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Quisterflaang’s Canon #011-015

In Quisterflaang’s Canon, longtime professional rock critic, journalist, and author Peter Quisterflaang reviews the most critically celebrated songs of all time as compiled by aggregator Quisterflaang does not make himself open to contact through conventional means but will appear in the comments below to discuss his invaluable contributions to the discourse.

#011: Aretha Franklin – Respect (O. Redding, 1967)

Many people don’t realize Otis Redding wrote this song, and here’s why: he sort of didn’t. If you seek out Redding’s original recording,1 you’ll find that the basic structure of the verses are the same as Aretha Franklin’s more popular version, and many of the lyrics are at least similar. But in recording their cover, Franklin and her collaborators added:

  • The spelled-out “ARR-EE-ESS-PEE-EE-CEE-TEE” chorus
  • The “just a little bit”/“sock it to me” backing vocals
  • THE SPIRIT OF FEMINISM2 that transformed Redding’s meek plea into a fiery anthem that would go on to put chumps and fools on notice for the next five decades

Let’s be honest: these are the things we think of when we think of “Respect,” and yet these most iconic elements of the song did not even exist in Redding’s version. I think we can agree he really dropped the ball here. And yet: Redding goes down in history as the sole credited writer, presumably because of the arcane rules of music copyright law. In case you needed more evidence, “Respect” exposes what a sham copyright is and why it should be abolished, because information and art want to be free, except for the copyrights on my books, which I as a professional rock critic need to retain in order to finance my various unfashionable haircuts.

Incidentally, many people have trouble making out the last line of the chorus. It is often cited as “Take out TCP,” but this is a mistake perpetuated for decades. It’s actually “Take care of Greasy Steve,” a mysterious figure in the history of popular song about whom we know either too little or too much.

#012: Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (I. Curtis/P. Hook/S. Morris/B. Sumner, 1980)

The reason this song is ranked so highly is obvious: it is too much of a horrible bummer not to be. Professional rock critics feel obligated to praise depressing music because doing so makes us seem sensitive and deep, and this track has it all: the tragic circumstances surrounding its release, the icy production, the haunted vocals. Why do we do this to ourselves? You know what song we could be talking about right now? “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” by Edison Lighthouse.3 There’s a nice, uplifting song that never hurt anybody. But no, I am a professional rock critic, and so I have to listen to “Love Will Tear Us Apart” again and come to grips with it.

Anyway, now that this is done, I will turn out the lights, lay down on my kitchen floor in the fetal position, and stay awake all night.

#013: Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run (B. Springsteen, 1975)

Nobody would deny that this is a hard-rockin’ song. Certainly not your dad, whose favorite song this is. But here is the thing: this song prominently features the incongruous tinkling of a glockenspiel over its main riff. Bruce4 is out there on his guitar and howling manfully, Clarence Clemons is making you sweat with his saxophone, the drums are pounding, and then once that was all done, someone wheeled in this metal xylophone-looking contraption into the studio and said, “Fellows, I think what this song needs is a little tink-TINK, bink, bink.” One assumes this part was performed by a tiny round-faced boy in a sailor suit and blond curls, but I think child labor laws would have prevented this, even in the mid-1970s.

I was fairly immune to this song’s charms for most of my life until about three weeks after the birth of my first son, Quizly. This song came on the radio, and it suddenly hit me so hard in my lost youth that I nearly crashed my Kia Sorento into the fucking canal.

#014: The Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil (K. Richards/M. Jagger, 1968)

Much was made of this song at the time of its release about the Rolling Stones being a corrupting influence on the youth. Look at this title: “Sympathy for the Devil”? Following hot on the heels of an album called Their Satanic Majesties Request? Were these Rolling Stones actually Satanists, using their records to encourage others to embrace Lucifer? The answer is: yes, they were. Each of the Stones had pledged his soul to the Lord of Lies many times over by 1968 and were now recruiting an army for their dark master. This single was so effective in doing so that it has been deemed culturally important and is now one of the top 20 most highly regarded songs of all time. My point is, Satan has all the answers, and you should all give yourselves to him as soon as may be.

#015: Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the U.K. (P. Cook/S. Jones/J. Lydon/G. Matlock, 1976)

Here, see what I mean? Declare yourself an Antichrist and look: #15 on the list! Struggling musicians: you must try this, it really does seem to work.


Peter Quisterflaang is the author of several books of professional rock criticism, including Xanadu, or Xanadu Not (1997, Hotbox Press).