Friday Five: March 1969

5. “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe
Tommy Roe was more than a one-hit wonder. He had eight gold records and two number one pop hits——”Sheila” in 1962 and “Dizzy” in 1969. That’s an interesting spread considering the evolution in pop music in that time period. This song sat at the top of the charts for four weeks and sold more than two million copies in the US. It became a chart topper in the UK and Canada, too. I hope he’s still living off some of that success today.

4. “Give It Up or Turnit A Loose” by James Brown
James Brown was making some amazing music in the late 60s and early 70s and this hit is no exception. It hit the top of the R&B charts in March 1969. It has that soul groove that just sounds like the soundtrack for young, urban, Black folks on the move. Without many words he manages to communicate heaps of meaning when placed in the context of the moment.

3. “The Weight” by Aretha Franklin
I love that Aretha is covering songs that haven’t even been out that long and hitting the charts as she does. The Band released “The Weight” in August 1968 as the first single from their debut album. It started to make them a known entity in the world of rock but it didn’t do much in the US (it peaked at #63). Aretha released it the next spring and went to #3 on the R&B charts with her cover. It might be The Band’s signature tune, a reflection of their rural storytelling lyrics and, in the original, the raw beauty of Levon Helm’s voice and the group’s exquisite musicianship. Aretha makes the song her own, aided by her sheer force and presence, and the guitar work of the legendary Duane Allman behind her.

2. “Time of the Season” by the Zombies
I wasn’t alive in 1969 but this song makes me think I can feel what it was like to have been. The bass and off beat clap got it going on. Add the guitar riff, vocals, and keyboard, and you’ve got quite a little sample of psychedelic pop. It peaked at #3 in March 1969.

1. “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by The 5th Dimension
Talk about feeling like the 60s. Although this one is more contrived than the other. It’s a medley from a broadway production about hippies sung by an African American vocal group. I’ll leave it to somebody who was around back then to explain the rest. It peaked at #4 in March 1969 and reigned at #1 for six weeks between April and May. The Beatles would finally knock them out of the top spot with “Get Back.”

Friday Five: March 1968

5. “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
Country legend Kenny Rogers’ first hit (it peaked at #5 on the Hot 100) wasn’t a country song, it was a psychedelic song that takes us on the journey of an acid trip. It was supposed to caution people against doing LSD but I doubt that message got across. Check out the band’s “performance” on The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour. I don’t ever recall hearing the song until 1997’s The Big Lebowski, which embraced the comedic potential of the song beautifully.

4. “I Thank You” by Sam & Dave
This Sam and Dave classic barely cracked the Top Ten on the Hot 100 and it peaked at #4 on the R&B charts. Its moderate success hardly begins to capture its endurance. It lives on into our present as a standard for rhythm and blues bands everywhere.

3. “Take Me To Your World” by Tammy Wynette
1968 was an amazing year in rock, pop, and R&B but it was also pretty good in the world of country. Tammy Wynette——the first lady of country——was making her climb through a string of top ten singles that would stretch from 1967 to 1970. After her first #1 in late 1967, she’d hit the top spot three times in ’68, culminating with her classic (and signature tune) “Stand By Your Man.” This song started the #1 streak of that year for her.

2. “Valleri” by the Monkees
From Wikipedia: “Screen Gems president and music supervisor Don Kirshner’s asked [Tommy] Boyce and [Bobby] Hart if they had any “girl’s-name” songs to be used in the Monkees’s television series. After pretending over the telephone that they had a song which was already finished, Boyce and Hart improvised “Valleri” on their way over to Kirshner’s office.” What can you say? It’s written on the ride to work. RIP Peter Tork.

1. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding
It reigned at #1 for March 1968 on both the Hot 100 and R&B charts. Written by Otis Redding and Steve “The Colonel” Cropper, it was recorded in 1967, on November 22 with some additional work on December 7. After Otis died in a plane crash on December 10, Cropper mixed the song (including the addition of the ocean and seagulls) and the rest is history. Not a “finished” song by the Bg O’s standards, the informality worked. It is one of the greatest songs in popular music, and a fitting tribute the one of the greatest voices of soul.

Friday Five: March 1967

5. “Happy Together” by the Turtles
The Turtles were more than a one hit wonder, but this song eclipsed all they’d ever record when it pushed The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” out of the top spot on the pop charts in March 1967. It would stay there for three weeks. It’s a captivating song that encapsulates the spring before the Summer of Love in so many ways. A love song, the haunting background vocals, military drumbeat, and pure 60s guitar all explode when the refrain hits, backed by some brass and more. Twenty years after its release, when it was used in the movie Making Mr. Right (a bomb with John Malkovich), the song was re-released as a single with an accompanying video on MTV and VH1. I got sucked in like I was in 1967.

4. “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by Cannonball Adderly
Julius “Cannonball” Adderly was a jazz saxophonist.  In 1966 he released Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at “The Club” a live album, as the title would have us believe. In reality, it was recorded in front of an audience of friends at Capitol records in Hollywood while the liner notes said it was recorded at a club in Chicago. Maybe the quotation marks around “The Club” were the clue.  The title track became an unlikely hit record in 1967, hanging out on the R&B charts for months in the spring where it reached the #2 spot. It even made it to #11 on the Hot 100.  It’s a song that overtly tries to capture the progress of the Civil Rights Movement at what was, historically, something of a critical juncture.

3. “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby” by Sam and Dave
After their breakout success with 1966’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” Sam (Moore) and Dave (Prater) started carving out their reputation as one of the most successful soul duos of the era. This 1967 hit——it cracked the top five on the R&B charts in March and peaked at #3 by April——was their only ballad hit. Written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, with music played by Stax band Booker T. & the M.G.’s and horns by the Mar-Keys, it was followed by “Soul Man” later that same year.

2. “It Takes Two” by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston
The folks at Motown were looking for a duet partner for Marvin Gaye. They seemingly found one in Kim “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)” Weston. This song peaked at #4 in March on the R&B charts. A month later Motown would release “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” a duet by Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and people forgot he had ever recorded with anyone else.

1. “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” by Aretha Franklin
Five years and nine albums at Columbia Records still hadn’t made Aretha famous. When Jerry Wexler signed her at Atlantic, he brought her to Muscle Shoals’ FAME Studios where she (and the studio’s legendary musicians) started on one of the greatest R&B albums ever made, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. The title track (with parentheses) was released in February. It hit #1 on the R&B charts in late March, becoming her first hit single. The B-side was “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.”

Friday Five: March 1966

5. “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler
An unlikely pop hit to be sure, this song was #1 on the Hot 100 for the entire month of March 1966 and hit the #2 spot on the country charts at the same time. Wikipedia tells me it was written, in part, to honor the first Native Hawaiian killed in the US war in Vietnam, a young man named James Gabriel Jr. The recorded version dropped the direct reference to Gabriel. While the song makes no direct mention of the Vietnam War either, the message was clear as US involvement in the war began escalating. Troop levels more than doubled from 1965 to 1966, from about 184,000 to more than 385,000.

4. “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas
I’m surprised to learn this classic only made it to #5 on the Hot 100. Along with the above, it might be the definitive song of the year. Celebrated as a harbinger of the emerging counterculture and a slice of an equally emergent California sound, it was the first hit for the group and a signature song of the era. (It was produced by Lou Adler, who’s half-Mexican and half-Jewish and raised in Boyle Heights.)

3. “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” by Stevie Wonder
This song was #1 on the R&B charts for five weeks from January to February, the same time it peaked at #3 on the Hot 100. By March it was on its way down, sliding from #2 to #7 on the R&B charts. The young Stevie Wonder shared writing credits on the song, his first hit with a writing credit and a sign of greater things to come. Stevie’s voice change is prominent here, another sign of things to come for the future father of nine kids.

2. “19th Nervous Breakdown” by the Rolling Stones
Nancy Sinatra and her boots kept this out of the top spot on the UK charts while the Green Berets did the same in the US. Peaking at #2 in March, this Rolling Stones classic has that signature sound of the early group. I love the mix of the “British sound” with US blues in this era of the band. They were well on their way to legendary greatness.

1. “Nowhere Man” by the Beatles
Talk about on their way to greatness. This song is from the Rubber Soul album, the first album people started to realize this was more than your average pop band. The lyrics of “Nowhere Man” help it stand out. John is experimenting in life and in art, and he’s written a song that is not about boys and girls in love. What is it about? It’s deep, sometimes confusing, and filled with antiestablishment possibility. But who knows?

Friday Five: February 1965

5. “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin” by the Righteous Brothers
A classic love song that sat atop the Hot 100 at #1 for two weeks in February, the same month it peaked at #2 on the R&B charts. The contrasting vocal talents of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield are never more beautifully combined. It was their signature tune for decades to come, though not all due to their talents. The brilliant Phil Spector was behind the boards as producer. He and song writing duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil penned the song. It’s a rich example of Spector’s “wall of sound” trademark, but also two brilliant lyricists crafting a song for an amazing vocal duo.

4. “It Ain’t Me Babe” by Johnny Cash
You gotta love a remake of a Bob Dylan song charting in the country charts only a year after the man himself released it. The remake here is by the Man in Black, Mr. Johnny Cash. Sung as a duet with his future wife June Carter Cash, and made into a up-tempo number, the song has a different feel to be sure, but the lyircal power of it still packs a punch. Topped out at #4 in this month.

3. “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You” by Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye is one of my favorite artists of all time. Part of that love rests on his evolution over a three decade career. This classic peaked at #3 on the R&B charts (stalled by the success of “My Girl” and the cross-over hit by the Righteous Brothers). Written by Holland, Dozier, and Holland, with music courtesy of the Funk Brothers, it was Gaye’s biggest selling single up to that point.

2. “Shotgun” by Jr. Walker & The All Stars
It hit #2 on the R&B charts in February, on its way to the top spot the next month. It’s one of those songs that uses only one chord throughout, but it has a lot of “accents” from the bass, organ, a touch of guitar flutter, and an amazing sax performance by J.r Walker himself. James Jamerson (bass) and Benny Benjamin (drums) from the illustrious Funk Brothers play on this Berry Gordy produced hit.

1. “My Girl” by the Temptations
Written and produced by Smokey Robinson and Ronald White, with music performed by the Funk Brothers, and lead vocals by David Ruffin (his first with the group), this song was the first chart topper for the vocal group who helped define the Motown sound. It’s a simple (and almost sappy) love song but the strength of the instrumentation and the vocals elevate it to a classic. It dominated the R&B charts, holding the #1 position for six weeks (one week in January, one week in March, and all weeks in February), and it later hit the top spot on the Hot 100 for one week.

Friday Five: February 1964

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.

Friday Five: February 1963

5. “Up on the Roof” by the Drifters
Another gorgeously written song by husband and wife duo Carol King and Gerry Goffin, one that really captures some of the feelings of youth. The Drifters made some great music in their day. This isn’t their best but it’s a reflection of all the things they did so well——sweet melodies, rich instrumentation, and great vocals.  This one is carried by the one-of-a-kind voice of Rudy Lewis, who would die the next year of an overdose at the age of 27. It peaked at #5 in February 1963.

4. “Walk Like a Man” by The Four Seasons
Frankie Valli’s falsetto voice is contrasted with the lyrics——”Walk like a man, talk like a man”——but there’s so much goodness happening here that I think it’s easy to miss the irony and just get sucked in to the mix of sounds.  I’m a big fan of the drums at the start with their signature harmony work emerging into the tune. It peaked at #3 in February before hitting the top spot the following month.

3. “Two Lovers” by Mary Wells
Mary Wells played a big part of in defining the “female sound” in early Motown. Her smoky voice and reserved but skilled vocal choices are her hallmark. She reached the top of the R&B charts with this hit, written by Smokey Robinson. It’s one of those clever lyrical ballads with an ending that’s a surprise twist.

2. “You Really Got a Hold on Me” by The Miracles
If I knew more about music I’m sure I could say something intelligent about what’s going on in this song. Musically it has this drag that feels almost too real and too un-sanitized to be part of the “Motown sound,” something I associate as being black music packaged for white audiences.  There’s something so compelling and sexy about this song. Smokey Robinson is a master of the art and those skills are certainly front and center in this R&B chart-topper.

1. “You Are My Sunshine” by Ray Charles
It topped the R&B charts in January 1963 and was working its way back down the charts in February. It’s a familiar song——one of the most recorded in music history——but when Ray Charles gets a hold of it it sound like something we’ve never heard before. His small changes in phrasing and in music——he turns it into a R&B song AND gives us a big band interlude AND gives us the vocal wonderment of the Raelettes——make this hard not to find interesting on some level. It’s the lead track off his second volume of Modern Sounds in Country Western Music, a historic pair of albums mixing white music and black music at the height of the Black Freedom Struggle.