Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era*: #20-10

The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era* is breaking all records on Inside The Rock Era.  We are glad you enjoy it!  We aren't done yet, though--still 20 songs to present to you:

Close To You

"The most beautiful female voice i have ever heard and will ever hear.. so beautiful, rich, haunting, intimate, moving, lovely perfection!"
"I love the music to this classic song."

"A great one by the Carpenters."
"Vocal arrangement is sheer genius."

"Perfect music."

"Those vocal harmonies are incredible."

A masterpiece."


"Great song!"


The famous songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote this winner, first recorded by Richard Chamberlain in 1963.  Dionne Warwick recorded the song as a demo, then re-recorded it for an album in 1964.  Dusty Springfield recorded the song in 1964 that was later released on an album in 1967.  Bacharach released his own version in 1968, and also gave it to Herb Alpert that year.  Alpert wasn't happy with his version, though, and scrapped the recording. 
The Carpenters had just been signed by Alpert on his A&M Records in 1969, and he decided to give it to them to jump-start their career.  Did it ever. 
Richard Carpenter worked with Alpert on a new arrangement, something that Richard would become famous for.  Carpenter says that Alpert told him:
He (Herb Alpert) just gave me a lead sheet, and he said, "I have a recording of this, but I don't want you to hear it.  I don't want anything to influence what I may come up with. Just keep, at the end of the first bridge, two piano quintuplets."  That record, that song, the arrangement, all of it, is misleading to the uninitiated, because it sounds simple. And it's anything but simple. 
Veteran session musicians Joe Osborn (bass) and Hal Blaine (drums) played on the track.  The trumpet part in the middle of the song didn't come easy: Richard had a very specific sound in mind, and he had multiple trumpets trying to play it.  The process still wasn't working because each trumpet was playing and sounding slightly different.  Chuck Findley solved the problem by playing all the parts himself, then layering them together to create the elusive sound Richard wanted.  The Carpenters released the single from their album Close To You, and it was the first in a long string of smashes by the duo that decade. 
In June of 1970, "Close To You" began its climb up the charts, when Rock Era fans back then could also hear great songs such as "Let It Be" and "The Long And Winding Road" by the Beatles, "Fire And Rain" from James Taylor, the Carpenters' own "We've Only Just Begin", "Cecilia" by Simon & Garfunkel, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Diana Ross, "I'll Be There" and "ABC" by the Jackson 5, and "Lookin' Out My Back Door" by Creedence Clearwater Revival.  

"Close To You" was the highlight of that summer, reaching #1 for 4 weeks and staying in the Top 10 for 10 weeks.  It became a huge hit with adults, dominating that genre for 6 weeks in the U.K.  The song also hit #1 in Canada and #6 in the U.K.
The song has sold well over 1 million singles and helped to sell over 10 million albums in the United States alone.  To date, "Close To You" has garnered over 6 million radio airplays.



Stairway To Heaven
Led Zeppelin

"One of the best songs and groups of all-time."
"Amazing song."
"The best song of all-time?"
"This song is IMMORTAL."
"I love this song."
"What an epic song."
"One of the best songs of all-time."
"All-time classic."

Lead guitarist Jimmy Page and lead singer Robert Plant combined to write Song #19* for the album Led Zeppelin IV.  After Led Zeppelin's concert tour of North America, Page and Played stayed at Bron-Yr-Aur, a remote cottage in Wales.  Page always kept a cassette recorder with him  to record his ideas, and according to an interview on National Public Radio, Page came up with the idea for "Stairway To Heaven" while listening to the tape: 

I had these pieces, these guitar pieces, that I wanted to put together.  I had a whole idea of a piece of music that I really wanted to try and present to everybody and try and come to terms with.  Bit difficult really, because it started on acoustic, and as you know it goes through to the electric parts.  But we had various run-throughs [at Headley Grange] where I was playing the acoustic guitar and jumping up and picking up the electric guitar.  Robert was sitting in the corner, or rather leaning against the wall, and as I was routining the rest of the band with this idea and this piece, he was just writing.  
And all of a sudden he got up and started singing, along with another run-through, and he must have had 80% of the words there ...  I had these sections, and I knew what order they were going to go in, but it was just a matter of getting everybody to feel comfortable with each gear shift that was going to be coming.

  Bassist John Paul Jones recalled the sessions that pieced together the song for the book Led Zeppelin by Chris Welch:

Page and Plant would come back from the Welsh mountains with the guitar intro and verse.  I literally heard it in front of a roaring fire in a country manor house!  I picked up a bass recorder and played a run-down riff which gave us an intro, then I moved into a piano for the next section, dubbing on the guitars.

The group began recording their classic December 5, 1970 at Island Studios in London.  Robert Plant added lyrics to the track and recorded vocals at Headley Grange in Hampshire, England in 1971.  Plant had been reading works by Lewis Spence exclusively, and later cited Spence's book Magic Arts in Celtic Britain as one of his sources for inspiration for the lyrics.  Page was strumming the chords to the song, while Plant had a pencil and paper handy.  Suddenly, the words came to Plant:

My hand was writing out the words, "There's a lady is sure [sic], all that glitters is gold, and she's buying a stairway to heaven".  I just sat there and looked at them and almost leapt out of my seat.  It was some cynical aside about a woman getting everything she wanted all the time without giving back any thought or consideration.  The first line begins with that cynical sweep of the hand ... and it softened up after that.

Part of the beauty of the song is how Page brilliantly wove changes in speed into the song, not dissimilar to the drama in a movie, building the song from its beginning, then ending again with Plant plaintively singing "And she's buying...a heaven."  Page explained his thought process for the music of the song to NPR:

 Going back to those studio days for me and John Paul Jones, the one thing you didn't do was speed up, because if you sped up you wouldn't be seen again. Everything had to be right on the meter all the way through. And I really wanted to write something which did speed up, and took the emotion and the adrenaline with it, and would reach a sort of crescendo. And that was the idea of it. That's why it was a bit tricky to get together in stages.

Page returned to Island Studios to record his famous guitar solo  to complete the song.  Page played it on a 1959 Fender Telecaster given to him by Jeff Beck, Jimmy's friend and bandmate in the Yardbirds.  Jimmy recorded three solos that day before selecting the one to use on the record.  Engineer Andy Johns was in the studio working with him, and spoke with Classic Rock Magazine:

I remember Jimmy had a little bit of trouble with the solo on "Stairway to Heaven"...  [H]e hadn't completely figured it out. Nowadays you sometimes spend a whole day doing one thing.  Back then, we never did that.  We never spent a very long time recording anything.  I remember sitting in the control room with Jimmy, he's standing there next to me and he'd done quite a few passes and it wasn't going anywhere.  I could see he was getting a bit paranoid and so I was getting paranoid.  I turned around and said "You're making me paranoid!"  And he said, "No, you're making me paranoid!"  It was a silly circle of paranoia.  Then bang!  On the next take or two he ripped it out.

"Stairway To Heaven" was not released as a commercial single, though promotional singles were sent out to radio stations in the United States in 1972.  Although Atlantic wanted to release it as a 45, band manager Peter Grant refused.  This forced listeners to buy the album.

And, since charts at the time did not factor album sales into their rankings (and still don't!), "Stairway To Heaven" never appeared on the charts in most countries, although it did peak at #5 in Norway.  And in 
2007, when the compilation Mothership was released, download sales of "Stairway To Heaven" sent it to #37 on the U.K. chart.

All-time charts that don't consider album sales don't list the song in those all-time rankings to this day.  But even if the single wasn't released, and even if "Stairway To Heaven" didn't officially make national charts, radio stations played it.  It was on the airwaves the same time as "American Pie" by Don McLean, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" by Roberta Flack, "Without You" by Nilsson, "A Horse With No Name" from America,  Neil Young's "Heart Of Gold", "Lean On Me" by Bill Withers, "Superstar" by the Carpenters, Al Green's "Let's Stay Together", "Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves" from Cher, and "Family Affair" by Sly & the Family Stone. 

Radio stations continue to play "Stairway To Heaven", and people continue to buy it heavily.  It has helped sell 29 million albums, 23 million of the album IV alone, to rank in The Top 100 of the Rock Era for album sales including it.  Another factor used in the exclusive Inside The Rock Era formula is the album sales attributable to each song, calculated by multiplying the album sales by the percentage of those sales attributable to each song on the album, which itself is calculated by looking at the raw ranking within The Inside The Rock Era Database*, which consists of over 13,000 songs.  "Stairway To Heaven" ranks well within The Top 100 in that important factor as well.  "Stairway To Heaven" has also gone over the three-million mark in radio airplay.   

In May of last year, Mark Andes, bassist of Spirit, and a trust acting on behalf of Spirit guitarist Randy California, filed a copyright infringement suit against Led Zeppelin.  Led Zep opened for Spirit on their first tour, and Andes maintains that "Stairway To Heaven" bears a strong resemblance to  the song "Taurus", which Spirit played on that tour, and thus California should get a songwriting credit and share in the royalties of "Stairway To Heaven".  That lawsuit is still moving its way through the courts.

Page talked about the group's legendary song for Guitar World's presentation of The 100 Greatest Guitar Solos:


"Stairway To Heaven"...crystallized the essence of the band.  It had everything there and showed the band at its best... as a band, as a unit.  Not talking about solos or anything, it had everything there.  We were careful never to release it as a single.  It was a milestone for us.  Every musician wants to do something of lasting quality, something which will hold up for a long time and I guess we did it with "Stairway". 

"Stairway To Heaven" is included in the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  In 2003, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.  In 2006, readers of Guitar World ranked "Stairway To Heaven" as the #1 guitar solo of all-time.
According to research conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the song has logged over three million radio airplays.  According to an article by Sian Liewellyn in Total Guitar magazine, sheet music sales for the song average 15,000 per year, and, with one million copies sold, is the biggest-selling piece of sheet music in the Rock Era.  



Let It Be


"The best song ever."
"This is such a beautiful song!  Love it!'

"Absolutely fantastic!  Love it!"

Genius.  Just brilliant."



"This song is amazing."

"Still an all-time classic by the Beatles."


Paul McCartney wrote this song after a dream about his mother while the Beatles underwent tense recording sessions for The White Album.  McCartney's mother, Mary, had died of cancer when Paul was 14.  McCartney later said:  "It was great to visit with her again.  I felt very blessed to have that dream.  So that got me writing 'Let It Be'.  McCartney said in a later interview that his mother had told him, "It will be all right, just let it be."  When asked if "Let It Be" referred to the Virgin Mary (mother of Jesus Christ), McCartney generally answered by telling his fans that they can interpret the song however they would like.
The Beatles began rehearsing "Let It Be" at Twickenham Film Studios January 3, 1969, where the group had, the day before, begun what would become the movie Let It Be.  The group completed the song over 10 sessions before work on mixing the song began.  On April 30, guitarist George Harrison overdubbed a new guitar solo on the best take from the January 31 session, and that version was used for the single release of the song.  Harrison later overdubbed a second solo on January 4, 1970 for the album version.  Paul's wife, Linda, sang backing vocals on the song, and Billy Preston played organ and electric piano. 
In March of 1970, "Let It Be" began its chart run, facing competition from their own "The Long And Winding Road", as well as "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Cecilia" by Simon & Garfunkel, "Close To You" by the Carpenters, "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" by B.J. Thomas, "Venus" by the Shocking Blue and "ABC" by the Jackson 5.
The album Let It Be had the largest initial orders in U.S. history to that time--3.7 million.  The title song reached #1 for 2 weeks and spent 11 weeks in the Top 10 and also went to #1 for 4 weeks on the Adult chart.  "Let It Be" also peaked at #2 in the U.K. 
To date, the song has sold over 4 million copies and helped sell over 42 million albums.  With 6 million radio airplays, "Let It Be" ranks among The Top 40 for all-time.


Light My Fire 

"One of the best songs in Rock history."
"Absolutely the best!"
"This is the greatest and most inspirational rock song ever recorded in rock history."
"One of the best keyboard/organ solos ever recorded."
"Such a classic!"
"Great song!"
"Gotta' love it!"
"What a fantastic composition!"

Guitarist Robby Krieger largely wrote Song #17*, with credit going to the Doors.  Krieger brought his unfinished song to the other members of the group, and lead singer Jim Morrison wrote most of the second verse.  At the time, the Doors were a popular Los Angeles group which performed at the famous Whisky a Go Go nightclub on Sunset Strip.  This song catapulted them into stardom. 
The Doors recorded the song in August of 1966 and released the single in May, 1967 from their famous self-titled debut album.  The album version (really the only one a sane person would play) was over seven minutes long, but to release "Light My Fire" as a single, the group had to edit it down to under three minutes.  This meant leaving out all of the instrumental breaks which are the heart of the song.  Keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who performed one of the great keyboard solos of the Rock Era, played a Fender Rhodes Piano Bass on the track.  For the recording, producer Paul A. Rothchild hired session musician Larry Knechtel to play a bass guitar that duplicated Manzarek's bass line.  Manzarek told about how the solo came about: 
It was exactly what we were doing at the time at Whisky a Go Go - letting the music take us wherever it might lead in a particular performance, just improvising.  And that’s exactly the same way that solo came about.
Editing the song down was an impossible task, as Elektra founder Jaz Holzman told Mojo magazine in 2010:
We had that huge problem with the time length - seven-and-a-half minutes.  Nobody could figure out how to cut it.  Finally I said to Rothchild, "Nobody can cut it but you."  When he cut out the solo, there were screams.  Except from Jim.  Jim said, "Imagine a kid in Minneapolis hearing even the cut version over the radio, it's going to turn his head around."  So they said, "Go ahead, release it."  We released it with the full version on the other side. 
Knechtel, a member of the 70s supergroup Bread, is a legendary session musician who has played for artists including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, Johnny Rivers, the 5th Dimension, the Righteous Brothers, Ray Charles, the Mamas and the Papas, Dolly Parton, the Byrds, Duane Eddy, and Fats Domino, just to name a few, in over half a century of work.  His credits include the entire Beach Boys album Pet Sounds, including "Good Vibrations", "Wouldn't It Be Nice", and "God Only Knows", "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel, "Up-Up And Away" and "Stoned Soul Picnic" by the 5th Dimension, "Eve Of Destruction" by Barry McGuire and "Surf City" by Jan & Dean.   

"Light My Fire" was released during one of the golden times of the Rock Era, a time when Rock Era listeners could hear "Groovin'" by the Young Rascals, "Ode To Billie Joe" by Bobbie Gentry, the Beatles "All You Need Is Love" and "A Day In The Life", "To Sir With Love" from Lulu, "The Letter" by the Box Tops", "Windy" and "Never My Love" by the Association, "Respect" by Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl", "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" by Frankie Valli, and "Up, Up And Away" by the 5th Dimension, just to name a few.  We submit the notion and want to impress on you that when a song can reach #1 against that lineup, it means more than when a song goes to #1 against much less competition, and that can make up a lot of ground on songs that piled up big numbers against that weak competition.    

"Light My Fire" roared to #1 for 3 weeks with 9 weeks in the Top 10.  It also reached #1 in Ireland.  In the U.K., it stalled at #49, but when re-released in 1991, hit #7.

The song sold over one million singles and helped sell over 24 million albums.  To date, it has been played over 5 million times.
Jose Feliciano also had a big hit with his cover of the song, which peaked at #3 the following year. 




Every Breath You Take

"Classic.  This song will live forever."

"Great song!"

"Love this song!!!!!!!❤"


"One of the best songs ever."

"An amazing song."

"I absolutely love that riff."

"My favorite song of all-time."


Police guitarist Sting wrote this song for the group's 1983 album Synchronicity.  He began with the chorus "Every breath you take" then worked back.  Sting said in an interview:
 I woke up in the middle of the night with that line in my head, sat down at the piano and had written it in half an hour.  The tune itself is generic, an aggregate of hundreds of others, but the words are interesting.  It sounds like a comforting love song.  I didn't realize at the time how sinister it is.  I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control.

Sting said to Daniel Rachel in the book Isle of Noises:  Conversations with Great British Songwriters:

Once I'd written and performed it, I realised it was quite dark. My intention might have been to write a romantic song, seductive, enveloping and warm. Then I saw another side of my personality was involved, too, about control and jealousy, and that's its power. It was written at a difficult time.
Sting insists the song is about the obsession with a lost lover, and the jealousy and surveillance that follow.  He told BBC Radio 2:
I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it's quite the opposite.
The Police recorded the basic track at AIR Studios in the Caribbean island of Montserrat, then did overdubs and mixing the next two months at Le Studio in Quebec, Canada.  Throughout recording, personal tensions between the group came to a head.  Producer Hugh Padgham said that by the time the group recorded Synchronicity, Sting and drummer Stewart Copeland "hated each other", with verbal and physical fights in the studio a common occurrence.  Those problems nearly led to the sessions being cancelled, until manager Miles Copeland (Stewart's brother) brought the band together in a meeting in which the members resolved to continue.  The Police, however, broke up after the album was completed. 
The group released the single May 20, 1983, a time when Rock Era fans could hear classics such as  "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" by Michael Jackson, "All Night Long" by Lionel Richie, "Flashdance" from Irena Cara, "Islands In The Stream" by Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton, "Tell Her About It"  and "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel, and "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues".
"Every Breath You Take" jumped to #1 for 8 weeks, and spent 13 weeks lodged inside the Top 10 against the songs you see listed above.  Showing tremendous mass appeal, it also reached #5 for 4 weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart.  "Every Breath You Take" also jumped to #1 in the U.K., Canada, and Ireland, #2 in Norway and Sweden, #3 in the Netherlands, #6 in New Zealand and Switzerland, and #8 in Germany and Austria.
It finished the year as the best-selling single, and in 1989 wound up as the fifth best-selling single of the decade. 
"Every Breath You Take" won Grammy Awards for Song of the Year, Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and was also nominated for Record of the Year.
The song is one of 40 songs in history to have sold 10 million copies worldwide, including 1 million in the U.S.  It has helped sell over 14.5 million albums in the United States alone, and with 11 million airplays (as certified by Broadcast Music, Incorporated), is now The Most-Played Song in U.S. History.

"Every Breath You Take" is included in the Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The music video was groundbreaking for its black & white cinematography and is recognized on most lists of the best music videos of all-time.

When Sting realized that "Every Breath You Take" was not the innocent romantic song he had set out to write, he wrote an antidote song:  "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free", which became his first worldwide solo hit in 1985.


Hotel California 

"The song of all songs."
"Best song ever."
"The best song of all-time."
"Classic!  My all-time favorite."
"Amazing song."
"Some of the best lyrics ever written."
"It doesn't get any better than this."

Guitarist Don Felder wrote the music for Song #15*, which he recorded as a demo and then gave to Don Henley and Glenn Frey to write lyrics.  Felder recalled the songwriting experience to Songfacts:
I had just leased this house out on the beach at Malibu, I guess it was around '74 or '75.  I remember sitting in the living room, with all the doors wide open on a spectacular July day.  I had this acoustic 12-string and I started tinkling around with it, and those "Hotel California" chords just kind of oozed out.  Every once in a while it seems like the cosmos part and something great just plops in your lap.
Many people have offered up their interpretations of what the song is about; the Eagles say it is about the high life in Los Angeles.  In a report on 60 Minutes on CBS-TV, Henley said the song is "basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about."  In the documentary History of the Eagles, Henley said the song was about "a journey from innocence to experience...that's all".

For his part, Frey said:
That record explores the under belly of success, the darker side of Paradise.  Which was sort of what we were experiencing in Los Angeles at that time.  So that just sort of became a metaphor for the whole world and for everything you know.  And we just decided to make it "Hotel California". So with a microcosm of everything else going on around us.
Some people misinterpret the line "please bring me my wine/he said, 'We haven't had that spirit here since 1969." as being incorrect in that wines are fermented while spirits are distilled.  But the "spirit" in the lyrics does not refer to wine--Henley was making a sociopolitical statement in his use of "spirit".  Since the lyrics for the song were included in the album of the same name, some people thought the line "She's got the Mercedes Bends" was a misspelling of "Mercedes Benz", not realizing that the line was a play on words.
As to the word "steely" in the lyric, "They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast,", Glenn Frey said in the liner notes for the Eagles compilation album The Very Best Of that "steely" was a playful nod to Steely Dan, who had included the lyric "Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening" in their song "Everything You Did".     
The cover of the album features a photograph of the Beverly Hills Hotel by David Alexander and John Kosh.  The Beverly Hills Hotel is frequented by celebrities, and was a perfect fit for the subject of the title song.   Alexander and Kosh hovered in a cherry-picker 60 feet above Sunset Boulevard to get the shot of the hotel at sunset from above the trees.  Felder and Joe Walsh combined to share the amazing guitar solo at the conclusion of the song.

In February, 1977, "Hotel California" debuted on the charts against great songs such as "Go Your Own Way" and "Dreams", "Evergreen" by Fleetwood Mac, their own "New Kid In Town", "Tonight's The Night" by Rod Stewart, "Dancing Queen" by ABBA, "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder, "I Just Want To Be Your Everything" from Andy Gibb, "Lucille" by Kenny Rogers,  "When I Need You" by Leo Sayer, Glen Campbell's "Southern Nights", and "Best Of My Love" by the Emotions.

"Hotel California" went to #1 with 8 weeks in the Top 10 on the Popular chart, and landed at #10 on the Adult Contemporary chart.  That's impressive against the competition listed above, but not near enough to place it this high.  But again, chart numbers are a photograph in time of how a song is doing.  For the complete picture, as it stands in 2015, one has to continue to track the song for additional sales and airplay to determine its ability to stand the test of time.  And, like the wine Henley talks about in the lyrics, "Hotel California" has aged extremely well. 

The Eagles won the prestigious Record of the Year honor at the Grammy Awards for "Hotel California".  It has gone Platinum in single sales, and helped sell over 33 million albums in the U.S. alone.  The song has been played over 3 million times on the radio.   
The Eagles recorded an acoustic version of the song on their 1994 reunion album, Hell Freezes Over.
"Hotel California" is another member of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  While Inside The Rock Era disagrees with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on many fronts, including both their choices for the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and the low standard they set from the beginning in which artists they chose to induct into their "hall of fame", several of the songs in this range are indeed included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list. 
In 1998, readers of Guitarist magazine voted the solo by Felder and Walsh as the best guitar solo of all-time, and Guitar World Magazine ranked it as the #1 12-string guitar song.  Guitar Magazine placed the solo at #8 on its list of The Top 100 Guitar Solos. 

Mrs. Robinson
 Simon & Garfunkel

"The beat of that song is perfect!"
"It remains a classic 47 years later."
"I love this song!!!!💖💖💖💖"
"Great song, great lyrics, what a lost art."
"Best timeless song ever."
"Great song by probably the best singing duo ever."
"Excellent classic!"

Simon & Garfunkel toured colleges throughout the United States in 1965-66 and by the following year, had accumulated eight hits, including "The Sounds Of Silence" and "Homeward Bound" (which we heard at #282*)  Director Mike Nichols was working on the movie The Graduate, and became fascinated with the duo's music, listening to their albums nonstop for two weeks before and after filming.
Finally, Nichols met with Clive Davis, chairman of Columbia Records, to ask permission to use Simon & Garfunkel music in the film.  After being impressed by both Nichols and the script, Simon agreed to write at least one or two new songs.  In the end, Paul wrote and submitted three new songs to Nichols, "Punky's Dilemma", "Overs" and "Mrs. Robinson".  Nichols loved the latter, as Garfunkel recalled in the book Paul Simon:  A Life by Marc Eliot:
Paul had been working on what is now "Mrs. Robinson", but there was no name in it and we’d just fill in with any three-syllable name.  And because of the character in the picture we just began using the name "Mrs. Robinson" to fit [...] and one day we were sitting around with Mike talking about ideas for another song.  And I said "What about 'Mrs. Robinson'".   Mike shot to his feet.  "You have a song called 'Mrs. Robinson' and you haven’t even shown it to me?"  So we explained the working title and sang it for him.  And then Mike froze it for the picture as "Mrs. Robinson".
Simon, who is a big fan of baseball's New York Yankees, said to SongTalk magazine:
The Joe DiMaggio line was written right away in the beginning.  And I don't know why or where it came from.  It seems so strange, like it didn't belong in that song and then, I don't know, it was so interesting to us that we just kept it.  So it's one of the most well-known lines that I've ever written.
Simon explained that the line was meant as a sincere tribute to DiMaggio's unpretentious heroic stature, in a time when people magnify and distort the contributions of our heroes.  Simon added:
In these days...we grieve for Joe DiMaggio and mourn the loss of his grace and dignity, his fierce sense of privacy, his fidelity to the memory of his wife and the power of his silence.
Simon included the phrase "coo-coo-ca-choo" as an homage to "I Am The Walrus" by the Beatles.  Simon and Garfunkel recorded this February 2, 1968 at Columbia Studio A in New York City.  Drummer Hal Blaine, who played on many songs by the duo, played on this one as well, and Larry Knechtel played bass.  Nichols also used the earlier Simon and Garfunkel hits "The Sound Of Silence" and "Scarborough Fair" in the movie. 
The duo released "Mrs. Robinson" April 5 from their fourth album, Bookends.  In its climb up the charts, the song faced  "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones, ("Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay" by Otis Redding, "Love Is Blue" from Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra, Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey", Simon & Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair", "Lady Madonna" by the Beatles, and "This Guy's In Love With You" from Herb Alpert.   
"Mrs. Robinson" rolled to #1 for 3 weeks and reached #4 on the Adult chart.  The smash also went to #5 in Ireland and the Netherlands, #6 in Switzerland and #8 in Norway.
"Mrs. Robinson" became the first rock song to win the coveted Grammy Award for Record of the Year, and also captured the Grammy for Best Contemporary-Pop Performance - Vocal Duo or Group and shared in the award for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a TV Special.  "Mrs. Robinson" would have been a good candidate to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song, but Simon & Garfunkel never filled out the forms to get it considered.  "We just weren't paying attention," said Simon.

"Mrs. Robinson" has sold over 1 million singles and helped sell a phenomenal 31.5 million albums.  To date, the song has garnered over 7 million radio airplays in the United States alone.
In 2004, the song ranked #6 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of the top music in American cinema history.

Jailhouse Rock 
Elvis Presley

"The best song in the world!"
"I love this song!"

"Best song ever!"
"Great classic!"
"History in the making."
"One of the best songs ever."


The songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were in the right place at the beginning of the Rock Era.  They got to write songs for Elvis Presley.  The year before, they wrote  "Hound Dog" and "Love Me" for Elvis, and later penned "Treat Me Nice", and "Bossa Nova Baby" for Presley.  The pressure to write a hit song takes many different forms, as Stoller recalled to Mojo magazine in 2009:   

We flew in to New York from LA, where were living at that time, and we had a hotel suite.  We had a piano put in, in case the muse struck us, and Jean Aberbach - he and his brother (Julian) owned Hill & Range Songs and they had to deal with Colonel Parker but created Gladys Music and Elvis Presley Music-handed us a script for a movie.  We threw it in the corner with the tourist magazines that you get in hotels.

 We were having a ball in New York, going to the theatre, going to jazz clubs to hear Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, doing a lot of drinking.  On a Saturday morning- we'd been there about a week - Jean knocked on the door and said, in a very Viennese accent, "Vell boys, you vill haf my songs for the movie."  Jerry said, "Don't worry Jean, you'll have them" Jean said, "I know."  And he pushed a big chair in front of the door and sat down and said, "I'm going to take a nap and I'm not leaving until you have my songs."  So we wrote four songs (including this one) in about five hours and then were free to go out.
The character Shifty Henry was a well-known musician from Los Angeles, while The Purple Gang was an actual mob.  "Sad Sack" was the U.S. Army nickname in World War II for a loser, and later became the name of a popular comic strip and comic book character.  
Elvis recorded "Jailhouse Rock" April 30, 1957 at Radio Recorders in Hollywood, California, with Stoller playing piano on the track.   Presley released the single September 24 to coincide with the release of Presley's movie Jailhouse Rock.

"Jailhouse Rock" faced off against his own "All Shook Up", "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" and "Don't", as well as "All I Have To Do Is Dream" and "Bye Bye Love" by the Everly Brothers, "You Send Me" by Sam Cooke, "At The Hop" by Danny & the Juniors, and "Twilight Time" by the Platters.  Most of the songs of the '50s, like songs from the last 25 years, achieved their chart numbers against comparatively weak competition, which limits their ranking. 
Song #13* jumped to #1 for 8 weeks and spent 15 weeks in the Top 10.  It also presided at #1 on the R&B chart for 5 weeks, went to #1 on the Country chart, and reached #8 on the Adult chart--that's incredible popularity across genres.  "Jailhouse Rock" went to #1 in the U.K. for three weeks.  It was re-released in 2005 and added another week at #1 onto the total.  The song also reached #3 in Australia and #7 in Finland.

"Jailhouse Rock" has sold over 4 million singles and helped sell over 35 million albums.  Most of those album sales, however, are from compilations in which it has to share the kudos with Elvis's other smashes.  Still, that's an impressive number.  The song has logged over 4 million radio airplays.
"Jailhouse Rock" was named as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The song finished #21 on the American Film Institute's survey of the top songs in American cinema called 100 Years...100 Songs.



Hound Dog
Elvis Presley

"The lead guitar is so perfect!"
"Best song ever."
"Can't beat Elvis.  This song is amazing."
"This song is epic."
"One of the best songs of all-time."
"The sound is so raw you cant help but dig this..."
"This song is brilliant."


While they were teenagers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote this song, first recorded by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton in 1952.  Elvis Presley heard the song during his first performance run in Las Vegas Nevada, when he played in the Venus Room of the New Frontier Hotel and Casino from April 23 through May 6, 1956. 
Meanwhile, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys were also performing at the time in the Sands Casino.  Presley and his band went to see the show, and loved their reworking of "Hound Dog".  Scotty Moore, lead guitarist for Presley, recalled in his book Scotty and Elvis:  Aboard the Mystery Train
When we heard them perform that night, we thought the song would be a good one for us to do as comic relief when we were on stage.  We loved the way they did it.
Presley began performing the song in concert, using it as the closing number for the first time on May 15, 1956 at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis, Tennessee.  Elvis and the band performed the song on The Milton Berle Show and The Steve Allen Show before recording it.  Elvis recorded this great song July 2, 1956 at Radio Recorders in Los Angeles.  

Presley released the single July 13, initially as the B-side to the single "Don't Be Cruel".  On September 9, Elvis performed "Hound Dog" on his second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which attracted 60 million viewers.  

In addition to Presley's songs "Heartbreak Hotel", "Don't Be Cruel", and "Love Me Tender", "Hound Dog" also competed with "Singing The Blues" by Guy Mitchell, Tab Hunter's "Young Love", and "My Prayer" by the Platters.
"Hound Dog"/"Don't Be Cruel" sold over four million copies in the United States alone on its first release, becoming just the third 45 to sell over three million copies after Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" and Gene Autry's "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer".  Presley has now sold over 10 million copies of his smash double-sided hit worldwide.   

"Hound Dog" was the hot song in the first few weeks on the chart, but then "Don't Be Cruel" gained the upper hand of the two.  All told, the double-sided single remained at #1 for 11 weeks, with one or the other of them topping Billboard's sales and/or airplay charts during that time.  The two songs combined to top the Country chart for 10 weeks and the R&B chart for 6 weeks, and reached #16 on the Easy Listening chart.  Since Billboard's methodology has changed over the years, it is necessary to break down those chart numbers and determine the weeks attributable to "Hound Dog" and those attributable to "Don't Be Cruel".  In sales and airplay statistics in 1957, "Don't Be Cruel" has a slight edge.  "Hound Dog" reached #2 in the U.K. in 1957, then when reissued in 1978, it went to #24. 

"Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel" combined for 8 million singles sold, and again, those numbers must be split up according to the singles sold by each based on their raw ranking in the Inside The Rock Era Database*.  "Hound Dog" helped sell a phenomenal 46 million album sales, similar to "Jailhouse Rock" above in that the vast majority of those are from compilations.  "Hound Dog" has received over 5 million airplays.

After writing this song with Leiber, Stoller got married and went on a honeymoon to Europe.  He was returning on the Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria in 1956 when it was rammed by another ship in fog off Nantucket Sound and eventually sank.  Stoller and his new wife abandoned ship in a lifeboat and were rescued.  About 50 of the 1,500 people on board died.  When Stoller arrived at the dock at New York, Leiber was there to welcome him with the news that they had their first major hit with "Hound Dog".  Stoller shouted "Big Mama's version?"  "No," said Leiber, "the one by a newcomer called Elvis Presley." 

After "Hound Dog" became a hit, Leiber and Stoller were hired to write several other songs for Elvis, as well as the score for his movie Jailhouse Rock
In 1988, Elvis's version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.  It is also listed as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Over 250 artists have recorded "Hound Dog".   




American Pie-- Parts I & II
Don McLean


"Probably the best song ever."
"This is my favorite song ever."
"Great song!"
"This is a world classic, not only American."
Absolutely, positively, without a doubt one of the best compositions ever written. 
"Still to this day, this is one of the best songs of all-time."
"Absolutely love it!"
"A great musical masterpiece."

Singer-songwriter Don McLean wrote this song in Cold Spring, New York and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He premiered it March 24, 1974 when he opened for Laura Nyro at Temple University in Philadelphia.  McLean talked about the writing of the song to Songfacts:

For some reason I wanted to write a big song about America and about politics, but I wanted to do it in a different way.  As I was fiddling around, I started singing this thing about the Buddy Holly crash, the thing that came out (singing), "Long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile."

I thought, "Whoa, what's that?"  And then the day the music died, it just came out.  And I said, "Oh, that is such a great idea."  And so that's all I had.  And then I thought, "I can't have another slow song on this record.  I've got to speed this up."  I came up with this chorus, crazy chorus.  And then one time about a month later I just woke up and wrote the other five verses.  Because I realized what it was, I knew what I had.  And basically, all I had to do was speed up the slow verse with the chorus and then slow down the last verse so it was like the first verse, and then tell the story, which was a dream.  It is from all these fantasies, all these memories that I made personal.  Buddy Holly's death to me was a personal tragedy.  As a child, a 15-year-old, I had no idea that nobody else felt that way much.  I mean, I went to school and mentioned it and they said, "So what?"  So I carried this yearning and longing, if you will, this weird sadness that would overtake me when I would look at this album, The Buddy Holly Story, because that was my last Buddy record before he passed away.


McLean has often refused to elaborate on the meaning of the lyrics, other than saying that he first learned about Buddy Holly's death when he was folding newspapers as a thirteen-year-old for his paper route in New Rochelle, New York on the morning of February 4, 1959 and that Holly's death was the inspiration for the song.  McLean has also said that the song represented the change in the innocence of the '50s to the darker, more volatile '60s--both in music and politics.  In 1993, McLean said to The Straight Dope:

You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me ... Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.

That didn't stop people from pondering the lyrics on their own.  A Social Studies course I took in junior high devoted two days to discussing the song's meaning, an occurrence that likely took place at many schools throughout the country and the world.  People speculated that the reference to "the king" was about Elvis Presley, and that "the jester" was Bob Dylan.  McLean referred to him wearing "a coat he borrowed from James Dean" and being "on the sidelines in a cast".  Dylan's red jacket he wore on the cover of the album The Freewheeling Bob Dylan resembled that of Dean's, and Dylan's motorcycle accident in 1966 made him unable to record or perform most of the year. 

The line "Eight miles high and falling fast" was interpreted to be a reference to the Byrds' hit "Eight Miles High".  When McLean said "The birds flew off from a fallout shelter", he was referring to the '60s term for a drug rehabilitation facility (fallout shelter), which one of the members of the Byrds checked into after being caught with drugs.  The line "Sergeants played a marching tune" referred to the Beatles, who released the landmark album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.  The brilliant line "I met a girl who sang the blues and I asked her for some happy news, but she just smiled and turned away" is likely about Janis Joplin, who died of a drug overdose in 1970.  The line "Did you write the Book of Love?" refers to the 1958 smash "Book Of Love" by the Monotones.

McLean's line "The quartet practiced in the park" likely refers to when the Beatles played their famous concert at Shea Stadium.  The lyric "And we sang dirges in the dark, the day the music died" is about the '60s peace marches.  "Helter Skelter in a summer swelter" is about the attack on Sharon Tate and others in California by the infamous Manson Family.

The lyrics "We all got up to dance, Oh, but we never got the chance, 'cause the players tried to take the field, the marching band refused to yield" possibly could refer to the huge throngs of young people who went to the Democratic Party National Convention in 1968  in Chicago, Illinois, and thought they would be part of the process, only to receive violent treatment from the nightsticks of the Chicago Police Department.

Another fascinating thing about the lyrics involves that line  "The players tried to take the field, the marching band refused to yield."  Almost exactly ten years later in 1982, Stanford and California played in their annual rivalry game.  Quarterback John Elway and Stanford scored with seconds remaining in what college football fans called "The Greatest Game Ever Played" (until the Boise State-Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl game in 2007).  Cal had one more shot at winning, but they had to bring the kickoff back all the way.  The Golden Bears received the kickoff, and through a series of five wild laterals, had advanced the ball to the Stanford 30.  Kevin Moen caught the last lateral, and sped towards the end zone.  But the entire Stanford band had already taken the field, thinking the game was over (the marching band refused to yield!).  Moen had to dodge band members on his way to the game-winning touchdown, knocking down the trombonist in the end zone! 

Mclean did describe the general meaning of the lyrics when the original copy sold for $1.2 million in an auction in New York City in April of this year.  In the sale catalog notes, McLean said,

Basically in "American Pie" things are heading in the wrong direction. ... It [life] is becoming less idyllic.  I don't know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense." 

 The notes confirmed some of the better known references in the lyrics, including mentions of Elvis Presley (referred to in the song as "the king"), Bob Dylan (the jester), and the death of Meredith Hunter at the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont, California at the hands of the Hells Angels, whom the Stones stupidly hired to provide "security", referred to in the third verse and most of the fifth verse of the song. 

McLean recorded the song May 26, 1971 and released it in November from his album of the same name.  The song begins in mono, and gradually goes to stereo over its eight-and-a-half minutes.  This was done to represent going from the monaural era into the age of stereo.

McLean noted:

By 1964, you didn't hear anything about Buddy Holly.  He was completely forgotten.  But I didn't forget him, and I think this song helped make people aware that Buddy's legitimate musical contribution had been overlooked.

Check out the barriers to attaining a high ranking at the time for "American Pie", competition in the form of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" from Roberta Flack, Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven", "Without You" by Nilsson, "Imagine" by John Lennon, "Maggie May" from Rod Stewart, America's "A Horse With No Name", "Heart Of Gold" by Neil Young, "Superstar" by the Carpenters, "Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves" by Cher, "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green", and "Family Affair" by Sly & the Family Stone.  
At 8 minutes and 32 seconds, this is the longest song in length to hit #1 on the Hot 100. The single was split in two parts because the 45 did not have enough room for the whole song on one side. The A-side ran 4:11 and the B-side was 4:31 - you had to flip the record in the middle to hear all of it. Disc jockeys usually played the album version at full length.
 "American Pie" topped the U.S. chart for 4 weeks, with an impressive 11 weeks in the Top 10 overall and also went to #1 on the Adult chart for 3 weeks.  It also reached #1 in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, #2 in the U.K., #9 in Norway and #10 in the Netherlands.  When the single was re-released in 1991 in the U.K., it rose to #12.

"American Pie" was nominated for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year, as well as Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male at the Grammy Awards.  "American Pie" has since been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

The song doesn't have the huge sales numbers of several in this group, which limits the accomplishments above, but it does have heavy airplay.  It has sold one million singles, helped to sell 2 million albums, and has been played over six million times in the U.S. alone.

Lest you find yourself wanting to write a classic such as "American Pie", McLean told the magazine New Musical Express in 1973 about what it did to him.  McLean's father died when he was 15 and he was dealing with a bad marriage when he recorded the album.  "American Pie" immediately thrust McLean into the spotlight :

I was headed on a certain course, and the success I got with 'American Pie' really threw me off.  It just shattered my lifestyle and made me quite neurotic and extremely petulant. I was really prickly for a long time.  If the things you're doing aren't increasing your energy and awareness and clarity and enjoyment, then you feel as though you're moving blindly. That's what happened to me.  I seemed to be in a place where nothing felt like anything, and nothing meant anything. Literally nothing mattered.  It was very hard for me to wake up in the morning and decide why it was I wanted to get up.

McLean now has this to say about the song on his website:

 I'm very proud of the song.  It is biographical in nature and I don't think anyone has ever picked up on that.  The song starts off with my memories of the death of Buddy Holly.  But it moves on to describe America as I was seeing it and how I was fantasizing it might become, so it's part reality and part fantasy but I'm always in the song as a witness or as even the subject sometimes in some of the verses.  You know how when you dream something you can see something change into something else and it's illogical when you examine it in the morning but when you're dreaming it seems perfectly logical.  So it's perfectly okay for me to talk about being in the gym and seeing this girl dancing with someone else and suddenly have this become this other thing that this verse becomes and moving on just like that.  That's why I've never analyzed the lyrics to the song.  They're beyond analysis. They're poetry.

Mike Mills, in the U.K. television production Don McLean: An American Troubadour, said: 

'American Pie' just made perfect sense to me as a song and that’s what impressed me the most.  I could say to people this is how to write songs.  When you’ve written at least three songs that can be considered classic that is a very high batting average and if one of those songs happens to be something that a great many people think is one of the greatest songs ever written you’ve not only hit the top of the mountain but you’ve stayed high on the mountain for a long time.

And now we're perched on the doorstop of The Top 10 Songs of the last 60 Years wanting more!  By now, it is obvious which 10 songs remain, but is the order?  Think about that, then join Inside The Rock Era tomorrow as we celebrate the 60th birthday of the Rock Era!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.