1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 820 to 811
Steve Winwood needs a GPS.
820. “The Nitty Gritty,” Shirley Ellis. Songwriter: Lincoln Chase; #8 pop/#4 R&B; 1963. Lincoln Chase was a New York resident of West Indies descent who penned R&B hits for The Drifters (“Such a Night”) and LaVern Baker (“Jim Dandy). Shirley Ellis had a similar heritage and Chase became her manager in the early 1960s, writing or co-writing the Top Ten pop singles “The Nitty Gritty,” “The Name Game,” and “The Clapping Song (Clap Pat Clap Slap).” When Dick Clark asked Ellis if she was surprised that “The Nitty Gritty” was a hit, her response was, “I have Lincoln Chase.” The material was lightweight pop, somewhat novelty, but had enough basis in R&B to be effective dance music. Gladys Knight & The Pips returned “The Nitty Gritty” to the Top Twenty of the pop charts in 1969 with a Norman Whitfield psychedelic soul production.
819. “Strangers in the Night,” Frank Sinatra. Songwriters: Bert Kaempfert, Charles Singleton, Eddie Snyder; #1 pop; 1966. “Strangers in the Night” was Frank Sinatra’s first #1 single in over a decade, but that didn’t mean he was happy about it. Ol’ Blue Eyes in the studio, “I don’t want to sing this, it’s a piece of shit.” A star struck Glen Campbell stared at Sinatra throughout the session, prompting the singer to ask producer Jimmy Bowen, “Who’s the fag guitarist over there?” Bystander Mitchell Torok on the session, “Electricity went through the room when he walked in with his entourage. There was a 35 piece orchestra and they jumped up and saluted. It was like God walking in.” Useless trivia: Sinatra’s outro dooby dooby doo “scat singing” resulted in animator Iwao Takamoto naming his Great Dane character Scooby Doo. Weirdest cover version – James Brown’s lounge version from 1969 sounds like a “Saturday Night Live” skit waiting to happen.
818. “Won’t Be Long,” Aretha Franklin. Songwriter: J. Leslie McFarland; #76 pop/#7 R&B; 1960. Aretha Franklin released her first album on Columbia Records in 1961, a collection of singles titled “Aretha: With the Ray Bryant Combo.” She had her third consecutive Top Ten R&B entry with “Won’t Be Long,” which is a combination of jazz, R&B, gospel, and knee shaking secular lust. Producer Chips Moman, “I’d been raving about Aretha Franklin since 1959. I loved her when she was with the Ray Bryant Combo. Tommy Cogbill and I would talk about what a real groove (the song “Won’t Be Long”) was.” Songwriter John Leslie McFarland, whose biggest writing credit was on Elvis Presley’s 1960 #1 pop hit “Stuck on You,” was known to be an incorrigible alcoholic and a hustler. Graham Vickers on McFarland’s exploits, “He had allegedly once stolen a jumbo jet, taken a mummy from a New York museum, stolen a police horse and ridden the wrong way down a one-way street, and, naked, indulged in sex with a young woman in a snowstorm in the middle of 49th Street.”
817. “I Believe I’m Gonna Make It,” Joe Tex. Songwriter: Joe Tex; #67 pop/#8 R&B; 1966. Anti-war sentiment started appearing in folk music with the escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam during 1965, as demonstrated by Phil Ochs’ “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” and Country Joe McDonald’s “Feel Like I’m Fixin To Die Rag.” However, those songs never received commercial airplay. Joe Tex wrote about Vietnam in “I Believe I’m Gonna Make It” not in the context of the morality of the war, but in his separation from his loved one. After reading a letter from his sweetheart in his foxhole, Tex is so inspired he vanquishes “two more enemies.” Tex is pining for his furlough and explaining he delayed the nuptials, because he didn’t want to make his woman a widow. The narrative of love and conflict may have come from Tex’s affinity for country music and that genre definitely impacted his music. Joe Tex, “You wanna know my secret for getting a cross-over hit? I used the same formula every time – half soul musicians, half country.”
816. “I Wanna Jump,” Ike and Tina Turner. Songwriters: Ike Turner, Tina Turner; Did Not Chart; 1969. Ike and Tina Turner toured with The Rolling Stones in 1969 and shortly thereafter started releasing material that was more hard rock than R&B. Tina Turner in 1971, “I guess way before the Stones asked us to tour with them, Ike started to get into the hard rock thing, dragging me out of bed to listen to this or that, and at 4 o’clock in the morning. Finally, he said ‘You going to have to sing it, so you may as well like it.’ So, I started to listen to rock.” “I Wanna Jump” starts with guitar licks that sound like Hendrix, then transition into a merger of R&B and hard rock with Tina screaming about her sexual frustrations. Her intensity is more than a bit scary. As David Bowie said in 1985, “Standing up there next to (Tina) was the hottest place in the universe.”
815. “Sea of Heartbreak,” Don Gibson. Songwriters: Paul Hampton, Hal David; #21 pop/#2 country; 1961. North Carolina born country artist Don Gibson could have called it quits after writing “Sweet Dreams” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” early in his career, it would be difficult for anyone to ever match those heights as a songwriter. Still, he was a successful solo artist who released Top 40 country hits from 1956 to 1979. Gibson, who also wrote “Oh, Lonesome Me,” continued his Gloomy Gus ways on “Sea of Heartbreak,” a #2 country/#21 pop hit, which Bob Dylan may have heard before writing “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” “Sea of Heartbreak” has been covered by Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash (with Bruce Springsteen), Poco, and Jimmy Buffett (with George Strait). Gibson’s final #1 country hit was 1972’s “Woman (Sensuous Woman),“ a title that makes me wish The Village People had recorded a song called “Man (Macho Man).”
814. “Can’t Find My Way Home,” Blind Faith. Songwriter: Steve Winwood; Did Not Chart; 1969. Blind Faith was a one album supergroup project that included Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker from Cream; Ric Grech of Family; and Steve Winwood from the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic. The “Blind Faith” album was viewed as so significant at the time of its release that three different reviews of the record were published in one issue of “Rolling Stone” magazine. The Steve Winwood track “Can’t Find My Way Home” has some of the lyrical folk mysticism that Led Zeppelin popularized at the time, with much less bombast. Also, noteworthy for Clapton’s then unusual acoustic, versus electric, guitar work. “Can’t Find My Way Home” has been covered by Yvonne Ellison and Joe Cocker, among others, but the 2005 Styx version deserves special mention as a previously unidentified torture device.
813. “San Quentin,” Johnny Cash. Songwriter: Johnny Cash; Did Not Chart; 1969. “Any of the guards (that) are still speaking to me, could I have a glass of water?” In the words of Cash biographer Robert Hilburn, who attended the San Quentin prison gig, “Not knowing what to expect, the convicts were startled by the venom of the song’s opening lines: ‘San Quentin/ You’ve been a living hell to me.’ The audience let loose a chilling roar of brotherhood.” You could say that Cash was making a statement on punishment versus rehabilitation on “San Quentin,” or you could argue that he was pandering to his audience. Any way you view it, the performance is an unforgettable chutzpah moment in the career of Johnny Cash, a man who was completely aware of his charisma and loved the risks that he took.
812. “People Got to Be Free,” The Rascals. Songwriters: Felix Cavaliere, Eddie Brigati; #1 pop/#14 R&B; 1968. The core unit of The Young Rascals/The Rascals had been touring members of Joey Dee’s Starliters before establishing their own band in early 1965. “People Got to Be Free,” which was considered a strong political statement at the time, was their sixth Top Ten hit and the last of their three #1 singles. Felix Cavaliere, “I was working for the Robert Kennedy campaign. The sequence of events that took place, obviously the first was Martin Luther King’s death. Second was Robert Kennedy’s assassination. There was a woman that got me involved with the whole Kennedy people. She was there when he was assassinated. I don’t think she’s ever recovered from it. The statement was just burning inside and had to come out. A very important song.”
811. “We’re Gonna Make It,” Little Milton. Songwriters: Raynard Miner, Billy Davis, Carl Smith; #25 pop/#1 R&B; 1965. Mississippi bluesman James Milton Campbell (Little Milton) was discovered by Ike Turner in 1952 and recorded for Sun Records in the early 1950s with no commercial success. Milton regularly hit the R&B charts in the 1960s and 1970s with his biggest hit, and only Top 40 single, being 1965’s poverty survival number “We’re Gonna Make It.” Unbothered by the thoughts of homelessness, welfare, and begging on the streets, Little Milton finds a relaxed groove and reassures his lover that tough times are no match for his resolve. It’s not a big leap to extend the theme from an individual struggle to a bigger cause during the civil rights era.