‘Burning the midnight lamp’ (Jimi Hendrix)
Hendrix wrote the lyrics on a flight from New York to Los Angeles in 1967. They express the confusion he felt at the time.
Hendrix: "That's really a song I'm proud of. Some people say this is the worst track we have ever done. I think it is the best. Even if the technique is not great, even if the sound is not clear and even if the lyrics can't be properly heard, this is a song that you often listen to and come back to. I don't play neither piano nor harpsichord, but I had managed to put together all these different sounds. It was the starting point."
Hendrix used a wah wah pedal on his guitar for this song. Frank Zappa was an influence on this.
The Sweet Inspirations, who often sang with Aretha Franklin, sang on this.
‘She’s not there’ (The Zombies)
The Zombies recorded this in one take after they won a talent contest at their college called the Herts Beat competition. The prize was a recording session.
The group signed to Decca Records, and their keyboard player Rod Argent came up with this song for the session. It tells the story of an alluring woman who won't be tied down to one man - the singer wants to tell us all about her, but he can only use words, since she's not there.
This was The Zombies first single. The band also recorded a cover of Gershwin's "Summertime" for their first album, which was considered for the band's first single, but "She's Not There" got the nod. Boosted by radio play on New York powerhouse WINS, the song became a hit in the US.
Some of the chord changes Rod Argent used were inspired by Brian Hyland's "Sealed With A Kiss."
This was The Zombies biggest hit. Even though it did very well, their next releases didn't catch on until 1969, when they hit US #3 with "Time Of The Season." Unfortunately, the band had already broken up by then and Rod Argent had started his own group, Argent, with Zombies bassist Chris White on board as a songwriter.
Lead singer Colin Blunstone re-recorded this in the early '70s under the name Neil MacArthur. His version went to #34 in the UK.
Santana covered this on their 1977 album Moonflower. Their version hit #27 in the US and #11 in the UK; it was the only non-live song from the otherwise live album. It was the last Santana cover song to chart. From here on out, the band would experiment with more Jazz-sounding material. Moonflower was also the last album before Supernatural to sell more than a million copies.
Rod Argent on the marriage of lyrics and melodies: "Words have to sit, they have to sort of combine seamlessly with the way the melody is being sung. I know I was very concerned with the lyrics on 'She's Not There' but in the sense that they had to really complement the melody. They had to stand on their own, and had to have their own rhythm and, in that last section I was using the words with different stresses at different times to propel it along towards the final chord. So lyrics have always been very important to me in that way, but not necessarily in a sense of having to explain something concrete. They're an important part of the jigsaw, because I think bad lyrics can screw up a song."
This song was inspired by John Lee Hooker's "No One Told Me" from his 1964 LP The Big Soul Of John Lee Hooker. Argent explained: "If you play that John Lee Hooker song you'll hear 'no one told me, it was just a feeling I had inside' but there's nothing in the melody or the chords that's the same. It was just the way that little phrase just tripped off the tongue. I'd always thought of the verse of 'She's Not There' to be mainly Am to D. But what I'd done, quite unconsciously, was write this little modal sequence incorporating those chord changes. There was an additional harmonic influence in that song. In the second section it goes from D to D minor and the bass is on the thirds, F# and F, a little device I'd first heard in 'Sealed With A Kiss' and it really attracted me, that chord change with bass notes not on the roots. And I'm sure I was showing off in the solo as much as I could!"
This song was born in bassist/vocalist Chris White's bedroom and only had one verse until producer Ken Jones heard it. "I remember we were playing in Hatfield, and Ken Jones came up to hear us. And after the gig, Rod said, 'I've got this song that we've been rehearsing' and he played it to Ken on the piano. He did the verse, and then the solo, and there was no second verse, and Ken said 'Can't we go back to the beginning again?' So Rod had to write another verse, because it only had one originally."
On 'She's Not There' Ken Jones also instigated a recurring trait of many Zombies' recordings: additional overdubs added in the mixdown to mono stage from 4-track. In this case, there were a couple of extra beats superimposed to create a distinctive drum pattern, thereby rendering the original mono single mix of 'She's Not There' the only 'correct' version of the song.
This reached its US chart peak of #2 on the second week of December 1964. This earned the group an invite to the Murray the K Christmas show on December 29 at the Fox Theater in New York City on a bill with Ben E. King, The Shangri-Las, The Shirelles, and several other popular acts. It was the first time the band came to the city, and it was a seminal moment for them, as they got to meet many of their idols and soak up some American culture. They spent a lot of time with Patti LaBelle & the Bluebells, who introduced them to the music of Aretha Franklin. On their 2015 album Still Got That Hunger, The Zombies recorded a song about this experience called "New York."
This provides the soundtrack for a 2016 Kohler commercial that follows a faucet thief known as "The Jackal" who changes her appearance to evade the police.
‘Mercedes’ (Janis Joplin)
This is based on a song called C'mon, God, and buy me a Mercedes Benz by the Los Angeles beat poet Michael McClure. Joplin saw McClure perform it, and on August 8, 1970 she reworked it into her own song, which she performed about an hour later.
As recounted in the Patti Smith memoir Just Kids, before her show at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, she went to a nearby bar (likely Vahsen's, later renamed Little Dick's) with her good friend, the songwriter Bob Neuwirth, and two more recent acquaintances, the actors Rip Torn and Geraldine Page. Joplin started reciting the line, "Oh, Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz" - the first line of McClure's song. The four started banging beer mugs on the table to form a rhythm, and Neuwirth wrote down lyrics he and Joplin came up with on a napkin. They finished the song, and Janis performed it at the show, introducing it by saying, "I just wrote this at the bar on the corner. I'm going to do it Acapulco."
That show was recorded and widely bootlegged, as it was her penultimate performance and the debut of "Mercedes Benz." Joplin played her last concert on August 12 at Harvard Stadium, and died on October 4.
The song is a social commentary on how many people relate happiness and self-worth with money and material possessions. Sung acapella in a blues style, Joplin was poking fun at the mindset that luxury goods will make everything better.
Janis Joplin is from Port Arthur, Texas, a small city close to the Gulf of Mexico near the Louisiana border. In the second verse, the line "Dialing for Dollars is trying to find me" refers to a segment the local NBC station ran called "Dialing for Dollars." The station would announce a password on the air, then call a local phone number at random later on. If whoever answered knew the password, that person would win a cash prize. Variations of "Dialing for Dollars" ran in many cities throughout the United States and Canada in the '60s and early '70s.
Janis Joplin never got a Mercedes Benz, but she did have a 1965 Porsche that was painted to become a piece of hippie art.
This song spoke to the shift in the counterculture, as some of the impoverished musicians speaking out against the system were now very rich. As Barney Hoskyns, who wrote about Joplin and the song in his book Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock told us, "Rock was now big business, and a lot of money was flooding into the pockets of people who never expected to make it. This set up a mixture of expectation and guilt – they were acquiring a taste for the finer things but knew that a good hippie shouldn't be materialistic. By the early '70s it had all changed, and rock stars were the new Yuppies."
Joplin recorded this song at Sunset Sound studios in Los Angeles on October 1, 1970 with producer Paul Rothchild, famous for his work with The Doors. It ended up being her last recording session, as she died three days later (she also recorded a version of "Happy Trails" as a 30th birthday present for John Lennon" in this session).
The Pearl album was just about finished when Joplin died. Rothchild included her raw take of "Mercedes Benz" on the album, leaving it acapella. A quip Joplin made before her vocal take - "I'd like to do a song of great social and political import" - was included as an introduction. In its unadorned state, the song showcased Joplin's humor and raw vocal talent.
In the mid-'90s, Mercedes used this in commercials for their cars. It was one of the great misappropriations of a song in a commercial, as Joplin's song was meant to convey the message that owning a luxury automobile does not make you a better person. Joplin's estate - sister Laura and brother Michael - allowed Mercedes to use it.
There are three credited songwriters on this track: Joplin, Michael McClure, and Bob Neuwirth. McClure says he never earned a cent from his poetry, but "Mercedes Benz" paid for his house in the Butters Canyon section of Oakland, California.
In an interview published in hE@D Magazine Michael McClure said that Joplin called him before recording the song to get his permission. She sang him the song, then he sang her his original version, and they both liked their own renditions better. "Then she asked me if she could sing it, and I agreed," McClure said. "I had no idea that her songs were worth so much money."
The soul singer Bobby Womack claimed credit for inspiring this song. According to Womack, Joplin got the idea for the song after riding in his new Mercedes 600. Womack was having success as a songwriter, and Joplin commissioned him to write a song for her Pearl album, which turned out to be "Trust Me." She recorded that one (which also appears on the Pearl album), and asked for another.
As recounted in his Womack's book Midnight Mover, he took her for a ride, and she was impressed with the new car. After a few blocks, she started singing: "Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedez Benz..."
When they returned to the studio, the band had gone home, but Joplin put down the vocal track.
This took place on October 1, 1970. As Womack told it, Joplin got a phone call, which he presumed was her drug dealer. She asked him to leave, they hugged goodbye, and Joplin was found dead three days later.
‘You’ve got to hide your love away’ (The Beatles)
It was rumored that this was the first gay rock song, a message to Beatles manager Brian Epstein, who was gay. In the part of The Beatles Anthology, that covers Epstein's death, this song is played, giving credence to the idea that this song was indeed a song about hiding one's homosexuality.
John Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1971, that when he wrote this, he was just knocking out pop songs, without expressing his own personal emotions to any great extent: He explained: "I was in Kenwood (his home at the time) and I would just be songwriting. The period would be for songwriting and so every day I would attempt to write a song and it's one of those that you sort of sing a bit sadly to yourself, 'Here I stand, head in hand...'"
Lennon then went on to say how listening to Bob Dylan was beginning to influence his songwriting around the time he wrote this. He recalled: "I started thinking about my own emotions - I don't know when exactly it started like 'I'm a Loser' or 'Hide Your Love Away' or those kind of things- instead of projecting myself into a situation I would just try to express what I felt about myself which I'd done in me books. I think it was Dylan helped me realize that - not by any discussion or anything but just by hearing his work - I had a sort of professional songwriter's attitude to writing pop songs; he would turn out a certain style of song for a single and we would do a certain style of thing for this and the other thing. I was already a stylized songwriter on the first album. But to express myself I would write Spaniard in the Works or In His Own Write, the personal stories which were expressive of my personal emotions. I'd have a separate songwriting John Lennon who wrote songs for the sort of meat market, and I didn't consider them - the lyrics or anything - to have any depth at all. They were just a joke. Then I started being me about the songs, not writing them objectively, but subjectively."
The line "feeling two foot small" was written "feeling two foot tall." Lennon sang it wrong but liked it and left it that way.
Session musicians played flutes. It was the first time outsiders played on a Beatles record.
Lennon's friend Pete Shotton came up with the "Hey"s in the chorus.
Joe Cocker in 1991 on his album Night Calls. Cocker previously covered The Beatles "I'll Cry Instead," "With A Little Help From My Friends" and "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window."
‘I get around’ (The Beach Boys)
Like most early Beach Boys songs, this does not have deep lyrical content; it's a fun song about a teenage lifestyle featuring friends, girls and cars. Musically, however, it was incredibly innovative, with an opening fuzz guitar, stop-start rhythms and a keyboard line working in and out of the song. Written by Brian Wilson with contributions from Mike Love, it was the first Beach Boys recording after The Beatles took hold in America, and Wilson responded with this rather complex creation.
This was The Beach Boys first #1 in their own country ("Surfin' Safari" went to #1 in Sweden two years earlier). Father-manager Murry Wilson and therefore his beleaguered son Brian despaired over not hitting the top spot in the US, coming off second best first to the Four Seasons through 1962 and into '63, then to Jan & Dean when they got to #1 that summer with "Surf City" - a song Brian Wilson wrote - and then into 1964 with the Beatles took over.
This was released as a double A-side single in May 1964 with "Don't Worry Baby." It is considered one of the best ever single releases along with "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever" by The Beatles and "Don't Be Cruel/Hound Dog" by Elvis Presley. It was rated fifth biggest seller of 1964 by both Billboard and Cash Box - indicating close to 2 million US units sold - though it was another 18 years before Capitol submitted it to the RIAA for auditing (the only other Beach Boys single the label did this for was "Good Vibrations").
This was The Beach Boys real breakthrough in the UK, reaching #7 in a chart that for months had seen only British faces. It was effusively pushed by Mick Jagger on British TV's Juke Box Jury and he personally circulated copies of it to the UK's independent pirate radio stations offshore. It was also #1 in Canada and New Zealand.
Fuzzed and reverbed guitar were demonstrated on this way before anyone else in rock, but too subtly for the general public to notice. It was about three years later that fuzz and reverb became a huge deal from the amplifiers of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards.
Alice Cooper says that this is his favorite song. The horror rocker is a big fan of '60s pop music, especially The Beach Boys and The Beatles. He was 14 when he first heard "I Get Around," and even though he didn't surf, he did want to drive around with his friends.
In our interview with Randy Bachman, he recalls a conversation with Brian Wilson where Wilson explained that this song is based on the Broadway show tune "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue." Said Bachman:
"I said, 'How did you do that?' He said, 'Well, when they say to stay on the C chord for two beats, I stay on it for four. Or if they say stay on the C chord for eight beats, I stay on it for two.' So if you listen to 'Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue, oh, what those five feet could do,' that's 'I Get Around.' But they went, 'Round, round, get around, I get around.' And then he put his own, 'Woo oo,' and then he wrote his own song and he put in his own lyrics."
‘Riders of the storm’ (The doors)
This was the last song Jim Morrison recorded. He went to France and died a few weeks later. The single was released in June 1971, shortly before Morrison's death.
The song can be seen as an autobiographical account of Morrison's life: he considered himself a "Rider on the storm." The "killer on the road" is a reference to a screenplay he wrote called The Hitchhiker (An American Pastoral), where Morrison was going to play the part of a hitchhiker who goes on a murder spree. The lyrics, "Girl you gotta love your man" can be seen as a desperate plea to his long time girlfriend Pamela.
As it says in Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend by Stephen Davis, in 1962, while Jim was attending Florida State University in Tallahassee, he was seeing a girl named Mary Werbelow who lived in Clearwater, 280 miles away. Jim would oftentimes hitchhike to see her. "Those solitary journeys on hot and dusty Florida two-lane blacktop roads, with his thumb out and his imagination on fire with lust and poetry and Nietzsche and God knows what else - taking chances on redneck truckers, fugitive homos, and predatory cruisers - left an indelible psychic scar on Jimmy, whose notebooks began to obsessively feature scrawls and drawings of a lone hitchhiker, an existential traveler, faceless and dangerous, a drifting stranger with violent fantasies, a mystery tramp: the killer on the road."
This evolved out of a jam session when the band was messing around with "Ghost Riders In the Sky," a 1948 cowboy song by Stan Jones that was later recorded by Johnny Cash, Bing Crosby and many others. It was Jim Morrison's idea to alter the title to "Riders On The Storm."
The Doors brought in bass players Marc Benno and Jerry Scheff to play on the album. Scheff came up with the distinctive bass line after Manzarek played him what he had in mind on his keyboard. It took a while to figure out, since it was much harder to play on a bass than a keyboard.
This was the last song on the last Doors album with Morrison. Fittingly, it ends with the storm fading slowly to silence. The remaining Doors released two more albums without Morrison before breaking up in 1972. In 2002, Kreiger and Manzarek reunited as "The Doors Of The 21st Century." Densmore, who says he wasn't invited to join them, went to court and eventually got a ruling preventing the group from using The Doors in its name, so they changed their name to "Riders On The Storm" after this song.
If you listen closely, you can hear Jim Morrison whispering the lyrics over his own singing, which causes a kind of creepy effect.
This was Morrison's final contribution as a rock star. Ray Manzarek told Uncut magazine September 2011: "There's a whisper voice on 'Riders on the Storm,' if you listen closely, a whispered overdub that Jim adds beneath his vocal. That's the last thing he ever did. An ephemeral, whispered overdub."
Paul Rothchild, who produced The Doors' first five albums, decided not to work on this because he didn't like the songs. He thought this sounded like "cocktail music." The Doors ended up producing it themselves with the help of their engineer, Bruce Botnick.
The single was shortened for radio play. Some of the piano solo was cut out.
In 2000, the surviving members of The Doors taped a VH1 Storytellers episode with guest vocalists filling in for Morrison. Scott Stapp from Creed sang on this track.
Creed contributed a version of this to the 2000 Doors tribute album Stoned Immaculate. Creed also performed it with Doors guitarist Robby Krieger at Woodstock '99. Krieger sat in on Creed's "What's This Life For" during the set.
Doors drummer John Densmore wrote a book called Riders On The Storm about his life with Jim Morrison and The Doors.
Eric Red, the screenwriter of the 1986 film The Hitcher, has said that his screenplay was inspired by this song. He said in an interview with DVD Active: "I thought the elements of the song - a killer on the road in a storm plus the cinematic feel of the music - would make an terrific opening for a film. I started with that scene and went from there."
When the 71-year-old Ray Manzarak was asked by the Somerville Journal in March 2010 if he turns up or turns off Doors music when he hears it on the radio. Manzarek said, "Oh, God, turn it up! Are you kidding? Living up in northern California, it rains a lot, so they play the heck out of 'Riders on the Storm.' And when that comes on, I crank that sucker, man."
When he recorded this song, Jim Morrison had already decided that he was going to leave the band and go to Paris, where he would die. Some of the lyrics in this song ("girl, you gotta love your man...") relate to his love for his girlfriend Pam Courson, who went with him to France.
At the end of this song, there are sound effects of thunder, and the faint voice of Jim Morrison whispering, "riders on the storm." This was envisioned as his spirit whispering from the beyond.
‘You really got me’ (The Kinks)
Ray Davies wrote this with the help of his brother (and Kinks guitarist) Dave. Ray played it for Dave on piano, and Dave tried it on guitar. Their first version was six-minutes long, but the final single release came in at just 2:20.
Dave Davies got the dirty guitar sound by slashing the speaker cone on his amp with a razor blade. The vibration of the fabric produced an effect known as "fuzz," which became common as various electronic devices were invented to distort the sound. At the time, none of these devices existed, so Davies would mistreat his amp to get the desired sound, often kicking it. The amp was a cheap unit called an Elpico.
In 2015, Ray Davies told Rolling Stone that the lyric was inspired by watching girls dancing in a club. "I just remembered this one girl dancing," he said. "Sometimes you're so overwhelmed by the presence of another person and you can't put two words together."
Davies expanded on the song's inspiration during a 2016 interview with Q magazine: "I was playing a gig at a club in Piccadilly and there was a young girl in the audience who I really liked. She had beautiful lips. Thin, but not skinny. A bit similar to Françoise Hardy. Not long hair, but down to about there (points to shoulders). Long enough to put your hands through… (drifts off, wistfully)… long enough to hold. I wrote You Really Got Me for her, even though I never met her."
Before they released this, The Kinks put out two singles that flopped: a cover of "Long Tall Sally" and a Ray Davis composition called "You Still Want Me." If "You Really Got Me" didn't sell, there was a good chance their record label would have dropped them.
When The Kinks heard the first version they recorded of this song, they hated the results. It was produced by Shel Talmy, their manager at the time, and Ray Davies thought it came out clean and sterile, when he wanted it to capture the energy of their live shows.
Dave Davies' girlfriend backed them up, saying it didn't make her want to "drop her knickers." The Kinks' record company had no interest in letting them re-record the song, but due to a technicality in their contract, The Kinks were able to withhold the song until they could do it again. At the second session, Dave Davies slashed his amp and Talmy produced it to get the desired live sound. This is the version that was released.
Talmy thought the first version was good, and that it also would have been a hit if it was released. This first version was slower and had more of a blues sound.
The song was recorded on September 26, 1964 with Ray Davies on lead vocals, Dave Davies on guitar and Pete Quaife on bass.
The Kinks didn't have a drummer when they first recorded the song, so producer Shel Talmy brought in a session musician named Bobby Graham to play. When they recorded this the second time, Mick Avory had joined the band as their drummer, but Talmy didn't trust him and made him play tambourine while Graham played drums. One other session musician was used - Arthur Greenslade played piano.
Just before Dave Davies started his guitar solo at the second recording session, his brother yelled to encourage him. Dave got a little confused, but they had only three hours of studio time so he kept playing. He pulled off the solo despite the distraction.
The first line was originally "You, you really got me going." Ray Davies changed it to "Girl, you really got me going" at the suggestion of one of their advisers. The idea was to appeal to the teenage girls in their audience.
Dave Davies got the idea for the guitar riff from "Tequila" by The Champs.
This was the first hit for The Kinks. It gave them a lot of publicity and led to TV appearances, magazine covers, and two gigs opening for The Beatles. They didn't have an album out yet, so they rushed one out to capitalize on the demand. This first album contained only five originals, with the rest being R&B covers.
Ray Davies wrote this with the intention of making it big crowd-pleaser for their live shows. He was trying to write something similar to "Louie Louie," which was a big hit for The Kingsmen.
It was rumored that Jimmy Page, who was a session musician at the time, played guitar on this track, which the band stridently denied. According to a 2012 interview on Finding Zoso with producer Shel Talmy, Jimmy Page did not play the lead guitar on the song. However he did play rhythm as Ray Davies didn't want to sing and play guitar at the same time.
Ray Davies: "I made a conscious effort to make my voice sound pure and I sang the words as clearly as the music would allow."
Ray Davies was 22 when they recorded this; Dave Davies was 17.
A 1978 cover of this song was the first single for Van Halen, who played lots of Kinks songs in their early years doing club shows. Eddie Van Halen spent the next several years developing new guitar riffs, and like Davies, was known to manipulate his equipment to get just the right sound.
According to Ray Davies, there was a great deal of jealousy among their peers when The Kinks came up with this song. He said in a 1981 interview with Creem: "There were a lot of groups going around at the time – the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones – and nobody had really cracked with a sort of R&B #1 record. The songs were always sort of like The Beatles. When we first wanted to do a record, we couldn't get a recording gig. We were turned down by Decca, Parlophone, EMI and even Brian Epstein came to see us play and turned us down. So I started writing songs like 'You Really Got Me,' and I think there was a sheer jealousy that we did it first. Because we weren't a great group – untidy – and we were considered maybe a bit of a joke. But for some reason, I'd just had dinner, shepherd's pie, at my sister's house, and I sat down at the piano and played da, da, da, da, da. The funny thing is it was influenced by Mose Allison more than anybody else. And I think there was a lot of bad feeling. I remember we went to clubs like the Marquee, and those bands wouldn't talk to us because we did it first."
The Kinks' next single was "All Day And All Of The Night," which was basically a re-write of this song, but was also a hit.
This was used in the 2004 video game Battlefield Vietnam.
Jon Lord played the keyboard part on this track years before he became a member of Deep Purple. He recalled with a laugh to The Leicester Mercury in 2000: "All I did was plink, plink, plink. It wasn't hard."
Ray Davies recalled in an interview with NME how his brother Dave created the distortion effect on this song. Said Ray: "We stuck knitting needles in the speakers, or in Dave's case, he slit the speakers with a razor blade. In those days we played records on a radiogram so loudly that they all sounded fuzzy. We thought, 'That's a great sound,' without realizing the speakers were buggered. Everyone else was using really clean guitar sounds, so for 'You Really Got Me' we hooked a little speaker up to a clean amp and came up with thunderous, unaffected, pure power."
In a Rolling Stone interview, Ray said that they "evolved" the sound by putting knitting needles in the speakers when recording this song. That statement prompted a rebuttal from his brother Dave, who wrote in to explain: "I alone created the guitar sound for the song with my Elipico amp that I bought. I slashed the speaker with a razor blade, which resulted in the 'You Really Got Me' tone. There were no knitting needles used in making my guitar sound."
Ray Davies told The NME that the Van Halen version of this tune is his favorite Kinks cover. He explained: "It was a big hit for them and put them on a career of excess and sent them on the road. So I enjoyed that one."
Dave Davies is not a fan of the Van Halen cover. He told Rolling Stone: "Our song was working-class people trying to fight back. Their version sounds too easy."
The Who played this at many of their early concerts. Their first single was "I Can't Explain" and was also produced by Shel Talmy. The sound borrowed heavily from this, as Pete Townshend played a dirty guitar riff similar to what Dave Davies' recording.
‘Aquarius/ let the sunshine in’ (The 5th Dimension)
This was written for the rock opera Hair, where it became an anthem for young people who grew their hair out and protested the US government. In the book By the Time We Got to Woodstock: The Great Rock 'n' Roll Revolution of 1969, Bruce Pollock writes:
Among the many people calling the publisher in 1968 for a lock of Hair's mystique was the L.A. producer Bones Howe, who'd been working with the 5th Dimension since engineering "Up-Up and Away" for their first album in 1967. He'd produced hits for the Turtles ("It Ain't Me Babe") and the Association ("Windy"); he'd been a personal guest of Lou Adler at the Monterey Pop Festival where he was perhaps the only West Coast guy in attendance to appreciate Laura Nyro's gruesome performance. Later he delivered Laura's "Stoned Soul Picnic" to the 5th Dimension, for which it was their biggest r&b hit. He was shuttling back and forth between his home in L.A. and the studio in New York working on the vocals for the Stoned Soul Picnic album when the group told him they wanted to do "Aquarius."
"The thing that bothered me about it was that there'd been other releases of 'Aquarius,'" said Bones, "and none had done anything, so I was concerned about what we would do that would be any different. I went to see the show and there's a place where they do "The Flesh Failures" and at the end of the song is just a three bar repeated thing of 'Let the sunshine in' where Ragni was swinging across the stage on a chandelier and there was all kinds of craziness going on. That really stayed with me and I came out of the theater saying, I wonder if I could stick that on the end of 'Aquarius' and make that the ending. So I went back to the hotel and I called the publisher. I mean you don't mess with the music from a Broadway show. I started my professional career in 1956 and I knew a lot about what you can and what you can't do with songs. I said, look the 5th Dimension would like to record 'Aquarius,' but I'd like to make it a medley and I'd like to use the last three bars of 'The Flesh Failures' and I don't want to do it without permission. So he said okay, you can go ahead and do it."
The next problem was to go ahead and do it. "The record was plotted in the fall of '68 and more or less finished in January of '69," Bones said. "I had to do a lot of work with my vocal arranger, Bob Alsivar. Because they couldn't sing both songs in the same key, we had to do a modulation; we figured out how I was going to do the instrumental arrangement so we could change keys. The record itself is the result of a conglomeration of things. I began as a jazz musician and I know the standard repertoire pretty well. I kept thinking about a song called 'Lost in the Stars' and trying to find something to give you that kind of impression. I described it to Bill Holman and he wrote that beautiful woodwinds and strings part that's in the intro. We did the track in L.A. and the vocals in Las Vegas where the 5th Dimension were opening for Frank Sinatra. We were working in that studio in Las Vegas where you used to have to stop when the train went by. Once when we were doing practice runs while the train passed Billy started that riff at the end 'oh let the sunshine…' so I said, wait, let me put that on a separate track at the end. There were a lot of happy accidents making the record."
That the Age of Aquarius (harmony, understanding, sympathy, trust, mystic crystals, revelations) announced to mainstream America by the song had already irrevocably given way to Richard Nixon's vision of law and order troubled Bones Howe not in the least. "I was in my thirties then; I was never part of that culture," he said. "But I made records they liked. I spent my life in the studio. Sometimes I went to the Trip and the Crescendo and all of those places on Sunset Strip because I worked with so many of those people. I was the engineer on 'Eve of Destruction' when the Mamas and Papas came to sing backup vocals. I was there the first night they were there and did their first three albums."
The 5th Dimension was a highly popular ensemble group during the late '60s and early '70s. It originally consisted of Billy Davis, Jr., Marilyn McCoo, Lamonte McLemore, and Ron Townson, who were quickly joined by Florence LaRue. They at first called themselves the Versatiles, and owed their rise to Motown Records and Johnny Rivers, who had just started his own record company. This song turned out to be their biggest hit, staying at #1 for six weeks. The 5th Dimension performed several more hits over the years until 1975, when Davis and McCoo got married and left the group. The original group reunited in 1990 for a tour, capitalizing on the growing nostalgia for the music of its era.
The Age of Aquarius is when the sun is in the constellation Aquarius during the springtime. The next time that this will happen is 2448. We are currently in the age of Pisces.
This song won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1970. It was the second time the group won the Record of the Year, two years previously they won the award for "Up-Up and Away."
This appeared in the movie Forrest Gump, and has a big part in the movie The 40 Year Old Virgin, where at the end of the movie the cast performs the song in Hippie costumes to celebrate the de-flowering of the virgin.
In he movie Apollo 13, there are some scenes where the astronauts are filming live feeds from space from inside the spaceship for viewing on television (the live feeds were commonly featured on network TV in the early days of space flight). In the movie, the astronauts play Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In The Sky" as the background music and theme song for the TV appearances. Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell has since stated that the real song used as the "Theme Song" was "Aquarius," as Aquarius was the name of the Lunar Landing Module that ultimately served as the crew's lifeboat when the mission went awry.
Ex-Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty used the "Let the sunshine in" refrain as the chorus for "Fort Hood," a song from his 2008 album Golden Delicious.
‘Along comes Mary’ (The Association)
Many people interpreted this as a paean to marijuana, which is also known as "Mary Jane." They were probably right. The song was produced by Bones Howe, who would later work on most of the hits for the 5th Dimension. Howe spoke with Bruce Pollock for the book By the Time We Got to Woodstock: The Great Rock 'n' Roll Revolution of 1969. Writes Pollock:
Breaking in with the pot-coded ode "Along Comes Mary," the Association had a long and troubled association with drugs a lot harder than Mary Jane. Bass player Brian Cole overdosed on heroin in 1972. "In the '60s drugs were everywhere," Bones said. "As a producer you had to find ways of getting around that. You'd work in the daytime not at night. If you're working with singers you don't let them have a whole day to laugh and carry on and have a good time and then come in the studio and try to sing. You try to get them at two in the afternoon when they've just gotten up. Most of the time I worked with studio musicians - guys I worked with all the time. I loved what they did and that's why I hired them over and over again and I loved the results we got. I worked with lead sheets, chord sheets, never written arrangements. I made jazz records in the '50s and that was improvised. In the '60s I was improvising with the rhythm section and when I got to the vocal parts we worked out arrangements."
This song was written by Tandyn Almer, who had some success as a songwriter in the '60s and '70s, and was one of the few people that was close friends with Brian Wilson in the early '70s. Tandyn co-wrote the Beach Boys song "Sail On Sailor."
This was the first hit for The Association, who gained a following in Los Angeles, but had a hard time getting a record deal. They signed to a small label called Valiant Records, who were rewarded when this became a hit, and when their follow-up, "Cherish," went to #1.
A young producer named Curt Boettcher helmed the album, which was the band's debut. Boettcher would later work with Tommy Roe and The Beach Boys, but never again with The Association, who parted ways with the producer.
The Bloodhound Gang covered this on their album Hooray for Boobies.
‘(I can’t get no) satisfaction’ (The Rolling Stones)
On May 6, 1965, The Rolling Stones played to about 3,000 people at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater, Florida while on their first US tour. According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, about 200 young fans got in an altercation with a line of police officers at the show, and The Stones made it through just four songs as chaos ensued. That night, Keith Richards woke up in his hotel room with the guitar riff and lyric "Can't get no satisfaction" in his head. He recorded it on a portable tape deck, went back to sleep, and brought it to the studio that week. The tape contained his guitar riff followed by the sounds of him snoring.
Richards was staying at the Fort Harrison Hotel (known at the time as the Jack Tar Harrison Hotel) when he rolled out of bed with the idea for this song. The hotel still exists. In 1975, it was bought by the Church of Scientology and frequently hosts religious retreats.
The guitar riff is similar to Martha & the Vandellas "Dancing in the Street." Richards thought that is where he got the idea, and was worried that it was too similar.
This was released in the United States on June 6, 1965, just a month after Keith Richards woke up with the guitar riff in his head. In the UK, it wasn't issued until August 20, since The Stones did not want to release it in England until they were there to support it. While they were touring in America, they became very popular in England, so they kept recording singles in the States to keep their momentum until they could return for a tour.
Mick Jagger (1968): "It sounded like a folk song when we first started working on it and Keith didn't like it much, he didn't want it to be a single, he didn't think it would do very well. I think Keith thought it was a bit basic. I don't think he really listened to it properly. He was too close to it and just felt it was a silly kind of riff."
Richards ran his guitar through a Gibson Fuzz Box to create the distortion effect. He had no intention of using the sound on the record, but Gibson had just sent him the device, and he thought the Fuzz Box would create sustained notes to help sketch out the horn section. The band thought it sounded great and wanted to use the sound because it would be very unusual for a rock record. Richards thought it sounded gimmicky and did not like the result, but the rest of the band convinced him to ditch the horn section and use the distorted guitar sound.
There is some debate as to whether this is the first use of fuzz guitar in a rock song. Shiloh Noone sheds some light on the subject in his book Seekers Guide To The Rhythm Of Yesteryear: "Anne Margaret does have one claim to fame that embarrassingly whitewashes the rock generation, namely her studio recording of 'I Just Don't Understand' which boasts the first fuzz guitar applied to wax, courtesy of Billy Strange, a one time member of Phil Spector's session crew who later hit the charts with an instrumental version of Monty Norman's 'James Bond theme.' 'I Just Don't Understand' was later launched as a single by Freddie & The Dreamers and also played live by the Beatles at the Cavern. Billy Strange repeated his fuzz on 'Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah' (Bob B Soxx & The Blue Jeans). So what's the buzz about fuzz? Well it did launch the early stages of Psychedelia and boost its prime exponents The Ventures, specifically their 1962 single '2.000lb Bee.' Sure fisted Keith Richard claims he revolutionized the fuzz on the ripping 'Satisfaction' while utilizing his new fuzz box, yet Big Jim Sullivan used it previously on P.J. Proby's 'Hold Me.' Billy Strange exalted the riff that Link Wray had already laid claim to three year previous, so what's the fuzz?"
Richards (1992): "It was the first (fuzztone box) Gibson made. I was screaming for more distortion: This riff's really gotta hang hard and long, and we burnt the amps up and turned the s--t up, and it still wasn't right. And then Ian Stewart went around the corner to Eli Wallach's Music City or something and came around with a distortion box. Try this. It was as off-hand as that. It was just from nowhere. I never got into the thing after that, either. It had a very limited use, but it was just the right time for that song."
Mick Jagger wrote all the lyrics except the line "Can't get no satisfaction." The lyrics deal with what Jagger saw as the two sides of America, the real and phony. He sang about a man looking for authenticity but not being able to find it. Jagger experienced the vast commercialism of America in a big way on their tours, and later learned to exploit it, as The Rolling Stones made truckloads of money through sponsorships and merchandising in the US.
The Stones performed this on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966. The line "Trying to make some girl" was bleeped out by censors.
This was included on the US version of Out Of Our Heads, but not the British. Putting singles on albums was considered ripping people off in England.
The stereo mix has electric instruments on one channel and acoustics on the other.
Jack Nitzsche worked with The Stones on this, playing piano and helping produce it. He also played the tambourine part because he thought Jagger's attempt lacked soul. Nitzsche was a successful producer who worked on many early hits for the Stones, including "Get Off My Cloud" and "Paint It, Black." He died in 2000 at age 63.
Otis Redding recorded this in 1966 at the behest of Steve Cropper and Booker T. Jones, who were part of his backing band at Stax Record. Otis hadn't heard the song, and he didn't like it, so he did a radically different version of the song, using horns and changing many of the words. Using horns was what Keith Richards originally had in mind for the song, and he lauded Redding's take. His version was one of the first British songs covered by a black artist; usually it was the other way around.
The final take was recorded just five days after Richards first came up with the idea. Three weeks later, it was released as a single in the US. An instant hit, it made The Stones stars in America; it helped that they were already touring the US to support it.
There is a song by Chuck Berry called "Thirty Days" with the line "I can't get no satisfaction from the judge." Richards is a huge Chuck Berry fan and it is possible that this is where he got the idea for the title.
Mick Jagger (1995): "People get very blasé about their big hit. It was the song that really made The Rolling Stones, changed us from just another band into a huge, monster band. You always need one song. We weren't American, and America was a big thing and we always wanted to make it here. It was very impressive the way that song and the popularity of the band became a worldwide thing. It's a signature tune, really, rather than a great, classic painting, 'cause it's only like one thing - a kind of signature that everyone knows. It has a very catchy title. It has a very catchy guitar riff. It has a great guitar sound, which was original at that time. And it captures a spirit of the times, which is very important in those kinds of songs... Which was alienation. Or it's a bit more than that, maybe, but a kind of sexual alienation. Alienation's not quite the right word, but it's one word that would do."
This was featured in the 1984 film Starman, starring Jeff Bridges. The movie is set on a deep space probe in the '70s.
Sesame Street did a version called "(I Can't Get No) Cooperation," which is about a kid at school having trouble to finding someone to play jump rope or ride the seesaw.
The Stones don't own the publishing rights to this song. In 1965, they signed a deal with an American lawyer named Allen Klein and let him make some creative accounting maneuvers to avoid steep British taxes. He ended up controlling most of their money, and in order to get out of their contract, The Stones signed over the publishing rights to all the songs they wrote up to 1969. Klein, who died in 2009, still had to pay royalties to the songwriters, but controlled how the songs were used.
Richards says he never plays this on stage the same way twice.
In 2006, The Rolling Stones played this at halftime of Superbowl XL.
The phrase, "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," is grammatically incorrect. It's a double negative and really means, "I Can Get Satisfaction."
Keith Richards used his "fuzzbox," but he also played clean guitar during the song, with Brian Jones strumming an acoustic throughout. This meant that Keith had to switch between his two tones during the song, as multiple tracks were sparse back then and overdubs rare. If you listen to the song at :36 you will hear Keith switching on his fuzz with an audible click, just between Jagger's "get" and "no." At about 1:35, Keith is stomping his fuzz too late, slightly missing his cue, ending up playing the riff a little behind. At his next cue (2:33) he probably wants to be sure that his fuzz is on, so you can hear a short but audible fuzz note (accidentally?) played before the actual riff and slightly before Jagger's "I can't get."
In 1991, Snickers paid a reported $4 million to use a knockoff version of this song in a commercial.
The song spent four weeks at #1 in America before getting knocked off by Herman's Hermits "I'm Henry The VIII, I Am." In the UK, it spent two weeks at #1, knocked off by The Walker Brothers "Make It Easy on Yourself."
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