I’m participating, well sort of, this was my idea, in an exercise to name your favorite song that references each of the 50 states. Say what? Okay, you can pick one song for each state, but you can’t use a song more than once. So if you use a song like “I’ve Been Everywhere” or “Sweet Little Sixteen,” you can only use it for one state.
Other rules? The name of the state does not have to be mentioned in the lyrics, but there must be a clear reference to a place in the state. You cannot use “Fly Me To The Moon” for Pennsylvania just because there happens to be a Moon, Pennsylvania. Likewise, “White Cliffs Of Dover” is not about a place in Delaware.
Some states are harder than others. The hardest states don’t have a lot of choices. Another category of hard states involves too many choices. In any case, here is my list for the first 10 states, alphabetically.
Alabama: Glory – Common & John Legend (2014/2015)
From the film Selma, this Oscar-winning song was released in December 2014 and peaked at #49 in 2015. Oddly enough, Selma was only nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Picture and Best Original Song. I guess that means the movie was good in spite of acting, directing, screenplay and cinematography. It is a very good song, but I’m not sure how it single-handedly carried Selma. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUZOKvYcx_o
Alaska: North To Alaska – Johnny Horton (1960/1960-61)
From the John Wayne movie of the same name. Johnny Horton had already had an Alaska song with “When It’s Springtime In Alaska (It’s Forty Below)” in 1959. I don’t think he ever lived there, however. “North to Alaska” was released in August 1960. Horton was killed by a drunk driver in a car accident in November of that year, a few weeks before this song peaked at #4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3tAJS0wpRY
Arizona: Get Back – The Beatles with Billy Preston (1969)
I guess I’d rather leave my home in Tucson, Arizona than be on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. The Beatles spent five weeks at #1 with “Get Back” in 1969 with a song in which they shared credit with Billy Preston. Written and sung by Paul McCartney. Here is his 2005 Super Bowl performance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgcW21U1VTs
Arkansas: We’re An American Band – Grand Funk (1973)
“Last night in Little Rock….”
Grand Funk’s first number one hit in 1973 mentioned both Little Rock and Omaha but I’ll use it for Arkansas. Written and sung by Don Brewer and produced by Todd Rundgren. Here’s a live version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMsIrKjSM6Y
California: (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay – Otis Redding (1967/1968)
Recorded shortly before Redding died in a plane crash, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” became the first posthumous #1 single. It spent four weeks at #1 in spring 1968 and won two Grammys. There are no clips of Redding singing this song, as he never performed or lip synced it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTVjnBo96Ug
Colorado: Rocky Mountain High – John Denver (1972/1973)
John Denver wrote songs about Alaska and West Virginia and became a cult hero in Baltimore when one of his songs became a baseball anthem. Still, Denver is most associated with Colorado, thanks in part to “Rocky Mountain High,” which spent four weeks in the top 10 in late winter 1973. Here is a live version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=op9ND6-c-Dg
Connecticut: Connnecticut – Judy Garland and Bing Crosby (1945)
There wasn’t much to choose from here. The Ben Folds song (“Kylie From Connecticut”) is okay, but this state is so weak in music references that I actually considered that song by Jesus H. Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse (google it). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yI5X0jYnIJ4
Delaware: Back In The U.S.A. – Chuck Berry (1959) or Linda Ronstadt (1978)
There’s a reference to Delaware, sort of. The shores of the Delaware Bay are good enough for me. This might have been the toughest day–Connecticut and Delaware are pretty weak. I know the Perry Como song well but I just couldn’t do it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcI8AiCO9cU
Florida: Key Largo – Bertie Higgins (1981/1982)
Treacle alert. I did consider going with “Ice Ice Baby” here but I’ll admit that I’ve always liked this easy listening classic. It spent four weeks in the top 10 in April 1982. Higgins never again cracked the top 40. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25sfPl6FJQ8
Georgia: Midnight Train To Georgia – Gladys Knight and the Pips (1973)
A lot of fine choices for Georgia–Ray Charles, Brook Benton, Charlie Daniels–but this R&B classic wins it for me. Spent two weeks at #1 and four weeks atop the R&B charts in late fall 1973. Here is a live version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pHhItkhc7o
Running a bit behind, but for the seventh year, I’ll be counting down my top 10 songs of the year. My favorite song of the year will be revealed on New Year’s Eve. I do have some rules–I’m funny that way. The only songs that are eligible are those that hit theBillboardTop 10 on the Hot 100 at any time during 2015. I’d rather discuss songs that most people heard, even if there may be songs you or I like better. In 2015, 55 songs hit the top 10. My other rule is that I eliminate any song that was in my 2014 Top 10, even if it’s eligible in 2015. “All About That Bass,” “I’m Not The Only One” and “Thinking Out Loud” were in last year’s top 10 so those songs are not eligible this year.
Taylor Swift has never made my year-end top 10. Will this be the year? Or will we continue with our “Bad Blood?” How high will I place Adele? Should I just “Shut Up And Dance?” Dare I say, Bieber had a pretty good year?
As always, comments are welcomed. I’ll try to cross-post interesting comments from other social media sites—this countdown is now on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. And what are your top songs (top 10 or not)? Feel free to comment or slam me–I get a lot of that.
1. Uptown Funk, Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, RCA.
Before Adele was setting all kinds of sales records late in 2015, “Uptown Funk” was destroying a few chart records. A tribute to retro funk and Prince’s Minneapolis sound, the songwriters included the Gap Band, whose classic “Oops Upside My Head.” was one of several inspirations for Ronson and Mars. The song debuted at number one in the UK in December 2014. In America, it hit number one in mid-January and got a bit comfortable there. With 14 weeks at number one, “Uptown Funk” is the longest-running number one song of this century and is tied for the second-longest run of all time. Its 21 weeks in the top three beat a record held by Santana w/ Rob Thomas, and with 25 weeks in the top five, that tied the record held by Le Ann Rimes (“How Do I Live”). Among other accomplishments, its success prevented Ed Sheeran (“Thinking Out Loud”) and Maroon 5 (“Sugar”) from hitting number one. It has already been parodied by Alvin and the Chipmunks, who recorded “Uptown Munk.” So what made this song so special? It seems to have captured the essence of funk into a catchy and highly danceable package. Its long run at number one is well-deserved.
Official video:Vevo link Baltimore Orioles 2015 Opening Day video:YouTube link Ronson and Mars on The Voice:YouTube link SNL performance:YouTube link Glee cast cover:YouTube link Fleur East on X-Factor:YouTube link 2. Hello, Adele, XL/Columbia.
Adele seemed to be everywhere after her musch anticipated 25 album came out this fall. The album shattered sales records and the lead single is still the number one song in America. Lionel Richie once did a piano-based ballad called “Hello.” Adele’s piano ballad of the same name is a bit more bombastic, the kind of song people like me belt out with her. I recently heard a college band playing “Hello” at a bowl game, impressive as the song was released in late October, when the current college football season was more than half over. It has hit number one in 27 countries, including a three-week run in her native country. In America, it’s still number one for nine weeks and counting. Its run at the top has so far denied Justin Bieber number one status for his huge hit, “Sorry.” “Hello” was written by Adele with producer Greg Kurstin. Kurstin also played piano on the record, while Adele played drums.
3. FourFiveSeconds, Rihanna & Kanye West & Paul McCartney, Westbury Road/Roc Nation.
Between the three of them, they have won 47 Grammys. Wilson Phillips makes an uncredited appearance singing backup–no Grammys but five nominations. The star-studded hit was written by a large team headed by McCartney and West. It’s Rihanna’s vocals that truly shine. Kanye West holds his own and McCartney’s guitar playing is outstanding. The song was released in January and topped the charts in Australia, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Sweden. In Am erica, it spent eight weeks in the top 10, peaking at number four shortly after a performance at the Grammys. Three distinctive instruments are heard–it’s Dave Longstreth (Dirty Projectors) playing organ. It’s not McCartney on bass; that’s actually hip-hop producer Mike Dean. McCartney handles the acoustic guitar. I like the cross-genre strength of this track. There’s a little folk, a little soul and a Rihanna’s gospel-influenced vocal.
4. Shut Up And Dance, Walk the Moon, RCA.
Walk the Moon is a Cincinnati-based band that had some modest success with its first album, called Walk The Moon. The band’s second album, Talking Is Hard spawned its breakthrough hit single, “Shut Up And Dance.” I don’t think I’m alone in stating that I like this song but I’m not quite sure why. It’s somewhat repetitive with silly lyrics but very infectious. The lyrics are apparently based on a true story. Singer Nicholas Petricca was at a bar, he has having trouble getting a drink and his girlfriend got him out on the dance floor. She was actually wearing the backless dress and beat up sneaks described in the song. Petricca told an interviewer that the song has “become and anthem for the dork who is 100 percent me.” “Shut Up And Dance” was released in September 2004. It took a while to crack the Top 10 in late April 2015. It spent 17 straight weeks in the Top 10 before it headed down the charts, only to rebound for another week at number 10 in September, almost a year after its release. On the Billboard Rock Songs chart,, “Shut Up And Dance” was number one for a record 27 weeks.
5. Want To Want Me, Jason Derulo, Beluga Heights/Warner Bros.
In a bit of a departure for Jason Derulo, the first single off his Everything is 4 album was more of a pop song than is found in his usual R&B repertoire. His falsetto on the verses is no departure, a smooth R&B vocal. Derulo shifts down to his normal register for the 1980s-style chorus. Released in early March, “Want To Want Me” hit the Billboard Top 10 in May and spent nine weeks there, including two weeks at number five. Across the pond in the United Kingdom, “Want To Want Me” spent four weeks at number one in June. For a mild disclaimer, I will point out that one of the songwriters is a friend of a friend. Mitch Allan, who grew up in Baltimore County and is a Randallstown High School graduate also co-wrote Heartbeat Song for Kelly Clarkson, which missed the top 10.
6. Ex’s & Oh’s, Elle King, RCA
Elle King is 26 years old and had some minor success in the music industry. “Ex’s & Oh’s,” co-written by King and Dave Richard Bassett, is by far her biggest hit. The video premiered on May 1 and by June, the song had topped the Billboard rock chart and later the alternative chart. The single was released to pop radio in late September and peaked at number 10 for one week at the end of November, although it is still in the top 20. The lyrics suggest her treating men like men stereotypically treat women. The video echoes that theme, featuring men wearing very little. It’s a high energy song with a very catchy rhythm. “Ex’s & Oh’s” is up for two Grammys in the rock category, for best performance and best song. I predict a chart rebound if she is chosen to perform at the Grammy ceremony on President’s Day.
7. Sugar, Maroon 5, 222/Interscope
Maroon 5 songs are usually hit-or-miss for me and lately there have been more misses than hits. The first two releases from 2014’s V album (“Maps,” “Animals”) were underwhelming to me, to say the least. The third single, “Sugar,” is the gem on the album. Mike Posner orginally wrote it for himself but Adam Levine heard it and wanted it for Maroon 5. Posner refused, but when Posner changed labels and his album project was scrapped in favor of more recent material, he decided to give it to Levine. Levine did some re-writing and Posner was reportedly happy with the outcome. Maroon 5 released it in January 2015 along with a video in which they crashed a bunch of Los Angeles weddings. The footage is great, but I can’t help but think it was way more staged than it seemed. By the end of January, “Sugar” debuted in the top 10 for the first of 21 consecutive weeks. It was only the 68th song ever to have spent 20 or more weeks in the top 10. For four weeks in the spring, it was at number two behind “Uptown Funk!” A remix featuring Nicki Minaj was released in March. “Sugar” did top the charts in Lebanon, Slovakia, South Africa and Turkey.
8. Fight Song, Rachel Platten, Columbia Rachel Platten is a 34-year-old overnight success who first recorded “Fight Song” in 2014. Columbia Records built an EP around it and released the single in mid-February. It took a slow and steady climb to reach the top 10. It finally did so in mid-July and spent 10 weeks in the top 10, peaking at number six for a week in late August. Platten co-wrote the song with Dave Richard Bassett, a songwriter who had worked with other artists, but finally had a big hit with “Fight Song,” and later with Elle King’s “Ex’s & Oh’s.” The song is reportedly about Platten’s struggling to get a break in the music industry and her unwillingness to give up. In that sense, the popularity of “Fight Song” proved successful for both songwriters. Hard to imagine not hearing this song–it has been used in commercials and other inspirational settings. It was even bigger in the UK, where “Fight Song” spent a week at number one in early September.
9. Style, Taylor Swift, Universal Studios/Republic
People who know me know that I’m not a Tay-Tay fan. That said, “Style” is by far her best song. Swift used to write all of her songs solo, but wisely dumped that for her Red album in favor of “co-writing,” primarily with Swedish hit machine Max Martin. She continued her co-writing strategy for her more recent 1989 album. “Style” originated from a beat line written by Ali Payami. Martin seems to have wrote it with Swift’s strengths in mind. The song is more about timing than about hitting notes. The staccato sections require good timing, not great pitch or range. Of the first four singles from 1989, “Style,” the third single, was the only one not to hit number one. “Style” was released in February and spent nine weeks in the top 10 in the spring, peaking at number six. Although other singles were more successful, I think “Style” will have more staying power. Just ignore the cringe-worthy “slicked-back white T-shirt” lyric. I have no doubt Tay-Tay wrote those lines herself.
10. Earned It (Fifty Shades Of Grey), The Weeknd, Universal Studios/Republic
The Weeknd was Billboard‘s top singles artist of 2015. “Earned It,” from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, was not one of his two number one hits, but was his most mainstream effort of the year. It hit the charts in February and spent 18 straight weeks in the top 10, peaking at number three. The song is played twice in the movie, and was one of two top-five hits from the film, along with Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do.” For those unfamiliar with this breakout artist, his name is Abel Tesfaye and is from suburban Toronto. Apparently there is another Canadian band called “The Weekend,” so Tesfaye dropped an E to make “The Weeknd” his pseudonym. He co-wrote “Earned It,” and was reported to have been the primary writer.
Well, Elvis Presley would have been (conspiracies aside) 80 years old today. In November, I participated in a countdown to rank my 30 favorite Elvis Presley songs. A tall order–he recorded A LOT of songs. I knew I’d leave something worthy out. I narrowed my list to 66 and ranked those. I then posted some info about my top 30 from that list. Here’s the full list:
1. Suspicious Minds
2. Kentucky Rain
3. Burning Love
4. Tomorrow Is A Long Time
5. Don’t Be Cruel
6. It’s Now Or Never
7. Can’t Help Falling In Love
8. In The Ghetto
9. (You’re The) Devil In Disguise
10. All Shook Up
11. Love Me
12. Love Me Tender
13. Little Sister
14. Good Luck Charm
15. The Wonder Of You
16. She’s Not You
17. If I Can Dream
18. Blue Christmas
19. Mystery Train
20. A Little Less Conversation
21. Separate Ways
22. Heartbreak Hotel
23. (Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such As I
24. Are You Lonesome Tonight?
25. Hound Dog
26. One Night
27. Jailhouse Rock
29. True Love Travels On A Gravel Road
30. It Keeps Right On-A-Hurtin
31. (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear
32. Stuck On You
33. (Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame
34. Return To Sender
35. Bossa Nova Baby
37. You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me
38. My Way
39. Viva Las Vegas
40. I Just Can’t Help Believing
42. Blue Suede Shoes
43. Wear My Ring Around Your Neck
44. Hard Headed Woman
45. I Need Your Love Tonight
46. Crying In The Chapel
48. I Feel So Bad
49. Kissin’ Cousins
50. Way Down
51. Always On My Mind
52. Blue Moon
53. Wooden Heart (Muss I Denn)
54. Pieces Of My Life
55. Doing The Best That I Can
57. Green Green Grass Of Home
58. I Want You, I Need You, I Love You
59. Loving You
60. Too Much
61. I Beg Of You
62. I Got Stung
63. Gentle On My Mind
64. Moody Blue
65. A Big Hunk Of Love
66. Don’t Cry Daddy
Yes, there are some great songs with seemingly low rankings. “Jailhouse Rock” at 27?? Well, that’s no knock–Elvis was called the king for a reason! Any list like this is bound to stir some debate.
Note that the the late-’60s/early ’70s “comeback period” is heavily represented at the top. That’s my own bias. In my mind, that’s the period where Elvis shined.
I’ll try to post some more on my top 30 in the upcoming days, but for now, what do you think? What’s too low or too high or not there at all?
Hard to believe that this is the sixth year already. As usual, I will be counting down my top 10 songs of the 2014. Beginning December 26, I’ll reveal my number 10 song of the year. Then two songs a day, followed by my favorite song of the year to be revealed on New Year’s Eve. There are rules, because, well, it’s my countdown. The only songs that are eligible are those that hit the Billboard Top 10 on the Hot 100 at any time during 2014. I just think it’s more fun to discuss songs that most people have heard of. In 2014, 59 songs hit the top 10. Rule #2: I eliminate any song that was in my 2013 Top 10, even if it spilled over into 2014. “Royals,” “Wake Me Up!” and “Say Something” are therefore not eligible for this year’s list.
Taylor Swift has never made my year-end top 10. Will this be the year? Or will she occupy a “Blank Space” on my list yet again? Will Iggy Azalea be “Fancy” enough to make my list? Would it be “Rude” to leave out MAGIC!? Is it really “All About That Bass?” And will you be “Happy” with my choice for number one song of the year?
As always, comments are welcomed. I will make an attempt to post good comments from other social media sites—this countdown is now on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Diaspora. And what are your top songs (top 10 or not)? Feel free to congratulate, criticize or tell me I’m out of my mind (as if I didn’t know).
1. All Of Me, John Legend, G.O.O.D./Columbia
“All Of Me” replaced “Happy” as the number one song in the country in mid-May after six weeks at number two. John Legend’s piano ballad, inspired by his now-wife Chrissy Teigen, became his first number one single. It spent three weeks at the top and topped the charts in eight countries. Released in August 2013, it took some time to catch on. A remix was released early in 2014, but the remix is dreadful and should never have been done to this fine song. The video features Legend and Teigen and well, it’s more than a little bit steamy. Legend had performed the song several times in 2013 on television, but his January 2014 performance at the Grammys really boosted the track’s popularity. By early March, it was in the top five and was the number three song of the year according to Billboard. Legend’s voice carries a well-written song with some memorable lines. Two gems include: “You’re my end and my beginning/Even when I lose I’m winning” and “Love your curves and all your edges/All your perfect imperfections.” Because the original recording of “All Of Me” was released too early for consideration at the upcoming Grammys, the song is only up for two, one for a live version and the other for that wretched remix.
2. Happy, Pharrell Williams, Back Lot Music/Columbia
Pharrell Williams was a featured artist on two of the biggest hits of 2013. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” was the number two song of the year, Billboard‘s Song of the Summer and the year’s longest-running number one single with 12 weeks at the top. Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” was the Grammy Record of the Year and topped my year-end list a year ago. As a solo artist, Williams continued his run of success with the biggest hit of 2014, “Happy,” which spent 10 weeks at number one, was Oscar-nominated and was the number one song of the year. The song from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack was a bit slow out of the gate, but once it caught on, it became a worldwide phenomenon, going to number one in 24 countries. The catchy dance tune spawned many parodies and tribute videos, including one called “Tacky” from “Weird Al” Yankovic. Shortly after Pharrell Williams appeared at the Grammys wearing an unusual brown Vivienne Westwood hat, Pharrell’s Hat had its own Twitter account. He wore a similar hat to perform “Happy” at the Oscars, where he danced with Amy Adams and other actors in the front row. He lost on the Best Original Song category to Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go.” Hard not to sing and dance along to this one.
3. I’m Not The Only One, Sam Smith, Capitol
Sam Smith had a huge breakthrough year in 2014. His first big solo hit, “Stay With Me” peaked at number two and barely missed my top 10. His followup is still on the charts, at number five to close the year. “I’m Not The Only One” covers the heartbreak of knowing that one’s partner was unfaithful. The vocals soar. It was a top 10 hit in many countries, but so far has only hit number one in South Africa. His performance of this song on many awards and music competition shows cemented Smith’s status as major vocal talent, compared frequently to Adele. Smith is nominated for six Grammys, including four major ones–Record of the Year, Song of the Year (both for “Stay With Me”), Album of the Year and Best New Artist. Sorry Iggy, I have to think 22-year-old Sam Smith is the overwhelming favorite to take the Best New Artist trophy.
4. All About That Bass, Meghan Trainor, Epic
Safe to say that one year ago, not many people had heard of Meghan Trainor, who turned 21 recently. Trainor co-wrote the song with singer-songwriter Kevin Kadish in 2013. Trainor was a songwriter at the time, and the song was offered to Beyonce and other record executives who all turned it down. Because the is about body image and suggests a “not skinny” protagonist, many singers signed to record deals were too thin to be taking on that subject matter. Kadish suggested Trainor record it and when L.A. Reid heard it, he signed Trainor as a singer in February 2014. In the United States, it hit number one in September and spent eight weeks there. It has now hit number one in 58 countries and has become one of the biggest worldwide hits of all time. While the vocals are odd, in some cases perhaps intentionally childlike, Trainor does sing the chorus well. I have to give credit for the “silicone stick-figure Barbie doll” line. To work that in without losing the catchiness is not easy. The musical sound is outstanding–this song sounds both fresh and retro. It’s clearly the most parodied song of the year and that’s saying something in a year when Pharrell’s “Happy” was also a big hit. It’s up for two Grammys and they are the big ones: Song of the Year and Record of the Year.
5. Thinking Out Loud, Ed Sheeran, Atlantic
Ed Sheeran’s biggest American hit to date spent only one week in the top 10 in 2014. That was the final week of 2014; “Thinking Out Loud” is still climbing headed into 2015. It’s likely to be a big hit in 2015, but I thought this song was too good to leave out of this year’s countdown. It has already been to number one in four countries, including the United Kingdom. It is apparently available is a 7-inch vinyl single, which makes it a must-buy for me. “Thinking Out Loud” is destined to become a wedding classic. There’s not much to say about the song itself. There is a very light acoustic guitar melody and the lyrics are pretty basic love song stuff. What carries the song is Sheeran’s vocal delivery.
6. Turn Down For What, DJ Snake & Lil Jon, Columbia
The song has 12 words total, but mostly the repeated title punctuating an infectious groove. It became a sports anthem and party classic. It entered the Billboard top 10 in April 2014 and spent 15 weeks there, topping out at number four. “Turn Down For What” came in at number 15 on the Billboard year-end chart. I think the impact of this song goes beyond its chart performance. It will be one of the most, if not the most, remembered track of the year. Its appeal to hip-hop, dance and rock audiences and use at sporting events made it ubiquitous–it’s hard to imagine anyone in the nation not hearing this song at some point. In a year dominated by dance pop, Australian rap, sappy ballads and Taylor Swift, this song stood out and didn’t fit that mold. Its video is up for a Best Music Video Grammy.
7. Rude, Magic!, Latium/RCA
If ever a song quietly spent six weeks at number one it might be “Rude.” The debut hit from the Canadian band Magic! dominated the charts at the end of the summer of 2014 and prevented Sam Smith’s smash, “Stay With Me” from hitting number one. Its run at the top came between two more talked about number one singles, Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Perhaps it’s the simplistic nature of the song. “Rude” is a very laid back reggae song that’s quite catchy, although the song’s understated vibe led some critics to dismiss the song quickly. It didn’t catch on right away. Released on October 10, 2013, “Rude” cracked the top 10 in June 2014 and hit number one at the end of July. It ranked at number seven on Billboard’s year-end chart. Seems people either loved or hated this one. Outside of the USA, “Rude” hit number one in the U.K,. Poland, Slovakia and Colombia. A New York Post feature suggested that Rude may be the worst number one single of all time. I liked it enough to make my top 10.
8. Story Of My Life, One Direction, Syco/Columbia
One Direction spent seven non-consecutive weeks in the top 10 spanning 2013 and 2014. It peaked at number six in its first week on the chart in November 2013, It bounced in and out of the top 10 for months and lingered until April 2014. It marked a different turn for the popular boy band, who had been relying on uptempo pop songs and sappy ballads. “Story Of My Life” is a more mature song with modern folk influences. It reached number one in six very different countries: Bulgaria, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Lebanon and New Zealand. It was considered for my 2013 top 10, but not selected and therefore qualifies for this year’s countdown. All five members of the group are given songwriter credit, along with Jamie Scott and John Ryan. Scott is a frequent collaborator on One Direction songs and fronts his own band, James Scott and the Town.
9. Love Never Felt So Good, Michael Jackson & Justin Timberlake, MJJ/Epic
Paul Anka co-wrote “Love Never Felt So Good” with Michael Jackson in 1983 and Jackson recorded a demo version. It would up on a 1984 album from Johnny Mathis. The Mathis album, A Special Part Of Me, spawned two adult contemporary hits in 1984, but Love Never Felt So Good was never released as a single. In 2013 as part of the Xscape project, the demo was remixed from a simple unplugged version with Anka on piano into a modern dance song. There were two versions: a solo version and a duet version that added vocals by Justin Timberlake. The duet version was released in May 2014 and peaked at number nine later that month. It hit number one in Croatia, Israel and Denmark. Two videos were released featuring classic Michael Jackson footage. There was a “live performance” on May 1 at a music awards show that featured Usher and others performing classic Jackson dance moves. Perhaps nostalgia helped put this into my top 10, but it sounds like a classic Michael Jackson song that could have fit well on the Off The Wall album.
10. Pompeii, Bastille, Virgin/Capitol
The first major hit from the British band Bastille peaked at number five in March. Actually it plateaued, spending four weeks at number five followed by five more weeks at number six. It topped the Billboard rock and alternative charts in America and peaked at number two in the U.K. Oddly enough, the song’s release coincided with the release of an unrelated movie called “Pompeii.” Both the song and the movie refer to the volcanic disaster from the first century that destroyed the Roman city. Perhaps even more strangely is that “Pompeii” (the song) was being used as a promo in movie ads, but not for the movie “Pompeii,” but for a different movie also in theaters at that time, “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.” Between the movie and the song, it’s likely that a new generation of school kids are very familiar with Mount Vesuvius and its famous eruption.
From a countdown in which I participated, here are my favorite 25 songs since 2000. Although the countdown had no rule, my choices tended to be pop-oriented. Below is the list of my 25 songs. I actually ranked 69 songs, and I’ll try to put the best of the rest in another post.
These are my favorite songs, not necessarily my favorite artists. I have Fergie at number two and I can’t think of another Fergie song that even comes close to my countdown.
1. Yeah! by Usher featuring Lil Jon & Ludacris
2. Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal) by Fergie
3. Say It Right by Nelly Furtado
4. Crazy by Gnarls Barkley
5. We Are Young by fun. featuring Janelle Monae
6. All Of Me by John Legend
7. Happy by Pharrell Williams
8. Get Lucky by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams
9. F**kin’ Perfect by Pink
10. I Gotta Feeling by The Black Eyed Peas
11. Can’t Fight The Moonlight by LeAnn Rimes
12. Rolling In The Deep by Adele
13. No One by Alicia Keys
14. Royals by Lorde
15. It Feels So Good by Sonique
16. F**k You (Forget You) by Cee Lo Green
17. Viva La Vida by Coldplay
18. Don’t Know Why by Norah Jones
19. Brokenhearted by Karmin
20. Don’t Tell Me by Madonna
21. In Da Club by 50 Cent
22. The Game Of Love by Santana featuring Michelle Branch
23. Grenade by Bruno Mars
24. Family Affair by Mary J. Blige
25. TiK ToK by Ke$ha
Two artists appear twice. Pharrell Williams is at #7 and at #8 while Cee Lo Green is at #4 (with Gnarls Barkley) and at #16.
Welcome to part three Best of the Rest British Invasion Countdown. Songs that are eligible must have hit the US Billboard Top 40. Eligible artists include Brits, except for the Beatles and the Stones–that’s why it’s “Best of the Rest.” I have previously done songs 40-31 and 30-21. Top 10 will be coming soon. The rankings are purely personal preference. Comments welcome.
20. Go Now!, The Moody Blues, London 9726
This might not be the Moody Blues sound of which many are familiar. This is Denny Laine, who would later join Wings, on guitar and lead vocals on this 1965 hit. A different lineup emerged three years later with “Nights In White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon.” “Go Now!” was written by Larry Banks and Milton Bennett. Banks’ wife Bessie recorded a demo in 1962. The prolific producing team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller heard it and decided to have Bessie Banks record it and release it. During the session, the news of Kennedy’s death came. They canceled the session and waited a week. They did record it and released it in January 1964. It was climbing the R&B chart, but then Denny Laine heard it in the middle of Beatlemania and decided that the Moody Blues needed to record and release it. It hit number one in the U.K. in January 1965, and reached its Billboard peak position of number 10 in April 1965. I associate the song with baseball. This was one of the songs that the Baltimore Orioles used at the old Memorial Stadium to “serenade” opposing pitchers when they left the mound after being knocked out of the game. “Go Now!” is also believed to be among the first music videos, as a short film was released to promote the song.
19. Wishin’ And Hopin’, Dusty Springfield, Philips 40207
Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote many songs first recorded by Dionne Warwick. Warwick’s version of “Wishin’ and Hopin'” did not chart for her in 1963. Dusty Springfield recorded it in January 1964. At the time, she had just gone solo and Beatlemania was just beginning to take off. After recording “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” Dusty’s solo career began to emerge when “I Only Want To Be With You” became a worldwide hit. That and several other songs were put together for an April ’64 release of the album Stay Awhile/I Only Want To Be With You, named for her first two singles. “Wishin’ and Hopin'” was the first song on the B side of the album and proved to be the most successful single. It spent five weeks in the top 10 in the summer of 1964, peaking at number six for two weeks. In England, where her first album had a different lineup, Springfield released a different single. The Merseybeats had the hit version of “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” hitting number 13 there that same summer. However, an August 1964 performance on Top of the Pops by both Springfield and the Merseybeats that combined the two versions allowed Dusty to make this one of her signature songs on both sides of the Atlantic. Springfield also released two foreign language versions. In German, it was “Warten Und Hoffen.” The Italian version, “Stupido Stupido” had different lyrics. As far as I know, the song was never played on Mad Men, although given its lyrical content, it would have fit right in.
18. Needles And Pins, The Searchers, Kapp 577
Who sang the definitive version of “Needles and Pins” may simply depend on the country in which you lived. The song started on Jack Nitzsche’s guitar. Sonny Bono made up the words and melody while Nitzsche played chords. Jackie DeShannon released the first version in 1963, and it was a huge hit in Canada but a flop in the United States. Petula Clark recorded “La nuit n’en finit plus,” which was a hit in France. The Searchers recorded it in January 1964 and hit number one in the U.K. Ireland and South Africa and number two in Australia. The British band Smokie, known in America for “Living Next Door To Alice.,” reportedly hit number one in several European countries in 1977, although I have not been able to verify which ones. In America, although Tom Petty & Stevie Nicks had minor success with a live version in 1985, the Searchers’ version, which hit #13 in 1964, is the most familiar one. In Britain, “Needles and Pins” was the second number one hit for the Searchers, who hit the top spot a year earlier with “Sweets For My Sweet,” a Drifters cover. The Searchers hit catalog is pretty much entirely made up of covers. In the United States, “Needles and Pins” marked the first top 40 hit for the band. Their previous release, “Sugar and Spice” stalled just outside the top 40. What makes the song distinct was vocalist’s Mike Pender’s overemphasis of the final consonant in the title phrase, which comes across sounding like “Needles and Pin-zah.”
Donovan was born in Scotland but moved to England when he was 10. Early on, he was thought to be the British Bob Dylan. By the time Donovan went to the top in the United States with “Sunshine Superman,” the Dylan similarities had begun to fade away. “Sunshine Superman” is likely more identified with flower children and the Summer of Love, even though the song was a hit in the previous summer of 1966. It was recorded on December 19, 1965 with Jimmy Page on guitar and John Paul Jones on bass. Contractual negotiations between Donovan and producer Mickie Most delayed the American release until July 1966 and the British release until December. It climbed the Billboard chart very quickly. It was at number 20 the week of August 13 and number 10 a week later. Then number five and finally number one the week of September 3. In Britain, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, it went to number two. It really helped usher in psychedelia and helped make the hippie movement mainstream. In a February 2014 interview with Howard Stern, Donovan said that “Catch The Wind” and “Sunshine Superman” were among several songs written for Brian Jones’ ex-girlfriend Linda Lawrence. He stated that although “sunshine” was a drug reference, that the song was basically an ode to Lawrence. Donovan later married Lawrence in 1970, a year after Jones’ death. The line, “You’re going to be mine,” was indeed prescient.
16. Green, Green Grass Of Home, Tom Jones, Parrot 40009 Tom Jones exploded onto the music scene in a big way in 1965 with the worldwide hit, “It’s Not Unusual.” Shortly after that success, Jones was asked to record the title tracks of the movies, “What’s New, Pussycat” and “Thunderball.” The release of “Green, Green Grass Of Home” was a foray into American country music for Jones. The song was written by Curly Putnam and recorded by several country artists in 1965. The most notable version was by Porter Wagoner, who took it to number four on the country chart. It was an unreleased track on the Jerry Lee Lewis album, Country Songs For City Folks. Jones bought that album and first heard the song as recorded by Lewis. Released in November 1966, Tom Jones took it to number one in Ireland, Norway, Australia and the United Kingdom. In the United States, it spent five weeks in the top 20, peaking at number 11 in February 1967. It’s a beautiful song, but a sad story of a prisoner on death row. Jones has continued to sing it throughout his long career. In a duet with Dolly Parton on her television show in the 1980s, Parton shouts “so sad” leading into Jones’ final chorus. He performed it with Jerry Lee Lewis for a television special in 2006. There have been many covers, including one by Joan Baez in 1969, by George Jones in 1972 and by Elvis Presley in 1976.
15. Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Manfred Mann, Ascot 2157
Kind of like Blondie, Manfred Mann is both a person and a group. The individual is South African but the band was British. Their breakout hit, “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” was written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who had written hits for 1960s girl groups such as the Crystals and the Ronettes. Originally a minor hit for the Raindrops and the Exciters, Manfred Mann’s version added another worldwide hit to Barry and Grennwich’s credits. “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” hit number one in Britain, Canada and the United States in the fall of 1964. In America it spent four weeks in the top 10 before dethroning Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” as the number one song in October 1964. It spent two weeks at number one and nine weeks in the top 10. It had new life following the success of the 1981 Ivan Reitman film, Stripes. In the movie, Sgt. Hulka’s misfits, played by Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Judge Reinhold and John Candy among others, sing the song while marching in basic training. There have been a few covers, but few as delightfully odd as Sheila’s 1964 French version, “Vous Les Copains, Je Ne Vous Oublierai Jamais.” Sheila was a French pop star who took her name from her first hit, a French cover of Tommy Roe’s “Sheila.”
14. Love Potion Number Nine, The Searchers, Kapp 27
The Searchers’ most successful single in the United States was, like many of their hits, a remake. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote a string of crossover R&B/rock/pop hits in the 1950s, including “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock” and “Kansas City.” The Clovers, an R&B group, recorded “Love Potion No. 9” and hit #23 on both the pop and R&B charts in 1959. The Searchers were not even the first British Invasion act to cover it. Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders recorded it in 1963. The Searchers had by far the most success with it. It originally showed up on their 1963 album, Meet The Searchers. It was not released as a single in the United Kingdom, and was not released in the United States until later in 1964. It was the sixth chart hit in the states for the Searchers, following previous releases from later albums. “Love Potion Number Nine” (the Searchers used the longer title) was a clever comedic story of unintended consequences. The potion worked, but the poor guy ended up kissing a policeman on a public street corner. The Searchers’ version climbed the charts at the end of 1964, and cracked the top 10 for the first week of 1965. It spent six weeks in the top 10, peaking at number three for two weeks. It was the only top 10 hit in America for the Searchers.
13. I’m A Man, The Yardbirds, Epic 9857
“I’m A Man” is clearly a Bo Diddley jam. Originally, it was the B-side of Diddley’s signature hit, “Bo Diddley” in 1955. The Yardbirds recorded several times, using different über-famous guitarists. A live version with Eric Clapton on guitar was included on the 1964 album, Five Live Yardbirds. The single released late in 1965 was done in studio with Jeff Beck on guitar. Live versions with Beck from 1965 and with Jimmy Page from 1968 were released on live albums years later. The studio version that featured Beck peaked at number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of December 11, 1965. The song’s influence transcended its peak position. Very avant garde for its time, “I’m A Man” was ignored by some AM pop stations of that era. In a 1969 interview, Diddley called the Yardbirds version “beautiful.” Of the British bands who helped continue Diddley’s and other Americans’ legacies, he said, “We started it, they copied it and threw it back in our faces.” Originally, this one went unreleased in the U.K., but finally did become a single in 1976.
12. You Really Got Me, The Kinks, Reprise 0306
Some call “You Really Got Me” the first heavy metal hit. It certainly influenced many who later inhabited that musical genre. It was the second recording of the song that really took off. Dave Davies played the lead guitar on this song that really propelled the band to superstardom. The story is that he cut his amp with a razor blade to achieve an effect referred to as fuzz-tone. A similar riff was used for the band’s follow-up smash, “All Day And All Of The Night.” Both songs pioneered the use of power chords in pop and rock music. Written by Ray Davies, “You Really Got Me” spent two weeks atop the British chart in September 1964. The song climbed the American charts a bit more slowly, entering the top 20 in early November 1964. It spent five weeks in the top ten as 1964 came to a close, peaking at number seven for three weeks. Although rumors persisted that Jimmy Page played lead guitar on this classic record, all involved including Page have emphatically insisted that Dave Davies played lead guitar and Ray Davies sang vocals and played rhythm guitar. Page was used on some Kinks’ records, but on rhythm guitar, freeing Ray Davies to just sing lead. The influence of “You Really Got Me” should not be understated–this was a landmark song. Van Halen cracked the top 40 with a 1978 cover. Rap group Salt N Pepa sang the famous two lines of the chorus at the end of their breakthrough hit, “Push It,” in 1987.
11. What Have They Done To The Rain, The Searchers, Kapp 644
Well, the Searchers were known for covers, and knew how to pick the right songs. “What Have They Done To The Rain” was originally titled “Rain Song.” Malvina Reynolds wrote the folk tune about acid rain and nuclear fallout and recorded it herself in 1962. It has been since covered by many in the folk music scene, but the Searchers’ version, with rich harmonies, has been the most successful in both the United States and Great Britain. Still, it was a modest hit, reaching number 13 in the United Kingdom in 1964 and number 29 on the U.S. Billboard chart in 1965. The success of the Searchers’ version was likely aided by the group’s previous smash, “Love Potion Number Nine.” Although Reynolds and Joan Baez had released versions before, and Pete Seeger sang it regularly at his appearances, the Searchers’ drew the attention for future rock and folk artists who later covered it, notably the Seekers and Marianne Faithfull. The song’s message sneaks up on the listener. By the final verse, the boy and the grass have disappeared.
This post is pieced together from Facebook posts from November 2013. I decided to post the Billboard top ten songs from that fateful week that President Kennedy was killed. Beatlemania was only weeks away and the music sounded nothing like what was to come. So here is a look.
Billboard Top 10 Hits, Week Ending November 23, 1963
10. Maria Elena, Los Indios Tabarajes, RCA Victor 8216
We’ll be hearing a lot about 1963 this week. What was the music like? The Beatles would come in about 12 weeks. The #10 song this week was an instrumental version of an old Spanish song, recorded in 1958, released in 1962 but popular in November 1963. YouTube link
9. Dominique, The Singing Nun, Philips 40152
The #9 song (and climbing fast) this week in 1963 was “Dominique” by the Singing Nun. It spent four weeks at number one following the Kennedy assassination, without any obvious connection beyond the Belgian nun’s Catholicism. YouTube link
8. Bossa Nova Baby, Elvis Presley, RCA Victor 8243
Continuing with the top 10 from this week in 1963, at #8 is a movie song by Elvis. YouTube link
7. Everybody, Tommy Roe, ABC-Paramount 10478
Continuing the 1963 countdown, the number 7 song this week was “Everybody,” by Tommy Roe, who hit the top 10 six times between 1962 and 1969. YouTube link
6. She’s A Fool, Lesley Gore, Mercury 72180
It’s her party and she can cry if she wants to. “She’s A Fool” was #6 this week in 1963. For Lesley Gore, it was her third in a string of four top five hits. She continued to chart for the next four years, but never hit the top 10 after the Fab Four’s arrival. YouTube link
5. It’s All Right, The Impressions, ABC-Paramount 10487
The Impressions, with Curtis Mayfield, held the #5 spot this week in 1963. This song was #1 on the R&B chart and has been covered many times. YouTube link
4. Sugar Shack. Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, Dot 16487
The #4 song this week in 1963 was the biggest hit single of the entire year, which had previously spent five weeks at #1. Quite curiously, R&B radio picked it up after it first hit #1 on the pop chart–“Sugar Shack” was #1 on the R&B chart this week 50 years ago. YouTube link
3. Deep Purple, Nino Tempo and April Stevens, Atco 6273
Slipping from #1 to #3, brother & sister act Nino Tempo & April Stevens had the #3 song this week in 1963 with a song written in the 1930s. The duo had three more hits, none of which hit the top 10. YouTube link
2. Washington Square, The Village Stompers, Epic 9617
You might not recognize the title but you might recognize the music if you listen. The Village Stompers were #2 this week in 1963 with “Washington Square.” YouTube link
1. I’m Leaving It Up To You, Dale & Grace, Montel 921
The #1 song 50 years ago this week was “I’m Leaving It Up To You,” by Dale & Grace. The duo happened to be in Dallas that Friday for a performance later that evening, and were on a street corner waving to the president shortly before he was killed. Dale & Grace were singing partners who never came close to matching the success of this song. YouTube link
Interesting group of songs, but pretty weak on staying power. The one song you might hear on oldies radio is “It’s All Right.” Music was about to change significantly in a couple of months.