Earlier this week, an email list I belong to asked subscribers for their top 10 songs of all time. Though mine change like the weather, here’s what I entered (in no particular order):
“Rag Doll,” The Four Seasons (1964)
The story goes that co-writer Bob Gaudio was inspired by a waif who cleaned his windshield at a traffic light on Manhattan’s West Side Highway, and all he had to give her was a $5 bill (or a $20 in some tellings). The look on her face stayed with him as he wrote this song. Ironically, this most soaring of Four Seasons songs was recorded in a shitty demo studio. I want to bottle Frankie Valli’s final notes and take them with me whenever the sky is gray.
“Heart Like a Wheel,” Kate & Anna McGarrigle (1976)
There have been many songs written about broken hearts, but few have sounded so raw, forlorn and fragile.
“Summer in the City,” The Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)
The Lovin’ Spoonful was known for playful melodies and jug-band influences. Drum-crashing hard rock was usually not in their repertoire. Except here.
“Surf’s Up,” The Beach Boys (1971)
Having now heard the original version, from the 2011 release of “The Smile Sessions,” I’m probably partial to what Brian Wilson had in his mind in 1967. Still, on the 1971 version you still get the glorious finale.
“Got to Get You Into My Life,” The Beatles (1966)
I probably could have made this list with 10 Beatles songs, and on another day this might not have been part of it. But on the day I was thinking about my top 10, the McCartney-written cut from “Revolver” — an “ode to pot,” he once described it — was what came to mind. I think it’s that big G chord George Harrison hits that sealed it.
“If I Were Your Woman,” Gladys Knight & the Pips (1970)
Gladys Knight not only sang about adult romance, she sounded like an adult when she sang — a little world-weary, a little desperate, a little pissed off. “You’re like a diamond / But she treats you like glass / Yet you beg her to love you / But me you don’t ask,” she practically spat. But she has her dignity. Props to writers Pam Sawyer, Gloria Jones and Clay McMurray, too.
“Brand New Cadillac,” The Clash (1979)
This is rock and roll.
“Days,” The Kinks (1968)
It’s rare for a song about a former partner to be so forgiving — especially when the singer is obviously devastated. (“The night is dark / It just brings sorrow, let it wait …”) Leave it to Ray Davies to put the forgiveness front and center and combine it with a beautiful melody.
“The Weakest Shade of Blue,” The Pernice Brothers (2003)
I know my taste is music favors the melodic over the rhythmic — and I have a different sense of a good hook than the DJ producers of today — but I’ve never been able to understand why this song wasn’t a flat-out pop hit. Damn thing has more hooks than a tackle box.
“Hold On, I’m Comin’,” Sam and Dave (1966)
Within a day, I was wondering about what I’d left off. How could I forget “That Thing You Do”? What about Lucinda Williams’ “Side of the Road”? No room for CCR? Couldn’t I have found a place for the Four Tops’ “Bernadette”?
Maybe next week.