recorded March 1969, San Francisco, CA
Written as a reaction to Nixon's election, this CCR classic -- heavily influenced by the Buck Owens "Bakerfield Sound" -- is both vague and immediate enough to outlast its era, a feat even "Fortunate Son" couldn't quite pull off. When there's trouble on the way, this obdurately bouncy and relentlessly catchy number can somehow evoke the moment, whatever it is. Two minutes so perfect they feel like a lifetime.
recorded June 1969, San Francisco, CA
Sly and his "family" had conquered the pop charts a year earlier with their mixture of rock, soul, and funk, but this lovely ballad was something else entirely... a hazy, shimmery paean to the joys of summer, and the cylical nature of the seasons' little death/rebirth dance as well. And yet, it still managed to break it down funky, a stoned soul picnic eons more ethereal than the song of the same name. Pure bliss on wax.
recorded 30th May - 5th June 1969, London, England
From the opening lone cowbell to the flip's impossibly beatific conclusion, this single proved that under those wicked street-punk hearts lay some wickedly fine storytellers. The first side is a seedy painting of backdoor Americana, while the second is a generational epic that rogueishly uses a heavenly choir to suggest that there are no real answers. Both songs, if you listen carefully, end up saying the same thing.
recorded 24 February 1969, London, England
No one realized it at the time, but the Beatles were busy saying goodbye, and this single described a typical -- yet still thrilling -- dichotomy of doubt and assurance. John's dark Chuck Berry homage, a muddy and ominous bit of wordplay, managed to create harmony where there was none, while George's coming-of-age a-side, a breathy sigh unparalleled in pop, wrestled with doubt discovered inside a transforming joy.
recorded 23, 24 January, 22 February, 18 March 1969, Memphis, TN
The King's reascendance to the throne was complete with this, an accomplishment far more nuanced, mature, and deep than anyone would have expected then. Which proves how much he gets taken for granted: Elvis reaches down and plots out the place where fear and hope meet so effortlessly it makes you sad for those nearly-wasted Sixties years. And the largely wasted years to come.
recorded 13 June 1969, Detroit, MI
A Supremes record in name only, this was intended to be Diana Ross' solo debut. But it's fitting that the group's glory years ended this way, and not because this single nails amicable breakups so admirably, or that society was saying goodbyes to things held dear. What it mainly proved (as a near-duet with Motown producer/songwriter Johnny Bristol) was that, under the diva, Miss Ross had real soul all along.
recorded January - March 1969, New York, NY
Worked over for months by the duo and producer Roy Halee, this was the group's big statement, variously said to be a sideswipe at Bob Dylan, a documentary about Jack Dempsey, or a frustrated Simon himself lashing out at the record industry. Whatever, the song's theme of wounded defiance came through, topped off by a profound "lie-la-lie" chorus and apocalyptic crashes from a drum in an elevator shaft.
recorded 31 July - 1 August 1968, London, England
"Hold it! Hold it! Listen," instructs Dennis Edwards, and who could blame him for demanding attention, especially when these five -- plus producer Norman Whitfield, who'd just taken the group under his wing -- were at their peak? This early example of "psychedelic soul" is shorter, grittier, and grounded in more traditional themes than his later works with the group. But that just gives it more raw power.
recorded 31 July - 1 August 1968, Los Angeles, CA
Any song so popular at sports events and weddings must have some sort of universal theme we can all groove on. Or maybe it's just catchy. Either way, this smash marked the point at which Neil stopped being a Brill Building resident who pretended at folkiedom and started to become a true American poet -- not political or deep, just a surveyor of the motional landscape armed with a century's worth of pop moves.
recorded June 1969, New York, NY
This song was created <i>specifically</i> to languish on a b-side, because the songwriters and session pros who made up Steam were tired of seeing their a-side compositions passed over for the flip. In pop's weirdest own O. Henry twist, it of course became an evergreen hit. But it really does have understandable appeal... an epic, rhythmic slice of blue-eyed soul hiding behind a bubblegum pedigree.