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1. Yesterday – Beatles, Help Studio Album, (1965)
“Yesterday” is one of the most recorded songs in the history of popular music. Its entry in Guinness World Records states that, by January 1986, 1,600 cover versions had already been made.
The song took a while to complete, partly because of McCartney’s initial concern that he had subconsciously plagiarised someone else’s work (known as cryptomnesia). As he put it, “For about a month I went round to people in the music business and asked them whether they had ever heard it before. Eventually it became like handing something in to the police. I thought if no one claimed it after a few weeks then I could have it.”Upon being convinced that he had not robbed anyone of their melody, McCartney began writing lyrics to suit it.
Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay oh
There’s a shadow hanging over me yesterday came suddenly
Yesterday love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away oh I believe in yesterday
2. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On, (1971)
History on Marvin Gaye – By the end of the 1960s, Marvin Gaye had fallen into a deep depression following the brain tumor diagnosis of his Motown singing partner Tammi Terrell, the failure of his marriage to Anna Gordy, a growing dependency on cocaine, troubles with the IRS, and struggles with Motown Records, the label he had signed with in 1961. One night, while holed up in his Detroit apartment, Gaye attempted suicide with a handgun, only to be saved from committing the act by Berry Gordy‘s father.
What’s Going On spent several weeks at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 behind Three Dog Night‘s “Joy to the World“, and spent five weeks at number one on the Soul Singles chart between March 27 and April 24, 1971.
In 2004, the album’s title track was ranked number four on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
On the afternoon of April 1, 1984, in the family house in the West Adams district of Los Angeles, Gaye intervened in a fight between his parents and became involved in a physical altercation with his father, Marvin Gay Sr. In Gaye’s bedroom minutes later, at 12:38 p.m. (PST), Gaye Sr. shot Gaye in the heart and then, at point-blank range, his left shoulder. The first shot proved fatal. Gaye was pronounced dead at 1:01 p.m. (PST) after his body arrived at California Hospital Medical Center, one day short of his 45th birthday.
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
3. Take The Long Way Home – Supertramp, Breakfast in America, (1979)
According to its composer Roger Hodgson, the song deals with how the desire to go home can go two ways.
“But you’re the joke of the neighborhood
Why should you care if you’re feeling good?
When lonely days turn to lonely nights”
It’s really about not wanting to be home, which most of us can relate to right now, even though it is more about being ignored in a relationship.
4. Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed, (1969)
Mick Jagger 2012 quote on NPR about the song – Similarly, on NPR in 2012:
“It was a very moody piece about the world closing in on you a bit … When it was recorded, early ’69 or something, it was a time of war and tension, so that’s reflected in this tune. It’s still wheeled out when big storms happen, as they did the other week [during Hurricane Sandy]. It’s been used a lot to evoke natural disaster.”
Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away
My very life today
Gimme, gimme shelter
Or I’m gonna fade away
5. For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield, (1966)
Written by Buffalo Springfield and guitarist Stephen Stills, this song was not about anti-war gatherings, but rather youth gatherings protesting anti-loitering laws, and the closing of the West Hollywood nightclub, Pandora’s Box. Stills was not there when they closed the club, but had heard about it from his bandmates.
Buffalo Springfield was the band’s first album, and this song was not originally included on it. After “For What It’s Worth” became a hit single, it replaced “Baby Don’t Scold Me” on re-issues of the album.
There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
6. Don’t Stand So Close To Me – The Police, Zenyatta Mondatta, (1980)
So only on the list because of the title and the idea for Don’t Stand So Close To Me.
This song is about a teacher who lusts after one of his students. Sting was a teacher before joining The Police, and was no doubt the subject of young girl fantasy, but he insists the lyrics are not based on personal experience. Putting the speculation to rest, he explained on the DVD for his 2001 All This Time album that he made up the story
This is an example of Sting’s “work backward” method. “I pluck a title from the air, just free-associating, and then try to figure out a story that it could apply to,” he wrote in Lyrics By Sting. Fascinated by the dangerous obsession at the center of Nabokov’s novel Lolita, he “transposed this idea to a relationship between a teacher and his pupil. Wanting by this time to identify whatever my sources were, I conspired to get the author’s name into the song with one of the loosest rhymes in the history of pop. Well, I thought it was hilarious, but I caught some flak.”
This was featured in the first-season of Friends episode, “The One Where Underdog Gets Away,” where the character Joey appears on a poster for venereal disease treatment. The song plays when they plaster the posters all over New York City.
7. Only The Lonely – Roy Orbison, (1960)
Roy Orbison wrote this with his songwriting partner Joe Melson, but intended to offer the song to either Elvis Presley or the Everly Brothers (who had already recorded Orbison’s song “Claudette”), but the Everly Brothers persuaded Orbison that he should cut it himself.
When Orbison was in The Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne, he wrote a sequel to this song called “Lonely No More.”
Only the lonely (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah)
Know this feeling ain’t right
There goes my baby
There goes my heart
They’re gone forever
So far apart
8. All By Myself – Eric Carmen, Self Titled Album (1975)
Eric Carmen says, “I was listening to Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto (written in 1901) and I heard the melody which I used for the verse.” When he wrote this, Carmen thought the Rachmaninoff music was in the public domain, meaning he could use it free of charge. After this song came out, he found out it wasn’t and agreed to a settlement with the Rachmaninoff estate.
This was used on two episodes of Friends in relation to Chandler and Joey’s friendship. First, it appeared in season two’s “The One Where Eddie Moves In,” when the former roommates miss living together, then in season six’s “The One With Mac And C.H.E.E.S.E,” when they contemplate making up after a fight.
When I was young
I never needed anyone
And makin’ love was just for fun
Those days are gone
All by myself
Don’t want to be, all by myself anymore
All by myself
Don’t want to live, all by myself anymore
Hard to be sure
Sometimes I feel so insecure
And love so distant and obscure
Remains the cure
9. Dancing With Myself – Generation X, (1980)
Idol originally recorded this in 1980 with his band Generation X, but producer Keith Forsey thought Billy should try releasing it on his own in the States. Forsey set Billy up in New York and thanks to MTV, the song quickly caught on.
This song is about more than just dancing. Idol told Rolling Stone: “The song really is about people being in a disenfranchised world where they’re left bereft (deprived) , dancing with their own reflections.”
When there’s no-one else in sight
In the crowded lonely night
So let’s sink another drink
‘Cause it’ll give me time to think
If I had the chance
I’d ask the world to dance
And I’ll be dancing with myself
10. I Wanna Be Sedated – Ramones, Road To Ruin (1978)
The chorus, where Ramone sings about “Nothing to do” and “Nowhere to go,” was inspired by their 1977-78 tour when they ended up in London around Christmas. It was their first time in the city, but it was pretty much shut down. Joey and Dee Dee stayed in their hotel and watched movies
For Johnny Ramone’s guitar solo, he plays the same note 65 times in a row, very punk.
Nothing to do, nowhere to go o,
Just put me in a wheelchair, get me on a plane
Hurry hurry hurry, before I go insane
I can’t control my fingers, I can’t control my brain
11. We Gotta Get Out Of This Place – The Animals, Animal Tracks (1965)
Written By Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Animals recorded it to try and get a more American Sound.
There are two entirely different recordings of this song by The Animals. The US single version is an alternate take, shipped to MGM, The Animals’ American record label, by mistake. Nevertheless, this is a far superior version of the song. Unfortunately, it’s this version that’s played by almost all Oldies radio stations today.
Adrian Cronauer (the movie Good Morning Vietnam was based on his life) mentioned on a special Independence Day show on Sirius Satellite Radio that this was the most requested song on Armed Forces Radio when he was in Vietnam.
Watch my daddy in bed a-dyin’
Watched his hair been turnin’ grey, yeah
He’s been workin’ and slavin’ his life away
I know he’s been workin’ so hard
We gotta get out of this place
If it’s the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
Girl, there’s a better life for me and you
Somehow I know it, baby
12. Stayin Alive – BeeGees, Saturday Night Live Soundtrack (1977)
This was one of five songs the Bee Gees wrote specifically for Saturday Night Fever. Like the film, the song is about much more than dancing and having a good time. It deals with struggle and aspiration; making your way in the world even after you’ve been kicked around and ultimately prevailing despite the circumstances. John Travolta’s character in the movie is a young man working a dead-end job who feels alienated by his parents. Dancing is his form of expression, and weekends are his time to let loose.
And you may look the other way
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man
Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother
You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
13. Should I Stay or Should I Go – The Clash Combat Rock (1982)
The line, “If you want me off your back” was originally the sexually charged line “On your front or on your back.” In April 1982, the famed ’60s producer Glyn Johns was brought in to slash the album down and make it into a mainstream-friendly single-LP. In addition to cutting parts of songs out, he insisted that Mick Jones re-record this line, fearing that US radio stations would not touch a record with such a sexually suggestive line.
One day is fine, and next is black
So if you want me off your back
Well come on and let me know
Should I Stay or should I go?
If I go there will be trouble
14. Time – Pink Floyd – Dark Side of The Moon, (1973)
This song is about how time can slip by, but many people do not realize it until it is too late. Roger Waters got the idea when he realized he was no longer preparing for anything in life, but was right in the middle of it.
When the band came up with the concept for the album, the idea was to explore the pressures of life throughout the songs. This song takes on the topic of mortality.
This was the only song on Dark Side of the Moon on which all four members received a writing credit.
The band played this live long before it was released and they played the whole album in February 1972 at the Rainbow Theater in London, over a year before it came out.
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun
So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death
15. So Far Away – Carole King, Tapestry (1971)
So Far Away starts off with a surface level approach, as King describes the physical distance between lovers, but as the song progresses she takes on a more intimate approach and writes about the emotional distance, not only about between lovers, but also between those that we love.
But you’re so far away
Doesn’t anybody stay in one place any more?
It would be so fine to see your face at my door
And it doesn’t help to know you’re so far away
Yeah yeah so far away, yeh, you’re so far away
16. I Ran (So Far Away) – A Flock of Seagulls, (1982)
This is the opening song of the album, which is a concept piece about an alien invasion of Earth. The song itself describes a man’s attraction to a woman, but as the attraction increases the subject is overcome by anxiety and longs to run away from his feelings, but is unable to forget her. The song then takes an unexpected turn and they are both abducted by the aliens.
And I ran, I ran so far away.
I just ran, I ran all night and day.
I couldn’t get away
Reached out a hand to touch your face;
You’re slowly disappearing from my view;
Disappearing from my view.
Reached out a hand to try again;
I’m floating in a beam of light with you;
A beam of light with you.
17. A Million Miles Away – The Plimsouls, Everywhere At Once (1983)
Mainly a Southern California Band, this song became popular because of the use in the movie Valley Girl.
I had my eyes shut and dreaming about the past
I thought about you while the radio played
I should have got loaded, some reason I stayed
I started drifting to a different place
I realized I was falling off the face of the world
And there was nothing left to bring me back
Took a ride, I went downtown
The streets were empty, there was no one around
To place that we used to know
Been all the places that we used to go
I’m at the wrong end of your looking glass
Just trying to hold on to the hands of the past and you
And there was nothing left to bring me back
18. Isolation – Joy Division, Closer (1980)
Despite or maybe even because of the tragedy surrounding Joy Division, the band has had an indelible effect on the post-punk music scene, which later morphed into the 1980’s gothic rock, industrial and alternative rock genres inspiring bands such as The Sisters of Mercy and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Joy Division’s songs remain a firm favorite on the indie and goth circuits, and can be still heard in clubs and on the radio throughout the world
Their biggest hit, Love Will Tear Us Apart was released after Ian Curtis passed away.
Surrendered to self preservation,
From others who care for themselves.
A blindness that touches perfection,
But hurts just like anything else.
19. A Strange Day – The Cure, Pornography, (1982)
In 2000 it was voted #183 in Colin Larkin‘s All Time Top 1000 Albums. In 2005, Spin cited the album as a “high-water mark for goth‘s musical evolution”. NME described Pornography as “arguably the album that invented goth”. Slant Magazine listed the album at No. 79 on its list of the best albums of the 1980s. In 2011, NME listed Pornography at No. 6 on its “50 Darkest Albums Ever” list. Mojo placed it at No. 83 in their list “100 Records That Changed the World”. AllMusic critic Stewart Mason also described the record as “one of the key goth rock albums of the ’80s”.
Cherish the faces as they wait for the end
Sudden hush across the water
And we’re here again
And the sand
And the sea grows
I close my eyes
Move slowly through drowning waves
On a strange day
My head falls back
And the walls crash down
And the sky
And the impossible
Held for one moment I remember a song
An impression of sound
Then everything is gone
20. Enjoy The Silence – Depeche Mode, Violator (1990)
This was their biggest US hit, charting at #8 in the US…but Depeche Mode holds the attendance record at Hollywood Bowl.
It’s normally a noisy world, take the time to enjoy the silence.
Vows are spoken
To be broken
Feelings are intense
Words are trivial
So does the pain
Words are meaningless
21. The Sounds of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel, Wednesday Morning 3am (1966)
The first recording was an acoustic version on Simon & Garfunkel’s first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, which was billed as “exciting new sounds in the folk tradition,” and sold about 2000 copies. When the album tanked, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel split up.
Simon and Garfunkel had no idea their acoustic song had been overdubbed with electric instruments, but it became a huge hit and got them back together. Had Wilson not reworked the song without their knowledge, the duo probably would have gone their separate ways. When the song hit #1 in the States, Simon was in England and Garfunkel was in college.
Lyrics are about man’s lack of communication with his fellow man
This has a lot of meaning in the movie The Graduate. The lyrics refer to silence as a cancer, and if people in the movie had just been honest and not afraid to talk, all the messy things would not have happened. Problems can be solved only by honesty.
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence”
22. Things Can Only Get Better – Howard Jones, Dream Into Action (1985)
Howard Jones quotes, “And everyone goes through s–t. Everyone goes through bad times. Every single person on the planet goes through bad times. And it’s great sometimes to have somebody say to you, ‘Come on, even if it gets so you lose everything and everything goes horribly wrong, you can still pick yourself up and go forward, and you can make it right, you can make things get better.”
(And do you feel scared, I do)
(But I won’t stop and falter)
(And if we threw it all away)
(Things can only get better)
And do you feel scared, I do
But I won’t stop and falter
And if we threw it all away
Things can only get better
23. Don’t Dream It’s Over – Crowded House, Self Titled Album (1986)
Used in The Stand Miniseries in 1994, Crowded House lead singer Neil Finn wrote this song and explained in an interview with Goldmine: “I wrote that on my brother’s piano. I’m not sure if I remember what the context was, exactly, but it was just about on the one hand feeling kind of lost, and on the other hand sort of urging myself on: Don’t dream it’s over.” Finn considers this a song of unity.
There is freedom within, there is freedom without
Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
There’s a battle ahead, many battles are lost
But you’ll never see the end of the road
While you’re traveling with me
In the paper today tales of war and of waste
But you turn right over to the T.V. page
Hey now, hey now
Don’t dream it’s over
24. Turn! Turn! Turn! – The Byrds, (1965)
The lyrics were taken from a passage from the book of Ecclesiastes (3:1-8) in The Bible.
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
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