February 1964 was the start of Beatlemania. So let’s start there…
5. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles
I wish I was alive in 1964 (and old enough to remember) to have gone through cultural phenomenon that was the arrival of The Beatles in the US. It all started here, with the song that hit #1 on February 1 and stayed there for the next seven weeks. It was the Fab Four’s first US #1. They landed in the US on February 7 and made history with their appearance on Ed Sullivan (they were so big that Sullivan had them on again that same month!). In March they’d knock themselves out of the top spot when “She Loves Me” started a two-week run at #1. It was replaced by “Can’t Buy Me Love” which stayed on top for five more weeks. In total, The Beatles had the #1 song in the country for all of February, March, April, and one week of May.
4. “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um” by Major Lance
Honestly, I’ve never heard this song before. I haven’t even heard of this song before. But it was #1 on the R&B charts when the Beatles hit the top of the pop charts, so it deserves at least a mention. After listening, I think it was misnamed. Should have been “Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm.”
3. “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob and Earle
A classic tune that really didn’t do much for the mainstream music audiences of 1964. It only made it to #44 on the hot 100. But it had some life on the R&B charts, where it peaked at #3. It didn’t do much upon it’s release in the UK either, but upon its re-release in 1969 it became a top 10 hit in the UK. The Rolling Stones famously re-made the song in 1986.
2. “Talking About My Baby” by the Impressions
A simply wonderful song by one of the most-under-rated vocal groups of the era. The Impressions were such a sweet sounding vocal group, with a deep arsenal of talents (including Curtis Mayfield). This song, a much smaller hit than their bigger tunes, peaked at #2 on the R&B charts.
1. “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen
Wikipedia has a short history of the song, which is important to know. The Trashmen were a Minneapolis-based garage band. The song peaked at #4 on the pop charts in February 1964. It’s about as raw and frenetic as any song you could imagine. It’s such a nice contrast to hear something like this——a big step in the continual emergence of surf rock that’s also such a messy thing compared to the typical pop traditions of the day——making a huge splash. Maybe the messiness is kind of a harbinger of the coming of The Beatles who are way cleaner in every way but whose edges reflect at least a bit of the core of something like this.