Three Best Songs: Johnny Rivers

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Johnny And Billy

Cool Times Two: Johnny Rivers Hangs With ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons (Photo by Getty Images)

The career of New York-born and Louisiana-raised [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Johnny Rivers[/lastfm] spanned a multitude of genres. It also included a legendary opening gig at L.A.’s famed Whiskey A-Go-Go, not to mention countless recordings; some were flops, but many — seventeen, in fact — that were hits. Below you’ll find what we feel are his three best.

#3 “Swaying to the Music (Slow Dancin’)” (from Outside Help): Written by Jack Tempchin (who also wrote the [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Eagles[/lastfm]‘ “Peaceful Easy Feeling”), “Swaying to the Music” was River’s last hit record, reaching Number 10 in 1977. All Music says “there is a vague 1950s feel to the entire melody, and it really does wrap the listener in a gossamer cloth of music and overall feel.” Add to that the signature late-70s background vocals (a la “Right Time of the Night”) and you’ve got one of Rivers’ best songs. Extra credit: crickets in the background at the beginning of the song.

#2 “Under Your Spell Again”: Though Rivers turned out a string of great songs recorded during his Whiskey residency (including “Memphis,” “Maybelline” and “Secret Agent Man”) this [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Buck Owens[/lastfm] country hit — with it’s [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Gary Puckett [/lastfm]horn section — and straight-ahead Soul City groove is more lush and fully-realized than the others.

#1 “Poor Side of Town” (from Changes): There were really three eras of Johnny Rivers’ recording career. At the beginning, there was the the Go-Go era that spawned “Under Your Spell Again;” at the end, there was the mellow countrified vibe that produced “Swayin’ to the Music.”

In the middle, where Rivers found his biggest success and sold the most records, was his California pop era. Of the four singles that he released in 1966 and 1967 (which included a Number 3 cover of the [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Four Tops[/lastfm]‘ “Baby, I Need Your Lovin'” and Top 10 cover of the [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Miracles[/lastfm]‘ “The Tracks of My Tears”), there was his very best song: “Poor Side of Town.”

With a gorgeous [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Marty Paich[/lastfm] string arrangement, production by [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Lou Adler[/lastfm] sweet enough to make his pal, Jack Nicholson, cry, and background vocals that included [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Darlene Love[/lastfm], “Poor Side of Town” is a consummate combination of country tear-jerker, soul music slow dance and California pop. Play it for your honey and see what happens.

How do your picks stack up against ours? Tell us your favorites in the comments. And find more ‘Three Best Songs’ for other artists here.

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