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

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 #11 – 20

#11 Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry (1958)
…the danger is that if we talk about the pivotal role this record played in the ultimate triumph of the electric guitar as the symbol of rock music, talk about how more than any other this performance established the sound of the rock and roll guitar… we risk further enshrining the song in its rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame, golden oldie, ‘classic rock’ glass case, missing the one essential fact, which is that this record has something to offer far more important than its famous past or its imagined future – it exists now, a living presence in your ears, alive and available to be interacted with… ladies and gentlemen, from deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans, rock and roll’s fines single fictional creation, Mister Johnny B. Goode.

Deep down Louisiana close to New Orleans
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode
Who never ever learned to read or write so well
But he could play the guitar just like a ringing a bell

#12 All I Have To Do is Dream – The Everly Brothers (1958) 
 They don’t sound like two guys. But they don’t sound like one guy, either. They sound (let’s face it) like an angel. That vocal texture combined with this subject matter (dreaminess, impotence, desire as a possession, longing, precious pleasurable sweet sadness) is so remarkable, so mysterious, so immediately familiar, so penetrating….

Dream, dream, dream, dream
Dream, dream, dream, dream

When I want you in my arms
When I want you and all your charms
Whenever I want you, all I have to do is
Dream, dream, dream, dream

#13 I’ve Had It – The Bell Notes (1959) 
 Not a famous record for some reason, but unquestionably the best “la-la-la-la” in rock history, and that maracas opening ain’t bad either. And the guitar is so sophisticated, so slyly funny, yuo’d swear it’s Nick Lowe reaching back from 1979 to make the perfect archetypal rock and roll/pop single..
#14 Crossfire – Johnny and The Hurricanes (1959) had an energy and a resonance that was somehow very personally meaningful to me – it was my record, my sound… it was my theme.. it made my life more dramatic, more romantic. .. I have grown. I have “crossfire” pulsing through my veins now, its kinetic energy entertaining me and driving my life forward, and like a true friend I can’t lose it, it will always be part of my consciousness.
#15 – Memphis, Tennessee – Chuck Berry (1959)
 The rhythmic figure supporting Chuck’s sweet vocals and sweeter slide guitar on the homemade original (two beats repeated four times, rising twice and then descending) was picked up by hundred’s of other musicians; I don’t know if Berry originated it, but it is still known to music-makers as the “Memphis” beat… but a record like “Memphis, Tennessee” transcends its component part, transcends even its creator’s talents. Its triumph is its smallness, humanness.

Long distance information, give me Memphis Tennessee
help me find the party tryin´ to get in touch with me.
She could not leave her number but I know who placed the call
my uncle took the message and he wrote it on the wall.

#16 Runaway – Del Shannon (1961)
 ..and when we respond to this beauty, and it is indeed a fabulous young and brash and yet anciently wise beauty we hear on this record, including, off course, the boyish joy in Shannon’s voice because he knows.. how good this song he’s written is – when we respond to it, I believe we are responding to our own memories of similar experiences, similar moments of inspiration, unexpressed perhaps but also unforgotten. We listen to the music and remember.

As I walk along I wonder a-what went wrong
With our love, a love that was so strong
And as I still walk on, I think of the things we’ve done
Together, a-while our hearts were young

#17 Stand By Me – Ben E. King (1961)
 What we have here, in effect, is the Twenty-third Psalm disguised as a love song. This is communicated not primarily by the words but by the way the words are sung, the timbre and tone of King’s voice, the images he conjures up as he shapes each consonant, each vowel, each note.

When the night has come and the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we see
No, I won’t be afraid, oh, I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

#18 I’ll Try Something New – The Miracles (1962)’s a masterwork, equal to or perhaps better than Robinson’s most famous records (“You really got a hold on me,” “The Tracks of My Tears”), and more illustrative of the full reach of the man’s genius as a composer, lyricist, arranger, and vocalist.

I will build you a castle with a tower so high
‘Til it reaches the moon
I’ll gather melodies from birdies that fly
(Fly, fly)
And compose you a tune

#19 You Belong To Me – The Duprees (1962)
 ..what is striking about ‘You Belong To Me’ is that it is inherently nostalgic – it evokes a sense of the past the first time one hears it. The ultimate oldie. It sounded old the day it was released….
#20 Please Please Me – The Beatles (1963)
 ..turn off the speakers and listen to the song on headphones a couple of times. Then turn up the volume as high as you think you can bear and listen to it a few more times. Keep going. Louder. Crank the sucker up. Push your limits. Louder. Come on, you could be saving yourself thousands of dollars of psychotherapy here. Louder! That’s it. Over the top. Breakthrough. Bliss. Release. Your heart is pounding, your bones are vibrating, your spirit wants to push away the walls of the world and acream to the far galaxies. “Come On (come on), Come On (come on), Come On (come on), Come on (COME ON!)….[The Beatles] They harmonized, with a vengeance. They rock and rolled. They kicked ass. They started something.

Last night I said these words to my girl
I know you never even try, girl

Come on
(Come on)
Come on
(Come on)
Come on
(Come on)
Come on
(Come on)

Please, please me, whoa yeah
Like I please you


Check out:

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


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

  1. Silly me. I thought this was going to be a list of the 100 best rock and roll *singles*. Instead, it is a list of 100 *songs*.

    In order to be a valid list of the 100 best rock and roll singles, both the A and B sides need to be taken into account.

  2. Let’s tip our hats to Chuck Berry, the first great Rock-and-Roll poet.

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