5. “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler
An unlikely pop hit to be sure, this song was #1 on the Hot 100 for the entire month of March 1966 and hit the #2 spot on the country charts at the same time. Wikipedia tells me it was written, in part, to honor the first Native Hawaiian killed in the US war in Vietnam, a young man named James Gabriel Jr. The recorded version dropped the direct reference to Gabriel. While the song makes no direct mention of the Vietnam War either, the message was clear as US involvement in the war began escalating. Troop levels more than doubled from 1965 to 1966, from about 184,000 to more than 385,000.
4. “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas
I’m surprised to learn this classic only made it to #5 on the Hot 100. Along with the above, it might be the definitive song of the year. Celebrated as a harbinger of the emerging counterculture and a slice of an equally emergent California sound, it was the first hit for the group and a signature song of the era. (It was produced by Lou Adler, who’s half-Mexican and half-Jewish and raised in Boyle Heights.)
3. “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” by Stevie Wonder
This song was #1 on the R&B charts for five weeks from January to February, the same time it peaked at #3 on the Hot 100. By March it was on its way down, sliding from #2 to #7 on the R&B charts. The young Stevie Wonder shared writing credits on the song, his first hit with a writing credit and a sign of greater things to come. Stevie’s voice change is prominent here, another sign of things to come for the future father of nine kids.
2. “19th Nervous Breakdown” by the Rolling Stones
Nancy Sinatra and her boots kept this out of the top spot on the UK charts while the Green Berets did the same in the US. Peaking at #2 in March, this Rolling Stones classic has that signature sound of the early group. I love the mix of the “British sound” with US blues in this era of the band. They were well on their way to legendary greatness.
1. “Nowhere Man” by the Beatles
Talk about on their way to greatness. This song is from the Rubber Soul album, the first album people started to realize this was more than your average pop band. The lyrics of “Nowhere Man” help it stand out. John is experimenting in life and in art, and he’s written a song that is not about boys and girls in love. What is it about? It’s deep, sometimes confusing, and filled with antiestablishment possibility. But who knows?
5. “Melody” by The Rolling Stones (1976)
I suppose the album Black and Blue is best known for Ronnie Wood, who became an official member of the band with its release (though they auditioned several potential replacements for Mick Taylor during the album’s recording). What stands out to me are the album’s eclectic sounds. It’s very bluesy at times, but also has nods to reggae and funk and, in this instance, jazz.
4. “What Am I Living For?” by Chuck Willis (1958)
I knew Chuck Willis for his version of “C.C. Rider,” which Elvis used to play in the 70s. When I heard this song I was struck by its sound. It’s got country tips with a soft back rhythm that swings so nice. Turns out it was his last (and biggest) hit, the B-side to the single “Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes,” released shortly before his death at the age of 32.
3. “Fade to Black” by Metallica (1984)
This song is from Metallica’s second album, the legendary Ride the Lightning. It’s one of my favorite songs by the band, although I didn’t hear it until the late 80s when I was in high school. It’s a fan favorite in their live shows. It took on another level of legendary on August 8, 1992, when James Hetfield caught on fire while singing it. It was also the last played song when the Long Beach station KNAC (which played heavy metal for LA listeners for a decade) went off the air.
2. “Nobody Told Me” by Vintage Trouble (2011)
I first saw Vintage Trouble when they were on Austin City Limits, back in 2016. I’ve been a fan ever since. There’s not a thing they do that I don’t like, and when you listen that’s not a surprise. They intentionally draw on some of the best in 50s and 60s R&B, mixed with so much more. Here’s a live version of the above, which showcases some of their talents better than the studio version can.
1. Zombie by the Cranberries (1994)
The best thing about this last week was when the Bad Wolves cover of this song came on the radio. The kids knew the song, which led to us talking about the Cranberries, the early death of Dolores O’Riordan, and the glories of the 90s. I made a little playlist of the greatest hits of Dolores and Crew, and the kids couldn’t get enough of her Irish brogue and vocal honesty. Here’s a live version of the song from 1994.
5. Warren Zevon, “Werewolves of London” (January 1978)
The older I get the more I enjoy and respect the body of work Warren Zevon left behind. For the longest time this was the only song of his I knew, his biggest hit from his best-selling album.
4. Van Halen, “Running with the Devil” (May 1978)
The debut album from the LA-area rockers. Van Halen are an okay band with an extraordinary guitarist. He’s what makes every song into something novel, although by now it seems common. This is the leadoff track, and a standard for their live shows.
3. The Who, “Who Are You” (August 1978)
It’s one of their biggest US hits, and arguably the most recognized song by the band because of its use as the theme song to CSI. From the album of the same name, their last release before the death of Keith Moon.
2. Chic, “Le Freak” (September 1978)
From the second studio album of these disco/R&B/funk legends, the song was their first chart topper and remains among the most memorable of era.
1. The Rolling Stones, “Beast of Burden” (September 1978)
The greatest rock and roll band put out another great album in 1978 and on it, one of their greatest songs.
The Rolling Stones are the greatest rock band in the history of music. That’s it. Why? Here’s just five little reasons why…
Note: A lot of these clips won’t play on mobile devices. Sorry.
5. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965)
It was their first #1 in the US and a standard at nearly every concert they’ve played since then. They’ve made it something of a show starter, at times.
4. “Paint It, Black” (1966)
From their album Aftermath, this song never fails to amaze.
3. “Sympathy For The Devil” (1968)
A song about the devil, part of their album Beggar’s Banquet (one of their best).
2. “Sister Morphine” (1971)
Written by Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and Marianne Faithful, it was released by Faithfull a couple of years before it was part of the Stones’ legendary album Sticky Fingers (my favorite, if we’re picking).
1. “Gimme Shelter” (1969)
In 1969 the Beatles were breaking up. The spent part of their spring and summer recording their final album, Abbey Road. At about the same time, The Rolling Stones are in the studio making Let It Bleed. What a year for masterpieces. “Gimme Shelter” is the first track from that album.
Any list of songs by the Rolling Stones is selective. There’s no way to pick 5 songs, even 10, that represent the breadth of their work or that accurately portray their influence in popular music. So go listen to more!