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Ah, The Band (from me? :-). They had quite a few I could name, number one being "The Weight". Timeless elegance, the songs lyrics passed between The Band’s three lead singers. I defy anyone to name another band of which that can be said!
I began listening to and buying music before our current "Rock" music was the dominant music of the day---"Pop" music. This era really kicked into high gear with the appearance, out of nowhere, of The Beatles. Yes, there were Rock Bands before they arrived in the U.S. (I actually consider them a Pop Group not a Rock Band, but that’s a separate discussion). Paul Revere & The Raiders, etc. But Rock music didn’t dominate the airwaves and charts before The Beatles.
What made The Beatles so revolutionary was that they didn’t just perform their music, they wrote it as well. Actually, they came to that late; their debut album contains only about half self-written songs, the others being Rock ’n’ Roll and Pop songs that had been hits for earlier artists. And those songs were usually not written by their performer. Pre-Beatles, there were songwriters, there were singers, there were recording musicians, there were arrangers, there were orchestrators, and there were producers. Extremely rarely did any two of those intersect in one person. THAT is the era of the great Pop standard songwriters. You know the names, the songs recorded over and over again. The reason for that is that, being "only" a songwriter, one had to be a REALLY good one to make a living at it. The writers in the Brill Building in NYC sat in little cubicles, trying to come up with the next hit for The Drifters or Neil Sedaka, competing with the other Brill Building songwriters.
In the Rock era, the song itself is often not the most important ingredient. It may be the singers voice or the guitarist playing that listeners are focused on. A Rock band can be a really good one (as musicians and/or singers), sell lots of records, and draw large audiences, without necessarily having "good" songs. From our current era (the "Rock" one, from the early 60’s onward), there actually were some songs written the equal of the pre-Rock era songs. I nominate the following two, my favorite songs of all time:
---"What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted". An achingly beautiful song written by Motown’s William Weatherspoon, Paul Riser, and James Dean, and sung by Jimmy Ruffin. Motown’s legendary bassist James Jamerson plays a fantastic part, using inversion (playing not the root note of the chord) to great effect (James is Paul McCartney’s bass model). The great Joan Osborne performs a fantastic version of the song in the Motown documentary.
---"God Only Knows": I can not hear this song without crying. Written, orchestrated, and produced by one of the only two geniuses Rock ’n’ Roll has produced, Brian Wilson. If there has ever been a better song written, I haven’t heard it. The chords, their voicings, the movement of the bass through those chords, the melody, the harmonies, the counterpoint---all miles beyond what anyone else in "Rock" has ever done. Pure brilliance found on the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album.
Excellent songs: What Becomes... & God Only Knows
I've wondered why no country artist that I know of ever covered Don't Worry Baby. Its an early BB song but an indicator of greatness.
Maybe its the currency of Glen Campbell but I've recently come to think of "Galveston" as a great song that evokes a place and period. Probably considered sappy or too pop for most. Jimmy Webb could write a song.
I rarely remember "Don't Worry Baby" Tom, and I can't figure out why. It was definitely the high point of their set when I saw The Beach Boys at The San Jose Civic in the Summer of '64, my first live concert. When Brian got to and sang the line "and she makes love to me" the girls in the audience went INSANE. The following summer I saw The Beatles at The Cow Palace, and the screaming was throughout the entire performance. The year after that everyone was sitting on the floor smoking jazz cigarettes. Things had changed that rapidly.
And The Beach Boys had been completely written off. That is, until "Good Vibrations" came on the radio. But "Don't Worry Baby"---real good song. I'm gonna listen to it right now!
Hava Nagila of course. (We are, after all, talking about songs that have stood the test of time.) I have no idea what that song is about but I have danced to it many, many times. It's a mitzvah!?!
Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" is a great song and covered by many. But his "All Along The Watchtower"is more personal and subversive. Hendrix covered it best but there are many others....
Found that song All Along The Watchtower on Tidal on the Nod To Bob compilation.
Another great version. Thinking it could've been on the The Departed soundtrack or inspired a Mumford & Sons version. Thanks for pointing me in yet another direction!
And, of course, Hallelujah. Why didn't I think of that? Great song no matter who covers it.
Gimme Some Lovin' - Spencer Davis Group. It's been covered at least 65 times; but nothing comes close to the original. THE definitive rock song!
Hallelujah has got to get a mention, I agree. Jeff Buckley's version on SACD gives me chills.
I didn't see any votes for Hey Joe. I have 13 versions of that, Black Cat Bone being my Fav, but Hendrix' is the classic.
I also have 15 versions of Morning Dew; but that's just me.
I'd also have to say that Janis Joplin singing Piece of My Heart never gets old; but probably the number one long lived hit is Mack The Knife by Bobby Darin.
The best cover of "All Along The Watchtower" is Dave Mason's. What voice!
"Imagine", by John Lennon. Classic and profound.
"Lives In The Balance", Jackson Browne's best and just as relevant today.
"And It Stoned Me" by Van Morrison
"Have A Little Faith in Me" by John Hiatt, America's best songwriter.
Of course, this is all a matter of opinion. A great son is one that reaches a listener and moves them on some level. The classic ones do that forever.
wolfie, Your post reminded me of Dave Mason. What a great talent! Often underrated IMO because he was in other bands that had the press writing about those other band members more than he. I was recently gifted around 200 lps. Among those was "Certified Live". This is a great lp and great sounding live lp.
I'll nominate "Sad and Deep As You" to this lit.