Around two years ago, I posted 10-List: Firewater’s Feel Good Mix Tape (Side 1). This was a list of ten songs guaranteed to improve my mood, even on a bad day.
True confession: I didn’t actually make a real mix tape. I don’t know if those ten songs would have fit on one side of a cassette tape, and, if they did, I no longer have anything to play it on anyway. It was a conceit, an elaborate metaphor or artistic effect.
What I did do, in reality, is play each song on YouTube as I decided which ones would be on the list, just to see how the songs would flow on my playlist. If I were more technologically saavy, I might somehow attach the playlist to this post.
Spoiler: I didn’t do that.
For maximum effect, I suggest listening to the tracks in the following order.
Track #1: “All Right Now” Free
This bouncy, influential rocker was released in January 1970 by the English rock group Free. In the last fifty years, it has, of course, become a classic rock staple, and one of my favorites to sing at karaoke. It features Paul Rodgers on vocals. I still maintain that many of the rock vocalists who followed him tried to sound like Rodgers more than any other artist. Listen to Lou Gramm’s vocals on Foreigner‘s first album. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Track #2: “Black Betty” Ram Jam
I almost didn’t include “Black Betty” in this track list. It was not an original song for Ram Jam, an American rock group formed in 1977. It was an early-Twentieth Century African-American work song, often credited to Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, because he released a version in 1939. There were earlier recordings of the song already in existence, however. I almost didn’t include the song for the same reason the University of New Hampshire banned its playing at their hockey games back in 2006: I didn’t want to run the risk of offending any segment of society. “Black Betty” originally referred to a bullwhip used on prisoners, a flintlock musket, a bottle of whiskey, or a prison transfer wagon, depending upon which story you want to believe. However, I love the arrangement of this song, and the blistering guitar work. The charge of cultural appropriation may apply, I’ll admit, but my toes are still tapping.
The Ram Jam version was released in 1977. There have been cover versions released over the last forty years, but this the best-known version. Here’s a trivia stumper for you: Name any other Ram Jam song.
Track #3: “Barracuda” Heart
Another 1977 song (the ’70s will be well-represented on any of my song lists), “Barracuda” appeared on Heart‘s second album Little Queen. According to Ann Wilson, who wrote the lyrics, the song was based on the band’s difficulties with their former record company and anger towards a fan who suggested that Ann and Nancy were engaged in an incestuous relationship. Nancy Wilson has said the guitar riff for the tune was inspired by Nazareth‘s cover of a Joni Mitchell song “This Flight Tonight.” I’ve listened to that track as well, and can see it. Nancy said the guys in Nazareth were pissed.
Track #4: “Godzilla” Blue Öyster Cult
1977. Again. This wasn’t on purpose, I promise. This track was on the BÖC album Spectres. I remember how I got this LP. I traded Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive double album with my uncle (who was only three years older than me) for this album and Foreigner‘s self-titled debut. With no disrespect meant towards Mr. Frampton, I think I came out ahead in that deal.
This album was my introduction to the band’s metal psychedelia music, and remains one of my favorites. And, yes, the song is about that Godzilla, so it’s no surprise that it appealed to the movie monster geek in me. As with most BÖC songs, the lyrics are surprisingly literate. The failure to include this song in the soundtrack was just one of several reasons I didn’t like the 1998 movie Godzilla. It seemed like an egregious oversight at the time. It still does. The producers of Iron Man apparently learned from their mistake.
Track #5: “25 or 6 to 4” Chicago
This 1970 release might seem to be a departure from the playlist, with all of the trumpets, trombones and saxaphones that help to make it a marching band favorite. This song rocks, in my opinion, which is how it earned its spot on the list. The song was written by one of the group’s founders, Robert Lamm, who has always claimed that it was about trying to write a song in the middle of the night. The song title refers to the time, 25 or 26 minutes before 4 AM. Rumors that the title referred to illicit drug use have always swirled around the song, but I choose to accept Mr. Lamm’s version.
The song’s opening guitar riff has been compared to other compositions, including George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I can hear it, but I think if you try to hear similarities in songs, you’ll hear them all over the place. The original recording features an electric guitar solo, with generously applied wah-wah pedal, by the late Terry Kath, and impossibly high vocals by the great Peter Cetera.
Track #6: “Too Much Time on My Hands” Styx
Hah, 1981. They’re not all in the ’70s. This tune was written and sung by Tommy Shaw. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, nearly all of the Styx songs I love were written by Shaw. These include “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man),” and “Renegade.” Jimmy Fallon and Paul Rudd shot a video parody of the song as well that’s pretty impressive. Even Tommy Shaw thought so.
Track #7: “Run to the Hills” Iron Maiden
I’ve written about this Iron Maiden song before, along with its 1982 album The Number of the Beast. Arguably, one of the best metal songs ever written. Love that galloping bass line. More songs should be written by the rhythm section.
Track #8: “Breaking the Law” Judas Priest
Sticking with the metal theme, this track came from Judas Priest’s 1980 LP British Steel. Great album, great song. When it was released as a single, “Metal Gods” was its B-side. I’ve often wondered if the police sirens were re-recorded for the U.S. release. It seems like UK sirens sound different on television.
Track #9: “Bad Motor Scooter” Montrose
Back to the ’70s, y’all. This was a 1973 tune written and sung by a very young Sammy Hagar. The band would disband by 1977 and Sammy would go on to a successful solo career, as well as David Lee Roth’s replacement as frontman for Van Halen. The song still rocks, as does Hagar, who is himself in his 70s now.
Track #10: “Fortunate Son” Creedence Clearwater Revival
Bob Seger did a cover of this song later that I liked a lot, but it’s difficult to improve upon the 1969 release by Creedence Clearwater Revival. You don’t have to look for hidden meaning here. John Fogerty was angry because the Vietnam War was raging on, and rich men make war while poor men have to fight them. Things haven’t really changed much in that regard. John Fogerty served in the US Army, but never went to Vietnam, a fact he doesn’t shy away from or regret.
I know this song gets played in every Vietnam movie, and you may be tired of it. I’ve been playing the video game Mafia III, which is set in the late ’60s, and this song comes up frequently on the game’s soundtrack (which is awesome, but more on that later). I like a lot of CCR songs, but this one just might be my favorite.
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Once again, I know I’m not going to be invited to deejay your next party. These are just a few of the songs that make me happy.