Rolling Stone Top 100 Pt. 8

  1. Van Morrison – Moondance

If you had asked me years ago who Van Morrison was, I would tell you what the average person might tell you. “Oh, you mean the guy who sings that song for weddings?” Referring, of course, to Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” which is unfortunately played for brides of all eye colors. I also used to think of him as the “other Morrison” since I like The Doors better. All of that aside, I have been a huge fan of “Moondance” since I first heard it. It is from Morrison’s third album when he was hitting his stride. In this song, Van Morrison shook things up and pushed toward a more jazzy feel. The song just founds so happy and inviting. It also leans heavily into Morrison’s mysticism and Irish poetry.

  1. Sly and the Family Stone – You Can Make It If You Try

What can I say? I’m a sucker for a positive and uplifting message. With lyrics like “You Can Make it if You Try” and “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down”, how can I not smile and feel a little better about myself? I love the way the song is sung with the band singing together and separately almost on every other line. The instrumentals really groove and I love the guitar work and rhythm. This is actually a re-written version of a Gene Allison from the late 50s. In 1969, the titular “Sly Stone” Sylvester Stewart rewrote the music to give it more funk and changed the lyrics making it almost entirely a new song. It is clear that the band is having a lot of fun with the song and that is just infectious.

  1. Public Enemy – 911 is a Joke

Public Enemy was such a great moment in rap history at a time when the genre moved on from rambling lyrics to try to actually have more of a message. A lot of their songs spoke of a culture that I was getting to know as a kid as I was exposed to Black culture in Baltimore. Even as a white kid, I was dissatisfied with our society. This song talks about how Black people cannot call 911 because poor Black neighborhoods are neglected by ambulances and city services. In a lot of ways, 911 is still a joke. A really bad joke. Bad response time aside, rising prices make ambulances a very last resort and endanger people of all races but especially people of color. The song is performed solely by Flavor Flav (without Chuck D) which makes it a bit of a rarity.

  1. The Byrds – Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go)

Most people know this song from the cover that Jimi Hendrix did a year later. While I like Hendrix’s version, I think I like this version just a bit more. Of course, this version is also a cover like a lot of songs in the fifties and sixties when everybody seemed to glom onto a song. It is faster-paced and a little more unhinged. They gave it more of a garage rock feel which I love. I love the trademark jangly guitar caused by Robert McGuinn’s custom tuning of his guitar. I also love David Crosby’s vocals that feel like he is just going all out. Everybody seemed to give this song their own spin.

  1. Janis Joplin – Piece of My Heart

Another song that is technically a cover, Janice Joplin took this one from Erma Franklin (Aretha’s older sister) although Franklin is on record of saying she did not recognize the song as the same as hers. Part of that is that the instrumentation and vocal arrangements are different. Another big part of that is Joplin’s signature wailing delivery which almost feels angry here. In fact, Joplin’s goal here was to “shout [pain] out of existence” The guitar work sounds both bluesy and psychedelic. It was her biggest success during her lifetime, later eclipsed by the posthumous release of “Me and Bobby McGee”.

  1. Patti Smith – Gloria

Another cover! This is a cover of a song by Van Morrison (remember the wedding guy?) but arguably Patti Smith made it even more famous by reinventing it. I am sensing a theme here. Patti reworked the song for the new punk rock age. She rewrote the song to mix the sacred and the profane, the religious and the sexual. Stuff that Prince, Leonard Cohen, and Madonna would do later in the 80s. I love the twangy guitar work in this. Patti’s punk rock vocals feel really good as well. The song feels right at home with bands like The Runaways or The Doors.

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