The Greatest Songs Part 2
#7 “Be My Baby“, the Ronettes with lead vocals by Ronnie Spector (Veronica Bennett) released in August of 1963. Written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector who also produced the song with an early demonstration of his “wall of sound” formula. There is quite a bit to say about this song that hit #1 only on Cash Box, while it reached #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and #4 on the R&B and UK charts. Backing vocalists included the other two Ronettes, Ronnie’s older sister Estelle Bennett, and their cousin Nedra Talley, Sonny and Cher, Darlene Love (with The Blossoms) and one of the song writers Ellie Greenwich. The legendary drummer Hal Blaine’s (who just passed away March 11) opening has been used in dozens of songs such as “Rag Doll” by the Four Seasons. Brian Wilson was quite obsessed with the song and has stated it had a profound effect on his writing and production style. The song has been estimated to have been played 3.9 million times since 1963 or 17 years back to back.
At #8 is Marvin Gaye’s rendition of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. First recorded by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (Aug. 16, 1966 but not released until Aug. 26, 1968). First release was by Gladys Knight & The Pips in Sept. 1967. Originally just another cut on the album ‘In the Groove’ it was not released as a single (because Berry Gordy didn’t want it to compete with the Gladys Knight or The Miracles versions) until October of 1968 after D.J.’s started playing it off the album instead of the other two, eventually landing it at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, R&B, Cash Box and UK Singles charts. Backed by ‘The Funk Brothers‘ Gaye’s version had that extra touch of soul that has made this one of the most treasured tracks to come out of Motown and seemingly all of pop music period. Other notable covers by C.C.R. (1970), the track on the album Cosmos Factory was 11 minutes long, the single a more palatable – under 4 minutes and Amy Winehouse & Paul Weller feat. Jools Holland (2006).
The #9 song also by Marvin Gaye is “What’s Going On” (1971) written by Al Cleveland, Renaldo Benson and Marvin Gaye. Inspired by an incidence of police brutality witnessed by Benson who was a member of the ‘Four Tops‘ while in Berkeley California May 15, 1969. Gaye produced the song himself and included vocals from songwriter Elgie Stover, Detroit Lions players Lem Barney and Mel Farr as well as The Funk Brothers. Berry Gordy apparently hated the song and turned it down. One would think based on the success of ‘Grapevine’ he’d have more faith. This is a stirring and powerful song. Gaye refused to record another song until it was released so via Motown A&R man Harry Balk they got VP of Sales, Barney Ales to release it without Gordy’s knowledge. This song hit #1 on Billboard R&B and Cash Box, #2 on the Hot 100. Since covered over 180 times, Richie Havens (1973), Cyndi Lauper (1986).
|The Who with their ‘happy’ look 😉|
The #10 song is from the Who “My Generation” (1965) written by Pete Townshend. Like with many of the British bands of that era the song has inspirations from American music. Townsend credits Mose Allison “Young Man Blues” (1957) with the spark to write the song and Roger Daltrey used John Lee Hooker’s somewhat ‘stuttering style’ for the vocal inspiration. This song hit #2 in the UK, #3 in Canada but only #74 in the US. It also includes a bass guitar solo which was quite unusual for the time, played of course by John Entwistle. Credit also goes to the songs producer Shel Talmy, an American who previously did the Kinks song “You Really Got Me” and if you listen there’s a similarity between the tracks.
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