10I Heard It Through The Grapevine
Smokey Robinson did it first. Gladys Knight followed him up, while Creedence Clearwater Revival turned it into a brilliant folk rock freakout. The Slits, meanwhile, post-punked the shit out of it. Marvin’s is The One, though. Released initially against the wishes of Motown man Berry Gordy, its lyrics are an embittered document of an infidelity, but its vocals are pure honeyed, Marvin sweetness. Misery never sounded so good.
9Like A Rolling Stone
In 1965, Bob Dylan was about to pack it in. Having finished an exhaustive tour of England he’d lost interest in the music game, but the creation of this track - one of his finest moments made even better with Al Kooper’s signature organ line – reinvigorated his love for music. Of course the six minute monster went on to become a worldwide hit and one of the most influential pieces of music of all time.
Yet another sterling pop track based on a dysfunctional relationship, Elvis’ final Number One was initially a flop for another songwriter, Mark James. It took a 4am – 7am session at Tennessee’s American Sound Studio with Chip Morman to birth The King’s final calling card. This sped up live version is one of the all-time great performances.
7Sympathy For The Devil
‘Beggars Banquet’’s opener was Jagger and Richards at their finest; the former swiping bits of Baudelaire for a dance with the devil and the latter suggesting it be set to a samba rhythm. “Please allow me to introduce myself / I’m a man of wealth and taste”. As invitations to the dancefloor go, they don’t come more compelling.
6I'm Waiting For The Man
Mid-1967, as the Summer Of Love approached, and The Small Faces’ got ready to meet their Nice, over the pond the Velvets were tripping up to Harlem to score $26 worth of smack. A prosaic and somewhat depressing trip turns irrepressibly chic in their hands, however, and this standout from their eponymous debut would eventually become a signature song.
5Leader Of The Pack
The Shangri-Las were a cut above most early ‘60s girl groups, a bit more aloof, a bit cooler, a shade more chic, and it was hard for teenage boys to hear this tale of a cool, renegade motorbike gang member who gets Betty against her parents’ wishes without wanting to be him. Until he died in massive accident, that is. Tragic storytelling at its succinct best.
4All Along The Watchtower
Such a great cover of the Dylan classic that Bob himself tweaked his own version upon hearing it, Jimi’s guitar epic had a slow and painful gestation period. Bassist Noel Redding got fed up during the sessions and walked out, and Hendrix redid his guitar parts umpteen times, moving from four track to eight track to 16 track as he went. His pain, our gain.
While the charms of this track are obvious upon exposure, its studio legacy is just as important. Thanks to Brian Wilson’s fervent experimentation, endless takes and overdubs, a pretty hefty cash injection from Capitol, and of course that electro-theremin, ‘Good Vibrations’ really showed producers in 1966 – and in every year since – what could be achieved within those soundproofed walls.
2Be My Baby
Brian Wilson probably won’t mind sitting pretty one stop below this track – he thinks it’s the finest pop song ever written. The greatest exponent of producer Phil Spector's Wall of Sound technique, this sugar-sweet, heart-busting hit by The Ronettes was a true collaboration between producer and muse (singer Ronnie Bennett and Spector would later marry). Wilson reportedly listened to this track 100 times a day, and thanks to its irresistible charm and deceptive simplicity, it wouldn’t be much of a hardship.
1A Day In The Life
If there’s one year that sums up the sixties the best, it’s 1967. And if there’s one, prolonged moment that epitomises the spirit and feeling of the decade, it’s the summer of ’67. And if you had to distill the entire ten years’ worth of musical endeavour into one album, it would be The Beatles’ ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. And were you forced at gunpoint to choose one track alone, that track would undoubtedly be its epic, twisted, surreal and yet familiar closer ‘A Day In The Life’. Balancing everything we’d expect from the Beatles on its head – their collaborative songwriting genius, their fearless experimentation, their seamless assimilation of everything they’d encountered thus far in their conscious and subconscious minds, their knack for making the prosaic (“Woke up, fell out of bed”) fantastical – it perhaps defines them like no other. By the time those ten hands belonging to Lennon, McCartney, Starr, roadie Mal Evans and George Martin struck three pianos and a harmonium for the 40 second E-major chord, the Beatles of ‘Help’ and ‘Rubber Soul’ old were no more. ‘The White Album’ and ‘Abbey Road’ were on their way and yet again music would never be the same.