Friday, March 05, 2010

The 100 Best Singles In My Head
Nos. 6-10

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.


Anonymous said...

Summer In The City remains one of my all-time favorites. I'd like to know more about the song's genesis.
I saw the Beatles at Shea in August of 1966 and "Summer In The City" was THE song that year. And what a year it was musically speaking. I will never forget the Beatles acapella intro on "Paperback Writer" done live...and yes, you really could hear them above the fans' screaming. It was a thrill to have been there.
Clyde Crashcup

Uncle E said...

check this out:

The Modesto Kid said...

I always liked "House of the Rising Sun" as a sing-along song, and I guess I learned it early enough in life that I never really distinguished between the "folk song" and the Animals version of it, and any number of covers of the Animals version. But *then* when I was 17 I heard Bob Dylan's version (which I'm given to understand is a cover of Dave Van Ronk's version), and I suddenly understood that my previous notion of the song had been closed and limited and insufficient, that *this* was the real deal.

ssspune said...

Lapidary?! Oh, Holly, you are such a gem.

Vivalabeat said...

Can anyone tell me why I'm so happy every time I see the Kinks song in your list? Tired of Waiting has always been one of my most favorite tunes ever. No wonder. :)

I can't say that I like House of Rising Sun. Maybe the reason is that it's the only song by the Animals that's quite popular in my country. And it's not even their song!

And it's good to see Summer in the City made it into Top 10. :)

Holly A Hughes said...

My research turns up a rumor that John Sebastian wrote "Summer in the City" with his brother Mark (they grew up in NYC), based on a poem Mark has written for his high school English class. Moral: Never throw out your high school English papers.

I think a whole book could be written (probably has been written) about the genesis of House of the Rising Sun. I can't quite agree that Dylan's version is more important -- to me this is all about the organ solo in the middle, and that is totally original with the Animals. BTW Viva, the Animals wrote very few of their early hit songs. I don't think Mickey Most would let them!

Holly A Hughes said...

BTW I thought you all might enjoy this little video of Ray Davies performing Tired of Waiting last Saturday night *sigh* Thanks to Bob!

Bob in CT said...

It's 3 am and we've just returned home from seeing Ray Davies in Scranton, PA, a nearly 3 hour drive each way. Thanks for the plug for my video of Ray from Westbury doing "Tired Of Waiting", a song that deserves your top ten status. There are more Ray videos to come.

Your choices for 6 -10 are brilliant, including one of my top ten favorites, "Walk Away Renee". And we agree on what could be the greatest verse in singles history: "Your name and mine inside / A heart on a wall / Still finds a way to haunt me / Though they're so small.”

I remember standing with a group of friends underneath the elevated 4 train on River Avenue in the Bronx during the summer of 1967, just a few hundred yards from Yankee Stadium. "Summer In The City" was playing on the radio while the train rumbled overhead. I stood there thinking "This moment truly represents summer in the city" and I've never forgotten it.

"House Of The Rising Sun" is another worthy choice, with Eric Burden's haunting vocal, Alan Price's unforgettable organ, and Hilton Valentine's mesmerizing guitar.

I would only disagree with "Along Comes Mary", a song I like but would not give top ten status.

Great choices overall and I can wait for the final five.

Bob in CT said...

Nice typo above, I meant to say "I can't wait for the final five." I'm tired and need to go to bed.

Vivalabeat said...

Thanks, Holly. I saw Bob's link. I'm unable to watch videos while I'm in London, my internet connection is very slow but I'll watch everything when I get to St. Petersburg tomorrow. *sigh*