Posts Tagged ‘Music’

Rolling Stone Top 100 Project Pt. 15

May 23, 2022

84. James Taylor – Fire and Rain

In general, this has never really been my kind of music. Taylor is a bit too soft but I recognize his musical talent. I was obsessed with a punk cover of this song when I was a teen. I like the composition of it and Taylor’s guitar work is impeccable. I also always really liked the symbolism of this song. Fire and rain are such good terms for the bad times. Bad times are not all one thing. Sometimes they are the dreary and unrelenting drenching rain that freezes you deep so you think you will never be warm again. Sometimes they burn hot with a more sudden and immediate pain that leaves a scar forever. The song details the trials and tribulations in Taylor’s life and how he overcame them including the suicide of a dear friend, drug addiction, and the depression that came with fame and fortune.

85. Black Sabbath – War Pigs

It is hard to think of Black Sabbath without Ozzy Ozbourne and for sure Ronny James Dio had a lot of hits as their lead singer. However, this is the song that I keep coming back to when I think of the band. When I was a teenager, I was struggling to figure out my own philosophies. I had long discussions with a teacher about being anti-war. It really helped that Black Sabbath was teaching me about these corporate and political greedy pigs who do not care whether we live or die. It was during a time when I was embracing heavy metal and politics. I still had a long way to go but this helped. Aside from the lyrics, the driving guitar lives rent-free in my head forever. The driving beat just makes this sound like a very epic anthem.

86. Tupac – Hit ‘Em Up

This one is kind of sad as it was a diss track written by Tupac and his crew when they were sure that Biggie Smalls had ordered the hit that put Tupac in the hospital. Tupac thought this because Biggie had released a song called “Who Shot Ya?” right after the incident. It ended up being James Rosemond but Biggie and Tupac’s friendship was already shattered. Still, this is one of my all-time favorite rap songs. Tupac’s flow and lyrics are on point and just go together so well. Part of that is also the backing track which includes a great bass line provided by a sample of Dennis Edwards formerly of The Temptations. This track goes hard and is a bit shocking not only in how violent the threats are but also the believability of those threats being carried out.

87. Gram Parsons – Streets of Baltimore

My first reaction to this artist is “who?” because, although the name was vaguely familiar, I could not place it. Then I realized I was thinking of The Alan Parsons Project. This parsons is a country musician so it makes sense that I was not really familiar with his work. So, I started cruising YouTube to see what I could see, and low and behold, he wrote a song about my beloved Baltimore and I actually kind of recognize it. I am truly a sucker for any time that anybody mentions my hometown and current base of operations. The song is very catchy and speaks of Gram’s lover wanting him to take her to Baltimore City. One of the reasons that this song is familiar is that it has been heavily covered since Bobby Bare first sang it.

88. Miles Davis – Burn

Miles Davis had a long and influential career where he schooled the world on just how much a trumpet could do. He was a jazz musician but, like musicians, in his later years, he adapted and evolved. This track is absolutely an example of that as he played jazz fusion live on stage for charity. That guitarist? That is the legendary Carlos Santana. The fusion of jazz and rock definitely earns the name “Burn”. Davis was a true musical genius and everything he did shows that.

89. The Yardbirds – Over, Under, Sideways, Down

This is a band that I always recognize but I can never remember any of their songs even though they are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was an absolute supergroup of musicians. This incarnation was led by Jeff Beck (later to be replaced by Jimmy Page) and his guitar work is excellent. The squealing riff he came up with is so unique and catchy. As are vocals by Keth Reif who uses a dark, deep voice kind of like a rockabilly Jim Morrison here. Steady drums by Jim McCarty who is the only one still in the band after all of these decades. This was written during a time when a lot of rock and roll was still heavily influenced by the blues and it shows. 


Rolling Stone Top 100 Pt. 13

March 21, 2022

72. AC/DC  – Highway to Hell

There were a heck of a lot of songs to choose from because AC/DC is one of my favorite bands. Almost all of their tracks are loud, crazy, and lewd. Teenage me used to listen to their greatest hits on repeat as I sat and ate breakfast in the cafeteria. I thought about picking something from their underrated 2000 album which had a grittier feel but I had to go with a classic. Having undiagnosed anxiety, I often needed to get fired up for social situations. This was a song I often heard on the radio as I headed to rehearsals for theater or when I was heading somewhere I did not want to be (but only because of bad brain). The song helped me get fired up and took my mind off of the awful feeling in my stomach. The great guitar licks and that classic high-pitched ode to Satan were always a comfort in bad times.

73. Radiohead – Creep

I kind of missed the boat on Radiohead. I definitely remember being in summer camp when they were really hitting it big. I was in summer camp when people were raving about them but I guess they never caught on with me. Later, I started to hear this song and I liked it. It is the only  Radiohead song that I could name to this day. I wonder now why this song, in particular, did not get ingrained in my head. It was perfectly suited for the gothy/grungy teen that I was. I was always down on myself and the lyrics of the song would have resonated. Maybe it was too slow for teenage me. It is a fun song to sing along to when it pops up on the radio.

74. Hank Williams – Jambalaya (On the Bayou)

I actually first heard this song during my freshman year in college as it was one of many Hank Williams songs that I played during the preshow of Bus Stop. This is by far the one that I would love to sing along with sitting alone in my sound booth. I feel like Williams is at his most playful here both with its vocals and instrumentation. The lyrics are boisterous and really fit the energy of inviting people to a party and having a good time. The song was written based on Williams’ listening to Cajun speech patterns. It tells a little story and makes me imagine a great spread of food too.

75. The Eagles – Take It Easy

This is a chill yet upbeat song that I fell in love with during the summer that I worked with the circus. On rough days it would remind me to calm down and just soldier on. The song would pop up on the radio when I needed those chill vibes. The Eagles is a great band to sing along to on the radio and one that I always come back to. The song was originally supposed to be a track on Jackson Browne’s debut album but he was struggling to finish writing it. He turned to Eagles member Glenn Frey who helped him finish it. It became a track on the Eagles debut album instead. I really love the verses in particular which have a winding way of rhyming and some of those rhymes take a moment to catch up in my mind.

76. The Shirelles – Mama Said

Another song that you have probably heard over and over again in movies, television, and commercials. It was a big hit when the Shirelles originally performed it and it set off a cascade of covers and songs that were inspired by it. This is a great song from a great girl group and their harmony is so on point. The thing is, the lyrics are so true. My mother did warn me about bad days and was there to support me. Life can suck sometimes but hopefully the storm clouds part at some point and the troubles subside. 

77. Beastie Boys – No Sleep Till Brooklyn

The Beastie Boys were the perfect gateway into the world of rap for me. A trio of white and nerdy goofballs who scream rapped their songs was right up my alley. They kind of settled in a space between hard rock and rap which really resonated with me. I remember a period of time when there were a million AMVs set to Beastie Boys songs on programs like Kazaa and Napster. This song is about how tough it is to tour but the band’s determination to make it back to their home base of Brooklyn. The rhymes are as playful as ever but I always loved the defiant refrain which is really fun to sing along to. The epic guitar riffs actually come from Kerry King, guitarist for Slayer.

Rolling Stone Top 100 pt. 11

February 21, 2022

60. Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen

There is not much to choose from since the Sex Pistols only produced one official studio album. Of course, every song they put out was great. I chose this one because it is a huge middle finger to authority in the devil-may-care style of the Sex Pistols. The song is messy but still pleasing to the ar. My favorite story about this song is that it was banned from radio play because the British love their monarchy more than their people. The band was not to be deterred and decided to put on a concert on a boat in the Thames River so that London could hear the tune. The London police raided the concert but only managed to arrest the band’s manager and entourage while the Pistols managed to slip away and avoided capture.

  1. Metallica – Of Wolf and Man

One of my favorite songs ever for obvious reasons. As is plainly visible, I have an affinity for the wolf for many reasons. This song captures the strength and the cunning and the danger of the wolf. It is a spirit that I try to summon when I am feeling anxious or undeserving. Nothing tops James Hetfield’s growly voice. There is a reason that he is a legend. Couple that with the excellent guitar from Kirk Hammett, drums from Lars Ulrich, and bass guitar from Jason Newsted. This was my favorite lineup of the band at the height of its power. Apparently, their manager thought the song was silly at first not understanding that symbolism is where Heavy Metal really shines.

  1. Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi

Joni has gotten back into the news again lately because of her stand against Spotify and the known racist Joe Rogan. Joni was a legend who was offered to join the now legendary Woodstock festival, was unable to attend, but still wrote a song that described it perfectly. However, this song is her big hit, and for good reason. She was truly ahead of her time by delivering an environmental and anti-development stance. Her line “paved paradise to put up a parking lot” still rings so true, unfortunately. The song was written in Hawaii which has a history of destruction by white developers. The song itself has such a pleasing melody as well.

  1. Tina Turner – The Best

I feel like everybody within the sound of a radio, television, or movie theater has heard this song since it has been used commercially so many times. It is hard to match the bombastic, louder-than-the-world style and voice of Tina Turner. Her voice is defiant and her instrumentation always matches her well. This is a cover from Bonnie Tyler the year before. The two artists have similar styles but Turner gives her version more soul and more force. Turner also did not just cover the song, she approached the songwriter Holly Knight and had her alter it to suit her desires.

  1. Etta James – Tell Mama

Apparently, Ms. James herself did not really care for this song and often left it out of her sets because she did not see herself as “the Great Earth Mother, the gal you come to for comfort and easy sex.” Regardless, she did credit the song for reviving her career at a critical time and thanked her producer Rick Hall for convincing her to do the song.

  1. The Kinks – Father Christmas

I did not expect to see a holiday song at all on this list but here we are two-thirds through and we landed on probably one of my favorite songs to listen to around Christmas. It is probably The Kinks’ most punk song and one my mom kind of disapproved of two years ago. The song talks about how gifts are great for the rich but what the poor need is cash and jobs. In our system, cash equals freedom. The music itself is a lot of fun as Ray Davies snarls an anti-class message. Dave Davies’ guitar is especially great here.

Rolling Stone Top 100 Pt. 10

February 7, 2022
  1. Howlin’ Wolf – I Ain’t Superstitious

Another blues legend, this is the epitome of Chicago blues in the late sixties. The song was written by bluesman Willie Dixon and first performed by Howlin’ Wolf himself. Many would cover it but nobody could top the original. The music has that classic blues rhythm that is parodied over and over because it is accurate. Something just feels good hearing a blues band tramp its way through a blue song. There is something comforting to hear the creaking, tired voice of an old bluesman. I also used to be obsessed with bad luck and the various talismans of good and bad luck so I am a sucker for that subject matter.

  1. Eric Clapton – Cocaine

Clapton’s vaccine idiocy aside, he is a very well-regarded musician for a reason and there are plenty of problematic people on this list already. Clapton has made a living being a white blues guy and has done well with it. This song is a cover from the version written by JJ Cale that was released the year before. Clapton intended the song to be an anti-drug song however it ended up being a bit too ambiguous. I really like how the song sounds like the audio version of a bad cocaine bender. It sounds like the lights are too bright and things are a bit too loud. The twangy and discordant sounds of Clapton’s singing and the stumbling little rhythm really sell it. It feels like there is some distortion on everything, making everything feel off but groovy.

  1. Dr. Dre – Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang

One of the quintessential rap songs of a period when the genre was absolutely exploding. Dre was just debuting the first album of his solo career long before he quit to make headphones. Putting together an album without NWA must have been quite an experience. The track pairs up Death Row stablemates Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg who would go on to be legends of rap music. The two have very complementary styles. Dre is more forceful while Snoop is more lackadaisical. It puts the energy right in the middle in a comfortable spot. The track samples Leon Haywood’s I Wanna Do Something Freaky To You from 1975. It adds the perfect backing track for a chill rap song like this one. It is also not overproduced.

  1. Grateful Dead – Truckin’

The Dead was always just there when I was growing up until the very vivid memory I had of Jerry Garcia’s death. A friend of mine must have grown up with some hippie parents because he mourned hardcore. The seniors ahead of me in Stage Crew also used to use the term “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been” a lot and it took me a bit to figure that one out. This is another song I associate with driving (for obvious reasons). It is such an easy song to listen to and fall in love with. The song speaks of the United States and everywhere a car might go and how much love for the land and the people there is. The song is a rock and blues fusion and the band called it a “catchy shuffle” which is a great description.

  1. Parliament Funkadelic – Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)

I was absolutely obsessed with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic at some point and in particular, I loved this song. Psychodelic Funk or ‘P Funk” is such a rich soundscape in every song. You have George Clinton’s gravelly baritone joined by the higher-pitched chorus coming in and then there is the mid-range voice coming in. It all mixes together so well. Like a lot of P Funk, the song mixes together jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, and so much more into a fun swirling maelstrom. It feels like a funkier version of Sly and the Family Stone or WAR. There is a reason that George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and the company were known as the best in the business and a reason why this song is considered the best of the genre.

  1. Aerosmith – Walk This Way

One of the first albums I bought with my own money was the Greatest Hits. I still remember the clerk at the record store telling me to ‘play it loud’. Aerosmith has never been one of my favorite bands but I am never sad to hear them come up on the radio regardless of what song is playing. Aerosmith is one of those bands that is such a cartoon that is impossible not to smile. Steven Tyler especially has such a distinctive and weird presence to him. His high-pitched screaming is on clear display here backed by some fun guitar work. The guitar riff is particularly good.

Rolling Stone Top 100 Pt. 9

January 24, 2022
  1. Run DMC – King of Rock

Run DMC had a pretty distinctive style that I would describe as bombastic and forceful. While some rappers embrace the harmonies of their poetry, Run DMC deliver their rhymes like slam poets, making you hear every single word. Probably more than most groups, they helped to bridge the gap between rap and rock and therefore the mainstream. The blending of the two is commonplace now but they collaborated with Aerosmith and the WWF. In fact, this song was later remixed for the WWF stable D Generation X. I love the beginning of this song as the MCs trade words. The rest of the song hits hard as a great brag and boast rap song. The guitar and drums add a great background that does not distract from the great rhymes.

  1. Elton John – I’m Still Standing

This has become a very personal song for me. In my life, I have suffered from anxiety and depression but I am still here and this song has always given me the strength to carry on and has allowed me to reflect on the good things. Part of it is how joyful Elton sounds as he sings instead of being angry and spiteful. We should cut away the bad parts of our lives with joy and not dwell in anger (if we can). The music video is a must-see. It is such a bouncy and fun song with great lyrics. I am happy to see the song getting more love in pop culture lately sung by Taron Egerton in both Rocketman and Sing. Still, Elton John is always best at this song and nothing can top his energy.

  1. The Band – Up On Cripple Creek

They did not have the most descriptive name but The Band definitely inspired a lot of other bands. This song definitely scratches that Southern Rock itch that I was born with. It also feels a bit like Hank Williams. I am always amazed at bands that have the drummer as the lead vocalist because I played drums and it took all of my concentration just to hit the right beats. The song feels really comfortable, talking about having a good time on vacation from the hard work of being a truck driver. I like how the lyrics wind and turn. Interestingly, one of the verses has the characters in the song commenting on Spike Jones, another great musician. I like when bands do that, paying tribute to other great acts.

  1. Pink Floyd – Money

I am not the biggest fan of Pink Floyd which I think is fair because their experimental sound made them kind of a polarizing group. I may not have liked their slower or more out there songs but the band was always interesting no matter what they were doing. This song is my favorite mainly for its rhythm which is immediately set up by the sound of a cash register and other sound effects used like an instrument before a guitar takes over. I also really love the lyrics as an anti-capitalist. “Money is a crime” resonated so much with me at a very formative time in my political evolution. The song was the band’s exploration of their own feelings about socialism which they ultimately rejected in favor of honestly pursuing a material life.

  1. Queen – Killer Queen

There was one point in high school when I was listening to a lot of Queen. Like many people of my generation, I was formally introduced to the band through the movie Wayne’s World. Greatest Hits was one of the first albums I ever bought with my own money saved from doing chores. I used to listen to that album a lot in the hallways at school and I fell in love with every single song. However, while friends might borrow the album to recreate the Wayne’s World scene, my favorite was always Killer Queen. I fell in love with the playful dynamics in Freddy’s vocals and the bouncy instrumentals. I also loved the description of this woman in the song and I liked imagining what she might be like.

  1. The Allman Brothers Band – Ramblin’ Man

This is a song that I have heard on the radio at least a thousand times in my lifetime and it never gets old. I can recognize it immediately from that initial guitar riff. From there the rhythm picks up and never slows down. It is a perfect driving song that just so happens to be about traveling. It is that romantic view of the drifter, the man who never stays in one place for too long. The guitar work is just so great and feels like sunshine. It is all the more impressive knowing that guitarist Dickie Betts is both playing and singing lead vocals at the same time. Lyrics that sound a bit like an American folktale. Just an all-over good song.

Rolling Stone Top 100 Pt. 6

December 13, 2021
  1. The Who – Behind the Blue Eyes

I definitely went through a period where I was obsessed with this band. When I was an angsty teen, this was absolutely my jam. It made me feel things. This was during a time where I would have claimed that Squeeze Box was my favorite The Who song. As I started to come to grips with my anger management problems, I often clung to this song and tried to reassure myself that I was still a good person. Those were dark days, years really. I really like the shift between the soft and growling vocals and the instrumentation is, as always, top-notch. At some point, I really fell in love with songs that start slow and simple and then break out into full gear shortly after. This is the first such song that really took hold of me.

  1. Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

I was definitely a huge fan of Nirvana and was at just the right age to be absolutely devastated by the death of Kurt Cobain. I really love most of their songs so it feels kind of weird that my favorite is the one intentionally made to be different from their usual. Cobain intended the song to be a pop song and in his words, he was trying to “rip off The Pixies”. Cobain brought the vocal melody and the guitar riff to the band. Bassist Krist Novoselic said it was “ridiculous” and Cobain made the band play it for an hour and a half almost as a punishment. As a result, the band worked together and it was one of the few songs to have the writing credited to all three members. The vague mumbling lyrics somehow speak of what it feels like to be a teenager. It was all three members firing on all cylinders.

  1. Johnny Cash – I Walk the Line

Another musician that I instantly loved from the very first song which makes choosing my favorite song incredibly difficult. That is the problem with this challenge, of course. The more I love a band or artist, the more difficult it is to choose. Cash was more or less my introduction to country and rockabilly (only two of his genres). The chord progression of the song is actually inspired by listening to guitar backward on a tape recorder so something actually came of listening to a song backward for once. Originally planned to be a slow ballad (which I probably would have dismissed) Cash was convinced to make it more uptempo. The result is a song vowing loyalty with a bit of an edge to it. It feels like there is a concealed aggression to it. Cash’s signature baritone is on display here and feels so good. The song has the usual train rhythm of Cash’s repertoire.

  1. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – I Second That Emotion

Written based on a slip of the tongue from Robinson, this song ended up really great. It is definitely one of the preeminent examples of Rhythm and Blues. In it, Robinson sings to a young woman who likes stringing men along, telling her that if she changes her mind and is looking for something real, he is up for it. The lyrics are pretty nice considering a lot of love songs pour it on thick. This one comes off as patient and accepting of the situation, a great example of setting and respecting boundaries. The song does not need much instrumentation because of The Miracles voices’ backing up Smokey. Their voices fit together so well from years of working together and knowing each other.

  1. The Everly Brothers – Wake Up Little Suzie

I started looking up Everly Brothers songs because I could not name a single one despite knowing that I had heard them. As I read the titles, the song memories started flowing and I fired up YouTube to listen to a few to make my choice. When I read the title of this song, I could hear the vocals in my head. What I did not remember was the guitar riff which sounds similar to (and may have inspired?) The Who’s I Can See for Miles. This song really bops along and the brothers’ voices and guitar really flow together. It is definitely a great example of upbeat, uptempo 50s rock songs with a little more twang to them.

  1. Neil Young – Southern Man

A controversial song for sure. As the child of a proud South Carolinian, I sided with Lynyrd Skynyrd in the famous feud. I grew up south of the Mason-Dixon and it stung a bit to be talked down to by a Canadian musician. However, my mother also taught me about the everyday racism she experienced growing up in rural South Carolina. She saw things that terrified her and learned from seeing other people’s evil and ignorance. So eventually I saw that Neil Young was right, he was just clumsy about it. You cannot paint the whole American South as racism as many know right from wrong and regret our shameful past. The guitar work is so great with Danny Whitten stepping in for Nils Lofgren. Meanwhile, Lofgren played piano for the very first time and knocked it out of the park adapting a style similar to an accordion.

Rolling Stone Top 100 Pt. 5

November 29, 2021
  1. Bruce Springsteen – Dancing in the Dark

There is a reason why The Boss has been so commercially successful. He has a lot of hits to pick from, all of which I can easily sing along to. I picked this one partly because of memories of the music video where he dances on stage with Courtney Cox. I just associate this song with fun. Springsteen is kind of the king of blue collar, middle-of-the-road rock and roll and I say that as a compliment. He has an easily recognizable vocal style with that rough voice that is also able to croon a bit. This song lives and dies by the drumbeat which just keeps the song going for me. Everything else is actually pretty chill. The guitar and keyboard are pretty slow and fade back to showcase Springsteen’s vocals. There is also a killer sax bit later in the song that I really like.

  1. Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire

One of those truly iconic songs that has been in a ton of movies and television shows. The song is a great showcase mostly for Lewis’ great vocals and piano playing. It was recorded with only bass guitar and drums to back Lewis up. Jerry Lee Lewis is one of those stars for whom a backing band just gets in the way. He is loud and energetic and that was what made him a star. The song also features a rare bass riff since guitars usually get all of the love. Lewis is hitting those keys hard, the piano blowing everything else away. It was a style that a lot of piano-centric musicians (Elton John, Little Richard) would also use.

  1. Fats Domino – Ain’t That a Shame

This song has a relaxed feeling to it as Domino sings about how he won’t be so broken up if his girl leaves him. One of the things the song does that I like is it has the instrumentation drop out during the chorus repeatedly and let Domino stand on his own. Domino’s voice is so smooth and so easy to listen to. This song is listed as rock and roll but feels more like jazz to me but genres can be difficult. Domino was yet another artist who did both vocals and piano in the mid-fifties. He has a smoothness and sardonic air in this song that I really enjoy.

  1. The Ramones – I Wanna Be Sedated

I have been a huge Ramones fan since I first heard them. Punk in general just has a lot of what I want in general. This song goes a mile a minute and is just so easy to sing along to. Especially the repeated refrain of “Ba ba ba”s. The song is a road song written as a semi-joke by the Ramones based on their experiences being on tour during Christmas and having literally nothing to do and being so bored between shows. They make the lyrics fun even if there is a tinge of worry mixed in there. The guitars just rock away in a constant bop for most of the song accompanied by a driving drum beat.

  1. Prince – Partyman

You do not understand yet how much I was obsessed with Batman (1989) and how formative it was in my early formative years. Looking back, I am absolutely fascinated that they got Prince to do much of the soundtrack of the movie and how well it worked. They also let him make some truly batshit insane music videos for his songs. The song itself is bouncy and fun, Prince at his best for me. I love the drum machine they used as it has a sort of fuzzy sound to it. It really does feel like the best parts of a party and I don’t really like parties. I will forever love this song for the museum scene in Batman but it stands great all by itself.

  1. The Clash – Rock the Casbah

The Clash is another punk band that I love but had a little bit of a different feel than other punk bands as they had a wider range of genres that they mixed in. This song definitely is an example of that wide range. It also has a bit of that great tendency of punk music to attack established political power structures. The song details the clash between a religious dictatorsip and the freeing power of music. Politicians have often either tried to tamp down rebellion in music or coopt it. I love Joe Strummer’s vocals in this as he belts out his lyrics only to be joined by his bandmates for the chorus. Topper Headon is putting in some great work on drums as well.

Rolling Stone Top 100 Pt. 4

November 15, 2021
  1. Muddy Waters – Mannish Boy

This is absolutely the kind of song that movies and television use as shorthand for “The Blues”. It has some guitar with a dirty sound to it, the drummer going hard on the downbeat, a wailing harmonica, and almost call and response cadence to the lyrics. The first thing I appreciate about this song is Muddy Waters told me that everything is going to be alright. That’s actually really nice to hear these days. This is the style that artists like George Thorogood tried to emulate. Waters is telling a story with every word and you can really feel his emotion. (So can his backup singer who keeps yelling like a primitive hype man). It almost feels like a prelude to brag and boast rap groups as well.

  1. Marvin Gaye – Can I Get a Witness

A lot of people put more stock into Gaye’s songs about love or sex but I really prefer this song. There is instantly so much joy in this song even though it is about heartbreak. Gaye is singing about how he has been mistreated and wants people to witness him. He wants acknowledgment which I think we can all empathize with. The song is very bouncy while still letting Gaye wail a little with his vocals. He sings over mostly a killer horn section and people clapping (tambourine?) which gives the song a simple feeling.

  1. The Velvet Underground – There She Goes Again

More twangy guitars are always nice. This is another band that I had to look up to remind myself of some of their songs. I have to admit that I am not really familiar with their work although I have heard the name as an influential group and I am somewhat familiar with singer Lou Reed’s later work. I think it is their lack of uptempo songs even though I fully admit that they are true artists. This is the best song that I could find. I do like Reed’s wandering vocals which remind me a bit of Bob Dylan here. It sounds like a great song to chill to if that was what I wanted out of music.

  1. Bo Diddley – Who Do You Love?

I have to admit that I first heard this song performed by George Thorogood and the Destroyers who I was obsessed with at one point. It is a really good song. I actually prefer the instrumentation of this version. Diddley’s band had some great guitar and some simple drumming. Diddley also sounds like he is having a little more fun with it as compared to Thorogood’s almost sinister delivery. In Bo Diddley’s mind, this song is a brag and boast song so that a woman would come away thinking that Diddley was such a badass that she would tell everybody she knows. It is basically just a list of dangerous and edgy things that make the singer look awesome.

  1. Otis Redding – I Can’t Turn You Loose

I first heard this song performed by The Blues Brothers, once again showing the benefit of cover bands who introduce you to great music. Redding’s band and The Blues Brothers band have comparable skills which makes sense because The Blues Brothers band was a supergroup of musicians that backed two comedians. Naturally, Otis Redding is so much better than John Belushi. He is throwing everything he has into this song and giving it so much more flair and soul. Redding sings in that almost gospel style that would be made famous by him, James Brown, and others. The song just really bops along behind Redding, letting him do his thing as he goes pretty hard. There are not many lyrics but sometimes you don’t need them.

  1. U2 – Elevation

I am not a U2 fan. In general, I am not a fan of Bono’s vocal style. I would not call it bad but it is definitely not my cup of tea as he slowly wails about Irish tragedies. This is the best song they have, in my opinion. The Edge and the rest of the band are obviously really good at singing and they got Bono to actually sing something a bit more upbeat, uptempo, and inspirational this time.

Rolling Stone Top 100 Pt. 3

September 20, 2021
  1. Bob Marley – Buffalo Soldier

When I was growing up, I never really listened to the lyrics of this song growing up because I had yet to learn history. The song’s title and lyrics make reference to the term Buffalo Soldier which was coined by Native Americans during the Indian Wars. The regiment of black US Army soldiers was given all of the difficult jobs in the military. One of those jobs was to protect colonizers from displaced Native Americans who thought that their hair looked like the pelt of a Buffalo. Marley was a fighter in his own way, fighting for the rights of black people through his music and his activism. The bouncy tune and Marley’s signature calm but forceful voice combine to create a great song.

  1. The Beach Boys – Barbara Ann

There are so many great songs to choose from when it comes to the Beach Boys. A lot of their songs were appropriately fast-paced and uptempo for me. Barbara Ann is just so much fun. The vocals have more of a layered feel as we have not only the usual vocals from the Beach Boys but also William Jan Berry from Jan and Dean (who originally performed the song). Those vocals are bouncy and cut loose and fun. There are not a lot of other instruments as the guys are mostly just jamming the vocals. The single was rushed out by the studio without the band’s knowledge to try and bolster the group’s reputation after the previous release was disappointing. Still, it gave the track a less polished feel which may be why I like it so much.

  1. Buddy Holly – Maybe Baby

My dad used to sing this to me as a kid. That is primarily why I chose this song out of all of Holly’s hits. Apart from my sentimentality, the song is really good on its own. The song is upbeat and up-tempo but somehow still allows Holly to croon out the vocals. The guitar and bass guitar parts form a really fun riff. The song has a little bit of a playfulness but definitely a bounciness that I love. This song (seeing as how I heard it as a baby) was my introduction of the genre of rockabilly. My parents taught me so much about music and how to appreciate it.

  1. Led Zeppelin – Immigrant Song

I have been slowly reminded lately that Led Zeppelin is actually a good band. I think that my perception of them is constantly colored by Stairway to Heaven which I dislike so much. They have so many rocking tunes. Early on when I was a kid I was blown away that they had so many Hobbit references in their songs. I just did not get a lot of that from other bands. This song was always my favorite with its battle cry and lyrics about Viking journeys and battles, it really gets your blood pumping. The guitar riffs feel all jangly and exciting. It does not hurt that this song had such a prominent place in Thor: Ragnarok.

  1. Stevie Wonder – Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

The first thing that hits me in this song is the rhythm from the drums as they kick in. Thar rhythm continues through the song like a steady march. Then the high horns kick in. Wonder sings with an obvious joy and passion that is impossible to deny. It is interesting that this is probably the song that saved Stevie Wonder’s career. He had only two moderate hits previously and, as his voice changed, the studio was about to cut him loose. Like me, the producer for this single and the fans really liked Wonder’s new, deeper tenor and he was back on top and headed toward becoming a legend.

  1. Sam Cooke – Good Times

Probably one of Cooke’s most iconic songs (and more commercially sellable than the very important A Change Is Going to Come). As usual, Cooke’s voice is so sweet to the ear as he croons out some great lyrics. The backing instrumentals are really good at staying out of the way and letting Cooke burn things up. The song speaks of the heart and soul of what music is and what feeling good should be.

Rolling Stone Top 100 Pt. 2

September 6, 2021
  1. Jimi Hendrix – Foxy Lady

I listened to a lot of Jimi especially when I was in high school. I had a friend that played a passable cover of his version of All Along the Watchtower. My brother learned to play guitar from watching Hendrix do it. He had many fantastic songs but Foxy (or sometimes spelled Foxey) Lady has long been a favorite of mine. Part of it has to do with this song being prominently used in Wayne’s World. Most of it has to do with the song itself. It is definitely a great display of Hendrix’s wailing vocals with his unique deep voice. The guitar riff also really does it for me. It feels like a revving engine to me as it punctuates each sentence in the song. One thing that really hit me as I went back through Jimi’s catalog to make my selection is that he only had two albums to choose from. It’s still pretty tragic.

  1. James Brown – I Got You (I Feel Good)

Yes, I went with the cliche. This song just makes me feel good. It starts with Brown’s excited scream and then the funky horns start. The horn riff feels joyous and playful. The drums and horns really punctuate the chorus and give it the oomph it needs. James was never really easy to understand but when he recorded this one, he was clear as a bell. It may be why this is the song most used in movies, television, and commercials. As with all of his songs, James Brown sells the hell out of it with his vocals and leaves everything behind when he’s done.

  1. Little Richard – Rip It Up

Decidedly not going with the cliche this time. When I think of Little Richard, I always think of him hitting the long high notes as he leans back as he plays the piano. He put his whole body into the music even when he was just sitting at the piano which would inspire plenty of other pianists (ie Elton John). When I was going back through his catalog, this song caught my eye and I realized I had forgotten about it. This song feels like it has a little more edge to it. The bouncy instrumentals make me smile. The slightly aggressive way that he sings about having a good time after work makes me think back to times that I felt the same way. It just feels so good to be done for the day and heading out (or in my case home) to have some fun.

  1. Aretha Franklin – Think

Once again influenced by movies as Aretha’s performance of the song in Blues Brothers is electric and sassy. Aretha may have been known for Respect but she shared it with many other acts. Aretha owned this song and nobody ever came close. I also really like the lyrics better for what Aretha does with them. The way she weaves the words (especially in Blues Brothers) felt like a predecessor to rap music with the speed she’s going. Aretha’s voice has always been one of my favorites and her songs seemed to be more uptempo than some of her contemporaries. I really love the bouncy, happy rhythm as Aretha threatens her lover.

  1. Ray Charles – Hit The Road Jack

There are not as many Ray Charles songs that I like as other artists on this list. He was a great singer and piano player but his songs were more crooning than I usually listen to. In fact, my favorite song he ever did was paired up with George Jones called “I Didn’t See A Thing”. It’s just so playful and funny but it doesn’t count for this list. Hit the Road Jack is playful and feels a lot like what I think of as traditional blues. This is definitely a song that does a lot between Ray and his backup singers. Ray gets the majority of it but the back and forth really sells it. The horns are iconic and once again it is easy to guess why this song is also used a lot in film.

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