Sunday, February 21, 2010

The 100 Best Singles In My Head
Nos. 66-70

Here in the middle of the list, we're in serious Sixties Earworm territory. From the poppiest pop to the deepest soul, here are five songs that defy you not to sing along. (C'mon, you know you know the words.)

[Click on the highlighted links to read my earlier posts on those songs].

66. "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" / Manfred Mann (1964)
Being a baby boomer is way too broad a category -- let's narrow it down a little. It's significant that I was old enough in 1964 to experience the British Invasion, yet I was still young enough that I was completely ignorant of where those British bands were stealing their music from. For me, this WAS the original.

67. "I Think We're Alone Now" / Tommy James & the Shondells (1967)
Sneaking around and doing things behind your parents' back -- that's what being a teenager is all about. Just because I wasn't misbehaving in 1967 didn't mean I wasn't ready to, given half a chance.

68. "Come and Get It" / Badfinger (1969)
I know what you're gonna say -- she's sneaking in another Paul McCartney song. But honestly, when this record first came out I didn't know McCartney had written it, as the theme song for his mate Ringo's new movie The Magic Christian. I should have guessed, though. As the first non-Beatles artists signed to the Apple Corps record label, Badfinger was hyped big-time as the Beatles' heirs apparent. (Watching that green apple on the label spin around and around was definitely one of this single's charms.) The Beatles, who were heading for Splitsville themselves, had a LOT invested in these guys -- no point in leaving anything to chance. Paul produced the record as well, and as insurance he renamed the band from the Iveys to the hipper-sounding moniker Badfinger (a Neil Aspinall suggestion). Ultimately I think that the Beatles legacy unfairly overshadowed Badfinger; despite their string of melodic, addictive singles ("No Matter What," "Day After Day," "Baby Blue," "Without You"), they rarely got credit for what a fine band they really were. Just listen to this debut single -- Tom Evans' buoyant lead vocals, the tight, beautifully blended back-up harmonies. (I was always torn between singing along to the high harmonies or the melody.) Sung against that bouncy timekeeping piano, the melody is always slower than I remember it, lagging lazily just behind the beat -- a genius tempo, actually, for a song about sitting back and waiting. I guess we never really knew what the "It" was that he was inviting people to take. If you saw the movie, you'd know it was money (the Magic Christian being like a hippie version of that old TV show The Millionaire), but trust me, it works equally well as a song about drugs or sex -- "If you want it, here it is / Come and get it / But you better hurry 'cos it's going fast." Wishful thinking, probably.

69. "Love Potion No. 9" / The Searchers (1964)

So much new music hit my ears in 1964, and it was definitely not all of a piece. Take this classic Leiber and Stoller number, for example -- first recorded in 1959 by the Clovers, it was already a standard when the Searchers covered it in 1964. But did I know that? No, I did not. To me, it was clever and witty and brand-new. I was still young enough to enjoy the occasional novelty tune, and this one was right on the cusp of being a novelty number. Three verses and a bridge, with a neat, if primitive, plot -- the singer asks for help with his pathetic love life from a fortune-telling gypsy ("with the gold-capped tooth," though I thought it was "gold tattoo"). He's definitely in the Loveable Loser category: "I told her that I was a flop with chicks/ Ain't had a date since nineteen-fifty-six" (in the re-recording, his 3-year celibate streak was inevitably changed to an 8-year drought). She gives him a potion, he gulps it down, and then he goes merrily bonkers, until he kisses a cop on the corner beat, who then breaks his potion bottle. This is not a song that you had to take seriously, and maybe that's what I liked about it -- plus it didn't depend on a sex-infused subtext that would shoot right over my adolescent head. This one's pure slapstick comedy -- "She bent and turned around and gave me a wink / She said I'm gonna mix it up right here in the sink / It smelled like turpentine and looked like India ink / I held my nose and closed my eyes [beat, beat] / I took a drink!" It's like Jerry Lewis meets Jekyll and Hyde. And the Searchers executed it perfectly, with their brisk drumbeat and crisp surf guitars -- a perfect Tin Pan Alley piece of pop comedy.

70. "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" / The Righteous Brothers (1964)
I remember seeing The Righteous Brothers on Shindig! and being surprised they weren't black -- not disappointed, mind you, just surprised. I'd never heard the term "blue-eyed" soul. But hey, I was already lapping up all those British beat bands' covers of Motown and girl group singles -- I couldn't deny Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield the right to sing R&B. As it climbed to the top of the charts in early 1965, no doubt American record companies breathed a sigh of relief that some American acts could still stave off the British Invasion. The ace in the bag -- as producer Phil Spector must have known -- was those booming low vocals by Medley, something no British band was equipped to compete with. Of course, a swoony Barry Mann melody helped, and Cynthia Weill's mournful lyrics -- "You never close your eyes anymore / When I kiss your lips," sung at the bottom of Medley's range, then jumping up an octave to continue, "And there's no tenderness like before / In your fingertips." By the time they got to the chorus, when Hatfield's tenor joined in on harmonies, we were already slain. "You've lost that lovin' feeling, now it's / Gone / Gone / Gone / Whoah-oh-oh oh" -- dig how those "gone's" toll away like the bells of doom. It's such a great song, and so much fun to sing. In college, my friend Mary MacManus and I did a pretty mean version of this while we worked the dishwashers in the dorm kitchen -- as I recall, the dining room would fall silent to listen, then burst into applause. At least that's how I remember it -- don't you dare tell me different.


Bob in CT said...

Wow, you hit 5 for 5 today, all great choices. "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" was a song we couldn't wait to hear on the radio, a bunch of pre-teens in my Bronx neighborhood anxiously awaiting the next time it played, no matter how many times we had heard it before. A true anthem of the British invasion.

"I Think We're Alone Now" is just a great record that's been covered many times but no one has matched the original. I'm looking forward to reading Tommy's new book about his life in the music business.

Badfinger is one of my favorite groups, a tragic band that never received the acclaim it deserved. There are other Badfinger songs I like even more, but this is a worthy choice. Pete Ham was a brilliant musician and songwriter who is sorely missed.

"Love Potion No. 9" is a winner by both 'the Searchers and The Clovers. The Searchers are another underrated and under appreciated band. Their version of "When You Walk In The Room" ranks right up there with "Love Potion".

"You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" is one of the most popular songs ever, always scoring high in those polls of people's favorite songs.

Holly A Hughes said...

You're right, the Searchers had many other wonderful tracks. I started to write about "Needles and Pins," then "When You Walk In the Room." Then I picked up the stack of 45s I liberated from my sister's house over Christmas and saw "Love Potion No. 9" and . . . well, it was too good to resist.

wendy said...

You said: "... yet I was still young enough that I was completely ignorant of where those British bands were stealing their music from."

Amen, sister! Overcoming that completely excusable ignorance (because there was no rock journalism then and we wouldn't have read it if there was) is one of the funnest parts of doing all this music writing and research.

I'll still never forget the day I discovered that the Moodies' Go Now was a cover and youtube had Bessie Banks singing it. I think my head exploded.

Dave K. said...

I find myself agreeing with Bob a little too often :-) . You nailed this one--all great songs. In my pre-teen days, I bought a lot of 45s (they were 77 cents then) and "Day after Day" and "Baby Blue" were among my favorites. They remain among my favorite songs to this day. However, there is nothing wrong with "Come and Get It".

Vivalabeat said...

Wow! I love every song you wrote about today! Do Wah Diddy Diddy will always be a very special tune to me, it changed my life 5 years ago. :) And I just love Tommy James. I can't help but loving Badfinger and this song, I remember I was singing it for several days when I heard it for the first time. And I'm not even a Paul McCartney fan. :)
And what can I say about The Searchers? They've always been my most favorite mersey-beat band. And Love Poition No 9 is one of the songs I will always love no matter how old I am. And The Righteous Brothers are just brilliant. Of course, nothing can come close to Unchained Melody (for me) but I love their sound and melodies.
Thanks for this post, Holly!

Deborah said...

Ya' did ok on this group *wink*..all classic hits, all part of the fabric of our youth. These songs are so much a part of our growing-up ears, I think we sometimes take them for granted while focusing on some of the more splashy hits, but these are always there for us.

Deborah said...

years :-)

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks, everybody!

And Wendy, my head is exploding right now -- somebody else sang "Go Now" before? Will these sacrileges never cease? :D

wwolfe said...

I'm a huge, huge Tommy James fan. Along with Smokey Robinson, Curtis Mayfield, Buddy Holly, girl groups, Goffin/King, and Lennon/McCartney (when they were actually writing songs together in the early days), Tommy is one of my touchstones as a songwriter. ("Touchstone" meaning "Person I try to steal from without getting caught.") Although he didn't write "I Think We're Alone Now," he did the unsurpassable version of it. (Also, for many years as a budding guitar player, I used that opening guitar bit to to tune my guitar: low E-string, starting on the A on the fifth fret, sliding up to the E on the twelfth fret, down two frets to the D, and back to the A: an easy way to tune for someone who didn't know there were such things as electronic tuners.)

Holly A Hughes said...

I hope you've gotten an electronic tuner since then!

I really debated over whether to do "Crimson and Clover" instead. But I have such memories of sitting with my girlfriends, leaning close and whispering on that one chorus . . .

IƱaki said...

My favourite entry by now, I like the 5 songs.

As you know after Kinks and Beatles Badfinger is probably my favourite band, I would have gone for Day After Day which would be in my Top 5 songs ever but this one is very good too.

Merv said...

First-time poster! Great list, too...for some reason, I felt The Searchers lost a little something when bassist Tony Jackson left. Luckily, he was still around on "Love Potion #9".
I just KNOW a Paul McCartney fan such as yourself has heard Paul's demo of "Come and Get It". I prefer his, but Badfinger's version is the song that introduced me to that band and their many great songs. Good stuff!


Anonymous said...

And Badfinger lost all four of its drummer's through spontaneous combustion.