Maybe you’ve wondered where the songs listed below are lurking in our collection of the DNA Source Songs of Rock-N-Roll. (Then again, maybe you’ve been too busy trying to take over the world.) The bald truth is, while we contemplated not including them in the main DNA Source Song collection, ultimately we did. They do need a big footnote. Not a Bigfoot note, you should be reminded.
We decided to put these songs into a separate category in our Mango Playlists area because just about everyone over the age of twelve knows these songs as well as they know their own face.
We love them. We’re acutely aware of their exalted status in countless halls of fame and the infinite “greatest” lists they often top. And top. And top.
The upside for songs that made the list is that in order to be overplayed – to be as ubiquitous as air – every single one has to be pretty damned fabulous to begin with – if not a #1 smash seller, then certainly a venerated album cut off a monster work that became a concert favorite.
The downside for songs on the list is that most of us are freakin’ sick of listening to them. They’re hallowed but cringeworthy. And the older you are, the sicker you are of them, for they have been around at least 40, 50 and, in the case of one of them, almost 60 years now.
If you were 16 in 1956, “Hound Dog” has been nipping at your heels for close to six decades. Heck, even if you were 16 in 1986 you’ve got 30 years of the tune under your belt and still the old dog hasn’t caught the goddamn rabbit.
How about the opening drawing-room strains to “Stairway To Heaven?” “Stairway” is as good an album cut could ever strive to be, but it has become almost a parody of itself. A major song.
But like sex, drugs and patriotism, you don’t want to overdo it, at least in public.
And you know when you catch your grandmother’s stubble-faced third husband staring dreamily into space with tears in his eyes as the opening of “Free Bird” is played at your cousin’s wedding, something has got to give.
Keith’s classic opening guitar riff grating and grinding. The exuberantly defiant, howling “hey hey hey’s.” The attack against Mad Men style conformity: “He can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me.”
The ultimate point behind the song? A guy who can’t get laid no matter how hard he tries. And he is wide-open honest about it. “And I try and I try and I try and I try!”
The driving beat, the band saw of a guitar, the jumping bass, the quick-wristed drumming of Charlie Watts and Jagger’s shouted Blues vocals combine to make this one of the greatest – and most overplayed singles in history. And the Stones served notice there were other kids in the sandbox.
If only we could hear it again for the 20th time and not the 20,000th time. Meantime, try this Stones classic that gets just enough exposure and still remain fresh as a dead daisy.
The Beach Boys’ audacity in lifting Chuck Berry’s opening riff from “Johhny B. Goode” note for absolute note kicks it off. And, while not quite equaling the old master, Carl Wilson does a job good enough to get Chuck’s blessing on the updating of his patented sound.
The ridiculously silly plot line was funny then and is pleasantly goofy enough now to remind you of Richie, Potsie and Ralph Malph’s hijinks on TV’s Happy Days. The images are all-American teenager circa the early-’60s, another lifetime, another century, another reality: T-Birds, hamburger stands, the blasting radio, fibbing about the library, the invitation from the boy to have fun once the keys to the car are taken away by daddy.
And she’s some kind of girl, alright, a dreamboat in a convertible.
Well the girls can’t stand her ‘Cause she walks, looks, and drives like an ace now She makes the Indy 500 look like a Roman chariot race now A lotta guys try to catch her But she leads them on a wild goose chase now
There is a charming, cheesy organ solo reminiscent of Beach Blanket Bingo-type teen movies. And there are the Boys’ unrivaled harmonies.
“Fun, Fun, Fun,” pops off the album Shut Down Volume 2, an album that also produced the moody, almost-grown-up mindset of the classic “Don’t Worry Baby,” and the meditative, ineluctably beautiful “The Warmth Of The Sun,” which self soothes hurt feelings over a lost love by drawing spiritual sustenance from nature.
Perhaps because it repeats Berry’s defining moment with the electric guitar – another heavily played classic – but the old T-Bird needs a little more time in the family garage and should only be taken out on very special occasions.
The coolest Beach Boys t-shirts are at Mango Merchandise.
When you care enough to send your psychedelic best, send “Sunshine Of Your Love,” a song that so wholly typifies mid to late-’60s head music that it couldn’t help being overplayed.
But the opening bass riff is as familiar as the family dog yapping to be let out, in, or to be fed. When the song was in its heyday, it was played 10 to 15 times per day on Top 40 stations, album-oriented stations, which were in their infancy, and at every drugged out, pop-eyed kids party from Bangor all the way to mighty Maine.
Hearing it conjures tie-dyes, boots, bell-bottoms, American Indian headbands, leather fringe jackets and a nation of skinny young people ready for almost anything.
It is a stunning hybrid of Hard Rock, the Blues and Soul music. In the 21st century the repeated lead guitar riffing and bass line would be called a loop. Ginger Baker’s drumming is one of the greatest syncopation performances in Rock history. If you’d like a second opinion on psychedelia in the ’60s from the good doctors of Rock, click over to SongMango’s San Francisco Playlist.
There are a scant half dozen trippy flippy numbers that will take you back, and some you’ve probably never heard once, unlike “Sunshine Of Your Love,” a song that’s part of the Western world’s soundtrack.
In one of the great uses of a Rock song in film, “Sunshine Of Your Love’s” sinister side was coaxed out by Martin Scorsese in a scary scene featuring Robert DeNiro. He’s at a bar and he smokes. You can view it in the Video Library, at right.
To go back to the day in July, 1965, when “Like A Rolling Stone” first hit the record stores and airwaves – when the popcorn really started popping and people went bug-eyed over this intrusion into the straight and narrow – would be an experience.
“Satisfaction” was perched in the #1 slot where it stayed for four weeks that month. It was followed by the unforgettably forgettable “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits. That, in turn, was followed by Sonny & Cher’s hymn to unsettled young love and a yen for domesticity, “I Got You, Babe.”
Dylan had just experienced a second-hand #1 on the charts courtesy of The Byrds’ cover of “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man.”
“Like A Rolling Stone” was off the charts in so many ways. Figuratively, it was a song like nobody had ever heard before. Defying expectations, it popped up to #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and promptly disappeared when every disaffected person in the English-speaking world had bought his or her copy. (All the old folkies bought it, too, so presumably they could burn their former idol’s revolutionary hard turn into the world of Rock at their next hootenanny.)
Since then, along the way, “Like A Rolling Stone” stopped being a treasure and became an icon. Icons are enshrined. They are handled, rubbed to a soft shine, and they are used for purposes other than first intended. They are worshipped, held aloft, and offered as proof… of what, you can never tell.
Many critics cite the song as the #1 song of all time, or at the very least, of the 1960s. That’s all well and good, but the scaffolding on which the superlatives are hung is not quite sturdy enough.
It’s not a very friendly song. It has a strong whiff of misogyny. While it is very intriguing musically, it’s melody is not quite first rate. Dylan always was a master of disguise and his song of the streets of New York rings a touch phony, possibly because he is merely observing someone who struggled with life on the razzle, and most likely was dragged down by drugs. Truth is not just a set of facts. It’s also a feeling.
Other stronger songs from the same era of Dylan’s work, although less accessible, (most would never see even a minor chart position), are bigger boned and are better-developed in their ideas, musical and verbal. “Ballad Of A Thin Man” comes to mind, as does “My Back Pages.”
In his later work, the more contemplative Blood On The Tracks from 1975 among others, Dylan finds a true inner voice, and while the grand and incomparable singer-songwriter is still a poseur on Blood, there is a wink in what he’s doing. His chronicle of his youth, “Tangled Up In Blue,” is filled with sharp emotions but comes across as totally believable and he has stopped reaching too far for imagery.
On that album Dylan also writes some of the most tender, heartfelt love songs of his generation: “Simple Twist Of Fate,” “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” and the gut-puncher, “If You See Her, Say Hello.”
We’re not saying “Like A Rolling Stone” ought to be disposed of, but rather deposed as a song that continually is placed at the right hand of the Father.
Perhaps hearing it a zillion times hasn’t helped it maintain the right to the high throne. Maybe no throne is in order for any song, to be fair. Regardless – move it on over.
Shout it out. Say it randomly like a dog barking at the night. Say it as loud as you want, regardless of where you are. Try it at a funeral. Or the opening night of the opera. Stand up in a fancy-pants restaurant and holler: “Free Bird!”
That’s a large part of the problem with this magnificent, if overplayed, song. (Another part of the problem with the song is that former Arkansas governor and ersatz presidential candidate Mike Huckabee called “Free Bird” the South’s national anthem of Rock or some such. And here we were thinking all this time it was Neil Young’s “Southern Man.”)
But what happened to the excellent “Free Bird” is not unusual.
Think of all the clichés that turned Shakespeare’s gold into straw: “To be or not to be”; “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo”; and “The winter of our discontent.”
And it’s happened to writers, artists and musicians for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Hemingway’s style, as solid as it is, in general is a cliché. Can you even contemplate Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans and not shudder? Never mind that Warhol was commenting on the cliché-ridden mass marketing of goods and celebrities (like Marilyn Monroe).
And people have been yelling out “Paint It Black“ to The Rolling Stones for close to 50 years, and the hooting for The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post“ has only been muted by its serious content. Hell, The Beatles are so mighty that the mere mention of their name sends many people into spasms of revulsion over such unfettered popularity built on an inescapable familiarity.
From its inception as a set piece in Skynyrd concerts, “Free Bird” had a campy vibe buzzing in its vicinity, like a halo ’round the head of a hopelessly pushy saint.
Its appeal is based on the notion that everyone, no matter how humdrum his or her life has grown, harbors a free bird inside and the song, like some sort of musical blood-letting barber from the Middle Ages, lets the thwarted, winged desire out of one’s veins.
It deserves a big bravo for that. Shared longings are a deep artistic well.
The first 4:40 of “Free Bird” is more than a tad overdramatic as it rumbles through a well-known Rock emotional device: defiance in the face of painful inevitability.
The clichés, though, end abruptly right around the halfway mark of the nine-minute studio-version extravaganza. It erupts like Krakatoa bombing the listener with boulders and hot lava in the form of an intricate three-part guitar duel. It rocks like a runaway train filled with TNT.
Skynyrd is a naturally humorous band. (“Gimme Three Steps” is slapstick while “I Never Dreamed” has tinges of tragedy and comedy mingling easily.) There is a slight hint that maybe the boys are putting us on in “Free Bird,” some sort of an act designed perfectly to pluck our secret longings.
It is completely fitting that a song that has fallen into the artistic hole of cliché has had attached to it the strange shouting out phenomenon, which has turned into its own separate cliché.
Rumor has it that a Chicago DJ started the whole thing by suggesting that the song should be requested at sappier performances by very, very mainstream performers like Florence Henderson from The Brady Bunch, who did do concerts, yes.
But, how come no one ever shouts out “White Christmas,” the most played song in musical history and veritable galaxy of clichés? The unanswerable meets Rock-N-Roll.
But “White Christmas” would make one side of a nice pair of bookends with “Paint It Black” as its counterpart.
You can take all your criticisms of Paul McCartney, wrap them up in “Hey Jude,” and be done with the crabbing.
Everyone knows that “Hey Jude” is one of the greatest songs of the last century, and its power to amaze and move us continues well into the 21st century. What an achievement.
That aside, it is shamefully overplayed, making it, through no defects of its own, less of a treat, less of an emotional body slam than it might be.
We recommend at least a full year off from listening to “Hey Jude.” That may be hard to do because, like a beautiful scar, one that enhances the looks of a distinguished face, the song is here, there and everywhere in our collective mind.
When Sir Paul performs, it must be played. When anything about Julian Lennon is discussed, there it is, too. Jesus? “Hey Jude” has Christ covered as well, even if mistakenly interpreted as an ode to him.
Its true theme is about being open to love and all its possibilities, its unexplainable, joyous and sorrowful mysteries: “Remember to let her into your heart…”
The “nah-nahs” are a twined part of western culture, stirring reverence, humor, sadness and triumphalism.
The real meat of the song is Paul McCartney’s song-closing tour de force vocal performance that takes up a full three minutes of the studio version of “Hey Jude.” Screaming, ranting, scatting, turning hoarse, the often “lightweight” pop phenomenon Sir Paul cranks it up as high as any singer can go.
Maybe its various subtexts will inevitably always make it a victim of its own success: self-acceptance, a call to living with courage, its soft moralizing about being a good person, and an urging to share one’s burdens in order to get through life.
There is also the overarching aspect of “Hey Jude” that will forever make dedicated fans of The Beatles happy and sad. There was a great love and affection between Lennon and McCartney. Between them (and with the superb assistance of George and Ringo), they created a magic that we all wish could be somehow reconstituted and drunk down anew.
Once, they were free as birds.
Browse our collection of Beatles music and other Fab Four treasures.
Whether “Dream On” is a great song in the most general sense is debatable. It sounds a little thin amidst the other songs on this list, which are indisputable heavyweight champs. But a good middleweight can still punch like hell.
“Dream On” is like the queen mother, always around, never in true charge of anything, but by dint of longevity – whatever the quirky reasons – demands respect.
Among a very male audience of a certain age “Dream On” is an anthem still deeply rooted in their muskrat-shag-haircuts and open-to-the-navel-shirts days, their dreams of sexual prowess and other imagined powers, plus a premonition of the wasteland that lay ahead.
The lyrics of the song are vaguely nihilistic, hold little real meaning, and the turgid background tracks make you think of a really bad hangover.
Joe Perry’s lead guitar work is a solid B performance as it generally is, owning a career that puts him solidly in the deepest cheap seats of second-echelon players.
Steven Tyler rides to the rescue with his vocals, which, despite the lyrics holding little meaning or any deft word play, he delivers with a fine, full-throated roar. The guy has pipes and he knows how to scream.
One of the funnier sides to the lyrics is that Tyler was roughly 21 or 22 when he wrote them and had yet to embark on his berserk sex, drugs and Rock-N-Roll odyssey. The lines were already showing up in his frighteningly furrowed face evidently. We know America was sleep deprived even in 1973, but how tired and worn out can you be at 21?
It’s a cultural curiosity, no matter how you look at it: why is this song played over and over and over? From the mountain to the meadow, from the bodega to the Borgata, it’s pounding.
But there it is – big, bad in every sense and ceaselessly overplayed.
Hats off to Tyler for creating and singing it, but still the best thing he ever helped to create was daughter Liv.
The catalog of excellent Elvis Presley songs is as long as your arm.
July 19th of 2014 will mark the 60th anniversary of the release of Elvis’s first bonafide hit, “That’s Alright Mama,” the Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup song from1946.
1955 saw two more hits, “Mystery Train” and “Baby Let’s Play House.” But by any accounting, 1956 was The King’s breakout year.
Any year that includes the release of “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Love Me Tender,” and “Hound Dog” has to be reckoned with as a landslide twelve months.
“Hound Dog” happens to be the song that became emblematic of the year, the greatest year of Presley’s musical career. As such, it is played whenever Elvis is mentioned in retrospectives, when those golden Sun Record years are chronicled, when the 1950s as a concept are dissected.
It rocks with the fury of pent up youth. The vocals are rousing and raucous, lightly bitter, and belted out with reckless abandon.
The drumming by D.J. Fontana served as an inspiration to every single Rock-N-Roll drummer who ever followed. He sets the skins on fire, a blaze so hot you would think he was using dynamite sticks instead of drumsticks.
Scotty Moore’s lead guitar is as seminal as any work Chuck Berry did. It twangs like old-style Rockabilly, but it brought a new verve to the spanking new Rock genre. It is a benchmark performance.
While “Hound Dog” has since gone 4x platinum, selling well over 10 million copies, it is deployed like a foot soldier in every battle for the soul of Rock-N-Roll.
Aside from Big Mama Thornton’s original and Elvis’s smash version, the song has been “officially” recorded over 250 times.
Today, because of the constant ground attack mounted by the utilizers and over-players of Hound Dog, it’s hard to get at the controversy the simple song stirred. Today it seems innocuous to a listener in the 21st century, part of the soundtrack of American history.
But in 1956, Brooklyn’s very liberal pro-Israel Congressman, Emanuel Celler, a politician who supported so many righteous movements, put his uptightness on display.
“Rock-N-Roll has its place,” he intoned, “Among the colored people… The bad taste that is exemplified by the Elvis Presley ‘Hound Dog’ music, with his animal gyrations which are certainly most distasteful… are violative of all that I know to be in good taste.”
The Jewish Congressman was clueless to the fact that “Hound Dog” was written by New York City’s own superb Jewish songwriting team, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller.
Critics said it made them puke. Others saw in it the decline of Western, and especially American, Civilization. Frank Sinatra sarcastically called it a “masterpiece.”
By 2011, professors, whose heads had yet to burst with great thoughts, were calling “Hound Dog” the opening lines of Rock-N-Roll’s Manifesto (whatever that might entail).
Elvis recorded many songs of high style that might better serve as expressive of his artistic range: “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Love Me Tender,” “Suspicious Minds” later in his career, and “Return To Sender” all could take a turn in the chase.
Good as it is, old “Hound Dog” needs a rest on the front porch.
We’ve got Elvis at Mango Merchandise. He’s in the building.
In reality, everyone with an ear for Rock lives with Layla as a sort of conceptual friend. She’s as real in our mind’s ear as “Runaround Sue,” Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” or Holly’s “Peggy Sue.”
Layla, the character in the song, scantly drawn as she is, was the stand-in for Eric Clapton’s object of amorous obsession, Patti Boyd, who was George Harrison’s wife at the time. (See DNA Source Song “Little Wing,” by Derek & The Dominos for a fuller exploration of the story.)
“Layla” is a very good song, indeed, but it’s not quite as deserving of the holy, holy, holy enshrinement as other songs are on the namesake album.
It tickles many of the strings, though, that make Big Dog songs survive world-without-end-amen.
“Layla” is grandiose. It has big names attached to it – Clapton and legendary guitarist Duane Allman. It’s long. And it provides plenty of instrumental padding that serves as packaging material for the rather sparse lyrics. The listener can project whatever he or she cares to during the instrumentals.
On a brighter note, Clapton delivers heart-stopping bluesy vocals. And the duets between him and Allman are untouchable. (Compare Duane’s duet with Boz Scaggs on another Song Mango DNA Source Song, “Loan Me A Dime.”)
We are thinking that the opening strains would make a great doorbell sound. The time has already come and gone when it was hip to have them as your phone’s ringtone.
But let’s face it. We can’t stop Layla. She’s implanted like a chip in our brain and she’s not coming out anytime soon.
Expand your Clapton collection at Mango Merchandise.
“Brown Sugar” is a mystifier. Misogyny. A distasteful fascination with miscegenation. The ghosts of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. Sadism. Infidelity. All the nasty secrets of the American South.
A decent guitar riff, a perfunctory sax solo of no particular distinction and Jagger’s less-than-stellar vocals round out a low-grade song brought high by constant - incessant – radio airplay.
Leaving aside any critique of social values, what the hell is the damned song about? It’s like a house of mirrors. Tent show queen? Boyfriends who are sweet sixteen? House boys? Overheated English blood in the Confederacy? What Jagger and Richards needed were fewer stimulants and a good double slap across their smarmy faces.
This kind of Rolling Stones music was done better elsewhere on Sticky Fingers – see the DNA Source Song “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?”and on “Dead Flowers.”(Although “Dead Flowers” was less raucous had a more laid-back tone to it, its humorous edginess pushes it into the same category.)
The style was also executed incredibly well on Exile On Main Street in “Tumbling Dice” and “Sweet Virginia.”
The riddle is why, of all the monumental achievements by The Stones, does a bowser like “Brown Sugar survive and prosper? It should be noted that, mercifully, we hear it a lot less lately, although it keeps turning up like a bad penny.
One part madrigal one part head-banging Heavy Metal like so many other early Zep songs, “Stairway” is as lush as the Garden of Eden and as gritty as a dying industrial city in England. (For the prototype of this kind of Led Zeppelin tune, check out the DNA Source Song “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.”)
The slow, stately build-up to the steamed-up explosion is essentially one song and the heavier part another, with a mid-tempo bridging section.
What binds them together are impressionistic lyrics, boldly adventuresome for their time, lyrics that drift and daze as if the singer/narrator is right behind “the lady” on the stairway to heaven.
The song draws heavily on the antique mysticism of Celtic/Welsh lore. The theme of selfishness racked up against the communalistic universalism of the other side of the metaphysical argument takes it from being a mere diatribe against an unnamed woman to a cosmic plea for human unity.
Some call “Stairway To Heaven” the perfect Rock song, and well it may be. However, like Marley, Scrooge’s dead partner in A Christmas Carol, the song wears the chains it forged in its early life.
It is wonderful. It’s marvelous. It is one of the most inventive compositions of Rock’s first golden age.
The rub is that it is beaten, dragged, consumed, regurgitated, re-consumed and paraded about like some weird god of a forgotten civilization. “Overplayed” doesn’t come anywhere close to encompassing what’s been done to the song over the last four-plus decades.
“Stairway” needs more tender, loving care. It needs a law to be passed that permits it to be played only on very special occasions except for people under the age of 25. It’s like the finest porcelain china. You don’t want to eat off of it every single day of your life, because, no matter how well-wrought, even masterpieces get tiresome.