My blogging friend Mike at Ticket 2 Ride recently listed what he considered the ten best British rock bands. For me, lists are like catnip to a feline. I’m an inveterate critic and love them. “Best of” lists are great to create, and stimulate debate (rhyme intentional).
Taking Mike’s cue, I decided to formulate my own list, but instead advertise the ten songs I’d want if I become stranded on a desert isle—assuming my isle has electricity.
If stranded, I’d want lots of melody accompanying my surf and sun, and all of these songs are very melodic. All except one were recorded in the 1960s. Yes, I’m a product of my time!
So here goes…the soundtrack of my head and heart, listed in order of preference:
- “Light My Fire” by the Doors. The lyrics are juvenile (“wallow in the mire,” “love become a funeral pyre”). But Ray Manzarek’s gothic organ, Robbie Krieger’s acid-dripped flamenco guitar, John Densmore’s jazzy snare, and Jim Morrison’s other-worldly vocals still give me chills since hearing this song on AM radio in 1967. A bossa nova version by Jose Feliciano also was popular, and I can actually play that one on acoustic guitar, minus the solo…and acid.
- “’Til I Die” by the Beach Boys. Written by Brian Wilson (of course). Even Beach Boys fans rarely mention this obscure jewel, featured on the Surf’s Up album released not long after Wilson’s masterpiece Pet Sounds. Classic layered group vocals, an unusual calliope organ, simple but penetrating words, sad and haunting melody, and beautiful fadeout coda. It’s a heart-piercing song.
- “Yes it Is” by the Beatles. A John Lennon composition, the B-side to the “Ticket to Ride” single, with perhaps my all-time favorite vocal harmonizing. It’s one of only three studio songs by the group where John, Paul, and George sang live three-part harmony (the other two being “This Boy” and “Because”). Lennon dismissed it as a failed attempt to redo “This Boy,” but I think it’s a better song, colored by George’s volume pedal guitar.
- “A House is Not a Home” by Burt Bacharach-Hal David, sung by Brook Benton. Okay, I’m a romantic, a softy, and this oft-covered Bacharach-David classic always chokes me up. A Dionne Warwick version was released the same time, and both are good, with a very tricky bridge vocal, but I prefer Benton’s deep, aching rendition (and being male, the lyric hits me so much harder). Luther Vandross did yet another, more exaggerated R&B version in 1981, and it became a big hit, but Benton’s interpretation has much more integrity.
- “Wichita Lineman” by Jimmy Webb, sung by Glen Campbell. Webb was a master of melody. He also wrote “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” for Campbell, as well as “Up, Up, and Away” for the 5th Dimension. In addition to the melancholy arrangement and velvety strings, I love Campbell’s twangy guitar break.
- “Itchycoo Park” by the Small Faces. The British mod group’s only hit in America, reaching #16 in early 1968. A lovely song for summer and a perfect example of “flower psychedelia.” Ronnie Lane wrote most of it, but singer Steve Marriott contributed the memorable “It’s all too beautiful” section. One of rock’s greatest bands, compatriots of the Who, but unfairly overlooked in the states.
- “Orange Skies” by Love. Another luscious summer song by the first integrated rock band (along with Butterfield Blues Band). Like Small Faces, a seriously overlooked group, from L.A., who directly inspired the Doors. Singer Arthur Lee was the leader, but guitarist Bryan MacLean, a former roadie for the Byrds, wrote several memorable songs, including this ingenuous beauty about “orange skies, carnivals, and cotton candy.”
- “Penny Lane” by the Beatles. I prefer mid-period Beatles (A Hard Day’s Night through Rubber Soul era), but a late-period Lennon-McCartney song is imperative, and this is my favorite, half of a double-A-side single and one of the two greatest singles ever released (the other being “Paperback Writer”/“Rain”). Many people prefer the flip side, John’s “Strawberry Fields Forever,” but I like this Paul song for its buoyant melody and George Martin’s elegant orchestration. (BTW, I rode a bus through the real Penny Lane a few years ago…on my way to Strawberry Fields.)
- “My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder. Do you have a song where you remember the exact place and time you first heard it? I heard this in the waiting room of the allergist’s office on Woodward Avenue in Detroit in early 1969. (I told my friends about it later that day, but they didn’t appreciate my enthusiasm.) It was the first 45 rpm single I ever bought, and I still have it stashed somewhere. I think everyone loves Stevie Wonder.
- “Anyway,” music by Maggie and Suzzy Roche. I discovered this minor miracle of a song by two of the three singing Roche sisters about 10 years ago. I upload it to Facebook every Christmas. The lyrics (author unknown) are a sort of non-denominational “prayer” about being honest, hardworking, forgiving, and maintaining faith. The music consists of about seven or eight small, dissimilar arrangements that build in intensity, and end in a warm wash of mellotron. Took me a couple listens, but now I’m hooked for life.
Like most lists, mine has many honorable mentions (in case a large wave pounds my Top 10 into the sand). Here are a few: “Don’t Go Away” by the Zombies; “You Baby” by the Turtles; “I Saw Her Again” by the Mamas and Papas; “Urge for Going” by Joni Mitchell (the Tom Rush version); “Northern Sky” by Nick Drake; “Running from Home” by Bert Jansch; “Blues Run the Game” by Jackson C. Frank (the Jansch version); and easily a half-dozen more Beatles and Bacharach songs.
Hopefully some of these songs will strike a “chord,” or perhaps lead you to investigation. Now, it’s your turn. Click on “Comments” and send me your own desert isle list.