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“Dolby’s Top 100 Classic Oldies Songs”

Now, it might seem sort of redundant, employing the term “classic oldies,” but friends, there was a barbaric scourge of lots of this material about 10 years ago, when someone at the iHeartMedia [1] control towers altered the “oldies” format from Motown and ’60 jingles to almost like half butt-rock, with some Elton John thrown in (they shifted the target time period ahead 15 years, in other words). The guitars got a little louder and the subject matter a little more sexual (boy don’t I sound hip here), but the songs didn’t really get LONGER or more creative, so the way I see it, why not stick with what got them there? All of those artists on the new format would no doubt look to these old ones for the blueprint of pop songwriting and that latter thing is the type of thing I try to preserve on this list here. Plus, it’s just fun imagining Bob Dylan next to Jackie Wilson, especially in this era with racist John Wayne spewing various bigotries and all. Well phooey to him.
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100 Petula Clark – “Downtown”

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Miss Clark’s classic is so strewn into all of our heads at this point (I’m sure there have been countless TV and radio commercials which have borrowed from it and maybe changed the words up a little bit) that it makes it good sometimes to go back to the original and recognize where it came from, which was a sort of economic boom when there was still stuff “downtown” in Midwestern cities other than boarded-up factories and Christian bookstores, of course.

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99 The Rolling Stones – “Street Fighting Man”

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As a high school graduate of 2002 and past experimental drug user/fan of classic rock I know this cut primarily as the first “lick” on Forty Licks, the spellbinding double-CD greatest hits collection which dropped when I must have been barely into college. I entered full-on Stones kick, purchasing a classic black t shirt with the red tongue (no writing on the shirt at all, from what I remember which you’ve gotta admit is kinda classic), and this track certainly gets things rolling with the right adrenaline and stylistic marginality to where you know it’s all swagger.

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98 Beatles – “In My Life”

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Belied by the fact that I’m positioning it in pop radio discussion, of which it’s nonetheless certainly a denizen in the event it wants to be, this is undoubtedly a Beatles-lover’s Beatles song, a work of strident maturity for having sprung from their 1965 LP Rubber Soul just a couple odd years after they first formed.

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97 The Temptations – “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”

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This Temptations Motown classic was covered with notoriety by The Rolling Stones, originally recorded in 1966, two years after “My Girl” and some of the group’s earlier work.

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96 Four Tops – “It’s the Same Old Song”

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Imagine if a person were actually a living embodiment of a Motown group — nobody would be able to stand the constant whining and professions of love they’d be spewing all the time. Luckily, this cut soars with enough emotion and swagger to push it over the hump, plus it can kind of be applied to sports (like “Hit the road jack”), which never really hurts.

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95 Smokey Robinson & the Miracles – “You Really Got a Hold on Me”

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I have to give the Beatles credit for coming CLOSER than any other group of whities to matching the gorgeous pipes of Motown singers (a little less credit going to Credence’s “I Heard it through the Grape Vine” and The Stones’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”), but there’s just no replacing the preternatural sheen of Smokey Robinson’s voice here, sending what would otherwise just be a pretty good song into something timeless.

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94 Beatles – “Let it Be”

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Now, with this list, it’s sort of a sophisticated issue, because I’m not ranking best “songs”: I’m not positioning the tunes I’d most like to hear sung at a black church, in which case this particular selection would contend for the very top. As it stands, I’m arguing the tracks I’d most like to hear driving down the street, and we all know it’s not good to break down and start crying in the middle of the road. That’s not what you’re supposed to “do in the road.”

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93 Marvin Gaye – “I Heard it through the Grape Vine”

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Now as a young brat with some of these guys I just never knew they were AROUND this early, like Stevie Wonder, James Brown and definitely Marvin Gaye too, who seems precociously to have done his best work in the ’60s, like this cut for whom songwriting credits go to Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong (the latter of whom recorded of course that classic “Money (That’s What I Want).”

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92 Joni Mitchell – “River”

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On the off chance that this song or anything on Blue needs an intro at all, my angle on it I guess that that image of “skating away” on a river internalized itself in the general psyche so much that it resurfaced in that New Pornographers romp “Letter from an Occupant”: “I cried five rivers on the way here/ Which one will you skate away on?” While some find think this song a little “down” or too laid back for radio, maybe I’m skewered a little bit but I find Mitchell’s voice incredibly soothing and rich.

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91 Stevie Wonder – “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”

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Here now is a song that the person singing it actually wrote and what’s more, Wonder was known for indeed PLAYING entire arrangements, with these particular plucky horns forming some undeniably beautiful melodies for the song’s intro. I can’t say I fully understand the use of the term “uptight” here, but it’s pretty cool without doubt, again suffusing American culture to the point of resurfacing in general theme on Green Day’s suicidal pop-punk escapade “Uptight” of their own.

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90 The Rolling Stones – “Gimme Shelter”

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Coming off of uproarious Beggars Banquet-style success on their previous album, Stones did something very “Stones” here and recorded Let it Bleed in both London and LA: luckily the anatomies of the songs themselves followed suit and also ballooned out into lavishness and orchestral qualities, this particular Keith Richards riff hitting on a certain subtlety and jazz-like tension at the time unprecedented in the band’s catalogue.

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89 The Yardbirds – “For Your Love”

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The flagship hit of the Jeff Beck- and Jimmy Page-wielding Yardbirds, “For Your Love” is certainly an endearing song partly just for the impossibility of its ever being copied — it’s frenetic and almost nonsensical, Keith Relf’s voice sounding cloaked in either beer or some sort of psychedelic apple juice, which of course would fit with his childlike disposition of doing anything for his boo. Led Zeppelin would go on to graft out a pretty heady opus “For Your Life,” on a barely-related note.

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88 Wilson Pickett – “634-5789”

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It’s a funny thing, growing up. I mean, it’s a funny thing, living life, in the first place. I’ll probably never know what propelled me to buy the best of Wilson Pickett on CD when I was 20 and play it over and over and over… but for some reason the melodies worked and this was the slightly deliberate track two after the classic, boisterous opener “In the Midnight Hour.” Especially just about anything Wicked Pickett touches is gold, even his cover of “Hey Jude.” I think the only song by him I don’t like is “Mustang Sally.”

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87 Diana Ross & the Supremes – “Where Did Our Love Go?”

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Yo-ho, here’s another song that’s been covered a million times, once by that weirdo George Michael and another time, much more to my approval, by these girls at this Halloween concert in Mishawaka, Indiana one time… I still remember this one chick with this huge Marge Simpson hair doing those “baby-baby”’s as one of the background vocalists. You’ve gotta love any opportunity for enlisting some Marge Simpson background vocalists, I’d say, without any question. Many would call this the Supremes’ best song, I’d certainly think.

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86 Buddy Holly – “Everyday”

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Ok apropos of how in making this list I’m trying to show how unavoidably influential all this stuff is, I’m going to move from Green Day, to George Michael, to PAVEMENT, yes, Pavement, unimpeachable tastemaking latte-sipping overlords of all things wardrobe (in all seriousness I am a Pavement and Jicks fan) and point out that the first song on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is basically an exact ripoff of this Holly standout… R.I.P. to Holly who died in a tragic plane crash over Iowa in 1959… also contrary to what Rob Sheffield says Wowee Zowee is lands better than Crooked Rain

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85 Elvis Presley – “Jailhouse Rock”

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I sort of felt obligated to do an Elvis song on here at some point: the guy is a key player in the founding of rock and roll if only for AESTHETIC reasons, being white and goin’ up and shakin’ his stuff and all that tomfoolery… I could see this number having made it onto Blues Brothers but they were a little more selective I guess.

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84 Tommy James & the Shondells – “Crystal Blue Persuasion”

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I have to admit I remember hearing this Niles, MI band on the radio when I was a kid (not knowing they were from Niles of course… he** I might have even been IN Niles at the time) and having no idea if this was a guy or a girl, and kudos for this regular ol’ Midwestern good ol’ boy for having a knack to transcend not only gender but race as well, as this cut carries that undeniable Motown smoothness to position it as a perennial radio smash, without question.

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83 Joni Mitchell – “A Case of You”

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My mom would always play this vinyl straight through so I really never heard this song without encountering “River” and “Carey” in the same setting, but lots should jump out at any listener right away here such as that beautiful, exactly rendered guitar sound courtesy of A&M Studios in Hollywood. In the desert grows a rose, if not necessarily a river.

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82 Sly & the Family Stone – “Everyday People”

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Sounding very much ahead of its time not unlike early James Brown, this Sly & the Family stone cut was laid down in 1968, coming from the group’s native San Francisco where things were a little more “chill,” compared to the riots that exploded in Detroit this year and arguably spelled the end of Motown as we knew it. Does “Everyday People” fully express the anger that the underprivileged and marginalized were feeling around this time? Probably not, but it’s still a classic piece that would be covered by hippie-rappers Arrested Development in the early ’90s to considerable attention.

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81 Beatles – “Nowhere Man”

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I used to SOMETIMES name this as my favorite Beatles number… it certainly sneaks up on you, playing the back wall with a moderate tempo and lack of any real boisterous outbursts. The background harmonies and theme repetition at the end are welcome additions but ultimately I keep coming back to that central message of assurance: “Nowhere man don’t worry / Take your time don’t hurry / Leave it all / ‘Til somebody else lends you a hand”. In general, it seems like a lot of Beatles songs handle the topic of simply trying to come to terms with a person around them in whom they perceive a definite hopelessness.

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80 The Temptations – “My Girl”

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It’s a dozen cover versions here, it’s a TV theme song there, and then with “My Girl” we have an entire movie spawned from it of the same name, starring Macauley Culkin somewhere around ’95 or so. Yup, that kid turned into quite the mack once he hit the ripe old age of 11.

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79 Edwin Starr – “War”

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What jumps to my mind first about this one is that scene in Rush Hour with this song… that’s when I knew I’d never be able to dance. We might as well leave it at that. Really, once this song dissolves into what it is from its angular, inexplicable and multi-vocaled intro, it gets so funky that you wonder why you don’t hear it more often, the obvious answer of which would of course be that its subject matter is too thorny, and too close to many people’s lives, unfortunately enough.

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78 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – “Chicago (live)”

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I was a little surprised to look and see that this track actually isn’t available on any studio album — well the definitive version all along was the one that surfaces on their live LP 4 Way Street. The song is apparently a fictitious (or real, I suppose) plea to an unnamed individual to run for president in the Democratic party, as said party’s nomination convention was held in the Windy City a couple of short years earlier. And… if you can talk about the ’60s and make any sense, then you’re a better man than I.

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77 Bob Dylan – “Subterranean Homesick Blues”

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Here we have of course the word “Blues” in the title turning to “Alien” for that Radiohead song, which is probably better than this one, let’s be honest… still, you have to say Dylan’s almost rapping-style vocal technique here opened the way for lots of poetic vagabond’s down the road from Lou Reed to Tom Waits and beyond, who might have wanted to shirk the definition of what proper “singing” was.

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76 Stevie Wonder – “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)”

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With what’s basically complete sonic perfection, from the intro’s horn tapestries to those psychedelic guitar-twangs to that ever-present booming bass, Stevie Wonder delivers here what is probably his most popular Motown hit, or early hit, as it were, to be compared with the ’70s soul stuff like “Sir Duke” he’d become even more famous for later.

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75 Harry Nilsson – “Coconut”

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My friend used to have this joke that Quinton Tarrantino placed this song in Reservoir Dogs for the sole purpose of trolling that gunshot victim cop who gets a bellyful of lead about midway through the movie. To this day I’ve never heard a bad song by Harry Nilsson and what’s more that album cover with him looking stoned in his robe is hilarious — it’s like ’90s slacker 25 years ahead of its time. Nilsson Schmilsson. No, I’m not insulting him — that’s what he called his friggin’ album.

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74 Beatles – “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love away”

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74th? I know I do this on every list but… there’s no way this is only the 75th best oldie of all time. Well, maybe that serves to justify the project in itself because it seems there are inevitably a lot of songs you forget about in any movement. Maybe that’s a justification for karaoke too. Eh… he** no.

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73 Bob Dylan – “Watching the River Flow”

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A very interesting selection here, “Watching the River Flow” came only as a single (not included on any full album) and relatively late in Dylan’s oeuvre, at ’71, considering its direct simplicity and surplus of heart, emotion and distinctiveness. It’s bluesy but free and wild, like most of Highway 61 Revisited, and yet it’s about just wanting to sit and watch the river flow, which I guess dials down the intimidation factor, refreshingly enough.

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72 The Allman Brothers – “Melissa”

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I have to say in general that this tends to be the corny “girl” favorite… like all female fans of the Allman Brothers seem to harbor this as a gushy sort of personal favorite, but all in all you could do much worse in terms of songwriting. It’s the melodic crafting of Greg Allman and credit brother Duane for scaling back his habit of showing off his guitar playing ability and just laying down docile little runs to compliment, not entirely shift, the blueprint already at hand. Also R.I.P. to Duane who would die in an accident months after this.

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71 The Rolling Stones – “Mother’s Little Helper”

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At a certain point The Stones, you have to say, have this spellbinding way of plunging to the absolute nadir of everyday life and, belying what’s otherwise a penchant for Apollonian, mountaintop rock and roll, delivering a dark, lugubrious message that can oddly have sort of like a “Ricki Lake” effect, making us feel a little better about our own lives by comparison. This excellent cut which made it onto most Stones greatest hits packages would be one example and the time-stopping “Paint it, Black” would of course be another.

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70 Credence Clearwater Revival – “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”

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Yes, this is one of those undeniably great songs without any question and it’s full of this sort of everyman’s type of emotion which has a curious ability to shine musical elements in many different directions — like there’s the fact that Fogerty’s having FUN singing it, and it’s about the sun, but then on the flipside it’s obviously a sad tale of perceiving a sort of metaphysical darkness in the midst of a period which should be happy and care-free. Well, it directly follows four major assassinations in America and the crux of the Vietnam War, so I guess we’ll forget him and not call him some Adam Duritz whiner or something.

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69 The Troggs – “Love is All around”

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Covered sharply by R.E.M., this tender ballad is singular and of note and in part positions The Troggs as a key player in the British invasion. It comes replete with a multi-guitar arrangement which makes things textural without hogging the spotlight, and most importantly, no upright bass (I’m really sick of that Motown upright bass sound).

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68 Joni Mitchell – “Carey”

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Ok this song creeps me out a tad bit (this is like my obligatory one instance of being creeped out for probably every 1,000 the average woman experiences), although I’ve learned to value these bold statements of infatuation in the face of morality’s subjugation, PJ Harvey being one notable of them in her own right and then St. Vincent of course taking such things to uncomfortable extremes, which I certainly hope she stops doing at some point.

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67 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – “Teach Your Children”

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It was Weezer’s green album and The Best of Crosby, Stills and Nash — I still remember those were the two CD’s this dude had in his car when he let me borrow it to move in college and I’m not sure if I just associate this cut with that extra-clutch move of his, but that certainly is a great memory for me and this song just seemed to “tie the room together,” kinda, like a classic, poetic American tapestry of rock and roll balladry which seems to exist as much in fairy tale as it does in late-night acid parties.

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66 David Essex – “Rock on”

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It BEATS THE PANTS OFF OF THE TENSION IN THE ROOM, you might say — complete grower, the very definition of acquired taste, grating and impossible upon first 10 listens but tenaciously imbibing without any questions the stylistic dead ends perceivable in rock and roll in the early ’70s, when Lester Bangs was proclaiming it dead but you just had to “rock on”… what else could you do? Those strings are my favorite part — so dissonant and maniacal they seem to climb the walls and peel the paint right off of them.

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65 Stevie Wonder – “My Cherie Amour”

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This song is so complimentary of the individual that it’s sometimes hard to remember that it’s actually a sad song, one of mourning, as at the main chorus moment Wonder sings “How I wish that you were mine”. I think that without question, it’s a paean to the undeniable beauty of the female, and for this reason women usually like it a lot, which I suppose is worth something.

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64 Beatles – “I Feel Fine”

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Perhaps my favorite early single by the Beatles (before Rubber Soul that is), “I Feel Fine” has a conventional, unremarkable exterior which belies those spot-on background vocals and that raw sound in their voices, which I think probably came from Phil Spector making them do like 10 takes, like on “Twist and Shout.” Interestingly, also, it features with prominence and brilliance that British invasion technique of repeating a song’s theme at the end and thereby breaking with the erstwhile phrasing format (a technique which would be picked up brilliantly later by Green Day on “Worry Rock” and “Oh Love”), although not marking the ORIGINAL enactment of this, which I think belongs to Herman’s Hermits and “I’m into Something Good.”

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63 Wilson Pickett – “In the Midnight Hour”

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Here was that rusty, rustic opener on the best of Wilson Pickett I used to love so much — it just set things rolling with this energetic, almost coked-up swagger all in perfect melodic understanding and brutal vocal pipes.

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62 The McCoys – “Hang on Sloopy”

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Whoa, this band is from Indiana… that’s my home state… da** that’s eerie… anyway here is a great song with pristine background vocals, a lost art in and of itself, and which I as a kid used to like even more because I thought he was saying “hang on snoopy,” me being a huge Charlie Brown buff.

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61 The Who – “The Seeker”

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I sort of felt awkward about The Who in general with this list… they’re one of my favorite bands of all time, and they’re OLD, they’re so old, and yet this is the only selection I’ve included on this list by them. In other words they’re firmly embedded in the “classic rock” realm of things, which if not in tandem with oldies mutually exclusive comes pretty darn close… but these are great humanistic lyrics to hang your hat on, even if they are negative, like what to AVOID doing. At least it’s something.

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60 The Rolling Stones – “19th Nervous Breakdown”

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I probably picked weird Stones songs for this list but the end of the day I’m a sucker for a certain potent tension and energy, like hashing out a difficult problem and coupling it with powerful rock and roll, so as to put that music to the best, but also most important, uses in everyday life.

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59 Sonny & Cher – “I Got You Babe”

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Ah… I just had to… this is one of those songs that as a ’90s kid I’ll never be able to fashion an ingenuous opinion on since it’s just so ingrained in everybody’s psyches — again it’s like a nursery rhyme, kind of, but give them credit for plotting down a brisk but lithe 6/8 meter for this ode to the glory of love.

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58 The Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations”

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I highly recommend the Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy starring John Cusack as Wilson where it’s FINALLY explained what the he**’s up with this song — it’s not on Pet Sounds because it came AFTER Pet Sounds, even trippier, terser and more melodic, the result though of a considerable acid wig-out at a dinner table full of hallucinations and various peals of delusional fury. I mean, this type of thing isn’t just borne out of the sand, you know.

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57 Smokey Robinson & the Miracles – “I Second That Emotion”

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Whoo! it’s funky and man that snare sound with that tambourine right on top of it every time — no “tightening up” needed for these session gents and there are Motown songs that are AS GOOD as this one in history, but not markedly better.

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56 Gladys Knight & the Pips – “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)”

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All of these songs it seems like having their own way of sounding great even on digital and here, you’ve got to love that gentle, beautiful wah-wah pedal and those orchestrally arranged strings, along with of course the semantic message of these lyrics which had to be one of the hardest things to pull off in the history of American music. But, leave it to Gladys.

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55 Joni Mitchell – “Both Sides, Now”

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My highest ranking Joni Mitchell selection on this list, “Both Sides, Now” culls from her debut album Clouds (which oddly isn’t that great of an LP… not as good as Blue at least) and takes a charming, comely look at life’s lessons which end up having the point that they’re not really lessons at all, but rather tutorials in neverending youthful ignorance, even in antiquity.

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54 Bob Dylan – “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”

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Every time this song is on I just sit there doing nothing, or maybe I get stoned… I guess that’s a sign of good music, as is nodding your head, or not noticing the music at all, as well. And Bob Dylan probably gave us all of these, at one point or another.

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53 The Turtles – “Happy Together”

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Wow, these guys are American.. that really surprised me, seeing as they’re so British invasion-y… also the 1967 release date of this cut marks a later one than I’d expected to see attached to such a straight-ahead oldies pop number. Is this song the reason why ’67 was the “summer of love”? No, that probably owes to Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, but these guys probably didn’t throw a stick in the spokes… let’s put it that way.

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52 The Troggs – “With a Girl Like You”

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The Troggs get UP a little bit here and sort of get galloping, the singer still having that charmingly nasal and undeniably genuine vocal disposition which tends to truly carry these songs into classic status. I think it’s the closeness of this mix, the live sound and the compression, along with the organic aspects of all the instruments, that gives it a quintessentially “rock” feel to go along with its “pop” catchiness and concise structure… and again all these songs seem to have a bass sound that has a knack for narrowly evading disaster and delivering me just the right timbre I want, this time especially electronic-y, almost computer-y, in a good, mellow sort of way.

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51 The Rolling Stones – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

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K here’s my “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” spiel, and I promise it has nothing to do with High Fidelity or The Big Chill: it’s the first DUMB song ever, in the positive connotation of “dumb” typically attached to Bleach-era Nirvana or maybe, and this is my own interpolation here, but general Dire Straits and perhaps “Money for Nothing” in particular, that sort of off-the-cuff songwriting… er… doggonnit they were on peyote. There, I said it.

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50 The Allman Brothers Band – “Blue Sky”

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Hmm… is this an oldie… well it’s in my head now anyway so I sure hope it is, with Duane Allman on virtuosic lead guitar, quite notably… is this Greg Allman’s prescient metaphysical love song to his soon to be deceased brother? Sorry, I have an unfortunate habit of getting all daemonic on you, don’t I.

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49 Credence Clearwater Revival – “Bad Moon Rising”

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Insane… just insane… “Bad Moon Rising” is only 49th… I mean I swear this is the best song of all time… who the fu** put this list together anyway?

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48 Beatles – “Yellow Submarine”

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OH yeah… we all love us some “Yellow Submarine,” methinks (hey how ’bout that use of the term “methinks” there, not too bad eh)… precipitating in titular form of the excellent, trippy, very drug-friendly (not that I would know) Beatles movie, and having that awesome drunken “In our yellow” and “Submarine” echo toward the end… and such a catchy tune… it’s really about living in a yellow submarine, isn’t it. And that would be a submarine that America would want to destroy, musically speaking, which they probably never would.

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47 The Soul Brothers Six – “Some Kind of Wonderful”

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Well, the truth comes out and this cut isn’t originally by Grand Funk Railroad at all but rather these Motown back-woods rapscallions with pipes like hyenas. There’s lots to be unpacked about this song and I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the single black guys were the ones doing the ’68 rioting… does it encompass the black anger… does it encompass any anger… no… it might be the best song of all time, in the event that such a thing matters to an infinitesimal extent, which is certainly arguable.

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46 The Mamas & the Papas – “California Dreamin’”

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Their words were pronounced, loud and clear: “The played some Beach Boys / It was California dreamin’’”… sorry I just find other people’s misfortune humorous and this was The Dead Milkmen in “Punk Rock Girl,” thinking that “California Dreamin’” was by the Beach Boys just like the rest of the population… well I should probably have some non-sarcastic things to say about this song seeing as I ranked it 46th… yeah it’s really ubiquitous in the collective consciousness like “I Got You Babe” and I love this whole Mamas & the Papas album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, and their greatest hits.

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45 Smokey Robinson & the Miracles – “The Tracks of My Tears”

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I think he might have the best voice in the history of Motown, which is certainly steep competition given the likes of Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, David Ruffin and beyond, and I think your heart breaks all over again every time you hear this song, which might be sort of the point.

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44 Billy Joel – “Only the Good Die Young”

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This is sort of one of those early-’70s border line cuts between “classic oldies” and “’70s and ’80s pop radio,” the latter of which has now of course per my introductory blurb dissolved into “modern oldies” (how’s that for an oxymoron)… and yeah can you tell I’m avoiding having to talk about this song since I don’t live in New York and I’m not a total bada** and stuff.

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43 Anne Murray – “Danny’s Song”

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I dunno… I just like this song… I have it on Dolby Radio… I’ll be da**ed if I’ve ever felt bad after hearing it, even in digital… gasp… yes, digital, although I am issuing a vinyl collection of all these songs which comes with a free bottle of muscle relaxers for all that record-flipping.

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42 David Bowie – “Space Oddity”

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I think a lot of us thought David Bowie actually had lifted off to the planet Mars and that’s why we liked the song… either way it’s a pretty good tune, of which there are like a million different versions… personally I’m still holding out for the director’s cut where he busts into a 30-second scat of Swahili. But who’s counting, right?

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41 T. Rex – “Bang a Gong (Get it on)”

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It’s just the perfect song… what can I say and I ranked it ahead one slot of Bowie because Bowie got his START in the music industry under Marc Bolan, being a mime since that’s the only gig Bolan would give him, but that’s the kind of man Bowie is and that’s the kind of man Bolan is and never would Bowie channel into a frequency of rock and roll this tight and well wound, exhibiting the weirdness and uncertainty of sex and not being afraid to fu**ing show it either.

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40 The Monkees – “Daydream Believer”

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Somehow The Monkees just had this fly by night, requisite “really good song” that wasn’t about “monkeying around,” or was it… I guess that’s debatable… R.I.P. to bassist Tork who just passed but let’s be honest the game ball goes to that lead singer with that world-weary voice and song that’s just so perfect as to set the twilight reeling with some good ol’ fashioned pop perfection.

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39 The Rolling Stones – “Paint it, Black”

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I don’t know where to begin from the credits of Full Metal Jacket to all these a*8wipe songs ahead of it that think they’re better than it to all these sojourning co*8sucker maggots who drove Mick Jagger to write this song in the first place, and maybe that’s for the best.

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38 The Troggs – “Wild Thing”

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Commonly known as “that band that did ‘Wild Thing’,” The Troggs have definitely piled up a pretty substantial oldies resume… but then, nobody wants to be oldies, do they, which might explain the current oldies-that-aren’t-oldies-at-all radio format.

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37 Credence Clearwater Revival – “Lookin’ out My Back Door”

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Commonly known as “the song the dude is banging against the ceiling of his car to” (this aggression will not stand against that upholstery, by the way), “Lookin’ out My Back Door” is basically a blatant account of an acid trip but disguised as something childlike and nursery rhyme (it’s amazing how often this parallel will pop up, like with “Green Tambourine”).

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36 Stevie Wonder – “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”

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Ok this one’s from ’73 so again it’s on the borderline of “classic oldies” and “Taco Bell-era oldies,” but one thing inspirational about it to me is certainly the “apple of my eye” line coming from Wonder, which should more or less prove that people used to take semantics less seriously in rock lyrics than they do now.

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35 Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”

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For this song I’d like to borrow the phrase of the Primitive Radio Gods label rep that it’s so “full of atmosphere,” which is obviously totally unexplainable save for the fact that it’s a perfect depiction of how the music makes a distinct impression in your mind and stays there despite the lack of reliance on any kinetic elements whatsoever.

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34 The Mamas & the Papas – “Monday, Monday”

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Wow these fu**ers must REALLY hate Monday (oh the “mundanity”) ’cause this sucka beat out “California Dreamin’,” the best Beach Boys… er… Mamas & the Papas song that there is… anyway the background vocal s are here in full force and the love for the weekend is probably expressed better here than in “Working for the Weekend.”

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33 Bob Dylan – “Just Like a Woman”

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This is one of Dylan’ misogynistic throngs right here, I don’t think there’s any question… but da** it I’ve certainly got some listens out of it.. what does that mean about me… don’t answer that… unless you really want to get my goat, and all that bollocks, of course.

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32 The Rolling Stones – “Get off of My Cloud”

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How in the he** this isn’t number one is beyond me… I swear this computer keeps coming and ranking these songs… o yeah it might be ’cause it’s more “classic rock” than “oldies” and remember you don’t want to have to pull over to the side of the road from beating on your dashboard too hard, which actually happened to this person I knew one time from listening to The White Stripes, around ’03.

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31 Yes – “I’ve Seen All Good People”

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I still remember when the understated blue-collar, everyday aspects of this otherwise artsy-fartsy cut hit me.. it was driving over a hill in my hometown of South Bend, Indiana around Christmas with my sister in the car, and suddenly all the weary wear and tear of my everyday job seemed like it hadn’t gotten to me and I was connecting with classic rock on a special sort of plane, although perhaps tenuously I assert that this track is “oldies” as well.

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30 Smokey Robinson & the Miracles – “Shop around”

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One of those kitschy and catchy Motown hits, “Shop around” plays as a great lesson in life too, as I suppose does “party like a rock star” and “I’m in Europe eatin’ Xanies and collectin’ panties,” although those latter things tend to cost a little more.

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29 Beatles – “We Can Work it out”

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Boy, this song is about as McCartney as you get, with the constant phrasing changes and the concise, optimistic message, without any doubt that anyone will “let him down” or “crucify” him anytime soon, as justified as those fears by his band mate ended up being.

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28 Jackie Wilson – “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher”

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This is a great Motown song and I’m hoping he’s singing it to a woman and not to the drug of cocaine, which it sorta sounds like… eh what do I know… marriage is the punishment for felonies in 47 state anyway.

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27 Chuck Berry – “Johnny B. Goode”

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Chuck Berry’s definitely another case where I’m a HUGE fan, of his music and also of his excellent and illuminating autobiography, but just couldn’t fit many of his tracks on this list since they just didn’t infiltrate radio and American consciousness that well. In general, an original resident of St. Louis, he’s got a commendable way of toggling between the urban and the rural, here cementing rock and roll as a rural brand of music, which to an extent you could argue it is, stemming as it does from delta blues and gospel.

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26 Jim Croce – “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”

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Wow I actually hadn’t known that this song came out as late as 1973, which is a way makes it even more notable that Jim Croce looks hilariously like Frank Zappa when he has that 19th century mustache goin’ on. Croce’s got a very interesting and puzzling life to examine — to me at least this song is worlds better than his other mega-hit “Operator,” and he never played music until he enrolled at Villanova and studied it. Actually I wouldn’t have even thought he’d be a city slicker… some people just have that twangy, good ol’ boy persona in their blood!

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25 The Temptations – “Just My Imagination (Running away with Me)”

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The Temptations scored a number one hit on their 14th studio album. Just TRY to fathom that (the Beatles only have 12 studio albums total in their whole discography). I mean it’s partly hard to believe for the bald fact of it but for the song to actually be GOOD, too, and not some lame Elton John “Candle in the Wind” type thing, in certainly even more inconceivable. Well, this partly explains it: the song was written by another party, according to Wikipedia, Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, who puzzlingly had his hit smash “Money (That’s What I Want)” back in ’59, 12 years before this cut. See, this music business stuff is full of these bizarre little stories, if you just look.

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24 Sam Sham & the Pharaohs – “Wooly Bully”

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I actually had the Sam Sham & Pharaohs 20th Century Masters disc for a while and I don’t remember any of it being especially BAD, just sort of sad maybe (like he had a song called “How Do You Catch a Girl,” or something like that). This is the crisp, keyboard-riding romper you hear in Full Metal Jacket and all over the world in the late ’60s, or so I assume.

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23 The Doors – “Light My Fire”

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Credit The Doors’ biopic starring Val Kilmer with accurately portraying the genesis of this song, which was in fact conceived by guitarist Robbie Krieger, the exact vocal melody implied but the further honed by Jim Morrison’s finesse and guidance. Ultimately, it’s sort of got that distant sense of being sung by someone other than who wrote it, but it is The Doors and The Doors and this album are generally quite classic, another band I like way better than the overall components of this list would imply.

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22 Gladys Knight & the Pips – “Midnight Train to Georgia”

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How ’bout Gladys Knight getting the slot for the Super Bowl national anthem this year! Also, on an unrelated note, I loved the Seinfeld Meme about Adam Levine being “spongeworthy.” Anyway, good gawd is this song classic from general airplay and enjoyability to the commendable Dismemberment Plan shoutout in “The Ice of Boston.”

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21 Bob Dylan – “I Want You”

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So Bob Dylan is pretty old compared to me… I’m 35… but hearing how damaged and real his voice and dispositions are on all of these classic cuts (most of this Blonde on Blonde album plays as pretty elite) I almost get like the father instinct kicking in, like I want to take care of this person because he’s hurting. Of course, this comes after having these songs countless times soundtrack and apply to my own life, so maybe my thinking is a little off.

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20 Herman’s Hermits – “I’m into Something Good”

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Ok… why exactly was this song in Naked Gun 33 1/3? I guess Airplane buys you a lot of future clout in Hollywood… anyway I believe this tune, bequeathed to the world in ’64 (it was released to the world on July 4… hooray…) represents the first ever instance of that technique of repeating a part of the chorus at the end of a song and ergo breaking from the general phrasing scheme (Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” which would follow suit came five months after).

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19 Bobby Fuller Four – “I Fought the Law”

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What’s great about this song? Well, other than the fact that it’s basically the story of my life, it’s covered by The Clash and it’s got this heartbreaking melding of criminal problems and failed romance on consecutive sections, there’s those matching red sweaters they’d all wear in photo ops. Ok, I guess that last part doesn’t help it that much, but it’s pretty dagged funny, anyway.

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18 The Temptations – “The Way You Do the Things You Do”

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I remember my mom liking this song a lot and having sung it to me a handful of times before I ever heard the actual version myself — as always what stands out are the amazing voices of these guys, rivaled only probably by Smokie Robinson and Stevie Wonder, and how it also gets away from 4/4 time for a deliberate romper full of easiness and swagger.

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17 Wilson Pickett – “Land of 1000 Dances”

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If you didn’t know the name of this song you’d be totally screwed in finding it out, you couldn’t Google it or anything because all he be sayin’ is just like “Na na na na na”. Luckily for me, as I mentioned I was indeed in possession of the best of Wilson Pickett CD when I was 20 or so for rollin’ around smokin’ weed to and… ack… this song is way better than “Mustang Sally” anyway… I hate that song.

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16 Buffalo Springfield – “For What it’s Worth”

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There have been nine different members of Buffalo Springfield, which is a bigger number by five than the total amount of years they’ve been together, but for certain this song was written by Stephen Stills, the sort of “nice guy” to Neil Young’s Mr. Hyde, perhaps. And it’s in Forrest Gump. That’s always a plus. And it’s possibly the number one hippie anthem of all time, up there with “White Rabbit” and “Touch of Grey.”

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15 Billy Joel – “Piano Man”

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I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the importance of the lyrics to this song, piano realms in a piano song, gritty snapshots of humanity and of course “They’re sharing a drink they call loneliness / But it’s better than drinking alone”. Also you’ve gotta love the shifts in perspective and stern demarcation between the verse and chorus, with the verses telling firsthand stories and then the chorus assuming the crowd: “Sing us the song you’re the piano man!”

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14 Jefferson Airplane – “White Rabbit”

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Jefferson Airplane was completely bonkers… they all lived together at 2400 Fulton Street (which would spawn the name of their fine greatest hits collection) and they had not so much a democratic but a completely loony approach to songwriting, where there’s a strong possibility that there are 10 different individuals credited with writing at least one JA tune. Well, if you can believe your eyes and ears, this one’s all Slick all the time, the suave lead vocal countess who would spiritually and aesthetically preside over the events, finally shutting up about “finding somebody to love,” which I’m personally glad about.

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13 The Rivieras – “California Sun”

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This band is from SOUTH BEND, INDIANA, woo-hoo… my hometown, just like Umphrey’s McGee, but… ahem… they didn’t write this song although in my opinion they do the best version of it, fast and frenetic and like my hometown, incredibly simple.

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12 Jr. Walker & the All Stars – “Shotgun”

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I swear to God before I put this list together I’d heard this song probably once in my entire life, probably from somebody who’d played it on a juke box in some bar. Then, I was perusing this top 100 Motown songs list and this sh** was on there like 60th or something. I’d literally almost abandoned the operation entirely, although I have to say the exact effect of this song is like that of a shotgun — you bound with great force out of your seat and dance.

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11 Tommy James & the Shondells – “Crimson and Clover”

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One of the great travesties of all time is that the primary downloading platform in the early ’00s, Kazaa, had it that Simon & Garfunkel sang this song… no this band is from Niles, MI and is featured elsewhere on this list at all unlike them (ooh I should have put “The Sounds of Silence” on probably) and just wow is this song beautiful. My dad loaned me the biography on Tommy James, Me, the Mob and the Music and it purports that James actually had a son when he was 17, which depressingly enough probably goes into some of the gravity and force behind some of these tracks. I love that James solo tune “Draggin’ the Line” too.

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10 George Benson – “On Broadway”

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Apparently this opus was penned back in ’63 by Barry Mann and Cynthia Well but as far as I know this is the definitive version and always the one I go to. Benson’s also the pipes behind “Give Me the Night,” one of my ’70s soul favorites.

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9 Lou Reed – “Walk on the Wild Side”

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Sometimes I go on and listen to these songs when I’m making these lists, but for one thing this one hardly needs an introduction and for another, even the thought of listening back over it puts a distinct smile on my face and makes me think of the eons and eons over the years I’ve spend listening to Transformer, Coney Island Baby, Berlin, New York and all the Velvet Underground albums. All that, and I really skipped Lou Reed to see Deerhunter at ’09 Lollapalooza, which is ironic since without question Bradford Cox and the gang are VU-influenced… he was even commenting on Lou Reed during the set, with his usual laconic, deadpan disposition, of course.

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8 The Beach Boys – “Sloop John B”

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Ok now I’m getting this annoying “what do I say about this song” thing going on… I guess that’s the thing where the better the music is, the more it humbles you, like a disabling quality which sends you into this entire realm of respite unneeding of semantics. Or, I sure hope so… otherwise I’d look pretty ridiculous saying all this crap.

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7 Ben E. King – “Stand by Me”

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Ah… it’s so nice not to primarily know the John Lennon version of this song it should be illegal… Ben E. King was a general sort of Motown bada** in his own right too, also bashing out the beautiful “Spanish Harlem” which The Mamas & the Papas would pick up (yeah they’re the band that did “California Dreamin’,” just to review).

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6 Diana Ross & the Supremes – “You Can’t Hurry Love”

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One thing I keep going back to with this song is that the bassline basically gave birth to the ones in “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop and then “Last Nite” by The Strokes… oh but The Clash are the only band that still matters. Sorry, I forgot.

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5 James Brown and the Famous Flames – “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag Pt. 1”

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Yeah, they can’t just call this song “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” by James Brown. Both title and author have entirely frivolous verbal appendages on them. Making it too simple would render him a terrible, savage man! Well, there’s a chance he is just that nonetheless, who I remember all but exclusively soundtracked our getting-drunk party before Phish in ’04 thrown by this dude who had one weekend back from Iraq. Can you say sense of urgency, just a tad?

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4 Wilson Pickett – “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”

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And yup… this is pretty much about how you do it, ladies and gentlemen… Wilson Pickett speeding up Solomon Burke’s minor hit from two years prior but… gasp… ACTUALLY GIVING HIM CREDIT in the song’s intro… and did the Blues Brothers give Pickett credit when they displayed this song at the exact climax of their first movie? You’d have a better chance of walking a lizard across Antarctica. And who do you think made the most money out of this picture? Luckily, anyway, Pickett just sings like he’s on coke, instead of actually being on it, or maybe he was… it’s none of my business I suppose.

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3 The Kingsmen – “Louie Louie”

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“Louie Louie” is obviously sort of an unexplainable, preternatural beast from the Pacific Northwest (not to be confused with the Atlantic Northwest) which is handled pretty beautifully in Mr. Holland’s Opus, commonly known as the nerdiest movie of all time. Hey, they know their stuff. You’ve gotta give ’em that.

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2 Beatles – “Hey Jude”

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To be honest, I flipped a coin for what would be first between this and the next song on this list. Well, let’s see: what “Hey Jude” rant to begin with? I once sang this at karaoke and got quite the response, but this song is more glorious than sociology, semantics and gender matters could ever be put combined in a million years. It’s seven minutes long and it doesn’t even suck, sort of like Dave Matthews’ “Don’t Drink the Water.”

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1 Bob Dylan – “Like a Rolling Stone”

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An inarguably scintillating performance, this song, like most of Highway 61 Revisited and much of Blood on the Tracks, isn’t so much sung as it is predatorily howled from atop a rainy, adversarial mountaintop in Dylan’s mind, where he’s tenaciously picking apart a person’s inner and outer — their “life,” in terms of friend and livelihood, and their psyche, a statement so clear and undeniable that, after the 70th listen or so, you can’t help but uncover the shocking fact that, god da**, it’s actually a statement of love — Bob Dylan loves the person he’s singing about. He might even be jealous of him or her. Well, that’s going too far. But he’s taken on the spiny and callous disposition of the world. And therein lies his utmost genius.
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[1] The way I understand it is that this is the company that has purchased Clear Channel, the corporation that used to own basically all the radio stations in America.

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