1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 850 to 841
850. “The Snake,” Al Wilson. Songwriter: Oscar Brown, Jr.; #27 pop/#32 R&B; 1968. Al Wilson performed gospel music while growing up in Mississippi, then worked in several Los Angeles R&B groups before being signed to Johnny Rivers’ Soul City Records label in 1966. Songwriter Oscar Brown, Jr. had recorded “The Snake,” a parable about placing trust in the wrong reptile, as a theatrical jazz number in 1963. Al Wilson’s much less campy version starts with jazz guitar licks similar to the opening of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night.” Seven years after its release, “The Snake” became a minor U.K. hit based upon its popularity on the Northern soul scene. Wilson had his biggest hit with the 1973 #1 pop song “Show and Tell,” but lacked the material and charisma to sustain long term success.
849. “Little Egypt (Ying-Yang),” The Coasters. Songwriters: Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller; #23 pop/#16 R&B; 1960. The Coasters formed in Los Angeles in 1955, with half of their original membership evolving from the doo wop group The Robins. Under the direction of the writing and production team of Lieber and Stoller, The Coasters released ten Top 40 singles from 1957 to 1961 as the preeminent comedic act in rock ‘n’ roll. On “Little Egypt,” the narrator takes a triple somersault leaping, cowboy tattooed dancer and turns her into an honest woman. It was the last hit for the band. The times they were a-changin’ and The Coasters weren’t an act to change with the times. Lieber, “There are only so many ‘Charlie Browns’ and ‘Yakety Yaks’ that you can do.” Stoller, “The things that now seemed exciting for us were songs that were deemed by the record companies – and by The Coasters themselves to some degree – to be too inflammatory.” Stoller then cited a song titled “Whitey,” as an example of somewhere he wanted to go artistically, but the world wasn’t ready for his vision.
848. “The Girl from Ipanema,” Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto with Astrud Gilberto. Songwriters: Antônio Carlos Jobim, Vinícius de Moraes, Norman Gimbel; #5 pop; 1964. Young men being drafted to serve in World War II created a void for musicians, allowing a sixteen year old Stan Getz to join Jack Teagarden’s band in 1943. Before that decade ended, he worked with a variety of major jazz figures to include Stan Kenton, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Lionel Hampton. During the early 1960s, Getz became a prominent figure in the bossa nova/”cool jazz” scene, winning a Grammy with his 1962 composition “Desafinado.” “The Girl from Ipanema” was a Brazilian composition that Getz recorded with a combination of the original Portuguese lyrics and English lyrics provided by Broadway lyricist Norman Gimbel. The vocals were performed by Brazilian singer/guitarist Joao Gilberto and his wife Astrud Gilberto. Astrud was not a trained singer, but her accent and sincere delivery were a perfect fit for the theme and the music. Getz, not the warmest man in the world, made this comment about his genre defining bossa nova compositions in 1979, “It’s been years since that period, but people still ask me to play those tunes and get insulted when I don’t. I try to make them understand that I ran out of gas on the damn thing.”
847. “Cloud Nine,” Temptations. Songwriters: Noman Whitfield, Barrett Strong; #6 pop/#2 R&B; 1968. Motown was experiencing major changes in 1968, to include the exodus of songwriters Holland/Dozier/Holland due to financial disputes and the firing of Temptations frontman David Ruffin. Dennis Edwards, who had been a member of The Contours, was selected to replace Ruffin. Norman Whitfield moved the act to the psychedelic soul sound and the hits just kept on coming. “Cloud Nine” sounds like a lyric about better living through street medicine, but here’s the mandatory denial statement. Dennis Edwards, “’Cloud Nine’ was a natural high. It’s like just getting out of the dumps, man, getting your life together. It didn’t mean anything about dope.” Guitarist Dennis Coffey, who began his Motown tenure with this song, “I hit a home run my first time at bat with ‘Cloud Nine,’ which went on to become an international hit for the Temptations. The success assured me a regular slot on the home team. I was now a guitarist, and the effects specialist, at Motown.”
846. “Stand By Your Man,” Tammy Wynette. Songwriters: Billy Sherrill, Tammy Wynette; #19 pop/#1 country; 1968. Wynette, “It’s unbelievable to me that a song that took me 20 minutes to write, I’ve spent 20 or 30 years defending.” With its huge sing-along chorus and anti-feminist attitude, Wynette’s vow of devotion, or what some might call servitude, became her signature song. The lyrics made Wynette sound like a terminal victim and the hardships she suffered in life, to include her marriage to a famous alcoholic and an unsolved kidnapping episode, reinforced the image. “Stand by Your Man” was written quickly in the studio with producer Billy Sherrill, not due to sublime inspiration, but because one more song was needed to complete an album. Wynette feared the record would be a hit for practical reasons, stating, “I’m going to have to hit that God-awful high note the rest of my life.” This #1 country hit also crossed over to #19 on the pop charts. Lyle Lovett covered “Stand by Your Man” in 1989, finding that spot where satire turns into insufferable preciousness.
845. “Oh, What a Night,” The Dells. Songwriters: Marvin Junior, Johnny Funches; #10 pop/#1 R&B; 1969. The Dells formed as a Chicago high school vocal group in the early 1950s and had their first R&B hit with the 1956 doo wop single “Oh, What a Nite.” They worked as a jazz harmony group in the early 1960s, serving as Dinah Washington’s regular opening act, and had their first Top 40 hit in 1968 with “There Is,” a psychedelic soul effort. They hit #10 on the pop charts in 1968 with a new version of “Stay in My Corner,” a song that had been released in 1965 and returned to the #10 slot in 1969 with a new version and new spelling of “Oh, What a Night.” Since the original song had never crossed over to pop audiences, most listeners were hearing this love song for the first time, which had been transformed from ‘50s innocence to a ‘60s sensual soul slow jam.
844. “Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop,” The Imperials. Songwriter: Bob Smith; #24 pop/#14 R&B; Released in 1595, peaked on charts in 1960. The El Capris were a local Pittsburgh R&B teen outfit who recorded a song titled “(Shimmy Shimmy) Ko Ko Wop” in 1956. The Imperials hit was a carbon copy musically of the previous song, although someone named Bob Smith took the songwriting credit – I’m guessing that could have been a pseudonym for a manager or producer. Other artists tried to capitalize on the shimmy dance craze in 1960/1961 to include Bobby Freeman’s “(I Do the) Shimmy Shimmy,” “Shimmy Like Kate” by the Olympics, and James Brown’s blatant ripoff of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” titled “Shout and Shimmy.” Once asked if he ever got tired of singing “Shimmy Shimmy,” “Little Anthony” Gourdine, who reportedly hated the song, responded by saying, “What the hell do you think?” The title phrase went international again in 2017 with “Ko Ko Bop” by the South Korean boy band Exo.
843. “Tainted Love,” Gloria Jones. Songwriter: Ed Cobb; Did Not Chart; 1965. Gloria Jones started her singing career as a member of the Cogic Singers, a Los Angeles gospel group that also included Billy Preston. Shortly after graduating high school, she was discovered by songwriter Ed Cobb, who wrote her 1965 singles “Heartbeat” and “My Bad Boy’s Coming Home.” “Tainted Love” was the b-side to “Bad Boy” and would have stayed in obscurity if not for the U.K. Northern soul scene. Almost a decade after its release, British DJ Richard Searling discovered the song on a Jones compilation album and popularized the song with his dance audience. The electronic pop band Soft Cell altered the arrangement significantly for their 1981 international hit version. Jones, on her high energy R&B track, “It didn’t feel like something that could really present my style: I was more of a torch singer. And I didn’t like the word ‘tainted.’ I felt it was vulgar and just wasn’t proper.”
842. “I’m Sticking with You,” The Velvet Underground; Did Not Chart; recorded 1969, released 1985. There are varying stories concerning 1969 The Velvet Underground recordings that were released on two albums (“V.U.” and “Another View”) in the mid-1980s. One school of thought is that the band was recording a new album and got dumped by their label in a cost cutting move; another theory is that the band was simply recording demos. “I’m Sticking with You” is a Lou Reed love song that starts with campy childlike singing performed by Maureen Tucker. After you think you’re stuck inside a bad grade school play, Lou swoops in with some of the most empathetic and moving vocals of his career. From “The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy in Music Education,” “This two and a half minute, unpretentious piece of art helps us retrace the path from sticky, stagey sentimentality through the birth of true feeling so that, by the end, we are ready to feel with Reed what it means to announce to a loved one in all sincerity one’s steadfast resolve.”
841. “Up on Cripple Creek,” The Band. Songwriter: Robbie Robertson; #25 pop; released in 1969, peaked on the charts in early 1970. The musicians who would become The Band started in 1960 as the backing unit for Arkansas turned Toronto rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins. The group was known as The Hawks for several years and gained international attention while backing Bob Dylan in the mid-1960s. Never a major singles act, The Band had their biggest pop hit with “Up on Cripple Creek,” where a drunken truck driver plays the horses and pays his respects to Little Bessie from Louisiana. Musically, “Up on Cripple Creek” was influential for adding a wah-wah pedal to a clavinet, a sound that would become a staple of mid-1970s funk music.