1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 980 to 971
Enjoy the non-gratuitous bovine reference.
980. “Blue Bayou,” Roy Orbison. Songwriters: Roy Orbison, Joe Melon; #29 pop; 1963. West Texas native Roy Orbison was signed to Sun Records in 1956, but never found fame working for Sam Phillips. He had his breakthrough hit with 1960’s “Only the Lonely (Know the Way I Feel)” and had his commercial peak from 1960 to 1964. “Blue Bayou,” a downhearted song about longing to return to a world of sailboats and sunlight, peaked at #29 in the U.S., but went Top Five in England, Australia, and Ireland. Linda Ronstadt took her from a whisper to a scream version of “Blue Bayou” to #3 in 1977.
979. “Every Beat of My Heart,” Gladys Knight & the Pips. Songwriter: Johnny Otis; #6 pop/#1 R&B; 1961. Gladys Knight was a winner on Ted Mack’s “The Original Amateur Hour” television show at the age of seven in 1952. She had her first hit nine years later with a cover of the Johnny Otis recording “Every Beat of My Heart” (Otis went Top Ten in 1958 with “Willie and Hand Jive” and was the father of Shuggie Otis). Gladys and company were competing with themselves as their biggest hit version of “Every Beat of My Heart” was recorded in 1959 and released under Vee-Jay Records, credited to The Pips, and a re-recorded version on Fury Records was getting airplay at the same time. Knight later recalled her many tours on the chitlin circuit, “No menus. No kitchens. Just a grizzly old guy selling catfish nuggets, corn fritters, or pig ear sandwiches in a corner.”
978. “Cry to Me,” Solomon Burke. Songwriter: Bert Berns; #44 pop/#5 R&B; 1962. Philadelphia native Solomon Burke received a recording contract from Apollo Records at the age of fifteen in 1955, but didn’t have a hit until covering the country song “Just Out of Reach (Of My Two Empty Arms)” in 1961. Burke returned to his gospel influenced single style on “Cry to Me,” with a lyric about comforting a spurned lover. “Cry to Me” had an impact across the pond, being covered by The Rolling Stones in 1965 and becoming one of the biggest hits for the London based garage rockers The Pretty Things later that year.
977. “Spanish Harlem,” Ben E. King. Songwriters: Jerry Leiber, Phil Spector; #10 pop/#15 R&B; 1960. Ben E. King first found success as a member of The Drifters, leaving that act due to financial disputes in 1960. During that year, Phil Spector was working as an apprentice under Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Despite Leiber’s personal dislike of Spector (“”He wore his ambition like a topcoat; it was all over him”), the pair wrote “Spanish Harlem” and the use of marimba and Spanish guitar gave the recording a unique sound. Aretha Franklin had a bigger hit with “Spanish Harlem” in 1971 using twelve musicians and backing singers, as well as the New York Philharmonic orchestra.
976. “I’ve Been Everywhere,” Hank Snow. Songwriter: Geoff Mack; #68 pop/#1 country; 1962.
Australian club singer Geoff Mack wrote “I’ve Been Everywhere” in 1959, after discovering that the names of Australian cities could make a good rhyming scheme. The song became a smash hit Down Under for the delightfully named Lucky Starr in 1962 and was quickly recalibrated for a U.S. version (the lyrics have been adapted to every possible geographic location). “I’ve Been Everywhere” was the first #1 country single for Hank Snow since 1955’s exclamatory, “Let Me Go, Lover!” Lynn Anderson had a Top Twenty country hit with her 1970 single, but the most popular U.S. version is Johnny Cash’s 1996 release. Songwriter Mack in 2012, “The English one was easy because I could almost do that without an atlas. The American one, I needed an atlas and a magnifying glass. Two hours work, and I’m still living on it 50 years later. How lucky can you get?”
975. “Sugar Mountain,” Neil Young. Songwriter: Neil Young; Did Not Chart; 1969. “Sugar Mountain” is a loss of innocence/loss of youth song that was the b-side to Neil Young’s 1969 single “The Loner.” Joni Mitchell, “In 1965 I was up in Canada, and there was a friend of mine up there who had just left a Rock’ n’ Roll band. He had just newly turned 21, and that meant in Winnipeg he was no longer allowed into his favorite hangout which is kind of a teeny-bopper club and once you’re over 21 you couldn’t get in there anymore. He wrote this song that was called “Oh to live on sugar mountain” which was a lament for his lost youth. I thought, God, you know, if we get to 21 and there’s nothing after that, that’s a pretty bleak future.”
974. “You Got What It Takes,” Marv Johnson. Songwriters: Tyran Carlo, Gwen Fuqua, Berry Gordy, Jr., Marv Johnson; #10 pop/#2 R&B; released in 1959, but peaked on charts in early 1960. Detroit native Marv Johnson was discovered by Berry Gordy and his 1959 single “Come to Me” was the first release on Tamla Records, the record label that would soon be better known as Motown. Johnson would continue to write music with Gordy and record in Motown studios during the early 1960s, but his records were issued by United Artists. Lyrically, “You Got What It Takes” describes a romantic obsession, despite the narrator’s female counterpart not having material wealth or even traditional beauty (“Nature didn’t give you such a beautiful face” may not be the world’s greatest pick up line). Johnson would have another Top Ten hit in 1960 with “I Love the Way You Love” and a U.K Top Ten hit in 1969 with “I’ll Pick a Rose for My Rose” before fading into obscurity.
973. “Cissy Strut,” The Meters. Songwriters: Art Neville, Ziggy Modeliste, Leo Nocentelli, George Porter Jr.; #23 pop/#4 R&B; 1969. New Orleans funk pioneers The Meters formed in the mid-1960s to be the house band for Allen Toussaint’s Sansu Record label. “Cissy Strut” is spare, funk instrumental, propelled by the powerful drumming of Ziggy Modeliste. Guitarist Nocentelli wrote “Cissy Strut,” which has been sampled on dozens of rap records, as a set opener for the band and Toussaint immediately recognized the song’s commercial potential. The Meters released a number of well received albums during the 1970s, as well as performing on the classic 1976 project “The Wild Tchoupitoulas.”
972. “Indian Lake,” The Cowsills. Songwriter: Tony Romeo; #10 pop; 1968. The Rhode Island family act The Cowsills started performing in 1965 and were famously the inspiration for “The Partridge Family” television series. Coincidentally, “Indian Lake” songwriter Tony Romeo also wrote The Partridge Family’s signature hit “I Think I Love You.” This Top Ten single has a vocal arrangement reminiscent of the Beach Boys and the music exudes an upbeat bubblegum/sunshine pop warmth. The Cowsills had their biggest hit with “Hair,” the title song to the 1968 musical, peaking at #2 in 1969.
971. “Treat Her Right,” Roy Head and The Traits. Songwriters: Roy Head, Gene Kurtz; #2 pop/#2 R&B; 1965. Roy Head and The Traits formed as a high school band in San Marcos, Texas in 1957 and the band had their only major pop hit with the 1965 blue eyed soul release “Treat Her Right.” Head was known for his how-did-he-do-that gymnastic dance moves and audiences who had only heard the single were surprised to discover that he wasn’t a black man. The working title for “Treat Her Right” was “Talking About a Cow,” until bassist Gene Kurtz said, “Look, make this about a girl. Get out of the country and we might sell some records!” “Treat Her Right” was Head’s only major pop hit, it was kept out of the #1 slot by The Beatles’ “Yesterday,” and he became a minor country act during the 1970s. I had the chance to see Roy Head perform “Treat Her Right” a few years ago and he still slings a microphone like a bullwhip.