Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Modern Era: 60-41

By Andy Dougherty (@AndyDougherty10)

Ed. Note- We continue our look at the 100 Greatest Songs of the Modern Era with Part Three of our five-part series.

For Part One and Andy's methodology, click here.

For Part Two, click here.

60. Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and His Comets, 1954

Known as the first chart-topping single by a rock & roll band, ‘Rock Around the Clock’ greatly increased the genre’s popularity in the United States and announced its existence to the United Kingdom, eventually becoming the best-selling UK single of the 1950s. Danny Cedrone, who played the song’s classic guitar solo, was paid $21 for his work and died after falling and breaking his neck before it became a hit. Nonetheless, his solo influenced many of rock & roll’s greatest guitarists, including Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend and David Gilmour. History said of the song, “if rock and roll was a social and cultural revolution, then ‘Rock Around the Clock’ was its Declaration of Independence.”

59. Paper Planes by M.I.A., 2007

Alex Miller of NME remarked that ‘Paper Planes’ “sabotages any FM potential by crafting its infectious chorus around four crystal clear gunshots.” Radio stations were initially hesitant to play the politically charged song, but when it was included in the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire, it caught on and became a huge worldwide hit. The genre-smashing song has been described as a worldbeat rap ballad, alternative dance, nu world, and gangsta shoegaze. “It really is a very unlikely record to cross over,” said M.I.A., who preferred being “a little underground” and was shocked at the song’s success. Fraser McAlpine of BBC Radio 1 said, “there’s something very calm and serene about the music, and the slight mismatch in tone with the melody slaps you around the ears, demanding your attention, and forcing you to listen to the words. And when you do, and realize it’s a dead-eyed skit on ruthless business practice, it just multiplies the queasy power of the song.”

58. Anarchy in the U.K. by Sex Pistols, 1976

“This is what the beginning of a revolution sounds like: an explosion of punk-rock guitar noise and Johnny Rotten’s evil cackle,” said Rolling Stone. Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren labeled it "a call to arms to the kids who believe that rock and roll was taken away from them. It's a statement of self rule, of ultimate independence." The Sex Pistols website describes the song's influence, saying, “Now widely regarded as the definitive punk anthem, it is important to understand the impact the single had on its release and remember the subject matter. ‘Anarchy in the UK’ sounded like nothing that had come before and unleashed the Pistols to a wider audience. An audience probably more used to chart toppers like Showaddywaddy and Abba! Things would never be the same again.” The Sex Pistols’ record label dropped them after the controversial song gained popularity, to which Johnny Rotten responded, “I don’t understand it. All we’re trying to do is destroy everything.”

57. Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley, 1994

Originally a 1984 dirge by Leonard Cohen, ‘Hallelujah’ was given new life a decade later with Jeff Buckley’s unforgettable cover. TIME said Buckley treated the song “like a tiny capsule of humanity, using his voice to careen between glory and sadness, beauty and pain…it’s one of the great songs.” Singer/songwriter John Legend said it was “as near perfect as you can get. The lyrics to ‘Hallelujah’ are just incredible and the melody’s gorgeous and then there’s Jeff’s interpretation of it. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of recorded music I’ve ever heard.” The song was not released as a single until after Buckley tragically drowned in 1997, so he did not live to see the tremendous influence his song would have.

56. That’ll Be the Day by Buddy Holly, 1957

Said Frank Allen of The Searchers, “Buddy was distinctive and unmistakable, both visually and aurally…Buddy was giving us the opening the bars of ‘That’ll Be the Day’ with unbelievable expertise and on an instrument that was the equivalent of a bullet-finned ’59 Cadillac. He looked gangly and geekish with those glasses but that guitar made him unbelievably cool, and he knew how to play it. It was the revenge of the nerd. His records are almost without exception terrific. He got everything right.” Musician Richard Hawley elaborated on what made Holly and ‘That’ll Be the Day’ unique: “Before him, artists didn’t write their own songs, and he was a complete holistic entity. He produced his own music, he performed it and he also wrote it. He was a brilliant songwriter; really simple, to the point, beautifully constructed two- or three-minute pop songs. That was a benchmark for bands such as The Beatles.” Indeed, the first song The Beatles recorded, when they were still called The Quarrymen, was ‘That’ll Be the Day.’ When they changed their name to The Beatles, the move was inspired by Holly’s band, The Crickets.

55. Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes, 2003

“Jack White used an effects pedal to make his guitar sound like a bass for this howling anthem about rage and paranoia. The result was the greatest riff of the 2000s and a massive, career-changing hit that has been covered by everyone from Metallica to the University of South Alabama marching band,” said Rolling Stone. To Jack White’s delight, fans now chant the song’s main riff at sporting events around the world. “Nothing is more beautiful in music than when people embrace a melody and allow it to enter the pantheon of folk music,” White said.

54. Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks, 1967

The Herald said, “it was the perfect pop song; three minutes of sheer musical genius which is still regarded by many as the apogee of the swinging sixties single.” Many of the most esteemed rock critics, such as Robert Christgau and Stephen Thomas Erlewine, consider it to be among the most beautiful songs, if not the single most beautiful song ever written. The Independent explained its beauty, saying, “as soon as you hear the notes and the exquisite melody, you want to hear the lyrics…it is perfectly, but sparsely, arranged with piano, bass, drums and guitar and some of the best harmony singing in rock.”

53. You Really Got Me by The Kinks, 1964

This groundbreaking, blues-inspired, power-chord driven rock classic profoundly influenced the development of heavier genres such as punk rock and heavy metal. According to Rolling Stone, “Seventeen-year-old guitarist Dave Davies took a razor to the speaker cone on his amp to get the desired dirty sound for that immortal, blistering riff. ‘The song came out of a working-class environment,’ Dave recalled. ‘People fighting for something.’ A month later, the proto-heavy-metal song went straight to the top of the British charts.” Shel Talmy, the song’s producer, joked, “it doesn’t matter what you do with this, it’s a number-one song. It could have been done in waltz time and it would have been a hit.”

52. Purple Haze by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1967

‘Purple Haze’ is one of the most innovative guitar songs of all time. From Rolling Stone: “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. (The first chord of its main riff has come to be known among guitarists as the "Hendrix chord.")…[’Purple Haze’] unveiled a new guitar language charged with spiritual hunger and the poetry possible in electricity and studio technology.” Biographer David Henderson considers Hendrix’s guitar tone to be “at the razor edge of distort” and calls the sound of the outro “an uncanny piercing tone that takes off, Eastern-sounding beyond the range of the guitar.” No one had ever explored the guitar the way Hendrix did before ‘Purple Haze,’ and it is arguable that no one has surpassed his innovation since.

51. The House of the Rising Sun by The Animals, 1964

In 1964, The Animals made an indelible mark on a folk song that had been passed down for at least a century, and possibly much longer than that. Critic Dave Marsh considered their version “the first folk-rock hit…as if they’d connected the ancient tune to a live wire.” Ralph McLean of BBC agreed and said, with this “revolutionary single…the face of modern music was changed forever.” Hilton Valentine’s arpeggiated guitar introduction sets the stage for Alan Price’s memorable organ part and Eric Burdon’s raspy, soulful wailing. Valentine’s arpeggios derived from the chords Bob Dylan used in his 1962 recording of the song. Dylan said he “jumped out of his car seat” when he first heard The Animals’ rendition because he enjoyed it so much.

50. No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley & the Wailers, 1975

Originally recorded in 1974, ‘No Woman, No Cry’ gained acclaim after Bob Marley’s legendary performance of the song in 1975, and it remains the highest-ranked song that is primarily known for its live version. Marley sings a hopeful song encouraging those who live in the ghettos that conditions will improve and “everything’s gonna be alright.” The thousands of people singing along during Marley’s emotional performance help him convey his message in a way he never would be able to in the studio.

49. American Pie by Don McLean, 1971

Don McLean’s epic story of “the day the music died” centers on the plane crash that tragically killed rock & roll pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Jr. in 1959. McLean loosely references other rock stars from the 1950s and ‘60s as the saga continues. When asked to explain the meaning behind his lyrics, McLean retorted, “it means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to…long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.” He has also stated that the lyrics are “beyond analysis. They’re poetry.” McLean poetically alludes to Bob Dylan (“the jester”), Elvis Presley (“the king”) and many other notable pieces of pop culture from the 1950s and ‘60s. McLean called it “a morality song” that “summed up the world known as America.”

48. Paranoid Android by Radiohead, 1997

Inspired by The Beatles’ ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun,’ Radiohead sought to integrate disparate elements into a multifaceted, yet cohesive whole. Simon Williams of NME described the resulting song as one with “all manner of crypto-flamenco shufflings, medieval wailings, furiously wrenched guitars and ravishingly over-ambitious ideas. [‘Paranoid Android’] possesses one of the most unorthodox ‘axe’ solos known to mankind.” Craig McLean of The Sydney Morning Herald labeled it “a titanic guitar opera in three movements and 6 minutes.” OK Computer is commonly regarded as an all-time great album, and PopMatters called ‘Paranoid Android’ its “sweeping, multi-tiered centerpiece.” The song’s most compelling movement begins with Thom Yorke singing “rain down” while being backed by a somber choir. The blend between this movement’s melancholy beauty and the chaos that surrounds it molds ‘Paranoid Android’ into an extremely unusual masterpiece.

47. Oh, Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison, 1964

“A driving beat. A twanging guitar. A jarring ¾ time signature. Roy Orbison’s iconic breakthrough hit secures its classic status in the space of 10 seconds, before he’s even begun singing,” said Ben Travis of The Telegraph. Then Orbison’s voice, one of the greatest in pop music history, takes center stage. Bruce Springsteen called Orbison “the true master of the romantic apocalypse,” but he achieved the biggest hit of his career by reversing his favorite formula. The pretty woman pays him no attention until the very end, when his moment of defeat disappears as she turns to walk toward him.

46. “Heroes” by David Bowie, 1977

Rolling Stone considered “Heroes” David Bowie’s “most compassionate song ever…the song builds for six minutes, with Bowie setting his ragged, impassioned croon over a throbbing groove consisting of [Brian] Eno’s humming synths, Robert Fripp’s guitar and producer [Tony] Visconti banging on a metal ashtray that was lying around the studio. Bowie wails with crazed soul about two doomed lovers finding a moment of redemption together – just for one day.” Visconti employed an unusual system to get Bowie increasingly engaged as the song progressed. “Bowie’s performance thus grows in intensity precisely as ever more ambience infuses his delivery until, by the final verse, he has to shout just to be heard…The more Bowie shouts just to be heard, in fact, the further back in the mix Visconti's multi-latch system pushes his vocal tracks, creating a stark metaphor for the situation of Bowie's doomed lovers," said author Jay Hodgson. Bowie placed quotation marks around “Heroes” to signify that the title and majestic nature of the song were ironic, and the lovers he sang about were indeed doomed. Nonetheless, the song‘s romantic and anthemic qualities have led many to play the song as a symbol of triumph. Bowie’s 1987 performance of the song in West Berlin helped bring about the fall of the Berlin Wall, and upon Bowie’s death, the German Foreign Office tweeted “Good-bye David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes. Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall.”

45. Louie Louie by The Kingsmen, 1963

“A blast of raw guitars and half-intelligible shouting recorded for $52, the Kingsmen's cover of Richard Berry's R&B song hit Number Two in 1963 — thanks in part to supposedly pornographic lyrics that drew the attention of the FBI. The Portland, Oregon, group accidentally rendered the decidedly noncontroversial lyrics (about a sailor trying to get home to see his lady) indecipherable by crowding around a single microphone,” said Rolling Stone. While Berry’s original version was smooth and mellow, ‘Louie Louie’ became a raucous party jam. Critic Dave Marsh said, “On the line ‘Okay, let's give it to 'em right now!’: [singer Jack Ely] went for it so avidly you'd have thought he'd spotted the jugular of a lifelong enemy, so crudely that, at that instant, Ely sounds like Donald Duck on helium. And it's that faintly ridiculous air that makes the Kingsmen's record the classic that it is, especially since it's followed by a guitar solo that's just as wacky." With its party anthem status cemented by its inclusion in Animal House, ‘Louie Louie’ is now known as the most recorded rock song in history. Today there are multiple annual Louie Louie Parades, and April 11 is International Louie Louie Day.

44. In My Life by The Beatles, 1965

“The ballad reflects the serious turn The Beatles took with Rubber Soul, but specifically arose from a journalist’s challenge: Why don’t you write songs about your life? The original lyrics put Lennon on a bus in Liverpool, ‘and it was the most boring sort of 'What I Did on My Holidays Bus Trip' song,’ he said. So Lennon rewrote the lyrics, changing the song into a gorgeous reminiscence about his life before the Beatles. The distinctive "harpsichord" solo near the song's end is actually an electric piano played by Martin and sped up on tape,” said Rolling Stone. John Lennon called ‘In My Life’ his “first real, major piece of work.” The song previewed Lennon’s incredible lyrical talent, which he demonstrated prolifically in the ensuing years.

43. When Doves Cry by Prince, 1984

“After the song opens with a shredding of guitar that is far funkier and more powerful than those of his peers, ‘When Doves Cry’ settles in with a brilliant combination of keyboards and programmed drums. The fact that these are largely the only two instruments present leaves the song sounding rather sparse, and it is almost impossible to consider the fact that the song was a dance hit, even without any bassline at all. There is also a uniquely dark feel to the song, and the way in which all these elements work perfectly together is the embodiment of the genius that makes Prince such an unparalleled talent,” wrote The Daily Guru. Rolling Stone called 1984 “pop’s greatest year” and said of ‘When Doves Cry,’ “The year's biggest hit (five weeks at Number One) was also its most visionary...Vocals of cold menace and desperate abandon vie for preeminence until climatic screeches of pain carry the day. It's a song that has everything — except a bass.” Ever the nonconformist, Prince defied pop standards to reach the top of the American charts for first time with this eccentric, avant-garde pop classic, on which he played every instrument.

42. What’d I Say by Ray Charles, 1959

Ray Charles biographer Michael Lydon said, “'What'd I Say' was a monster with footprints bigger than its numbers. Daringly different, wildly sexy, and fabulously danceable, the record riveted listeners. When 'What'd I Say' came on the radio, some turned it off in disgust, but millions turned the volume up to blasting and sang 'Unnnh, unnnh, oooooh, oooooh' along with Ray and the Raelets. [It] became the life of a million parties, the spark of as many romances, and a song to date the Summer by.” Music and culture critic Nelson George said, “By breaking down the division between pulpit and bandstand, recharging blues concerns with transcendental fervor, unashamedly linking the spiritual and the sexual, Charles made pleasure (physical satisfaction) and joy (divine enlightenment) seem the same thing. By doing so he brought the realities of the Saturday-night sinner and Sunday-morning worshipper—so often one and the same—into raucous harmony.” Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye called ‘What’d I Say’ the birth of soul music. The song originated with an improvised call-and-response performance, after which dancers came up to Charles and asked him where they could buy the record. Only then did Charles go to the studio, and the rest is history.

41. Every Breath You Take by The Police, 1983

“For their biggest hit, The Police went back to basics, junking an elaborate synth part that distracted from the song's hypnotic bass line in favor of a lick that guitarist Andy Summers recorded in one live take,” said Rolling Stone. Summers stated, “Sting wrote a very good song, but there was no guitar on it…I went and stuck that lick on it, and immediately we knew we had something special.” Sting said, “the words are interesting. It sounds like a comforting love song. I didn't realize at the time how sinister it is.” The song was released in the early days of MTV and was one of the first to get heavy rotation on the channel. Once the song gained popularity at weddings, Sting’s words grew harsher: "I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it's quite the opposite.” Regardless of whether people interpret it as lovely or ominous, ‘Every Breath You Take’ has emerged as The Police’s definitive song and one of the biggest hits of all time.

1 comment :

Unknown said...

Love this series, Andy. I am rediscovering songs of my past and learning new ones! Great job.