The 100 Greatest Songs (40-31)

40. “God Bless the Child”  Written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr., Performed by Billie Holiday (1941)

“‘God Bless the Child,’ Billie Holiday’s poem to self-reliance, is not only one of her best performances, but also her best composition. Lady Day wrote the song with Arthur Herzog in 1941, after a fight with her mother over financial matters. The simple phrases — ‘Them whose got shall get, them whose not shall lose/so the Bible says, but it still is news’ — reveal much about the singer’s tough early life, while her delivery reflects the inevitability of injustice in the world, casts a benediction to the less fortunate and a curse on the inhumane.” –John Bush, AllMusic.com

39. “Blueberry Hill”  Written by Al Lewis, Larry Stock and Vincent Rose, Performed by Fats Domino (1940)

“‘Blueberry Hill’ was first recorded in 1940 by several artists, including Gene Autry and Glenn Miller. But Domino drew on the 1949 Louis Armstrong version when he had run out of material at a session. Producer Bartholomew thought it was a terrible idea but lost the argument. Good thing, too. It ended up being Domino’s biggest hit and broadened his audience once and for all. As Carl Perkins later said, ‘In the white honky-tonks where I was playin’, they were punchin’ ‘Blueberry Hill.’ And white cats were dancin’ to Fats Domino.'” –Rolling Stone, “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”

38. “Your Cheatin’ Heart”  Written and Performed by Hank Williams (1953)

“If country singing legend Hank Williams has a signature tune out of his massive catalog of hits, ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ has to be it. It became the title of the film made about his life and in many ways is the unofficial anthem of country music… The ultimate mournful country ballad, its whiny steel guitar intro all by itself epitomizes country when the music was still described as ‘hillbilly’ before Williams even sings a note. Williams’ vocal is filled with regret and recrimination, coming from the bleakest of feelings, absolutely brimming over with despair.” –Cub Koda, AllMusic.com

37. “Great Balls of Fire”  Written by Otis Blackwell, Performed by Jerry Lee Lewis (1957)

“It was hours into the ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ session when Jerry Lee began arguing with Sam Phillips that the song was too sinful for him to record. As the two talked loudly over each other, Phillips pleaded with Lewis to believe that his music could actually be a force for moral good… Jerry Lee somehow made peace with the conflict over the course of the next hour… At the peak of his powers following ‘Great Balls Of Fire,’ … he was a figure as magnetic as any in rock-and-roll history. As the producer Don Dixon would later say in an NPR interview, ‘Little Richard was fun, Elvis was cool, but Jerry Lee Lewis was frightening.'” –History.com

36. “American Pie”  Written and Performed by Don McLean (1971)

“‘American Pie’ is partly biographical and partly the story of America during the idealized 1950s and the bleaker 1960s. It was initially inspired by Don’s memories of being a paperboy in 1959 and learning of the death of Buddy Holly… [I]n the opinion of the song’s producer, Ed Freeman, [it] was the funeral oration for an era: ‘Without it, many of us would have been unable to grieve, achieve closure, and move on. Don saw that, and wrote the song that set us free. We should all be eternally grateful to him for that.'” –Alan Howard, The Don McLean Story: Killing Us Softly With His Songs

35. “The Times They Are a-Changin'”  Written and Performed by Bob Dylan (1964)

“‘I wanted to write a big song, some kind of theme song, with short, concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way,’ said Dylan. ‘This is definitely a song with a purpose.’ Inspired by Scottish and Irish folk ballads and released less than two months after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin” became an immediate Sixties anthem and was covered by artists ranging from the Byrds to Cher to Eddie Vedder. Said Dylan, ‘I knew exactly what I wanted to say and who I wanted to say it to.'” –Rolling Stone, “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”

34. “Superstition”  Written and Performed by Stevie Wonder (1972)

“Wonder debuted this hard blast of funk live while opening for the Rolling Stones in the summer of 1972, intent on expanding his audience. The 22-year-old former child star had written it at the drum set, humming the other parts to himself. Wonder had initially intended for Jeff Beck to record the song, but Berry Gordy wouldn’t let him give it away. It became the first single from Talking Book — and Wonder’s first Number One hit in nearly a decade.” –Rolling Stone, “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”

33. “Born to Run”  Written and Performed by Bruce Springsteen (1975)

“Springsteen believed like no one else in the power and possibility of rock, which led him to places that seem strange and maybe even awkward to those who grew up with MTV and everything punk came to symbolize… [W]ith Springsteen’s imagery, some glockenspiel, and a deep sax drone, [‘Born to Run’ is] transformed into filmic splendor… The way Springsteen sang it in 1974, it wasn’t a dorky diary confessional; it was unhinged expressionism, Kerouac with a bottle of red wine in his stomach. While everyone was zoning out in front of the TV this scruffy dude saw an opera out on the turnpike and a ballet being fought in the alley.” –Mark Richardson, Pitchfork.com

32. “I Walk the Line”  Written and Performed by Johnny Cash (1956)

“A stark, desolate declaration of eternal love that at times seems to border on dangerous obsession, ‘I Walk the Line’ made Johnny Cash a star in the summer of 1956… Changing keys with every stanza (each switch signaled by a long hum from Cash that sounds as though he’s steadying himself on that particular key before commencing with the lyrics) over [Luther] Perkins’ hypnotic rhythm figure on his bass strings, the Kingsland, AR, native delivered his statement with unswerving commitment… ‘I Walk the Line’ endures as Cash’s signature theme.” –Bill Dahl, AllMusic.com

31. “Layla”  Written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon, Performed by Derek & the Dominos (1970)

“Having read and identified with The Story Of Layla And Majnun by 12th-century Azerbaijani poet Nizami, in which a young man goes crazy over his unrequited love, Clapton put pen to paper and came up with his own ‘Layla,’ one of rock’s all-time classic love songs… [The song’s] agonised lead vocal, timeless guitar riff and engaging piano and slide-guitar outro [mark] it as a solid-gold classic. In Clapton’s own words, ‘To have ownership of something that powerful is something I’ll never be able to get used to. It still knocks me out when I play it.'” –Richard Buskin, Sound on Sound

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