Thursday, March 04, 2010

The 100 Best Singles In My Head
Nos. 11-15

This high on the list, we're in Undisputed Classics territory, which accounts for why I've already written about so many of today's tracks. Is it a coincidence that most of these date from the mid-60s, when I was at my most impressionable? Probably not. They're permanently lodged in the back of my brain, and I'll never be free of them -- nor do I want to be!

[Click on the highlighted links to read my earlier posts on those songs]

11. "California Dreamin'" / The Mamas and the Papas (1965)
In 1965, I wasn't dreaming of California -- if anything my heart yearned the other direction, towards Swinging London. But this exquisitely melancholy track isn't about geography, it's about loneliness and longing. Perfect for a dismal end-of-winter day like yesterday.

"Bus Stop" / The Hollies (1966)
I always forget that this moody single -- the Hollies' first breakthrough hit in the US -- in fact is one of those rare pop things, a Happy In Love Song. Despite the minor key, it's an endearing little novel-in-song, with a Greek chorus of lush vocal harmonies.

13. "Jet" / "Let Me Roll it" / Paul McCartney and Wings (1973)
It's only fitting that the highest-ranking post-Sixties single on my list should also be the only post-Beatles entry from my once and future love Paul McCartney.

14. "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" / The Kinks (1966)
How convenient that I've got so much room now to rave about "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" (or as Kinksters refer to it, DFOF). Now, I promised myself I wouldn't stuff this list too egregiously with Kinks songs. But unfortunately, that means I had to choose between this and "Well-Respected Man," two songs that always seem to me to go hand in hand. Released about the same time -- WRM in October 1965, DFOF in April 1966-- they both were startling breaks from the hallmark Kinks sound of "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night," themselves released barely a year earlier. I really had to sit up and take notice. Who WERE these guys? In the dizzying creative scrum of British Invasion music, these songs signaled a new thing entirely, with a music-hall bounce and sharply detailed satire that left even the Beatles scrambling to catch up. (Which they did with Revolver, but still . . . ). "Well-Respected Man" charted higher in the States, and still crops up on the set list of Ray Davies' solo shows -- but in the final analysis, I have to say, I loved "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" more. After all, I wasn't well versed in all the intricacies of the British class system (the subject of WRM), but there I was, a preteen in a flowered miniskirt and poor boy sweater, totally smitten with the Carnaby Street setting of DFOF's Mod fashion victim. Underneath a veneer of electric jangle (dig those grating strums of the intro), "Dedicated Follower"'s melody is vintage vaudeville tap dance, and you couldn't ignore the theatricality of Ray's deliberately foppish vocals. ("They seek him heah! / They seek him theah!"). Despite the mincing enunciation, the portrait is mercilessly tough -- "And when he does his little rounds, / 'Round the boutiques of London Town", "One week he's in polka-dots, the next week he's in stripes," "He flits from shop to shop just like a butterfly," and of course the most skewering lines of all: "He thinks he is a flower to be looked at, / And when he pulls his frilly nylon panties right up tight, / He feels a dedicated follower of fashion." Interspersed is the matey singlong of the chorus, with Ray's jolly fellow Kinks repeating after him: "Oh yes he is (oh yes he is!) / Oh yes he is (oh yes he is!)." I can testify that that part really is best sung with a pint of bitter in hand. According to a TV documentary I saw once (sorry, but I can't tell you which one -- I've seen so many on the Kinks!), Ray wrote this song in one blaze of inspiration, a fit of pique after some effete hipster had criticized the Kinks' manner of dress. Perhaps that lingering snit explains why Ray doesn't sing it much anymore. (Though I have seen Mick Avory do his own boozy rendition at a Kast Off Kinks gig.) Nevertheless, it is a song near and dear to my heart. It was my first sign that these guys, these Kinks, would go on surprising me for the rest of my life.

15. "I Put a Spell On You" / The Alan Price Set (1966)
Such a great song, no matter who sings it -- Nina Simone, Manfred Mann, Ctreedence Clearwater. But this is the version that most melts my heart, sung with throat-wrenching power by ex-Animal Alan Price.


Bob in CT said...

Yes, the Kinks make another appearance. I understand the dilemma choosing between Dedicated Follower and Well Respected Man. Of the two I would choose A Well Respected Man, but then again I wouldn't choose - I'd put both of them on my list! Those two songs left such an impression on me and showed that hit singles did not have to be "Woo woo woo, I love you, now I'm so blue". Ray's brilliance still shines brightly all these years later.

The Alan Price song is another great choice. Alan is vastly underrated.

And California Dreamin' still does it for me every time I hear it, a true classic.

Vivalabeat said...

Duh, I wrote a long comment and got cut off. :( I will try to repeat the excercise.

I wouldn't be able to choose between these two Kinks songs, but I'd probably choose Well Respected Man (if I had to) because this song made a Kinks fan out of me. Dedicated Follower starts playing in my head every time I walk along Regent Street or come to Leicester Square. And it's sooo nice to sing along. ;)

California Dreamin' is classic and I can't help but loving it. Oh, and the Hollies. They're just amazing.

Anonymous said...

Ray does DFOF all the time, but like Waterloo Susnet - he saves it for the UK, while us over here never hear them......

Holly A Hughes said...

Really? Wow. Well, I guess that means I have to get myself over to some UK gigs. (Like I'm not dying to anyway!)

I had a suspicion that many of you would prefer Well-Respected to DFOF; shoot, it probably IS a better song. But notice how I managed to sneak a write-up of Well-Respected onto this list anyway?

wendy said...

Holly, just listening to my Alan Price station on Pandora, and it served up some madness called the Aerovons - check them out!! It was a song called Say Georgia. Have you ever heard of them? Love how Pandora constantly tells me stuff I don't know.