Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Top 200 Songs of the 60's*: #180-171

We continue now with our presentation of The Top 200 Songs of the 60's*, and 10 more songs:


"Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town"
Kenny Rogers & the First Edition

Although this song is widely assumed to be about a Vietnam War veteran, the songwriter (Mel Tillis) wrote the song about a paralyzed veteran and his wife who moved to Florida in a house near Mel's.  The veteran fought in World War II and was wounded in Germany, but Tillis changed the words to be about a Korean War veteran.  The wife was indeed seeing another man while her husband lay in a hospital bed.  Then, when Kenny Rogers & the First Edition sang it, they further changed it to "that crazy Asian war".
Jimmy Bowen produced the song, and Reprise Records released it as a single.  It sold over one million copies in both the United States and the U.K., and is now over seven million copies worldwide.  "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town" hit #6 in the midst of stiff competition from "Aquarius", "In The Year 2525", "Get Back", "Honky Tonk Women", "Sweet Caroline" and "Crystal Blue Persuasion".  Yep, all those songs were out at the same glorious time, so a #6 peak is respectable given those circumstances.



"She's Not There"

What a way for a band to start.  Rod Argent began the lyrics to "She's Not There" from the title of the song  "No One Told Me" by John Lee Hooker.  It was the debut single for the Zombies.  The group recorded "She's Not There" along with three other songs at Decca's West Hampstead Studio #2.

Argent's Hohner Pianet is a key component of the song's sound.  Colin Blunstone sang lead, Paul Atkinson played guitar, Chris White was on bass, and Hugh Grundy played drums.  Ken Jones used overdubs to superimpose two extra beats, a technique that gave the drumming a unique pattern.

"She's Not There" was released on Decca Records in the U.K. and Parrot in the United States.  It went all the way to #2 in December.

"Rag Doll"

4 Seasons
4 Seasons mainstay Bob Gaudio wrote this one for the group.  How he came to write it is a story:  While driving to the studio in New York City, he stopped at a long light.  Just then, a little girl with ragged clothes and a dirty face, ran up and cleaned the windshield.  Gaudio frantically dug in his pockets to find a quarter to pay the girl.  The smallest piece of money he could find was a five-dollar bill, so he gave that to the little girl.
The girl was shocked at the $5 she received, and Gaudio remembered her stunned look when he arrived at the studio.  Inspired, Gaudio sat down to write the song, and he and producer Bob Crewe completed it within two weeks.  When they were finished, the 4 Seasons liked it so much that they wanted to rush it for release.  Since their regular studio was closed on Sundays, and the group was set to begin a tour the following day, they recorded it in the basement of a demo studio (Allegro Sound) in Manhattan.
The song was also rushed into mastering, and "Rag Doll" was on the radio within ten days of the session.  The song the group worked on so quickly also rose quickly up the charts, hitting #1 for two weeks.  "Rag Doll" achieved this status despite being out at the same time as "I Get Around", "My Guy", "Where Did Our Love Go", "Love Me Do" and Chapel Of Love". 
Billy Joel cites this as an influence to writing his 80's hit "Uptown Girl".  If you listen closely to the song at the 2:13-2:14 mark, you'll hear an inadvertent tambourine in the background.  While recording the song, the tambourine was set down on a chair as it wasn't needed before the clapping. Apparently whoever set it down didn't set it on the chair right and it fell off.

"How Can I Be Sure"

In 1967, the Rascals (they were then known as the Young Rascals) were coming off their huge hit "Groovin", and their next single was an important release if the group was to continue their momentum.  They certainly did that with this record.  The soul and emotion emitted from Eddie Brigati's vocals are moving; he is at his best on this one.  Brigati also played percussion for the group.  Felix Cavaliere sang lead on many Rascals songs, but he provided backup on this one, along with playing keyboards.  Gene Cornish was on guitar, while Dino Daneli played drums.
Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati wrote the song, and the group recorded it at Atlantic Recording Studios in New York City, as they did most of their records.  "How Can I Be Sure" was released as a 45 on Atlantic Records.  The song faced competition from songs such as "Ode To Billie Joe", "The Letter" and "To Sir With Love", and if that wasn't daunting enough, other tunes out at the same time were "Never My Love", "All You Need Is Love", "Light My Fire" by the Doors and "Reflections" from the Supremes.
So, and this is where most people who compile rankings get confused, even though "How Can I Be Sure" peaked at #4, the quality of competition in that magic year of 1967 was extremely tough, and the song very likely would have been a #1 song in most other time periods.


"Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye"

Here's a song written long before you and I heard it by a band that wasn't really a band.
Paul Leka and Dale Frashuer teamed to write "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" in the early 60's when they were with a Bridgeport, Connecticut band known as the Chateaus.  That group split up after several attempted recordings, but group member Gary DeCarlo recorded several songs at Mercury Sound Studios in New York City in 1968 with Leka producing.  The execs at Mercury were impressed, and wanted to release all of the songs as singles.  
That meant DeCarlo needed to come up with some songs for the "B" sides.  The pair remembered the song they had written with the Chateaus called "Kiss Him Goodbye", and called in Frashuer to help.  There was no band, so DeCarlo sang lead, Leka played keyboards, and engineer Warren Dewey spliced together a drum track from one of the four singles DeCarlo had recorded.  They decided they wanted to make the song longer, so they added the "Na Na Hey Hey" chorus.
DeCarlo, Leka and Frashuer didn't think the song was anything special, but it accomplished the task of getting a song recorded to be the "B" side of a single.  One problem:  Mercury loved the song, and wanted to release it instead.  DeCarlo thought it was an embarrassing record, one they had thrown together in one session.  Nobody wanted their name on the record, so it was credited to the fictitious group "Steam".
"Na Na Hey Hey..." was released on Fontana Records, a subsidiary under Mercury, and was the final big hit of the 60's, reaching #1 for two weeks.  By the end of the 20th century, the song nobody wanted to take credit for has now sold over 6.5 million copies.  Oh, and the songs that DeCarlo thought were good for his other singles?  They all flopped.  Sometimes the songwriters and musicians don't even know what they have.

"Please Please Me"
By 1963, the Beatles had already enjoyed hits in the U.K., but Capitol Records, in their infinite wisdom, rejected song after song for release.   The group recorded this John Lennon song in September of 1962.  When Beatles producer George Martin first heard it, he didn't care for it at all.  Martin told the group, "It's too slow."  Taking Martin at his word, the group went back and recorded a sped-up version, added John Lennon's harmonica to it, and pleaded with Martin to re-record it in their November session at EMI Recording Studio in London.
This time, Martin famously replied "Gentlemen, I think you've got your first number one."  That later version was released in Great Britain on Parlophone Records.  Martin sent a copy to Capitol in the U.S. urging them to distribute it.  Capitol refused to release this song as well, saying "We don't think the Beatles will do anything in this market."  But Vee Jay Records, a small outfit in Chicago, Illinois, stepped in to release it. 
Vee Jay first released "Please Please Me" on February 25, 1963, but it got nowhere.  But after the rush release of "I Want To Hold Your Hand", and in anticipation of the Beatles' trip to America, the label tried it again in 1964, and this time, it caught on, becoming the Beatles' fourth hit.
The Beatles performed the song on their second Ed Sullivan Show appearance in 1964  "Please Please Me" eventually made it to #3 on the heels of "She Loves You" in the U.S., and also going against "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "Can't Buy Me Love". 


"Eleanor Rigby"
Paul McCartney was the chief songwriter for Song #174*.  From their highly acclaimed album Revolver, it reflects the Beatles' continuing probing of human conditions.  By this time, the Fab Four had clearly evolved from a simple pop outfit to an experimenting, complex unit not afraid to tackle new themes.
"Eleanor Rigby" is also unique in that the Beatles did not play instruments on this track.  The double string quartet (four violins, two cells, and two violas)  was arranged by producer George Martin, as the Beatles were expanding the possibilities of what rock music could sound like, in effect changing it from a progression of simple chords to something that could last.  McCartney explores, as Richie Unterberger of Allmusic says, "the neglected concerns and fates of the elderly".
Tony Gilbert, Sidney Sax, John Sharpe and Juergen Hess are the violinists, with Stephen Shingles and John Underwood playing viola and Norman Jones and Derek Simpson the cellists.
The original protagonist of McCartney's song was Miss Daisy Hawkins, then the name Father McCartney came to him.  Not wanting listeners to think the song was about his Dad, McCartney changed that character to Father McKenzie, and Miss Daisy Hawkins to Eleanor Rigby.  The "Eleanor" is from actress Eleanor Bron, who starred in the movie Help!, while "Rigby" is from a Bristol, England store called "Rigby & Evans Ltd, Wine & Spirit Shippers".  The other Beatles contributed to the lyrics during a session at John Lennon's home.
The Beatles recorded most of "Eleanor Rigby" in April at Abbey Road Studios in London, then finished up in June.  The song was released as a single on Parlophone Records in the U.K. and Capitol in the U.S.  It rushed to #1 for four weeks in Europe, but only reached #11 in the U.S., probably because American listeners were stunned to hear something so different from the group which gave us "Please Please Me".
The Beatles' peers recognized the greatness though.  "Eleanor Rigby" was nominated for three Grammy Awards, winning for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance.  But the praise didn't end there.  Classical and theatrical composer Howard Goodall said that the Beatles' catalog is "a stunning roll-call of sublime melodies that perhaps only Mozart can match in European musical history" and that they "almost single-handedly rescued the Western musical system" from the "plague years of the avant-garde".  Famous songwriter Jerry Leiber said:  "The Beatles are second to none in all departments.  I don't think there has ever been a better song written than 'Eleanor Rigby'."
We love it too, but can only place it where you, the listeners, tell us.  If the song continues to be played on the radio and you buy albums with "Eleanor Rigby" on it, it could move up from here.

"Last Kiss"
J. Frank Wilson & the Cavaliers
This song was originally written by Wayne Cochran, who observed several crashes on Route 1941 in Georgia and was working on a song about the dangerous road.  Halfway through writing it, 16-year olds Jeanette Clark and J.K. Hancock, were killed when their car hit a tractor-trailer on a rural road in Barnesville, Georgia.  They were on a date just a few days before Christmas in 1962.
The community was devastated, and Cochran used the feelings of friends and neighbors to finish the song.  Cochran's song was a local hit, which led to a Texas record company calling upon J. Frank Wilson & the Cavaliers to release it nationally. 
The group's producer, Sonley Roush, split up the group to place lead singer J. Frank with better musicians.  Four months after the release of the single, the new band were touring, and en route from Rochester, New York to Lima, Ohio, when about 5:15 a.m., Roush apparently fell asleep at the wheel.  The car drifted into the other lane and collided head-on with a trailer truck.  Roush was killed instantly.  Wilson survived the crash with a few broken ribs and a broken ankle, but resumed touring a week later.
The song soared to #2 despite being released while songs such as "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", "The House Of The Rising Sun", "A Hard Day's Night, "Where Did Our Love Go" and "Oh Pretty Woman" were out.

"Rhythm Of The Rain"


There are two songs from the early part of the decade that are up next.  When focus groups are convened, this song always tests out well.  Which says a lot for the song--it's theme and style are far different from the average song in 2014, yet people relate to it.  

It's by the San Diego group the Cascades.  This was their one and only--the first release for them, and they never came close to the Top 40 after that.  John Claude Gummoe wrote the song, with Barry DeVorzon producing it for Valiant Records.

The group grew out of a group of United States Navy members serving on the USS Jason, which called themselves the Silver Strands.  They recruited Gummoe, who became their manager, and changed their name to the Thundernotes, and eventually the Cascades. 

By 1963, the group consisted of Gummoe on lead vocals, guitarist Eddie Snyder, Von Lynch on keyboards, Ronald Lynch on keyboards and saxophone, bassist Dave Stevens and Dave Szabo on drums.  Members of The Wrecking Crew played on "Rhythm Of The Rain", including guitarist Glen Campbell, Jim Owens on drums and Carol Kaye on bass.

The song reached #3 overall, and was a #1 Easy Listening hit for two weeks, selling over one million copies.  It also hit #1 in Ireland and #5 in the U.K.  The song's toughest competition came from "Return To Sender", "I Will Follow Him", "Walk Like A Man", "Telstar" and "Big Girls Don't Cry".  In 1999, BMI listed "Rhythm Of The Rain" as the ninth-most performed song on radio and television in the 20th century.


"Be My Baby"

The famous songwriting duo of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote "Be My Baby", with assistance from producer Phil Spector.  People ask "What is the Wall of Sound?"  This song is perhaps the ultimate embodiment of that production technique.
Spector recorded instruments such as guitars, saxophones, several pianos, and horns with innovative over-dubbing and studio mixing that included layering effects and echos.  Ronnie Spector was the lead vocalist in the Ronettes, which also included sister Estelle Bennett and their cousin Nedra Talley, but 15-year-old Ronnie was the only Ronette to sing on this song.  Phil Spector had Ronnie do 42 takes before he was satisfied.  Hal Blaine and Frank Capp played drums, with keyboardist Al de Lory, Tommy Tedesco and Bill Pitman on guitar, and Ray Pohlman playing bass.  Backing vocalists included Sonny and Cher, Nino Tempo and Darlene Love.
The Ronettes recorded the song at Hollywood's Gold Star Studios.  It was released as a single on Spector's label Phillies Records.
The Ronettes hit #2 for three weeks and sold over two million copies in 1963 alone.  "Be My Baby" toughed it out against competition that included "Sugar Shack", "My Boyfriend's Back" and "Blowin' In The Wind". 
Brian Wilson considers his "Don't Worry Baby" by the Beach Boys to be the answer song to "Be My Baby".  Eddie Money invited Ronnie Spector to sing the phrase on his hit "Take Me Home Tonight". 

In 1999, "Be My Baby" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 2006, the U.S. Library of Congress added it to the United States National Recording Registry. 

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