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1. I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – Proclaimers, (1988)
This song didn’t become a hit in the US until 1993, when used in Benny & Joon. It was used after the director heard the song being played on his personal stereo by Mary Ann Waterston. Although it was their only hit in America the song made it to number three on charts.
Used in the episode “Arrividerci, Fiero” in the sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, Ted and Marshall stick the tape in the tape deck on their road trip home from college, only for it to get stuck, playing the song on repeat for the entire drive.
In the line “I’m gonna be the one who’s havering for you,” ‘havering’ means babbling on. However, several US radio stations initially refused to play the song, as they thought ‘havering’ meant something much more naughty.
2. Drive My Car – Beatles, Rubber Soul, (1965)
Laden with sexual innuendos, this song is about a guy who meets an aspiring actress, who tells him he can “drive my car,” as she has a keen interest in him, and might even be in love.
She keeps trying to lure him in (“I can show you a better time”), but when he finally agrees to take the job, she admits that she doesn’t have a car, but still wants him to be her driver. It’s pretty clear that all this driving talk is leading to sex, but there’s no proof that it isn’t just a song about a guy, a girl, and a car – making it yet another radio-friendly Beatles track.
By this time, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were writing more songs separately, but this one was an equal collaboration, with Lennon writing most of the lyrics and McCartney coming up with the melody.
The title of the album comes from “plastic soul,” a derogatory phrase McCartney had overheard black musicians using about Mick Jagger. (“Plastic” in those days meant anything fake or processed.) Paul can be heard using the phrase in studio chatter on June 14, 1965, during recording of the “Help!” B-side “I’m Down.” Reliably, he put his own spin on the phrases
3. Going Up The Country – Canned Heat, Living The Blues, (1968)
This was written by Alan Wilson, who was Canned Heat’s vocalist, guitarist and primary songwriter. Wilson committed suicide on September 3, 1970, becoming one of the first 27-year-old rock casualties, a group that would soon include Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. This group, which consists of a long list of musicians who all died at the age of 27, is now known as the infamous 27 Club.
Canned Heat played this at Day 2 of the Woodstock festival, which was a big moment for the band. The song was kind of an anthem for the festival, as “Going Up the Country” described the pilgrimage to Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York where the event took place.
The song was included on the Woodstock album, but Canned Heat’s set was edited out of the official movie. It can be seen on the director’s cut of the film.
It’s hard to escape the series of GEICO motorcycle insurance commercials that feature Canned Heat‘s “Going Up the Country.” The blues-rock band released the hippie anthem in 1968, and it reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart a year later. While the TV ads run constantly, drummer Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra says the band hasn’t received performance royalties for the song’s use.
“They keep playing it over and over again,” says de la Parra. “The problem is that we have not received a penny from it and that’s what really bothers me whenever I see the commercial.” The trouble, says de la Parra, started in 1967, shortly before he joined the band. Canned Heat traveled to Denver for a gig at the Family Dog, an extension of promoter Chet Helms’ San Francisco dance hall.
“The police in Denver sent this guy, this stool pigeon who was a friend of [singer] Bob Hite from the past,” says de la Parra. “Bob grew up in Denver as part of his youth. And this guy came to the hotel to visit him and brought a few joints. And actually planted the joints in the chair of Bob’s hotel room. “And then he left. And a few minutes after he left the cops walked in. That guy brought the grass and left some of it there and that’s when the police came in and they got busted.”
University of Denver professor Scott Montgomery is working on a documentary, The Tale of the Dog, about the Denver club. “The police’s version is they got a tip from an informant and they went to the band’s hotel, where they found marijuana and hauled them off to jail,” Montgomery told Westword.
Unable to raise bail, Canned Heat manager Skip Taylor traveled to Los Angeles to meet Al Bennett, president of the band’s label, Liberty Records.
“At the time of the Denver bust, the only asset that Canned Heat had was half of its publishing, which at the time was virtually worthless,” says Taylor. “Al Bennett agreed to buy that half for $10,000, which enabled us to have bail money and payment of an attorney to represent us and get us all off.
“In the early ’70s, our records weren’t selling and we were in debt to Liberty to the tune of about $65,000. They didn’t even want to give us another advance to make another record. Meanwhile, I was in negotiations with Jerry Wexler at Atlantic and they agreed to give us a $100,000 advance to make a new record with a great marketing campaign.
“Liberty agreed to give Canned Heat a release from their contract and waive the $65,000 debt in return for any future royalties. This agreement was based on the sale of LPs and cassettes. No one knew that the CD would come along in a couple of years or that the entire Canned Heat catalog would be reissued, sell like mad, and be used in commercials and movies 50 years down the road, as is now the case!”
“Going Up the Country” was written and sung by Alan Wilson. The song is based on 1928’s “Bull Doze Blues” by Henry Thomas. Al Bennett died in 1989. The Liberty Records catalog is now owned by the Universal Music Group. Ultimate Classic Rock reached out to GEICO, the Martin Agency and Universal Music for comment on this story, and have yet to receive a response.
Taylor says that the band is now filing legal documents with all entities involved to regain its publishing and performance royalties along with ownership of the original master recordings.
“These are the types of mistakes that will haunt us for the rest of our lives,” says de la Parra. “And many other bands have similar stories as ours. The amazing thing is that of all places, Colorado was the first state to legalize marijuana.
“And the damage they caused in our lives, I believe the city owes us an apology. At least an apology.”
4. Thunder Road – Bruce Springsteen, (1975)
This was the first track on Born To Run, a crucial album for Springsteen. His first two albums sold poorly, and he was in danger of losing his record deal if he did not produce a hit. With songs like this one about escaping to the open road, he connected with an audience that proved extremely loyal.
Springsteen took the title from a 1958 Robert Mitchum movie. He did not see the film, but got the idea from a poster for it in a theater lobby.
The vocal sound was inspired by Roy Orbison. Springsteen pays homage to him with the line: “The radio plays Roy Orbison singing for the lonely,” a reference to Orbison’s 1960 hit, “Only The Lonely.”
Classic pop and rock songs usually tend to have around 6 chords in them, but Springsteen went overboard in Thunderroad, composing a 30 chord hit song.
5. America – Simon & Garfunkel, (1967)
Not only does this song have a whopping 16 chords in it, but there are also no rhymes in it, which is quite a feat of songwriting. In his Songfacts interview, Gerry Beckley of America (no relation) broke it down: “The entire song is prose. There’s not one line that rhymes and I will tell some of the best songwriters you’ve ever met that particular element and you can see them stop and go through it in their head. We’re oblivious to that being an ingredient because we’re so involved in the story. You’re not sitting there going, ‘That didn’t rhyme, wait a second.’ It’s not an issue.”
This was used by James Leo Herlihy in his all-but-forgotten classic novel, The Season of the Witch. The story begins with a pair of teenage runaways traveling by bus to New York, riffing off the lyrics all the way. When they actually see the moon rising over an open field, they feel their journey was meant to happen.
On a more current note though, interestingly enough Paul Simon gave Bernie Sanders permission to use this song in a campaign ad when Sanders was campaigning for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton in 2016.
6. Where The Streets Have No Name- U2, Joshua Tree Album
This song was extremely difficult to produce the arrangement actually being written on a blackboard because it was so complex.
Producer Brian Eno estimated that the recording of this song absorbed over 40% of the time spent on The Joshua Tree. Eno became so frustrated trying to mix the track that he almost destroyed the tape and started over. According to the co-producer Daniel Lanois, the assistants never followed Eno’s frustrated instructions to wipe the tape. Daniel Lanois recalled to Mojo magazine in January of 2008 about the song’s tricky birth: “It was a bit of a tongue-twister for the rhythm section, with strange bar lengths that got everybody in a bad mood. I can remember pointing at a blackboard, walking everybody through the changes like a science teacher. There’s a part of Eno that likes instant gratification. He’d rather throw something difficult away and start something new.”
The video shows U2 putting on an impromptu concert on the roof of the Republic Liquor Store on the corner of 7th and Main Street in Los Angeles. This was an innovative way to shoot a video, leading to some surprised looks as some onlookers were delighted, while others were upset because they were stopping traffic.
The concert/video shoot took place March 27, 1987. U2 played the song four times, and also played “People Get Ready,” “In God’s Country,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Pride (In The Name Of Love).” It won the Grammy nomination for Best Performance Music Video in 1989.
The concept was similar to the Beatles famous Apple Records rooftop concert on January 30, 1969, which they used in their movie Let It Be. When asked about the similarity between U2’s rooftop video and The Beatles rooftop concert, Bono said, “We’ve ripped off The Beatles many times before.”
Bono (from Propaganda 5, 1987): “Where the Streets Have No Name is more like the U2 of old than any of the other songs on the LP, because it’s a sketch – I was just trying to sketch a location, maybe a spiritual location, maybe a romantic location. I was trying to sketch a feeling. I often feel very claustrophobic in a city, a feeling of wanting to break out of that city and a feeling of wanting to go somewhere where the values of the city and the values of our society don’t hold you down. An interesting story that someone told me once is that in Belfast, by what street someone lives on you can tell not only their religion but tell how much money they’re making – literally by which side of the road they live on, because the further up the hill the more expensive the houses become. That said something to me, and so I started writing about a place where the streets have no name.”
7. Radar Love – Golden Earring, (1973)
Before you could send a text message or call someone in their car, there was no way to communicate with a driver – unless you had a certain telepathic love that could convey from a distance your desire to be with that person, something you might call – Radar Love. In this song, the guy has been driving all night, but keeps pushing the pedal because he just knows that his baby wants him home.
Golden Earring was founded 1961 and into the ’00s was still playing with the same lineup since 1970, doing 100+ shows a year in The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. The group is from The Netherlands, where this was a #1 hit. They had only one other hit and it didn’t surface until 1982, with “Twilight Zone.”
This song is featured in the movie Detroit Rock City, about four teenage boys and their struggle to finally see the band KISS play live.
It has been covered over 250 times: Notable versions include Bryan Adams, U2, Crowded House, Def Leppard, R.E.M. and Carlos Santana. It has also been used in TV shows The Simpsons, The X-Files, Beverly Hills, 90210 and My Name Is Earl. Movie usages include The Break-Up, Pushing Tin and Wayne’s World 2
8. Going to California – Led Zeppelin, (1971) Zeppelin
Jimmy Page and Robert Plant wrote this song, drawing inspiration from Joni Mitchell, specifically her song “California.” Mitchell lived in the musically fertile but earthquake-prone Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles; “California” finds her recalling her adventures on a trip to Europe but looking forward to a return home. In “Going To California,” Plant plays the part of a guy who’s looking to leave his no-good woman behind and make a fresh start in California.
Page and Plant were both enthralled by Joni Mitchell’s songwriting; in “Going To California,” the guy in the song is looking for a girl just like her, one with “love in her eyes and flowers in her hair” who “plays guitar and cries and sings.”
This is an acoustic song with no drums, so John Bonham sat this one out. Jimmy Page played two different guitars on the track – a 12-string and a 6-string – and John Paul Jones played mandolin. Jones was the bass player in Led Zeppelin but could play a variety of instruments, expanding the band’s musical range. This was one of the songs Led Zeppelin played during acoustic sets at their concerts from 1971-1977. Plant would sometimes say the word “Joni” after the line, “She plays guitar and cries and sings.”
9. Far Away Eyes – The Rolling Stones, Some Girls, (1978)
In a 1978 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Mick Jagger said, “You know, when you drive through Bakersfield on a Sunday morning or Sunday evening, all the country music radio stations start broadcasting black gospel services live from LA. And that’s what the song refers to. But the song’s really about driving alone, listening to the radio.” Asked if the girl in the song was a real one, Jagger replied, “Yeah, she’s real, she’s a real girl.”
10. Where You Lead – Carole King, Tapestry, (1971)
While the song itself was not released as a single, the album Tapestry as a whole is a record-breaking, charting album. It was the #1 album in the US for fifteen consecutive weeks, being the longest run any female solo artist has ever had at the top of the album charts, and has occupied a spot on the Billboard top-200 albums for a total of over 300 weeks (nearly 6 years). The album is certified diamond by the RIAA – which means there were over ten million sold.
“Where You Lead” served as the theme song to the infamous TV series Gilmore Girls, for which Carole King re-recorded it with her daughter Louise Goffin sharing vocals. King also appeared three times as a guest star on the series, as the proprietor of the music store in the fictional town of Stars Hollow. While the town was fictional, the record store was not: there really was a Record Breakers store in suburban Connecticut, where the show was set.
King was uncomfortable singing about following a man around and nixed the song from her repertoire. “After I recorded it for the Tapestry album, we women decided that we didn’t actually need to follow our men anymore,” she said in a 2004 interview. She explained that Gilmore Girls gave the song a new lease on life by changing the message to reflect a bond between a mother and daughter and ultimately a bond between women.
11. Vacation – Go-Gos, (1982)
Go-Go’s bass player Kathy Valentine wrote this song in 1980 when she was a member of a Los Angeles band called The Textones. Kathy grew up in Austin, Texas, and on a trip back to the city, met a dreamy boy named Billy who sang in a band called Boy Problems. On the flight back to LA, she wrote these lines on a napkin:
Now that I’m away, I wish I’d stayed
Tomorrow’s a day of mine you won’t be in
“The short romance had softened me, and the words, written from true-life longing, resonated forever,” she wrote in her memoir, All I Ever Wanted.
Valentine finished the song and recorded it with The Textones, which were composed of two guys and two girls. Their version was released in the UK as the B-side of their first single, written by Tom Petty called, “I Can’t Fight It.”
The original Text Tones version of this song runs just at 1:45 and starts with the line, “I’ve thought a lot of things about you.” Jane Wiedlin came up with the idea of changing that line to “Can’t seem to get my mind off of you.”
Richard Gottehrer, who produced the group’s first two albums, weighed in on the tune: “‘Vacation’ was an anomaly on the second album, which really wasn’t as good as the first one. They were queens of the LA world and I’m sure they had boyfriends, girlfriends, whatever, along with people giving them substances, and that is reflected in the music. I wish it’d get to the chorus sooner but I guess you needed to set up the story; the song is very good, but the chorus is amazingly good.”
This was featured in The Go-Go’s-themed Broadway musical Head Over Heels, which debuted in July 2018. Michael Mayer, the show’s director, spoke about adapting the song, which was given a new vocal arrangement: “It’s always going to be a tricky song because of the cognitive dissonance between the tempo, the melody and the lyric. We thought that maybe it should be a ballad so that you deliver this sort of rueful lyric with a melancholy music. We tried that and you just want to scream, it’s so wrong – it’s not in the DNA of the song.”
12. Take It Easy – The Eagles, (1972)
Jackson Browne started writing this song on his first album, but he didn’t know how to finish it. At the time, he was living in an apartment in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles, and his upstairs neighbor was Glenn Frey, who needed songs for his new band – the Eagles.
Frey heard Browne working on the song (he says that he learned a lot about songwriting by listening to his downstairs neighbor work), and told Jackson that he thought it was great. Browne said he was having trouble completing the track, and played what he had of it. When he got to the second verse, Frey came up with a key lyric: “It’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowing down to take a look at me.”
Browne turned the song over to Frey, who finished writing it and recorded it with the Eagles, who used it as the first song on their first album, and also their first single. Frey says that Browne did most of the work on the song and was very generous in sharing the writing credit. He described the unfinished version of the song as a “package without the ribbon.”
Thanks to the line, “Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,” music lovers have made this Southwest town a popular stop on their road trips. Winslow is on Route 40 in northern Arizona, making it a great place to stop if you’re traveling from California to New Mexico.
While it might not be the actual corner Jackson Browne was standing on, the city designated the corner of West 2nd Street and North Kinsley Avenue in downtown Winslow as “Standin’ On The Corner Park.” Officially opened in 1999, the park has become a popular tourist destination and hosts a festival every year. A mural with the name of the town, and with a statue of a guy standing on the corner have filled many Flickr feeds. When the mural was damaged by fire in 2004, the Eagles donated a signed guitar that was raffled off to help repair it.
13. Can’t Find My Way Home – Blind Faith, (1969)
Blind Faith was a Supergroup made up of Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker, and Ric Grech. They released just one album, which topped both the UK and US charts around the same time the group was breaking up.
Winwood wrote and sang lead on the song, along with the rest of the very little original material Blind Faith had written. Many critics noted that Blind Faith sounded a lot more like Winwood’s old band Traffic than Clapton’s Cream, which is what Clapton was going for.
Clapton played acoustic guitar on this track, which is something he rarely did because of his history with long and intense solos in his previous band, Cream.
The album was released in the UK with a cover photo of an 11-year-old girl named Mariora Goschen. The cover photo is as famous as the album itself, since it showed Goschen naked and holding a model spaceship (a different cover with a band photo was used in the US and for stores that wanted an alternative in the UK).
Bob Seidemann came up with the concept and took the photo, which represents humankind’s relationship with technology (this was when the mission to put a man on the moon was big news). The band wasn’t named yet, and when Seidemann took the photo he called it “Blind Faith.” Clapton decided that should be the name of the band.
They did not have enough original material to fill the sets at their concerts, so they played songs from their previous bands (Cream, Traffic, The Spencer Davis Group), to fill.
14. Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, (1977)
Lindsey Buckingham wrote this as a message to Stevie Nicks. It describes their breakup, with the most obvious line being, “Packing up, shacking up is all you want to do,” and concluding that he is better off without her – she can go her own way as far as he’s concerned. Stevie insisted she never shacked up with anyone when they were going out, and wanted Lindsey to take out the line, but he refused.
Stevie Nicks told Q ” magazine June 2009: “It was certainly a message within a song. And not a very nice one at that.”
The bitterness in the verse’s lyrics is often lost in this song, overpowered by a refrain that suggests adventure and individuality. In later years, Fleetwood Mac encouraged this translation as the song became a singalong stadium stomper at their live shows, with no hint of the resentment that fueled it. They even featured it in concerts after Buckingham was booted from the band in 2018, with Neil Finn singing his part and Mike Campbell taking the guitar solo.
15. Road To Nowhere – Talking Heads, Little Creatures, (1985)
Talking Heads shared the sentiment on their single, “Road To Nowhere,” a deceptively upbeat pop-rock tune about facing a dire future with optimism. “I wanted to write a song that presented a resigned, even joyful look at doom,” Talking Heads singer David Byrne recalled in the liner notes of Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads.
“At our deaths and at the apocalypse… (always looming, folks). I think it succeeded. The front bit, the white gospel choir, is kind of tacked on, ’cause I didn’t think the rest of the song was enough… I mean, it was only two chords. So, out of embarrassment, or shame, I wrote an intro section that had a couple more in it.”
In 2010, former Florida governor Charlie Crist used this without permission during the Republican primary for the Florida Senate seat. In a campaign video, Crist claimed his opponent, Marco Rubio, was on “the road to nowhere.” David Byrne sued Crist for copyright infringement to the tune of $1 million and won an undisclosed settlement.
The song was also used during the end scenes and credits of the 1989 movie Little Monsters, starring Fred Savage and Howie Mandel. It was supposed to be released on the movie’s soundtrack, but the album was shelved as the film’s production company, Vestron Pictures, was facing bankruptcy. And lastly, the song showed up in the 1994 movie Reality Bites, starring Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke.