10 Best: Songs that Don't Let Go

“A fairly representative list of songs that have meant something to me …”

Photo of Peter HolsapplePeter Holsapple is a singer-songwriter who lives and works in Durham, NC, and formerly led The dB’s, an absolutely legendary power-pop band. He’s one of my songwriting heroes.

In a career stretching back four decades, Holsapple has recorded and toured with such respected artists as R.E.M., Hootie & the Blowfish and countless others. The dB’s released a quartet of critically acclaimed records on Albion Records in the UK and IRS Records in the U.S. from the late 70sthrough the late 80s. In 2005, the reconstituted dB’s began recording their first LP in two decades; it is expected to be released later this year.

Holsapple’s most recent solo LP, “Songs from the Radio Free Song Club,” was released earlier this year.

John L. Micek (guest editor)

This would be a fairly representative list of songs that have meant something to me as a songwriter and musician over the years, excepting of course that there’s not a Beatles or Big Star song — for them, you’d have to include most of their respective canons. But what’s on this list snagged me by the ear and have refused to let go after decades. And here’s why:

1. “Let’s Get Lost on a Country Road” — The Kit Kats

This was a hit on WTOB, Winston-Salem’s Good Guy radio station, when I was a sapling glued to my transistor. The baroque instrumentation and the soaring harmonies and crazy key changes caught my ear like The Left Banke and “Heroes and Villains,” making me crazy about intricate, well-written (and performed) harmonies.

2. “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” — The Bubble Puppy

“Hot Smoke ” was also a smash on ’TOB. That feedback lick let you know that what was coming was raging and out of control. The disparity between the riff and the sweet verses, and then the solo — it’s as if out of Tchaikovsky. But that riff, that noisy, dissonant riff — where did it come from? I still don’t know, and I’m still looking.

3. “Six o’Clock” — The Lovin’ Spoonful

This song is part of a canon I loved as a kid, one of the last of the Spoonful’s singles with John Sebastian, where you hear his voice rasp at the end of the song. This and “She is Still a Mystery” are the sound of a band reaching a crossroads, but they still sound like a band to me. When I was about 9 years old, I dressed up as John Sebastian for Hallowe’en, and no one guessed who I was.

4. “Mongrel” — Bob Seger System

This was a song from the album of the same name that I heard when I went away to prep school for a year. There, I met people like Ben Tench and Bill Magoon, older guys who shared a love of dynamite rock and roll bands (Benmont joined one of those shortly thereafter), and who accepted a weird little freshman guitarist into their musical circle. We loved the “fortrel polyester inkwell” idea, especially.

5. “Journey to the Center of the Mind” — The Amboy Dukes

“Journey” was a rallying cry for my young ne’er-do-well friends and me. We had a game for a while called “Find ‘Journey’ on the Radio,” which was harder before Steve Perry and his nitwits came along. It’s hard to think of the guitarist on this track as being the rightwing knucklehead he is, but it doesn’t change how great this record is, to this day.

6. “Him or Me (What’s it Gonna Be)” — Paul Revere and the Raiders

One of my favorites by a band that will never make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, regardless of how great they were. Paul Revere and the Raiders, featuring Mark Lindsay, were the Chosen Ones, thanks to television and some canny outfitting by Uncle Paul. Their records are powerful rock-pop masterpieces of the time, with a lot of inventive production and harmonies. Go deep with these guys and you’ll be amply rewarded.

7. “Good Timin’ ” — The Beach Boys

Maybe the last great Beach Boys single. So silky and over before you know it, this song has all you want in a Brian Wilson song: Celestial harmonies and descant melodies, leading and passing chords, little twinkling sounds. I love this record, and it’s among my top five Beach Boys songs.

8. “The Kiss” — Judee Sill

One song from an album full of masterpieces, “Heart Food.” The qualities of Judee’s voice, like the lack of vibrato and the sort of reverse envelope she puts on it, have never been equaled. The couching of Christian metaphors in the neoclassical structures she wrote makes them palatable in a way that “Christian rock” will never comprehend.

9. “Dock of the Bay” — Otis Redding

An anthem to loneliness which even first graders can understand. I’ve played this song for my kid’s classes at school as a simple yet worthwhile example of how to write a lyric from the heart. They get it.

10. “C’mon Everybody” — NRBQ

This one kicked me hard. NRBQ has always been among my favorite bands, and this, the kickoff track to their Columbia debut album, set the bar high for the kind of rocking we have been partying to from these guys for so many years. Eddie would be proud.

Article © 2011 by Peter Holsapple