A youthful perspective on ’60s songs

Pitchfork has published a rambling list of the “200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s,” beginning with the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” at 200 and ands with the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” at #1 (presumably — the final 20 aren’t numbered). It’s an interesting list because it’s in a British publication, and these songs were chosen (and reviewed very earnestly) by young rock critics, most if not all I bet who weren’t even born when the ’60s closed out with Altamont and a few months later, Kent State.

I haven’t read all the reviews of the songs yet, but the list is a statement of today’s musical measure. Sure, nobody would argue with the inclusion of most of the songs. A classic song of the era would be hard to leave out. But only from today’s rock-crit perspective does Sam Cooke’s powerful 1964 ode to the civil rights movement, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” rank as #3 on a list like this, just behind the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and just ahead of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Cooke recorded the song in 1963 after hearing Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and although it’s a moving lyric and performance, it didn’t fit in with Cooke’s track record of pop-gospel soul music. He was killed in December of ’64 and RCA released the track, which barely grazed the Top 40 and disappeared into pop oblivion, to be resurrected by nerdy critics like me, and these Brits today.

And only through a British filiter does Desmond Dekker and the Aces, a one-hit wonder on the U.S. pop charts, rate a #10 spot with their terrific 1969 song “Israelites,” an early reggae track about the tribulations of the working man in Jamaica. I love the song (and have it shuffling through my iPod), but I’m not sure it would end up in my top 10 of the decade.

Some other nerd choices: Leonard Cohen’s “So Long Marianne,” MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams,” 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” And for Anglophiles (or if you’re across the pond from where I’m sitting), there are a handful of songs on the list that you know that I don’t.

For a confirmed nostalgic guy, I’m oddly unmoved at scrolling through the list. It certainly wasn’t my experience of the ’60s, and even though I’m a former rock critic, I find some of the cleverness of the writing to be tedious and too smartypants. Yikes… I used to write like that!

But it’s still worth a look to compare mental notes and maybe see if some of the songs I haven’t thought of in a long time are available on iTunes. Ah, modern times. The past is at our fingertips, just a click away.

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