The 10 Greatest Songs That Didn't Make The Pitchfork List Pt. 1
Here's a photo of Albert Einstein showing to the class exactly how many incredible songs Pitchfork left off their 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960's list. I touched on this topic last week midway through their list to express my outrage that "It's Alright Ma' (I'm Only Bleeding) only ranked #150, a fact which still rankles me a week later (rankles I say). However, now that the list is said and done, it's time to take a look at what didn't make the cut.
Before I touch upon my grievances with this list, I acknowledge the fact that it is damn near impossible to get a group of music writers to make up a Best Of list without any huge omissions. But as I mentioned in my earlier post, this list is chockful of frivolous sugary and sappy pop songs ("I'm a Believer," The Crystals "When He Kissed Me) that can't hold a candle to some of the songs that were left out. And don't get me started about The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," at #2. I don't even think Joe Jackson thinks "I Want You Back" is better than "Like a Rolling Stone.
But it's not just the writers' over-reliance on pop music (that suddenly has become all the rage in music criticism), it's also their insistence on being needlessly esoteric that bothers me. I've probably listened to as much 60's music as any 20-something on this planet and haven't heard half of the songs that made the cut. But I imagine I'm not alone. One can point to any page on this list and find songs that no one that couldn't pose as an extra in High Fidelity has ever heard of. $50 to anyone who's heard #120--? And the Mysterians "96 Tears," or #119 The Silver Apples' "Oscillations."
Ultimately, my point isn't that it's wrong to celebrate or include forgetten or rarely-heard gems. That in and of itself is an unquestionably good thing. Yet it's slightly intellectually dishonest to exclude these songs in an attempt to show off one's own musical expertise and simultaneously attempt to re-write the canon. In that vein, here are the moments of musical brilliance that Pitchfork declined to mention in an effort to fulfill their girl-pop and boy-band quota. I'm confused, didn't they used to like rock n' roll?
10. Neil Young-"Cowgirl In the Sand," from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
I'm well aware that Neil Young is predominantly a 70's musician. Most of his best albums came during that era, as he spent most of his 60's recording life in Buffalo Springfield and The Mynah Birds (with Rick James on bass....a Chapelle's Show skit waiting to happen).
And to Pitchfork's credit, they did include two Neil Young songs: "Down By the River," (#83) and "Cinnamon Girl" (#67). However, they disregarded all of his work from Springfield, including gems like "Mr. Soul," supposedly a satirical jab at Mick Jagger; "Broken Arrow," and "I am a Child."
But perhaps the most glaring omission was leaving off "Cowgirl in the Sand," a searing 10 minute meditation on lost love that closed out side two of Young's seminal Everybody Knows This is Nowhere album. Neil wrote about lost loves many times after this track, most notably on the Harvest album. Yet his subsequent efforts often took the form of acoustic ballads. Rarely in music history has a love song burned with such primal intensity as this one, as Neil lets off ferocious and bone-shattering guitar lick after lick to fill up the song's bridge. In the background, the rest of the original incarnation of Crazy Horse sets the stage beautifully for Neil to turn his fury and anguish into the stuff of legend. Without a doubt, "Cowgirl In the Sand," ranks as among the best album closers in musical history and deserves a spot on any list of Best Songs of the 60s.
Download--Neil Young "Cowgirl In the Sand"
#9 The Kinks-"Village Green" from The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation SocietyAny writer could take tips from Ray Davies. In just 2 minutes and a few hundred words, "Village Green," manages to tell the story of a changed English countryside side-by-side with the tale of a lost love named Daisy who ran off with Tom the Grocer Boy after the song's narrator left the Village Green in search of fame. One of the most perfect songs ever written, "Village Green," evokes nostalgia for a fast disappearing time, as the once-pastoral village green becomes sullied by development, the motions of time and the ubiquitous presence of Americans taking photos. Yet by the end of the song, the narrator optimistically and wistfully predicts that one day he will return and he and Daisy will sip tea and it will be like it once was.
This happens all within two minutes. There are only a few bands that one could reasonably claim as the greatest of the 1960's. The Kinks are one of them. Perpetually underrated, the Kinks had four songs clock in on the Pitchfork list #135, Shangri-La; #115 "Victoria," #88, "You Really Got Me," and #29, "Waterloo Sunset." "Village Green," might just be the best of the bunch, if nothing else for its economy and simple and elegant poetry.
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society is arguably the Kinks' greatest album and yet of its songs made the list. Without a doubt, "Village Green," deserved inclusion, if nothing else for its role as the center-piece and a mission statement of sorts for one of the 10 greatest albums of the decade. Listen for yourself.
Download--The Kinks--"Village Green"
#8--The Grateful Dead "St. Stephen," from Live/Dead
I have several friends who refer to the Grateful Dead as the best "American band of all time." Not necessarily the best band that happened to come from America, but the best band to take America's roots music: bluegrass, the blues, jazz, appalachian folk-songs and distill it into a wild and beautiful psychedelic mess. I happen to agree with them.
Yet somehow the Dead didn't have one song make Pitchfork's list. Of course, I could speculate on the reasons why, but it would take me a few hours and why bother when you can focus on the greatness of "St. Stephen." First appearing on 1969's Axomoxoa, "St. Stephen's" iconic version is from the Live/Dead album that came out later that year. With its roots in English folk-songs, "St. Stephen," might not be a focused pop gem like "The Village Green," with lyrics more imagistic and obtuse, however the song still succesfully adresses the big issues in life: death, ambiguity, fear, etc.
But as underrated of a lyricist as Robert Hunter was, the true essence of "St. Stephen," comes from the shimmering liquid guitar solos of Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia. A staple in their live shows for decades following the release of Live/Dead, "St. Stephen," is the Dead at their finest, pure glittering melodic sensibilities unleashed to roam spontaneous and free according to the whims of the band-members and their substance intake. And rumor has it, it sounds better if you're high.
Download--Grateful Dead-"St. Stephen"
#7 The Yardbirds--"For Your Love," from For Your Love
Why yes, that is Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck to your far right. But despite the fact that during their lifespan, the Yardbirds boasted members such as Page, Beck and Eric Clapton, three of the greatest guitarists of all-time, according to Pitchfork the Yardbirds somehow couldn't couldn't write a better single than the Monkees.
But contrary to these not-so-popular beliefs, The Yardbirds did in fact produce some of the 60's greatest singles. "For Your Love," was merely the band's first major hit during a career that produced such pop gems as "Heart Full of Soul," "Shapes of Things," "Over Under Sideways Down," and "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago."
A lot of bands are credited as being the first to pioneer the sounds of psychedelia (13th Floor Elevators, Love, The Byrds, The Beatles,) but the Yardbirds were as influential as any of them. "For Your Love," from the eponymous album, is one of the band's first signs of a move in a new direction from their blues-based roots. In fact, the success of the very rock-like single was one of the reasons that prompted Eric Clapton to leave the band and head to John Mayall's Bluesbreakers where he could indulge his Howlin Wolf/Muddy Waters fascination (ain't nothing wrong with that).
Just 2 minutes and 11 seconds, "For Your Love," might be one of the most haunting love songs ever written. Penned by Graham Gouldman, "For Your Love," builds with an ominous series of minor-chord progressions, mixed in with Gregorian-sounding chants that compliment Keith Relf's pained and urgent vocal. But the high point of the song comes right after the innocent-sounding bridge, where the Yardbirds return to the ghostly harpsicord, complimented with bongos. And did I mention this was done at the end of 1964. The 60's would take the ideas of psychedelia further than this song, but they rarely did it better. After all, there's a reason why this song is featured prominently in the film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Download--The Yardbirds-"For Your Love"
#6 The Jimi Hendrix Experience--"If 6 Was 9" from Axis: Bold As Love
People can have their Ralph Waldo Emerson or their Thoreau, I'll take Jimi Hendrix in terms of writing one of the greatest American statements of individualism. In 1967, a time rife with uncertainty in regards to the "hippie situation' Hendrix penned this manifesto. In the course of this five and a half minute track, Hendrix basically writes the prototype for how any good artist should conduct themselves: "by waving their freak flag high." His words not mine.
But while the lyrics may seem a bit dated after all these years, Hendrix's ethos remains the same. He doesn't "care if the hippies cut off all their hair." He's got his own "world to live through," and he "ain't gonna' copy you." But hippies aren't the only target of his ire, as he mocks "white collar conservatives/flashin' down the street/pointin' their plastic fingers at him," all to prove his point that he just wants to be his own man in his own time. Which in a way is the American dream.
Why "Purple Haze," was left off this list is another matter of speculation, but I can live with that. I can't live with a world in which "If 6 Was 9" isn't one of the greatest songs of the 1960s. The greatest film of the decade and perhaps of all-time Easy Rider, showcases this song as Capt. America and Billy drive through the heartland. With this song blaring in the backgroud, there's no need for dialogue. Hendrix says everything they could ever hope to say and more.
Download--Jimi Hendrix-"If 6 Was 9"