The Houston 100: The Master List

Thu Oct 04, 2007 at 06:44:20 PM

Last week John Nova Lomax and Chris Gray handed out hardware to the 100 Greatest Houston Songs. The results appeared here and here. We now present them all in one handy place.

1. “Tighten Up,” Archie Bell and the Drells, 1968.

The very best song from Houston has to do it all. It has to be a great piece of music made by Houstonians still based in town, it has to mention Houston, and it has to draw on native musical traditions. It also is known all over the world. And just for good measure, “Tighten Up” is also pre-eminently danceable and stands as one of the greatest party records ever put on wax.

“Tighten Up” does all that and even more. Somehow, it can almost make you feel our climate. Think about it. The way the timbre of the band – the T.S.U. Toronados -- seems to breathe in and out. The balmy, sighing horns, the funky little electric guitar riff, the sweaty organ, and a loping bass guitar with a tone so warm it seems to be grinning.

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The Houston 100: From Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown to Texas Johnny Brown

Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 05:03:08 PM

The Houston 100 continues. Follow the links for numbers 31-40, 41-50, 51-60, 61-70, 71-80, 81-90 and 91-100. And be sure to check out "The H-Town 20.”

30. “Okie Dokie Stomp,” Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, 1954. Blistering big band jump blues with Gatemouth’s trademark Texas swing…Some have declared that this instrumental should be the Texas National Anthem. Gatemouth was one of the very finest electric guitarists from the 1950s on, and here he dips and dodges between punches from a huge horn section like Barry Sanders jitterbugging through linebackers. Brown re-wrote the T-Bone Walker book on Texas blues and rock guitar.

29. “The Road Goes On Forever,” Robert Earl Keen, 1989. More Texans between 30 and 40 probably know all the words to this song than any other cut in the past 25 years. It’s the “Livin’ on a Prayer” of Texas.

28. “Telephone Road,” Rodney Crowell, 2000. Out of at least five songs about the eponymous East End boulevard of broken dreams, Crowell’s is the best. The centerpiece of his autobiographical album The Houston Kid evokes Houston with a vividness that has seldom been matched.

27. “Hit the Road, Jack,” Ray Charles, 1961. Brother Ray’s second number one single was penned by Houstonian Percy Mayfield (and recorded around the time that Charles was living here) and remains a favorite with fans of all ages. The song is also used to taunt opposing players at major sporting events, and Suzi Quatro, Buster Poindexter, the Residents and Basement Jaxx have all covered it.

26. “Release Me,” Esther Phillips, 1962. A transcendent cover of a classic country chestnut, Phillips’s version transforms even the most drab of surroundings into a glitterball-lit dancehall where two lovers share their last dance. Her anguished yet resigned voice seems to drift above the lavish arrangement like a cloud of smoke. A must.

25. “She’s About a Mover,” Sir Douglas Quintet, 1965. Yes, the ultimate Texas rock song was recorded in Houston. It would certainly rank in the top three Houston songs ever if it didn’t sound so quintessentially San Antonio.

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The Houston 100: From Scarface to Robert Earl Keen

Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 03:50:48 PM

The Houston 100 continues. Follow the links for numbers 41-50, 51-60, 61-70, 71-80, 81-90 and 91-100.

40. “Smile,” Scarface, feat. 2Pac, 1997. This 1997 duet off of The Untouchable with 2Pac, the late James Dean of rap, was ‘Face’s biggest chart hit, his only gold single.

39. “Ain’t That a Bitch,” Johnny “Guitar” Watson, 1976. Just one of dozens of mid-‘70s funk classics from the pimp-a-riffic former bluesman Watson, one of the most widely-respected and underappreciated American musicians of the last 40 years.

38. “Lookin’ For Love,” Johnny Lee, 1980. Johnny Lee is relegated to the background in Urban Cowboy; the fiddle and steel players in his band get close-ups in the 1980 film, but not him. Luckily, the Texas City native's "Lookin' for Love" wasn't just the double-album soundtrack's breakout hit – three weeks at No. 1 on the country chart and peaking at No. 5 on the Hot 100 – it was basically the entire movie in a three-minute ballad. In the Pasadena fairy-tale romance of Bud (John Travolta) and Sissy (Debra Winger), it's not their get-acquainted dance – that's quicker two-step "Cherokee Fiddle." "Lookin' for Love" happens later, when Gilley's is practically empty. They're dancing much closer, Sissy's arms encircle Bud's neck, and he strips off her hat and his shirt before sealing their budding union with a deep soul kiss. It's that True Love moment when the audience knows that even though she will soon stray to an bullriding parolee and he to an uptown socialite, "Lookin' for Love" will allow them to find each other in the end. And sure enough, guess which song plays as Bud places the "Sissy" license plate back in the rear window of his pickup and the credits start to roll? – Chris Gray

37. “Coward of the County,” Kenny Rogers, 1980. With this one and number 36 below, Big Kenny was pretty much ubiquitous around the end of the redneck renaissance that accompanied the Carter Regime, that era of Smokey and the Bandit and Walking Tall, trucker lingo, Urban Cowboy, Farrah Fawcett, and not least, these two songs, both of which were world-sweeping affairs. Who can forget the chorus from “The Gambler?” As for “Coward of the County,” it spawned a stateside TV movie and went to #1 in the U.K., wangling to the top of the charts between records by The Special A.K.A. and Blondie.
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The Houston 100: From Guy Clark to Don Williams

Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 02:49:19 PM

The Houston 100 continues. Follow the links for numbers 51-60, 61-70, 71-80, 81-90 and 91-100.

50. “South Coast of Texas,” Guy Clark, 1981. Though this song hasn’t been recorded as much as others in Clark’s stash, it makes it on here due to both geography and the fact that it is a very great song, an ode to shrimpers, the bars they drink in, their patois, and the ragged shoreline they all call home.

49. “I’m Going to Miss Show Business,” Jimmy “T-99” Nelson, 2000. Nelson, who passed away earlier this year, got plenty of props in his lifetime as a singer. He didn’t get anything close to his just due as a songwriter, however, until Elvis Costello adopted this tune as his official tour anthem in 2003. (Elvis didn’t play it in his set, but he did have it played over the loudspeakers as the lights went up after every show.) Nelson’s genius still awaits widespread discovery.

48. “Purple Stuff,” Big Moe, 2002. Sumptuously funky, this ode to the joys of lean (codeine cough syrup) rode Moe’s hybrid of singing and rapping and a Willy Wonka-inspired video to the national charts.

47. “Southside,” Lil’ Keke, 1998. A devastating piano figure propels this anthemic rap hit from Screwed Up Click MC Lil’ Keke. Years later, the song was hilariously parodied by Chingo Bling as “Outside.”

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The Houston 100: From Sir Douglas Quintet to Guy Clark

Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 01:49:19 PM

The Houston 100 continues. Follow the links for numbers 61-70, 71-80, 81-90 and 91-100.

60. “The Rains Came,” Sir Douglas Quintet, 1965. The follow-up single to “She’s About a Mover,” this Huey Meaux mainstay of a lament would likewise rank higher were the sound not so indelibly San Antone.

59. “Driftin’ Blues,” Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, featuring Charles Brown, 1946. Sedate, laid-back cocktail blues like this, pioneered by Texas City-bred Brown, was utterly inhaled by the young Ray Charles, whose early recordings are blatant copies.

58. “Black Snake Blues,” Victoria Spivey, 1926. Spivey got her start playing in her dad’s string band in the Houston of 1918, and double-entendre lyrics and Spivey’s hard, nasal tone helped launch her long career with this single on the Okeh label. Four years later she would land a starring role in Hallelujah!, a musical by King Vidor and one of the first major films with an all-black cast.

57. “Skinny Legs and All,” Joe Tex, 1967. This all-time great party record from Baytown’s Tex went on to inspire psychedelic novelist Tom Robbins to pen a novel of the same name. Tex himself went on to convert to Islam, change his name to Yusuf Hazziez, enjoy a few more hits, and return to Texas (where he was a rabid Oilers fan), before dying in Navasota in 1982.

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The Houston 100: From Johnny Ace to Stevie Ray Vaughn

Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 01:22:01 PM

The Houston 100 continues. Follow the links for numbers 71-80, 81-90 and 91-100.

70. “Pledging My Love,” Johnny Ace, 1955. This was a posthumous hit for Ace, whose life was terminated weeks before after an infamous backstage drunken gunplay incident at City Auditorium here on Christmas Eve. Would rank higher were its Houston connections a little greater – even more so than labelmate Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ace was a Memphis artist.

69. “Juana La Cubana,” Fito Olivares, 1982. After moving to Houston from his native Mexican state of Tamaulipas, original Mexican cumbia king Olivares formed Fito Olivares y su Grupo La Pura Sabrosura (Group of Pure Flavor) and cut this single, which has since become a standard. It gave rise to a movie of the same title south of the border and graced the soundtrack of John Sayles’s classic Lone Star to the north.

68. “Galveston,” Glen Campbell, 1969. Who among us can take a trip down to our very own city by the bay and not break into a few bars of this Jimmy Webb-penned pop-country smash? I bet if you could monitor the interior of all the cars crossing the causeway, about ten percent of them would have people in them singing about “sea waves crashing” and “cannons flashing.”

67. “Bloody Mary Morning,” Willie Nelson, 1974. This minor country hit for Willie Nelson mentions Houston and also does a good job of capturing the tension and existentialism of commercial flight.

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The Houston 100: From Charles Brown to Sippie Wallace

Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 12:19:59 PM

The Houston 100 continues. Follow the links for numbers 81-90 and 91-100.

80. “Please Come Home for Christmas,” Charles Brown, 1960. A minor hit for Texas City’s Brown, the song has endured for decades to become the second of his Yuletide staples. Think you’re miserable at Christmas? Try these lyrics on for size: "Bells will be ringing / The glad, glad news / Oh, what a Christmas / To have the blues / My baby's gone / I have no friends / To wish me greetings / Once again."

79. “Texas Cookin’,” Guy Clark, 1976. If a better, more thorough song about our homegrown cuisine has ever been put to paper, we’ve yet to hear it. Simultaneously makes you hungry and compels you to sing along. (George Strait cut the tune last year.)

78. “Boot Heel Drag,” Bob Wills, circa 1948. Featuring Herb Remington One of Wills's jauntiest intstrumentals, led by the incomparable Houstonian Herb Remington on virtuoso steel guitar.

77. “Deep in the West,” Shake Russell, 1978. Another of Shake’s regional hits from Songs on the Radio; this one was later cut by no less a hoss than Ol’ Waylon himself.

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The Houston 100: From Harry Choates to Johnny Preston

Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 08:07:51 AM

The Houston 100 continues. Click here for numbers 91 to 100.

90. “Jole Blon,” Harry Choates, 1946. The unofficial Cajun national anthem was first recorded in Houston, by Choates, a Port Arthur-raised hellraiser who would die in a fit of delirium tremens in the Austin jail at 29 five years later.

89. “Spin on a Red Brick Floor,” Nanci Griffith, 1988. A song about local folk mother church Anderson Fair, recorded live at Anderson Fair. Doesn’t get much more Houston than that. As much fun as a trip to the Fair’s famous back porch.

88. “Telephone Road,” Steve Earle, 1997. Earle’s musical remembrance of Telephone is seen through the eyes of an eager transplant to Houston from Lafayette who can’t wait to indulge in the dozens of jukebox-blasting, beer bottle-ringing sin-dens on the street, reasoning that “this ain’t Louisiana and mama won’t know – everybody’s rockin’ down on Telephone Road.” Gospel group The Fairfield Four does a star turn harmonizing the chorus.

87. “Legs,” ZZ Top, 1984. The video -- long on hot rods, gimmicky guitars and plenty of jiggling cheesecake -- helped usher the bluesy trio from the classic rock epoch to the brief MTV era. Jeana Keough, widely considered the sexiest of the Top girls at the time (well, at least with the 14-year-old boy demographic at my house), went on to a Playboy centerfold, marriage to former Oakland Athletic Matt Keough, and a star turn on The Real Housewives of Orange County.

86. “14 Carat Mind,” Gene Watson, 1981. The biggest in a long string of hits from this nonpareil stone-cold honky-tonker from Pasadena.

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The Houston 100: From Mack Hayes to Hersal Thomas

Tue Sep 25, 2007 at 02:39:41 PM

Below are songs 90-100 from our Houston 100, five-score of the best songs ever from Houston. We will be running these lists ten at a time here on Houstoned Rocks, and we'll unveil the Top 20 tomorrow in the print edition and on the Web site. – John Nova Lomax

PS: I have decided to bar all songs made after 2002, because it takes a few years for classics to prove themselves as such.

100. “Houston Oilers,” Mack Hayes, 1978. United the city as perhaps no other song has or will. Hayes went on to pen a similar Astros tune called “Go Go Astros” that many of you might recall from the orange rainbow, Jose Cruuuuuuuzzz years.

99. “Drift Away,” Dobie Gray, 1973 / Uncle Kracker, 2002. Great song with one of the most pleasant choruses ever. Gray, a Brookshire native, straddles the line between country, soul and soft rock as only a native Texan can.

98. “Baby Come Back,” Player, 1978. This Yacht Rockin’ smash managed the feat of wedging its way between “Stayin’ Alive” and “How Deep Is Your Love?” atop the pop charts during a period of Total Bee Gees Hegemony. More lately, the song has often resurfaced in films and has been immortalized in The Simpsons. (Homer calls the lost baby hotline to report Maggie’s disappearance and is placed on hold – “Baby Come Back” is the hotline’s song of choice.)

JC Crowley, the song’s co-writer and co-singer, is a native Houstonian and Lamar High grad. After Player got benched, he went on to a middlin’ country career in Nashville before moving to Southern California.

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The Houston 100: The Best Bayou City Songs Ever

Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 12:42:57 PM
13th Floor Elevators? Yes.
Over the next few weeks and months, the music staff here will be assembling a top 100 of Houston songs. To qualify, a song must be either by Houstonians or about Houston, or must have been recorded here or released on a local label.

Thus, “You’re Gonna Miss Me” by the 13th Floor Elevators would qualify – even though the band’s members were from Austin and Port Aransas, and that particular song was recorded in Dallas, the band’s label was located here. Likewise, anything that came out on Duke-Peacock qualifies, so long as it came out after the label’ s offices moved from Memphis to Houston.

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