February 2017

mi0000030065#21 – The New Vaudeville Band – “Winchester Cathedral” – (1966)

1966 was the year that things really started to get groovy. And the song we’re kicking off this year with makes it pretty clear. This was a novelty song recorded by Geoff Stephens and some session musicians. When it became an unexpected hit (#1 in the U.S.) he had to assemble a band to tour. This one hit-wonder has a really funky sound and is the perfect gateway to a year that would define the sound of the 60s.

220px-get_rich_or_die_tryin50 Cent feat. Nate Dogg – “21 Questions” – (2003)

This was 50 Cent’s second single and his second #1 hit. Hilariously, this was the only single from the album not to need a Parental Advisory sticker. What makes it good? Nate Dogg, of course, who is always the best part of anything he was ever a part of. He had the best voice in hip-hop. The best lyric of this song: “I love you like a fat kid loves cake.”

41b2nxwzv1lJohn Williams – “20th Century Fox Fanfare” – (1980)

You probably didn’t notice, but a few months ago I did three songs in a row: the first with “16” in the title, then “17” and “18.” This week we are doing 19-21 and there aren’t a whole lot of songs with “20” in the title, hence this. The iconic 20th Century Fox intro music was originally composed and recorded by Alfred Newman in 1933 and later updated to the version we now recognize in 1954. John Williams recorded a new version of it in 1980 for The Empire Strikes Back. It was later released on a Star Wars box set in 1993 (see image). Not sure there’s a more iconic sound to start a movie… other than maybe MGM’s lion roar… but we won’t feature that here…

steely_dan_-_gauchoSteely Dan – “Hey Nineteen” – (1980)

Not a lot of rock songs from the 1980s could be described as “beautiful.” I submit this as the exception. The jazzy instruments and overall mellow sound – coupled with classic Steely Dan vocals – add to a great, smooth soft rock tune. It actually peaked at #10 on the Hot 100. Synthesizers were in in ’80 and this track makes perfect use of them without overdoing it. It is my favorite Steely Dan song.

smileysmilecover#1 – The Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations” – (1967)

“Good Vibrations” was released as a stand alone single in October 1966. It appeared on Smiley Smile the following year but this masterpiece first came alive in the recording studio during the Boys’ recording of Pet Sounds – one of the greatest albums of all time. The full genius of Brian Wilson is on display in the mixing and recording of this track – at the time it was the most expensive song ever recorded (it would’ve cost over $500,000 in today’s dollars). Listen to the layers – there’s so much going on and it almost defines the era from which it sprang. Like it or not, what was accomplished with this lone track is pretty much responsible for about everything we’ve heard on the radio in the past few decades. 

aretha_franklin_-_i_never_loved_a_man_the_way_i_love_you#2 – Aretha Franklin – “Respect” – (1967)

One of the greatest soul records of all time, “Respect” was originally written and recorded by Otis Redding in 1965. Aretha’s cover is one of the best known songs anywhere. She took it uptempo and paved the way for female artists for decades to come.

14231337_10155239453374966_3845707010656425530_o#3 – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – (1967)

This might be the best “Motown” song (even though technically it was released on Tamla label, which is what Motown was called first). Marvin Gaye had a lot of duet hits in the 1960s and did an entire album with Tammi Terrell. It’s been covered a lot (and Diana Ross took it to #1) but this is and always will be the best version. Fun fact: this song was written by Ashford & Simpson who would have their own success about a dozen years later.

gimme_some_lovin#4 – The Spencer Davis Group – “Gimme Some Lovin'” – (1966)

Can you believe Steve Winwood, who had all those solo hits in the 1980s, was churning out amazing soul/rock records in the mid-1960s? Well he wrote this and performed it as part of the Spencer Davis Group. The song is just awesome – from the tambourine to that wailing Hammond organ. And yes, it was released at the tail end of 1966.

220px-lets_live_for_today#5 – The Grass Roots – “Let’s Live For Today” – (1967)

“Let’s Live for Today” is an underrated song for the 1960s. If you look at it in the context of Vietnam, it really should rank right up there with the best songs of the era. It was originally recorded by The Rokes in the U.K. The Grass Roots made it a hit in the U.S.

blowin-yourmind#6 – Van Morrison – “Brown Eyed Girl” – (1967)

This is one of the all-time greats. A lot of Van Morrison’s songs are… well “somber” might not be the best word, but they aren’t all really upbeat and happy. But this one is. And really, it may have been originally released in 1967, but it could’ve come out whenever. It’s timeless.

220px-fourtops-reachout-album#7 – The Four Tops – “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” – (1967)

Here is probably the best song by one of the best Motown acts of the 60s. Written by Holland-Dozier-Holland, this #1 hit remains one of the best-known soul songs of all time. The lead vocals are spot on – as are the backing vocals and great rhythm. Motown really had a way to make it all come together seamlessly. 

frankievalli#8 – Frankie Valli – “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” – (1967)

If you’ve ever seen Jersey Boys you’ll know that this song was written by Bob Guadio and Bob Crewe and was presented to Frankie Valli to record as a solo record. It ended up being a smash hit, hitting #2 in the U.S. and rivaling some of the Four Seasons best work as Frankie Valli’s best performance. It’s a classic.