Friday, June 26, 2015

The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era*: #140-131

The 60th birthday of the Rock Era is fast approaching, and we have timed our updated version of The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era* to conclude on July 9, which will mark 60 years to the day that "Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley & the Comets reached #1.  "Rock Around The Clock" was the first rock & roll song to reach #1, thereby ushering in the Rock Era.  But we have 140 classics still to present.  Enjoy these 10!


You Keep Me Hangin' On

"There is so much emotion in their voices. This could have just been another pop song, but you can feel the pain and heartbreak when they sing, I think it makes all the difference."
"Pure magic."
"One of the ABSOLUTE BEST!"
"This has always been one of my favorites."
"Great songs from one of the best groups ever."
"One of the best songs ever."
"Timeless!!  I'll always love this."

Sometimes in music, as is the case with most things in life, you need a break to succeed, or someone to believe in you championing your cause.  The Supremes had that champion in Motown legend Smokey Robinson.  Robinson was a neighbor of Diana Ross, and he kept pushing Motown boss Berry Gordy until he signed them to a recording contract.
The Supremes spent their first few years backing other singers such as Marvin Gaye and released a few singles, but the turning point in their career came when Gordy assigned the songwriting and production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland to them in 1963.  That combination led to pure gold. 

Here's another Supremes smash written by Holland-Dozier-Holland.  Lamont Dozier came up with the stuttering guitar part, inspired by radio signals for news flashes, which was played by Robert White.  The Supremes recorded the song in eight sessions between June 30 and August 12 at the Motown Hitsville USA Studios in Detroit, Michigan. 

The Supremes, as well as countless other Motown artists, have to thank God they had high-quality musicians in the Motown stable.  The studio band was known as the Funk Brothers--keyboardist Earl Van Dyke, bassist James Jamerson, drummers Benny Benjamin and Uriel Jones, guitarist Robert White and keyboardist Johnny Griffith.  Griffith told Nelson George of the magazine Musician:

The Motown thing was so much tighter.  When we locked into a groove it was hellacious.  The key thing was that we all grew up together and had this Detroit way of approaching music.

The Supremes released the single on October 12, 1966 from the album The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland, and performed it live on The Hollywood Palace on ABC-TV October 29.

"You Keep Me Hangin' On" competed with the following songs during its run up the charts:  "I'm A Believer" by the Monkees, "Cherish" by the Association, "Good Vibrations" from the Beach Boys, the Supremes' own "You Can't Hurry Love" and "Reach Out I'll Be There" by the Four Tops.  Those are all great songs, but Inside The Rock Era's competition factor includes 15 songs, and the quality of competition for "You Keep Me Hangin' On" drops after the songs listed above.
"You Keep Me Hangin' On" became the eighth #1 hit for the legendary group--it was part of a second string of four consecutive #1 hits.  The song held on to #1 for two weeks, and also performed admirably on the R&B chart (#1 for 4 weeks)  It also reached #8 in the U.K.

The song has helped the Supremes sell over 11 million albums in the U.S. alone, and ranks in the Top 100 for radio airplay with five million.

Vanilla Fudge and Kim Wilde also had hits with the song.  "You Keep Me Hangin' On" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

Don't Stop
 Fleetwood Mac

"Love this song!"
"Great song!"



"Awesome song from a legendary band."

"I love this positive."

"Their voices blend so well together."

"Such a great song from a great album. 

We have already heard Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way" at #289* and "You Make Loving Fun" at #183*.  Here is the third song from the album Rumours to place in The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era*.

Fleetwood Mac keyboardist Christine McVie wrote this song about leaving the past behind and looking towards the future.  She and husband John, bassist in the group, were splitting up, and the song led to some awkward moments, as John had to play on a song written about him. 
Originally, the album was to be called Yesterday's Gone after a line in this song.  It was John who suggested Rumours, because it seemed to him as if everyone in Southern California was talking about the personal drama that the group was going through, what with the McVie's breaking up and Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham splitting apart as well.  

"Don't Stop" was a summer song, having debuted on the charts in July of 1977.  It was played alongside great songs such as "How Deep Is Your Love" by the Bee Gees, "You Light Up My Life" from Debby Boone, Fleetwood Mac's own "Dreams" and "You Make Loving Fun", Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are", "Sir Duke" (which we just heard above), "I Just Want To Be Your Everything" from Andy Gibb, "Lucille" by Kenny Rogers, "We Are The Champions" by Queen, "Blue Bayou" by Linda Ronstadt, "Best Of My Love" by the Emotions, and "Sometimes When We Touch" by Dan Hill.

"Don't Stop" peaked at #3 for 2 weeks, obviously distorted chart numbers given the monumental sales of the album.  The song also went to #1 in Canada, #4 in New Zealand, and #6 in the Netherlands.

"Don't Stop" helped sell 28 million albums in the U.S. alone, and has now gone over the seven-million mark in radio airplay.  That puts the song in the Top 20 for all-time in airplay.

Suspicious Minds 
Elvis Presley

"Love this song!"
"Everything that music should be."
"Great song!"
"Absolutely priceless tune..."
"One of the best songs ever recorded."
"Great song from a legend."
"Wonderful...just wonderful!"
"Elvis's voice, of course, is great, and the backing vocals are so tight!"

Memphis singer Mark James wrote this classic at #138*.  At the time, he was living in Houston, Texas, but American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, was gaining a solid reputation as the Box Tops had just recorded their smash "The Letter There".  So James moved to Memphis, and one night, he said he was fooling around on his guitar and using his Hammond organ pedals for a bass line when he came up with a catchy melody. 
James recorded and released his own version of the song, but it didn't go anywhere.  When Elvis Presley booked the American Sound Studio for a recording session, Don Cruise, a producer associated with Presley, asked James if he had any songs that Elvis could record.  They wanted a mature rock song that Presley could use as his comeback, and James thought of "Suspicious Minds". 
Memphis Soul producer Chips Moman brought the song to Presley in 1969, and Elvis immediately fell in love with it and decided he could turn it into a hit, even though it had flopped for James.
Presley recorded his version January 23, 1969.  But the session was nearly canceled over a copyright dispute.  Elvis's business handlers wanted half of Moman's publishing rights.  Moman wasn't going to do that, and Elvis's people threatened to halt the session.  Harry Jenkins of RCA stepped in and became the peacemaker, agreeing with Presley's people because he had a good feeling the song would be a big hit and there would be plenty of money to go around.
The backing track featured guitar, bass, organ, strings, trumpets, trombones, and drums.  Donna Jean Godchaux, who later joined the Grateful Dead, sang backing vocals. 
Presley performed "Suspicious Minds" for the first time at the Las Vegas International Hotel on July 31.  Producer Felton Jarvis added the premature fade-out at 3:36 that mirrored the way Presley sang the song in Vegas.  The single was released August 26.
"Suspicious Minds" was out during a golden time of the Rock Era, facing competition from "Something" and "Come Together" by the Beatles, "Honky Tonk Women" by the Rolling Stones, "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" by B.J. Thomas, "Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies, "Venus" by the Shocking Blue, "Wedding Bell Blues" by the 5th Dimension, "Someday We'll Be Together" by the Supremes, "Get Together" by the Youngbloods, "Everybody's Talkin'" from Nilsson, "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye", "Crystal Blue Persuasion" by Tommy James & the Shondells, and "Down On The Corner" by CCR.
"Suspicious Minds" became Presley's first #1 song in seven years, and the last of his career.  The song also reached #1 in Canada, #2 in the U.K., #4 in the Netherlands and #10 in Norway.
"Suspicious Minds" is credited with revitalizing Presley's career following his '68 Comeback Special on television.
Presley enjoyed a hit in the U.K. three times, first in 1969, then in 2001 when a live version at The International Hotel was issued, and again in 2007 when the song was re-released to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Presley's death. 

"Suspicious Minds" sold over two million singles and has helped sell 23 million albums.  To date, the song has registered over five million radio airplays.

This song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

The Boxer 
Simon & Garfunkel

"Very emotional song!"
"A terrific song!"
"Shivers down my spine..."
"The ending is heavenly..."
"Wow, what a classic!"
"A perfect song."

There are 44 songs by duos in The Top 500*.  Here's one of them at #137*.

Simon's lyrics were mostly autobiographical, partially inspired by the Bible, and written at a time when he felt he was being unfairly criticized.  The lines "Workman's wages" and "Seeking out the poorer quarters" were inspired by passages in the Bible, which Simon would often read in hotels.  We strongly suspect that anyone criticizing Simon, One of The Top 5 Lyricists of the Rock Era*, for his songs had to have been suffering a severe case of an inferiority complex.  
Simon wrote about overcoming poverty and loneliness in New York City, before switching to a third-person commentary on a boxer that perseveres despite "every glove that laid him down or cut him till he cried out".  At the end of the song, the boxer declares, "I am leaving, I am leaving!"  "But the fighter still remains."  It is an incredible metaphor for life.  "The Boxer" is punctuated by the famous refrain in which Simon & Garfunkel sing "lie-la-lie" with the reverbed drum in the background.  The phrase was put in initially as a placeholder, but was deemed so successful that they left it in. 
Simon and Garfunkel co-produced "The Boxer" along with Roy Halee.  Charlie McCoy played bass harmonica, while Fred Carter, Jr. played guitar on the song.  Carter told the magazine Fretboard Journal how he came up with the part:

I had a baby Martin, which is a 000-18, and when we started the record in New York with Roy Halee, the engineer, and Paul [Simon] was playin' his Martin — I think it's a D-18 and he was tuned regular — he didn't have the song totally written lyrically, but he had most of the melody.  And so all I was hearin' was bits and pieces while he was doin' his fingerpicking . . .  I think he was fingerpicking in an open C.  I tried two or three things and then picked up the baby Martin, which was about a third above his guitar, soundwise.

And I turned down the first string to a D, and tuned up the bass string to a G, which made it an open-G tuning, except for the fifth string, which was standard.  Did some counter fingerpicking with him, just did a little backward roll, and lucked into a lick.  And that turned into that little roll, and we cut it, just Paul and I, two guitars.  Then we started to experiment with some other ideas and so forth. At the end of the day, we were still on the song. Garfunkel was amblin’ around the studio, hummin’, and havin’ input at various times.  They were real scientists. They’d get on a part, and it might be there [unfinished] six weeks later.

On my guitar, they had me miked with about seven mics. They had a near mic, a distant mic, a neck mic, a mic on the hole.  They even miked my breathing.  They miked the guitar in back.  So Roy Halee was a genius at getting around.  The first time we were listenin’, they killed the breathing mic.  And they had an ambient mic overhead, which picked up the two guitars together, I suppose.  And so, I was breathin’, I guess, pretty heavy in rhythm.  And they wanted to take out that noise, and they took it out and said, "Naw, we gotta leave that in."  That sounds almost like a rhythm on the record.  So they left the breathin’ mic on for the mix.  I played Tele on it and a 12-string, three or four guitars on it.  I was doing different guitar parts.  One was a chord pattern and rhythm pattern.  Did the Dobro lick on the regular six-string finger Dobro — not a slide Dobro.
I never heard the total record until I heard it on the air . . . I thought: That’s the greatest record I heard in my life, especially after the scrutiny and after all the time they spent on it and breakin’ it apart musically and soundwise and all of it.  There was some magic in the studio that day, and Roy Halee captured it.  Paul and I had a really nice groove.

Legendary session drummer Hal Blaine created the drum sound that is the crescendo to the "lie-la-lie" vocals (be honest--we know you simulate the drum sound while singing in your car!)  Halee set Blaine up near an elevator in the offices of Columbia Records.  Blaine listened to the vocals in his headphones and pounded the drums.  At one point, an elderly security guard came out of the elevator and was startled at the sound.

"The Boxer" was one of the more elaborate songs that Simon & Garfunkel recorded, taking over 100 hours to record at Columbia Studios in both Nashville and New York City and St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University in New York City.  With all of the components of the song, a standard 8-track recorder wasn't enough, so Halee asked Columbia boss Clive Davis for a 16-track recorder, and brought Davis into the studio to show him his problem.  Davis did not become the great industry executive he is by turning down such requests; he bought Halee the 16-track. 
"The Boxer" was the follow-up to "Mrs. Robinson".  Two consecutive classics in a row.  Who does that?  In April, 1969, "The Boxer" hit the charts, encountering competition from "Get Back" by the Beatles, "Aquarius" by the 5th Dimension, "In The Year 2525" by Zager & Evans, "Proud Mary" and "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Get Together" from the Youngbloods, "You've Made Me So Very Happy" by Blood, Sweat & Tears, "Time Of The Season" by the Zombies, "Crystal Blue Persuasion" by Tommy James & the Shondells, "Traces" from the Classics IV, Tommy Roe's "Dizzy", "In The Ghetto" by Elvis Presley, and "My Cherie Amour" from Stevie Wonder.

"The Boxer" peaked at #7 overall and #3 on the Adult chart, but only because the trade papers didn't account for album sales in their rankings.  More on that below.  The song also hit #2 in Austria and the Netherlands, #3 in Canada, #5 in Sweden, #6 in the U.K., #7 in Ireland, #8 in Australia, and #9 in Norway.
"The Boxer" has helped sell over 25 million albums in the United States alone, and has gone over 3 million in radio airplay.

Baker Street 
Gerry Rafferty

"OMG That saxophone is just amazing..."

"Forever in my blood."

"Luv the sax in this."

"One of the classics for all-time."

"One of my all-time favorites."


"Saxophone solo is of course great, but so is the guitar solo."

Gerry Rafferty was the lead singer of Stealer's Wheel, which scored a big hit in 1973 with "Stuck In The Middle With You".  Rafferty was unable to record for three years as a result of legal problems that resulted from the breakup of Stealer's Wheel, during which time he wrote "Baker Street".
Gerry regularly traveled between his family home near Glasgow, Scotland, and London, where he stayed at a friend's place on Baker Street.  Rafferty recalled the time:
Everybody was suing each other, so I spent a lot of time on the overnight train from Glasgow to London for meetings with lawyers.  I knew a guy who lived in a little flat off Baker Street.  We'd sit and chat or play guitar there through the night.

Finally, Rafferty left that group for a solo career, and scored one of the big hits of 1978 with "Baker Street", naming the song after the street where his friend lived.  This great song tells the story of a man who dreams of owning his own house and living away from his present neighborhood, but he is a drunk, and is unable to achieve his dream.  The song's last verse, "When you wake up it's a new morning/The sun is shining; it's a new morning/You're going, you're going home." reflects the exhilaration Rafferty felt when the legal and financial frustrations he felt were finally resolved. 
Gerry recorded the song at the Chipping Norton Recording Studios in Oxfordshire, England for his album City to City.  One of the highlights of the song is the memorable saxophone solo from Raphael Ravenscroft, who also played on songs by ABBA, Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd, and others.  Rafferty released "Baker Street" on February 3, 1978.
"Baker Street" was out at the same time as classics such as "How Deep Is Your Love", "Stayin' Alive", and "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees, "Three Times A Lady" from the Commodores, "Just The Way You Are" by Billy Joel, Queen's "We Are The Champions", "If I Can't Have You" by Yvonne Elliman, Andy Gibb's "Shadow Dancing", "Kiss You All Over" by Exile, "Baby Come Back" from Player,  "Dust In The Wind" by Kansas, "Hopelessly Devoted To You" from Olivia Newton-John, "Sometimes When We Touch" by Dan Hill, and "Lay Down Sally" from Eric Clapton. 

"Baker Street" spent six weeks at #2 in the U.S., and reached #1 in Canada and Australia, #2 in Switzerland, #3 in the U.K. and Germany, #4 in Ireland, New Zealand, and Austria, and #9 in the Netherlands.
It has sold over one million singles and helped sell one million albums.  "Baker Street" has been played over five million times to rank in The Top 100 of all-time in radio airplay.

What's Going On
Marvin Gaye




"Great artist and song."

"This song  never ceases to somehow touch me to the point of crying."

"Up there with the best--beautiful music."

"Marvelous Marvin Gaye was seriously anointed when he put this bad boy down."

"One of the best songs ever."

Police brutality and shootings are in the current news and  Song #135* was inspired by similar times.  Renaldo "Obie" Benson of the Four Tops was inspired with the idea that led to "What's Going On" after witnessing an incident of police brutality.  Benson and the group arrived in Berkely, California on May 15, 1969 on their tour bus.  While there, Benson observed a protest by anti-war activists that was broken up by police beatings in People's Park in what was later called "Bloody Thursday".    Benson said to himself, "What's happening here?"  One question led to another.  "Why are they sending kids so far away from their families overseas?  Why are they attacking their own children in the streets?" 

Benson shared his experience with friend and songwriter Al Cleveland, who then wrote a song that reflected Benson's feelings.  Benson then gave the untitled song to Gaye, who added a new melody and revised the lyrics.  As Benson later said to Dorian Lynskey for the book 33 Revolutions Per Minute

[Gaye] added some things that were more ghetto, more natural, which made it seem like a story than a song... we measured him for the suit and he tailored the hell out of it.


"What's Going On" is a great meditation on the problems of the world as people came out of the tumultuous '60s.  Gaye himself was deeply affected by the social ills and problems in the U.S., and he began to write more personal and emotional songs.  He cited the 1965 riots in Watts as a turning point in his life.  Gaye was also influenced by conversations with his brother Frankie, who had just returned from three years of service in the Vietnam War.    

Marvin recorded the song on several dates (June 1, July 6, 7 and 10, and September 21) in 1970 at the Motown Hitsville U.S.A. studios in Detroit, Michigan.  Gaye, who had done well producing the group the Originals, produced "What's Going On" himself.  When the recording was ready, Gaye played it for Motown boss Berry Gordy, Jr., who did not like it and refused to release it.  Gaye responded by going on strike until the song was released.  The word we get is that someone at Motown released the single January 17, 1971 while Gordy was on vacation.  He of course was furious--that is until he found out the song sold 100,000 copies the first week.

"What's Going On" debuted on the charts in February, facing competition from Three Dog Night's "Joy To The World", "My Sweet Lord" from George Harrison, "It's Too Late" by Carole King, "Your Song" by Elton John, "Me And Bobby McGee" by Janis Joplin, "Brown Sugar" by the Rolling Stones", "Knock Three Times" from Tony Orlando & Dawn, "Rose Garden" by Lynn Anderson, "Just My Imagination" by the Temptations, "For All We Know" and "Rainy Days & Mondays" by the Carpenters, and "Indian Reservation" from Paul Revere & the Raiders.  That's 13 Top 500 Songs* out at the same time competing with one another. 

"What's Going On" rose to #2 for 3 weeks, with 8 weeks in the Top 10 overall, and ruled the R&B chart for 5 weeks. 
"What's Going On" was nominated for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) at the Grammy Awards.
It was one of the first Motown songs to make a political statement.  Stevie Wonder and the Temptations were also recording much more complex material at the time.  Jackson Browne told Rolling Stone magazine:
No one was expecting an anti-war song from him.  But it was a moment in time when people were willing to hear it from anybody, if it was heartfelt.  And who better than the person who has talked to you about love and desire?

"What's Going On" has sold over one million singles and helped sell three million albums.  To date, it has chalked up two million radio airplays.  The song is included in the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In The Year 2525 
Zager & Evans

"This song is one of a kind."
"One of my all-time favorites."

"This song is great!"

"This one is priceless!"

"Timeless song.  Will always be relevant."

"This song was definitely written with insight into our future..."

"Awesome song!"

"Wow!  One of the best ever."

Denny Zager formed a group in Lincoln, Nebraska called the Eccentrics.  He had been looking for a guitarist for the band when he saw Rick Evans play in a talent show.  Evans wrote this song in 1964.  Denny left the Eccentrics and subsequently formed another group, the Devilles, staying with that band for four years.  Meanwhile, Evans was unable to get the Eccentrics to record "In The Year 2525".  In 1968, both Zager and Evans became disillusioned with their groups and formed a duo instead.  
Denny wrote a different arrangement of "In The Year 2525" for two people to sing, and the two began performing it.  They began getting so many requests that Zager & Evans invested $500 to record the song at a studio in Odessa, Texas.  They pressed 1,000 copies and distributed the single themselves to radio stations and record stores.  
Soon, the song became a big hit in Nebraska.  Jerry Weintraub of Management III heard the song and flew to meet Zager and Evans.  Weintraub became their manager and arranged a recording contract for the duo with RCA Records.  The song became an instant hit. 

Song #134* is either one of the most prophetic songs ever written, or their song is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Verses tell the story of what the world will be like in 1010-year intervals from 2525 to 6565.  The song, with its warnings of an overdependence on technology, struck a chord with millions of people and still does.  It describes what could happen as those inventions slowly dehumanize mankind.  Some of the events Zager & Evans described may have seem somewhat far-fetched back in 1969; in 2015, they don't seem far-fetched at all, as we have continued to go down the road. 
"In The Year 2525" debuted on the charts in June of 1969, and is included on Zager & Evans' album Exordium & Terminus.  We have talked about the greatness of The Summer of Love (1967) as one of the best times for music in the Rock Era.  The summer of 1969 wasn't bad either--check out the competition for this classic:  "Aquarius" by the 5th Dimension, "Get Back" by the Beatles, "Honky Tonk Women" by the Rolling Stones, "I Can't Get Next To You" by the Temptations, "Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies, "The Boxer" from Simon and Garfunkel, "Everybody's Talkin'" by Nilsson, "Get Together" from the Youngbloods, "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Crystal Blue Persuasion" by Tommy James & the Shondells, Elvis Presley's "In The Ghetto", and "My Cherie Amour" from Stevie Wonder. 

And yet "In The Year 2525" rose to #1 for 6 weeks with 9 weeks in the Top 10 on the Popular chart, and #1 for 2 weeks on the Adult chart.  At that time, the Rock audience was still fairly young, and the fact that the song did well with the Easy Listening fans, as they were then called, is impressive.    
As great as their song was, Zager and Evans own the dubious distinction of being the only act in history to enjoy a #1 song and never have another hit in either the U.S. or the U.K 
 "In The Year 2525" has sold over one million singles and has been played over one million times.  The song has exceeded one million in radio airplay.  The low airplay numbers are a bit surprising to us, but they are the reason why the epic song has slipped in the rankings.  

Never My Love 
"Great song and a personal favorite."

"Beautiful song."

"Best harmonies ever."

"This song is the ultimate of what the mid-60's were about. LOVE LOVE  this song.."

"Love it always and forever."

"So beautiful and haunting."

"A timeless classic song that's stood the test of time; the lyrics and harmonies are so beautiful!"

"Wonderful song--absolutely beautiful."

Twenty-one songs from the great year 1967 are in The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era*, and an amazing 14 of those 21 are in The Top 150*, making it without question one of the top years in the last 60.
This group auditioned at the Troubadour in Los Angeles before signing with Valiant Records in 1966.  Their first year, they scored major hits with "Cherish" and "Along Comes Mary".  To ensure they had durability, the Association went to work in earnest on their second album.

Don and Dick Addrisi wrote this song when they worked as songwriters for other artists.  They later recorded the hit "Slow Dancin' Don't Turn Me On" as the Addrisi Brothers.

The Association recorded "Never My Love" for their album Insight Out.  It was released during one of the great times of the Rock Era, when classics such as "Light My Fire" by the Doors, "Ode To Billie Joe" by Bobbie Gentry, "To Sir With Love" by Lulu, "The Letter" by the Box Tops, the Association's own "Windy", "Daydream Believer" by the Monkees, the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" and "A Day In The Life", "Brown Eyed Girl" from Van Morrison, and "Up, Up And Away" by the 5th Dimension were all current hits.

"Never My Love" stopped at #2 for 2 weeks and spent 8 weeks in the Top 10. 

"Never My Love" sold over one million singles and helped sell two million albums in the U.S.  It finished the 20th century as the second-most played song in American history, according to Broadcast Music Incorporated, trailing only "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" by the Righteous Brothers.  Certainly there are many other factors that go into the formula for The Top 500 Songs*, but no one can leave unimpressed by this song's airplay numbers.  It has now been played over seven million times. 

Barry Manilow, the 5th Dimension, the Four Tops, Brenda Lee and Booker T. & the M.G.'s are among the artists who have remade the song, but the Association owns by far the best version.

Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me
Elton John

"Great artist, beautiful melody, great lyrics, sage advice."
"Love this song.  Great artist."
"Elton's best song.  Just beautiful."
"Really great song and memories."
"Beautiful tune."
"A classic.  Beautifully done."

"Nigel Olsson's drumming is fantastic!"

"Still an awesome song."

Elton John's songwriting partner Bernie Taupin wrote the great lyrics.  Taupin didn't write a love song the conventional way, as he told Esquire magazine:
I like to be more interesting than a good old "I love you, you love me, my heart will break if you leave me.  Throw in a curveball.  "'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me."   Put a dark twist on them.
Taupin said the goal was to write something spectacular in the vein of the Phil Spector-produced "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" by the Righteous Brothers:
We wanted to do something grand.  Hopefully being powerful without being pompous.  I'm not sure that with this in mind it made me fashion the lyrics any differently.  Although, in retrospect, they do seem to have a slightly more Brill Building flair to them, so it's entirely possible that I did.
Elton recorded this song at the Caribou Ranch in Colorado.  Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys and Toni Tenniller (later with the duo Captain & Tennille) sang backing vocals.  Elton has said that the Beach Boys, and the "sound, harmonies, and the way they structured their songs" was an influence on many of his songs, including this one.  The horn section from the Tower of Power played on the song as well. 
"Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" proved very difficult to record.  Elton was not satisfied with any of his vocal takes, and producer Gus Dudgeon had fits trying to mix all the voices and instruments together.  But alas, John finally released the single May 20, 1974.
The song competed with Elton's own "Bennie And The Jets", "I Honestly Love You" by Olivia Newton-John, "Annie's Song" by John Denver, "Band On The Run" from Paul McCartney & Wings, "The Loco-Motion" by Grand Funk, and "Rock Your Baby" from George McCrae, among others.
"Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" reached #2 for 2 weeks on the Popular chart, and #3 on the Adult chart.  It also rose to #1 in the U.K. and Canada. 
 The song sold 1 million singles, and helped sell over 26.5 million albums in the U.S. alone.  It is one of the most-played songs in music history, with over 6 million airplays and counting.
 Elton  recorded a live remake of the song as a duet with George Michael in 1991 that also became a big hit.

Just The Way You Are 
Billy Joel

"Beautiful song."

"Love this song."

"A classic."

"One of the greatest songs ever made."

"If this song doesn't move you, you're dead."

"Classic song--one of my favorites..."

"The best--love it!"

Joel had enjoyed his first hit with "Piano Man", although at the time (1974) it was largely unheralded and underrated, with a peak of #24.  This time, though, Joel enjoyed his first trip to the Top 10.  People knew who Billy was because of "Piano Man", but he became a superstar thanks to The Stranger album in 1978.

Joel wrote the song about his wife Elizabeth Weber, and gave it to her as a birthday present.  Billy has said that he dreamt the melody and chord progression, then wrote the lyrics in the days following the dream.  Joel told the newspaper USA Today

I remember waking up in the middle of the night and going, "This is a great idea for a song."  A couple of weeks later, I'm in a business meeting, and the dream reoccurs to me right at that moment because my mind had drifted off from hearing numbers and legal jargon.  And I said, "I have to go!"  I got home and I ended up writing it all in one sitting, pretty much. It took me maybe two or three hours to write the lyrics.

Jazz musician Phil Woods played the great alto saxophone solo at the end.  When Joel recorded the song, he thought it would just be "a ballad that would only get played at weddings".  Producer Phil Ramone convinced Billy that it was a great song.  Ramone brought Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow (who were both recording in other studios) into Billy's studio to hear the song.  They both loved it, which was good enough for Billy.      

When "Just The Way You Are" began its chart run in November of 1977, competition was fierce--"How Deep Is Your Love", "Stayin' Alive" and "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees, Debby Boone's classic "You Light Up My Life", "Don't Stop" and "You Make Lovin' Fun" by Fleetwood Mac, "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty, "Lay Down Sally" from Eric Clapton, "If I Can't Have You" from Yvonne Elliman, Andy Gibb's "I Just Want To Be Your Everything" and "Shadow Dancing", "We Are The Champions" from Queen, "Blue Bayou" by Linda Ronstadt, "Sometimes When We Touch" by Dan Hill, and "Baby Come Back" by Player.

"Just The Way You" stalled #3 for 2 weeks against that amazing lineup, but it prevailed at #1 for 4 weeks on the emerging Adult chart.  The song also hit #2 in Canada, #6 in Australia and New Zealand, and #7 in Ireland.

"Just The Way You Are" has sold over one million singles and helped sell 36 million albums.

Frank Sinatra, Barry White, and Isaac Hayes are among the artists who have covered the song.  Paul McCartney has praised the song, saying it is one of the songs he wished he had written.

Ten more classics are headed your way tomorrow; in the meantime, catch up on songs you may have missed in The Top 500* by using our handy Checklists*.

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