Well, Psychobabblers, today is a banner day for Psychobabble as I cross the threshold of 900 fun-filled posts (amazing to think that the quadruple digits are not that far away!). To mark this milestone, I’m knocking a zero off that 900 to present my personal 90 favorite songs of my favorite musical decade, the sixties. Read carefully now, kiddies: these choices are personal and this is not in anyway intended as some sort of definitive “these are the best songs of the sixties” list. No one person can select such a list. The personal nature will really become apparent in the top twenty, which is seriously dominated by my all-time favorite band, a 17-headed beast I like to call The Beatlestoneskinkswho.
So here it is from my keyboard to your eyes and ears… my 900th post...
90. “All Our Yesterdays” by Small Faces
And now, for your delight, we begin with a good-time song with an exhilarating introductory shout, a wild knees up from the darlings of Whapping Warf launderette that comes in just under two minutes. Think of “All Our Yesterdays” as an hors d'oeuvre for all the psych/garage/soul mania to follow.
89. “Reflections” by The Supremes
Here’s a hit that bridges the soul and psych gap with pulsing genius. Motown gets with the times for a lysergic peak through the window of lost time. Diana Ross breaks her cool with a touch of desperation on the ever-escalating bridge and James Jamerson pumps out one of the all-time bass lines of all-time.
88. “Alone Again, Or” by Love
Arthur Lee was the face and voice of Love, but Bryan MacLean arguably delivered their finest moment. Beginning the magnificent Forever Changes with a south-of-the-border slow burn, “Alone Again, Or” breaks loose with a rousing trumpet solo. Gorgeous.
87. “Louie, Go Home” by Paul Revere and The Raiders
First attempted as a rowdy frat house shaker that became an unlikely mod favorite covered by The Who and David Bowie, “Louie, Go Home” really came into its own when Paul Revere and The Raiders gave it the ominous psych/garage treatment on their break-out LP Midnight Ride. Mark Lindsay’s scream before the eastern-flavored guitar jam will crack your skull open.
86. “Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan
Hypnotic psychedelia transmitting from some stormy shoreline. Donovan tromps up and down the sand with his hurdy gurdy strapped to his chest, and makes a dark, dark sound quite at odds with the supposed “song of love” his hurdy gurdy man sings. John Paul Jones on bass aside, this isn’t really the Led Zeppelin audition tape the rumor-mongers want you to believe it is, but who cares once Clem Cattini’s neck-breaking drum fills and Alan Parker’s wailing guitar solo come rolling off the waves.
85. “Trust” by The Pretty Things
Expansive and prayerful, this track from the first LP-length rock opera sounds like an outtake from Brian Wilson’s SMiLE (had that album not consisted of nothing but outtakes, of course). For anyone who needs proof that the raw Pretties had some of the most sumptuous harmonies of the sixties, here it is.
84. “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” by The Isley Brothers
Say “so long” to your heart, because The Isley Brothers are about to rip it out of your chest like the cult leader in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. A soul love shout that sends a chill up my spine and a lump down my throat.
83. “Lucifer Sam” by Pink Floyd
Syd Barrett’s snaky guitar riff hooks this nasty number about a devilish kitty cat. The hardest rocking track on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is a hit that never was.
82. “Bus Stop” by The Hollies
Nagging, full of momentum, and catchy as all hell, “Bus Stop” is pop at its most delectable. At once euphorically romantic and brooding, The Hollies reached a new plateau of artistry with this hit.
81. “Cardboard Watch” by The End
Produced by Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, The End’s one and only LP was delayed so long that the public lost its taste for this kind of Mellotron-soaked psychedelic pop. Hardcore fans of Mellotron-soaked psychedelic pop have since rediscovered The End, and I believe they never got better than this pop shape-shifter with the goofy name.
80. “My White Bicycle” by Tomorrow
More obscure psychedelia from a band that produced one of the key prog musicians: Steve Howe. Hear his guitar weave in and out of “My White Bicycle” backwards Beatle-style. That rider must have really been pumping the peddles because this thing races more like a freight train than a bike. For some reason, I always found the line “I ring my bell and smile at him, then I go by his rubbish bin” hilarious.
79. “Positively 4th Street” by Bob Dylan
Sure, Bob, this withering track wasn’t directed at all those fair-weather folkies who turned their backs on you when you strapped on that electric guitar. Whatever. There’s no hiding all the very personal hurt and anger that roils up from “Positively 4th Street”, the finest stand-alone single from an artist who favored the long player.
78. “All This and More” by Procol Harum
A Salty Dog is a moody album, and it reaches its wrenching emotional climax with “All This and More”. Jesus Christ, Gary Brooker is such an incredible singer. And take note of how the left and right stereo channels switch places after Brooker’s fleeting piano solo. Very cool!
77. “Astral Weeks” by Van Morrison
The title track of Van Morrison’s masterpiece is everything that LP is: intense, meditative, autumnal, a bit folky, a bit jazzy, and very soulful. It’s also happy, which is not quite an appropriate word to describe much of the rest of Astral Weeks. That may also be why it stands out so strikingly on that album. Plus Tom Kielbania’s hypnotic bass line is the closest thing Astral Weeks has to a memorable riff.
76. “(If You Think You’re) Groovy” by P.P. Arnold
Another tremendously intense record, former Ikette P.P. Arnold receives ample support from Small Faces (featuring her then boyfriend Steve Marriott). But it’s Arnold’s voice that really propels “(If You Think You’re) Groovy” into the realm of hysteria. This track makes me cuckoo. And doesn’t that horn riff sound like “Deck the Halls”?
75. “Cinderella Sunshine” by Paul Revere and The Raiders
Here’s another Paul Revere and the Raiders remake that kills the original. Like “Louie, Go Home”, “Cinderella Sunshine” was recorded in garage mode and released as a flop single. Mark Lindsay gave the song one of his fattest productions for the Hard ‘n’ Heavy (with Marshmallow) LP in 1969. With its fuzz bass, marimba, and assorted percussion, it sounds more like the Stones circa ’66. In a perfect world, that ending vamp would go on forever.
74. “96 Tears” by Question Mark & The Mysterians
One of the all-time great garage singles, “96 Tears” is a masterpiece of macho posturing and Farfisa stabbing. The mysterious Question Mark delivers a vocal that sounds like Jagger at his coolest. The bridge sounds like jewels falling from the clouds.
73. “Itchycoo Park” by Small Faces
Small Faces light one up and kick on the phasers. Skipping school to get high gets its ultimate anthem. As was often the case with Small Faces’ best songs, the group thought “Itchycoo Park” was corny. Lucky for us that didn’t stop them from releasing it as a single. Lucky for them too, since it became their only hit in the states.
72. “Yes, the River Knows” by The Doors
The Doors weren’t known for their restraint, but they give a perfectly controlled performance on this smoky ballad with what may be Jim Morrison’s most touching vocal and simply beautiful interplay between Robby Krieger’s dusky guitar and Ray Manzarek’s jazzy piano. Then it all reaches an unexpectedly powerful climax in the final refrain. “Yes, the River Knows” breaks my heart.
71. “The Kids Are Alright” by The Who
The Who achieve power-pop perfection with a track amazingly buried on their first LP. Insidious his move may have been, but producer Shel Talmy did show some real savvy by releasing “The Kids Are Alright” as a single (though drastically chopping down the mid-song freak out was a dumb stroke). It wasn’t a hit, but “The Kids Are Alright” has since taken its rightful place as a Who classic and one of pop’s best expressions of love, friendship, and trust.
70. “Wicked Annabella” by The Kinks
And here’s one of the best odes to witches, goblins, and Halloween of the sixties. From what I believe to be the greatest album of all time, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, “Wicked Annabella” is spooky, grungy, and wild in a way its bucolic record-mates certainly aren’t. Dave Davies’s near-whispered vocal is perfect and his absolutely filthy guitar sound has never been copied. I’m still wondering what he did to the instrument to make it sound like that.
69. “The Train Kept A-Rollin’” by The Yardbirds
The Yardbirds’ version of this garage band staple first given the R&R treatment by Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio is still the best. Jeff Beck’s crying guitar solo is as inventive as Keith Relf’s out-of-sync double-tracked yelping. And that a cappella break is fabulous.
68. “(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me” by Small Faces
“(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me” is not necessarily a great composition, but Small Faces perform it with such unfettered gusto that it stands as one of their most exciting tracks. Steve Marriott turns the cute line “Pretty flowers are breaking through the concrete” into a scream of triumph. Kenney Jones wrecks his drum kit in a way he never did with The Who.
67. “Carrie-Anne” by The Hollies
From its wordless vocal and percussion intro through its exhilarating choruses through its tangy steel-drum solo through its from-out-of-nowhere coda, “Carrie-Anne” is pop perfection. You cannot blame Graham Nash for falling in love with Marianne Faithfull or for being intimidated enough to change her name when singing this love letter to her.
66. “S.F. Sorrow Is Born” by The Pretty Things
With its instantly ear-catching dobro and jiving beat,” S.F. Sorrow Is Born” is the most straight-forward thing in the rock opera S.F. Sorrow. Simple, however, might not be a good description for a track with such a swirling brew of Mellotron, guitars, and choral harmonies. “S.F. Sorrow Is Born” is a stirring start to one of the best albums of the sixties.
65. “Wreck of the Hesperus” by Procol Harum
Matthew Fisher’s thin voice was no match for Gary Brooker’s rich pipes, but he captures the desperation of a doomed sailor on this ode to Longfellow perfectly. Brooker still shines though with his rippling, tremendously challenging piano lines. You can hear him fumble it once or twice. That’s not a bad count as far as I’m concerned. The string arrangement will blow your hair back like that guy in the old Memorex ads.
64. “Open My Eyes” by Nazz
Todd Rundgren takes a little Who riffage, a little Beatle phasing, and a jazzy vocal arrangement all his own and makes the best 1966-sounding record of 1968. Locked in by its “I Can’t Explain” riff, “Open My Eyes” takes enough twists and turns to show off how individual Nazz were.
63. “Cabin-Essence” by The Beach Boys
One of Brian Wilson’s most complex pieces from his complex SMiLE project was too good to toss out with the bath water. While most of those tracks didn’t see release during their time, “Cabin-Essence” came out a few years after its recording on the 20/20 odds and sods comp. Not catchy by any means, there’s enough going on in this collage of dissimilar sections to fascinate your ears after 900 listens.
62. “Sensation” by The Who
By the time it found its place on Tommy, “Sensation” went from love song to spiritual. Its spine-tingling romance survives nonetheless. With its layers of acoustic guitars and heartfelt Townshend vocal, “Sensation” sounds like it could have fit well on The Who Sell Out. Instead it ended up as my favorite song on their first rock opera.
61. “Little Girl” by Syndicate of Sound
The almost politely jangling guitar lick that begins “Little Girl” gives no indication of how nasty it’s about to get. Two and a half minutes of swift-wrist action strumming and sneering Jagger-esque put downs straight from a San Jose garage. Syndicate of Sound never had another hit, but “Little Girl” is enough to make them legends. Plus, has any band ever had a cooler name?
60. “Blackberry Way” by The Move
Bassist Trevor Burton hated “Blackberry Way” so much that its release drove him to quit The Move. He thought it was too poppy. Poppy for sure, “Blackberry Way” is also an incredibly downbeat track sometimes viewed as a parody of The Beatles’ “Penny Lane”. Full of atmosphere and catchy melody set to an attractively descending chord progression, “Blackberry Way” gets all the ingredients right no matter what Trevor thought.
59. “Turn Down Day” by The Cyrkle
Bubblegum and raga rock collide like some sort of mid-sixties Reese’s peanut butter cup. The Cyrkle had their biggest hit with Paul Simon’s cute “Red Rubber Ball”, but the equally sunny and brooding “Turn Down Day” is an infinitely more alluring track.
58. “Homburg” by Procol Harum
Often written off as a “A Whiter Shade of Pale” retread, Procol Harum’s second single is much more evocative to my ears (and I love “A Whiter Shade of Pale”). Brooker does his stately thing with his classically inclined piano line, and when he sings “and the sun and moon will shatter” I get chills. Every time.
57. “Dark Is the Bark” by The Left Banke
One of the darkest mood pieces on this list, “Dark Is the Bark” is full of resigned menace. The Left Banke had so much more in their trick bag than “Walk Away Renee”, and “Dark Is the Bark” was one of their finest tricks. The mournful French horn on the chorus is an exquisite touch, as are the churning cellos on the second verse.
56. “Auntie’s Municipal Court” by The Monkees
Murky psychedelia is one of my favorite things (there’s lots of it on this list), and Mike Nesmith cooked up one of the best examples of it for The Birds, The Bees, & The Monkees. That album is notoriously uneven, but pretty much everyone agrees that the densely jangling “Auntie’s Municipal Court” gets it right. Mike and Micky Dolenz’s voices merge into a single entity. The effect is eerie indeed.
55. “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and The Shondells
Pseudo-psychedelic wordplay and some serious tremelo abuse transform the silly “Crimson and Clover” into a masterpiece. This is as sexy and freaky as the sexy and freaky sixties got.
54. “I Am the Walker” by The Creation
Defiantly weird, exhilaratingly tuneful, this outtake by The Creation might have been a huge hit if listeners could wrap their heads around a lyric about a guy who looks like he’s going to drown a dog—but doesn’t—and a pet-shop parrot that supposedly talks— but has been sold, so who knows? What does it all mean? Who cares?
53. “Do You Remember Walter?” by The Kinks
The deceptiveness of nostalgia is a recurring theme of The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. Ray Davies captures that theme masterfully on the record’s second track. He reunites with an old friend with whom he no longer has anything in common. “Do You Remember Walter?” is heartbreaking because it rings so true, and powerful because The Kinks roil up a hurricane on the chorus. And most critics would have you believe Village Green is all-delicate, all the time.
52. “Heroes and Villains” by The Beach Boys
Jimi Hendrix denounced “Heroes and Villains” as “psychedelic barbershop.” I say, “psychedelic barbershop… make me an appointment!” What would have been the flagship single from SMiLE ended up getting rerecorded and released as the second single on Smiley Smile. That album lacks luster, but I personally think its version of “Heroes and Villains” is more powerful than the weedier SMiLE version.
51. “Love Is Only Sleeping” by The Monkees
The Monkees’ place in light-pop history was etched in bubblegum when they released “Daydream Believer”, but the original plan was to release Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s weirdly philosophical, psychedelic love song in 7/8 time as the A-side. Further complicated by the relatively uncommercial vocals of Mike Nesmith, “Love Is Only Sleeping” probably would not have been the #1 monster “Daydream Believer” turned out to be if that song was left on the B-side. Still “Love Is Only Sleeping” is a hell of a lot cooler. Mike’s wiry guitar riff and ghostly falsetto launch it into the cosmos.
50. “Rejoyce” by Jefferson Airplane
“Love Is Only Sleeping” is spooky, but it’s as bubblegum as “Daydream Believer” compared to Grace Slick’s terrifying jazz-rock summary of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Shifting legless free time to a sneering waltz, “Rejoyce” constantly starts and stops, but Slick’s icy howl and Jack Casady’s growly bass supply as much Rock & Roll momentum as “Louie Louie”.
49. “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” by The Beatles
Paul McCartney was The Beatles’ resident champion of the through-composed song (a song with sections that do not recur), but the first Beatle to experiment with that unusual format was John Lennon. He strung together dissimilar bits about perverts, junkies, and gun nuts into the most eclectic single piece on the eclectic “White Album”. “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” is sort of like an encapsulation of that records’ diverse styles. It’s part folk-rock, part acid-rock, part doo-wop, part dark vision, part absurd parody, all mesmerizing.
48. “Wait Til’ My Bobby Gets Home” by Darlene Love
A tiny piano lick sets a restrained scene, but Darlene Love is just itching to crack out and wail. And she does on one of her and Phil Spector’s most underrated pieces. Happiness bottled in a jar.
47. “Epistle to Dippy” by Donovan
Donovan’s first single of 1967 sports a lyric daringly personal and impenetrable. The catchy tune and brilliant arrangement are as inviting as ever. Baroque flashes of violins and harpsichord offset a totally funky rhythm section. And that guitar sounds like someone’s twanging a rusty piano wire. Awesome!
46. “Darlin’” by The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys bounce back from the disintegration of the experimental SMiLE to make a gloriously simple piece of Californian soul. Carl Wilson pushes his voice to the limit and crushes all our hearts.
45. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love
Christmas songs are generally supposed to make you feel holly and jolly and full of seasonal cheer, but the greatest Christmas record makes me feel like someone has ripped out my guts and is stomping them into the mistletoe. That’s just why I love “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” so much. Darlene Love’s devastating vocal could make Santa weep.
44. “I Feel Free” by Cream
Psychedelicized doo-wop introduces a beat made for involuntary head bobbing. Jack Bruce’s bass is the fat foundation and his voice is the way-high skyscraper. Clapton’s solo is as tasteful as Bruce’s final refrain (“I can walk down the street…”) is out-of-fucking-control. That bit makes me crazy.
43. “Eight Miles High” by The Byrds
Chris Hillman’s bass in the opening seconds of “Eight Miles High” is the definition of bracing power. Roger McGuinn’s whirling, twirling riffing is the definition of manic. Uniting the rock-steady powerful and the wild is the essence of the alchemy of “Eight Miles High”.
42. “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles
The Beatles break the whimsical spell of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for a big, big come down. Roadwork needs to be done. A man dies in a car accident. Time to get up and go to work. This is the mundane stuff songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” did not address. The arrangement is anything but mundane. It is a horror show of Ringo’s cavernous drumming and the orchestra’s apocalyptic climax. The final note is pure doom. “A Day in the Life” makes good on Sgt. Pepper’s promise as the most progressive pop album of all-time even if several of its other tracks do not.
41. “Runaway” by Del Shannon
Everything in “Runaway” works together so perfectly—the sullen minor key verse and ecstatic major key chorus, the flamenco flecked guitar lick and the creepy-crawly Musitron solo, Del Shannon’s throaty growl and his sudden falsetto cry—that it might have been made in a lab. But this is one organic piece of Rock & Roll, as superbly constructed as it is performed.
40. “Friday on My Mind” by The Easybeats
The weekend receives the rallying cry of all-time from Australia’s Easybeats. Morse code beeping and raga riffing and a verse that builds and builds to a euphoric chorus that says everything every other song ever written about Friday or Saturday ever wanted to say and in the simplest terms imaginable. “Gonna have fun in the city. Be with my girl she’s so pretty.” It’s the sound of office and school doors being kicked down, of floods of lager pouring, of running to your girl or guy and knowing there’s nothing ahead for the next two days but kissing, fucking, partying, and trouble-forgetting.
39. “Making Time” by The Creation
If “Making Time” was nothing but the slamming riff that starts it, it would deserve a place in the upper reaches of this list. But that riff then spills into a heavy-duty bass line, a deliciously sneering vocal, a killer chorus, and some of the angriest tambourine punching on vinyl. Plus there’s that crazy violin-bowed guitar solo.
38. “Citadel” by The Rolling Stones
The heaviest thing The Rolling Stones ever recorded is inventive in every way. Jagger’s Metropolis-inspired lyric is vivid yet evocative. Richards’s guitar seems to be slathered with every effect available. The Mellotron does double duty impersonating mandolins and snake-charming saxophones. The Stones lost none of their power when they went psychedelic, and here’s your proof, Merlin.
37. “Circle Sky” by The Monkees
Like the Stones’ “Citadel”, The Monkees’ “Circle Sky” has a simple chord progression, but its arrangement lends it immeasurable depth. All the skidding guitars (must be about half a dozen), shakers, wood blocks, and organs are so overwhelming that Mike Nesmith can only shout out nearly inaudible from the eye of the hurricane. The other Monkees were bummed he didn’t include their live version on the Head soundtrack album, but the studio version is the truly awesome one.
36. “Under My Thumb” by The Rolling Stones
OK, so Jagger’s gross misogyny has not aged well (not that it ever was palatable), but as funky records go, “Under My Thumb” remains a masterwork. The marimbas, stomping drums, wiry guitars, humming and farting basses all work together as only The Rolling Stones could make them. Mick goes nuts on his vocal, panting and barking and huffing and puffing.
35. “Walk Away Renee” by The Left Banke
Sixties pop fans didn’t have The Smiths or The Cure to weep along with, but they made due with The Left Banke. The New York band’s most enduring song is still just as heart-rending as ever; an extraordinarily beautiful expression of unrequited love. The strings rain down like tears, the flute solo moans, and Steve Martin sounds like he’s choking back sobs through it all. How could he not be when singing something like “Walk Away Renee”?
34. “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” by The Rolling Stones
“Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” sounds like The Rolling Stones were trying to reproduce the last minute of “My Generation” over an entire song. A magnetically catchy chorus and Keith Richards’s jittery bass work give it substance. The band thought producer Andrew Oldham totally messed up their latest record with heavy-handed echo and distortion, but that much makes this one of the Stones’ most overpowering discs. That title is pretty overpowering too.
33. “Dogs” by The Who
There aren’t a lot of happy memories of “Dogs”, a song regularly denounced as lightweight and silly at a time when The Who should have been getting as serious and heavy as Hendrix and Cream. Balderdash. Fun was one of The Who’s greatest appeals in the sixties, and they are rarely more fun than they are on the twisty “Dogs”. It’s a great sing-a-long played with all the band’s requisite power and a neat tribute to…
32. “Lazy Sunday” by Small Faces
…Small Faces, who had as little love for “Lazy Sunday” as The Who had for the very, very similar sounding “Dogs”. Both records are great chunks of imaginative English pop with choruses crafted to get pub crowds on their feet. “Lazy Sunday” also expresses the very Rock & Roll stance of a partier who just wants to party without getting bugged by the neighbors. Nothing lightweight about that.
31. “Ride on Baby” by The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones got slaphappy when arranging “Ride On Baby”, tossing every instrument they could find into the mix. Instead of sounding like a cluttered mess, it dazzles and makes a very simple tune seem much more complex than it is. The Stones thought little of the song, handing it off to Chris Farlowe and leaving their own recording of it on the outtakes heap. I think “Ride On Baby” makes a really good argument that The Rolling Stones were just as deft with elegant pop as they were with gritty Rock & Roll. The chorus is sublime.
30. “Tomorrow Never Knows” by The Beatles
The Beatles had dabbled a bit with psychedelia on “Norwegian Wood” and “Rain”, but no one could be prepared for how all-out they went with the final track on their finest record. One chord is all that’s needed for a song that’s really driven by John’s lysergic lyricism, Ringo’s elephantine drumming, and a zany array of tape loops that soar in and out of the cacophony like winged dragons. The Beatles always seemed a bit like they came from some other world. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is your ticket to join them there.
29. “Mindless Child of Motherhood” by The Kinks
The Kinks made music of tremendous poignancy, beauty, and eroticism. They weren’t usually anguished though. Dave Davies’s “Mindless Child of Motherhood” is a grand exception to that. An immensely personal song about a lost relationship, its churning guitar riffs are topped by one of the most intense vocals on record.
28. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Beatles
“A Day in the Life” is Sgt. Pepper’s at its most terrifingly earthy. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is it at its most enchantingly unearthly. The verses are airy, celestial. The choruses scoop you up in their arms. Those immune to singing along with “Lucy” don’t know how to experience joy. Paul’s bass is the glue that binds the celestial debris together.
27. “Mother’s Little Helper” by The Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger focuses some of his young-buck anger to come up with a pretty insightful sneer at middle-class hypocrisy (that he took aim at middle-class women has elicited cries of misogyny, but I’m not sure that’s deserved in this case). The Stones experiment with an “oompah” beat, and give it true Rock menace with Bill Wyman’s slidey bassline and a really nasty-sounding detuned guitar riff. Satire at its blackest.
26. “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles
The strings on “Yesterday” were graceful with a tinge of blues. On “Eleanor Rigby” they are the Psycho soundtrack risen from the dead. Paul McCartney’s sunny nature is consumed by storm clouds of loneliness and isolation and just the merest hint of sympathy. Even he got caught up in the darkness of Revolver, and I think he got his greatest song out of it.
25. “Forget All About It” by Nazz
Nazz shatter and shudder and pull out the stops for a crushing performance that doesn’t allow a wisp of space to break though the sonic onslaught until a bridge that makes “Forget All About It” much more than a one-note number. It’s a murderous opening to the band’s very underrated second album.
24. “Rain” by The Beatles
“Rain” is that rare Beatles record that is important for its writing, production, and performance in equal proportions. John’s lyric about the illusory nature of life is sophisticated but in terms anyone can dig. The backwards and slowed down tapes were clever strokes of studio trickery. Paul and Ringo’s incredible performances really put “Rain” over as one of the best things The Beatles ever did, and the way they play off of each other is unlike anything else in their catalogue.
23. “Sweet Thing” by Van Morrison
Astral Weeks is largely built on extended excursions. “Sweet Thing” is one of the record’s most concise statements, saying everything it needs to in that limited framework. Rising from the near silence of Van’s guitar and chiming percussion, the track swirls with the vigor of young love. A guy shouting that he’s “dynamite” would be pure cornball in any other setting. In “Sweet Thing” it is a declaration of sheer romantic heroism.
22. “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones
Is this Rock’s greatest lyric? Jagger paints a brilliant portrait of the horned one prancing through history over a demonic rite of clattering percussion. Keith Richards double fists a switchblade lead guitar and a bone-shaking bass. The Stones had been scary before, and they’d be scary again, but there is an adultness to “Sympathy for the Devil” that makes it a serious threat. And has Mick Jagger ever used his voice more expressively?
21. “A Quick One While He’s Away” by The Who
There ain’t no better way to spend nine minutes. “A Quick One While He’s Away” wasn’t Rock’s first epic, but it was the first to rely on song craft instead of instrumental improvisation. A mini-opera and an incredible vehicle for The Who’s stage act, “A Quick One” is really great because there are so many cool things happening in it from the spectacular mass harmonies of the opening section to the contrapuntal nirvana of the final one.
20. “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan
The snare strike that detonates “Like a Rolling Stone” is a bullet firing into the troubadour Dylan once was. He’d now reinvent himself as a grinning trickster who delighted in sneering at his fellow hipsters. Who was he talking about? Brian Jones? Maybe he was talking about you. Are you in on the joke or the butt of it? Dylan didn’t give a shit even as his greatest record is a work of total commitment lyrically and musically. It’s an all-new wall-of-sound. All we can do is put our ears up against that wall and let the sound pound into our brains.
19. “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes
The old wall-of-sound, of course, was Phil Spector’s construction. “Be My Baby” is the defining artifact of that sound. Just as you know exactly what you’re hearing the second stick hits drum in “Like a Rolling Stone”, the same is true of Hal Blaine’s mighty wallop that ignites “Be My Baby”. While Dylan’s song holds you at arm’s length, “Be My Baby” draws you in with its valentine message and Ronnie’s totally disarming, totally real vocal. This is what falling madly in love sounds like.
18. “Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks
Ray Davies’s tribute to the ants scurrying about London and the quietly content loner observing them is a legendary work of beauty. His voice is almost unimaginably tender. His then-wife Raisa’s is angelic. Dave Davies tempers his usual urge to beat hell out of his guitar and employs a delicate tone to match them both. “Waterloo Sunset” is like being rocked to sleep by a loving father.
17. “Substitute” by The Who
Pete Townshend’s acoustic guitar riff is light and jaunty. When John Entwistle and Keith Moon join in, the mood goes haywire. So much power derived from so few instruments, but “Substitute” is power-pop not hard rock. The tune is unashamedly tuneful. Roger’s vocal is full of swaggering attitude; the uncertainty of Pete’s lyric makes it totally relatable. Elvis Costello called “Substitute” a perfect song. He was not wrong.
16. “Animal Farm” by The Kinks
And then we’re back in The Kinks’ delicate realm, but there is attitude here too. Ray’s delivery of the first line is almost raunchy. Yet his sensitivity can’t be contained, and the tenderness seeps back in even as the track continues at a sprightly pace. The Mellotron lends symphonic majesty to the rural obsessions of “Animal Farm”, which is too loving to be a fitting tribute to Orwell. His novel inspires the title only. The song is pure Kinks.
15. “Child of the Moon” by The Rolling Stones
The Stones bid farewell to psychedelia on the backside of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, perhaps unconsciously cribbing the melody of The Beatles’ “Rain”. Perhaps not. As they so often did, the Stones turned petty theft into grand music. “Rain” is hypnotic, but “Child of the Moon” is more emotionally effecting, one of the Stones’ rare celebrations of womanhood. Charlie Watts’s drumming and Keith Richards’s experiments with open tuning make it panoramic and the Stones’ “return to rock” single their best double-header.
14. “Porpoise Song” by The Monkees
For their most adult statement, the feature-film Head, The Monkees produced some of their most mature music. Their interpretation of Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Porpoise Song” is a majestic piece of work with great use of multiple-Monkees on the vocals and what is surely the best mesh of cello, tubular bells, and drums in pop.
13. “Desiree” by The Left Banke
As shifty and inventive as your basic prog rock tune, “Desiree” derives its most vital power from The Left Banke’s incomparable way with raw emotions. The jarring, descending riff that shudders from 7/4 to 4/4 to 6/4 time is cool, but it’s the utter romantic torment In Steve Martin’s voice that will push you against the wall. Intense stuff.
12. “Pictures of Lily” by The Who
The Who’s ways with power, humor, empathy, and slightly taboo subject matter coalesces brilliantly on “Pictures of Lily”, a genuinely moving tale of boyhood masturbation. This is one of Townshend’s most original and complete short stories, and musically, it is as lean and fully-developed a shard of power pop as The Who would ever cut.
11. “Big Sky” by The Kinks
The Kinks match Ray Davies’s emotionless and all-seeing God with a great, big, godly sound. When Ray plays the part of a worshipper who find solace in simply thinking of the big sky, his voice turns small and plaintive. Raisa’s high vocal counterpart makes “Big Sky” almost unbearably beautiful. As part of Village Green Preservation Society, “Big Sky” is a masterpiece’s masterpiece.
10. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones
No one loves the Stones’ psychedelic phase more than I do, so I don’t necessarily revere “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” as some sort of return-to-form record or whatever. I just love it as a motherfucking great piece of ass-shaking Rock & Roll. And there are still remnants of psych in the way the treble-tripped guitars weave through each other, the droning synths, and the weird, weird imagery. The Stones never did justice to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” on stage because they leaned too heavily on its Rock while ignoring its sorcery. On record, it is one of the greatest things you’ll ever shove in your ears.
9. “A Salty Dog” by Procol Harum
“A Salty Dog” is nearly incomparable as a piece of picturesque pop music. It sounds like the ocean: wide and deep and very imposing. Gary Brooker gives one of the very best vocal performances. His climactic wail of the title phrase leaves me emotionally shattered. The pizzicato string/piano duet that follows is as exquisite as music gets. This song would make a great movie.
8. “And Your Bird Can Sing” by The Beatles
Since “And Your Bird Can Sing” is not usually thought of as a cornerstone Beatle song, it’s ripe for rediscovery. That means it will probably sound fresher to you than, say, “She Loves You” or “Hey Jude”. And “fresh” is a good description of this joyous explosion of guitars and voices. Lennon’s tartness gives it edge, as do the “how did they do that?” guitar duets, but like all of the very best pop songs, “And Your Bird Can Sing” is more about the whole than the parts.
7. “The Door Into Summer” by The Monkees
The Monkees recorded a Bill Martin song for their first single on which they played all the instruments. Publishing issues meant they couldn’t release “All of Your Toys”. Fortunately, they had no such issues when they cut Martin’s “The Door Into Summer” later in 1967. “Perfect” is starting to become an overused word in this list, but man, that clavinet opening, that fluid acoustic guitar lick, Peter Tork’s shimmering piano runs, Mike Nesmith’s dignified lead vocal and Micky Dolenz’s transcendent counterpoint? Perfect.
6. “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones
George Harrison made the sitar into a rock instrument with “Norwegian Wood” and got more mileage out of it than any other major pop musician, but Brian Jones used it better than anyone the one and only time he wacked it onto a Stones record. That’s the element people most like to discuss about “Paint It Black”. I’m equally impressed by Bill Wyman’s wild bass slides, Jagger’s shouting and melismatic nuances, and Charlie Watts’s floor-shattering drumming. His fill that snaps the song back from its ethereal mid-section blows my mind.
5. “Autumn Almanac” by The Kinks
“Autumn Almanac” has so much going on in it that it’s hard to believe it’s just a little longer than three minutes. Ray Davies strings together a jolly riff, bouncy verses, “yes, yes, yes” choruses, a bridge that sounds a bit like a New Orleans funeral procession, and a psychedelic fade like a wizard. That it’s an homage to my very favorite time of year furthers the personal appeal of “Autumn Almanac”. Yes, yes, yes.
4. “Tattoo” by The Who
Pete Townshend’s clearest and most masterful story song is one of the mighty Who’s most ethereal performances. A rotating Leslie speaker adds spacey elegance to Townshend’s guitar while the guys’ harmonies are glorious. If there’s a heaven, it sounds like “Tattoo”. If there’s a hell, the devil and his buddies are all guffawing over that verse about child beating. When my college songwriting professor asked me had to recite a favorite lyric to my class, I chose “Tattoo”.
3. “2000 Light Years from Home” by The Rolling Stones
I love The Rolling Stones when they’re being demonic Rock and Soul merchants. I love them when they pop on Merlin caps and pretend to be psychedelic sorcerers. “2000 Light Years from Home” is my favorite Stones track because it is the best of both worlds. The maraca wagging and funky guitar/bass/drum propulsion is the Stones doing what most people expect them to do. The weird tape experiments, synths, Mellotrons, and sci-fi lyricism are what I want them to do. It all comes together in a magnificent noise, as big and bad as we all want The Rolling Stones to be.
2. “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys
I fall to pieces when I hear “God Only Knows”. It’s the most romantic record ever made, a deceptively complex piece of music considering how simple its melody seems. But screw all the music theory. “God Only Knows” is brilliant because it is such a purely emotional piece of music, and despite its often-misinterpreted opening phrase (even Brian Wilson misinterpreted it as cynicism when lyricist Tony Asher presented his words), it is a disarmingly direct expression of devotion. I am devoted to “God Only Knows”. I love this song as much as the dude singing it loves the person he’s singing it to…
1. “Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles
…but there’s a song I love even more. A song, in fact, I love more than any other song. “Strawberry Fields Forever” has been my favorite song since I got The Beatles 1967-1970 for my thirteenth birthday. Why? Is it Lennon’s aching melody? His oddly confused and confusing words? The mystery of the Mellotron? The regality of the trumpets and cellos? The best drumming on any record ever (fuck you, Ringo haters)? The crazy coda? Cranberry Sauce.
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