It was inspired by an hour killing time in a Starbucks in Philadelphia. We were waiting to see my daughter in a show there, and I was having one of their overrated hot chocolates. But they more than made up for it with their musical selections, which were - as the kids say - bangin’.
Within that hour they managed to press so many of my buttons that my wife and son couldn’t for the life of them understand why I was getting so choked up.
Which inspired my 200th post.
At the time, I only managed to list ten, and I promised a follow-up, but the parameters of the thing were so all over the place that I’d never really come up with a comprehensive list. Even when I tried to impose some order on it and break it into sections, I could never be sure I was remembering everything I wanted to remember.
But I did want to put a few more songs together, and eventually found ten more from that old reliable decade: the 1960s. It’s a cop out I know. But at least I’ll clear them out of my head, which will allow me to move onto other things. I’ve already started my 1970s list, and who knows? I may even be able to come up with ten songs from my least favorite musical decade: the 1980s! (Yeah, you heard me, 1980s lovers!)
And, no, it’s not my 300th post, in case you were wondering. Think of it as my 10th Anniversary, since my first post was in September of 2007:
So here goes. Ten miscellaneous, but brilliant, songs from the 1960s, in no particular order:
Downtown - Petulia Clark:
When I was about six me and my family would sometimes visit my Uncle Frank’s bar, and he’d throw a bunch of quarters in the jukebox to keep us kids entertained.
My recollection is that he just punched in the same record over and over again. I concluded that this was how you were supposed to use a jukebox, and for years I’d do the same thing, until people begged me (around when “Winchester Cathedral” came out) to stop.
I vividly remember the first time my uncle did this, which was for this song. And the effect on me was electrifying.
So let me pick it apart and try not to ruin it in the process:
First, the lyrics are totally of the time. Britain as finally coming out of its post-WWII depression. I’m sure the words spoke to a lot of lower class folks struggling to make ends meet. And most Americans could identify, too, even if we were doing better than they were.
The message of forgetting your troubles for a while was pretty universal, if not revolutionary. So how do you put that across in a memorable way? Let’s look at the melody.
The first two lines (“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely…”) use the same melodic phrase. It’s quite good, so why not repeat it?
The next two (“Just listen to the music…) have a different repeated melodic phrase line. It’s a bit more conventional than the first, but it goes into a higher register and so builds the tension. In other words a perfectly good setup for the chorus of a perfectly good pop song.
But that’s not what happens. The singer’s friend is still not convinced. Maybe her troubles aren’t trivial. A perfectly good pop song just won’t do.
So, there’s that little line “How can you lose?", where the melody pauses its ascent, and seems in danger of trailing off, as if the singer is still desperately trying to find a way to persuade her friend to go.
But then she finds her inspiration with the next two lines (“The lights are much brighter there…”). The melody is still struggling to break free, and with the next line (“You can forget all your troubles…”) it does.
The chorus, of course, is wonderful - everybody recognizes it - but it’s kind of simple too, and it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if that little interlude of struggle and resolve wasn’t there to make the victory all the sweeter.
It’s the chorus I noticed when I was six, but it’s that little interlude that gets me now. That interlude - so packed with emotion and melancholy - is like a prayer. When the chorus comes you can practically hear Britain transitioning from post-war black and white into sixties technicolor.
I would normally despise an arrangement that is so packed to the gills with brass, singers and even - to my surprise - Jimmy Page on guitar. But maybe the very glitziness of it is there to remind you that this joy will be temporary. That you still have to go home to your troubles and cares the next day.
But still, it makes you glad you’re alive.
98.6 - Keith
Another British record with an orchestra instead of a rock and roll band, but I don’t care.
I alluded to my love for this song here but I don’t think I quite put it across.
The couplet that gets me is:
My baby’s got me on another kind of highway,
I want to go to where it takes me.
Now that could just be an obvious drug reference, but to me, it’s about how the person you love can change you profoundly for the good. I’m pretty skeptical about people changing so when you convince me, that’s saying something.
There’s also something about Keith’s singing - modesty, maybe - that adds to the impact. A more accomplished singer would have ruined it.
Not convinced? Well then forget about the next one.
Western Union - The Five Americans
Again, referenced in the same post as 98.6, because of two lines that get to me.
After singing about heartbreak he drops these hopeful lines
I'll be on my way, 'cause
There's another girl for me
And it’s like watching the end of The Tramp.
Society’s Child - Janis Ian
This is a hit-you-over-the-head message song, so I’ll be brief.
This one’s got:
- Heartbreaking lyrics
- A soulful vocal
- Hooks galore
and what all great songs have:
- An unhappy ending
Both Sides Now - Judy Collins
Yeah, I know. It’s a glossy pop record and thus has less “integrity” than any other version.
And god knows, I blame Judy for practically giving me a depression, with her versions of “Send in the Clowns” and “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” (meaning they were that good) but she absolutely nails it here.
Her voice captures and exploits every single hook, melodic turn and lyric and the strings do what they’re meant to do - underline the emotion. And they do it without getting schmaltzy. A great pop record.
Things I Want to Say - New Colony Six
Prior to this year, I might have heard this record twice - once when it first came out, and then again in the early 1980s when me and the Mrs. were first going out.
I didn’t know the title or the band, and so wandered in the wilderness for forty years or so before I finally managed to mentally assemble a line of lyric, which I then googled. And there it was!
When I played it again I feared it wouldn’t have the same impact that it did originally. But no. It was all there.
Another heartbreak song. In this one, she dumps him, but the guy reacts by wishing her well. (And I thought I was super passive-aggressive with my “I’m the better person” act!)
But seriously, this one effortlessly gets to my feels via a canny use of some minor chords and a melody that avoids going too sweet, which would have ruined it.
Moon River - Audrey Hepburn
As a young victim of “The Andy Williams Show”, I got to hear the first line of this song every week for years. But that line - really just the words “moon river” all by themselves - are merely pretty. The kind of pretty a rock n roll lover like me despised for years.
That was until I saw "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" and heard the whole song. Those two words by themselves gave away nothing about the melancholy to follow. What was Andy thinking?
The melody is pretty good, but it’s the pairing of it with the chord changes that are exquisite and deeply moving.
Not rock and roll and I don’t care.
Daydream Believer - The Monkees
I went through several Monkees phases. First, there was the clueless fandom of an eight-year-old.
But what was worse was the desperate need to be cool of a thirteen-year-old. My friend and I came across a 45 of this song and proceeded to destroy it. We convinced ourselves we’d never want to hear that song (that I secretly loved) ever again.
What a fool was I! The song would only come back to haunt me.
And now, I'm in my third phase as a geezer who simply cannot deny the brilliance of this and many other Monkees songs
But you don’t need me to tell you how beautiful this one is, so ‘nuff said.
Pleasant Valley Sunday - The Monkees
I was at a friend’s house one summer’s day and they had this single. We spent the afternoon playing side B(!), which was “Words” (quite a good song). Over and over again. All afternoon.
Why? Because we thought it was Side A. After all, it had been featured in the show recently, not “Pleasant Valley Sunday”. (Did I mention this in my stupid moments in Rock History post? I should have.)
PVS uses a speeded-up version of the guitar riff from the Beatles “I Want to Tell You” and I must admit that the Monkees made it - dare I say it? - better.
Again, an obvious choice, even if Carol King didn’t like their version.
Sometime in the Morning - The Monkees
Thanks to old friend Billy (whose house we were in for “Pleasant Valley Sunday”) who pointed out how great this song was.
I hear a bit of “Cousin Kevin” from Tommy in the guitar. But their secret weapons here are writer Carole King and singer Micky Dolenz.
This song will bring back childhood memories like no other. One of their very, very best.
So there you have it. Ten more Great Moments, or Whatevers. And more to come in, oh, five years or so...