Friday, February 19, 2010

The 100 Best Singles In My Head
Nos. 76-80

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that their roster kept shifting -- Clem Curtis, the mellow lead singer on 1967's "Baby, Now that I've Found You" had been replaced by the more youthful-sounding Colin Young in 1968 when they recorded "Build Me Up Buttercup."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?


Debs said...

With you on everything, but the Stones. :)
Thanks for this..I look forward to it.
Sad life. *wink*

Holly A Hughes said...

Believe me, Debs, my ambivalence over the Stones has been a recurrent leitmotif for years. Notice I don't say I didn't like them -- I say I FOUGHT liking them. I own plenty of their albums; I've seen them live. But then they disappoint me, and I get mad. Stones-bashing is second nature to me now.

Bob in CT said...

Interesting that you chose one of my least favorite Rolling Stones singles as their lone entry on your list. "It's Only Rock'n'Roll" is formulaic and boring, a strained effort to create a hit, particularly in comparison to so many great singles created by the group. In an effort to keep this concise, here is a brief list of far superior Stones hits (and there are many others):
Paint It Black
The Last Time
It's All Over Now
19th Nervous Breakdown
Get Off Of My Cloud
Out Of Time
Mothers Little Helper
Tumbling Dice

This project is lots of fun and I'm looking forward to the rest of the list.

Holly A Hughes said...

I knew this Stones choice would raise a few hackles. I too have a list of better Stones songs: Play With Fire, Tell Me, Heart of Stone, You Can't Always Get What You Want, and (my girlie choice) Lady Jane. For singalongs, Get Off My Cloud can't be beat.

However, I must be true to my parameters -- I discovered most of those songs long after they were popular. This was the first Stones album I played when it was new. It was either this or Ain't Too Proud to Beg (followed, I regret to say, by Fool To Cry and Shattered . . . ).

Vivalabeat said...

> those ooh's are ESSENTIAL

Oh yes, they ARE! I have good friends over here, they play some good old music, I could except anything but this song. But... I nearly fainted when I heard it. That was perfect. And I just love the Foundations, they're more than one of the British bands to me.

Holly A Hughes said...

They really were a treasure! Someday Viva, I swear, we'll all get together in a pub somewhere and sing those OOOOhs together (although with a few rounds of I'm Not Like Everybody Else....)

Mister Pleasant said...

I won't jump on the anti "It's Only Rock'n'Roll" bandwagon because I really dig it. Your are right - it chugs in just the right way. Probably the last of the great Stones singles in my book.

"Killer Queen" was on my bubbling under the top 100 list. It nearly made it. Definitely my favorite Queen track.

I have not been able to keep up on comments on a daily basis, but the five-a-day format makes it much more fun for feedback than a monolithic list.

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks, Mr P! Killer Queen was just one of many tunes on your list that I knew I had to get onto mine.

What, you don't think Emotional Rescue was a great Stones single?

Neon Sign said...

Sandy Shaw is a good choice. She exemplifies the British invasion era. I also loved her song Long Live Love.

Mister Pleasant said...

LOL - Emotional Rescue. Embarrassing from the first moment it hit the airwaves.

Bob in CT said...

I also like your girlie choice of Lady Jane. If that makes me a girlie man, so be it.

Dave K. said...

This is the first 5 set that leaves me a little perplexed. I can't say that I would choose any of these for my list, but to each their own.

I have to agree with Bob. There are 25 Stones singles that are better.

Of course I will not always agree, but I am really enjoying the list. Thanks for doing it.

Nell said...

Good choice for "Build Me Up Buttercup", I've always liked that song.

Haha, and I also like "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)". I can't say anything bad about that choice!

Holly A Hughes said...

I think I recall being caught in an internet discussion once with some Stoners who maintained that It's Only Rock and Roll was the last great Stones album, because Mick Taylor was so infinitely superior to Ron Wood. I always had a sneaking suspicion that the Stones hired Ron Wood to give Keith Richards protective coloration.

Thanks for the shout-out on Sandie, Neon. She was probably a more interesting person than Cilla Black or Petula Clark -- quite a fashion icon, with a trademark style that included always being barefoot. But then she did this awful record "Puppet On A String" for the Eurovision Song Contest in 1967 and the hipsters turned off of her, until the early 80s when her career was resuscitated by (get this) Chrissie Hynde and The Smiths. How's that for a bio?

Dave K. said...

I always assumed that Ron Wood was hired to pour Keith drinks.

wwolfe said...

I've always wondered what Chris Andrews did after writing and producing a half-dozen good singles for Sandie Shaw. Maybe when London stopped swinging, he lost touch with his muse? (I always heard the line as "You have a date for half past eight tonight/Some distant bell starts chiming nine." In my version, I like how the guy specifically knows he's been stood up - 45 minutes after the appointed hour, there's no kidding yourself anymore.) I love "Kind of a Drag," but "Mercy Mercy" and "Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song)" are y go-to Buckingham hits.

Holly A Hughes said...

It is "nine," isn't it? I think the internet lyrics sites have it wrong; I just relistened to it and I swear she sings "nine." In my mind this song is always linked with Marshall Crenshaw's "You Should've Been There." The big difference, of course, is Sandie's detachment -- she isn't the girl, she isn't really involved at all, just standing across the street watching, in her perfect chic Mary Quant dress, sympathetic and yet so cool and languid. Somehow that just adds to the heartbreak. . . .