It seems like yesterday that Psychobabble hit 900 posts and I posted my very personal 90 favorite songs of the sixties. The next 100 posts went by faster than a convoy of macramé big rigs chugging Billy Beer. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then you didn’t live through the seventies…not even for the pretty brief period I did. Since I was so young at the time, the decade is a bit of a blur of colors (brown, orange, and puke green) and pop culture litter: Star Wars, “The Incredible Hulk” with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, Jaws, “WKRP in Cincinnati”, Grease, “The Muppet Show”, Saturday Night Fever, “Welcome Back, Kotter”, Dynamite Magazine. Then there’s the music I remember hearing constantly: Barry Manilow, Starland Vocal Band, Bread, The Carpenters, John Denver, Paper Lace, Anne Murray, The Eagles. But hey, it wasn’t all shit. Hearing a bit of the good stuff by Wings, Fleetwood Mac, or Elton John brings me back to the decade of my youth as assuredly as a sip of Kool-Aid from a C-3PO Dixie Cup. And as I grew up, I discovered all the truly great music that lived elsewhere from the AM dial. Here are 100 of my personal faves gathered tidily in the 1000th post here on Psychobabble!
We begin with a nod to the Choose Your Own Adventure Series, a staple of school libraries from 1979 on. You are drifting through an arena, surrounded by a fog of doobie smoke. Two doors face you. Which will you choose? Walk through the door to your left, and get your ears blown out by the rampaging Rock & Roll of Roy Wood’s The Move. The sounds pouring through the door to your right are impeccably polished by ex-Move man Jeff Lynne and buoyed by the swooping strings of E.L.O. Unlike a Choose Your Own Adventure book, you will not end up toiling in the salt mines of your giant ant overlords if you pick the wrong door. Either way, you will end up rocking to the mighty “Do Ya”, and either way, it’s dynamite.
99. “Telegram Sam” by T. Rex
There’s no choice this time, because only one man can pick out the slinky riffs sneering over the driving beat of “Telegram Sam”. He is Marc Bolan, and this marriage of nonsense nursery rhymes and white-hot Les Paul-stroking is one of his most magical conjurations. Where can I get me a pair of automatic shoes?
98. “Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric
Marc Bolan wants nothing more than to have a good time all the time. Wreckless Eric has more global goals. He wants the girl of his dreams, and he’s will to walk the Earth endlessly to get to her. Songs don’t come more romantic without getting sappy.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a bit of sap. Led Zeppelin created what may be their most beautiful song by totally giving in to valentine sentiments. Jimmy Page’s chord structure is complex and beautiful. If your heart doesn’t melt when John Paul Jones starts leaning on his Mellotron and your head doesn’t bang when John Bonham finally wallops his kit, you may have been born without a heart and a head.
96. “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile)” by Van Morrison
This song has been making me crazy since age 16 when I picked up The Best of Van Morrison and got addicted to his Celtic incantations. “Jackie Wilson Said” could be his most euphoric burst of soul. The way that a cappella intro roils up the big band backing sends me to heaven and makes me smile.
95. “So It Goes” by Nick Lowe
So what if it’s a big rip of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years”? Dan never bashed as powerful an intro as the Basher does on “So It Goes”. He then falls into a groove that will sweep you up like a tsunami. Lowe’s lyrics roll off the tongue like the tide. Something about his rhyming of “discussions” with “Russians” always tickles me.
94.”Lucky Number” by Lene Lovitch
Nobody except for the ten richest kings on Earth owned home computers in 1979. No matter. For just a buck or two you could have gotten all the bloops and bleeps one of those things make by visiting the Record World in your local mall and picking up Lene Lovitch’s “Lucky Number”. It’s a hell of a lot catchier and easier to dance to than an IBM too.
93. “Black Country Rock” by David Bowie
Following his fey first two albums, David Bowie went in a more electric direction for 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World. The raunchiest thing on it is “Black Country Rock”, which grunts out riffs that must have left Jimmy Page kicking himself in his dragon pants for not thinking of them first.
92. “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra
“Mr. Blue Sky” takes a little Kinky bounce, a little Beatley harmony, and a lot of E.L.O.y orchestration. The forecast: perfect pop, as vivid as a Technicolor cartoon.
91. “And You and I” by Yes
Yes must have gotten all their mathematical fancies out of the way on the title track of “Close to the Edge”, because “And You And I” is perfectly simple, even as it lasts an epic ten minutes. With Steve Howe’s chiming acoustic and Leslied electric guitars, Jon Anderson’s enchanting vocal, and Rick Wakeman’s sci-fi synth and flock-of-eagles Mellotron, it could go on for another ten for all I care.
90. “Band on the Run” by Wings
The smash title-track of Paul’s first critically acclaimed post-Beatles album (which really should have been the superb RAM) is like a mini-Abbey Road medley by a half-dozen Pauls. Paul the consummate balladeer splits into Paul the snarling rocker who melts into Paul the pop perfectionist. We also get Paul the drummer, Paul the versatile singer, and Paul the bass player who can make the simplest lines sound like Bach. I like all Pauls.
89. “Apron Strings” by John Entwistle
The Ox’s second solo outing is not as amazing as his first (though it’s damn good), but “Apron Strings” is basically as great as anything on Smash Your Head Against the Wall. The bouncy bass beat keeps the melancholic mood afloat. The grim lyric about a son whose mother’s death inspires self-pity rather than mournfulness is very John. So is the fact that he actually really loved his mum, who outlived him by a decade, incidentally. He always left the personal songwriting to Pete.
88. “Pump It Up” by Elvis Costello and the Attractions
If we’re talking bass players and bass lines, there’s no way we cannot mention Bruce Thomas and “Pump It Up”. The best Motown bassline not played by James Jamerson—and not released on the Motown label—announces one of Elvis and the Attraction’s finest singles. Be sure to have your microfiber cloth on hand because this record drips amphetamine sweat.
87. “Gabrielle” by The Nips
Sometimes I’m not sure I want to live in a world in which The Nips’ “Gabrielle” wasn’t one of the biggest hits of 1979. How this delectable power popper didn’t make the whole world want to shake it up is beyond me.
86. “Plan 9 Channel 7” by The Damned
Dave Vanian dreams of a Goth romance between James Dean and Vampira and leaves us with the ultimate Damned love song. That’s saying a lot since The Damned actually had a song called “Love Song” (which is damned good too). “Plan 9 Channel 7” has a graveyard allure all its own and a chorus that will get the most po-faced wannabe-ghoul singing along.
85. “Cruel to Be Kind” by Nick Lowe
Nick Lowe rallies Phil Spector soul, C&W, and Mersey Beat into a three-way forced marriage and makes a pop masterpiece of tough love. If ice cream had a sound, it would be this.
84. “See No Evil” by Television
One of the unlikeliest classic punk albums is a monument of epic anthems and majestic guitar solos. The punkest Marquee Moon gets is its opening track, and it’s pretty anthemic and Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s guitars are pretty majestic. “See No Evil” is also pretty raw, totally attitudinal, and catchy as the syph.
83. “Too Many People” by Paul and Linda McCartney
John Lennon saw all sorts of insults in Paul McCartney’s RAM. He had a point when it came to opening track, “Too Many People”, which pokes fun at John’s preaching, politicizing, bed ins, and bag ins. You don’t mess with Mr. Lennon like that, and he fired back at his old partner with big guns on “How Do You Sleep?” That track is nastier than “Too Many People”, but it isn’t nearly as melodic or rousing. McCartney wins this one.
MC5 cannibalize “Cool Jerk” and shimmy out the ultimate ode to grades 9 through 12. If my high school was this funky I would have spent more time in class.
82. “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder
Actually, considering his track record for thievery, I’m surprised Pagey didn’t just steal Bowie’s riff. The same could not be said of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”, which he and company heisted for “Trampled Underfoot”. The original is still the best though. Stevie works his funky bad luck out on his clavinet and everyone crowds the dance floor to get a piece of the nasty mojo.
81. “High School” by MC5
MC5 cannibalize “Cool Jerk” and shimmy out the ultimate ode to grades 9 through 12. If my high school was this funky I would have spent more time in class.
80. “Southern Girls” by Cheap Trick
While punk was busy saving Rock in the late seventies, one new group was keeping the spirit of more traditional Rock & Roll alive. Cheap Trick had no qualms about smashing their power chords under perfect harmonies and perfectly maintained tresses (well, at least Robin and Tom’s tresses). The Beach Boys-indebted “Southern Girls” is one of the most perfect examples of their cheeky brand of poppy power Rock.
79. “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River” by Van Morrison
Part of the appeal of the divine Astral Weeks is that Van Morrison never really made another album like it. The closest he came was 1974’s Veedon Fleece, which contained a few songs that picked up on Astral’s extended, exploratory magic. The greatest of these tracks has an epic title to match its epic length. If it were not for David Hayes’s wild electric bass work “You Don’t Pull No Punches, but You Don’t Push the River” could have been on Astral Weeks. Van’s vocals are as fearless and soul igniting as any on his greatest album.
78. “Country Girl” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
Crosby, Still, & Nash were a really good pop group that got an extra shot of creativity and credibility when Neil Young joined their ranks for their second album. His darker influences are felt through most non-Graham Nash compositions on the record though he only composed two songs. The best is the winding, mysterious “Country Girl”, which builds from a somber dirge to a magnetic sing along.
77. “Downed” by Cheap Trick
“Downed” is a great example of why Cheap Trick is so great. Rick Nielsen taints a superbly crafted power pop track with misanthropic lyrics about retreating from society and suicide. It’s so much more interesting than the love lyrics a less imaginative writer would have farted out. Guided by Voices did a great cover of this one too!
76. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John
Elton John has always been a very hit-or-miss artist, and his rep is often tied to the misses (say, the totally sappy “Candle in the Wind” or the corny “Crocodile Rock”) more than the hits, which can be quite spectacular. One of Elton’s most spectacular hits is the title of his most popular (and one of his most uneven) albums. Everything works perfectly on this soulful, moody Beatles pastiche. Bernie Taupin contributes his finest lyric.
75. “To You” by Wings
His final record with Wings, Back to the Egg, is not remembered as one of Paul McCartney’s best albums, but it’s actually pretty great. Recorded after punk’s influence crossed over to all nooks of the Rock world (even Zeppelin and the Stones were jumping on the band wagon), Back to the Egg contains Paul’s punkiest tracks. One of these is the slithery and outrageously underrated “To You”, which really sounds more like The Knack than The Sex Pistols.
74. “Beauty and the Beast” by David Bowie
David Bowie rouses himself from the icy terrains of “Heroes” and grinds onto the disco floor. The forgotten single from that album is fabulously freaky and existentially funky.
73. “Relay” by The Who
The Who, however, were not known to get very funky, even when covering James Brown songs. That kind of playing just wasn’t in the repertoire of Rock’s greatest rhythm section. Or was it? John and Keith actually whip a pretty convincing funk on the call-to-revolution “Relay”, though Pete deserves most of the credit because of what he does with his synth-filtered guitar.
72. “Loving Cup” by The Rolling Stones
From the tight Maximum R&B of The Who to the sloppy soul of the Stones. Mick and Keith get soused, and hang on each other while hanging over the mic in swampy Nellcôte. Bill and Charlie have never sounded looser (or better), allowing Nicky Hopkins to drive the song with his forceful piano work. I feel sorry for you if hearing this song doesn’t make you want to grab a bottle of bourbon and grab your best buddy to join in on the “gimme little drink” chorus.
71. “Every Picture Tells a Story” by Rod Stewart
Before becoming an insufferable poseur Rod Stewart made some of the most credible Rock & Roll of all time. Our genre gets one of its ultimate anthems in “Every Picture Tells a Story”, a song that reaches out to the loser who spins records alone while posing before the mirror, the kid who gets guff from authority figures for no damn good reason, and the big Rock star who travels the world with a different partner in every port. Rod’s duet with Maggie Bell that rides the track out send chills down my spin and Micky Waller’s walloping drumming sends a kick up my ass.
70. “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight” by The Jam
“Down in the Tube Station at Midnight” rejects the conservative label a lot of critics slapped across The Jam, as Paul Weller plays the part of a man on the receiving end of a National Front hate crime with heart-rending detail, wishing he could be home with his family, imagining his wife waiting with dinner. Can you believe a twenty year old wrote something so empathetic, so authentic, so emotionally devastating, and so Rocking despite all that? Fuck.
69. “Artificial Man” by The Kinks
The Kinks made their first weak album when they transitioned from Preservation Act 1 to Act 2. But they were just too fucking good not to still cook up some fucking great songs for it. The greatest is “Artificial Man”, which perfectly achieves the glam attitude, musical theater drama, complexity, and profundity for which they reached on that album. Each of its sections is a mini-masterpiece. The Kinks stitch them together like a brilliant pop Frankenstein.
68. “However Much I Booze” by The Who
Pete Townshend had been Rock’s most honest and self-aware writer since he told us he couldn’t explain back in ’65. However, “However Much I Booze” is unprecedented. The way he eviscerates himself for his alcoholism, hypocrisy, negativity, and ironically, dishonesty, will leave your jaw hanging off its hinge. It might have been painful to listen to this if the music wasn’t so breezy and beautiful. The intricate mesh of Townshend’s twangy guitar picking and Entwistle’s fluttering bass will unhinge your jaw too.
67. “He’s a Whore” by Cheap Trick
“He’s a Whore” is the masterpiece of Cheap Trick’s great debut LP, finding Rick and the gang dipping into their bag of tricks and pulling out each of their greatest gimmicks. There a dirty, satirical lyric that comments on the depths to which the greedy will sink and gives a very funny, if mean-spirited, account of man-whoring. There’s a memorably heavy riff. Bun E. Carlos introduces the rhythm with a drumbeat power-packed with all the hookiness of the guitar part. Tom Petersson brings it to life fully by hammering spontaneous licks around the main riff. By the time Zander steps in, the track feels as if it has already reached its boiling point, yet there are still peaks to hit. One of the seventies’ finest slabs of cracked power pop.
66. “Hanging on the Telephone” by Blondie
There are about a half dozen songs I regularly get stuck in my head. For some reason they include the theme to “Green Acres” (a show I’ve never actually seen) and “The National Emblem March”. Before you start feeling sorry for me, know that Blondie’s cover of The Nerve’s “Hanging on the Telephone” is another one of those songs. The way it kicks in at the end of Debbie’s Harry’s cold opening (“I’m in the phone booth it’s the one across the haw-wal”) slays me.
65. “No Action” by Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Another adrenaline rush with a stunning cold opening is “No Action”. Launching Elvis’s first official collaboration with The Attractions, the track is an amazing show case for everyone in the new ensemble: Elvis’s breathless sneering, Bruce Thomas’s pumping bass, Steve Nieve’s creepy crawling Farfisa, and Pete Thomas’s jittery drumming. It all comes in just under two minutes, which is probably a good thing because listeners might start spontaneously combusting if “No Action” lasted just one second longer.
64. “10538 Overture” by Electric Light Orchestra
E.L.O.’s debut single was actually supposed to be released by The Move. It probably has more in common with that group’s murky menace than the glistening sheen of Jeff Lynne’s baby. No matter who gets credit, “10538 Overture” looms higher than Kubrick’s monolith and has stronger undertow than the Atlantic Ocean.
63. “Sweet Jane” by The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground’s (real) final album is a total left turn after the deliberate weirdness of their first three. After stuff like “Heroin”, “Sister Ray”, and “The Murder Mystery”, it’s hard to believe they were capable of something as sparkly, innocent, and well, happy as “Sweet Jane”. Lou Reed sets the stage for his solo career and gives us a groove that could go on forever.
62. “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” by Johnny Thunders
Johnny Thunders hocks some off-key caterwauling over ramshackle backing and rips my fucking heart out. The title sentiment is so simple and truthful that it’s hard to believe another pop writer didn’t think to use it in the fifties (a TV screenwriter, however, did, as it’s a line pulled from an episode of “The Honeymooners”). More ludicrous is the fact that New York Dolls never bothered with this song, which Thunders wrote before even joining that band. Their loss. As recorded by Thunders in 1978, this record is imperfectly perfect.
61.”I’m the Man” by Joe Jackson
Joe Jackson gives voice to the Crass King of Capitalism, the Jesus of Junk, the Pope of Pop Culture, the Man. He sells us faddish trash like the yo-yo, Kung Fu, the hoola hoop, skate boards, and Spielberg’s “giant rubber shark” and we get in line to hand over our dollars. I’m not sure whom I’m rooting for: Joe the Man or Joe the critic (I love Jaws). Who cares? It’s the electrifying track that wins. Graham Maby’s bass knocks me to the floor.
60. “5:15”by The Who
Pete Townshend originally composed a slight synth experiment called “Wizardy” to represent Jimmy the Mod’s train trip from London to Brighton in Quadrophenia. Good thing he didn’t settle for that because “5:15” gets the job done a lot better. John Entwistle shines with his rubbery bass line and fat stack of horn overdubs. Roger Daltrey gets to show off his talent for bellowing and more sensitive dramatics as Keith Moon’s thunder swells overhead. Pete Townshend gets the first and last words with his succinct, emotion-tugging question: “Why should I care?”
59. “Someday Never Comes” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
John Fogerty is not content to merely tug at your emotions with the beautiful “Someday Never Comes”. This exploration of the lies fathers tell sons is a downright tearjerker without resorting to the corniness of something like “The Cat’s in the Cradle”. The song is rooted in the writer’s memories of his parents divorce. It also happens to be one of just two tracks worth-a-damn on Creedence’s final album Mardi Gras.
58. “Sisters of the Moon” by Fleetwood Mac
Stevie Nicks is in full witchy woman mode with her utterly sinister “Sisters of the Moon”. Like “Sara”, her Tusk single that actually became a hit, this is a minimalistic, mesmerizing piece. But while “Sara” goes for the heartstrings, “Sisters of the Moon” lunges for the jugular. The descending chord progression that links the verses is dark and deep as a well to Hell, and Lindsey’s wailing guitar would make a banshee cower under the covers.
57. “Bargain” by The Who
It’s pretty lame that “Bargain” has recently become considered one of The Who’s greatest hits because it was used in a fucking car commercial. Before it was used to hawk cars, “Bargain” was a roiling, heavy-duty monster about being a better follower of god. There is staggering beauty amidst the storminess as Pete sings the bridge with tremendous delicacy and his acoustic guitar arpeggios glisten like sunlight on a summer pond.
56. “It’s Just a Thought” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
I hate it when critics try to box in musicians. Rolling Stone’s Dave Marsh once accused John Fogerty of trying to pass himself off as some sort of artiste when he expanded CCR’s sound with horns, horns, keyboards, and tape experiments on Pendulum. OK, maybe the tape experiments didn’t work that well, but the rest of the album is incredible. My favorite track is the Procol Harum-influenced “It’s Just a Thought”. Fogerty’s vocal is astonishingly poignant on this lovely track. Stu Cook and Doug Clifford’s rhythm track is so tight you could bounce a silver dollar off it.
55. “Ghosts of Princes in Towers” by The Rich Kids
The Sid Vicious-era Sex Pistols got all the punk press, but I think former bassist Glen Matlock is the one who made music worthy of that attention with his band The Rich Kids. The Pistols’ music was powerful but turgid. The Rich Kids made high-spirited Rock & Roll with punk energy and pop savvy. I’d rather pogo to “Ghosts of Princes in Tower” than glower to “God Save the Queen” any day.
54. “Jet” by Wings
A simple but unforgettable riff and more bottom than a hippopotamus make “Jet” one of Paul McCartney’s most electrifying post-Beatles rockers. This is an incredible ensemble piece…even more so since the ensemble was mostly Paul playing with himself on bass, guitars, piano, and drums. Howie Casey contributes all those fuzzy saxophones that lay the foundation for Wings’ greatest hit.
53. “Ted End” by John Entwistle
Who fans were probably expecting some sort of virtuosic bass show-off showcase from John Entwistle’s first solo album. The Ox had other plans, intending to show off his songwriting skills and versatility instead. The morbidly humorous ballad “Ted End” is the best showcase for both. The composition is as dark and funny as anything we’d expect the composer of “Boris the Spider” to compose. It’s also starkly beautiful and elegantly arranged, which are things we had not really expected of him yet.
52. “What?” by The Move
Entwistle’s “Ted End” is dark, murky, and simple. The Move’s “What?” is dark, murky, and massive. This is the best epic from the band’s underrated Looking On LP. Brooding and deliberate with amazing vocal tapestries, “What?” suddenly kicks ass with a double-time passage before settling back into its slow, brooding psychedelic haze. Awesome.
51. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who
Much contradictory stuff has been said about The Who’s political/anti-political masterpiece (some of that contradictory stuff was said by its composer, Pete Townshend). At the end of the day, whether “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is political, anti-political, anti-revolution, pro-revolution (with caution), right wing, or left wing doesn’t matter as much as how the fucking thing sounds. To be clear, it sounds stunning with its futuristic organ pulse, good ol’ Rock & Roll guitar, bass, and drums bashing, and legendary primal scream climax. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” can probably be all things to anyone, which is why it is so loved by people with all kinds of leanings.
50. “Rocks Off” by The Rolling Stones
“Rock’s Off” may stand as the ultimate statement of The Rolling Stones pure-Rock & Roll sound in the seventies. All of the archetypal elements are alert and present: the raunchy Chuck Berry riffs, the beefy horns, the sloppy sing-along choruses. But the lyrics tackle a very un-Stones-like subject: impotence. For once Jagger is not conquering women like some sort of dough-brained Rock & Roll Viking. Ol’ Lucifer can’t get it up, and the results are as hilarious as they are galvanizing.
49. “Paris 1919” by John Cale
The piano dances overhead. The cellos grind from below. John Cale croons in the center about London, ghosts, Texas country music, an armadillo, and yes, Parisian landmarks in the stately, uplifting, and hilariously impenetrable “Paris 1919”. It’s like a lost classic from “The White Album”.
48. “Mama Nantucket” by Michael Nesmith and the First National Band
By far the most ass-kicking song with prominent yodeling is Mike Nesmith’s “Mama Nantucket”. I go crazy when John Ware’s drums kick in on the second verse.
47. “Where to Now, St. Peter?” by Elton John
The elliptical chord progression of “Where to Now St. Peter?” from Elton John’s best album, Tumbleweed Connection, makes my hair stand on end. That heavily leslied guitar arpeggio makes me feel like my guts are going to drop out. Shadowy and haunting; Elton John’s most underappreciated song.
46. “Cars” by Gary Numan
We all think of it as one of the eighties’ greatest, but “Cars” actually sneaked into the previous decade in the summer of ’79. Yet this sounds so eighties, with its disaffected vocals and symphony of synthesizers, that it’s hard to divorce it from the decade in which it received maximum MTV exposure. Tough as any metal head-banger and simple as a nursery rhyme, “Cars” kills in any decade.
45. “Watch That Man” by David Bowie
Bowie is at his strutting, ass-wagging glammiest on the first song of my favorite of his albums. “Watch That Man” kicks off Aladdin Sane with Jagger-attitude, T. Rexy vocals, and Roxy Music density, yet it’s still a perfectly Bowie-esque rocker. I love how he pronounces “spoon” as “spune.”
44. “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin
Recordings can sound fat and they can sound thin, but only Led Zeppelin made records that sound tall. This is one of those (and not the last on this list). “Kashmir” hangs over your head like a giant that could stomp you into moosh at any second but has decided to hover there for eight and a half minutes first.
43. “Naked Eye” by The Who
When I was polling Who fans about their favorite underrated song of the seventies for my book, The Who FAQ, they came out in droves for “Naked Eye”. I can’t blame them. Originally recorded for a doomed E.P. (or maxi-single, as they called it), “Naked Eye” is mature, direct, philosophical, moody. The Who’s inimitable instrumental interplay is at its most exciting on this recording. Pete Townshend thought that recording didn’t represent his song well enough, so it sat in the can for four years until John Entwistle rescued it for inclusion on Odds and Sods. Pete’s not always the best judge of his own work. This is an amazing work. The way Pete’s voice cracks on “press any bu-tton” gives me the chills. And anyone who says Keith Moon couldn’t handle anything but straight 4/4 time needs to hear this before shutting the fuck up forever.
42. “Truth Hits Everybody” by The Police
OK, so The Police were punk’s biggest poseurs, a trio of middle-aged refugees from prog and (gag) jazz-fusion groups dolled up to look like the latest gang of spikey-haired hooligans. You’d never know that from “Truth Hits Everyone” though. This song speeds past the Pistols.
41. “53rd and 3rd” by The Ramones
Dee Dee Ramone played coy about his days as a street hustler years later, but he also told Legs McNeil that his ode to hustling on 53rd and 3rd “speaks for itself. Everything I write is autobiographical and very real” in Please Kill Me. If what he said was true, Dee Dee’s past was even more sordid than McNeil reported. Jacking off johns is the least of the crimes described in “53rd and 3rd”. Dee Dee describes a Vietnam vet/rent boy never chosen by the chicken hawks circling the infamous intersection. When he finally gets picked up, he slices up his trick with a razor blade to prove he’s “no sissy.” Dee Dee sings the bridge in his elfin, damaged warble, providing the scariest moment on Ramones. Getting pinheads to pogo was the ultimate Ramones agenda, but this incitation to curl up in a fetal position may be their masterpiece.
40. “Clampdown” by The Clash
Capitalism condemns the less lucky of us to drudge work, and Joe Strummer decries this on the toughest track on London Calling. “Clampdown” is also super catchy, even danceable, but like so much of LC, it isn’t quite punk. It’s The Clash inventing a new form of Rock & Roll that’s a little punk, a little Stonesy swagger, a little pop, and perhaps a little disco. Man, they were fantastic.
39. “Shake Some Action” by The Flamin’ Groovies
The Flamin’ Groovies took a five year break after the 1958-style Rock & Roll of Teenage Head. When they returned with Shake Some Action, it sounded like it was recorded five years after 1958. The album’s British Invasion pop might have sounded like some sort of Sh-Na-Na pastiche if the songs weren’t so good. The best of them is the title track, which is the most modern sounding thing on the record while still recapturing the exuberance of Beatlemania perfectly.
38. “Mary” by Pete Townshend
Pete Townshend wrote a ton of superb songs for Lifehouse since he envisioned his sci-fi Rock opera as a double-album. When the project crumbled amidst the confusion of his co-workers, a lot of fantastic stuff had to be sacrificed—some of which The Who managed to record. If “Mary” was one of these songs, there’s no longer any evidence of it. So we must refer to the homemade demo Townshend included on his Scoop compilation in 1983 to convince us of its excellence. I’d mourn the lack of a Who version if Townshend’s 1971 demo wasn’t so exquisite, from his gorgeous open-tuned guitar figure to his heart-wrenching vocal. Even his drumming does it for me.
37. “Let It Loose” by The Rolling Stones
Melancholy, mysterious “Let It Loose’ is a return to the despair and paranoia of Sticky Fingers, making it the most emotionally charged song on Exile on Main Street. It begins in near silence before building to an unhinged pitch. Soulful backing singers wail away over the band’s unfettered soaring and smashing. No one did that kind of dynamic build like the Stones. “Let It Loose” stops my heart.
36. “Carouselambra” by Led Zeppelin
The consensus seems to be that this epic from Zeppelin’s final album is one of the band’s few losers. I think “Carouselambra” (what a fun word to say!) is a total winner, and I’m reminded of this every time I spin it instead of crap “classics” like “Heartbreaker” or “Thank You”. It is a murky, mysterious, synthesized, discofied enigma. Plant didn’t like that his vocals are so buried, but I love the fact that he sounds like he’s screaming to be heard in the middle of a maelstrom. Its presence makes me consider In Through the Out Door to be a much better album than it probably is.
35. “Time Waits for No One” by The Rolling Stones
It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll was Mick Taylor’s final album with the Stones, and one of the main reasons for his departure was Jagger and Richards’ refusal to credit him for songs he co-wrote. Considering that those songs included “Moonlight Mile”, “Winter”, and “Time Waits for No One”, the guy had a real legitimate gripe, because he’d helped write a good deal of the band’s best recent material. The song that most bears his touch is “Time Waits for No One”, a jazzy, strange piece showcasing Taylor’s nimble guitar work like no other. It’s also a lyrical triumph for Jagger, who turned thirty the year the record was released. No longer was he joking about his persona as he did on “Monkey Man” and “Rocks Off”. This is a grim realization that he’d past Rock & Roll middle age and the reaper now had his number. Charlie Watts’s rim shots tick-tock like some great, looming grandfather clock.
34. “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.” by The Clash
It started as a typical anti-love song called “I’m So Bored With You”. By switching that last word from a pronoun to a letter and adding a couple more, Joe Strummer turned the song into something a hell of a lot more potent and a hell of a lot more worthy of the only band that matters. Yank-o-philia gets it between the eyes as The Clash rush forth with bullet speed, laying waste to the States while laying down an irresistible chant.
33. “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend” by John Cale
John Cale’s first records were a schizo lot bouncing from the Band worship of Vintage Violence to the avant gardism of The Academy in Peril to the pure pop of Paris 1919. His greatest album, Fear, unites all these sounds, and its opening track distills them into four minutes of bouncy piano, melodic crooning, and twangy guitar that climaxes with screams and decomposing bass guitar. Invigorating and shattering.
32. “Life on Mars?” by David Bowie
Bowie blatantly ripped off François and Revaux’s “Comme d'habitude” for his most Bowie-esque anthem. It’s hard to imagine a more defining song for the Rock & Roll alien, with its sci-fi musings and glam splendor. Raise your gold-painted fingernails into the air as the chorus ascends. Mick Ronson’s guitar sings. Mick Woodmansey’s snare rolls crack like a splitting glacier. Ecstasy.
31. “Ex Lion Tamer” by Wire
I love songs that end with one line repeated over and over. It’s more hypnotic than one of those black and white spinning wheels. One of my favorite examples is Wire’s insanity-inducing “Ex Lion Tamer”. I could listen to Colin Newman wail “Stay tuned to your TV screen” for hours.
30. “Achilles Last Stand” by Led Zeppelin
Without a single keyboard, mandolin, or acoustic guitar, Presence is Led Zeppelin’s most electric guitar-oriented album, and it begins with their most electric guitar-crammed song. Whispering up over the horizon with menacing arpeggios, “Achilles Last Stand” slams into full intensity and doesn’t relent for the next ten minutes. Despite the dozen-or-so guitars, this track is both lean and spacious, a high-speed race through cavernous corridors.
29. “20th Century Boy” by T. Rex
That first guitar crash sounds like a funny car impacting against a brick wall. Then the shards of iron and steel glitter down to earth as Sue and Dunny wail, Bill Legend stamps out the glam stomp, and Marc Bolan unleashes hell from his metallic guitar and metallic voice. They called it glam, but to me it sounds just like Rock & Roll. It feels like an amphetamine OD.
28. “Gasoline Alley” by Rod Stewart
Rod Stewart does what he did best on the title track of his second solo album: soaking classic English folk sounds in his whiskey-stinking Rock & Roll rasp. This melody is one for the ages, so perfect that everyone gets in on it: Rod at the mic, Ronnie Wood on bottle neck electric, and Stanley Matthews on spine-tingling mandolin. An enchanting record in every way.
27. “Oliver’s Army” by Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Like many other junior MTV-viewers, I was first introduced to the pop prowess of Elvis Costello and the Attractions via “Oliver’s Army”. I must have been about eight-years old at the time, so I certainly had no idea who Oliver was (Oliver Cromwell) or what his army was doing (luring the unemployed into the New Model Army to kill and be killed), but the effervescent rhythms and absurdly catchy chorus (complete with ABBA-inspired piano runs and pseudo-Ronnie Spector “Woah-oh-oh-ohs”) translated just fine. All these years later, Costello’s blend of sugar-pop and angsty antimilitarism remains as delectably bittersweet as ever.
26. “Tend My Garden” by James Gang
It takes almost a minute for that organ to fade up from silence, but man, “Tend My Garden” is worth the wait. Joe Walsh is best known for his electric guitar work, but I think his best songs find him sitting behind an acoustic or a keyboard. Though it is organ driven, Walsh does layer on some beautiful guitar lines on “Tend My Garden” with the sunny Abbey Road-esque arpeggios that lead out of each verse and his keening solo.
25. “Sail On, Sailor” by The Beach Boys
In 1972, a pair of South African musicians joined The Beach Boys briefly to infuse their Holland album with funky soul. Future Rutle Rikki Fataar sat behind the drum kit, while Blondie Chaplin got on board as guitarist and loaned his full-throttle pipes to a bluesy sea shanty called “Sail On Sailor”. Largely because of Chaplin, the stirring track sounds quite unlike anything else in The Beach Boys’ catalogue even though the group’s trademark harmonies roll out in waves beneath Chaplin’s throaty leads. Van Dyke Parks returns to compose lyrics to rival any of Procol Harum’s “sailor on a futile voyage” epics.
24. “Fight Say the Mighty” by Marmalade
Marmalade’s stiff-upper lip classic “Fight Say the Mighty” is a mini-epic. At under-five minutes, the track moves through the near-silence of its verses to the euphoric shout of its choruses to the wordless but blaring bridge and back again. So fraught yet determined it will break your heart, particularly at the climactic chorus of “Please, please, please, heal my brother.”
23. “The Battle of Evermore” by Led Zeppelin
My bid for Led Zeppelin’s best song is perfectly simple. Jimmy Page picks out a rudimentary chord figure on the mandolin he borrowed from John Paul Jones, who bangs out the basic harmony on acoustic guitar. Robert Plant barely bothers with a melody. John Bonham takes a six-minute cigarette break. Sitting in is Sandy Denny who plays vocal badminton with Plant. As the song churns on, the duettists prod each other into wilder feats until the track explodes with a fabric of overdubbed screaming Robert Plants. Lilting and lovely, intense and stormy, “The Battle of Evermore” makes Plant’s medieval folk fixation seem like it wasn’t so silly after all.
22. “The Great Deceiver” by King Crimson
“The Battle of Evermore” is a picture of elegant simplicity. “The Great Deceiver” is a barrage of high-power complications. Robert Fripp’s guitar vomits a riff that sounds like a malfunctioning computer. Somehow, bassist John Wetton manages to lock in with him perfectly. We listeners hold on for dear life until it slams to a stop to let Wetton sneer the anti-commercialism lyric (and I should note, a “health food faggot” is not a homophobic slur but a vegetarian meatball, so no need to feel guilty digging this one, kids). Then the flames of Hell reignite for the title refrain and a return to that abusive riff. This is prog at its proggest and its punkest.
21. “No Matter What” by Badfinger
This is pop at its poppest. Apple signees Badfinger really do sound like they could carry The Beatles’ torch with “No Matter What”, even if it’s a torch that sounds like it was lit in 1964. Dramatic touches—the Harrison-style guitar solo, the super slow arpeggio picking, a sudden pause just before the song ends, that amazing duet between drums and handclaps before the final verse— elevate this song to the sublime.
20. “I’ve Got a Feeling” by The Beatles
Of course, no one makes Beatles records better than The Beatles, and one of their most underappreciated masterworks sneaked out on the last LP they released. Actually recorded at the legendary Apple rooftop concert in early 1969, “I’ve Got a Feeling” is one of the final true collaborations between bickering John and Paul. Interestingly, they reverse their usual roles here, with Paul screaming about himself and John playing man of the people in soft voice. Soulful and powerful and sounding quite like it may blow the world to pieces at any minute, “I’ve Got a Feeling” is the last truly jaw-dropping song on the last Beatles album.
19. “Moonlight Mile” by The Rolling Stones
The Stones may have been the biggest band in the world at the outset of the seventies, but it was a dark time for the guys. Brian Jones had only died a few years earlier. Keith and Mick’s girlfriends were dealing with crippling drug problems. Altamont. Sticky Fingers is a reflection of that darkness. At the end of all this spite and anguish comes “Moonlight Mile”, a gorgeous, meditative track that struggles to find some thread of hope in all the misery. This is a landmark track for all members of the band save Keith, who was unusually absent from the recording. Watts’s drumming had never been so dramatically dynamic; Jagger’s singing never so nuanced and sensitive. Uncredited co-writer Mick Taylor’s mesh of acoustic and electric guitars give the track deep texture. Add Paul Buckmaster’s transcendent string arrangement on top of it all, and you have the Stones’ finest ballad.
18. “The Trader” by The Beach Boys
18. “The Trader” by The Beach Boys
“Trader” finds the Beach Boys in social commentary mode, and Carl Wilson and Jack Rieley’s picturesque poetry is remarkable, an epic tale charting the displacement and slaughter of Native Americans. No other Beach Boys song conveys such a bold fusion of anger, empathy, and awe, or presents the schizoid personality of the group in such stark terms. The first half of the track is taut and intense, the harmonies soaring and dipping like an army of drunken seagulls; the second is languid, quiet, meditative. Neither traditionally structured nor conventionally catchy, “Trader” still manages to sink as deeply into the subconscious as The Beach Boys’ most accessible and popular hits.
17. “One of These Things First” by Nick Drake
Nick Drake ponders reincarnation—or is it missed opportunities—in his frail, unaffected murmur. “I could have been a sailor, could have been a cook / A real live lover, could have been a book.” Oh, well. Piano and acoustic guitars swirl like leaves caught in an autumn zephyr. On his most lushly produced album, Bryter Layter, Drake still managed a great moment of delicacy, and it is the most beautiful statement of his short life and career.
16. “Teenage Kicks” by The Undertones
One of Rock’s great anthems is a celebration to the time-honored tradition of jerking off (the chorus originally went “I want to hold it tight, get teenage kicks right through the night”). The fact that it is so damn hooky makes “Teenage Kicks” as subversive as The Who’s similarly sublime “Pictures of Lily”. In 1978, John Peel announced that he wanted the line “Teenage dreams, so hard to beat” engraved on his headstone when he dies. In 2008, he got his wish. If there’s anything more punk rock than having a quote from a song about beating the meat engraved on one’s headstone, I’ve yet to hear it.
15.”Rocket Man” by Elton John
A time machine exists, and it is called “Rocket Man”. Every time I hear this magical slice of pop I’m instantly transported back to the playroom carpet in my family’s first house, my best buddy Antonio at my side, battling it out with little Kenner Darth Vaders and Chewbaccas. Nostalgia plays a huge role in my love for “Rocket Man”, but it is a gorgeous production with one of Elton John’s most wistful vocals. Hipness be damned, I adore this song.
14. “Heroes” by David Bowie
David Bowie is the king of hip, but “Heroes” is so goddamn singable that it has surely been fodder for millions of karaoke dorks. This record proves that music can be passionately romantic and magnificently power in equal proportion. Robert Fripp makes the best use of the e-bow ever without even using an e-bow.
13. “Neat Neat Neat” by The Damned
The Damned got no respect. Fuck respect. What’s punk about respect? Not a goddamn thing. What’s punk about “Neat Neat Neat”? Every fucking thing. Captain Sensible hammers out the bass riff that launches Britain’s first punk album on his little Paul McCartney Hofner bass. Rat Scabies busts through the wall like Keith Moon… or maybe Animal the Muppet. Brian James riffs all over the wall. Dave Vanian bellows a bunch of goddamn nonsense about weaponry and a title line that sounds like he pulled it from some “Keep Britain Tidy” campaign poster. None of it makes sense. It all works together with perfect logic. Jesus Christ, I love the fucking Damned.
12. “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles
Like “Cars”, “Video Killed the Radio Star” is a seventies song everyone associates with the eighties. This has less to do with the music than it has to do with its message of music video conquering radio, something that was still several years away in 1979. Happy and catchy as all hell, “Video Killed the Radio Star” chokes me up for some reason. I once mentioned that to my wife, and how “Come Dancing” was another song that got to me like that too. She pointed out that both songs are about eras coming to an end. As my regular Psychobabble readers surely know, I am nothing if not nostalgic for eras past.
11. “Celluloid Heroes” by The Kinks
Here’s another song that makes me feel like someone stuck an apple core down my throat. And like the song before it on this list— and the song after it— it is about endings. Ray Davies wanders down Hollywood Boulevard, careful not to step on any of the stars of yesteryear as he goes. He sounds like he’s close to tears as he sings in that instantly affecting delicate warble of his. Even as the band kicks in around him, Ray maintains that air of gentle poignancy. The sing-along chorus is like a warm blanket wrapped around our sensitive narrator.
10. “The Song Is Over” by The Who
Pete Townshend’s double-LP/stage/cinema project Lifehouse spawned a glut of incredible songs. Its grand finale was to be, appropriately enough, “The Song Is Over”. When that project was scrapped, “The Song Is Over” ended up as the centerpiece of Who’s Next. No matter. Even divorced from the concept for which it was composed, this track stands as The Who’s most arresting ballad of the seventies. Townshend’s doleful voice delivers a message of sad resignation over a haunting piano figure that ensures the newly heavy Who can still serve up nervy, gut-wrenching beauty.
9. “September Gurls” by Big Star
“September Gurls” is like a musical sister to “No Matter What” but an emotional flipside. While Badfinger’s tune makes me want to ball, Big Star’s makes me want to bawl. Power pop isn’t supposed to be so nakedly emotional. How did Alex Chilton do it so perfectly?
8. “As Strong As Samson” by Procol Harum
Yep, here’s another song that really gets to the old emotions. The stately dignity of Procol Harum is in full effect on “As Song as Samson” and Gary Brooker’s is at his most soulful and sincere as he wails about the small man rising above an avalanche of lies puked down by preachers, racists, capitalists, and makers of war. Chris Thomas’s echoing production is heavenly.
7. “Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones
No opening guitar lick. No opening drum beat to ease the listener into the onslaught. Everything pounding out in simultaneous, militaristic fury. The first track on the first real punk LP defines the genre as well as anything that would follow. It’s grooveless, it’s short, and it is dumb. “Blitzkrieg Bop” is also glorious, transcendent, thrilling. Anyone who can listen to this track without feeling the full-on religiosity of Rock & Roll needs to stick to their James Taylor records. Anyone who can listen to it without a racing heart is dead.
6. “Hong Kong Garden” by Siouxsie and the Banshees
Like “Hanging on the Telephone”, “Hong Kong Garden” is a song I’m constantly getting caught in my head, probably because the melody sounds like something kids would sing on a playground (and quite a bit like “California Here I Come” too!). An utterly perfect pop record from when Siouxsie and the Banshees were at their most ruthlessly abrasive.
5. “Cast of Thousands” by The Adverts
If any song makes me think critics are a bunch of jerk offs, it’s “Cast of Thousands”. Like the rest of the album named after it, it was hated, dismissed as pretentious shit from a punk band that should be hammering out nothing but one chord wonders. Fuck that. T.V. Smith and The Adverts were too creative for that, and you can practically hear them flushing punk’s dogmatism down the toilet with their pianos and choirs. That doesn’t mean this is soft stuff, and Smith screams some crazy shit on a fade out that’s like a punk rock “Hey Jude”. “Cast of Thousands” is like having a million beautiful birds spontaneously explode through your skull.
4. “Pure and Easy” by The Who
What were The Who thinking when sifting through the wreckage of Lifehouse to put together Who’s Next? How could one of the most glorious things they ever recorded not make the cut? I guess there are a few explanations. Maybe “Pure and Easy” sounds too similar to James Gang’s “Take a Look Around”. Maybe its lyrics are too tied up with the Lifehouse concept (though not any more than the words of “Baba O’Riley”, a song that couldn’t hold “Pure and Easy’s” jock strap). Perhaps Pete Townshend was already planning on putting out his homemade version on his first semi-solo LP, Who Came First. Well, we should be thankful that The Who’s euphoric version of “Pure and Easy” only had to languish in the vaults for a few years before John Entwistle grabbed it for Odds and Sods. John Swenson famously described Roger’s scream on “Won’t Get Fooled Again” as “a moment of pure rock transcendence.” I believe the same could be said of the moment in “Pure and Easy” when Entwistle and Keith Moon crash in behind Pete’s shouts of “There once was a note listeeeeeeen!” Holy shit.
3. “The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp” by George Harrison
Matched with the delicate voice of George Harrison, Phil Spector curbed the hullabaloo of his early sixties classics when making All Things Must Pass. The results are his most beautiful production, and the most ethereal example of this is “The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)”. The subject matter is unconventional— a love song to George’s Victorian mansion, Friar Park (Crisp was one of the home’s previous owners)— but the ex-Beatle plays the romance as sincerely as if he was serenading Patti. This track floats.
2. “Smash It Up (Parts 1 & 2)” by The Damned
Punk, pop, garage rock, psychedelia. The Damned did them all with ramshackle expertise, and they’re all packed into five minutes of glorious destruction called “Smash It Up (Parts 1 & 2). Part one is psychedelic, glowering, shape shifting, instrumental menace. Then suddenly punk, pop, and garage converge and swirl around each other like drunks doing a delightful dance of violence. The song is actually one of great positivity. Smash up self-pity. Smash up subservience. Smash up flashing fads. Smash the stupid judgments of assholes. In the end, The Damned smashed everyone who called them the most talentless punks with dogma-damning creativity and sheer longevity. “Smash It Up” continues to be a triumphant shout as the band continues to shred it on stage to this day.
1. “Surf’s Up” by The Beach Boys
Here it is. Indisputable proof that Brian Wilson was a composer as good as any of those wig-wearing guys from the eighteenth century. The song that caused Leonard Bernstein to gush that Wilson was one of the “greatest composers of the twentieth century.” And it almost wasn’t released! “Surf’s Up” would have been the centerpiece of SMiLE, and it is a brooding, lyrically dense, multi-sectional work of art. But when the SMiLE project went south, the song stayed in the vaults until the group unearthed it in 1971 for the title track of their latest album. That version—the finest of several renditions— sports a backing-track recorded in ’66 and synth and vocals mostly recorded in ’71. Brian’s voice in the middle section will yank your heart out. The group’s vocal interplay on the coda may induce an out of body experience. The complexity of Van Dyke Parks’s dream-logic lyrics (“Columnated ruins domino…”) so angered the tiny-brained Mike Love that he lobbied to get Parks fired! Pearls before swine. I guess it speaks to my adoration of the sixties that my favorite song of the seventies was largely recorded four years before the decade began. Sue me.