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Pickled Priest Mixtape: Our Favorite Songs of 1969

One-nine-seven-zero, party over, out of time. So today we're gonna party like it's 1969!


Yup, the end of an era was imminent, peace and love a quaint pipedream, paradise was lost, and in a few years Lester Bangs would declare rock & roll dead on arrival. That said, any year from the 1960s is loaded with incredible music and 1969 ranks very high in mixtape degree of difficulty. Do you think we shy away from the tough tasks here at Pickled Priest? No. Actually, yes. Yes we do. All the time. But if they can put a man on the moon, we can make a mixtape with our 26 favorite songs. As always, in descending order for maximum drama.


Personally I feel that real rock 'n' roll may be on the way out,

just like adolescence as a relatively innocent transitional period is on the way out.

-Lester Bangs




SIDE A


26 "Kick Out the Jams" | MC5


"Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!”​


There was absolutely zero chance that we weren't going to kick off our 1969 mixtape with the Motor City 5's "Kick out the Jams." Even though it probably deserves to be ranked higher, it's a song specifically created to be an engine starter and a tire spinner (why they made it the album's second song is puzzling). Coming hot off the line with a lusty expletive in 2024 isn't the least bit risky, but it was back in 1969. It wasn't just a ballsy way to start a song, it was a ballsy thing to put on an album at all, and it was an even ballsier move to put it on a debut record. And ballsiest of all? Making that debut album a live record. Who does all this? Detroit’s highly influential and politically revolutionary MC5 is your answer and they did so without apologies. If the MC5 were looking to get some publicity and piss people off, they accomplished their goal and then some. Many stores refused to stock it and their label dumped them even though they let it happen on their watch. Even better, co-founder Wayne Kramer has said the origin of the phrase came after suffering through too many noodling guitar solos in the late 60s. Dave Matthews, Phish, Widespread Panic, and countless others, take heed; you've been outed as insufferable wankers by a band that wouldn't be caught dead in cargo shorts or eating a grilled cheese made on a hotplate. Focusing on one expletive and the ensuing chaos does the song an injustice, of course. "Kick Out the Jams" more than lives up to its title from second one. Rob Tyner's vocal is unhinged to the point of hysteria, the guitars of Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith sound like they're at a knife fight in a dark Detroit alley, and the rhythm section of Dennis Thompson (RIP, died in May) and Michael Davis pummel everything in their path. What else would you expect out of Detroit than an American-made top-fuel dragster with a giant motherfucking power plant under the hood?


*They did record a version with "brothers and sisters" in place of "motherfuckers" for radio, but when the album came out everyone shifted the attention to the controversy at hand.



25 "1969" | The Stooges

Whilst in Detroit, and whilst in 1969, could the Stooges' "1969" be a more perfect choice to follow their brethren and labelmates (signed on the same day) in the MC5? There's more musical nastiness in the first two songs of this mixtape than on any other we've made and it's not surprising it comes manufactured by Detroit in the late-60s, a cesspool of urban ennui on its best days. Here we find a young Iggy and band complaining about not having any fun or anything to do in 1969, despite the fact that at the very same time many other guys his age and younger were shipping off to Vietnam. Being bored, in light of those circumstances, seems like a pretty decent outcome considering. I suppose showing up to his draft physical with a raging erection was a literal stroke of genius. But as we know, idle hands are the devil's workshop, so it's no surprise the "peace and love" era quickly devolved into some nasty clapbacks like the Stooges, who brought an unharnessable power to their music that crossed over the line into feral animal territory. The times they were a-changing.


One more thought: I find it interesting that Iggy wrote a song called "1969" in the year 1969. Normally, a year in a song title implies some sort of nostalgia for the captioned year, but not in this case. Instead, it was either an indictment of the year in progress or possibly a real-time understanding of the year's historical significance. Maybe both. I'm not aware of any other song that does quite the same thing. Other than the Stooges "1970" from Fun House, that is. We can only speculate as to why Raw Power doesn't have a song titled "1973."



24 "Whipping Post" | The Allman Brothers

The live, 23-minute Fillmore East version of "Whipping Post" may be the definitive reading of this song, fully drawn out for maximum release of pent-up emotional angst, but I've always appreciated the original version from the band's debut record from 1969, too. There's no room in this five-minute take for expansive instrumental roaming or slow building tension; instead it's a taut, agonizing blues number with a climax just as powerful as its live counterpart. There is something to be debated, however, and that's equating slave-whipping imagery to a mere relationship problem, but I do think Gregg (the OGG of double-G Greggs) just wanted to convey in the most extreme terms possible how wrecked he was feeling at that very moment in time. Does that make it better? Maybe not, but he does express the helpless feeling of being mistreated and lied in no uncertain terms nonetheless. There's no debating that at least.



23 "Laughing" | The Guess Who

A particularly harsh love song, with a woman almost sadistically toying with her naive lover. That lover played brilliantly here by Burton Cummings, who cackles convincingly at the end of the song like he's being recorded from a sanitarium somewhere in Manitoba, Canada. Surely Burton ranks with the most underrated classic rock singers of all time. I don't understand how he gets left off both the list of the greatest rock singers and the list of most underrated singers. He certainly belongs on one or the other. "American Woman" alone proves my case. So does "No Time" and "These Eyes" and the amazing "Share the Land." Taken together, no jury would rule against me. If you need even further proof, check out The Guess Who Live at the Paramount, famous for converting Lester Bangs into a raging fan of the band. It's a total ripper. "Laughing," from their 1969 record, Canned Wheat (admittedly not the most promising title), brings us Cummings in a state of disbelief at the heartless manipulations of his woman. Her loss.



22 "Always See Your Face" | Love

This is a beautiful love song that also functions as a final goodbye of sorts to the peace and love vibe of the late-1960s. The album title, Four Sail, references the fact it was the band's fourth album, but it also contains a pun, "Love for Sale," that might be foreshadowing the future of rock & roll as a marketable commodity. Arthur Lee likely didn't build that much meaning into it at the time, but it makes some sense in retrospect. If you spend a little time dissecting the song, however, there's actually a covert stalker undercurrent present in the lyrics,

á la the Police's "Every Breath You Take" (No matter where you go / You will always see my face), that might merit a restraining order from a sympathetic judge. Sweet Arthur surely didn't have that motivation back then, but look how our current world has once again warped our perspective of even the most heartfelt forms of human expression.



21 "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic" | Isaac Hayes

Despite his intimidating appearance—bald head, cool shades, gold chain jacket—Isaac Hayes also had a pretty good sense of humor. How else to explain this soul brother homage to the Mary Poppins classic, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"? Not a cover, mind you, but it's certainly no coincidence that both song titles are thirty-four letters long.* In 1969, Isaac began crafting his own mythical, Shaft-esque image (two years before the movie, it should be noted) upon gaining full creative control from Stax after a string of songwriting successes with partner David Porter (mainly for Sam & Dave). He cashed in that hard-earned creative capital on Hot Buttered Soul, his breakout solo record that has since become an essential component of any self-respecting record collection. With apologies to Hal David/Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb, who wrote the album's two classic tracks ("Walk on By" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" respectively), the steady, slow-build funk of "Hyperbolic" (for short) has a delightful anything-goes energy. It's peppered with funky phraseology ("Your sweet phalanges know how to please") and freaky language, some real, some invented ("My gastronomical stupensity" my favorite). Prime artistic license shit, in other words. I also love how Isaac conveniently leaves the complex title to his background vocalists, choosing to groove behind the piano like the cool cat instead of giving it a run himself.


*To this day, neither has been trotted out at the Scripps Spelling Bee, which would be a hoot.



20 "Unwind Yourself" | Marva Whitney

In the same year the Isley Brothers dropped "It's Your Thing" (which doesn't sound like a record from 1969 at all to me) Marva Whitney countered with her 1969 album, It's My Thing (her only album, sadly). The more I compare the two versions the more I realize they are saying basically the same damn thing. Glad to see both sexes are on the same page for once. But that's not the Marva Whitney song I've had stuck in my head for years, rather it's the Hank Ballard-penned "Unwind Yourself" that's become my personal favorite. The take on Marva's record is that it's basically a James Brown record with a female vocalist. The assessment is dead-on, but don't for a second think that's a bad thing. If anyone could pull off such a bold experiment, it's Marva, who was a background singer with Brown's band for a few years prior to recording her debut record. On top of that, she enlisted the JB's as her backing band and James produced and wrote most of the songs. Suffice it to say, it's the full funk and nothing but the funk, with a great raw and ready vocal from Marva over the top, a singer who obviously didn't get her just desserts in the music biz. She deserved better.



19 "Compared to What" | Les McCann & Eddie Harris

I generally don't put much jazz on my favorite songs mixtapes because it's a whole different world deserving of its own distinct mix. An exception then for this song from Swiss Movement, the classic and beloved live record by Les McCann & Eddie Harris recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Zurich. The duo's signature track, "Compared to What," kicks off the set and it fits particularly well on this 1969 mix because it has more of a soul-jazz, or even funk-jazz, feel to it. I've long been a fan of the song's instrumental opening with its grooving piano and persistent cowbell (or what sounds like cowbell) leading the way into a strong, soulful vocal from McCann with some serious political heft and dark humor behind its lyrics (written by Gene McDaniels). One example: Slaughterhouse is killin' hogs / Twisted children killin' frogs / Poor dumb rednecks rollin' logs / Tired old lady kissin' dogs. Wild stuff and more than worth the extra tape space. Although I do take some offense at the implication that "kissin' dogs" is a bad thing. I do it every day.


*Editor's Note: Also in 1969 was a version of the song by Roberta Flack on her First Take LP. Worth checking out, but nothing tops this "first take" in my opinion.



18 "My Whole World is Falling Down" | William Bell

I'll say it until I'm blue in the face. William Bell was the best kept secret on the Stax roster, right up there just below Otis Redding and Sam & Dave and right alongside Carla Thomas and Johnnie Taylor. In fact, I once made a playlist of my 101 Favorite Stax Singles and Otis checked in with 15 tracks and Bell came in a close second with 14. One of those songs was 1969's "My Whole World is Falling Down," a classic 60's soul ballad about losing your lady. I mean, that's exactly why soul music became a sensation in the 60s. Either your were trying to get with your baby, trying to keep your baby, trying to get your baby back, or mourning the loss of your baby. End of story. William did them all as good as anyone else, bar none. And he also wasn't afraid to admit when he fucked up. "My Whole World is Falling Down" may not be as universally-known as David Ruffin's similarly-themed "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)," but it's at least its equal, if not its superior.



17 "Pale Blue Eyes" | The Velvet Underground

There are several directions I could follow on The Velvet Underground, the band's third, but all paths eventually lead me back to "Pale Blue Eyes," Lou Reed's lovely yet downcast ode to his first serious girlfriend. I wonder what she thought of it, assuming she knew it was inspired by her, especially considering Lou took some artistic license with the facts—it has since been revealed she was neither married nor had blue eyes, two pretty important parts of the song! If I were her, I'm not sure if I'd be sad, happy, or mad. Maybe Lou did it for that very reason. I mean, the song's first verse famously expresses that same set of conflicting emotions toward her (Sometimes I feel so happy / Sometimes I feel so sad / Sometimes I feel so happy / But mostly you just make me mad). Regardless, I find this song remarkably affecting and strikingly beautiful and that's why it's here. It makes my heart ache in a totally unique way. It doesn't hurt that it starts one of the most unpredictable and unprecedented three-song runs in VU history—immediately followed by "Jesus" and "Beginning to See the Light," two more songs nobody really saw coming based on the band's first two record. Heartbreak to spirituality to awakening in less than 15-minutes. Andy Warhol surely approved.



16 "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door I'll Get It Myself)" | James Brown

If you're looking for an anthem that was ahead of its time, you couldn't do much better than James Brown's "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door I'll Get It Myself)." Ah, the ultra-rare triple negative! It's the natural sequel to his 1968 epic, "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud," and the precursor of several others to come. What it all comes down to is fair opportunity for all. So open the door—you may be surprised at what happens next. It certainly doesn't hurt having the Hardest Working Man in Show Business leading by example. This is blue-collar, sweaty funk with a groove so deep you could take cover in it when a tornado hits.



15 "Look at the Girl" | Otis Redding

Otis's plane crashed in Wisconsin's Lake Monona on December 10, 1967, but there was some great stuff left in the can beyond "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" that received its posthumous release on Love Man a couple years later. With the nature of its circumstances, it can't really be considered a "proper" Otis Redding album, but it does have some killer songs on it. The title track was a hit, but "Direct Me" and "Look at the Girl" (aka "Look at That Girl") are my favorites, the latter ranking with Otis's finest cuts in my opinion. It features the original Stax house band locked in as Otis tells us of a stage dancer (a stripper, perhaps) who captures his undivided attention, but not with the usual "tools" of the trade.


I saw her dancing, dancing in some old smokey place

I bet I was the only one there to watch her face


Isn't that a great opening line? Our gentle giant Otis would go beyond the usual feminine trappings and see the real person instead, wouldn't he? The girl, he notices, inexplicably has a tear in her eye as she dances. It's really a touching observation. After that realization, he feels compelled to go back and see her "dance" again, motives unknown. One can infer he wants to know more about her beyond the surface. Interestingly, he leaves the "I've got to go back and watch that little girl dance" chorus to his able background singers for some reason. Perhaps it's because he really doesn't want to see her as a dancer anymore? Perhaps a real human being with real emotions? At one point, he muses, "I wonder how it is to love her." Not to make love to her necessarily (there'll be time for that, too, I'm sure), but what it would feel like to be in love with her.



14 Ramblin' Gamblin' Man | The Bob Seger System

A few years before the Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man" and Blood, Sweat & Tears' "Go Down Gamblin'", Bob Seger rightfully combined the two ideas into one package on "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man." An economical move, as most ramblers are also gamblers and vice versa—rarely do you find one without the other. Nor do ramblers and gamblers have time to pronounce the hard "g" sound at the end of their words apparently—takes too much time. Especially when you're a road warrior with a gamblin' problem (ramblin' on the other hand is rarely presented by society as a major problem—you don't see many Ramblers Anonymous meetings, but then again, how would you know how to find one?). But I digress. “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” will always be, at least for me, a song from Bob Seger’s legendary 1976 LP, Live Bullet—that’s where I first heard the song and it’s still the ultimate version thanks to the high octane thrust supplied by the Silver Bullet Band and an enthusiastic hometown audience at Detroit’s Cobo Hall. But on this list, we don’t include live versions of previously released songs, so I’m including the original version from Seger’s 1969 debut album, The Bob Seger System (a band name I quite like, although Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band is even better). When Live Bullet was released, Seger was a mid-level concert draw, already into his early 30’s, with eight studio albums under his belt (none of which did very well commercially), but in 1969 he was still a young man in his mid-20s still trying to figure it out. His vocals reflect that fact, too. On Live Bullet, you need no convincing of Seger’s ramblin’ gamblin’ credentials—you can hear the touring miles in his voice. Back in 1969, however, the same exact claim seems more like youthful boasting, complete with a voice that hadn’t quite aged long enough in the whiskey barrel. The energy and spirit is still there, however, and it makes this version magnificent in its own special way.



SIDE B



13 "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" | Crosby, Stills & Nash

I think it would be cool to have a great song written about you; assuming it was somewhat positive, of course. Given the choice, most of us would prefer something complimentary, especially on the off chance the song becomes extremely well-known to millions of people. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” written and sung by Stephen Stills for soon-to-be ex-girlfriend Judy Collins, is just such a song. It’s a significant entry in the rock canon for many reasons. While it’s a stunning, multi-movement composition based on a structure common to classical music, it’s still a breakup song, chronicling the imminent demise of their relationship. As Taylor Swift has ably demonstrated, breakup songs don’t always go well for non-songwriting party. In this case, Collins, when asked about the song, has said it is “flattering and heartbreaking.” That’s a pretty good outcome for both parties in my book. It’s always flattering when someone “sees” you for who you are, “Fear is the lock, and laughter the key to your heart,” and there’s always an element of sadness when two people drift apart, “Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now.” The song unfolds in distinct sections, vulnerable and factual at the beginning, mournfully poetic in the middle, and strangely light and airy at the end. The coda is totally unexpected in context with a zesty combination of Spanish lyrics and intricate wordless harmonizing, like a doo wop group after a bong rip. What exactly are we to infer from the final, almost celebratory, movement? Is it as simple as being thankful you found love at all, instead of mourning its loss?



12 "Son of a Preacher Man" | Dusty Springfield

I dated a preacher's daughter once and she was, by far, not the only one who could ever reach me. Nor did she teach me much, but I can still relate to Dusty Springfield's blue-eyed soul staple about a smooth talkin' son of a preacher man who turns her crank like no other guy. At some point, everyone hopes for a person who will be able to do just that for us, father's (or mother's) profession be damned. But my advice is to beware of preacher progeny, as the family business of selling outlandish tales for profit doesn't bode well for long-term happiness. With a song this great, it's not surprising there have been countless versions of it over the years, but none of them have the genuine storytelling credibility of Dusty's "dusty" version from her classic LP, Dusty in Memphis. I credit the feel of the track to the idea of bringing the British singer down to Memphis for a recording session (even though she recorded the final vocal in New York). It just gives the track a down-home groove that other versions of the song don't quite replicate. And a lot of big names have tried: Aretha Franklin (B), Mavis Staples (B+), Tina Turner (B), Nancy Sinatra (C+), and Bobbie Gentry (A-) to name a few. Nobody pulled off the tale with as much heart and soul as Dusty and a standard was born. And, in a moment of mixtape karma, Dusty was the one who recommended her label, Atlantic Records, sign compatriots Led Zeppelin to the label, which they promptly did without even seeing them play (if the story is indeed 100% true!). Read on....



11 "Good Times Bad Times" | Led Zeppelin

Considering both Zep I and Zep II were unleashed in 1969, there is no lack of worthy tracks from the band available for this mixtape—you can't go too far afield. For my money, however, there's nothing quite like that first impression. Which means album one/side one/song one. And—why not?—moment one. Based on the first five seconds alone, the decision to select "Good Times Bad Times" to represent is a no-brainer. This is a song that emphatically announces a major new arrival is here and it's one that cannot be ignored. That first epic riff just hits like a ton of bricks, providing a visceral thrill each and every time. I can't think of many other songs that barge through the door with such immediacy. No wonder some people didn't know what to make of it at the time.



10 "Shangri-La" | The Kinks

You’ll never live like common people

You’ll never do whatever common people do

Never fail like common people

You’ll never watch your life slide out of view

“Common People” by Pulp

 

Our now well-documented romance with the Kinks continues with one of the band’s finest songs about the everyday lives of ordinary British people, written with compassion and empathy (and some pity) by extraordinary British people. Does that make their observations more or less depressing, I wonder? For those forever saddled with a mortgage on a suburban home, the answer is complicated. On one hand, that home is a dream fulfilled, on the other hand, it’s an anchor, possibly limiting any future risk-taking or life-living. The beauty of Kinks songs is that they always seem to present both sides equally. In “Shangri La,” the first half glorifies the idea of finding your forever home, the second magnifies its flaws. In the end, how you interpret the song is up to you. Either way, there's no denying it's a mini-masterpiece and a captivating chapter within a larger story.  

  


09 "When Will We Be Paid" | The Staple Singers

I have the ultimate level of respect for the Staple Singers. That respect is part musical and part message in equal measures. No band put both together with the consistency of Pops, Cleotha, Mavis, Pervis, and Yvonne, the ultimate family band. Nobody spoke the truth to their own people in such a funky way quite like them. In 1969, we were still a couple years away from smashes like "You've Got to Earn It," "Respect Yourself," and "I'll Take You There," but the die was already cast for their transition from gospel to secular music years prior. The single, "When Will We Be Paid," was as crucial to the Civil Rights Movement as any other song, demanding recognition and payment for the work black people did to build and defend our country. It's a powerful statement, but they never let the music take the backseat, which was always their secret weapon. It made you want to listen to what they had to say. And listen you should.



08 "Darling Be Home Soon" | Joe Cocker

A good portion of Joe Cocker's most legendary song interpretations were released in 1969, thanks to the release of two new records, so there's no way to go wrong here, really. Unless, of course, you don't pick any of them like I'm about to do. So no "Feelin' Alright" and neither of his epic Beatles covers ("With a Little Help From My Friends" or "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window"), not even his incredible reworking of Leon Russell's "Delta Lady." Instead, my choice is his reinvigoration of John Sebastian's Lovin' Spoonful number "Darling Be Home Soon." This is a master class on how to save a song from probable obscurity and elevate it to classic status. I love it for that reason alone, but I especially cherish it because it soundtracked a small moment of my life that I will never forget. Cue a version of myself graduating from college, the very last days of the best four years of my life up to that point, and I was feeling melancholy, and not just because I had no idea what I was going to with the rest of my life (planning not my speciality). The last thing I packed was my turntable, of course, so I put on Joe Cocker!. As side two came to end, "Darling Be Home Soon" blared from my speakers.

And now...

A quarter of my life is almost past

I think I've come to see myself at last


And then it hit me. I was the same age as Sebastian when he wrote the song. A full quarter of my life was now over (actuarial analysis not conducted, but when you're 21, 84 seemed like more than enough time). What hit me the most was the line, "I think I've come to see myself at last." I remember sitting there sweating balls, thinking, "Do I see myself at last?" My answer, sadly, was "No. No I don't." And it felt weird not having that awareness. I played the song again, stuck on that one line. Others joined me as I listened and I sensed they possibly felt the same way. No matter that the song was about a girl in the end. I pulled from it what I needed to hear and it made me uneasy. Staring at my packed belongings and blank walls, my saving grace was a line deeper into the song where Joe sings, with awesome background vocal support, "Go...and beat your crazy head against the sky (Beat your head against the sky)." At that moment, I thought maybe it was OK not to know my future. Maybe he was really giving me instructions on how to find out what was next. Maybe I had more time to figure my shit out!* Maybe I still had time to try out some things before deciding. This song takes me back to that moment like it was yesterday.


*Postscript: In some ways I did, in most ways I didn't.


07 "Cotton Fields" | Creedence Clearwater Revival

A classic Leadbelly song that's been covered countless times over the years, most pretty respectful (including a nice version by Rose Marie on The Dick Van Dyke Show) and some totally off base (the Beach Boys take, to be kind, is misguided). Including Leadbelly himself, there is no better version than the one done by CCR on their masterpiece, Willy and the Poor Boys. It's a totally swinging cover of an American folk classic that hasn't had the life drained out of it through excessive radio play (songs about picking cotton are not in high demand among radio programmers). When Fogerty was "a little bitty baby" he gained possession of an old soul, and although under 25 when this was recorded, he takes ownership of the song like he's responsible for preserving a historical artifact. Which of course, he is. Others have toyed with the natural rhythm of the song, but Fogerty was too smart to rob the song of its front porch shuffle. He made his version rock like only CCR could, which further cemented their status as America's greatest rock band of the era.

      

06 "Pinball Wizard" | The Who

In the past, when someone would present The Beatles vs The Stones question, my answer was always “The Who.” I still feel that way. They’re my band, plain and simple. But quibbling over which A+ student is the smartest always seemed like a waste of time anyway. What I do know is that the Who will likely make every year-end mixtape where they’ve released a song or album. That’s how we roll. In 1969, Pete Townshend trotted out his rock opera, Tommy, and while I wasn’t old enough to hear it at the time, I imagine it had to be a “WTF” moment for pretty much everybody else. God, I love the ambition of it all. As a kid, some years later, I didn’t quite understand it, and the movie didn't help. If anything I came out of the theater more disturbed and flummoxed than before. But thank heaven there were some "real" songs to grab onto to counter jarring songs like “Fiddle About,” "Acid Queen," and “Cousin Kevin,” which totally freaked me out. “Pinball Wizard” was by far the most relatable song for those of us in the pre-teen demographic. We were all familiar with arcade culture to some degree, so a pinball savant seemed plausible to us at the time. Even now, the lyrics caters to my love of songs with atypical subject matter. Enough of the love songs, bring me a song about a deaf, dumb, and blind kid who plays a mean pinball. To this day, I brace myself for the opening headphone moment where the right cup features the rhythm guitar and the left cup is dead silent...until Pete’s opening riff explodes out of nowhere on the left side. It’s a thrill that never gets old. Proven just minutes ago once again.



05 "Suspicious Minds" | Elvis Presley

There's no denying the almighty "Suspicious Minds" its rightful place on this tape, but it's hard not to include a song from his best late-period album (and perhaps all-time best), From Elvis in Memphis. I had "Power of My Love" slotted here initially until I realized I'd forgotten this epic single from the same year. At that point, I acquiesced, fully aware that nothing beats the majesty of Elvis's cover of Mark James's song from 1968 (which is very similar and pretty good, I must say, albeit with a much lighter recording budget). Elvis's ramped-up version was made for the Vegas strip and it's amazing how live the studio recording sounds, almost like he's in front of an actual audience belting it out, sweat pouring from his brow. There's an electrical current running through it that I can't find in many other Elvis tracks from the period. The only flaw is the notorious late song 15-second fade-out/fade-in that makes no sense whatsoever. Even that doesn't ruin the King's turn on the song, which ranks with his greatest ever. Even fat Elvis couldn't ruin this classic number, one that always explodes with bandstand power, brilliantly half speeds it at the bridge, and then blasts triumphantly until finally fading out once and for all. This is how I want to remember the King.



04 "Just Keep On Loving Me" | Johnnie Taylor & Carla Thomas

Like Motown, Stax did some incredible duets using their superstar lineup in the 1960s and 70s. Motown gets most of the accolades, but I’ll put the best Stax duets up against their very best any day. In 1969, Stax even put out a whole album of their best duets, Girl Meets Boy, just to make that very point. One of my personal faves is this cut with second-gen Stax superstar Johnnie Taylor and first-gen mainstay, Carla Thomas, the undisputed Queen of Memphis Soul. Johnnie checks in with a fine vocal here, but even he would admit that Carla is the star of this show, delivering one of her most amazing vocals ever. She's also a forgiving soul, allowing Johnnie to make a borderline unforgivable mistake and still remaining with him, convinced that their destiny is to be together forever. I don't know if I agree with her, but I'll gladly let her win me over one play at a time.



03 "I Can't Get Next to You" | The Temptations

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think God himself is trying to pick up a sweet lady in a bar on “I Can’t Get Next to You.” He’s all brags, just facts, throughout—making grey skies blue, buying things money can’t buy, turning rivers into raging fires, making ships sail on dry land, and strangely claiming that he could live forever, but only if he “so desires.” Hmmm. Is it possible he doesn’t desire? That’s not good news for people who count on good news. Breathe easy my children, for we all know it’s just a songwriting gimmick, and a good one, meant to express frustration that a girl isn’t falling for the usual bullshit lines. Try a little tenderness maybe? How about some love and understanding? No matter, however, because when the Temps are on fire like they are here, there is no way to resist for long. The vocal interplay is sensational, the groove is locked fucking down, and the game is on. You’ll be well advised to play along.



02 "Pressure Drop" | Toots & the Maytals

Karma can indeed be a bitch sometimes, but rarely has it sounded this full of joy. Toots is the reggae Santa Claus; he knows when you’ve been bad and he knows when you’ve been good, so you better be good for goodness sake or the pressure’s gonna drop on you. Which is Jamaican for “what goes around comes around.” Retribution? Reggaebution? Rastabution? Whatever you call it, watch your back.


01 "Gimme Shelter" | The Rolling Stones

The purpose of these mixtapes is not to tell the entire backstory of any given song. Nor is it to drop all kinds of trivia and pretend I didn't just read it on Wikipedia. I mean, what hasn't been already written about pretty much every Stones track ever? My real purpose is to identify the reason why each song stands out to me personally. Hence, I'm not here to regale you with chord changes, but I am here to tell you why the song struck a chord with me. Which brings me to "Gimme Shelter," one of the songs that pops into my mind as the audio definition of rock and roll itself. The long, nearly full-minute intro sets an ominous tone, like a tornado is about to touch down nearby, as people scurry into their basements for cover, "A storm is threatening, my very life today." I like a song that makes me a little tense (similar to Led Zep's "In the Evening" in that way). Then that feeling gets ratcheted up even more as we learn that it's not a storm that's imminent, it's the threat of war, in this case the Vietnam War, where death and other atrocities lurk around every corner and deadly conflict is just a shot away. But the Stones don't just sound like they're in danger on "Gimme Shelter"—they are the danger, too. A menacing and dangerous combination. They bring fire and brimstone on the track, even wailing like an air raid siren thanks to a Merry Clayton backing vocal that ranks with the best cameos of all time, and the total effect is as dizzying as a scene out of Apocalypse Now.*


*While on the subject of Apocalypse Now, how was "Gimme Shelter" passed up for inclusion in the film? It seems custom made to soundtrack a war movie. They went with "Satisfaction" instead, which I get, but I can't help but feel they made the wrong choice.


______________________


Man, doing mixtapes from the late-60s is a total bitch. But you're worth it.


Cheers,


The Priest

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