Rock and Roll: 100 Best Singles – according to Paul Williams – Part 1

paul williams 100 best singles

There’s a scream inside everyone of us at every moment. And every one of us has had the experience of listening to a record and feeling that scream take over. Release. Abandon. Let it all out. Rock and Roll for me is about Eros, not Logos, which is paradoxical since my job is putting the experience in words.
~Paul Williams (Author’s note)

One of our favorite authors here at JV is Paul Williams, and…. he did write about other stuff than Bob Dylan.

We all love lists, so I’ll try out a new series of posts honoring one of his lesser known books:

Rock And Roll: The 100 Best Singles

..the list is chronological, starting back before the beginning and going through the 50’s and the 60’s and the 70’s and the 80’s, and ending for the sake of convenience in 1991. So #1 is not supposed to be ‘better’ than #100. It just got in the line first.

My criteria are simple: the song has to have been released as a seven-inch 45 rpm single in the United States or Great Britain (Robert Johnson’s 78 rpm ten-inch is the exception that proved the rule), and it has be “rock and roll” according to my subjective evaluation…
~Paul Williams (Author’s note)

All quotes are from the book.

Here is #1 – 10:

#1  Terraplane Blues – Robert Johnson (1937)
‘Mr. Highway Man, pleee-ease don’t block the road.’ What do we hear ? The guitar. The voice, The rhythm. The lyrics. What do we feel ? Passion. Honesty. Pride. Fear. It’s all in the grooves. .. And it goes strait through the needle, through the ears, into the blood, and into the heart of the listener.
 #2 Rollin’ Stone – Muddy Waters (1950) is one of the best rock and roll singles I’ve ever heard, which is all the more remarkable in that it is not only pure urban blues, it is also a solo performance, just Muddy and his amplified guitar. Stick it on any modern radio station and it would sound a) out of place and b) like the hottest record they’ve played in months. It has dignity and it kicks ass.

Well, my mother told my father,
just before hmmm, I was born,
“I got a boy child’s comin,
He’s gonna be, he’s gonna be a rollin stone,
Sure ‘nough, he’s a rollin stone
Sure ‘nough, he’s a rollin stone”
Oh well he’s a, oh well he’s a, oh well he’s a

 #3 Tutti Frutti – Little Richard (1955)
 Little Richard’s ‘Tutti Frutti’, his first single, helped tear the roof of the self-satisfied edifice called American popular music, to let in the light of unrestrained sexuality, spirituality, and musicality. Little Richard added the essential element of holy abandon. He taught us – specifically the white kids, the ones who needed to learn – how to scream.

Tutti Frutti, good booty”

 #4 Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley (1956)
 The power of the song is its ferocious intimacy, the closeness of Presley’s voice to the ear and the heart of the listener. That voice is penetrating and enveloping, and the songs arranger wasn’t afraid to lead with his or her strongest card: the first line of the record is sung without accompaniment, punctuated at the end with two beats, two chords on the piano. Exquisite.

Well, since my baby left me,
I found a new place to dwell.
Its down at the end of lonely street
At heartbreak hotel.

 #5 Fever – Little Willie John (1956)
Fever is a sensuous record, and as such it speaks powerfully to not only the stirrings but also the deep, pervasive feelings of sexuality in the preadolescents and virginal adolescents. ….”You give me fever”.. This is universal, waking up in a sweat, happily, fearfully possessed by desire. It is more than physical need. It’s love.

You never know how much I love ya
Never know how much I care
When you put your arms around me
I get a feelin’ that’s so hard to bear
You give me fever

 #6 In The Still Of The Nite – The Five Satins (1956)
 ..a thoroughly amateur record, one of those B-sides by unknown teenage group on a tiny label that got turned over and became a national hit. And it is also a perfect jewel of revealed truth, an innocent intuitive masterwork.
 #7 Mona – Bo Diddley (1957)
 To listen to “Mona” is to feel the universe shudder… There is voodoo power in this recording, heavy primal magic. ..actual magic. You can reach out and touch it. Or rather you can put it on.. and wait confidently. IT will reach out and touch YOU.

Hey, Mona, hey hey hey hey, Mona,
I’m gonna tell you what I’m gonna do,
I’m gonna build my house next door to you,
Can I make love to you once in a while?

 #8 Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On – Jerry Lee Lewis (1957)
 This is a dangerous, out-there performance if there ever was one. as perfect a rock and roll record as one could hope to find, precisely because it draws from and fits into so many different American folk musics, and because it can move anylistener from neutral to rockin in seconds

I said come on over baby
A-whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on
Yeah I said come on over baby
A-whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on
Well we ain’t fakin’
A-whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on

 #9 Peggy Sue – Buddy Holly (1957)
Ease and Power. The Man’s voice goes everywhere, not randomly but freely, with so much presence, so much awareness and intelligence. .. The Song is hypnotic, not in the sense of simple repetition but in its unveiling of just how complex and varied seemingly simple repetition can be.

If you knew Peggy Sue
Then you’d know why I feel blue
About Peggy, ’bout Peggy Sue
Oh well, I love you, gal
Yes, I love you Peggy Sue

#10 At The Hop – Danny and the Juniors (1957)
 The joyful, liberating power of a few well-chosen dumb words should never be underestimated. .. also a great handful of our old friend, naive genius. That genius doesn’t always have to originate with the performer.. it can just as well be the contribution of the producer..

Spotify playlist:

Check out:

–> Rock and Roll: 100 Best Singles – according to Paul Williams – Part 2


2 thoughts on “Rock and Roll: 100 Best Singles – according to Paul Williams – Part 1”

Comments are closed.