Fakin’ It by Simon and Garfunkel, 1968

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This was, for me, a revelatory song. In 1968, I owned a total of three albums – the US version of A Hard Day’s Night with all the stupid orchestral pieces, the first Monkees album, and the second Monkees album, all Christmas presents from 1964, 1966 and 1967 respectively. (Why no album in 1965? No idea.) And my parents weren’t much better – a few Clancy Brothers albums, a collection of Scottish anti-Polaris protest songs, and a record of sound effects from the USS Enterprise, for some goddamn reason. (Sample track listing: “Raising Anchor.” “Charging the Steam Cataputs.” “Retracting the Arresting Gear.”) The radio was usually on an easy-listening station, and I thought the ’60s didn’t get any more exciting than Judy Collins or Pet Clark.

But then my dad went out and bought Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel because he and Mom saw “The Graduate” and liked the music. “Mrs. Robinson” was light enough that we heard it on our habitual radio station, but the rest of the album, for a weird little 12-year-old like me, was like nothing I had heard before.

There was “Save the Life of My Child,” with its Jesus ending, and the voices of the old people, and “Punky’s Dilemma,” with the incomprehensible image of “Wish I was a Kellogg’s corn flake/Floating in my bowl taking movies/. . . talking to a raisin who occasionally plays LA/casually glancing at his toupee.”

But “Fakin’ It,” the first song on the second side, was deep deep deep. I listened to it over and over, picking up the needle and dropping on the edge as I tried to sort out the tune, the instruments, the time signature, and what the hell it all meant. There seemed to be so much going on. And it was a song that never appeared on the charts or the radio, so it felt like it was my private song. And I became, until I started college and discovered Dylan, a huge S&G fan. I know all their albums – and the older I get, the more whiny and adolescent they seem. But “Fakin’ It” still shines like a beacon for me. It’s the song that revealed to me that there was more going on, Horatio, than was dreamt of in your top-40 lists.

(And yes, you can probably blame shit like “Fakin’ It” for making me an English major, doomed for eternity to make stupid Shakespeare references like that. When I’m not doing Simpsons quotes.)

Private School by the Catholic Girls, 1983

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OK, I’ll admit it – I bought the album for the cover. Back in the ’80s, with no Internet or iTunes, you bought on sight and hoped the record had some redeeming value. But frankly, I didn’t care if the music was any good – the cover was hot, and when I found it in the cut-out bin for $1, I bought it and hung it on the wall over my turntable. (For those of you too young to know, a cut-out bin was where record stores put the remaindered albums, with a notch cut in the upper right corner so that it wouldn’t be sold at full price.) Remind me to go into some detail at some point about the Penguin Feather, the funky little indy record store I used to hang out at. And this wasn’t the first album I bought for the cover – check out Silk Torpedo by the Pretty Things.

Anyway, it turns out that the Catholic Girls were not bad. The New Jersey quartet wrote some solid punky pop (and even an 8-minute Steadmanesque epic called “God Made You For Me”), and their lead singer, Gail Petersen, had a very weird and apparently uncontrollable vibrato in her voice that you either loved or hated. There wasn’t really a weak song on the album, and I picked “Private School” mostly for the great line “I never thought about those boys like you said/I don’t want to go to hell – I don’t even want to be dead.” The video above is from another song on the same album, but you get the drift.

I’ve never met anyone who has ever heard of the Catholic Girls, but I see that they are still, 30 years later, performing and putting out albums. Go Jersey.

A Wedding in Cherokee County by Randy Newman, 1974

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If all you know about Randy Newman is the Disney songs he’s done for the past 20 years, you’d be really surprised by his ’70s masterpiece albums, Sail Away and Good Ol’ Boys. They have a dark, mordant wit and an amazing ability to say something while meaning exactly the opposite. On first listen, everyone was appalled by “Rednecks” (“We’re rednecks, and we’re keeping the niggers down”) until they figured out that even though the narrator was a redneck, he was calling out his northern critics for their hypocrisy. It’s the same backward technique he later used in “Short People” (causing a lot of anger in the little person community until someone pointed out he meant the opposite) and “I Love LA,” which is one of the great anti-LA songs.

“A Wedding in Cherokee County,” from Good Ol’ Boys, isn’t quite that complicated. It’s a love song about a backwards, stupid girl (“Her papa was a midget, her mama was a whore/Her granddad was a newsboy till he was 84/What a slimy old bastard he was”), and how on their wedding night, the narrator can’t get it up. Very odd little song. All I can say is that I dated a girl for four months back in 1979 solely because she told me that this was her favorite song. I’m a sucker for women who know obscure little album tracks.

Look Through Any Window by the Hollies, 1965

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If I had to pick the quintessential 60’s pop song, I would have a hard time picking between this song and “I’m Only Sleeping” by the Beatles. I’ve never really paid too much attention to the Hollies, but few bands can match them for the breadth of their tunes. They could do bar rock (“Long Cool Woman”), catchy pop (“Bus Stop”), heavy ballads (“He Ain’t Heavy”), and anthems (“The Air That I Breathe”), all the while saddled with a angst-ridden leader who always struck me as a wet blanket. But this song. . . it’s perfect. “Look Through Any Window” has the highest hook-per-second ratio of any song – hardly 5 seconds goes by without a big chord change, a different background vocal, a key change, handclaps, contrapuntal tunes, anything to keep it fresh. It also has that mid-60’s optimism, a “busy town” with “smiling faces all around,” the same kind of big-city outlook that Pet Clark’s “Downtown” had and which sounds so naive today. In addition, the line about how looking through windows, you can see “the little ladies in their gowns” kills me – it was kicky and mod in ’65, but how often do you really see girls in gowns wandering through “the busy town?” I’ve got over 8000 MP3s on my phone, but this is the one tune I listen to the most.

(Bonus: the YouTube video above seems to be one of the few ’60s band TV appearances where the band is actually performing live rather than lip-synching. Pretty cool.)

Oh, and just to show you how quickly things changed in the ’60, here are the Hollies on the Smothers Brother Comedy Hour just three years later. Holy God.

And let us take a moment to pay tribute to Graham Gouldman. Never heard of him? Shame on you. He was (and is) one of the most prolific and brilliant pop composers who ever drew little dots on staves. He not only wrote “Look Through Any Window,” but he also, incredibly, wrote:

“Bus Stop” by the Hollies (the greatest pop song of all time, and don’t even try to argue with me about it);

“No Milk Today” by Herman’s Hermits;

“For Your Love” and “Heart Full of Soul” by the Yardbirds;

“I’m Not In Love” and “The Things We Do For Love” by 10cc (he was the lead singer of the group);

And dozens of other songs you’ve never heard of. Send him all your money now.

Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks, 1967

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Ray Davies and the gang have always done cool stuff, from the ahead-of-its-time garage snarl of “You Really Got Me” to the weird “Lola” to the wonderfully evocative “Come Dancing” (the video of which is still my all-time favorite). But “Waterloo Sunset” was their best song. The story is simple: the narrator lives in a flat with a westward view of London’s Waterloo Station (when London was still the center of the world and not the Arab mecca it is today), and simply states “as long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset, I am in paradise.” But the Randy Newmanesque subplot is that the narrator is at best a loser, and at worst a voyeur (“Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station, every Friday night”). The song has the classic short-story ability to tell more between the lines than the story itself can. In addition, Dave Davies sounds like he’s playing the lead guitar with a pair of needle-nosed pliers. “Waterloo Sunset” isn’t just “fine,” as the last line states, it’s pretty damn wonderful.

And just for kicks, here are the Kinks on Hullabaloo in 1966, introduced by Annette Funicello, of all people. Ray Davies is so out of it, he can barely stand up straight amid all of the odd girls lounging around the set.

Cocaine Blues by Dave Von Ronk, 1961

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Man, what a great song. In 1961, my dad, a Lieutenant JG in the reserves, was called up for the Berlin crisis, and his ship, the destroyer escort Daniel A. Joy, was reassigned from Chicago to Newport, Rhode Island. I spent the summer of 1962 in an attic in Newport, and every night my parents would play a reel-to-reel party tape they had made before leaving home. It had a marvelous mix of stuff — Odetta, Ramsay Lewis, Bob Dylan’s first album (I didn’t realize it was Bob until I was in college), a lot of Gaelic stuff, a lot of civil rights songs (“Ain’t gonna let Bull Connor turn me around . . . “), Wally Cox losing control while singing “Tavern in the Town — just an incredible hodgepodge of folk, protest and novelty stuff. The standout, though, was Dave Von Ronk’s version of Rev. Gary Davis’ “Cocaine Blues.” Von Ronk was a Greenwich Village contemporary of Dylan’s — in fact, they became estranged after Dylan stole Dave’s arrangement of “House of the Rising Sun.” He had a huge voice which could go from tender to dangerous in a flash, and his spare, emotional arrangement of the song is very affecting. One night, as my mother was tucking me in (I was 5 that summer), I asked her what cocaine was. I’ve remembered the answer verbatim: “It’s something that makes you feel like you’re floating, but it costs a lot of money.” My mother’s pretty cool.

Head Over Heels/Turn to You by the Go Gos, 1984

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The GoGos started as a “joke” group at the Toubadour Club in LA in 1978, playing their instruments badly and acting ditzy. After a few personnel changes, they got a contract with IRS Records and released their first hit, “We Got the Beat,” in 1979. (They still weren’t that good — the song still sounds a little off-key to me.)

They became a megagroup not so much because of their music, but rather the girls themselves. (I know, it should be “women,” but look at them, for God’s sake.) Like the Beatles 20 years before, the 5 GoGos had such distinct and easily-categorized personalities that the choice of one’s favorite GoGo was a sort of quicky Meyer-Briggs test — was it girl-next-door Belinda? Ditzy Jane? Bad-girl Kathy? Brainy Charlotte? Competent Gina? The brilliant Annie Lebowitz photo of the girls playing around in their bras and panties on the cover of Rolling Stone made them America’s sweethearts.

Contrary to expectations, they didn’t stay incompetent for long. (Paradoxically, the better they got, the fewer people listened to them.) Their second album, “Vacation,” had some good stuff on it. But it was their swan song, “Talk Show,” in 1984, that contained their best work.

The first two songs on the B side, “Head Over Heels” and “Turn To You,” are two of the best, most exhilarating pop songs ever recorded. A music critic once noted that songs themselves aren’t great, but moments in them are. He’s right, and these songs are full of moments: the opening fortissimo piano riff, Gina’s authentic drums slaps (no drum machines here!) and cool fills; the sparse handclaps (once every eight bars in the chorus, and on the second beat, too); Jane’s wall-of-sound guitar just before the piano solo; the octave-wide dip in the title phrase in “Turn To You;” the always cool harmonies. These songs remind you how good a pop song can make you feel.

Things haven’t gone will for the Go-Gos since then. They had a nasty break-up shortly after this album, got back together briefly in 1994, and the last I heard Gina was suing the others over lost wages. It’s a shame. They were just getting good.

Note: I recently went to the OLGA archives to find the chords for “Head Over Heels.” The guy who posted them noted that he plays in a bar band, and that he thinks that “Head Over Heels” is the second greatest bar band song ever written, after “What I Like About You” by the Romantics. The man has good taste.

I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll) by Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, 1979

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Founded in 1976 by the improbably-named Jake Riviera, Stiff Records (motto: “If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck”) was on the cutting edge of the New Wave movement in England in the late ’70s. In addition to Elvis Costello, their biggest name, Stiff also had Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds in their stable. Lowe, who later produced Costello’s albums, played with the legendary (and mostly unheard) bar band Brinsley Schwarz in the early ’70s, and had a big hit in England with “Cruel to Be Kind” from his album Jesus of Cool (which was renamed Pure Pop For Now People for US release). He also wrote “What’s So Funny (’bout Peace, Love and Understanding),” which has become something of a standard.

In late 1978, the whole Stiff label went on a “Stiffs Live” tour in England. At the London show, Lowe and Edmunds got together one night to do a severely pumped-up version of Lowe’s “I Knew the Bride.” This is the loudest, fastest and most exciting song I’ve ever heard, and is one of the few recordings that actually captured the feeling of a live band playing at full volume in a room full of people. When a friend of mine got married back in the ’80s, I almost bribed the band to play the song. But the fact that I “knew” the bride even after she was engaged made the song a little close to home.

Sons of Summer by Carly Simon, 1975

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This is a lovely song, featuring Carly’s patented self-harmonizing and a piano. It’s a melancholy about the loss of youth, remembering the “wine mug nights” (what a great image!) and ending:

The woods get cold and I feel too old
I begin to questioning your schoolboy soul
Clever remarks that once won my heart
When the fire won’t light, they lose their spark
And I can’t help but feel a little bit blue
Thinking ’bout the precious nothing we once knew

This was a very mature song, considering it came from the same Playing Possum album that contained dreck like “Attitude Dancing” and the infamous cover photo of Carly kneeling in jackboots and a teddy. She has since tried to fashion herself as a torch singer, but she’s never done better than this song.

Dancing With Joey Ramone by Amy Rigby, 2005

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This is a lovely little tribute to Joey Ramone, with a perfect sloppy-rock rhythm which is a half-speed version of the classic Ramones riffs. Amy reminds me of the girl in Bowling for Soup’s “Girl All The Bad Guys Want.” It’s nice to see a fan song obsessing over Joey – not exactly a sex symbol, if you get my drift. And the little coda at the end always brings tears to my eyes for some reason. Amy Rigby is married to Wreckless Eric, of Stiffs Live fame, and I really need to hunt down some of her other work.

Like so many of the other songs here, I discovered “Dancing with Joey Ramone” on Little Steven’s Underground Garage on SiriusXM. If you’re sirius (sorry, couldn’t resist) about great music, you need to be listening to Channel 25 every waking moment.