The 100 Best Singles In My Head
Still stuck in the 60s -- not that I'm complaining. Looking over today's list, I realize that these songs all tend towards the dark-and-brooding end of the spectrum. When I first heard them, I had no idea why they moved me so. But over the years, as I learned more of life, these are songs that have continually deepened for me. They have more than stood the test of time.
[Click on the highlighted links to read my earlier posts on those songs]
6. "The House of the Rising Sun" / The Animals (1964)
I'll admit it, in 1964 I wasn't ready to appreciate this haunting, dangerous bit of music. Hey, I was only a grade-school kid, what would you expect? But even then I made a mental note to store it away for later. I must have known someday it would all make deep, dark, sinful sense.
7. "Tired of Waiting For You" / The Kinks (1965)
Why, what a surprise! Again I have room to expound at large on a Kinks song -- this primitive early track, my personal favorite of all those 1964-65 breakthrough Kinks singles. Of course "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" were astonishing and new -- I remember hearing them on the radio and being deeply disturbed. But personally? This February 1965 hit was the one that stole my heart. (It wasn't just me -- this song is tied with "Come Dancing" as the Kinks' highest-charting US single ever.) No other song, except maybe the Beatles' "I'm So Tired," has so perfectly captured the feeling of being bone-weary and fed up to here. When "I'm So Tired" came out, however, we were all hip to the knowledge that it referred to drugs. "Tired of Waiting" belongs to an earlier, more innocent era -- it's all about emotional exhaustion, with just a hint of post-masturbatory letdown. Not that I would have known that in 1965, but -- well, I have to assume something in its oozing chord changes subliminally warned me there was (shhhhh) S-E-X involved. Listen to the groaning edge of Ray Davies' vocal as he complains, "I'm so tired / Tired of waiting / Tired of waiting for you!" I love the lapidary effect of that, how each line builds on the previous one, dazedly adding the next word or phrase to that long sinuous melodic line, while the rhythm moves fitfully in starts and stops. We back up for a little character establishment: "I was a lonely soul / I had nobody till I met you" (the woefulness of Ray's vocal here cracks me up.) The rhythm seems aimless, relaxed, like freeform jazz -- until he ups the ante with a key change: "But you / Keep-a me waiting / All of the time / What can I do?" You can just hear the frustration underlying those surging short phrases, like a ticking time bomb. Now comes the genius part: a swift-kick major key change for the bridge, and the mellow assertion, "It's your life / And you can do what you want." (Note how the key darkens into minor on "life." Do we really believe that he's just going to step aside?) A quick scuffle of drums and guitar, and then Ray -- such a feminist, so enlightened! -- loftily repeats, "Do what you want," before diving fiercely back into his own agony: "But please don't keep-a me waiting!" The guitar churns, drums whack, volume builds, chords shift, and he urgently repeats, "Please don't keep me waiting, 'cos I'm / So tired," and we relapse into his listless cycle of fatigue. All of those early Kinks signature songs were about being run ragged by obsession: the inescapable clutches of "You Really Got Me," the 24/7 lust of "All Day and All of the Night," the begging for release of "Set Me Free." By the time he'd got to "Tired of Waiting," however, I sense that Ray Davies himself was feeling strung out and worn out. He's not even beginning for release anymore, just staggering through a limbo of unslaked desire. Because there's no question about it: We all knew what the singer was waiting for. I was only twelve years old and I knew. It terrified me. And yet -- god help me -- I wanted more.
8. "Summer in the City" (1967)
The antithesis to everything I loved about the Spoonful's rollicking jug band sound, "Summer in the City" was like a gritty slap upside the head. Admit it: whenever this track comes on, don't you brace yourself for the blackout?
9. "Walk Away Renee" / The Left Banke (1966)
This is what pop does best -- distill love into two-and-a-half minutes of longing and heartache.
10. "Along Comes Mary" / The Association (1968)
Edgy, wordy, and faintly mysterious, this quintessentially West Coast track teased me with its coded references to a much cooler lifestyle than anything this junior-high kid had ever known.