The 100 Best Singles In My Head
Okay, now we're starting to hit a groove. I've already written about most of these before -- they're all the sort of numbers that make you break out grinning the minute they dial up on the jukebox. The secret? They all share one vital component: Intros so distinctive, you know within two seconds what song you're hearing.
[Click on the highlighted links to read my earlier posts on those songs]
76. "Killer Queen" / Queen (1974)
Three fingersnaps, then Freddie Mercury's arch voice prances into "Killer Queen," backed by fastidious wrist-flicking piano chords. This song hit in 1974, the year my brother let me take his car to college, which meant I spent a lot of time driving and listening to the car radio. Every time this came on I'd crank it up, lean closer to the speakers, and work to decipher a few more of these lyrics. Wicked funny.
77. "Build Me Up Buttercup" / The Foundations (1968)
That great bouncy rhythm line -- bomp de-bomp, bomp bomp de bomp -- laid down by keyboards, bongos, and tambourine, and we're out of our seats already.
I swear, for the longest time I didn't even know that the Foundations were an English band. But then, they were a multiracial outfit -- more British Empire than British Isles -- and let's be honest, the PR machine that pushed Herman's Hermits and Peter & Gordon would never have done the same for a band with a West Indian horn section and a lead singer from Barbados. It didn't help that their roster kept shifting -- Clem Curtis, the mellow lead singer on 1967's "Baby, Now that I've Found You" had been replaced by the more youthful-sounding Colin Young in 1968 when they recorded "Build Me Up Buttercup." Written by Mike D'Abo (of Manfred Mann) and Tony Macauley, "Buttercup" was the song that really hit in the U.S.; that was the single I bought, and it was on constant rotation on my turntable for several months.
You can't help but sing along to this baby, right out of the gate with Colin Young's frantic cry "WHY do you build me up?" Even better is singing it in a group, chiming in on the echoes ("build me up," "let me down," "worst of all," "say you will," "I need you"). I remember singing it raucously in the backseat of my parents' car, with Beth Wood, Betsy Morris, Patsy DeFusco, and Margie Pugh. High spirits and good times rule, with those staccato horns rat-tat-tatting the accents on the end of every line. Forget the fact that his girlfriend's messing up his head -- "'I'll be over at ten' / you told me time and again / But you're late / I wait around and then. . . ", he wistfully reports. But he's so hooked, there's more joy than anguish in his voice as he declares, "I'll be home / I'll be beside the phone, waiting for you / Ooooh ooh ooooh Ooooooh ooh ooh" (those ooh's are ESSENTIAL). It's a karaoke favorite, for very good reason; no wonder this song has been covered so often, by bands who don't even bother to change the arrangement, and who sound just as good as the Foundations did. I love how the Farrelly brothers used it at the end of There's Something About Mary, with all the cast and crew singing lustily along. Pure pop heaven.
78. "Girl Don't Come" / Sandie Shaw (1964)
In that catalog of British girl singers from the 60s, tall langorous Sandie Shaw never cracked the American market like Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Cilla Black, or Lulu did. Still, this one glorious single shimmered through. That cool trombone intro, how it sliced through the British Invasion haze with a note of sophistication. . .
79. "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)" / The Rolling Stones (1974)
I know I'm gonna take flak for this, but all my life I've fought liking the Rolling Stones. I knew at least one song had to be on this list -- c'mon, The Stones -- but which single could I publicly admit to liking? I had to zero in my brief Stones interlude, sandwiched between the demise of the Beatles and my growing infatuation with the Kinks. For this one album only, I was a whole-hearted, unclouded Stones fan. I hear those first guitar chugs, followed by that long sassy twang, and I can't help thinking, "My boys!"
80. "Kind of a Drag" / The Buckinghams (1967)
Yes, I too loved "Don't You Care" and "Susan." But that opening fanfare -- who could resist?