Lyrics quiz: Tunes I’m grateful for

“Name That Tune,” the popular quiz show that got its start on radio in 1952 and has had several lives on TV, is being revived yet again in January on the Fox network.

Clearly, they got the idea from seeing how readers here at Hack’s Back Pages enjoy our periodic Rock Lyrics Quiz!

I’m publishing a day early this week because I thought it might be a fun Thanksgiving activity to quiz each other on our knowledge of the words to classic rock songs.

I have selected 25 songs for which I am very thankful. To me, they’re among the truly outstanding tunes that made a big impact on me, came along at important times in my life and still make me sing along when I hear them.

I suggest you grab a pencil and paper and write down your answers as you peruse the listed lyrics, and then check out the answers to see how well you did.

Despite the crummy circumstances in which we find ourselves this holiday season, I trust you’ll find ways to stay safe and have some fun either on Zoom or in socially responsible distance. Let’s adopt an attitude of gratitude, just for today. Day after day.

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LYRICS:

1. “I was born in Li’l Rock, /Had a childhood sweetheart, /We were always hand in hand…”

2. “Mama don’t understand it, she wants to know where I’ve been, /I’d have to be some kind of natural born fool to want to pass that way again…

3. “So I turned myself to face me, /But I’ve never caught a glimpse of how the others must see the faker, /I’m much too fast to take that test…”

4. “If you should ever leave me, /Well, life would still go on, believe me, /The world could show nothing to me, /So what good would living do me?…”

5. “And I don’t own the clothes I’m wearing, /And the road goes on forever, /And I’ve got one more silver dollar…”

6. “Looking towards the future, I see changes coming near, /People smiling, laughing, joking, disregarding fear…”

7. “And the seasons, they go round and round, /And the painted ponies go up and down, /We’re captive on the carousel of time…”

8. “Though I know I’ll never lose affection for people and things that went before, /I know I’ll often stop and think about them…”

9. “I’ll sing my song to the wide open spaces, /I’ll sing my heart out to the infinite sea, /I’ll sing my visions to the sky high mountains…”

10. “Mother, mother, /There’s too many of you crying, /Brother, brother, brother, /There’s far too many of you dying…”

11. “I’m worn as a toothbrush hanging in the stand, yeah, /My face ain’t looking any younger, /Now I can see love’s taken a toll on me…”

12. “I tell you, love, sister, /It’s just a kiss away, /It’s just a kiss away, kiss away, kiss away…”

13. “Yes, and when I’m feelin’ down and blue, /Then all I do is think of you, /And all my foolish problems seem to fade away…”

14. “Leaves are falling all around, time I was on my way, /Thanks to you, I’m much obliged, /Such a pleasant stay…”

15. “Now if you feel that you can’t go on because all of your hope is gone, /And your life is filled with much confusion until happiness is just an illusion…”

16. “People, what have you done? /Locked Him in His golden cage,/Made Him bend to your religion, Him resurrected from the grave…”

17. “It seems to me a crime that we should age, /These fragile times should never slip us by, /A time you never can or shall erase…”

18. “Lacy lilting lady, losing love lamenting, /Change my life, make it right, be my lady…”

19. “I ain’t saying you treated me unkind, /You could have done better, but I don’t mind, /You just sorta wasted my precious time…”

20. “The weekend at the college didn’t turn out like you planned, /The things that pass for knowledge I can’t understand…”

21. “Take your time, think a lot, think of everything you’ve got, /For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not…”

22. “Oh, someday, girl, I don’t know when, /We’re gonna get to that place where we really wanna go, /And we’ll walk in the sun…”

23. “It’s the same kind of story that seems to come down from long ago, /Two friends having coffee together when something flies by their window…”

24. “Set me free, why don’t you, babe? /Get out of my life, why don’t you, babe…”

25. “Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly, /How terribly strange to be seventy…”

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ANSWERS:

1. “I Was Made to Love Her,” Stevie Wonder, 1967

Listen to that bass line! Marvel at Stevie’s impassioned vocals. Notice how the arrangement builds and builds, and how you want the song to keep going and going well past its 2:36 duration. To me, it’s the most extraordinary Motown recording of all, and that’s really saying something.

2. “Country Road,” James Taylor, 1971

I feel as Taylor and I are kindred spirits somehow. Although I enjoy his entire catalog, the songs on his first three LPs are so special to me, especially this wonderful one from “Sweet Baby James,” which became my favorite to sing and play on guitar.

3. “Changes,” David Bowie, 1971

The older I get, the more I appreciate the excellence of this amazing track from Bowie’s fine “Hunky Dory” album. The words are so profound in the way they address the subject of change and how we tend to resist it at every turn. The sax riff at the end offers the icing on the cake.

4. “God Only Knows,” The Beach Boys, 1966

The brilliance of Brian Wilson comes shining through in this magnificent track from the group’s “Pet Sounds” LP. The challenging melody line, the earnest lyrics and the marvelous vocals combine to create one of The Beach Boys’ very finest moments.

5. “Midnight Rider,” The Allman Brothers Band, 1970

At the beginning, this band was loaded with instrumental talent on guitars, drums and bass, and then Duane Allman got his younger brother Gregg to join the lineup. In addition to his keyboards and the best blues voice of any white man around, Gregg wrote compelling songs like this beauty.

6. “Can You See Him,” Batdorf and Rodney, 1971

Such a crime that this fantastic duo of acoustic guitars and voices didn’t find more commercial success. John Batdorf’s songs on their “Off the Shelf” debut album, especially “Can You See Him,” shone with overwhelmingly positive vibes. You can’t help but smile from ear to ear when this one’s on.

7. “The Circle Game,” Joni Mitchell, 1970

My introduction to the high priestess of poetic rock was her “Ladies of the Canyon” album, with “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Woodstock” and “For Free.” Her music became more challenging (and satisfying) as she progressed, but simple folk songs like “The Circle Game” still capture my heart.

8. “In My Life,” The Beatles, 1965

I wonder if Lennon and McCartney knew that this song would have such staying power when they wrote it as just another album track to fill their “Rubber Soul” LP in late 1965. The words so succinctly distill the importance of love in our lives that I’ve heard it at weddings and funerals.

9. “The Song is Over,” The Who, 1971

The Who hit a majestic peak with this song, which I think is the best track on their unparalleled “Who’s Next” album. Roger Daltrey never sounded better, and producer Glyn Johns reached his own professional apex when he captured The Who’s instrumental power. Still gives me chills every time.

10. “What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye, 1971

There are so many fine tunes about love and heartbreak in Gaye’s early Motown catalog, but as the Seventies arrived, he wanted to feature songs that spoke of world conditions, injustice and civil unrest. This track did exactly that while maintaining the musical beauty we expected from him.

11. “She’s Gone,” Hall and Oates, 1973

This exceptional song from the duo’s early “Abandoned Luncheonette” album is arguably their best in a long career. It starts slowly, sensually, with the narrator trying to face the fact that his girl has left him, eventually building to painful anguish at the thrilling climax.

12. “Gimme Shelter,” The Rolling Stones, 1969

Everyone talks about the violence and dread that anchor this masterpiece from The Stones’ “Let It Bleed” LP, but if you listen closely, at the end, Mick Jagger and Merry Clayton are no longer singing about war being “a shot away,” but love being “a kiss away.” There’s hope mixed in with the despair.

13. “South City Midnight Lady,” The Doobie Brothers, 1973

The rocking boogie of Tom Johnston’s early Doobies hits and the smoky funk of Michael McDonald’s latter-day tunes got all the attention, but for my money, there’s no better song in The Doobies’ repertoire than this sweet, satisfying ballad by Patrick Simmons on their “The Captain and Me” LP.

14. “Ramble On,” Led Zeppelin, 1969

The multiple acoustic-based tracks on “Led Zeppelin III” were considered a huge departure for the blues-rock champs, but if you listen to “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” from the first album and “Ramble On” from “II,” you’ll see they were already masters of the light/dark shading. Outstanding!

15. “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” The Four Tops, 1966

The Motown producers wrote this incredible song in a higher key than usual in order to push lead singer Levi Stubbs to reach for higher notes. The result was a plaintive vocal delivery that became The Four Tops’ signature tune, and one of my all-time favorites of the Sixties.

16. “My God,” Jethro Tull, 1971

When critics called Tull’s “Aqualung” a concept album, they were referring to “Wind Up” and this astonishing track, which excoriated organized religion as phony and malevolent. The flute solo in the middle break, perhaps Ian Anderson’s finest, never fails to stop me in my tracks.

17. “Friends,” Elton John, 1971

It’s the title song on a little-known soundtrack album to a slight little French film that Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin agreed to do before they had much commercial success. But to me, it brings back vivid memories of first love, carried by a wise lyric about the importance of keeping friends close.

18. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” Crosby, Stills and Nash, 1969

They say heartbreak has inspired more great songs than anything else, and for Stephen Stills, his breakup with paramour Judy Collins was fodder for this gorgeous tour de force. It proved to be the perfect opening track for Crosby, Stills & Nash’s spine-tingling three-part harmonies.

19. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” Bob Dylan, 1963

I first heard this perceptive tune as sung by Peter, Paul and Mary, who had a Top Five hit with it. Dylan was just getting started on his game-changing songwriting about social issues, but he also showed an uncanny knack for writing a gently sarcastic kiss-off song like this one.

20. “Reelin’ in the Years,” Steely Dan, 1972

“Can’t Buy a Thrill” was such an amazingly fresh album of intriguing pop rock when Steely Dan made their debut. “Do It Again” was first, with its salsa beat and mysterious lyrics, but it was the solid rock of “Reelin’ in the Years” that still perks up ears today.

21. “Father and Son,” Cat Stevens, 1970

If there’s a more perceptive song about the generation gap between parents and their children, I’m not aware of it. Stevens hit a home run with his “Tea For the Tillerman” album, and this lovely tune is probably the highlight. It’s one of my favorites to play on guitar.

22. “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen, 1975

The anthem of the decade, and the song that made many people pay attention to this super talent from the Jersey shore. Springsteen said, “I wanted to craft a record that sounded like the last record on Earth, the last one you’d ever need to hear.” I’d say he succeeded.

23. “Hypnotized,” Fleetwood Mac, 1973

Such a sensual groove, with a smooth guitar and soft-edged voice from Bob Welch, who wrote the song. He is credited with saving Fleetwood Mac from extinction during the years between Peter Green’s blues and the sunny pop of Buckingham and Nicks, and “Hypnotized” is a big reason why.

24. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” The Supremes, 1966

The producers wanted to mimic the sound of a telegraph machine in the intro, followed by a rollicking 4/4 beat for Diana Ross and The Supremes to lay down some of their very best vocal chops. This song captures the frustration of still being teased after the relationship is over.

25. “Old Friends/Bookends,” Simon and Garfunkel, 1968

This two-song medley perfectly summarizes the importance of clinging to long-time friends and youthful memories as we get older. With songs like “America” and “Old Friends/Bookends,” Simon took a quantum leap forward in his songwriting skills for the duo’s 1968 album “Bookends.”

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Maybe I’m wrong, but who’s to say what’s right?

It will come as no surprise to many of my readers that I love lists. I love reading them, and I love making them. Not so much the “To-do” lists and the grocery lists, but the “Best Movies” lists, and the “Best Quarterbacks” lists and the “Best Novels” lists. They’re fun to debate about.

The archives of “Hack’s Back Pages” are riddled with lists of all kinds. Nearly every blog post comes with a playlist of songs that refer to the theme being explored: best songs about driving, best female vocalists, best songs about fathers, best rock biographies, best songs by Little Richard, best drummers, the worst cringeworthy songs, and on and on.

Music magazines, and even some mainstream newspapers, like to publish their staff writers’ opinions about the best songs and albums of a given year or decade. Rolling Stone, long regarded as the granddaddy of rock music publications, took on the fairly overwhelming (some might say foolhardy) challenge of selecting the Best 500 Albums of All Time. They first did this in 2003, and now they’ve come up with a new list in 2020.

How to go about such a monumental task? In 2003, the magazine approached nearly 300 luminaries of the music business: recording artists, songwriters, label executives, session musicians, music critics, producers, managers and historians. They were each asked to name their top 50 albums, and were told to be true to their own tastes, choosing the best albums they’d ever heard as well as the ones that meant the most to them personally or professionally.

They did the same thing again this year, asking a different, more current group of music biz VIPs to complete the same exercise. Older artists and execs were still consulted, but the net was cast wider to include important new players who weren’t around or involved when the first list was compiled.

I find it thoroughly fascinating to review these two lists side by side to see how much preferences have changed in the 17 years between their publication.

It stands to reason that there are nearly 100 albums listed in the Top 500 in 2020 that hadn’t yet been released in 2003.

It also makes sense that a newer generation of electors would embrace newer genres far more widely than the earlier group did. Hip-hop, born in the early 1980s, isn’t exactly new, but as a genre it is much more widely represented, and ranked higher, on the 2020 list than the 2003 list.

What I find especially intriguing is how some albums that have long been named near the top of many “best of” lists fell out of favor, sometimes dramatically so, among the new list’s voters. In 2003, no less than FOUR albums by The Beatles were in the Top 10 (“Sgt. Pepper” at #1, “Revolver at #3, #Rubber Soul” at #5 and “The White Album” at #10). This year, none of these were in the Top 10 (“Sgt. Pepper” fell to #24 and “Rubber Soul” tumbled to #35), but “Abbey Road” leapfrogged all four to come in at #5.

Other longtime classics met brutal fates on the new list. The Eagles’ “Hotel California” dropped from #37 to #118. U2’s “The Joshua Tree” plummeted from #26 to #135. Dylan’s “Bringing It All Back Home” was demoted from #31 to #181. Elvis’s self-titled major-label debut fell off a cliff from #55 to #332. The Stones’ “Beggar’s Banquet” dropped from #57 to #185. John Lennon’s “Imagine” went from #76 to #223. Led Zeppelin’s debut LP dove from #29 to #101.

Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” #19

While it wasn’t necessarily a direct cause-and-effect change, these time-tested masterpieces had to make room for newer works, at least in the eyes of the new group of electors. Albums by Kanye West (“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”), Kendrick Lamar (“To Pimp a Butterfly”) and Public Enemy (“It Takes a Nation to Hold Us Back”) all made the Top 20. Amy Winehouse’s 2006 LP “Back to Black” came in at #33, and BeyoncĂ©’s 2016 release “Lemonade” earned a #32 listing.

D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” barely made the list in 2003 at #488, but it reached the #28 spot this year. Same with Wu-Tang Clan’s “Enter the Wu-Tang,” which rose from #386 to #27, and Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” which soared from #386 to #10. Also note the significant movement of Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” (#137 to #37), The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ready to Die” (#133 to #22), Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint” (#464 to #50) and Nas’s “Illmatic” (#400 to #44).

Some vintage LPs that didn’t rank very highly in 2003 were judged more favorably in 2020, illustrating how important their influence remains among newer generations. Some notable examples: Joni Mitchell’s confessional “Blue,” rated #30 in 2003, ranked #3 this year; Stevie Wonder’s opus “Songs in the Key of Life,” rated #56 in 2003, vaulted all the way to #4 on the new list; and “Purple Rain,” Prince and The Revolution’s tour de force, jumped from #72 to #8.

Just as curious were albums like these: Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” (1972), which rated only #486 in the first list but improved to #136 this year; Cyndi Lauper’s “She’s So Unusual” (1983) was a #494 dud in 2003 but ended up at #184 in 2020; “Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light” rose from #126 to #39; David Bowie’s “Station to Station,” an unimpressive #323 in 2003, bypassed “Low” and “Hunky Dory” to reach #52 in 2020; and The Police’s “Synchronicity,” inexplicably relegated to a #455 slot in 2003, would up at #159 on the new list.

There was plenty of reassessing of relative values of a given band’s album catalog. An innovative but polarizing group like Radiohead is a case in point. In 2003, their second LP “The Bends” came in at #110, with “OK Computer” managing a respectable #162. In 2020, the group’s “Kid A” made the Top 20, “OK Computer” found itself at #42 while “The Bends” dropped to #276.

Curiously, some albums barely budged in the listings. The Beach Boys’ 1966 LP “Pet Sounds,” #2 in 2003, retained that position in 2020. Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” moved down a couple slots, from #18 to #21. Carole King’s “Tapestry” improved a bit, from #36 to #25. Other minimal changes: Bob Marley’s “Legend” (#46 to #48); Guns ‘n Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction” (#61 to #62); Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album (#66 to #58), and Neil Young’s “Harvest” (#78 to #72).

These lists make for some spirited debates between music lovers of all ages. I disagree with many dozens of selections on the 2003 list, and twice that number on the 2020 list, but it doesn’t much matter. My view comes down to this: My opinion is just that, MY OPINION. It’s just one person’s preferences and tastes. These RS lists, with all their dumbfounding choices and rankings, are at least an amalgam of hundreds of informed opinions, which probably gives them more credibility than my solo list, however well informed it might be. As the old saw goes, “There’s no accounting for taste.” Particularly in the arts, and especially in pop/rock music.

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Here are the Top 20 albums, as selected in the 2003 RS list:

  1. The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

2. The Beach Boys “Pet Sounds”

3. The Beatles “Revolver”

4. Bob Dylan “Highway 61 Revisited”

5. The Beatles “Rubber Soul”

6. Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On”

7. The Rolling Stones “Exile on Main Street”

8. The Clash “London Calling”

9. Bob Dylan “Blonde on Blonde”

10. The Beatles “The White Album”

11. Elvis Presley “The Sun Sessions”

12. Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”

13. The Velvet Underground “Velvet Underground and Nico”

14. The Beatles “Abbey Road”

15. Jimi Hendrix Experience “Are You Experienced?”

16. Bob Dylan “Blood on the Tracks”

17. Nirvana “Nevermind”

18. Bruce Springsteen “Born to Run”

19. Van Morrison “Astral Weeks”

20. Michael Jackson “Thriller”

Two from the 1950s, 11 from the 1960s, four from the 1970s, two from the 1980s and one from the 1990s, none from the 2000s.

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The Top 20 albums, as selected in the 2020 RS list:

  1. Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On”

2. The Beach Boys “Pet Sounds”

3. Joni Mitchell “Blue”

4. Stevie Wonder “Songs in the Key of Life”

5. The Beatles “Abbey Road”

6. Nirvana “Nevermind”

7. Fleetwood Mac “Rumours”

8. Prince “Purple Rain”

9. Bob Dylan “Blood on the Tracks”

10. Lauryn Hill “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”

11. The Beatles “Revolver”

12. Michael Jackson “Thriller”

13. Aretha Franklin “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You”

14. The Rolling Stones “Exile on Main Street”

15. Public Enemy “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back”

16. The Clash “London Calling”

17. Kanye West “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”

18. Bob Dylan “Highway 61 Revisited”

19. Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly”

20. Radiohead “Kid A”

None from the 1950s, five from the 1960s, six from the 1970s, four from the 1980s, one from the 2000s, two from the 1990s, two from the 2010s.

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Just for fun, and because it’s my blog to do so, here are my Top 20 albums of all time, as of early November 2020. Ask me again a few weeks or months from now, and I may have some different choices!

  1. Jethro Tull “Thick as a Brick”

2. The Beatles “The White Album”

3. Crosby Stills Nash and Young “Deja Vu”

4. Joni Mitchell “For the Roses”

5. Allman Brothers “At Fillmore East”

6. Bruce Springsteen “Born to Run”

7. The Who “Who’s Next”

8. Steely Dan “Can’t Buy a Thrill”

9. Paul Simon “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon”

10. David Bowie “Ziggy Stardust”

11. The Beatles “Abbey Road”

12. James Taylor “Sweet Baby James”

13. Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin I”

14. Batdorf and Rodney “Off the Shelf”

15. Dire Straits “Making Movies”

16. The Judybats “Native Son”

17. Stevie Wonder “Innervisions”

18. R.E.M. “Automatic For the People”

19. Bob Marley “Legend”

20. Jimi Hendrix Experience “Are You Experienced?”

None from the 1950s, four from the 1960s, 12 from the 1970s, two from the 1980s, two from the 1990s.

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If nothing else, these lists should give you plenty of music to explore. Who knows? An artist or album you’ve never heard of could end up being in your own Top 20…or at least Top 500!

The playlist below includes one selection from each of the Top 20 albums on the 2020 edition of RS’s Top 500 Albums of All Time.