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"The Pop 100: The Greatest Pop Songs of the Seventies"


Pop songs can be trivial and they can be awesome -- often at the same time. They
can change the world, or they can make you change the radio dial. They make
rules and they break them, they play with our emotions, they trigger memories
and arguments, and just when you're sure they'll never go away, they disappear.
Love them or hate them, they are instantly recognizable, which may be the only
thing that Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue" (No. 13) and Gloria Gaynor's "I Will
Survive" (No. 16) have in common. They are also universal -- that's the
"popular" part -- but the way we feel about them is highly idiosyncratic, which
is why God invented so many radio stations. So in the spirit of pop radio, if
you get to a song you don't like, stick with it -- another one's coming up in a
couple of minutes.

Below are the twenty-seven Seventies songs that made the "Pop 100," the greatest
songs of the modern pop era (Feb. 1964 onward) as chosen by the editors of
Rolling Stone and the crew at MTV in the winter of 2000.

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1. "Hotel California" - The Eagles
Album: HOTEL CALIFORNIA
Release date: December 1976
Peak chart position: No. 1 for one week (nineteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Don Felder, Glenn Frey, Don Henley
Producer: Bill Szymczyk

"It was about our facing some of the harsh realities of fame and life in
Hollywood," says Don Henley. "Back in those times, every day was Halloween. The
spiritual experimentation and sexual experimentation all mingled at some
points."

Eagles guitarist Don Felder wrote the arrangement and submitted it to Henley on
tape. "I put the thing on in my car and drove around Southern California,"
Henley recalls. "That song leaped out at me. It had the two things that are
necessary for life: mystery and possibility." Henley says he loved the use of
twelve-string guitar on the track, and its Latin and reggae influences, which he
emphasizes in the version of "Hotel California" he's been playing on his 2000
tour.

Henley attributes the song's lasting resonance to its "classic mythological
form"; it's a quest where the hero grapples with dark forces he encounters
during his odyssey. "It's all the stuff I learned in college," he says. "The
difference is that it's set in the great American Southwest."

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2. "Brown Sugar" - The Rolling Stones
Album: STICKY FINGERS
Release date: April 1971
Peak chart position: No. 1 for two weeks (twelve weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richard
Producer: Jimmy Miller

Mick Jagger came up with the indelible hook for "Brown Sugar" in 1969 while
filming NED KELLY in the Australian outback. "I'd had a gunshot accident in the
movie, and I had to go to the hospital," Jagger says. "Everyone was freaked out
-- they were worried, one, that I would sue and, secondly, that I wouldn't be
able to work. On one of my first days back, I got a guitar with a portable amp,
and I was playing the riff to 'Brown Sugar' in the middle of this field outside
my trailer. They were really pleased."

So was Keith Richards when he heard what Jagger had delivered. "I love it when
Mick comes up with a good riff," he says. "It saves me having to sweat my guts
out." The Stones recorded "Brown Sugar" -- which Jagger initially wanted to call
"Black Pussy," apparently in honor of Claudia Lennear, one of his paramours --
in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in early December during the band's 1969 American
tour. As for the lyrics, Jagger says, "They've got a lot of different levels.
There are drug references that are sort of covered. The whole thing is double-
entendre. I didn't think about it at the time -- it was very much stream of
consciousness." And, he adds, laughing, "I don't know quite what to think of it
now."

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3. "Imagine" - John Lennon
Album: IMAGINE
Release date: September 1971
Peak chart position: No. 3 (nine weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: John Lennon
Producers: John Lennon, Phil Spector, Yoko Ono

Though the emotional bloodletting of his 1970 PLASTIC ONO BAND album was met
with relative indifference by the public, John Lennon still wasn't interested in
compromising. But he was looking to reach a wider audience, to put his
"political message across with a little honey," as he told a biographer. He drew
inspiration from some lines that his wife, Yoko Ono, had written in 1963:
"Imagine the clouds dripping. Dig a hole in your garden to put them in."

Ono herself recalls that her work was "a conceptual instruction piece suggesting
an alternative method to create future reality. John got the message." Lennon
began writing "Imagine" in the couple's bedroom in Ascot, outside London, and
recorded the song at their home studio, playing a lovely folk melody on the
grand piano. Phil Spector was enlisted to produce, though the backing
orchestration he gave it was atypically understated. "Before getting into the
studio, John and I discussed keeping it minimal," Ono says. The song struck a
universal chord, despite what Lennon called its "anti-religious, anti-
nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic" stance. "It's not
necessarily the best song written by John," Ono says, "but 'Imagine' is the most
successful message song of all time."

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4. "Superstition" - Stevie Wonder
Album: TALKING BOOK
Release date: October 1971
Peak chart position: No. 1 for one week (sixteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Stevie Wonder
Producer: Stevie Wonder

"Play me something funky," Jeff Beck told Stevie Wonder at New York's legendary
Electric Lady Studios, after the prolific artist offered to donate a song to
Beck's latest project. "I wrote 'Superstition' that same night," said Wonder in
a 1973 ROLLING STONE profile. Over time, that song has become one of the most
famous, funkiest, fattest R&B grooves to hit wax.

TALKING BOOK's associate producer Robert Margouleff, who with partner Malcolm
Cecil helped create Wonder's revolutionary keyboard sounds, remembers the
session distinctly: "We started at 7 p.m.and finished when the sun came up.
Steve worked better then, probably because as a child his performances were
always at night. The studio was set up where the instruments were in a circle
and hot at all times. That way, Stevie was able to go around them without so
much as a breath."

"I started with the drums," says Wonder. "I was thinking about the beat and the
groove. I would rush a little bit, but it's all part of the whole feel." Working
his way around the circle, Wonder added the groove riff of the clavinet, then
the bass line on Moog synthesizer. Swooping horns were suppled by Wonderlove,
his touring group. "Stevie loved that song, and rightly so," says Margouleff.

Wonder loved it so much, in fact, that he reneged on his deal with Beck, much to
Beck's chagrin. Motown's release of "Superstition" as the first single from
TALKING BOOK, Wonder's second self-produced effort, brought considerable dismay
and harsh words from Beck. "I did promise him the song," Wonder later
acknowledged, "and I'm sorry it happened."

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5. "What's Going On" - Marvin Gaye
Album: WHAT'S GOING ON
Release date: May 1971
Peak chart position: No. 2 (fifteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Renaldo Benson, Al Cleveland, Marvin Gaye
Producer: Marvin Gaye

A month after his thirty-second birthday, Marvin Gaye released WHAT'S GOING ON
(the title notably formed a statement, not a question). Instantly recognized as
a masterwork of progressive R&B and soul, WHAT'S GOING ON seemed to pulse with
its own transcendent aspirations. It was a song cycle that depicted the rising
consciousness of the late 1960s -- black power, ghetto turmoil, campus
radicalism, ecological fears, Vietnam -- all woven through Gaye's sinuous,
engaging melodies. The spiritual center was its title cut, an anti-war plea that
opens the album with the now famous couplet: "Mother mother/There's too many of
you crying/Brother, brother, brother/There's far too many of you dying." Gaye's
inspiration was close to home: In 1965 and 1966, his younger brother Frankie did
a tour of Vietnam.

"Marvin wanted to see it and feel what it was like," says Frankie. "So over
three months we talked about my time there. We were in tears. I told him how I
saw children killed and suffering, picking food out of GI garbage dumps. He was
very attentive to that. But when he went to work, he was very secretive; he
didn't want anyone to know what he was writing." Gaye retreated into an L.A.
studio in late 1970 and produced the album himself, calling in Motown writer Al
Cleveland and Four Tops veteran Renaldo "Obie" Benson to help on the title cut.
"When he finished it, he played the song for me," says Frankie. "It gave me
chills. It was what we had talked about."

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6. "Go Your Own Way" - Fleetwood Mac
Album: RUMOURS
Release date: February 1977
Peak chart position: No. 10 (fifteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Lindsey Buckingham
Producers: Richard Dashut, Ken Caillat, Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac's classic 1977 album, RUMOURS, was like one big BEHIND THE MUSIC
-- a stunning song cycle that gained added resonance due to the real-life soap
opera among the band members. While recording the album, both of the band's
couples -- singer Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, and bassist
John McVie and singer-keyboardist Christine McVie -- split up. "Go Your Own Way"
was the first single, and rarely has a kiss-off sounded so gorgeous.

"We were out on the road doing colleges," remembers Buckingham, "opening for a
lot of people, and I was paying my dues. The spark for the song was that Stevie
and I were crumbling, and I'm sure I was at a Holiday Inn somewhere, sitting in
the room with the guitar, addressing what was going on. It was totally
autobiographical. I remember very clearly that when Stevie first heard the lyric
she objected quite vehemently to the brutal honesty of it, or what she thought
was exaggeration, but to my mind it wasn't."

Lines like "Packing up/Shacking up is all you wanna do" must have stung. Still,
possibly easing the pain, RUMOURS went to Number One -- and stayed there for
thirty-one weeks. Despite the harsh back story, Buckingham remains proud of the
song, and says even Nicks has since acknowledged its power, however raw.

"It's funny how now we're able to backtrack a little more," says Buckingham,
"and maybe acknowledge we accomplished something amid all that stuff."

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7. "Bohemian Rhapsody" - Queen
Album: A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
Release date: December 1975
Peak chart position: No. 9 (twenty-four weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Freddie Mercury
Producer: Roy Thomas Baker

One day Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the British rock group Queen, played the
first section of what became "Bohemian Rhapsody" for his band mates. "When he
got to the end of the ballady part," remembers producer Roy Thomas Baker, "he
stopped playing and said, 'This is where the opera section comes in, dears.'"

In the end, the opera interlude's estimated 500 tracks of band vocals took three
weeks to record and gained the song a reputation at the time as being the most
expensive one on the most expensive album ever produced. "We were working with
only twenty-four tracks and we kept running out [of them]," says Baker. "So as
the tape would fall apart, we had to keep making copies and running different
machines simultaneously." When they got to the rock section, Baker and his
engineers mixed by hand, resulting in a sonic shift that magnified the
thundering Brian May guitars embraced by several headbanger generations. The
song's inclusion in WAYNE'S WORLD helped inspire a second chart run that, in
1992, eclipsed its first.

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8. "Your Song" - Elton John
Album: ELTON JOHN
Release date: August 1970
Peach chart position: No. 8 (fourteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer: Gus Dudgeon

Elton John and Bernie Taupin's "Your Song," with its elegant lyricism anchored
in quiet, piano-based rock, arrived with such force in the summer of 1970 that
it quickly spawned its own rich legend -- that it was inspired by a mystery
woman in the lives of both songwriters at the time. It was even said that Taupin
conceived the lyrics while blissfully perched barefoot on the roof of a London
recording studio.

In truth, "Your Song" sprang to life in London's Northwood Hills, at the kitchen
table in the tiny apartment of Elton John's mother. Taupin, 20, and John, 23,
spent months hunkered down there writing after first crossing paths at Dick
James Studios three years earlier. One thing led to another, and there they were
-- at the kitchen table.

"It was a very encapsulated existence," recalls Taupin. "It was not a big
apartment. There was an upright piano in the living room and bunk beds in a room
in the back. I'd sit on the bed, feverishly writing, and come out, give Elton an
odd lyric or so, and he'd sit at the piano and work on them. That's how we wrote
all he songs for the Black Album [entitled ELTON JOHN]."

One of the duo's earliest collaborations, "Your Song" came together lyrically
over coffee and eggs (the manuscript, on lined notebook paper, still bears the
evidence of breakfast) in early 1970. The song's inspiration, says Taupin, was
not so much another person as a state of mind. "It was about a young man's
optimism," he says. "It was a simpler time, and it is a simple song. The thing
about it is it's so wonderfully naive." And perfectly dressed in John's
contemplative piano, which gracefully expounds its note of youthful yearning.

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9. "Born To Run" - Bruce Springsteen
Album: BORN TO RUN
Release date: August 1975
Peak chart position: No. 23 (eleven weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen
Producers: Mike Appel, Bruce Springsteen

"When I did 'Born To Run,' I thought, 'I'm going to make the greatest rock &
roll record ever made'" -- even if it nearly killed him, Bruce Springsteen once
told ROLLING STONE. The sessions left Springsteen exhausted, "a total
wipeout...a devastating thing." The four-and-a-half-minute title track alone
took six months to write and another three and a half months to record, in the
summer of 1974. But the effort was worth it, providing Springsteen with his
signature song.

The goal was to make "a record where the singing sounded like Roy Orbison and
the music sounded like Phil Spector," keyboardist Roy Bittan once said. The song
had all the ingredients: a Wall of Sound so dense that it was almost impossible
to distinguish individual instruments; a dynamic arrangement that rises, falls
and then reaches a new crescendo with a midsong countdown; and a desperate but
exuberant rebel-with-a-cause lyric. It was a more tightly bottled variation of
the "Rosalita"-style escape odysseys he had written on previous albums. "This
was a turning point, and it allowed me to open up my music to a far larger
audience," Springsteen says in his book SONGS. The album elevated Springsteen
from cult status to the covers of TIME and NEWSWEEK, the track put him in the
Top Forty for the first time, and lyrics such as "I want to know if love is
real" provided the framework for the rest of his career: "For me," he has said,
"the primary questions I'd be writing about for the rest of my work life first
took form in the songs on BORN TO RUN."

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10. "Changes" - David Bowie
Album: HUNKY DORY
Release date: December 1971
Peak chart positions: No. 66 (seven weeks on the chart); rereleased
December 1974, No. 41 (eleven weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: David Bowie
Producer: Ken Scott

"Very neurotic" is how David Bowie described "Changes" in a 1972 interview with
ROLLING STONE. "Changes was his first single for RCA, which had signed him on
the merits of his six-track demo for the HUNKY DORY album. Bowie wanted "Life on
Mars" as the single, but it was "Changes" -- with its undertones of English
music-hall camp and lounge singing -- that would ultimately become his anthem.

Mick Rock, who first began his decades-long friendship with Bowie when he
interviewed the singer for that 1972 ROLLING STONE feature, says lyrics like "I
watch the ripples change their size" reflected Bowie's interest in Buddhism. But
it was because the song so perfectly describes his mutable artistic persona
("I've never caught a glimpse/Of how the others must see the faker") that it
gave its name to Bowie's 1976 greatest-hits collection.

Rick Wakeman, who played piano on the HUNKY DORY sessions, remembers Bowie as
precise and professional. He knew the sound he wanted, and he would scold the
band for being under-rehearsed. "That piece was very much something he had
envisioned from start to finish," Wakeman says, "which is probably why it was so
successful. It didn't need mucking around with."

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11. "Miss You" - The Rolling Stones
Album: SOME GIRLS
Release date: June 1978
Peak chart position: No. 1 for one week (twenty weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards
Producer: The Glimmer Twins

"That song was basically Mick's," says Keith Richards. "He was very much into
Studio 54 at the time -- in fact, I'm sure he wrote it on the floor of Studio
54."

One of the great summer singles of the late Seventies, the Rolling Stones'
insinuating "Miss You" rose to Number One and stayed on the charts for twenty
weeks, the longest run of any Stones song, with the exception of "Start Me Up."
The Stones seemed unlikely candidates for a dance it at the height of disco
fever. Jagger recalls coming up with the kernel of the song during the Stones'
two-night stint to record tracks for LOVE YOU LIVE at the El Mocambo club in
Toronto in March 1977.

"Keith got busted, so we couldn't do what we were supposed to do," Jagger says.
"We had a lot of downtime and musicians hanging around. I had written this riff,
and one night I was playing guitar and Billy Preston was playing drums. He
started playing that four-on-the-floor beat, and that's when it took off."

While recording SOME GIRLS in Paris, in late 1977 and early 1978, the Stones
grounded "Miss You" in the R&B, blues and funk sources that the band and disco
share. Harmonica player Sugar Blue, whom the Stones found in the Paris Metro,
eerily shadows the guitar line; the Faces' Ian McLagan adds texture on electric
piano; and Mel Collins' tense sax solo mirrors the conversational phrasing of
Jagger's gripping tale of obsessive love.

For all those elements, however, the performance remains hauntingly spare. "We
could have added a lot more hoopla," Richards says. "I mean, we couldn't done it
like Abba -- although I'd have probably shot myself."

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12. "Dancing Queen" - Abba
Album: ARRIVAL
Release date: January 1977
Peak chart position: No. 1 for one week (twenty-two weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Stig Anderson
Producers: Benny Andersson, Bjourn Ulvaeus

The legend goes that Sweden's Abba created the biggest hit of their career to
celebrate Silvia Sommerlath, the soon-to-be wife of their country's King Carl
XVI Gustaf. And indeed, Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and
Anni-Frid Lyngstad debuted "Dancing Queen" at a June 18th, 1976, gala -- the day
before the royal wedding.

Although the quartet's sole U.S. chart-topping single wasn't released in America
until November 1976, Abba created their first slice of disco nirvana during the
same summer of '75 sessions that produced the quartet's previous smash,
"Fernando."

"Our aim was to make American records," recalls Michael Tretow, engineer and co-
creator of Abba's distinctive candy flavor, "because they sounded the best. I
was the one who brought records to the studio and said, 'Here's a great way to
do the drum part.' [Abba] were not as big pop fans as you would expect. They
were sort of molded into their time by everything around."

Written by Ulvaeus, Andersson and manager Stig Anderson, who sometimes helped
pen lyrics before Ulvaeus mastered English, "Dancing Queen" was almost sluggish
by peak-era disco standards. Its excitement burst forth in hallucinatory
harmonies, swirling strings and hazy verses that gave way to a surreal kitsch
chorus -- rhyming "queen" with "seventeen" and "tambourine."

When Tretow pulled the song's master out of the archives to create the
phenomenally successful ABBA GOLD collection, he rediscovered that the rhythmic
inspiration behind "Dancing Queen" had been copied right onto the tape. "Before
the actual recording was...'Rock Your Baby," by George McCrae," he recently
revealed on Abba's Web site. "And we used that as a guide...just to have a few
bars of it, ahead of the real song...and it actually worked."

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13. "Tangled Up in Blue" - Bob Dylan
Album: BLOOD ON THE TRACKS
Release date: January 1975
Peak chart position: No. 31 (seven weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Bob Dylan
Producers: Phil Ramone, Bob Dylan

You'd never know it scanning the liner notes for BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, one of Bob
Dylan's most acclaimed albums, but five of its key songs, including "Tangled Up
in Blue," weren't cut in New York in the fall of 1974. Instead, they were
revised in Minneapolis with an ad hoc backing group when Dylan returned home for
the Christmas holidays. Of "Tangled Up in Blue," Dylan once said, "I was never
really happy with it. I guess I was just trying to make it like a painting where
you can see the different parts but then you also see the whole." He came closer
to that vision in Minneapolis with a jazz rhythm section (bassist Billy
Patterson and drummer Bill Berg) and folk musicians Kevin Odegard and Chris
Weber joining him on acoustic guitars.

The musicians found themselves "scrambling to stay with Bob," Odegard says. "We
were used to verse-chorus, verse-chorus singer-songwriter structure, but Bob was
throwing curveballs." Their first swipe at "Tangled" was "tame," but Odegard
says he suggested kicking the tune up from the key of G to an A. "It gave the
song more urgency, and Bob started reaching for the notes. It was like watching
Charlie Chaplin as a ballet dancer."

The album was, in part, a chronicle of the dissolution of his marriage to Sara
Lowndes, and "Tangled" stands out as one of its most emotionally raw tracks. In
1978, according to author Clinton Heylin, Dylan introduced "Tangled Up in Blue"
as a song that took him ten years to live and two years to write. BLOOD ON THE
TRACKS would stand as Dylan's finest work in the Seventies, and he continues to
musically and lyrically rework "Tangled Up in Blue" in live performances to this
day.

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14. "Just My Imagination" - The Temptations
Album: SKY'S THE LIMIT
Release date: April 1971
Peak chart position: No. 1 for two weeks (fifteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong
Producer: Norman Whitfield

The early Seventies found the Temptations dealing with personnel changes,
personal problems and a stylistic shift from classic Motown to harder-edged
psychedelic soul. From out of this ball of confusion came "Just My Imagination
(Running Away With Me)," an angelic song featuring a velvety lead vocal from
Eddie Kendricks. The return to roots was deliberate, according to founding
member Otis Williams. "We wanted to get back to singing those sweet, sensitive
ballads," Williams says, "like when we were recording 'My Girl,' 'Since I Lost
My Baby,' -- those kinds of things."

Producer Norman Whitfield and songwriting partner Barrett Strong obliged with
"Just My Imagination," a silky nod to the past. It was cut at a lengthy session
in which Whitfield didn't turn Kendricks loose until daybreak. Kendricks'
keening vocal -- his first in three years -- was as delicate as crystal, while
Paul Williams brought earthier singing to the bridge. Both founding members,
alas, were gone soon after. The song was the last that the solo-bound Kendricks
recorded with the group until a 1982 reunion. Paul Williams, troubled by
alcoholism, left the band in 1972 and killed himself a year later.

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15. "Maybe I'm Amazed" - Paul McCartney
Album: McCARTNEY
Release date: April 1970
Peak chart position: No. 10 (thirteen weeks on the chart -- WINGS OVER AMERICA
version)
Songwriter: Paul McCartney
Producer: Paul McCartney

"The reason I like 'Maybe I'm Amazed' is because it summed up where I was at
that time," Paul McCartney recently mused. "Newly married, a lot of amazement."
Indeed, at the time he wrote and recorded the song, he was settling down to life
on his farm in Scotland and finding domestic bliss with his new bride, Linda
Eastman McCartney. An awestruck love ballad for Linda, "Maybe I'm Amazed" was
the standout track on McCartney's first solo album, McCARTNEY, released in April
1970. (It was not released as a single until seven years later, on WINGS OVER
AMERICA.) In the press release distributed with the solo album, McCartney
announced that the Beatles had indeed broken up. With only Linda for a
collaborator, McCartney recorded the album at home, overdubbing most of the
instruments himself. Since Linda's death in 1998, the song has taken on a new
resonance: Paul's daughter, designer Stella McCartney, played it during the
finale of a London fashion show in tribute to her mother, while McCartney
himself cites it as his personal favorite of all his songs. In "Maybe I'm
Amazed," McCartney views his newfound adult love -- and his life without the
Beatles -- as the dawning of a new world.

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16. "I Will Survive" - Gloria Gaynor
Album: LOVE TRACKS
Release date: January 1979
Peak chart position: No. 1 for three weeks (twenty-seven weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Dino FeKaris, Frederick J. Perren
Producers: Dino FeKaris, Frederick J. Perren

"That was originally supposed to be a B side," Gloria Gaynor says with a laugh.
"When we were recording the A side, they came to us with the lyrics for the B
side -- scribbled on a piece of brown paper, because the guy had left the lyrics
at home. So my husband and I read the lyrics and we just looked at each other
and said, 'Is he serious? Putting this on a B side? This is a hit.'"

"I started making 'I Will Survive' the last song in my show" says Gaynor, "so
people would remember it. My husband took it to Richie Kaczor, the DJ at Studio
54. He loved it, and DJs at other discos started playing it, too. And then the
record company had to flip it." "I Will Survive" has been an inspirational disco
hymn ever since. "Every age can dance to it," attests disco maven Ru Paul. "It's
slow enough for you to move that fat ass around that dance floor without
starting an earthquake."

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17. "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" - Stevie Wonder
Album: TALKING BOOK
Release date: October 1972
Peak chart position: No 1 for one week (seventeen weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Stevie Wonder
Producer: Stevie Wonder

"Stevie wanted to set up 'Sunshine of My Life' like a little movie," recalls
Robert Margouleff, who worked as associate producer and engineer on the song.
"Strangely, Stevie's songs are very visual." "Sunshine," with its sweeter-than-
sugar melody and dreamy-yet-solid groove, became Wonder's calling card and
second consecutive BILLBOARD Number One single. It was written two years before
it was recorded, but rumor was that Stevie held back the tune because at the
time of its inception he was in the waning stages of his relationship with his
first wife, Syreeta Wright, and "Sunshine" was written for his new love, Gloria
Barley, who sang backup vocals on the track.

That's not Stevie's voice you hear in the opening lines of "Sunshine" but those
of background vocalists Lani Groves and Jim Gilstrap. "Stevie wanted to give
them some recognition," says Margouleff, "but he also wanted to have an intro
piece, and it worked very dramatically for the song. It set Stevie up to narrate
the story between two people, and as he's narrating the song, you're thinking
about Lani and Jim singing to each other. It sets up the scene." Margouleff also
brings up an important point: How did Stevie Wonder, without sight, remember the
lyrics to his countless compositions? "If you listen very, very closely to the
song, you can hear a British voice in the background singing. [Fellow associate
producer] Malcolm Cecil would sing the words to Stevie a bar ahead.

"That was the cream of our inventive period," remembers Margouleff. David
Sanborn, who played sax in Stevie's backing band Wonderlove when they opened for
the Rolling Stones on their 1972 tour, describes things a little more bluntly:
"At that time, Stevie was playing the baddest shit in the world."

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18. "Just the Way You Are" - Billy Joel
Album: THE STRANGER
Release date: September 1977
Peak chart position: No. 3 (twenty-seven weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Billy Joel
Producer: Phil Ramone

"We knew it was a chick song," says Billy Joel. "We almost didn't put it on the
album. We were listening back to what we had for THE STRANGER, looking at each
other and going, 'Aah, I don't know, I can take or leave it.'"

Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow, however, were in the same recording studio that
day. "They came by and heard this song," Joel says, and they started yelling,
'You're crazy if you don't put this on your album! This is a huge hit!'"

"I had a paranormal experience with that song," Snow says today. "Billy said,
'Here's this sappy ballad,' and I was hysterical crying, having this whole
precognitive, out-of-body experience." Joel admits he had doubts: "The original
arrangement had strings and I hated it -- it sounded like Englebert Humperdinck.
I remember my drummer, Liberty DeVito, threw his sticks across the studio at me
and said, 'I'm no goddamn cocktail lounge drummer.'"

If not for Ronstadt and Snow, one of Joel's most enduring classics might have
gotten the ax. "I'd like to thank them very much," Joel says with a laugh.

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19. "Bennie and the Jets" - Elton John
Album: GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD
Release date: October 1973
Peak chart position: No. 1 for one week (eighteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer: Gus Dudgeon

When the time came to record GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD, Elton John and Bernie
Taupin flew to Kingston, Jamaica -- to the same studio where the Stones recorded
GOAT'S HEAD SOUP. Once there, though, they found the vibe disagreeable. "We
thought it would be a hip place, but basically it was a disaster from beginning
to end," remembers Taupin. "There were cockroaches scurrying around inside the
piano and there were armed guards outside the studio." After several days of
work, including aborted attempts at a version of "Saturday Night's Alright for
Fighting," the songwriters fled back to New York, and then on to the Chataeu
d'Hierouville in the French countryside. That studio had already been the
birthplace of HONKY CHATEAU and DON'T SHOOT ME I'M ONLY THE PIANO PLAYER. "It
was such a burden lifting off us," says Taupin. "We wrote twenty songs in two
weeks." Among those was "Bennie and the Jets," which Taupin remembers as an
attempt at a "sci-fi futuristic world -- a BLADE RUNNER-type environment with
robotized rock & roll bands. People never picked up on this, and that always
surprised me because it was depicted on the cover." Bennie, in fact, is an
androgynous girl backed by three android guitarists who all look exactly alike.
"Elton did a melody that was very infectious, and it paid off," says Taupin.
"But we never imagined for a minute that it was commercial."

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20. "Just What I Needed" - The Cars
Album: THE CARS
Release date: June 1978
Peak chart position: No. 27 (seventeen weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Ric Ocasek
Producer: Roy Thomas Baker

"I remember writing 'Just What I Needed' in a basement at a commune where I
lived, in Newton, Mass.," Rick Ocasek says. "I lived above a garage and worked
in the basement below. I still have the cassette it was written on. I really
didn't know what the song was until I played it for the band and everybody liked
it right away."

The song was recorded on a live 2-track demo and, thanks to the support of
Boston radio station WBCN, it soon became a local smash. "It's the song that got
record companies interested," Ocasek recalls, "and it still holds up for me."

Ocasek credits Cars bassist and signer Benjamin Orr -- who recently passed away
-- with adding the seductive vocal that helped garner the song's huge success.
"Most certainly, Ben brought something special to it," Ocasek says. "I thought
for sure he should sing it right away because he could scream and do that sort
of stuff. A lot of times I'd write songs knowing that Ben would sing them. That
was nice for me because I wasn't stifled by my own terrible voice."

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21. "I Wanna Be Sedated" - The Ramones
Album: ROAD TO RUIN
Release date: June 1978
(song never charted)
Songwriters: Douglas Colvin, Jeff Hyman, John Cummings
Producers: Tommy Erdelyi, Ed Stasium

These New York punk upstarts remain one of the most influential rock bands of
the last twenty-five years. And one of the primary reasons is the song "I Wanna
Be Sedated," which perfectly distills their strengths: a shout-along melody, a
pogo-perfect tempo and darkly humorous lyrics. "I know it's been singled out as
*the* Ramones song," says singer Joey Ramone. "I didn't write it as a party
song, but that's how it's been taken: 'I want to get fucked up.' That's a
universal theme, a bouncy, upbeat, fun song, but it was coming from a dark
place." The opening line, "Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go," pays homage
to the Ohio Express' 1968 bubblegum hit, "Chewy, Chewy," and Ramone says the
chorus was in part inspired by Alice Cooper's "Elected." Bits of the song were
written on the road while the band was stuck in a London hotel during Christmas
with "nothing to do, nowhere to go," as the lyric says. But the song's initial
inspiration is still difficult for Ramone to discuss. "While I was staying in
the hospital for a couple of weeks, I was the one who wanted to be sedated --
which is where the title comes from," he says. "I had an injury, and it was a
hellish place. But it was a real catharsis for me. Something fucked up turned
into something good: I got a song out of it."

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22. "Tiny Dancer" - Elton John
Album: MADMAN ACROSS THE WATER
Release date: November 1971
Peak chart position: No. 41 (seven weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer: Gus Dudgeon

It's always assumed that "Tiny Dancer" was about a groupie Bernie Taupin came
across while on his and Elton John's first trip to the United States, That may
help explain why the busload of rockers and their entourage in Cameron Crowe's
latest film, ALMOST FAMOUS, erupts in song when one passenger begins to sing the
tune. But lyricist Taupin tells a different story. "Tiny Dancer," he says, was
inspired by California women in general.

"We were very much innocents abroad then," remembers Taupin, who was so smitten
with L.A. that he moved there permanently from London in 1971, taking an
apartment in Hollywood. "The women were different than what I was used to -- I
was really blown away. The girls who worked in the stores up and down Sunset
were like sprites to me. They were all like dancers -- wonderful, ethereal
spirits." Elton John completed the piano part back in England, and the release
of "Tiny Dancer" marked the duo's second big hit, after "Your Song." "It was my
salute to the California girl," Taupin attests. "It was what I felt about the
wonderful feminine quality that L.A. had at the time."

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23. "Let's Stay Together" - Al Green
Album: LET'S STAY TOGETHER
Release date: February 1972
Peak chart position: No. 1 for one week (sixteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Al Green, Al Jackson Jr., Willie Mitchell
Producer: Willie Mitchell

"People come up to me talking about 'We got married to your song, man'" says Al
Green. "It's encouraging." "Let's Stay Together" -- perhaps the greatest plea
for romantic constancy ever -- hit Number One in February 1972, ending the four-
week reign of Don McLean's "American Pie." In the next year and a half, Green
followed with five more Top Ten hits, but "Together" was his biggest hit and the
pinnacle of his easy-grooving style.

Like many of his classic songs, "Let's Stay Together" was composed by vocalist
Green, drummer Al Jackson Jr. and producer Willie Mitchell. "It really began to
flow on 'Let's Stay Together,'" says Green. "The sound, the vocals and the band
began to come together."

The session was at Mitchell's Royal Recording Studio in Memphis. "It was a
raunchy place down on Lauderdal Street," he says. "It kind of put you in the
groove when you go down there. There were wineheads hanging round, pretty girls
wearing fancy clothes, everyday people coming home from work, kids getting out
of school. Willie would invite people over, so there was a lot of comin' and
goin'. It wasn't one of those closed sessions where you can't breathe. It was
very loose." Mitchell recalls it being even looser. He says, "All the winos,
we'd buy them wine and they'd sit down on the floor. We'd work all night --
they'd provide the laughter and we'd provide the wine.

"I wanted him not to sing so hard," Mitchell says about the sessions. "Al had
come off 'Tired of Being Alone,' and I wanted to change his style, make him
softer." Ever the gentleman, Green gives all the credit to Mitchell. "I think
Willie Mitchell put some type of spell on these dadgum songs," he says,
laughing. "Ain't no song supposed to last thirty years!"

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24. "Rock With You" - Michael Jackson
Album: OFF THE WALL
Release date: November 1979
Peak chart position: No. 1 for four weeks (twenty-four weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Rod Temperton
Producer: Quincy Jones

It was while playing the Scarecrow in the film THE WIZ that Michael Jackson
bonded with Quincy Jones, who oversaw the movie's soundtrack. Jackson asked
Jones to produce his solo debut, OFF THE WALL, which went on to sell more than 7
million copies worldwide and yield for Top Ten singles.

The shimmering, seductive "Rock With You" was written by Rod Temperton, a
British musician who played keyboards in Heatwave, a soul group best remembered
for "Boogie Nights" and "Always and Forever." "Rock With You" is full of double-
entendres, but it's Jackson's soulful delivery that teasingly blurs the line
between safe and suggestive. "Michael was maturing all the time," Jones says
today. "But this was the first time he was singing about sex and intimate
relationships."

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25. "Surrender" - Cheap Trick
Album: HEAVEN TONIGHT
Release date: January 1978
Peak chart position: No. 62 (eight weeks on the chart)
Songwriter: Rick Nielsen
Producer: Tom Werman

"'Surrender' was just me writing about parent-kid conflict," says Cheap Trick
guitarist and main songwriter Rick Nielsen. "I was sending the message: Give in,
but don't give up.

"In the last verse," he adds, "just when you thought there's no hope for your
parent, you walk in the room and they're listening to your stuff -- 'Got my Kiss
records out.'"

"Surrender first appeared on Cheap Trick's third album, HEAVEN TONIGHT, but a
more intense version of the song became the centerpiece of the band's massive
1979 album, CHEAP TRICK LIVE AT BUDOKAN. The song is power pop at its finest,
with the joyful abandon of the "Mama's all right, Daddy's all right" chorus
serving as both a nod back to early rock & roll and a raucous embrace of the
present tense.

And it's a song that just won't quit: "This past Sunday, Cheap Trick played for
Joe Perry's fiftieth birthday party," says Nielsen. "Here's Steven Tyler and
Joe, and we're all up there singing it. And there are ten-year-olds singing it,
too."

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26. "Stayin' Alive" - The Bee Gees
Album: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (Soundtrack)
Release date: December 1977
Peak chart position: No. 1 for four weeks (twenty-seven weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Robin Gibb
Producers: Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Robin Gibb, Albhy Galuten, Karl Richardson

In the spring of 1977, Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb sequestered themselves in
France's Chateau D'Herouville, the studio Elton John immortalized with HONKY
CHATEAU. The Bee Gees were working on the follow-up to the 1976 smash CHILDREN
OF THE WORLD album when they got a call from manager Robert Stigwood, who needed
music for the soundtrack of a low-budget film about an Italian-American kid who
lived for disco.

"Give me eight minutes, three moods," Barry characterized Stigwood's request in
ROLLING STONE months before the soundtrack's release. "I want frenzy at the
beginning. Then I want some passion. And then I want some *w-i-i-i-ld* frenzy!"
The result, "Stayin' Alive," was written in two hours without the brothers
seeing the film. With Barry nearly shrieking a lyric at the brink of
incomprehensibility, the Gibbs' falsettos released the agitation that John
Travolta's cool suppressed, while a nagging guitar lick rode a steady drum loop
lifted from another new Bee Gees track, "Night Fever." Shortened to a 4:43 and
synced to the film's opening shot of a platform-shoe-clad Travolta strutting
down a Brooklyn street, "Stayin' Alive" helped the SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
soundtrack become the era's best-selling album.

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27. "Good Times" - Chic
Album: RISQUE
Release date: June 1979
Peak chart position: No. 1 for one week (nineteen weeks on the chart)
Songwriters: Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards
Producers: Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards

"Here's the secret," says Nile Rodgers, co-founder of Chic with the late Bernard
Edwards, about his inspiration for "Good Times." "I started thinking about Al
Jolson in blackface." Indeed, "Good Times" borrowed from the Jolson song "About
a Quarter to Nine" -- strange inspiration for a tune that went on to be the
basis of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" and the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's
Delight." "I'd been out partying with John Deacon, the bass player from Queen,"
recalls Rodgers. "I came up with the chord progression, but Bernard was late to
the studio. He ran in and started playing, but it wasn't the bass line. All the
years we'd been working, I knew Bernard had wanted to 'walk' through a pattern,
a jazzier style. I screamed over the music, *'Walk!'* and Bernard's screaming
*'What?'* Then he heard me and started walking. In a nanosecond, the groove hit
us like a spark."

Edwards died in 1996. "The last night of Bernard's life, we were performing in
Tokyo," says Rodgers. "He was looking at the crowd and crying. He said, 'Nile, I
can't believe it. This shit is bigger than us.' It shows me what we believed in
was true -- the power of a groove. In a hundred years, they'll probably study
grooves like they study quantum physics."

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Contributors: Anthony Bozza, Anthony DeCurtis, Matt Diehl, Jenny Eliscu, David
Fricke, Matt Hendrickson, Greg Kot, Tom Moon, Ann Powers, Parke Puterbaugh,
Austin Scaggs, Rob Sheffield, Richard Skanse, David Thigpen, Mim Udovitch, Barry
Walters, David Wild


- Rolling Stone, 12/07/00.

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