ONE HUNDRED GREATEST SONGS TO SINK INTO

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Most of these songs are popular; ideally, they would be obscure and new to you, but you probably know most of them; but here they are, a type of song, defined by…”sink into.”  The criterion is somewhat unique: the songs are too good to be “background music,” and yet, because the songs have a certain nonchalance, a certain laziness—which can be a virtue in music—they will drift and wash over you, and not demand too much of you; and yet, because these songs are so wonderful, you should find yourself wishing the rest of the world would be quiet so you can listen to them.  Maybe you would like to fall asleep to them at night—and if you do fall asleep before the song is ended, is it still then not a good song? Where has a song gone when it still plays, and you are sleeping?  Many of these songs seem like they were written for that purpose—for the sleeping, not the waking, brain or ear.  The excitement here may be that so many genres are represented—why shouldn’t one be a fan of many different types of music?  Music would want it so. Looking at the list after picking these songs, we noticed that very few of them (“How Fortunate The Man With None” the notable exception) pontificate—and this makes them so much more interesting, various and powerful. There really is nothing to say. Music knows this. Science knows this. Math knows this. Humor knows this. Love knows this. What you actually say, is not that important in these areas. The way you don’t say it, though, is extremely important. You just need to look and hear. Genius looks and hears.  Meanwhile, the rest of us fret or talk. The songs are in no particular order. They are all good. If you do see a song you don’t know, go on you tube and listen to it immediately, because we guarantee all 100 of these songs are the greatest of their kind.  —the Scarriet editors

Fade Into You —Mazzy Star (deliciously insouciant)

Year Of The Cat —Al Stewart (almost like a movie)

A Whiter Shade Of PaleProcol Harum (Rock and Bach)

Horse With No Name —America (just a couple of flattened sevenths)

America —Simon & Garfunkle (life flowing into melody)

A Day In The Life —The Beatles (the first really transcendent rock song)

Tomorrow Never Knows —The Beatles (one chord will do)

Venus In Furs —Velvet Underground (fashionable amateurism)

Video Games —Lana Del Ray (best pop song of the 21st century)

Cosmic Dancer —T. Rex (glam sweetness)

Nights In White Satin —Moody Blues (most popular song of its type, perhaps)

The Rain Song —Led Zeppelin (this band did not just rock)

Two Thousand Light Years From Home —Rolling Stones (Ruby Tuesday & Lady Jane lost in space)

Alone Again Or —Love (strangely haunting 60s California band)

Riders On The Storm —The Doors (only the Doors)

Claire de Lune —Debussy (needs no comment)

Prelude To The Afternoon of A Faun —Debussy (and modern music begins)

Piano Concero No. 17 (slow movement) —Mozart (Mozart was maybe better slow than fast)

Moonlight Sonata (first movement) —Beethoven (the template of ‘sink into’)

Piano Concerto No. 4 (movements 1 & 2) —Beethoven (maybe his greatest pure orchestral work)

Symphony No. 3 (3rd movement) —Brahms (the majestic, autumnal Brahms!)

Mazurka A minor —Chopin (such a darling sweet piece; Horowitz is on you tube)

Gymnopédies No. 1 —Satie (I could listen to this forever)

Nocturne No. 1 —Chopin (maybe the greatest pure composer of the kind of music on this list)

I Want You (She’s So Heavy) —The Beatles (the lads get heavy and roll)

Daphnis et Chloé, Suite no. 2 —Ravel (classical swoon)

Radar Love —Golden Earring (riding is sinking)

In A Gadda Da Vida —Iron Butterfly (1968. Doors influenced)

When The Music’s Over —The Doors (Persian nights, babe)

The End —The Doors (crawling along)

Season of The Witch —Donovan (must be the season of the hurdy gurdy too)

How Fortunate the Man With None –Dead Can Dance (a meditative masterpiece)

He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot —Grandaddy (this song is like flying)

Autobahn —Kraftwerk (doesn’t try to be menacing, heavy, or cool. A pleasant ride)

I Fall In Love Too Easily —Chet Baker (we all do, don’t we?)

Midnight At the Oasis —Maria Muldaur (the 70s schmaltz industry)

Blue in Green —Miles Davis (a trumpet singing from the mist)

Love To Love You Baby —Donna Summer (Song as sex. In poor taste, unless done right.)

Light My Fire —The Doors (when FM radio was supreme)

Your Woman —White Town (the trumpet sample of this 90s tune knocks me out)

Sunshine Superman —Donovan (intricate groove)

I’m Not In Love —10cc (masterpiece of layering)

Guinnivere —Crosby, Stills, and Nash (a girl’s name can be everything in a song)

Across the Universe —The Beatles (John Lennon’s ode to stretching out)

The Spy —The Doors (come go with Morrison into the house)

The Look of Love —Dusty Springield (Bacharach is very romantic)

Us and Them —Pink Floyd (adolescent self-pity given a melody)

Liebestod from Tristan und IsoldeWagner (swimming in swimming music)

Air That I Breathe —Hollies (this is what love is like)

Adagio for Strings —Samuel Barber (sad never sounded so good)

Air —Bach (The illustrious Bach—inventor of music?)

The Lark Ascending —Vaughan Williams (music that hides on the ceiling)

Surabaya Johnny —Lotte Lenya (German musical theater. Wilde. Brecht. Ja.)

A Day In The Life A Fool —Jack Jones (walking around, lost in a song)

Claire —Gilbert O’ Sullivan (lavish and sensitive)

Poetry Man —Phoebe Snow  (there’s a 1967 song called Painter Man. Almost as good)

The Way We Were —Barbara Streisand (Almost anyone can sink into Streisand)

Stranger In Paradise —Tony Bennett  (I’m there, Tony)

It Was A Very Good Year —Frank Sinatra (nostalgia lets you sink)

Humming Chorus from Madame Butterfly —Puccini (hushed charm itself)

Sea of Love —Phil Phillips (low budget production can sound luxurious, too)

The Crystal Ship —The Doors (half-slumbering poetry)

Indian Summer —The Doors (the poetry of cheap lounge music; must be Morrison and his band)

Lonely Days —Bee Gees (Melodies, voices, and a subtle heaviness)

First Time Ever I Saw Your Face —Roberta Flack (the first time ever the 70s)

Canon in D —Pachelbel (top 40 baroque classical)

Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3 —Ian Dury (languish in lunacy)

All Or Nothing At All —Frank Sinatra with Harry James (Great lyrics in a minor key)

Layla –Derek & The Dominos (the formula is simple: great song and then add a great part 2)

Low Spark of High Heeled  Boys —Traffic (this song has length, reach)

Lush Life —Nat King Cole (great songs like this usually comment on a whole genre)

Third Stone From The Sun —Jimi Hendrix (a session guitarist to an icon overnight)

Is That All There Is? —Peggy Lee (a little talking can do wonders for a song)

How Soon Is Now? —The Smiths (Laughing gas melancholy)

This Guy’s In Love With You —Herb Alpert (relaxed yet passionate)

What’s Goin On —Marvin Gaye (Studio genius was everywhere during this era)

Me and Mrs. Jones —Billy Paul  (wall of sound melancholy soul music)

Space Oddity —David Bowie (One of those songs with everything: production, lyrics, hooks)

Rocket Man —Elton John (lonely outer space song his best ever, except maybe Benny & Jets)

Chasing Cars —Snow Patrol (will you lie with me?)

Transdermal Stimulation —Ween (A slightly “depressed and bored in the suburbs” vibe)

Pavane For A Dead PrincessRavel (grief shared)

It’s A Sin —Pet Shop Boys (Yup)

Kiss Kiss Kiss —Yoko Ono (Yoko matches the Beatles excitement at times)

Another Star —Stevie Wonder (This artist projects love, pure and simple, like no other)

Hey Jude —Beatles  (Paul talking to John, who was losing his mind. Hey John. It’s going to be okay.)

House of the Rising Sun —Animals (Several genre toppers happen at once in this song)

I’ll Be Around —The Spinners  (Simple hook genius)

Waterloo Sunset —Kinks  (the guitar in this)

California Dreaming —Mamas and Papas (multiplicity of voices is first rate)

Bittersweet Symphony —The Verve  (feel like walking down crowded streets while listening)

The Girl From Ipanema —Astrud Gilberto, Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz (do you sway or melt listening to this?)

Time of the Season —Zombies  (panting rhythmically to pretty melody)

Crimson and Clover —Tommy James (fin de siecle aesthetics meets trashy pop)

American Cowboy —Jada (Hint of hooker, but more important: hooks!)

The Winner Takes It All —ABBA (Romantic self-pity has never been better expressed)

Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again —Bob Dylan (Dylan kept the long ballad alive, if not entirely seriously)

Melancholia —The Who (Don’t know this one? Best Who song ever.)

White Rabbit —Jefferson Airplane (guitar and vocal sound are so good)

My Sweet Lord —George Harrison  (Sink into Beatle/Hallelujah-mania)

 

 

 

 

 

THE MADNESS EXPLODES: ROUND ONE

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We love it—who doesn’t?—when a few words express a great deal.  Who has time for novels?  Let’s extract wisdom from words in a minute, and live.

In Scarriet March Madness Round One in the Song bracket, we have this great piece of work from the Doors:

Send my credentials to the house of detention.

Jim Morrison, the lead singer of the band, who passed away at 27 in Paris, is no doubt their author, though the group often gave “The Doors” songwriting credits.

But how perfect is this!

“Send…”  I’m too lazy to do it myself.

“Credentials.” The key to societal advancement.

“House of detention.”  Send my credentials there.

No wonder Morrison died early.  The work the Doors produced in their brief life made Jim Morrison immortal.  He is still as popular fifty years later. He knew it.  There was nothing left to do.  Credentials were no longer needed.  There was no longer any need to be detained.

The Doors lived in an age of increasing license, where being loose and dirty was not yet completely acceptable—the truly thrilling vector they were on was the breaking open of everything.  Morrison couldn’t turn back and simply delight in the joys of Alabama, for instance.  The Alabama Song by Brecht/Weil, yes.  The Doors covered that song.  (“O show me the way to the next whiskey bar/pretty girl”)

But not this one.

We kissed in a field of white. And stars fell on Alabama. Last night.

In 2002, “Stars fell on Alabama” was put on Alabama license plates.  There was an actual meteor shower in 1833 which inspired the lyrics.

“Last night” is a concept beyond Morrison.  For him, and the Baudelaire 60s, everything was now.

Last night someone sent my credentials to the house of detention.

That doesn’t work.  This does:

Send my credentials to the house of detention.

The Doors advance.

A smattering of stoned applause.

SENTIMENTALITY IS FOR MEN

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“How you must think and wonder how I must feel out on the meadow while you were on the field. I’m alone for you and I cry.” Shaman’s Blues—The Doors

There is a great confusion about the genders these days; this is natural, since they mingle now more than ever; but the confusion does a great deal of harm, since romantic thoughts oppress us constantly, even if we revel in crude jokes.

One of the great misperceptions is that the female is more tender, more affectionate, more sentimental than the male. This is not true, and has never been true. Men are the sentimental ones. Women are pragmatic. Why?

The reason is simple. Throughout human history, women have borne children. In the 19th century, roughly half of children survived childhood—your own dear child drawing its last little breath in your arms: this was the one constant of motherhood—a task not for the weak; the human race would not exist if sentimental feelings rebelled against motherhood. For the most part, they did not. Women are tough. Sorrow would have made them insane had mothers been sentimental.

From simple, Darwinian reasoning we arrive at the secret. Women may wear pink frills and men blue stripes, but inside it is the opposite.

Women may doll themselves up, but the-tiger-that-feeds-on-the-lamb is the true nature of the womanly soul.

How could it be otherwise? How could the woman live through the historic sorrow of watching her own children die? Nature, the breeder, would not breed unfit, sentimental mothers. Woman is the ultimate pragmatist, while men walk the meadows and sail the sentimental seas of pretty dreams.

This is why romance is so problematic. Men want it. Women do not. Romance is sentimental and men constantly seek it as an end in itself. Women see it as a means to an end.

Take the lovely, romantic phrase, “I’d love you to want me.” It happens to come from a 1972 song, from an era when deeply sentimental, romantic songwriting was very popular, and expressed the highest genius.  The post-war boom in the west was an era in which hardships in life, including high infant mortality, were fading, and all sorts of factors were contributing to an explosion of romantic sentiment—and it is surely no accident that during this time, with the phenomenal baby boom popularity of the Beatles, that men in general were overtly taking on sentimental, or “womanly” attributes, such as long hair and deeply sentimental, romantic personas.

What are “womanly” attributes?  Such a discussion would be an interesting one, but let’s see what we can do with just a narrow piece of the whole debate.

For the man, “I’d love you to want me,” means “I get a tremendous thrill out of the fact that you love me—for the man, love is nothing more than this: I love that you love me; and here we have an infinite loop of mutual love; love for the sake of love; love loving itself with the aid of two people who are meant to love each other, etc.  Love is all.  The ultimate sentimental expression.

For the woman, “I’d love you to want me,” means “I am glad you want me to love you—because this means you are in the proper state to be highly loyal to me, and I can use this loyalty to produce children and a stable family.”  Or, more cynically, if you like, “I can use this loyalty for all sorts of things, not necessarily for children”—sure, with modernity there’s an increasing number of women who choose not to have children; yet these women will still retain the same impulses towards men; it just plays out differently in a variety of social ways—impulses which converge on the confused and increased state of gender-mingling itself.

Gender roles will elude their true identity: we see this in our example of the woman truly being the gender which is less sentimental—despite the general culture seeing it the other way.

What makes things even more confusing is that oppressed cultures will flip—women will take on male attributes, and visa versa.  A culture which is dominated and conquered, so that its men “do not feel like men,” will see this occur most radically.  Men, for instance, will become more “macho” the more their society, their country, their community, is crushed and destroyed—but the gender-wheel is such that “more male” will turn into “more female” and “more female” will turn into “more male.”  For example, in oppressed cultures, women will tend to become sentimental fools who rely on the authority of misbehaving men; we know the true nature of women is to not be sentimental; but here we see they are. Loyalty is what sentimental men should have to prove to the pragmatic woman—who requires loyalty in a father. In oppressed cultures, the man seeks and gets loyalty from the woman—which is not ideal.  This is not to say that a certain amount of loyalty is not a good trait in both sexes, but it is the sentimental gender, not the pragmatic one, who should prove loyalty.

One could respond: what’s wrong with gender identity becoming blurred?

Nothing.

Whether blurring should occur or not, is not the point of our essay.

Here’s the point: if men and women have been hard-wired in natural, Darwinian necessity to feel and behave in a certain way, this is sure to be a source of social confusion and pain for the individual, if unconscious shifts occur, to say nothing of the impact on society in general.

The complexity of the whole issue is self-evident; cross-gender prohibition is not the aim here—only an understanding of the larger issue.  To lament sentimentality or to censor pragmatism is not our purpose—and it should be added that any analysis of this subject should be made in the largest possible context, and with an understanding that the pieces are not as important as how the pieces fit.

A further example will help, and we’ll reference another popular song from the recent historical period in question: The Doors’ 1966 song, “The End,” the eleven minute, theatrical piece on their first album, which rode the charts in the Summer of Love, in 1967. The Beatles and Stones are the better showmen, but Jim Morrison’s shaman may finally exceed the showmen when it comes to lasting, historically significant, recorded music.

1967 is roughly the same window of time in American culture as the 1972 song mentioned above, “I’d Love You To Want Me” by the artist Lobo—a passionate song of romance, not critically acclaimed, but effective, nonetheless.  In “The End,” Morrison, the singer, evokes explicit oedipal rage and lust—and if we examine what “killing the father and loving the mother” entails, we see it is nothing more than an extreme example of the impulse of the romantic male we are attempting to illuminate: killing the father and loving the mother is the ultimate expression of that loop of love (and yes, it’s loopy, too, of course) which is love endlessly loved in a purely unconditional manner: the love of the child for its mother. The oedipal impulse is the example par excellence of sentimentality, or romance, crushing, in heightened passion, pragmatism.

 

 

ONE HUNDRED GREATEST FOLK SONGS (PERFORMANCES) OF ALL TIME

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Pete Seeger: Song owes more to him than anyone else.

It is fitting this Scarriet List of Greatest Folk Songs should appear in the wake of Pete Seeger’s passing (January 27, 2014). Folk music (who has done more for it than Pete Seeger?) occupies a stronger place on the other side than any other kind of art: the dead, the ignored, the forsaken, live heroically in the music of people like Joan Baez, Buffy St. Marie, and Bob Dylan.

All 100 songs listed here can be heard on the web—this is democratic, and Pete would approve, though he would encourage lovers of music to play, not just listen, and the simple playing: the singing, the strumming of chords on a simple instrument, is what allows anyone to enter simply into this heroic world of folk, and make its music, its words and feelings, its story-telling, morals, myth, poetry, and truth their own.

We should say right from the start that this list is a typical Scarriet project, stamped by our now famous anti-bullshit animus. We delight in smashing common wisdom on our way to the truth: truth naturally begins with opinion, even stupid opinion, as it makes its glorious way forward; minds held by stupid opinion are the greatest obstacle to truth, and moving them is rare, for to move them is usually to offend them, and no one wants to offend— and this is the reason truth hides. Sometimes it is wise for the truth to hide, for offending someone can be unforgivable, and may undo more than it mends. But truth starts with opinion and we start with the opinion of this List.

It is our opinion that good folk music has nothing to do with the trappings commonly associated with folk music: the horribly scratchy fiddle, the whiny hillbilly vocals, and all those “genuine” quirks that get in the way of real expressiveness and smoothness and emotion. We simply do not abide these traditional “folk” qualities, for they are not necessary, and chase modern audiences away from the true glory of the art: poignancy, an underrated sense of humor, melody, elevated dramatic feeling, the nobly human uncannily expressed in an orderly and devotional display of simplicity and sincerity.

Pete Seeger brought two important things to the art: 1. an actor’s sensibility and 2. clarity.

We cannot emphasize the latter virtue enough, for nothing has spoiled folk music—as it is popularly known, than a certain muddy and whiny quality—which Seeger demolished: listen to Pete Seeger’s recordings and hear the beautiful simplicity and clarity of the song’s forward movement, the melodic precision, the lovingly articulated coherence of story-message, the unobtrusive, never fussy, and yet dramatically insistent banjo or guitar, the never over-emoted emotional quality, the balance of all the elements, all the while respecting the intangible roughness and depth of the song itself. A child can appreciate these songs, even before knowing all the adult facts of the lyrics.

Seeger never hung around in a song too long, showing off licks or lyrics or mannerisms, trying the patience of the listener—important in a genre which features ballads of sometimes great length and the almighty guitar.

Seeger always kept two things in the foreground: the listener and the song. This paid enormous dividends; Seeger had a tremendous underground influence on the renaissance of melodic, clear-as-a-bell-chiming, sweetly emotional, 60s popular music.

One might put it crudely and simply this way: Pete played hillbilly music without trying to sound hillbilly. Pete was a self-conscious outsider: he approached Appalachian music, black people’s music, poor people’s music, gospel music, world music, whatever you want to call folk music, from a Collector’s point of view; Pete Seeger came from a wealthy, well-connected, accomplished family, approaching the work of poorer families from an archeological point of view, and his privileged position easily could have damned him had he been less naturally talented and less astute. But he “got it,” and he “owned it” (his song-writing just one of the ways he showed it) and did it with taste, kindness and élan—and the rest is history.

Pete Seeger was not precisely original. But that’s what Folk Music is about.

This is also what Folk Music is about:

Cares about history.

Great songs written by Nobody (anonymous).

Hides inside Rock/pop/ jazz.

Songs that make you hunch forward and listen (not background music).

Many voices/versions/styles of the same song.

Story and feeling over style.

THE LIST

1. Barb’ry Ellen –John Jacob Niles.   The Ballad of Barbara Allen (Anonymous) as lo-fi Wagnerian opera.

2. When I Lay Down To Die –Josh White.  Threatens to turn into a jazz or a blues standard, but plaintively refuses.

3. Danville Girl –Pete Seeger.  This is what Country, Jazz, Rap, Rock, and Classical can’t quite do: poetry nonchalantly humanized.

4. The Whistling Gypsy Rover –Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.  Irish exuberance. Joy with almost nothing.

5. House of the Rising Sun –The Animals. Just so we know: the best of rock music comes from folk music.

6. Goodnight Irene –Leadbelly.  Folk music is the poignant attempt to fix life’s wrongs with a few chords.

7. When First Unto This Country –The New Lost City Ramblers.  The Beatles conquered the world with hooks like this.

8. St. John’s River — Erik Darling. Unspeakably poignant and clear in guitar and voice.

9. The Three Ravens –Alfred Deller. A counter-tenor for the ages, a slain knight, loyal beasts, an immortal tune.

10. Turn, Turn, Turn –Pete Seeger.  Wisdom and song, why not?

11. Deportees –Cisco Houston.  Social commentary never had a smoother voice.

12. Ananias –St. Buffy Marie.  This Native American woman has one passionate and powerful voice.

13. Rags and Old Iron –Nina Simone  An old man selling old scraps and she makes it immortal. How’s that?

14. 500 Miles –Joan Baez.  This whole list could just be her.

15. Pretty Polly –The Byrds.  Doesn’t end well for Polly, presumably because she is pretty and is dating someone named Willy.

16. Down on Penny’s Farm –Bently Boys.  “Hard times in the country, down on Penny’s farm.” Very melodic hard times.

17. Pretty Peggy-O –Bob Dylan.  From 1962, before he was an icon, and he’s really having fun. One of his best recordings.

18.  East Virginia –Pete Seeger.  Compare this version with Buell Kazee’s (a master) and you can hear why Pete Seeger is so good.

19. Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies –Pete Seeger.  Such a beautiful song and sung with a melancholy swiftness.

20. She Moved Through the Fair –Anne Briggs.  A slow folk masterpiece where the voice and the lyrics do it all.

21. King of the Road –Roger Miller.  This might not be real folk music to some, but I think the sheep can stray a little bit.

22. T for Texas. –Jimmie Rodgers.  The ‘Singing Brakeman’ was a TV star.  “I shot ol’ Thelma, just to see her jump and fall.”

23. The Wind And The Rain (from Twelfth Night)  — Alfred Deller.  Lovely, haunting.

24. Old John Hardy –Clarence Ashley.  One of the first “hillbilly” 1920s recording artists. Set the standard for Pete Seeger.

25. All the Pretty Little Horses  –Odetta.  The ultimate lullaby.

26. This Land Is Your Land  –The Weavers.  Woody Guthrie’s national anthem.

27. The Titanic  –Pete Seeger.  The best version of this great song. “It was sad when that great ship went down.”

28. Little Mattie Groves  –John Jacob Niles.  A long ballad sung by the master with the strange voice.

29. Wagoner’s Lad  –Joan Baez.  Mournful and melancholy, just like we like it.

30. How Can I Keep From Singing?  –Pete Seeger.  One of those ‘throw your head back and righteously sing’ songs that Pete does so well.

31. It Ain’t Me Babe  –Bob Dylan.  Dylan was a folk music sponge—as all the best are.

32. John Henry  –Big Bill Broonzy.  And of course Pete Seeger’s version is great, too.

33. Midnight Special  –Creedence Clearwater Revival.  A rock group that rocked folk.

34. Darling Corey  –Pete Seeger.  A perfect rendition of a perfect song.

35. Scarborough Fair  –Simon and Garfunkle.  Folk rock masters sing a folk classic.

36. Handsome Molly  –Mick Jagger.  If your heart is broke, keep movin’!

37. He Got Better Things For You  –Bessie Johnson’s Memphis Sanctified Singers.  A rousing gospel number. Where would folk be without gospel?

38. Bells of Rhymney  –John Denver.  Church bells in Welsh mining towns imitated by a 12 string guitar.  Pete Seeger wrote it.

39. Go Way From My Window –John Jacob Niles.   “You were the one I really did love best.” Bitter-sweet song.

40. Sitting On Top of the World. –Doc Watson.  A wonderful happy-sad song.

41. True Religion  –Erik Darling.  From the album of the same name which is one of the best folk records ever made.

42. Abolitionist Hymn  –Hermes Nye. The greatest Civil War Ballad balladeer.

43. When Johnny Comes Marching Home  –Nana Mouskouri.  A lovely melancholy version.

44. Blow The Man Down –Woody Guthrie.  Not too many good recordings by WG.

45. Santa Anna –Hermes Nye.  A pretty song about the Mexican General.

46. The Cutty Wren –Ian Campbell Group. One of the greatest British ballads.

47. Amazing Grace  –Judy Collins.  Classic song and singer.  Her 1966 “In My Life” album is underrated masterpiece.

48. The Ballad of the Green Berets  –Barry Sadler.  Five weeks at no. 1 in 1966. Tune borrowed from another folk song.

49. Sixteen Tons  –Tennessee Ernie Ford  “And what do you get?”

50. Shenandoah  –Pete Seeger. Just a timelessly great song.

51. Where Have All The Flowers Gone?  –Joan Baez    Pete Seeger based it on a Russian folk song.

52. Green Fields  –The Brothers Four  Languidly beautiful.

53. And I Love Her  –The Beatles  Paul’s glorious contribution to the genre.

54. O Mistress Mine Where Are You Roaming   –James Griffett The great sub-genre of Shakespeare tunes.

55. Eve Of Destruction. –Barry McGuire  Folk music always had something to say.

56. I Started A Joke  –Bee Gees.  They were folk crooners first and foremost.

57. If I Had A Hammer  –Peter Paul and Mary  They covered Seeger and Dylan.

58. Puff the Magic Dragon  –Peter Paul and Mary  Great harmonies and they wrote songs, too.

59. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue  –Bob Dylan  Dylan sings this to Donovan in “Don’t Look Back.”

60. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away  –The Beatles  John’s glorious contribution to the genre.

61. I’ll Never Find Another You  –The Seekers  Powerful song.

62. Tom Dooley  –Kingston Trio  “Hang your head, Tom Dooley, hang your head and cry. You killed poor Laura Foster, you know you’re bound to die.”  Morality.

63. Man Of  Constant Sorrow  –Bob Dylan. Another early 1962 gem of the folk genre.

64. All My Trials  –Joan Baez  This lullaby originally came from the Bahamas.

65. Rock Island Line  –Leadbelly “Oh the rock island line is the line to ride.”

66. Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream  –Pete Seeger  Composed by Ed McCurdy. Official anthem of the Peace Corps.

67. When The Saints Go Marching In  –The Weavers.  A rousing song by a group that could do rousing.

68. Lady Jane  –Rolling Stones.  A ‘fake’ old folk song?  Perhaps. But a good one.

69. Going To California  –Led Zeppelin  Underneath it all, this was a folk group.

70. Catch The Wind  –Donovan. The English Dylan has made a lot of great music.

71. Ramblin’ Boy  –Tom Paxton  A very sweet song.

72. Little Boxes  –Malvina Reynolds.  “And they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.”

73. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down  –The Band.  Poignant anti-war number.

74. Alice’s Restaurant  –Arlo Guthrie. A long work by Woody’s son.

75. Suzanne  –Leonard Cohen. His singing is not for everyone, but that’s folk music for you. Singing in the shower music.

76. Angeles  –Elliott Smith.  He said he wasn’t a folk singer. He was. His album Either/Or is a must-own.

77. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald  –Gordon Lightfoot. A folk radio hit.

78. If I Were A Carpenter  –Tim Hardin. Drugs. Died at 39 after getting lost in the 70s.

79. Kisses Sweeter Than Wine  –The Weavers.  Jimmie Rodgers version is good, too.

80. Mr. Bojangles  –Jerry Jeff Walker.  Many a folkie wished they had written this.

81. Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright  –Bob Dylan. He could do protest. And love.

82. At Seventeen  –Janis Ian.  The 70s began in folk and ended in disco.

83. Hallelujah  –Leonard Cohen.  He produces iconic songs over decades.

84. Bridge Over Troubled Waters  –Simon and Garfunkle

85. Old Man  –Neil Young  A great folk voice and sensibility.

86. Big Yellow Taxi  –Joni Mitchell.  Her sweet grumble with the world.

87. City of New Orleans  –Willie Nelson.  Great lyrics. True American song.

88. We Shall Overcome  –Pete Seeger. Folk music as moral greatness.

89. Just Like A Woman  –Bob Dylan.  He had a great bedroom style, too.

90. You’re Lost Little Girl  –The Doors. Had a certain William Blake folk sensibility.

91. Crossroads  –Robert Johnson. Blues is folk at the crossroads.

92. To Love Somebody  –The Bee Gees. Written for Otis Redding right before he died.

93. One  –Johnny Cash. The ultimate unplugged voice.

94. Your Cheatin’ Heart –Hank Williams. Folk cheats with country.

95. That’s Alright Mama –Elvis Presley.  He was a folkie at heart, too.

96. Hello In There   –John Prine.  The saddest song ever?

97. And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda  –Eric Bogle.  Cry in your beer, laddie.

98. When This Cruel War Is Over  –Hermes Nye  A gentleman singer with a gift for melody.

99. She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain  –Pete Seeger.  He did a lot of children’s music. Which perhaps says a lot.

100. The Golden Vanity  –Pete Seeger  Great song. Great story.

THE ONE HUNDRED GREATEST ROCK SONGS OF ALL TIME

 

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It is difficult to put rock music in perspective. Sure, smart people have written about rock music, and rock music is very popular, and has been so popular for so many years that old rock songs are still popular.

It could be said, that for the last three generations, rock music has become America’s poetry—shaping the sensibility of millions of young—and even old—people.

Why, then does rock still seem mindless, schlocky, obscene, and low-brow?

Because most of it is.

If literature is a polite form of sex, rock music is an art form which some feel veers too close to sex to be a socially healthy alternative to it.

But with rock’s continued popularity, it is fast becoming our religion, our poetry.  It is now America’s elevator music, shopping-mall music, American Idol music, nostalgic radio and TV music, and has not stopped being our Top 40 music, even as Country and Rap sells millions. All popular American music, even jazz, is just a form of rock music.  A jazz solo sounds like an electric guitar solo; folk, country, jazz, and rap fit under rock’s umbrella—not the other way around.  It is all rock music, really.  Sonically speaking, American art is rock.  Classical music peaked in the 19th century, when America was still a relatively small and backward place; it may not be long before classical music will be a subset of rock music—and such is already the case in many musical listeners’ minds. Rock may not be the best kind of music; but right now it is the biggest sponge.  Rock is currently the place where all roads lead.

The look of rock has certainly been vital to its fame in a modern, media-saturated society.  The personalities, the costumes, the personal stories, the videos, the pyrotechnics, the idols, all that extra-musical material every rock fan is familiar with, is part of rock’s popularity; but rock songs still exist as rock songs: they have their profound impact, in the dark, emitted from a tiny speaker.  It is finally the sound, the song, in its harmonic and emotional aurality that matters.

But why—how—has rock, this silly electrified music, scaled the heights of culture?  Four basic reasons.

The best of it absorbs all other music, from classical, to jazz, to folk.

It has no avant-garde.  It has not yet fallen victim to the zany and the pretentious.

It lives outside the academy.  To see how dead rock music can be, watch American Idol, a display of what happens when rock is systemized, archived, sent to school, judged.

It strikes a perfect balance between writing/creating and playing/performing: both are equally important.

When rock has nothing left to rebel against, when rock has nothing left to absorb, will it finally die? And what will take its place?  Right now, rock music stands alone.

The criteria for The List are as follows:  Interesting All the Way Through. Rock songs thrill immediately; many good ones begin brilliantly but then we lose interest once the beat of the song is established. Great lyrics, Melody, harmony, originality, sound quality, emotional power, are all crucial.

A good List should seem inevitable, yet surprising.

A good List should not be enslaved by stars and big names, but obscurity should be avoided as well.  We are talking about popular music, after all.

If some favorites are not included, one should at least feel that every type has been represented, and often in terms of origins and templates.

 

 THE LIST:

1. WHEN THE MUSIC’S OVER  –THE DOORS— Jim’s screams; a mini-symphony from the Beethoven of Rock bands.

2. BE MY BABY –THE RONETTES— Chorus agrees with singer so sweetly and exuberantly, for two minutes the world and love seem one.

3. GREEN FIELDS –THE BROTHERS FOUR— The ultimate ‘white blues’ song. Has a hushed power. Released in 1960.

4. MRS. ROBINSON– SIMON & GARFUNKLE— The energy, polish, and delicacy of late 60s S & G songs are unmatched.

5. LATHER– JEFFERSON AIRPLANE— Very few songs can truly be called mind-blowing; haunting, artistic, weird.

6. DAY IN THE LIFE– THE BEATLES— The musicians took over the control board: the final effort of an era’s performers turning profoundly and self-consciously inward. More than a song: the world’s greatest entertainers descend into the despondently poetic.

7. SEA OF LOVE –PHIL PHILLIPS— If Bach were alive in the 1950s…if Puccini were a hep cat…a catalogue of art music in two minutes.

8. CRY — JOHNNY RAY— Was he the father of rock n’ roll?  This magnificent recording came out in 1951.

9. I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER –ARETHA FRANKLIN— Urban gospel jazz classical sweetness.

10. HOW SOON IS NOW –THE SMITHS — This song has it all: brain-filling sound, lyric, singer, intangible menace-melting-into-cool.

11. SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT –NIRVANA— A moment when rock looked at itself, said Oh Fuck and squirmed back.

12. LIGHT MY FIRE –THE DOORS— For about 100 days these guys were rock music and no one else was.

13. WILD THING — THE TROGGS— With a recorder solo! In terms of insouciant understatement, most iconic rock performance ever. Hold me tight.

14. WHAT’S GOIN ON? –MARVIN GAYE— Maybe the greatest pop singer ever. A delirious—and serious song.

15. LIKE A ROLLING STONE — BOB DYLAN — He made angry lyrics an art form; looking back, folk to rock was a big challenge.

16. SPACE ODDITY –DAVID BOWIE— A song that does many things; one of the great Wagnerian efforts of mature rock.

17. HOUSE OF THE RISING SUNTHE ANIMALS— On the back of an electric keyboard, a classic folk tune reaches rock immortality.

18. STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN –LED ZEPPELIN— No matter what anyone says, this band’s best song. Melody, dynamics, atmosphere.

19. WILD WORLD — CAT STEVENS— The best of the ‘sincere’ singer/songwriter phenomenon from a male perspective.

20. ME AND BOBBY MCGEE –JANIS JOPLIN— She emoted in a way that was almost too good to be true.

21. VIVA LA VIDA –COLD PLAY— They could have had hits in the 60s!

22. SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL –THE ROLLING STONES— They actually wrote a lot of pretty pop songs.

23. SHE LOVES YOU –THE BEATLES— It was the simple sophistication of ‘she’ loves you rather than ‘I’ love you. It was joy.

24. KANSAS CITY –LITTLE RICHARD— A British Invasion starter. A 1955 record issued in 1959 in the U.K. where Little Richard was huge, never having set foot there.

25. NOTHING COMPARES 2 U — SINEAD O’CONNOR— Big, slow beautiful ballad that came out of nowhere in the moribund 90s.

26. WHITER SHADE OF PALE — PROCOL HARUM— Help from Bach and Chaucer; a song that keeps on giving.

27. JAILHOUSE ROCK — ELVIS PRESLEY— Performer, not writer; good at choosing songs, but a truly great song never chose him.

28. STANDING IN THE SHADOW OF LOVE — FOUR TOPS— A hit-making machine for Motown, all went to the same high school in Detroit.  There was uplift, but also an exquisite sound of moral desperation in their songs.

29. WALK ON THE WILD SIDE — LOU REED— This was rock becoming self-consciously cool, almost as it always had been.

30. JUST SAY I LOVE HIM — NINA SIMONE— Genre-wise, “Forbidden Fruit” (1961) which contains this tender song, is jazz/blues/folk. The underrated album is a monster.

31. DON’T LET THE SUN CATCH YOU CRYING– GERRY AND THE PACEMAKERS— One of the sweetest recordings of all time.

32. WATERLOO SUNSET — THE KINKS— Ray Davies writes and sings; his brother pushes the song into another zone with his guitar; successful bands usually contain family, love, rivalry.

33. HE’S A REBEL — THE BLOSSOMS—  Loving the rebel.  Credited to the Crystals, a girl-group not available on short notice to record it.

34. SCHOOL’S OUT — ALICE COOPER— What most people think of when they think of rock music.

35. ELENORE –THE TURTLES— Before rock turned dangerous, it grew into what it was simply as an innocent (?) love-drug. “So Happy Together” would work as well.

36. IT’S ALL IN THE GAME — TOMMY EDWARDS— The tune was composed in 1911 by a future Vice President of the United States under Calvin Coolidge, Charles Dawes.

37. BILLY JEAN — MICHAEL JACKSON— A song impeccably produced by Quincy Jones, who worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Sinatra, and Lesley Gore.

38. UNIVERSAL SOLDIER — BUFFY ST. MARIE— This anti-war song, written by the sexy Native American singer, was covered by Donovan.  Her version is much better.

39. CALIFORNIA DREAMING — MAMAS AND PAPAS— Folk rock can be a great way to speak.

40. I WANNA BE SEDATED — THE RAMONES—  Punk has its anthem.

41. DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME? — CULTURE CLUB— Melancholy cool at its best.

42. WHAT THE WORLD  NEEDS NOW IS LOVE — JACKIE DESHANNON— A perfect example of sophisticated, urban, socially holy, feel-good, sentimentality.

43. BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER — SIMON & GARFUNKLE— There was an inescapable magic about these two.

44. MAGGIE MAE — ROD STEWART— A raggedy rock classic.

45. HURDY GURDY MAN –DONOVAN — The backing band for this great hippie singer’s 1968 hit (and he had many) was the future Led Zeppelin.

46. HEY YA! — OUTKAST—  It was nice to hear this in 2003.   This is how it’s done.

47. I’M A BELIEVER — THE MONKEES—  The emergence of this ‘audition for TV show’ Beatles-clone band inspired the Beatles to go deeper.

48. TO KNOW HIM IS TO LOVE HIM — THE TEDDY BEARS— Freud could say Phil Spector used music to get women to worship the father.

49. PINE TOP’S BOOGIE WOOGIE — PINE TOP SMITH— The template for all forms of popular rock exists in this 1928 recording. “And when I say, get it, I want you to shake that thing.”

50. SPIRIT IN THE SKY — NORMAN GREENBAUM— A one hit wonder which really is a wonder.

51. UNDER THE BOARDWALK — THE DRIFTERS— We don’t have to talk about the heroin overdose death of the lead singer the day before the song was to be recorded. Just a great song.

52. SOMEONE LIKE YOU — ADELLE — A woman holding her heart in her hand. Magnificent.

53. EARTH ANGEL — THE PENGUINS — An art song of sentimental naivety.

54. NEW YORK MINING DISASTER 1941 — THE BEE GEES — Nothing bubblegum about this.

55. WHAT’D I SAY — RAY CHARLES — If this song doesn’t make you want to jump out of your skin, you’re not alive.

56. I PUT A SPELL ON YOU — SCREAMIN JAY HAWKINS — What can one say about this?

57. ICKY THUMP– THE WHITE STRIPES — The art of controlled hysteria with poetry inside.

58. I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU –THE FLAMINGOS — A gorgeous declaration of love, as 1959 covers a 1934 tune.

59. SHE’S NOT THERE — THE ZOMBIES — Moody, soft, melodic, and to the point. Rock that dazzles.

60. WE ARE YOUNG — FUN — The chord progression of the chorus is epic.

61. TIME — PINK FLOYD— A special-effects-saturated, self-examining exercise in English self-pity at the center of the best-selling album of all time.

62. AT THE HOP — DANNY AND THE JUNIORS—  The most efficient twelve-bar blues ever.  1957. When templates were perfected.

63. GOD SAVE THE QUEEN — THE SEX PISTOLS — This was a new kind of music: real limits were being pushed. Rock has many, many houses.

64. THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED –DON MCLEAN — The danger here is sentimentality, but the moral, historical, self-reflexive story telling is important.

65. STAYIN’ ALIVE –THE BEE GEES — No one saw this coming: a band of melody becoming a band of beats.

66. HEY JUDE — THE BEATLES — A hopeful A.M. radio era anthem before all the F.M. splintering began.

67. DANCING QUEEN –ABBA — The well-tempered clavier meets disco.

68. MACK THE KNIFE –BOBBY DARIN —  Kurt Weil had his own invasion.

69. YOUNG FOLKS — PETER BJORN AND JOHN— Some day ‘catchy’ may be the most important term in the world.

70. SLOW RIDE — FOGHAT — A great example of a rocker’s rock song.

71. AQUALUNG –JETHRO TULL — The ‘Sgt. Peppers/Tommy’ era was extraordinary: Globe Theater rock.

72. NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN — THE MOODY BLUES — One of those haunting ‘classical music’ rock tunes which sound good even when its simple chords are strummed on an acoustic guitar.

73. TEMPTATION EYES — THE GRASS ROOTS — Life is too short to be snobby towards The Grass Roots.

74. ARE YOU EXPERIENCED — JIMI HENDRIX — Hendrix was a fanatic about sound, almost in a John Cage sort of way.

75. FREE BIRD — LYNYRD SKYNYRD — The song became a joke, but only because it was good.

76. BORN TO BE WILD — STEPPENWOLF — All the elements of a great rock song and the first to really sound like a machine, among other things.

77. THE END — THE DOORS — Early rock n’ roll was Greece, the Doors, Rome.  The rest is imitative.

78. LOUIE LOUIE — THE KINGSMEN — One of those mysteriously great hits which seem like many great songs inside of one.

79. MY SHARONA — THE KNACK — Nearly the parody of a great rock song.

80. SMOKE ON THE WATER — DEEP PURPLE — Something important about this song. No, never mind.

81. ROCK LOBSTER — B-52S — The best example, perhaps, of New Wave’s goofiness.

82. BENNY AND THE JETS — ELTON JOHN — John/Taupin was like one of those old music & lyric writing teams.

83. NORWEGIAN WOOD — THE BEATLES — The best world music riff of all time.

84. AS TEARS GO BY — THE ROLLING STONES — If you can please with a slow tune, it proves you’re not just a dance band.

85. LOVE WILL TEAR US APART –JOY DIVISION — Of Ian Curtis his band mates said, “we didn’t realize he meant it.”

86. I CAN SEE FOR MILES — THE WHO — The Who had remarkable parts which came together in a mix good and bad precisely because they tried so hard to be pop and rock.

87. JOY INSIDE MY TEARS —  STEVIE WONDER— A comfort song as only Stevie Wonder can bring, from the pretentiously named 1976 double album, “Songs in the Key of Life.”

88. MAYBELLENE — CHUCK BERRY — Let’s face it: so much of rock music can be annoying.  And also iconic.

89. JUST CAN’T GET ENOUGH — BLACK EYED PEAS — The new hedonism of rock adds competition: my party in my video has more naked, beautiful people than yours.

90. HEY THERE DELILAH — PLAIN WHITE T’S — The best love song of the 21st century so far?

91. STORMY — DENNIS YOST & THE CLASSICS IV— It’s a little hard to find this song, but for simple, unpretentious songwriting it’s as good as it gets. Epitomizes 70s ear candy.

92. LET’S STAY TOGETHER –AL GREEN — Every woman in the world loves this song.

93. VACATION — THE GO-GOS — This genre, which includes Katrina and the Waves, Cindi Lauper, Blondie, the Bangles, the Vapors, Shocking Blue, the Breeders is quite a lot of fun.

94. CHASING CARS — SNOW PATROL — One of the best things rock can do is create tension which makes passionate insouciance memorable.

95. IRREPLACEABLE — BEYONCE — Not a love song.

96. DREAM BROTHER — JEFF BUCKLEY — A meditative urgency which rock can do so well.

97. CALL ME MAYBE — CARLA RAE JEPSEN — Sort of a love song.

98. WHITE RABBIT — JEFFERSON AIRPLANE — The structure of this song is a rabbit hole. A masterpiece.

99. GOOD NIGHT IRENE– THE WEAVERS — This 1950 hit, a white group playing a black man’s (Leadbelly) music, could make a case for the song that began it all.

100. ODE TO JOY, FOURTH MOVEMENT, NINTH SYMPHONY– BEETHOVEN — Here’s a secret: this is when rock music really began.

 

 

 

 

 

ANOTHER DOOR BREAKS THROUGH: RAY MANZAREK

It might be safe to say that the most popular debate in American literature over the last 50 years has been this one:

Were the lyrics of Jim Morrison and The Doors good poetry?  Or crap?

Is inspired crap, crap, or inspired?

Inspired.

Good news for Doors fans.

The Doors produced real poetry.

It is common for twenty-somethings to reject feelings they had as adolescents, but when it comes to the Doors, the 16 year old is correct and the 26 year old is wrong. 

The Doors made truly good music tinged with real poetry.

Jim Morrison’s sex god, drug-addled, drunken, reputation, the Doors’ predilection for producing hard rock ‘hits,’ the relative simplicity of their music, all conspire to make one ashamed, as one ages, to hold onto one’s early impression that Doors music was good poetry.  But it was. 

Sometimes we are “shamed” in the wrong direction.

The Doors understood what all poets must understand: less is more.   Okay, lots of people understand this, but few really understand this most important principle, and further, carry it out in practice.  Here’s an example:

You’re Lost Little Girl, from Strange Days

You’re lost little girl,
You’re lost little girl,
You’re lost, tell me who are you

Think that you know what to do,
Impossible yes, but it’s true
I think that you know what to do, yeah,
Sure that you know what to do

You’re lost little girl,
You’re lost little girl,
You’re lost, tell me who are you

These are exquisite lyrics; they are highly suggestive, saying as little as possible. 

“You’re lost little girl” packs an emotional punch, and it does so neatly and swiftly with the assonance of “lost, little” and “little, girl.” 

A “lost little girl” has deep ramifications, like Poe’s “the death of a beautiful woman;” what could be more haunting than a “lost little girl?” 

Now look what this brief lyric does: it takes the overt meaning of the phrase in its sexist, blues context: the woman, or sex object, needs to be ‘saved’ or ‘taught’ by the man: Hey, little girl, you’re lost, and flips it: it’s the girl who teaches the man: “I think that you know what to do, impossible yes, but it’s true…”

Since the music of the song is soft, melodic, and haunting, and not bluesy or raunchy at all, a broader and more interesting scenario is invoked: a girl, maybe an actual “little girl,” wise beyond her years, not a sex object, who is lost, and yet, knows “what to do.”  And so “lost” does not mean helpless, but miraculously knowing. It is the singer/narrator/lover who is “lost,” not the “little girl.”  Yet this is only suggested to the listener.  The song is an understated, swooning, and subtle epiphany of psychological reversal.  There is no clumsy over-explaining.  The song tells us very little—and yet emotionally this song is subtle and powerful.

Here’s another example: Not seeing (less) is better than seeing (more).

I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind, from Strange Days

I can’t see your face in my mind,
I can’t see your face in my mind,
Carnival dogs consume the lines,
Can’t see your face in my mind

Don’t you cry, baby, please don’t cry,
And don’t look at me with your eyes.
I can’t seem to find the right lie,
I can’t seem to find the right lie

Insanity’s horse adorns the sky,
Can’t seem to find the right lie,
I won’t need your picture
until we say good-bye

Does this song reek of morbid, staring-at-the-ground adolescence?  A little, yes.  But there’s also a delicate and haunting quality that partakes of the universal: who hasn’t tried to see one’s beloved in one’s mind—and failed?  The beautiful aspect that we really love always seems mysteriously just out of reach—like the very reason we passionately love someone in the first place.  “I won’t need your picture until we say goodbye” wittily sums up the trope of the poem.  There’s just the right amount of desperate longing, frozen by paradox, expressed throughout: a lie, the “right lie,” is sought, but cannot be found. Not only can’t we see, but we can’t find the right way to lie about what we see (or feel?) either.  And what would “insanity’s horse” do but “adorn the sky,” anyway?  Hinted at in this somewhat hackneyed image is the genitalia hanging over us like the moon or the sun, the overt sexuality which is “insane” due to the inability to “see your face in my mind,” which is spiritual, “face” and “mind” belonging to a place above mere sexuality, and yet, the failure of the lover to see the beloved’s face in his mind provokes a frustration with his mind—or is it with the face? 

Contrast the Doors ‘not seeing’ to the chest-beating, working-class Who: “I can see for miles and miles,” or Dylan, who tends to rhyme just to rhyme, and practices a “eveything but the kitchen sink” brand of poetry. Rhyming to excess can be effective emotionally, and the assertiveness of the crass, unromantic, ‘you, bitch!,’ “I can see for miles and miles” may work due to its fanciful excess (“miles and miles”) for the same reason: excess will travel past “more” and return to “less,” if it’s done well.  But the Doors are simply working in a more poetic element.

The Beatles’ “All you need is love” is preachy, but “She loves you” is poetic, since “she loves you” is a second-hand, lessening of the more direct “I love you.” 

Poetry always triumphs as “less over more” (or second-hand over first-hand) and the Doors are poetic in this important sense.

The tree reflected in the lake is more poetic than the tree.

Ray Manzarek first heard a Morrison song recited, he says, by Morrison when the two of them were sitting on Venice Beach, before the band was formed.  Manzarek heard Morrison’s talent and Manzarek was smart enough (or perhaps it was something of an accident) to fit the Doors sound—hauntingly simple, catchy, direct, moody but not formless or bloated—to the lyrics; the Doors music was, even in its dramatic and Wagnerian guise, less rather than more—the musical solos brief, the instrumentation, simple.

The song Morrison introduced to Manzarek almost 50 years ago was “Moonlight Drive,” whose title says a lot: “moonlight,” impressionistic, haunting atmosphere, plus “drive,” its opposite, providing an aesthetic counter-tension.

Anyone, 16 years old, or 26, or 86, can hear the poetry of

Let’s swim to the moon,
Let’s climb to the tide,
You reach your hand to hold me
But I can’t be your guide,
Even though I love you
As I watch you glide…

The pairing of ‘swim’ with ‘moon’ and ‘climb’ with ‘tide’—one would expect ‘climb’ to match up with ‘moon’ and ‘swim’ with ‘tide’—is nice, not only for a more interesting meaning, but the pairs ‘swim’ and ‘moon’ and ‘climb’ and ‘tide’ are both bound by a closer sound relationship.  It’s just lovely. 

Add the helpless, desperate, letting-go quality (“I can’t be your guide”) to the mood invoked by “moon” and “tide” and “let’s swim,” and one almost has a genuine poetic quality that belongs very strongly to the Doors and makes them unique, because they do it the best.  Sure, this might belong to impressionistic, decadent, modern poetry, and not to strong Homeric poetry, and it may not be as sublime as the great Romantics and it’s not great literature, no; but for its type, it’s very strong, and for rock musicians, it is probably the best around.

Like most figures from the 60s, Manzarek faded into the light of common day as he grew away from that era; defending Jim as a poet and an intellectual and a sensitive soul (which Morrison must have been to a certain degree) was in Ray’s best interest, but it felt genuine when he did so. Manzarek, without a Morrison to play behind, became a preachy, avant-garde, hipster, pedant.  Morrison may have looked old at 27 when the Doors were almost done, but Manzarek had that bespectacled, older look right from the start.

The Doors don’t need pedantic professors to tell anyone they were good.

And the “wise” twenty/thirty-somethings usually get them wrong, too.

So long, Ray.

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