Friday, October 05, 2018

My Birthday #1s

Happy Birthday to Me Pt. 2

Now we're getting into music that really resonates with me.  It was an era in which charts and lists still mattered -- I remember staying up until midnight every New Year's Eve with my neighbor and close pal Kay Wolf, waiting to find out what was the number one song of the year.  Wonder if any of these songs was in the year-end Top Ten...

1963: Bobby Vinton, "Blue Velvet"
Another one of the Bobbys!  Schmaltz and strings again, angel-choir backing vocals, and one of the most memorable vocal swoops in all pop -- "She wore blue-oooo VEL-vet." I very distinctly remember this drippy song on the radio, and being riveted for reasons I still can't explain.

1964: Roy Orbison, "Pretty Woman"
Legit rock & roll, at last. I saw Roy Orbison perform this song on the weekly music TV show Shindig, with his black pompadour and dark glasses, coolly standing center stage, no dancing or gyrating -- and oh, that knock-out voice. This song (Orbison's biggest hit ever) was clearly about a man on the prowl (he even purr-growls at one point) -- hardly the stuff this little 11-year-old wanted to hear at the time. But I couldn't turn away from it. Mercy!

1965: The McCoys, "Hang On Sloopy"
Granted, this was a blip on the charts -- the next day the new #1 was the Beatles' "Yesterday," which I yearned to write about instead, as the first of these #1s that I actually went out and bought as a 45. However, I cannot deny the McCoys their fleeting moment in the sun (especially since they, like me, were from Indiana). I'll admit, I always conflated this song with Snoopy, the dog from the Peanuts cartoons, and with the Beach Boys' goofy single "Sloop John B," which would hit the charts a few months later. Neither a boat nor a dog, however, Sloopy was a girl from "the wrong side of town," that all-American story line. At the time, I didn't know the song's backstory -- how the Strangeloves recorded it, but, not wanting to cannibalize their still-active hit "I Want Candy" (yes, that song), hired an unknown teen band to release it under their name, flying the lead singer into New York to overdub the vocals. As luck would have it, it leaped to the top of the charts, outselling "I Want Candy" by far. Who knew? And by the way, who was that 17-year-old lead singer of the McCoys? None other than Rick Derringer, who'd later under his own name have a hit with "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo," and who also played guitar on Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart." More than you wanted to know, I bet.

1966: The Association, "Cherish"
Did I own this single? You bet I did. Although it was nowhere near as great as the Association's previous hit, "Along Comes Mary," this song was probably a better showcase for their plush vocal harmonizing (the Association's raison d'etre, I realize in retrospect). "Cherish," however, was tailor-made for a 13-year-old's hopeless crushes, with lyrics like "Well I'm beginning to think / That man has never found / The words that could make you love me / That have the right amount of letters / Just the right sound / That could make you feel / Make you see / That you are driving me out of my mind..." Well, obviously, even though I cannot remember the name of my current dentist, the date of my recent brain surgery, or what pills I need to take in the morning -- even though I still have not remembered to sign up for Medicare -- I still remember every word of "Cherish." Just sayin'.

1967:  The Box Tops, "The Letter"
Oh, sweet Jesus, here it is. My Number One Favorite Pop Song of All Time Just confirming my belief that 1967 was probably the greatest year in music ever. At fourteen, I was just on the cusp of appreciating the raw urgency and heat of Alex Chilton's lead vocal. How was I to know he was barely older than I was?

1968:  The Beatles, "Hey Jude"
Iconic. ICONIC. How much has been written about this song (although, oddly, it seems I never did a post on it before)?  It was Paul's song to comfort John's son Julian on his parents' break-up; John was convinced it was Paul's blessing on his relationship with Yoko; Paul himself may have been writing about the beginning of his great true love with Linda. The fact that it is all these songs at once testifies to its greatness. I've been a Paul girl from Day One, but honestly, you don't need to be a Paul girl to know this is a genius track. Even though it was more than 7 minutes long -- unheard-of in Top Ten radio -- it held the #1 spot for nine weeks in the US, the Beatles' longest #1 streak ever. We didn't know at the time that this was the first step in the Beatles' long goodbye. (There's a whole book in that.) But hey, on my 15th birthday, how could I know that my Beatles universe was about to fall apart? All I knew was that I had better start memorizing all the nah-ne-nah-nahs, to make sure I'd get them right when this came on the radio in a carful of us true believers.
   (Hang in there on this video clip, by the way -- it charmingly messes around a bit before the song takes off.)

1969:  The Archies, "Sugar, Sugar"
Oh, Lord. Was this single the beginning of the end? A made-up band for a cartoon series based on a comic book -- and yet it hit #1? It's an earworm, yes -- but honestly, WHO BOUGHT THIS RECORD? But here it is, a milestone in bubblegum pop, proving that the music biz was still all over the map. 

1970:  Diana Ross & the Supremes, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"
Was Diana Ross still a Supreme at this point, or not? It almost doesn't matter. Her diva status was already certified, and this overblown hit -- a remake of a 1966 Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson -- claimed #1 as if it was Diana's due. Man, I loved the Supremes back when they were just the best of the girl groups, but the minute Diana went diva (enabled by a smitten Berry Gordy), Motown lost whatever credibility it still had with me. I'd follow Stevie Wonder to the ends of the earth, but Diana Ross? Count me out.

1971:  Rod Stewart, "Maggie May"
Freshman year of college, and I didn't buy singles any more; I bought LPs. And I bought this one. That raspy voice, that mandolin, those whomping drumbeats -- it was loose and sexy and boozy and everything that 60s pop was not. I listened to college radio stations now, which played entirely different music; I was beginning to leave chart-based radio behind. (Though there was still a station in Springfield, MA, with a pre-programmed playlist and no DJs, that kept me listening to "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone," "One Toke Over the Line," Cat Stevens' "Wild World," and all the Carpenters and Three Dog Night I could handle....) 

1972: Mac Davis, "Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me"
Are you kidding me? This cheesy country-crossover hit -- another of those "men got to be free, women just want to tie you down" songs -- was definitely not on my radar; or rather, I knew it was out there and it made my baby feminist flesh creep. Wikipedia duly tells me that Mac Davis wrote both "In the Ghetto" and "A Little Less Conversation" for Elvis Presley, and that raises Mac Davis multiple notches in my estimation. But in 1972, I wanted nothing to do with it.
1973: Cher, "Half Breed"
Okay, now I'm really getting annoyed. It was the 1970s, rock music was going in a million fascinating directions, and the chart-toppers were zigging and zagging. Good stuff from Carly Simon and Roberta Flack and Stevie Wonder, but we also had Dawn's "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" and Jim Croce's "Bad Bad Leroy Brown."  Look, I'd dug Sonny and Cher when they first landed on Shindig singing "I Got You Babe," but Cher's march into diva status left me totally cold. (Am I the only person who hated the fact that she was in Mamma Mia 2?)

But let's be honest -- I was 21 and no longer the pop charts' target audience. (How swiftly do we reach obsolescence....). From here on in, it would be the songs I DID care about that would make all the difference. 

Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Jim Clark said...

I like 'Sugar, Sugar' too. Now. At the time it was just a banal pop song that actually took Billboard's #1 spot for all of 1968! 1968, with all that great music. We knew the fix was in. Nixon! The end of innocence. But now, the bitterness has waned and I can appreciated the well-crafted nature of this feel good ditty. But it took just about this long.