Tag Archives: Rolling Stone

Song: “God Only Knows”


When released as a single, "God Only Knows" was on the flip side of "Wouldn't It Be Nice," which initially got more attention. Still, Mojo magazine named it the 13th best song of all time, and Rolling Stone had it as number 25. Uploaded by 24ur.com.

The Beach Boys (Great American Things, May 16, 2009) changed with the times during the sixties — or maybe, they made the times change. Known originally for surfing and car songs (“Surfer Girl” and “Little Deuce Coupe,” e.g.), the Boys – and particularly Brian Wilson — wanted to make songs with more complex structures, more unusual harmonies, different instruments. The song that led the way in this direction was “God Only Knows.”

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Brian Wilson wrote the melody and Tony Asher composed the lyrics. And they knew instantly that they had a hit on their hands. Asher bucked conventional wisdom by starting a love song with a negative: “I may not always love you.” Most producers would have insisted on a change, but Wilson embraced the innovative approach. This was also the first pop song to have “God” in the title, and this would bother me personally…except that it seems clear that this wasn’t using God’s name in vain. The singer doesn’t know what he’d do without his love, and seems to appeal to God for solace.

When released, it was on the flip side of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” another great song.Back in 1990, Paul McCartney said about “God Only Knows”: “It’s a really, really great song — it’s a big favorite of mine. I was asked recently to give my top 10 favorite songs for a Japanese radio station … I didn’t think long and hard on it but I popped that on the top of my list.” And Bono said, “The string arrangement on ‘God Only Knows’ is fact and proof of angels.” The song was named the best song of the 1960s by Pitchfork Media, the 13th best song of all time by Mojo magazine, and made number 25 on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest songs of all time.

Song: “Piano Man”

Ask anyone to name the first Billy Joel song that comes to mind, and chances are they'll say Piano Man. Yet it only reached number 25 on the top 100 chart. Uploaded by livemusiciancentral.com.

Despite Billy Joel’s long and successful career, his numerous top ten hits and best-selling albums, if you’re asked to think of one of his songs the first that usually comes to mind is “Piano Man.” It peaked at number 25 on the Billboard Top 100.

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But it really is a great song. Joel had recorded an album that tanked, and was trying to get out of his contract to sign with Columbia Records. In the meantime, he took a job as a bar singer, and “Piano Man” came from that experience. Joel says all the characters in the song (John the bartender, Paul the real estate novelist, Davy in the Navy, and the waitress practicing politics) are all based either on bar patrons or on people he knew.

The song was featured on Joel’s first album for Columbia, appropriately titled Piano Man. It made the list of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time… at number 421. Man, what are you doing here?

Song: “A Change Is Gonna Come”

Though the song never cracked the Billboard Top 25, it was named by Rolling Stone as the 12th greatest song of all time. Uploaded by cache.boston.com.

Question: How many American Idol contestants does it take to completely ruin a song? Answer: If it’s truly a classic, like “A Change Is Gonna Come,” even Adam Lambert can’t ruin it.

Lots of people have recorded this song, and some have done a very creditable job with it. But no one has ever – or will ever, I’m sure – bring the depth of feeling to it as Sam Cooke did in the original recording in 1963.

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Cooke went to talk to some sit-in demonstrators in Durham, North Carolina following a concert there. Known for light songs such as “You Send Me” and “Twisting the Night Away,” he wanted to make a statement about the changes taking place in society. He was also dealing with the death of his 18-month-old son in an accidental drowning that same year. He went back to the tour bus and wrote the first draft of “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

The song has gained in both popularity and influence in the decades since its release. It peaked at number 9 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart, and number 31 on the Billboard Hot 100. But the song became an anthem for the civil rights movement, and it’s now recognized as one of the greatest songs in pop music history. This song, which never reached the top 25 in its initial release, was voted the number 12 song in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time…

Song: “Born to Run”

Baby this town rips the bones from your back, it's a death trap, it's a suicide rap, we've got to get out while we're young. Uploaded by columbia.co.uk.

In the liner notes to his Greatest Hits album, Bruce Springsteen (Great American Things, April 22, 2009) wrote this about “Born to Run”: “My shot at the title. A 24 yr. old kid aimin’ at ‘The greatest rock ‘n roll record ever.'” If he didn’t succeed, he came amazingly close.

This song, and the album of the same name, were evidence of Springsteen’s perfectionism at work. He recorded it over a period of months in 1974, experimented with several different arrangements, and laid down eleven guitar tracks. It’s indisputably a BIG song – loud, layered, important, and epic.

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And it came at the right time for Springsteen’s career. His first two albums (Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ and The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle) were well received, but not commercially successful. He knew that the next album had to make an impact, and this anthem delivered in a big way.

Rolling Stone named it the number 21 song on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. And the Recording Industry Association of America placed “Born to Run” as number 135 in its Songs of the Century. Ironically, the New Jersey legislature chose it as New Jersey’s “Unofficial Youth Anthem” – which tickled Springsteen because he said, “It’s about leaving New Jersey.”

Song: “Tangled Up in Blue”

He can't sing all that well, but somehow it's okay when he's doing his own material. Uploaded by indiehipster.com.

When we look back on a relationship, we don’t remember it in a linear, chronological manner. Our minds flash forward and back, calling up the joys and heartaches. That’s the breakthrough this Bob Dylan song achieved – it breaks the conventions of storytelling through what we’d now call “real-time” experience.

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There are lots of unusual things about this song, part of Dylan’s album “Blood on the Tracks,” released in 1975. For one thing, it has seven verses, and no chorus. And Dylan recorded several versions of the song, changing the lyrics each time and often changing the point of view from first to third person. (Psst, Bob: It’s ten times better and more immediate in the first person. Leave…it…alone.)

Dylan described the song’s narrative form this way: “What’s different about it is that there’s a code in the lyrics, and there’s also no sense of time. There’s no respect for it. You’ve got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room, and there’s very little you can’t imagine not happening.” And he said, “It took ten years to live, and two years to write.”

Rolling Stone named “Tangled Up in Blue” number 68 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. (For Rolling Stone, “all time” means the rock and roll era.) In any case, that’s way too low for this great song. One particularly special cover is by the Scottish singer KT Tunstall:

Song: “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

Remember when that mustache was cool? And that hair? Uploaded by pladevenderne.dk.

Paul Simon wrote it. Art Garfunkel sang it. And America loved it. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” won the Grammy Awards for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year in 1971. And Rolling Stone named it number 47 in its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

But, coming as it did near the end of Simon and Garfunkel’s partnership, it didn’t come into being without some travail. Although Simon wrote it for Garfunkel’s voice, he has stated that he wishes he’d sung it himself. “He felt I should have done it,” Simon told Rolling Stone in 1972. “And many times I’m sorry I didn’t do it.”

It was their last album together. Uploaded by images.amazon.com.

Since the recording industry organization BMI named it the 19th-most-performed song of the twentieth century, it should come as no surprise that several excellent covers have been recorded. Aretha Franklin won a Grammy for Best Female R&B Performance for her 1972 version. Johnny Cash (Great American Thing No. 59) and The Jackson 5 recorded it.

And perhaps those who know that Elvis (Great American Thing No. 121) sang a lot of gospel music might have expected his outstanding version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” He recorded it in 1970 and performed it in two documentaries: Elvis – That’s the Way It Is and Elvis on Tour.

By the way, when Simon and Garfunkel sing the song now during their regular reunion concerts, they alternate singing the verses. “Your time has come to shine…”