After Greil Marcus shared a collection of songs that for him defined rock n roll in The History of Rock n Roll in Ten Songs, we gave you the chance to make your own lists. Out of all the great entries for our History of Rock n Roll Playlist Contest we received, Greil selected one winner and five runners-up. The winners received some amazing prizes and we are sharing their winning playlists right here on our blog for everybody to enjoy:
Playlist with liner notes from Joshua S.
1. “Drugs,” by Kool Keith.
Keith Thornton sings as Dr. Octagon, Dr. Doom, Black Elvis, and Crazy Lou, but in this song he is all of those people, in fact, he is every artist who’s altered their own senses:
Tie my arm up at night between shows
Takin soda tops off of soda pops
I used to be up all night in the living room
Smoking a lot of weed with the Four Tops….
My little brother said, “Keith, you need to stop!”
This song could be “Tonight’s the Night, Part III”; the first part of Neil Young’s classic began with the tinkling strains of “Heartbreak Hotel,” notes necessary for Young’s retelling of Adam’s expulsion from Eden. Kool Keith tells a similar story, though instead of Bruce Berry, Keith’s got Keith Richards, David Ruffin, Whitney Houston and Ike Turner falling from grace. Kool Keith does drugs with James Brown, Chaka Khan, and Rick James, confessing that “I don’t want anyone to know my name.”
Is it the drugs and music, or is it some kind of shame that makes artists adopt alter-egos, drop their names, become Beatles, Big Star, Wu-Tang, and then shed those names like skin, and become New Order, Fugazi, the Palace Brothers? Would Elvis and Madonna have joined a band if they were born Timothy Presley and Norma Jean Ciccone?
2.“Saddle up the Palomino,” by Neil Young, Tim Drummond, and Bobby Charles.
Bobby Charles’s “See You Later, Alligator,” was covered by Bill Haley and His Comets; his “I Don’t Know Why” hit number #4 in 1961, in a version by Clarence “Frogman” Henry. Bobby Charles appeared in The Last Waltz, singing “I Shall be Released” with Dylan, Richard Manuel, and the rest of that legendary chorus.
“Saddle Up the Palomino” begins with drunk laughter, and ends with disgusting rock sleaze:
I wanna lick the platter
The gravy doesn’t matter
It’s a cold bowl of chili
When love lets you down,
But it’s the neighbor’s wife I’m after.
Not sure what role Bobby Charles had in the song-writing, but “Saddle Up The Palomino” is one of many sequels to “See you later, Alligator,” the others being the Beach Boys’ “I’ll Bet He’s Nice,” Elvis Presley’s “I Was the One,” the Rolling Stones’ “I Got the Blues,” the Tremeloes’ “Here Comes My Baby,” the Beatles’ “No Reply” “Run For Your Life,” “Leave My Kitten Alone,” and the Rock*A*Teens’ “Tuesday’s Just as Bad,” all songs that point back to this moment:
I saw my baby walking
With another man today
Well I saw my baby walking
With another man today
When I asked her what’s the matter
This is what I heard her say…. See you later, alligator….
Unlike the Beatles and Tremeloes, though, Bill Haley and His Comets don’t seem to really care when she says “see ya…” instead they respond in kind with a cruel lack of hesitation. There’s something sociopathic about the way Bill Haley and His Comets perform this song, and that maniac glee inspired “No Reply” and “Run For Your Life.”
Unlike all the other jealous guy songs listed above, in “Saddle Up The Palomino,” Neil Young is not the wronged man, out on the week-end, thinking about what a friend had said, hoping it was a lie. Rather, he is the jerk eying his neighbor’s wife, maybe even riding off in the sunset with her—perhaps that’s what the girl’s laughing about at the start of the song. There are some Neil Young fans who are shocked at the news of his recent break-up with his wife Pegi, but anyone who’s heard “Field of Opportunity” “Farmer John” “Welfare Mothers” or even “Down By The River” know Neil Young is not the type to settle down.
3.“Duke of Earl” by Gene Chandler, Bernice Williams, and Earl Edwards.
Bernice Williams, a Chicago songwriter, also wrote the B-Side to the million selling “Duke of Earl,” a song titled “Kissin’ in the Kitchen.”
Before he started calling himself “The Duke of Earl,” Eugene Dixon changed his name to Gene Chandler, after the actor Jeff Chandler, who played Cochise in Broken Arrow. “Duke of Earl” was the number one song on the charts for three weeks in 1962:
So it’s with a deepening sense of regret
they remember Gene Chandler topping the charts with “Duke of Earl”
and winning their hearts, Mavis and Merle.
From “Soccer Moms” by Paul Muldoon.
“Soccer Moms” is about a song’s power to transport the senses— playlists are nice, but the radio is a time machine that brings us to a place Gene Chandler described as the paradise we will share.
4. “Tuesday’s Just As Bad” by the Rock*A*Teens, June 7, 2014, the Earl, Atlanta, Georgia.
‘Cause my baby just wrote me a letter the Box Tops sang ; the song was the number one hit of 1967 and sold one million records. “Tuesday’s Just As Bad” is also about what baby wrote in a letter, something about Charlie stealing pills from his dad, but the words are stained with tears, the envelope with rain: Stamped November Sixth, it’s all washed out! the Rock*A*Teens sing.
This fearless band from Cabbagetown, Georgia understands that the intensity of adolescence, its overwhelming emotion, is where every rock song originates. When you’re a teen-ager, everything seems to matter all of the time. I’m prayin/You’re mistaken! the Rock*A*Teens sing, hoping for dear life that things are not as they seem, a more desperate version of Neil Young in that burnt-out basement hoping it was a lie.
The Rock*A*Teens’ songs are teen anthems and teen tantrums: “I Could Have Just Died,” “Black Metal Stars” “Don’t Destroy This Night” “All That Deth Jazz”. (“Woo Hoo” belongs in that group too.) Bob Dylan and the Band sing “Forever Young” to mean that youth is a longed-for return; the Rock*A*Teens sing “Across the Piedmont” as if youth is the scariest place to be: It’s so hot can’t even sleep!/Pull off those sheets you gave to me/That summer when I turned twenty-three/ Oh Lord how can it be?!?.
5. “Mr. Moonlight,” by Roy Lee Johnson.
Roy Lee Johnson was born in Centralhatchee, Georgia, a town of about 400 people, on the last day of 1938. He wrote “Mister Moonlight” in high school, releasing the song on Okeh records under the name “Dr. Feelgood and the Interns.” Okeh made race records by Lucille Bogan, Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Later, into the sixties, Okeh put out records from Johnnie Ray and Little Richard. Curtis Mayfield, another Georgia native, got his start writing songs for the Okeh label.
The most famous version of “Mr. Moonlight” is from the groundbreaking album Beatles for Sale. It will take years for people to fully appreciate the Beatles. In the 80’s some critics insisted that rock music begins with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the ‘90s others insisted that Revolver had supplanted Sgt. Pepper’s as the pinnacle expression from John Paul George and Ringo. I think people deride Beatles For Sale because of its inclusion of so many early rock ‘n’ roll hits, like “Kansas City” and “Rock And Roll Music,” but in many ways those songs were just as revolutionary as “Tomorrow Never Knows” or “Helter Skelter”.
I always felt the Beatles’ most important contribution to popular music was the energy and intensity of “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” As songwriters, the turning point for Lennon and McCartney was A Hard Day’s Night. And if one wants to find when the Beatles began exploring more adult themes, it seems “No Reply” and “Baby’s in Black” is the starting point, both songs from Beatles for Sale. Another from that album, “Mr. Moonlight,” is the Beatles’ strangest performance. The song sounds so crazy, John’s voice is pushed far beyond normal, and George beats an African drum as game show organ wraps the song in deranged schmaltz. For an act at the pinnacle of success to risk such dissonance shows the musical courage of the Beatles. “Mr. Moonlight” is the precedent for every oddball move the Beatles made, from backwards guitar to Brian Jones’ final saxophone solo.
Note: the sociopathic “Leave My Kitten Alone,” a cover of a Little Willie John song, was recorded for but left off of Beatles For Sale. “Leave My Kitten Alone” belongs in the jealous guy group of songs I discussed above.
6. “Remember Me,” by British Sea Power, as performed on “Later with Jools Holland.”
This 2003 performance occurred moments after a listless performance by R.E.M. British Sea Power’s Yan Wilkinson, evoking Ian Curtis, recites words for a rock ‘n’ roll hospice:
Do you worry about your health
Do you watch it slowly change
Do you listen to yourself
Does it feel like somebody else
Did you notice when you began to disappear?
Ah slowly at first
Until there’s nobody really there
To drive these points to their intended audience (victims), Phil Sumner, playing a slung drum, marches past a giggling Michael Stipe while soaring guitar puts on display the fact of our temporary existence. What a tribute and requiem for the one-time kings of Athens, Ga!
7. “Mess Around,” by Ahmet Ertegun.
An alternative history of rock ‘n’ roll begins in 1953 with Ray Charles’ recording of “Mess Around.” In this alternative history, George Clooney wins the Oscar for his starring role in Ahmet, the biopic about rock’s greatest hero, the only record producer to win the Nobel Prize in both Physics and Chemistry. He may have been a suit, but he was a beautiful suit.
8. “Like a Rolling Stone,” by Bob Dylan, as performed on MTV Unplugged, 1994.
This is the greatest performance of his greatest song, as the singer trades the accusatory tone of the original for searching empathy. Dylan draws out the essential word “feel” in the third chorus until we can’t help but feel too. This performance opened a floodgate of masterpiece songs: “Standing in the Doorway,” “Mississippi,” “Po’ Boy,” “Spirit On the Water,” all sung with unmatched wisdom, humor, and feeling. I wonder if other Dylan fans who grew up in the eighties and nineties prefer Love and Theft and World Gone Wrong over Blonde on Blonde, or does every Dylan fan stand alone? Am I the only one who thinks Built to Spill’s cover of “Jokerman” is better than Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower”?
9. The Howard Stern Show, 9-22-14, “Remembering Eric the Actor,” Sirius Satellite Radio.
Howard Stern’s greatest impression is that of the mediocre morning man, presiding over a small market “zoo crew” and announcing records with insane cheerfulness, mocking the strained normality of suburban America. The Howard Stern Show is not the first great work of literature to embrace marginal figures like Tan Mom, Eric the Midget, Jeff the Drunk, and Wendy the Retard—one need only look at “The Miller’s Tale” by Geoffrey Chaucer, The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, or Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Russian Critic Mikhail Bakhtin, in Rabelais and His World, explains how Howard Stern’s show joins a tradition of laughter that began with the medieval carnival: A boundless world of humorous forms and manifestations opposed the official and serious tone of medieval ecclesiastical and feudal culture…. clowns and fools, giants, dwarfs, and jugglers, the vast and manifold literature of parody… the scope and the importance of this culture were immense in the Renaissance and the Middle Ages.
Even Howard Stern’s self-appellation, “The King of All Media,” comports with this carnival tradition: during certain medieval festivals, Minor occasions were marked by comic protocol, as for instance the election of a king and queen to preside at a banquet “for laughter’s sake” (roi pour rire). Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World. Howard Stern sees the humor in someone as ordinary as he wearing a crown. In every respect he is the reverse image of the mean-spirited host of Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio: unlike Barry Champlain, Howard Stern allows himself to be loved by the strangers that call into his show.
If Andy Warhol had survived being shot by Valerie Solanis, I think he would have been fascinated with Howard Stern’s cast of characters, Sal the Stockbroker, Fred the Elephant Boy, Bigfoot, Ham-hands Bill, Debbie the Pet Lady. A lot of Stern’s fans worry that he will retire at the end of his current contract, but Lou Reed and John Cale knew how hard it is for kings like Howard and Andy to give up the carnival: If I close the Factory door, and don’t see those people anymore, If I give in to infamy…I’ll slowly slip away….” –“Slip Away (A Warning)” by Lou Reed and John Cale.
10. “I Got The Blues,” by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, performed at the Marquee Club, 1971.
Another jealous guy song, but if I could choose only one Rolling Stones song, this would be the one. Long live the Rolling Stones. Long live rock ‘n’ roll music.
Playlist from Cooper D.
- This Train by Sister Rosetta Tharpe
- Patriot Game by Liam Clancy
- Making Time by The Creation
- Indian Sunset by Elton John
- Don’t Worry, If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go by Curtis Mayfield
- Montana by Frank Zappa
- From Her to Eternity by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
- Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden
- Tighten Up by Archie Bell and the Drells
- The Sound(s) of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel
Playlist from David K.
- Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones, Devo
- King Harvest (Has Surely Come) by The Band
- Why Do Fools Fall in Love by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers
- Hip Shake by The Rolling Stones,Slim Harpo
- Be My Baby by The Ronettes
- Our Day Will Come by Ruby and the Romantics and Amy Winehouse
- All Along the Watchtower by Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix
- Beyond the Sea by Bobby Darin
- She Loves You”” by The Beatles
- Do Wah Diddy Diddy by Manfred Mann
Playlist from Charles L.
- Don’t start me to talkin’ by Sonny Boy Williamson
- Rock Therapy by Johnny Burnette Trio
- 96 Tears by ? and the Mysterians
- Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again by Bob Dylan
- People Get Ready by The Impressions
- Boogaloo Down Broadway by The Fantastic Johnny C
- Born Under A Bad Sign by Cream
- Help Me Shake It by Graham Parker and The Rumour
- Cities by Talking Heads
- Reminiscing by The Flamin’ Groovies!
Playlist from Douglas S.
- God Save the Queen by Sex Pisotls
- Pissing in a River by Patti Smith
- The Wind Cries Mary by Jimi Hendrix Experience
- My Generation by The Who
- In My Eyes by Minor Threat
- I’m So Bored With the USA
- Communication Breakdown by Led Zeppelin
- Jump Boys by The Undertones
- Orgasm Addict by Buzzcocks
- The Modern World by The Jam
Playlist from Jerimie R.
- Move It On Over by Hank Williams
- Something Else by Eddie Cochrane
- Louie, Louie by The Kingsmen
- You’re Gonna Miss Me by 13th Floor Elevators
- Ramble Tamble by CCR
- Keep Yourself Alive by Queen
- Don’t Ya Want Me by Human League
- Public Enemy #1 by Public Enemy
- Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses
- Where Did You Sleep Last Night