Friday, May 06, 2005

Top 5: I Can't Get No . . .

Forty years ago this week (sources vary on whether the exact date was yesterday or today), in a hotel room in Florida, Keith Richards was playing around with a fuzztone guitar when he came up with a riff he couldn't get out of his head. He played it for Mick Jagger, and in a little while the two of them worked out a song called "Satisfaction." Keith later claimed the riff was inspired by Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street," and that he imagined it being played by a horn section. The band did its first takes of the song on May 10 at the legendary Chess studios in Chicago, and finished it in Los Angeles the next day. Keith didn't think it was strong enough to be the A side of a single, but two months later, the song would reach Number One in America, and it would end up the top song of 1965.

(Even today, you don't usually hear "Satisfaction" in stereo--the version most familiar to everybody is in mono. A stereo version exists, but it lacks the down-and-dirty punch of the mono version--and "Satisfaction" without being down and dirty is not "Satisfaction" at all.)

We frequently stand in awe around here of the giants who walked the earth in days of yore, and of the fact that you could turn on your radio during some weeks of the 1960s and 1970s and find the regular current rotation stuffed with records people will still be listening to in 100 years. So it was during the week of July 10, 1965, when "Satisfaction" first ruled the world.

2. "I Can't Help Myself"/Four Tops. Like Richards with "Satisfaction," Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs wasn't happy with "I Can't Help Myself," and wanted to recut it the next day. But the Tops weren't booked for studio time the next day, and the Motown assembly line needed the record to be done, so it was, and it worked out OK.

3. "Mr. Tambourine Man"/Byrds. These Byrds sang, but the only Byrd to play on the record was Jim (soon to become Roger) McGuinn--but what he plays is the 12-string electric guitar that gave the Byrds their signature sound.

4. "Wonderful World"/Herman's Hermits. Well, not everything can last forever. 'Erman's version of the Sam Cooke tune was quickly overshadowed by "I'm Henry VIII I Am," which would dethrone "Satisfaction" atop the charts in August.

5. "Wooly Bully"/Sam the Sham. While nobody would put Sam in the pantheon with the Stones, Four Tops, or Byrds, "Wooly Bully" is one of those records with which a wedding-reception DJ can't go wrong. It's a fine example of the interesting little sub-genre of organ-heavy Texas rock. Well, maybe not a genre, but some good records featuring Sam the Sham and the Sir Douglas Quintet, anyhow.


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