The 100 Best Singles In My Head
THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS!
I'm going to start at the bottom of the list and work my way up, five songs a day. Down here at the end of the list, I'll admit, guilty pleasures rule -- they're on here as much for nostalgia as anything else. But before I hang my head in shame, I ask you, if you're really being honest -- What's on your list?
[Click on the highlighted links to read my earlier posts on those songs]
96. "Spinning Wheel" / Blood, Sweat & Tears (1969)
In 1969, both Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago hit the airwaves, a jolt of contrast to the reigning vibes of acid rock. Instinctively I knew they weren't my kind of music -- I loved the funky horns and riddling lyrics, but their sound was too big and glossy for me. (I see an arc here leading directly to the Eagles.) But on this second album, their big breakthrough, the musical genius of the recently departed Al Kooper still invigorated BS&T, now sweetened with David Clayton Thomas's juicy vocals, and for a season -- when it was being played everywhere -- I couldn't help succumbing to this song's slouchy beat -- "What goes up must come down / Spinning wheel got to turn round." How did I know that Clayton-Thomas's lyrics were meant as a put-down of psychedelic rock? In short order, BS&T churned out more hits -- we'd already had the ingratiating "You Make Me So Very Happy," to be followed soon by the faux-folk "And When I Die" and an overbaked rendition of "God Bless The Child," both of which horrified me later when I discovered the Laura Nyro and Billie Holiday originals. In the course of one album, the band had already jumped the shark for me. But could I leave "Spinning Wheel" off this list? I could not.
97. "When A Man Loves A Woman" / Percy Sledge (1966) No special stories here, just a vintage soul classic that's too great to be denied a spot on my list.
98. "Losing My Religion" / R.E.M. (1991)
Another band that eventually jumped the shark for me, as their songs became too samey and were grossly overplayed, not just on radio but on MTV as well. And yet, and yet, and yet . . . in the 1980s R.E.M. were the standard-bearers for that endangered species, intelligent rock music, with their oddball blend of hooky Southern rock and cryptic New Wave lyrics, and I can't deny I was seduced. In 1991 I couldn't take my eyes off this video, set in a gauzy side-lit bare room, Peter Buck plucking a winsome mandolin while Stipe sat morosely on a hard-backed chair, pining for love. What a poetic figure he cut, in that white linen shirt, sleeves rolled up, long arms crossed, the fine-boned hands drooping. (Despite all the shots of falling angels and stigmata, we could tell this song had nothing do with actual religion, although of course the Catholic Church protested like crazy.) "That's me in the corner / That's me in the spotlight, I'm / Losing my religion" -- it's like an updated version of "Tears of A Clown," only ten times more neurotic. Obsessive, vacillating, self-conscious, despairing -- here was a love song all us losers could relate to. "Oh no, I've said too much," Stipe agonizes; or, wait, "I haven't said enough." And then Stipe starts to dance, all spastic and geeky -- somehow that endeared him to me even more.
99. "Show Me The Way" / Peter Frampton (1976) My ultimate guilty pleasure.
100. "Different Drum" / Stone Poneys (1967)
Okay, so Linda Ronstadt squeaks onto my list. I'll confess, I was an early Ronstadt fan, snapping up this 1967 hit single from her original band, an L.A.-area folk-rock trio called the Stone Poneys (mid-60s cute misspelling and all). The Stone Poneys weren't long for this world, as the record execs were already pushing her bandmates out the door to highlight the girl singer, with her bold, expressive contralto. Linda was a great popularizer of other people's songs (how I wore out my audiocassette of Linda Ronstadt's Greatest Hits until I discovered the original artists' versions!), and this one's no exception. It was written by Mike Nesmith, who'd become famous a nanosecond later when The Monkees blazed onto television. But when a guy sings about needing his freedom, it's not the same as when a girl says the same thing. "Don't get me wrong, it's not that I knock it, / It's just that I am not in the market / For a boy who wants to love only me" -- that was practically radical feminism in 1967 pop music, and something about it plugged right into my little pre-teen heart. "Yes, and I ain't saying you ain't pretty / All I'm saying is I'm not ready / For any person place or thing / To try and pull the reins in on me." Reins, get it? Stone Poneys? I really thought that was clever. And who knows, maybe the girl-power oomph of this song is what eventually sprung me out of Indianapolis years later. We are the music we've listened to, and when all's told, even "Different Drum" accounts for at least a few sinews and corpuscles.