The 100 Best Singles In My Head
I'm surprised to discover how few of today's five singles ever got covered on this blog before. I assure you, each one had its heyday on my record player (and yes, I do mean record player). Bear with me as I make up for lost time!
[Click on the highlighted links to read my earlier posts on those songs]
86. "Have I The Right?" / The Honeycombs (1964)
Remember, in 1964, we had no idea which English band would be the Next Big Thing. We listened to all of it, drank it in, bought the singles -- and waited to see how it would all shake out. The Honeycombs were a British band -- check -- from North London, named after their female drummer Honey Lantree, who was also a hairdresser (Honey Combs, get it?). I was snared right away by the exuberant backbeat bounce of this song, enhanced by a prominent drum track, a tambourine rattled right onto the mike, and heavy footstomps on the studio stairs, recorded by producer Joe Meek. ("Come! right! back! I just can't bear it / I've got this love and I want to share it!") Add some cheese-grater guitar and a whiny organ and there it was, an irresistible bit of pop candy. Lead singer Denis D'Ell's voice was a little Tommy Steele-ish -- even more so once they'd sped up the original recording -- but that chipper, boyish quality was tremendously appealing, especially with all the little growls and yips he threw in. "Have I the rrright to touch you? / If I could yooou'd see how much you / Send those shivers rrrunning down my spine." Two minutes and 59 seconds of youthful desire -- exactly my cup of tea.
87. "You Were On My Mind" / We Five (1965)
For some reason, in my mental jukebox "Have I The Right?" is always followed immediately with "You Were On My Mind." This despite the fact that it came along a year later, from an American band (We Five was from San Francisco), had a female lead singer, and was folk-rock instead of BritBeat (if I'd been a folkie I'd have recognized it as an Ian and Sylvia song). But it's the same sort of uptempo, upbeat charmer, with lots of drums -- in fact, "You Were On My Mind"'s entire first verse is practically a capella, sung with just a snare and high hat. Verse two adds a few asterisks of electric guitar strums, with more guitars layered on gradually as the song builds and builds. The harmonies swell, guitar riffs spin off like Telstars, and a marvelous time is had by all. The plot is simple: "Well I woke up this morning / You were on my mind / And you were on my mind . . ." She's got troubles, she's got worries, she's got "wounds to bind" -- but she doesn't bother us with details. She goes to the corner, she comes home again, she walks away her blues. She copes, briskly and cheerfully, probably because of that guy who's on her mind. What's not to love?
88. "Killing Me Softly With His Song" / Roberta Flack (1971)
Coming fresh off of her first big smash hit, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Flack owned the airwaves for a while with this song, and she deserved to. It came along smack dab in the middle of my coffeehouse intellectual phase -- well, as much of a coffeehouse intellectual as I could be as a high school senior in Indianapolis -- when an arty jazz-soul hit by a black sister with an enormous Afro was just the ticket. It has a great backstory, too: Written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox (composers of the "Happy Days" TV theme song) and singer Lori Lieberman, it was inspired by Leiberman's rapture after watching a pre-"American Pie" Don McLean sing at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. (I suspect that's info I picked up from Casey Kasem's Coast to Coast radio show.) On her own recording, however, Lieberman overemotes; the thing that made this a hit was Roberta Flack's smoky, bell-like voice gliding over a samba beat. I love those overlapping, repeated phrases: "Strumming my pain with his fingers / Singing my life with his words / Killing me softly with his song / Killing me softly / With his song, telling my whole life / With his words, killing me softly / With his song. . . . " She sounds dazed, transported, stunned to her core, the way a girl sometimes is after sitting in the dark, riveted soul-deep by a stranger on stage. We've all been there, ladies.
89. "Tempted" / Squeeze (1981) I listen now to Squeeze and can't fathom why they never really registered on my radar. It was just this one big hit, but oh, what a sweetie.
90. "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" / John Lennon (1974)
Post-Beatles John Lennon took himself way too seriously -- all that primal scream crap -- it would have driven me right into the arms of Paul McCartney if I hadn't already been firmly snuggled there. I longed for the old playful, funny John to resurface, and he finally did on this 1974 single -- John's only #1 solo hit -- from the Walls and Bridges album. It's telling, I think, that this song came out of John's 18-month-long "lost weekend," when he went off with May Pang to sort himself out. Pang has said that it was inspired by John's habit of channel-surfing late at night, a habit I totally identify with. It rockets along on a high-energy groove, courtesy of Elton John, who contributes backup vocals and a boogie-woogie piano; best of all is the screaming sax, a Bobby Keys special. Studded with a few Lennonesque koans ("don't need a watch to tell the time," "don't need a gun to blow your mind"), it's one long party of a song, bursting with joy and optimism. I love that coaxing boogeying bridge: "Hold me darlin,' come on listen to me / I won't do you no harm / Trust me darlin,' come on listen to me, / Come on listen to me / Come on listen, listen." Whenever this song came on the radio, I'd squeal and turn it up -- and it still never fails to lift my spirits.