice is a craggy croak, tired and broken. But it’s beautiful, too. There’s sweetness and devotion in it, and he’s clearly singing about something that fills him with bliss. He’s not a showy singer, exactly, but it’s clear from the song that he’s not bound by the weariness of that voice. Late in the song, he hits a couple of dazzling falsetto notes, and stretches his syllables out, and power just crackles out of him. Charles rarely got explicitly political, but there are forces at work in this song. Charles came from Georgia, but ‘Georgia on My Mind’ isn’t a simple love letter to home. It’s complicated. The Civil Rights struggle was in full swing in 1960, and Charles’ home state was where much of that struggle was happening. If I hear a conflicted bittersweetness in Charles’ voice, in the way he lets himself sound broken-down and exhausted, I don’t think I’m imagining things.”
57. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” The Shirelles: Songwriters: Gerry Goffin, Carole King; #1 pop/#2 R&B; 1960. Journalist Joe Lynch, “For as revolutionary as the ’60s were, few songs gave voice to real life concerns of young women — especially when it came to sex. Thanks to co-writer Carole King, The Shirelles’ ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’ was the major exception to that rule. A stunningly gorgeous mix of country chords, R&B shuffle and orchestral pop flourishes, the ballad finds Shirelles leader Shirley Owens forcing her paramour to declare if he’s in love for real, or just until he gets what he wants. The lyrics contain some of the finest couplets in all of pop and the superb languor in Owens’ voice deftly conveys the sense she’s been burned before. While sex isn’t explicitly mentioned, the teens-fumbling-in-the-backseat subtext was clear.” Carole King on Gerry Goffin’s lyric, “His words expressed what so many people were feeling, but didn’t know how to say.”
56. “Shop Around,” The Miracles. Songwriters: Smokey Robinson, Berry Gordy; #2 pop/#1 R&B; 1960. Smokey Robinson penned this maternal advice number for Barrett Strong, but Berry Gordy determined it would be a better fit for The Miracles. The original version of “Shop Around” was released in Detroit, but Berry Gordy decided that the tempo was too slow and convened a 3:00 A.M. recording session for the version that went national. Author Mark Ribowsky, “That record was the turning point. It was R&B and pop for a new, young generation and upgraded Motown’s national image, both creatively and as a business nexus.” Smokey Robinson on his high pitched vocals, “I had a complex about my voice. People would confuse me with Claudette. People would go, ‘Oh, I thought you were a girl.’ I remember, one of our first hits, probably ‘Shop Around,’ I got sick and couldn’t go on stage, so Claudette sang for me. And in the middle of the songs, guys would be yelling out, ‘Sing it, Smokey!’”
55. “Save the Last Dance for Me,” The Drifters. Songwriters: Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1960. Author Christopher Hawtree, “’Save the last dance for me’: six simple words that, drawn together for a 1960 song lyric, remain as haunting as any 20th-century poetry. Although heard, and remembered, by millions, few could name the man – Doc Pomus – who, rather drunk, wrote them down late one night, on his own wedding invitation, three years after the event. He intended to tidy up the words the next day, but they caught perfectly the joyful agony of his life. Born in 1925, Pomus had childhood polio and, ever since, wore leg irons, walked on crutches and swelled to a great weight. His charm, however, brought a glamorous bride, Willi, who danced with other men at their wedding party.” Pomus biographer Alex Halberstadt, “He wrote the words to a soaring Latin melody that Mort (Shuman) had played for him that afternoon. It reminded him of a troubadour’s song. He wanted the words to sound like a poem translated into English, so he wrote long lines, loading the measures with as many syllables as they could hold.” “Save the Last Dance for Me” was rejected by several artists and was released by the Drifters as a b-side (Dick Clark corrected the issue by telling Atlantic Records that they were pushing the wrong song). Songwriter/author John Sieger, “The writing is so tight, there’s nothing really to take out. He may have labored over it, but it sounds so natural you feel like you’re eavesdropping on a worried man’s thoughts.”
54. “For What It’s Worth,” Buffalo Springfield. Songwriter: Stephen Stills; #7 pop; 1967. “For What It’s Worth” captured the turmoil of the 1960s better than any other song, the sense that American society’s traditional thinking of morality was being re-evaluated, creating more chaos than enlightenment. Stephen Stills on the inspiration, “The commercial merchants on Sunset Boulevard in a certain area decided that the element of young people on the street every night was not conducive to commercial enterprise. A bunch of kids got together on a street corner and said we aren’t moving. About three busloads of Los Angeles police showed up, who looked very much like storm troopers. … And I looked at it and said, ‘Jesus, America is in great danger.’” Journalist David Browne, “With its emphasis on Stills’ spooked voice, drummer Dewey Martin’s ominous snare drum and Neil Young’s warning-bell two-note guitar part in the verse, the track became the band’s only hit. Yet equally striking was its sound: The eerily quiet song captured the uneasy mood of the moment that extended beyond Los Angeles to Vietnam. ‘For What It’s Worth’ has transcended its origin story to become one of pop’s most-covered protest songs – a sort of ‘We Shall Overcome’ of its time, its references to police, guns and paranoia remaining continually relevant.”
53. “Purple Haze,” Jimi Hendrix. Songwriter: Jimi Hendrix; #65 pop; 1967. Author John McDermott, “Jimi was playing a small club date in London and was backstage toying with the riff of ‘Purple Haze,’ and (his manager) Chas (Chandler) heard it immediately and said, ‘Write the rest of that. That’s the next single.’ Because I think he had heard enough of Jimi, even in the two or three months that they were together, to know that that is something very special, work on that.” Rolling Stone magazine, “It is one of the unforgettable opening riffs in rock: a ferocious, stomping guitar march, scarred with fuzz and built around the dissonant ‘devil’s interval’ of the tritone. And it launched not one but two revolutions: late-Sixties psychedelia and the unprecedented genius of Jimi Hendrix. For the first time, Hendrix, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell got to show off their acrobatic onstage chemistry on record — and they somehow managed to condense it to an under-three-minute blaze of overdubbed guitar sorcery. In the closing solo, Hendrix echoed his screaming Strat with an additional shrieking guitar put through a new harmonic-manipulation device called an Octavia and played back at double speed. ‘Purple Haze’ captured the liberating rush of Day-Glo culture just in time for the Summer of Love.”
52. “Help!,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #1 pop; 1965. Some days being in the Fab Four could be a little overbearing. John Lennon on “Help!,” “The whole Beatles thing was just beyond comprehension. I was subconsciously crying out for help. The lyric is as good now as it was then. It is no different, and it makes me feel secure to know that I was that aware of myself then. I meant it. It’s real.” Rock critic Dave Marsh asserted that the supporting music was a form of therapy, “’Help!’ is bursting with vitality. (Lennon) sounds triumphant, because he’s found a group of kindred spirits who are offering the very spiritual assistance and emotional support for which he’s begging. Paul’s echoing harmonies, Ringo’s jaunty drums, the boom of George’s guitar speak to the heart of Lennon’s passion, and though they cannot cure the wound, at least they add a note of reassurance that he’s not alone with his pain.”
51. “Kick Out the Jams,” MC5. Songwriters: Michael Davis, Wayne Kramer, Fred “Sonic” Smith, Dennis Thompson, Rob Tyner; #82 pop; 1969. The MC5 debuted with a live album, seeking to redefine the entire rock ‘n’ roll ethos on the anti-establishment “Kick Out the James.” Wayne Kramer, “The message of the MC5 has always been the sense of possibilities: a new music, a new politics, a new lifestyle. People come up to me all the time and say, ‘Brother Wayne, ‘Kick Out the Jams’ changed my life.’ I usually tell them: ‘I’m sorry, I can’t change it back.’” Drummer Dennis Thompson, “Did I play any differently that night we recorded ‘Kick Out the Jams?’ Yeah, I played harder than I ever played in my life. I don’t know, it was so intense, like we’d been waiting for that moment to get recorded. We’d played so many places in the couple years prior, and worked at the Grande without much recognition at all. So inside my heart, it was like: ‘You know, finally this is it. Making a record, this is what we’ve been doing this for. This is what I dropped out of college for!’ I think I broke 10 sticks each performance, at least. I had calluses on all my fingers, and the forefingers of both hands and the index finger had blood blisters underneath them. They’d break open every time I played. And it was just raw.” Wayne Kramer on the song’s origins, “Rob (Tyner) and I wrote in the kitchen at our house near the John C Lodge Expressway in Detroit. The song came out of bandspeak. Tyner heard the expression and it fitted in with this idea of total commitment, total assault on the culture. So we used the expression to harass other bands. I couldn’t tell you which bands, because we harassed every band we played with. Well, if they were losers, we let them know that. We’d stand by the edge of the stage and holler: ‘Kick out the jams or get off the stage!’”