In 1857, FrenchmanÉdouard-Léon Scott de Martinville patented his invention for recording sound, the phonautograph. Twenty years later, in 1877, someone first realized that his phonautogramscould alsoplay back recorded music. It was the same year, coincidentally, that Thomas Edison patented the phonograph and thus the age of recorded music began. In 2015, former Amoebite Matthew Messbarger posted an NME “Best of 1990” on my Facebook timeline and I decided to began reviewing the best songs of each year, from 1877 to the present, in random order.
Donovan‘s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” has a descending melody and tells that tale of a meaningful encounter with a stranger — rather like The Small Faces‘ “Green Circles,” released the previous year. Turn up the heavy psych, add a dash of tanpura and lines like “histories of ages past” though, and you have a winning and sufficiently different formula.
My favorite Jimmy Webbcomposition is this song which has the magisterial tone of the best songs by Lee Hazlewood or Scott Walker. For younger readers, ask your grandparents what linemen and telephones were.
7. Jimi Hendrix “All Along The Watchtower”
Bob Dylan‘s constipated-man-shouting-into-a-bucket singing style has always, for me, been an insurmountable stumbling block to enjoying him. Luckily, more musically inclined musicians like The Byrdsor, in this case, Jimi Hendrix, were capable of polishing them into something precious. I especially love the fantasy rock lyrics of this one which are are pure proto-prog pretension and apparently inspired by the Book of Isaiah.
6. Dionne Warwick – “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”
Composed by MissourianBurt Bacharachwith his most celebrated lyricist, Hal Davidfor the musical Promises, Promises, the soundtrack of which I discovered amongst my mom’s records as a kid (although the plot of the musical for me remains a mystery). Whatever the context, the song isBrill Building Pop at itsmost perfect, wonderfully sung by future psychic hotline hostess Dionne Warwick when she was still a paragon of class and fashionability.
5. The Doors – “Hello, I Love You”
Baseless arguments made by humorless haters require that the boors making them conveniently ignore the fact that in 1968 no American band was as handy with the two minute pop ditty as The Doors. “Hello I Love You” dates back to 1965, when they first recorded it as a harmonica-driven garage rocker. In 1968 it was re-recorded as a Seeds-ish, fuzzed out garage rocker. For all the criticism of Morrison’s admirable lyrical ambitions, here was a number one hit written about a very serious subject, being interested in a pretty woman strolling through Venice.
4. Leonard Cohen — “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye”
Leonard Cohen‘s “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” was the B-side to the similarly-wired “Suzanne”and maybe my preference for the former stems mostly from the fact that it’s slightly less overplayed… and over-covered. When it has been covered its been by the likes of Ian McCullochand Michael Monroe — two more points in its favor.
3. Pink Floyd — “Remember a Day”
One of the last instances where The Pink Floyd were able to approach the brilliance they’d known under the guidance of English rock’s greatest genius, Syd Barrett. Tellingly, it wasn’t written by either Roger Watersnor David Gilmour but organist Richard Wright. Also, it was relegated to the B-side of Waters’s enjoyable but frankly inferior “Let There Be More Light.”
2. The Zombies – “Time of the Season”
The Zombies‘ Odessey and Oracleis a brilliant album whose classics like “Brief Candles” and “Beechwood Park” should’ve been massive singles. Instead their label made strange choices for singles with “Friends of Mine” and “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)” which, as with “Time of the Season,”were all flops. “Time of the Season” would become a massive hit when re-released, though, after which The Guess Who recorded their derivative (and best) song, “Undun,” and the psychedelicjazz-rockclassicwould go on to be used to convince consumers to purchase Tampax, Fidelity Investments, Sprite, Nissan Tiidas, and Toyota RAV4s.
1. The Small Faces – “Mad John”
In 1968 The Small Faces released “Lazy Sunday,”“Mad John,” and “The Universal” as singles. “Lazy Sunday” would probably win in a landslide over the other two (does anyone really love “The Universal”?) but “Mad John” gets my vote as the best single of 1968. It’s not an obvious single, taken from from the band’s psychedelic Finnegans Wake-esque quasi-concept album, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake and bookended with Stanley Unwin‘s strange recounting what happened when a large fly brought Happiness Stan to a hermit so that he might learn the cause of the moon’s waning. Whenever I attempt to prepare myself for the possibility of one day becoming homeless it pops into my mind. It was only released as a single in the US, on Halloween.
Other great songs of 1968: Brigitte Bardot et Serge Gainsbourg – “Bonnie And Clyde,” Deep Purple‘s cover of “Hush,”Hugh Masekela‘s “Grazing In The Grass,” Otis Redding‘s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,”Stevie Wonder‘s “For Once in My Life,”Classics IV‘s “Spooky,”Tammy Wynette‘s “Stand By Your Man,”Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride,”The Bee Gees‘ “I Started a Joke,” The Turtles‘“Elenore,”Iron Butterly‘s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” and Tommy Roe‘s “Dizzy.” Let me know what songs would you add to the list.
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