This is, in all honesty, one of the greatest songs ever written. It’s a wickedly funny song about a beguiling, gender-ambiguous beauty named Lola, and features one of the most unforgettable hooks in all of Classic Rock, as well as having the distinction of actually being much funnier than its own Weird Al parody. On top of that, it was about forty years ahead of its time, given that transgender issues are only now becoming a hot-button topic within the last few years…for reference, this song came out in 1970.
This song is a Hell of a lot of fun, given that it’s ultimately a credo of unrepentant self-destruction from a man who would drink himself to death within a year. But while no-one really knows what Bon Scott was thinking during his final days, when you listen to the unhinged, maniacal joy of his performance, you actually get the impression that he had no regrets. This may not be the world’s most constructive song, but Heavy Metal was never really about promoting good judgment and sobriety, and there’s just no denying that this is an amazing piece of music, from one of Rock’s greatest guitar riffs to the epic chorus to Scott’s phenomenal performance. Besides, it’s not like this is the only Heavy Metal song about devil-may-care debauchery, even if it is arguably the best.
R. Kelly seemed to have garnered something of a divisive reputation within the R&B field, partly due to his uneven output (he has produced his share of catchy but stupid booty-jams like “You Remind Me of Something”, and most of his albums feature significant amounts of filler) and partly because of certain actions in his personal life that I have neither the qualifications nor the inclination to discuss here. And while I won’t deny either of the abovementioned points, the fact still remains that R. Kelly is a supremely talented R&B songwriter and producer, one of the best of his generation. As for this song, which most would agree catches him at his absolute peak, it has been a perennial favorite ever since it was first released as the soundtrack theme for a ridiculous summer blockbuster, one of the few songs of its era to achieve the level of ubiquity and enduring affection that the Great American Songbook standards were known for. While this has actually been a bit of a mixed blessing for the song, as so many of us can whistle its melody by now that we sometimes forget how ravishing it is on first listen, it is still a rare badge of honor for a song that came out as late as the Nineties, and we should respect this song for it…after all, anyone can win an award or top the charts; becoming a beloved classic is a much more difficult achievement.
Like its fellow contender for the title of quintessential stalker song of all time, “Every Breath You Take”, this song is often oddly misinterpreted as a love song, but in this case that is almost entirely due to the fact that cover versions almost invariably soften the original recording’s sound. In what is possibly the most terrifying Blues performance ever, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins delivers this song in a grotesque yowl that could never be mistaken for anything but an expression of twisted obsession. Granted, there have been some pretty good cover versions of the song over the years (like the one by the Animals), but there’s no replacing the original, so it’s worth seeking out as the definitive version of this classic song.
Ironically, this song, the signature tune of the greatest of all female Soul singers and widely perceived as the definitive feminist anthem, was originally written from a male perspective, as it was originated by Franklin’s closest male counterpart in the Soul pantheon, the great Otis Redding. That said, it’s understandable that Franklin’s version is the one that has captured the public consciousness—not only are the songs’ sentiments actually a lot more palatable when sung from a woman’s perspective, but Franklin simply made more of the song than Redding did, turning what initially sounded like a throwaway album cut into one of the most epic showstoppers of all time.