Wednesday, December 02, 2015

COME AND GET THESE MEMORIES: A 60’s POP SONG COUNTDOWN








          Five years ago (December 2010) I posted a list of my 100 favorite pop songs from the 60’s. I talked then about why 60’s pop meant so much to me. Particularly the pre-psychedelic music that dominated the decade’s first half. I was 11 when the 60’s began and up to then most of the music I liked reflected my family’s tastes – show tunes and Tin Pan Alley standards. My favorite ‘modern” records  up to that point (all of which we had at home on 78’s) were Johnny Cash’s “Ballad of a Teenage Queen”, “When” by the Kalin Twins and Jill Corey’s “Love Me to Pieces”. I’d seen her sing it on a TV drama and for whatever reason, it rocked me to the bottom of my eight year old soul; for several months after, she was my musical divinity of choice. Then again, l also used to constantly play (and sing along with) a Jerry Lewis 78 called “I’m a Little Busybody” – my long final goodbye to Jerry  before  I suddenly stopped thinking he was funny. Generally, I identified  hardcore rock’n’roll with duck cuts, leather jackets and switchblades  so –meek  at heart - I wasn’t really rushing to get on board.  But as the 60’s blossomed, a new kind of rock ‘n’ roll took hold. A happy, synthesis of the old Tin Pan Alley style – melodious and hopeful  - with a generous dollop of rock era energy. Harmonies and orchestrations became richer and more complex. By the mid-60’s, a topnotch pop song sounded like a thoroughly entertaining trip to the movies. Full of colour, vitality and – if not always optimism - then a certain poetic sensitivity and scope that you couldn’t find in “Rock Around the Clock”. A whole new generation of songwriters, many of them working out of New York’s famous Brill Building, brought this bright new epoch to full bloom – Carole King & Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry, Neil Sedaka, Randy Newman  and – of course Burt Bacharach & Hal David.  By the mid 60’s the best songs around were inspired pop symphonies – two or three minutes of  beautifully crafted nirvana (and I don’t mean the group). Detroit, Philadelphia and Los Angeles all added their own fantastic spins to the mix. And – as I said five years ago - at first the Beatles seemed to be just a wonderful new extension of the sounds the world  already  loved.  Then came the psychedelia, the whirring guitars, the white neo-blues bands  and suddenly an expiry date was slapped on so much that had preceded.  Which  isn’t to say, 60’s pop hasn’t survived. And not just in the memories of baby boomers. There have always been bands around who’ve basically built on the harmonic, melodic strengths of the early 60’s scene. There’s a reason why they have regular Motown Nights on American Idol (is that show still going?). Why the contestants on this and other talent shows often court audiences with re-do’s of 60’s hits. The 60’s pop catalogue is just that deep, that rich and that welcoming.  It still makes people feel good.
                Anyway, about what follows. This is a revised, updated version of my old Top 100. Any list like this one is, by its nature, fluid. Changing according to accumulated experience, evolving outlooks and what side of the bed you got out on that day.  It’s not radically different from the 2010 list, but some things have moved up, some down. Some are gone (but still loved) to be replaced by others that were either unknown or undervalued by me five years ago. I’ve thrown in some commentary on each track.  And  - for anyone inclined to hear one of these tunes right away – I’ve included YouTube links where possible.  It’s in countdown form. And I’m doing it in four parts. Starting from  #100 to #76.  Hope you’ll stick around till we get to #1.


100. JILL-GARY LEWIS & THE PLAYBOYS
(Alan Gordon-Garry Bonner) Liberty 1967   single, Billboard #52
                Growing up as the son of Jerry Lewis must have been complex, to say the least. Yet, Gary and his band  spritzed the mid 60’s charts with a series of sunshiny, uncomplicated singles, most of which still sound pretty good.  “Jill” ’s a bit of a departure.  Less determinedly affable, with its minor key feel and unexpected octave leaps, I think it’s their best.  Some feel it owes a clear debt to “Pet Sounds”. But – written by the wonderful team of Bonner and Gordon – I think it’s more reminiscent of the Turtles’ style. Not that surprising, since many of the greatest Turtles song (including “Happy Together”) were Bonner-Gordon compositions.

99. CALIFORNIA NIGHTS-LESLEY GORE
(Marvin Hamlisch-Howard Liebling) Mercury 1967 single, Billboard #16
                With her clear, strong voice and solid Brill Building material, Gore stirred up a lot of chart action in the early and mid 60’s.  But actually watching her perform, I generally felt the lack of any compelling charm or diva heat. That business-like  demeanour  of  hers  just seemed better suited to an LPGA  tour.  Today – because of one song, the ponderous “You Don’t Own Me” – she enjoys a reputation as some sort of feminist icon. Feminist she may have been offstage, but she certainly adhered to the prevalent “How can I make him love me?” theme in most of her other records. “That’s the Way Boys Are” and “Maybe I Know” were great but the lyrics were as boyfriend -worshipping as anything in “Bobby’s Girl”. “California Nights” is a bit of a departure for her - a dreamy, atmospheric slice of surf-inflected west coast magic; it was her last major hit and came after a bit of a commercial dry spell. She actually introduced it on an episode of the Batman TV series.  Bob Crewe produced the record – and it’s as good as anything he did for the Four Seasons. As a hymn to California living in the 60’s it really is in the same league as the Beach Boys’ golden era stuff.  A sound-alike follow-up,  “Summer and Sandy”, couldn’t quite recapture the magic. And after that, Gore’s time at the top was basically over. 

98. I WISH YOULD BE HERE-THE CYRKLE
(Paul Simon-B. Woodley) Columbia 1967 single, Billboard #70
                The Cyrkle was an innocuous male group whose one big hit was the perky “Red Rubber Ball”. They actually toured the U.S. with the Beatles in the summer of ’66 but before ’67 was over had disbanded. This song – a beauty - is a cover of a Simon & Garfunkel album track. And I actually prefer it to the original. Maybe it’s because the Cyrkle don’t convey that tone of implied admonishment that - for me – seemed part and parcel of so much S&G.

(Mickey Gentile-Jennie Lee Lambert) 20th Century Fox 1964 single (B-side), Billboard #88
                In 1964, 21 year-old Mary Wells was Motown’s single biggest star; both singer and label seemed  perched  to set the sixties on fire. Then she and her advisers made what’s now regarded as one of the worst career decisions ever and sued to cancel her contract. Other labels were clamouring to sign the girl, promising big advances and perks  galore. She prevailed in the lawsuit but never had another major hit.  As far as the public was concerned, Mary Wells and the Motown sound were a package deal. And none of Mary’s subsequent labels were ever able to quite duplicate that special formula.  Which isn’t  to say Mary didn’t put out a lot of excellent songs post-Motown.  And quite a few of them were on her first non Motown album. Like this mellow charmer, with Mary in fine, gently insinuating form. The material’s lovely, the star quality’s there. But it’s not quite Motown. And the public just wasn’t buying.

96. HOLD ME TIGHT-THE TREASURES
(John Lennon-Paul McCartney) Shirley 1963 single uncharted
                Pete Andreoli  and Vincent Poncia Jr. worked for and with Phil Spector in many capacities during his 60’s heyday. They co-wrote some Ronettes material and (as the Treasures) performed this exceptional Beatles cover – the only song ever released on Spector’s blink and you’ll miss it Shirley label. A couple of years later they made a stirring reappearance (as the Tradewinds) with the chart hit “New York’s a Lonely Town.”  Continuing on in several incarnations, the two remained active music business figures for years to come - mostly on the production end of things. But their beautifully realized underground classic “Hold Me Tight” still stands as one of the most sublimely exuberant of Spector productions.

(Pierre Delanoe-C. Chevalier) Vogue LP track 1966
                No other artist of the 60’s embraced multi-culturalism quite as successfully as Petula Clark. A child star in England from the early 40’s, she neatly  balanced film, TV and music careers to the point where –as a young woman- she was a household name in the U.K. Then she married a Frenchman, moved across the Channel and established herself as a major force on the French music scene . She often recorded in German, Italian and Spanish as well and those markets duly capitulated to Petulamania. But it wasn’t till she waxed “Downtown” in ’64 that her fame began to blaze in the U.S. From that point on – at least till the 70’s - she enjoyed a triumphant period of worldwide fame, acclaim and chart domination.  A long string of French language LP’s kept her very much au courant in Europe. Often she’d redo foreign language tracks in English for her Anglo albums.  But, given her hectic schedule, it’s not surprising that she never got around to transposing all of them. For me, “Folle de Toi” ‘s  the best of her French only numbers . With Petula’s brave, beautiful voice soaring over the mini-grandeur of a Tony Hatch-like arrangement (though he didn’t write this one), this could have been a major American hit for her. As it is, the song remains a great discovery for every Petula fan who encounters it.

94. WE CAN FLY-THE COWSILLS
(Kornfeld-Cowsill-Cowsill-Duboff) MGM single 1967 Billboard #21
                The Cowsills – an exceptionally talented mom and kids family band – were the real-life inspiration for “The Partridge Family” and for a brief while in the late 60’s their music  enjoyed  terrific mainstream popularity. Though personal tragedies and upheavals dogged  them, the Cowsills were great at communicating joy through their music – never more so than in this song. For me, their single most exultant moment is that gloriously shouted “Hey!” at the record’s climax.

93. A THRILL A MOMENT-KIM WESTON
(Kim Weston-William Stevenson-Ivy Joe Hunter) Gordy 1965,  single, uncharted
                I wouldn’t call myself a Kim Weston fan. I tend to like my female voices sweeter – and she usually  favors a  blistering gospel belter approach. But, that said, she did make some terrific records for the Motown organization.  “Take Me in Your Arms” and “Helpless” should have been monster hits. At least they charted. “A Thrill a Moment “ didn’t even do that. But it’s my favorite Weston track. Quite unique and –I’d say - timeless. In later years I thought it would have made a killer live showpiece for Whitney Houston. She commanded a fan base much larger than Weston’s cult following – and at her peak  -I see her striding onstage, belting this one out ,reducing an auditorium full of worshipers to quivering  jelly,  then quickly sweeping off in a cloud of glory.

92. THAT SUNDAY, THAT SUMMER-NAT KING COLE
(J. Sherman-G. Weiss) Capitol 1963 single, Billboard #12
                This was already old-fashioned when it came out– a follow-up to the even more dated “Those Lazy- Hazy -Crazy Days of Summer”). I found that one – an orgy of galloping, grinning insincerity (albeit a huge hit) - insupportable. But the moment I heard “That Sunday”, I was hooked. Where the first one sported a kind of forced Sing Along with Mitch gaiety, this slowed down item struck just the right tone of sentimental nostalgia. And Cole handled the much better and more intimate lyric with winning sincerity.  I’ve always wished this song had come out in the late 40’s. It  certainly would have been at home in the Russ Morgan “Cruisin” Down the River” era. And I wish it could have been the centerpiece of some wonderful  period Americana musical (think “Meet Me in St. Louis” or “Centennial Summer”). I picture Don Ameche and Myrna Loy as parents of teenagers, on a Sunday afternoon outing in the park – band-shell, blue skies, straw hats, paddleboats, ukuleles strumming,  the works. With each group of characters, young and old, taking up the lilting melody as the Technicolor camera swirled around capturing it all. Ah!  If  I had to choose just one day.

91. I’LL TRY SOMETHING NEW-THE MIRACLES
(William “Smokey” Robinson) Tamla 1962 single, Billboard #39
 ’62,’63 ’64, those are generally the halcyon days of Motown for me - and this jewel of a track definitely holds a place of honor there.  It’s so much smoother and more opulently produced than anything  the Miracles or most other soul groups were doing around that time; more like Dimitri Tiomkin Hollywood exotica than anything you’d be likely to catch on Friday night at the Apollo. Love that harp.  And – of course – there’s Smokey’s voice sounding creamier and dreamier than it ever had before.  Sinbad  gracefully negotiating the song’s eddies and swirls or Aladdin floating away on a magic carpet. Take your pick. This little oasis needs neither Technicolor nor Maria Montez  ‘cause – in spirit -  both are already fully present.

90. THE DREAMER-NEIL SEDAKA
(Neil Sedaka-Howard Grossman) RCA 1963 single, Billboard # 47
In the years between ’61 and ’65, Neil Sedaka had a great thing going.  Songwriter, pianist and  singer (his voice instantly recognizable  - crisp and congenial). Happily ensconced with like-minded tune-smiths  at the Brill Building, he turned out pop songs with merry, hummable hooks and his voice – multi-tracked and backed by dynamic black girl singers –was the perfect vessel for projecting those songs. A body of work that would have represented some of the best girl group sounds ever made, if the lead singer had been a girl. That voice always had a ring of either androgyny or pre-pubescence yet it was consistently sunny and appealing. As musical tastes changed,  Sedaka faded  from the charts. Too bad, because I could have used a lot more under-appreciated gems like “The Dreamer” with its hard to resist Hush-hush-a-bye refrain.

89. ONE WONDERFUL NIGHT-THE HONEYBEES
(Carole King-Gerry Goffin) Fontana 1964 single,  uncharted
                I always thought this terrific (and archetypical) girl group record sounded like something from the Cookies. Now I find out that – as a matter of fact – it actually is the Cookies, recording under another name for a one-off single on Fontana (their own records were on Dimension). Aside from the fact that I love this track, it also makes me feel good because – though a couple of Cookies records came awfully close to making my Top 100 (“Will Power” ‘s probably my favorite) - none actually made it. Now, even if they did sneak in with false ID, the Cookies are in the house.

88. I’LL FOLLOW THE SUN-THE BEATLES
(John Lennon-Paul McCartney) EMI Parlophone 1964, album track
No pop group put out more classics than the Beatles. I remember attending a live McCartney show and being overwhelmed (as audiences inevitably are) by the sheer depth of the man’s catalogue. A  seemingly endless parade of pop standards.  I’ve heard some of them so often that I don’t really have to play them again. But a great many of their lesser-known pieces (still at least minor classics, of course, because- after all - they  are  Beatles songs) haven’t lost one bit of luster  Perpetual  iPod destinations for me.  Case in point:  this marvelous ballad.  Lovely lyric, beautiful, octave-surfing  melody  -  the whole thing  enveloped in a distinctive, poignant Paul McCartney-George Martin shimmer. 

87. THEY DON’T MAKE LOVE LIKE THEY USED TO-SKEETER DAVIS
(Red Lane) RCA 1969, album track
                A  really beautiful slice of pop country. Eddy Arnold had a top 10 country hit with it in ’68. But it took a couple of his RCA label mates to do the thing full justice. Dottie West performed wonders with it on a ’69 album, then the same year Skeeter Davis topped even that. Red Lane’s lovely song and Skeeter’s plaintive style, all bruised innocence and pinecone freshness – double-tracked, of course (this is , after all, Skeeter Davis)–make an ideal match.

86. DON’T MENTION MY NAME-THE SHEPHERD SISTERS
(Bob Crewe-Bob Gaudio)  Atlantic 1963 single, Billboard #94
I’ve never actually seen the Shepherd Sisters in action. But every time I listen to this blast of 60’s girl group dynamite, I feel like I have. I can just picture them, perfectly synchronized as they stomped to the front of the stage in stiletto heels, rock-hard  bouffants and matching  60’s sheaths.  Wagging their fingers threateningly.  Follow that directive of theirs or else!  Whatever they were offstage, in this song they come off as tough, urban broads ,much more to my taste than the more celebrated Shangri-Las. To me, those girls always seemed more sullen than spirited. The Shepherd Sisters, on the other hand, register as firecrackers. Girls you didn’t want to cross – but clearly girls with heavy-duty emotions . Boy could they hate and boy could they hurt! Their expertly placed, stabbing sobs, strategically punctuating  the record, put the rum in the coke. And it still packs a punch.

85. SO LONG JOHNNY-JACKIE DeSHANNON
(Burt Bacharach-Hal David) Imperial 1966 single(B side) uncharted
Thank you, Burt Bacharach. No one gave us so many great 60’s songs.  Especially when he worked with lyricist Hal David. Jackie DeShannon had the good sense to hitch her wagon to their star for awhile. And though only one of their collaborations turned into a massive hit (“What the World Needs Now”), they left behind a number of creations that represent the Bacharach sound at its highest level. One of these was “So Long Johnny”. It turned up as B side to (the also stellar) “Windows and Doors” but the public turned up its 1966 nose at both.  To which I say phooey. In “So Long Johnny” the Bacharach magic coasts along , guided by strategic hand-claps and  a sadly insistent minor key Kurt Weill breeze.  Better than almost any thing that was on the charts when this wasn’t.

(John Barry-Hal David) from the soundtrack of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” 1969
                                                                Liberty single , uncharted
John Barry said this was a song he was particularly proud of. That pride’s definitely justified. Written for the Bond film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, it wasn’t really the main theme; this was played at the end, a kind of uncharacteristically melancholy outro for a 007 flick. And though the song  wasn’t a hit at the time, it’s had a long and happy life since. A reissue of the original reached #3 on the British pop charts in 2005 and according to Wikipedia it’s been cited as one of the all-time most popular songs played at weddings. I can see why. Music and words are both affecting. And the out-of-left- field decision to have Louis Armstrong sing it was inspired. He takes an already potent piece of songwriting and gently lends it extra levels of nostalgic ardour ; it’s wordly-wise, optimistic and elegiac . And, oh yes – for the record – I think George Lazenby was a fine 007 and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was one of the best Bond outings.

83. SHADRACK-BROOK BENTON
(Robert MacGimsey) Mercury 1961 single, Billboard #19
Robert MacGimsey was a Louisiana born composer  (born 1898) who found most of his inspiration in African American spirituals. He wrote “Shadrack”, which musicalizes an old Testament story, in the 30’s and top artists from Louis Armstrong to Kay Starr and the Ames Brothers featured it in their repertoires. But it was Brook Benton, a commanding singer with gospel roots who guided it to hit parade success in the 60’s with this rousing , strutting version. My only criticism is that it simply doesn’t last long enough. Every time I play it, I want to play it again right away.

82. HOW CAN I SAY GOODBYE-BARBARA LEWIS
(Victor Melrose-Leonore Rosenblatt) Atlantic  1964 album track
If there was one 60’s voice we should have heard more of it was Barbara Lewis’s. The creamy caramel  sound  of that marvelous instrument of hers set the lady apart from all the others. Supple. Seeping through  the grooves. She  barely  needed  accompaniment, the voice itself had such a lustrous musical tone. Yet, combined with other instruments, particularly the organ that meandered through “Hello Stranger” and several of her other early treasures, the effect was intoxicating.  There were other talented singers who enjoyed brief success in the 60’s, had fewer albums and fewer hits than Barbara Lewis.  Then  disappeared into silence. But I can’t think of one who had a better, more uniquely alluring voice.  Yet, her later efforts, good as they were, simply got lost in the late 60’s landscape of psychedelia and fuzz guitars. By the early 70’s she’d stopped recording.  Where were the entrepreneurs, musicologists, affluent fans, sane people who should have been paying her to record  day and night just to preserve as much of her art as possible for future generations? The music scene of later years was poorer for her absence. A whole genre of mellow soul grew up and prospered – but it would have been richer and better had Lewis continued adding to her legacy. Sadly, she drifted out of the music business and no one seems to have made any great effort to lure her back.  New listeners  still regularly  discover “Hello Stranger” or “Baby I’m Yours” ,are struck by her sound –and scurry  to explore her small but stunning catalogue. But there should have been decades full of her artistry to enjoy.  In the early 2000’s, Lewis made some forays back into the business. There’s YouTube footage of her performing on a cruise ship around that time and the voice had lost little or none of its sheen. Oh, the recordings we could have been enjoying for all those years when she was gone!  As far as I know, “How Can I Say Goodbye” was just an album track. But it’s a beautiful full-on display of Barbara’s magic; she caresses and yearns her way through it. And nobody does yearning better than Barbara.
  
81. I’LL BE BACK-THE BEATLES
(John Lennon-Paul McCartney)  EMI Parlophone 1964 album track
Before the Beatles, pop rock albums tended to contain the hit, a well-produced projected follow-up or two and a bunch of filler. With the Fab Four, every album track was an event. This one’s  from   ‘Beatles ’65 ‘, an album that also featured “She’s a Woman”, “I Feel Fine”, “I’m a Loser” and “No Reply” among others. There are two Beatles songs in my Top 100.  Both  from this album.  McCartney’s always been my favorite Beatle but I understand it was Lennon who actually wrote this prize item.  I think I tended to like the group best when they were in melancholy, contemplative mode.  Never  more so than here.  

80. WALK RIGHT BACK-THE EVERLY BROTHERS
(Sonny Curtis) Warner Brothers 1961 single, Billboard #7
The Everly Brothers supposedly spent most of their lives at odds with one another. In later years, it almost seemed the only time they weren’t fighting was when they simply weren’t speaking.  But boy, when they sang together, the stars were all in alignment. The Beatles idolized them – and during their heyday (late 50’s, early 60’s) so did millions of fans. They still have a loyal following and most pop musicologists  revere them.  “Walk Right Back” captures the duo in peak form. You need only hear this one song to see what all the enthusiasm was about.  A terrific snapshot of 1961 pop at its pinnacle.

 
79. JUST A LITTLE LOVIN’-DUSTY SPRINGFIELD
(Barry Mann-Cynthia Weill) Atlantic 1969 album track; single (B side) uncharted
This one’s from the LP “Dusty in Memphis” , generally acknowledged as not just Springfield’s greatest but one of the greatest albums ever. Personally I’d go with ‘65’s “Everything’s Comin’ Up Dusty”, but that’s not to say “Memphis” wasn’t a masterpiece. After all if anybody had a musical Midas touch it was Dusty Springfield; anything that voice came into contact with was instantly elevated. With this one – a kind of universal love song - she turns the studio into a hushed cathedral,  the song into a prayer. The band’s great, the back-up singers superb but beyond and above it all –  there’s  Dusty and that peerless, instinctively soulful sound of hers. Bravo.

78. LE SEPTIEME JOUR-DALIDA
(Boris Bergman-Michel Bernhold) Barclay album track 1968
Dalida was about as exotically cosmopolitan as one could get. Born in Cairo, of Egyptian/Italian parents,she was Miss Egypt of 1954. Fluent in several languages, she relocated to France where after minimal success in films, she tried her luck at a singing career. And contrary to what one might have expected, given her beauty pageant background,  Dalida turned out to be a monumentally gifted musical performer, her voice rich and expressive. By the late 50’s – as far as audiences in France and many other countries were concerned, she was second only to Piaf in popularity. The lady retained that level of fame for the rest of her life. And also maintained her wildly glamorous look (she bore a striking resemblance to movie tigress Ursula Andress). This beautiful song comes from one of her late 60’s albums – and captures, I think, something of her timeless, emotional appeal. Dalida died in 1987 but her recordings continue to sell world-wide.
 
77. I DIDN’T MEAN TO HURT YOU-THE SHIRELLES
(Ellie Greenwich-Tom Powers) Scepter 1963 single (B side) uncharted
I had two Shirelles LP’s when I was a kid. One where they were decked out in yellow fringed twist dresses and one with a head and shoulders shot of them planted against a burnt orange background. Both Lp’s had some crummy tracks (“the Twitch” is one I never want to hear again) but the good ones were really, really good. I especially loved this one. It’s from the orange album and also did duty as B-side of their last big hit (“Don’t Say Goodnight and Mean Goodbye”). That’s a good track but this one, with its cooing baby-voiced refrain, gave me shivers (of the good kind) . I recall one hot summer day, setting my tiny portable record player up in our back yard and playing this song over and over and over. No one actually came at me with a broom But any witnesses must have gotten a pretty good clue I’d come to no good.

76. I WANNA BE WITH YOU-NANCY WILSON
(Charles Strouse-Lee Adams) Capitol 1964 single Billboard #57
Sammy Davis Jr. introduced this song in a Broadway musical called “Golden Boy”. Dionne Warwick’s talented sister Dee Dee sang – or rather oversang -   it in a take-no- prisoners rendition that was  part  impressive, part alarming. That kettle of hers just keeps boiling over. Jazz singer Nancy Wilson, a much cooler customer, took a less  frenzied approach. She’d had a surprise pop hit with “How Glad I Am” and this was the follow-up.  It got her plenty of airplay too. I remember loving it then - and it still sounds great.   Stately and elegant,  like the lady herself.



                                                Next 25 coming soon.

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