Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Top 200 Songs of the 60's*: #20-11

Inside The Rock Era is celebrating the sensational music of the 60's, a music special we started on July 1.  We have presented ten songs per day for your enjoyment, and we're nearly finished.  We have some incredible classics lined up for you, numbers 20 through 11*. 



Until 1969, it was tough for George Harrison to get a word in edgewise, literally.  John Lennon and Paul McCartney's compositions dominated the group's albums, but Harrison turned in a gem here.  George wrote it in a studio room while the Beatles were recording The White Album.  The original lyrics were adapted from the title of a song by fellow Apple Records artist James Taylor entitled "Something In The Way She Moves", and used as filler while Harrison worked on the melody.  The second line "Attracts me like no other lover" was the last to be written.   

The Beatles recorded "Something" at London's EMI Studios.  Harrison sang lead and played lead guitar, while McCartney played bass and sang backing vocals,  Lennon played piano and rhythm guitar, Ringo Starr was on drums, Billy Preston played organ,  and George Martin was responsible for the strings arrangement.
Before the song was edited for release, it contained a long instrumental at the end.  "Something" was released as a double "A"-sided single with "Come Together".    Martin also produced the song, which has now gone Double-Platinum.
"Something" was the song that put the Beatles over the top, eclipsing Elvis Presley's record of 17 #1's in the Rock Era.  The Beatles would score two more after this for a total of 20.  "Something" earned time at the top against "Wedding Bell Blues", "Sugar, Sugar", "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head", "I Can't Get Next To You", "Honky Tonk Women", "Come Together", "Everybody's Talkin'", "Leaving On A Jet Plane", "Suspicious Minds", and "Someday We'll Be Together".

  Frank Sinatra called "Something" "the greatest love song ever written".  In 1999, BMI announced that "Something" was the 17th-most performed song of the 20th century, with five million performances.  There are more than 150 cover versions of "Something", the second-most Beatles song after "Yesterday".  But there's only one version in The Top 200 Songs of the 60's*.


"Can't Help Falling In Love"
Elvis Presley


Song #19* is based on the melody of the French song "Plaisir D'Amour" by Jean Paul Egide Martine.  George Weiss adapted the melody, wrote English lyrics, and presented it to Elvis Presley, who recorded it for his movie Blue Hawai'i.
Veteran session drummer Hal Blaine played on the track.  Jordan Lumsden produced the song for release on RCA Victor Records.  "Can't Help Falling In Love" only reached #2, but it had major competition:  "The Twist", "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", "Big Bad John", "Runaround Sue", "Hey!  Baby", and the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman".  Not only that, but the "Blue Hawai'i" Soundtrack dominated the album charts, hanging on for 20 weeks at #1, a record until 1977 when Fleetwood Mac's landmark album Rumours broke it.  Had Billboard understood the importance of album sales back then, Elvis's song would have been a long-running #1 song.
Weiss also wrote "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" for the Tokens, "What A Wonderful World" for Louis Armstrong, and several musicals, including Mr. Wonderful in 1956.



"Love Is Blue"
Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra


This song written by Andre Popp and Pierre Cour was recorded by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra in 1967.  Mauriat also produced the song for release on Phillips Records.

"Love Is Blue" sold over one million copies and reached #1 for five weeks, second longest of the Rock Era for an instrumental.  It's competition was anything but run of the mill--"(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay", "Daydream Believer", "Lady Madonna", "Hello Goodbye", "Scarborough Fair" and Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey".  "Love Is Blue" also topped the Easy Listening chart for 11 weeks, and was the record holder in that genre for 25 years. 

"Love Is Blue" is not responsible for huge album sales, but it has been played over four million times on the radio since its release. 


"In The Year 2525"
Zager & Evans

Rick Evans of this duo wrote "In The Year 2525"  in 1964, and Zager & Evans released this song on a small regional label (Truth Records) in 1968.  Zager and Evans both sang and played guitar, with Mark Dalton on bass and Dave Trupp playing drums. 

The song broke out of Texas, and when it did, RCA Records picked it up for distribution nationwide.  "In The Year 2525" was one of the longest-running #1 songs of the 60's, reigning for six weeks.  It did so against stellar competition from "Aquarius", "Get Back", "Honky Tonk Women", "Sugar, Sugar", "Crystal Blue Persuasion", "Bad Moon Rising", "Spinning Wheel", "My Cherie Amour", "One" from Three Dog Night, "Sweet Caroline", and "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town".

Dismissed by critics (who could never in their wildest dreams write a song that would still be relevant 45 years later), "In The Year 2525" sold four million copies within a year, and has now topped ten million.
"In The Year 2525" now has been covered at least 60 times in several languages.

"To Sir With Love"

Don Black and Mark London wrote this smash.  Black told the Sunday Times:

It's one of the very, very few songs that I've worked on where I've written the words first.  Normally, I may give the composer a title or suggest a couple of lines, but I don't like to write the whole lyric first.  If you write the lyric first, you tend to ramble.  You want the structure there to work against .

Lulu starred in the movie of the same name with Sidney Poitier.  Director James Clavell had seen Lulu open for the Beach Boys in concert and was impressed with her.  At first, Lulu had a small part, but her role expanded and she sang the theme song in the movie.
Mickie Most produced the song for release on Epic Records.  "To Sir With Love" sold one million copies quickly, and it has now gone over four million worldwide.  The song topped the charts for five weeks in one of the best times in music:  the Summer of 1967, going against great songs like "Ode To Billie Joe", "Light My Fire", "Hello Goodbye", "The Letter", "All You Need Is Love", "Never My Love", "Daydream Believer", "Incense And Peppermints" and "Reflections".


Young Rascals

After realizing that they could only see their girlfriends on Sunday afternoons because of their busy schedules, Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati wrote this song.  As Cavaliere told Seth Swirsky, director of the documentary Beatles Stories:

 I met this young girl and I just fell head over heels in love.  I was so gone that this joyous, wonderful emotion came into the music. Groovin' was part of that experience.  If you look at the story line, it's very simple: we're groovin' on a Sunday afternoon because Friday and Saturdays are when musicians work.  The simplicity of it is that Sundays you could be with your loved one.  And the beauty of is this joyous bliss that at that time I equated with a person, but that's the beauty of music - when it's an example of what you do it lasts forever.  You're in love forever because of that moment in time that you captured, and that's what was happening with Groovin'.

Cavaliere sang lead on "Groovin'".  Chuck Rainey played a great bass line, and Michael Weinstein played harmonica on the single version.  The Rascals produced the song as well.
When the Rascals completed work on "Groovin'", the executives at Atlantic Records didn't like it.  But influential disc jockey Murray the K heard it and intuitively knew it was a #1 song.  Murray went into Atlantic Records president Jerry Wexler's office and demanded it be released.
Wexler did, and he should thank his lucky stars that he had such good advice.  "Groovin'" went to #1 for four weeks against great competition from "Happy Together", "Respect", "Penny Lane", "Windy", "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", and "For What It's Worth". 
"Groovin'" is not only a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, but also a member of the Grammy Hall of Fame.  It only has just over one million in albums sold, but it has been played on the radio five million times.  



Keyboardist Terry Kirkman wrote "Cherish" and the Association began recording it.  Mike Whelan, who had been in an earlier group with members of the Association, began performing it as well with his new group, the New Christy Minstrels.  The Minstrels also released it as a single before the Association did. 
Session musicians played most of the instruments on the song.  Curt Boettcher produced "Cherish" for release on Valiant Records.
#"Cherish" was a #1 smash for three weeks, and it is the competition and the ability to stand the test of time (five million airplays) that are the greatest strengths of "Cherish".  It went head-on against great competition such as "Summer In The City", "You Can't Hurry Love", "Reach Out I'll Be There", "Sunny", "96 Tears", "Wild Thing", "Bus Stop", "Sunshine Superman", "Last Train To Clarksville", "Yellow Submarine", and "Eleanor Rigby".  "Cherish" went Gold and helped sell 2.5 million albums.


"The House Of The Rising Sun"

The origin of this song is unclear, but we know it has deep roots, and is one of the most-performed songs of all-time.  Some people say it is based on the tradition of broadside ballads such as "The Unfortunate Rake" in the 18th century, and that English emigrants brought the song with them to America, where it was later adapted to its New Orleans setting.  Alan Price of the Animals has said that the song was originally a sixteenth-century English folk song about a Soho brothel.  The oldest-known recordings of this version are by Texas Alexander in the 1920's and by Clarence "Tom" Ashley and Gwen Foster in 1934.  Ashley said he had learned the song from his grandfather, Enouch Ashley. 
Because no one can claim ownership as to the writing of the song, it can be recorded and sold by anyone royalty free. 
Eric Burdon said that he first heard the song in a Newcastle, England club sung by folk singer Johnny Handle.  The Animals were on a tour with Chuck Berry and began performing the song.  It received tremendous response, so the Animals eventually dropped into a small recording studio in London to cut the record.  They recorded it in one take, as they had spent several years perfecting the song live.  Hilton Valentine is responsible for the memorable guitar part.  And then you have Price's organ part, which cements the song's place in history.  Mickie Most produced the song for Columbia Graphophone Records in the U.K. and MGM in the United States. 
Burdon, who gave the iconic performance on vocals, said:

"House Of The Rising Sun" is a song that I was just fated to.  It was made for me and I was made for it.  It was a great song for the Chuck Berry tour because it was a way of reaching the audience without copying Chuck Berry.  It was a great trick and it worked.  It actually wasn't only a great trick, it was a great recording.  The best aspect of it, I've been told, is that Bob Dylan, who was angry at first, turned into a rocker.  Dylan went electric in the shadow of the Animals classic "House Of The Rising Sun". 

"The House Of The Rising Sun" went to #1 in the United States, the U.K., Canada, Finland, and Sweden.  It was the first song since 1962 by a British group that reached #1 in America that was not written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  It sold over one million copies. 
"The House Of The Rising Sun" had solid competition:  "I Get Around", "A Hard Day's Night", "Oh, Pretty Woman", "Where Did Our Love Go", "And I Love Her", and "Do Wah Diddy Diddy".  It remains a radio favorite to this day, having now logged over six million airplays.

Music critic Dave Marsh called "The House Of The Rising Sun" "the first folk-rock hit", with the sound of the record "as if they'd connected the ancient tune to a live wire."  Writer Ralph McLean of the BBC said that the song was "a revolutionary single".  Barry York in his book The House of Worship describes Burdon's lead vocal:  "as deep and gravelly as the north-east English coal town of Newcastle that spawned him."

"The House Of The Rising Sun" is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.  When the RIAA published their Songs of the Century list in 1999, "The House Of The Rising Sun" was ranked #240.  In 1999, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.  A 2005 poll in Great Britain ranked the song #4 among listeners there. 


"Ode To Billie Joe"
Bobby Gentry

And we're up to this classic.

After graduating from high school, Bobby Gentry went to UCLA.  Meanwhile, she sent a demo tape of this song to Capitol Records.  It was just her voice and an acoustic guitar, but Capitol was impressed and signed her to a recording contract.

Yes, there really is a Tallahatchie Bridge--it's in Money, Mississippi.  As for the story, Gentry made it up, purposely leaving out details, and in so doing, composed an enduring classic.

Gentry recorded the song at the Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, essentially recreating her demo tape.  Arranger Jimmie Haskell added two cellos and four violins and to the great credit of producer Kelly Gordon, that was it, for the song's great appeal is its storytelling. 
"Ode To Billie Joe" shot up to #1 against great songs like "The Letter", "Windy", "Light My Fire", "To Sir With Love", "Never My Love", "All You Need Is Love", "A Whiter Shade Of Pale", and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You".  It's hard to believe that there could be a time in music when all those songs were out at the same time.  Yet it really did happen.  Bobby Gentry's classic stayed at the top for four weeks and sold over one million copies.

"Ode To Billie Joe" was one of the most-honored songs of its time, receiving eight Grammy Award nominations and winning three.  Gentry captured Best New Artist, Best Vocal Performance, Female, Best Contemporary Female Solo Vocal Performance, and Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist or Instrumentalist.

One music fan sums up the delight of listening to this song:

This is a wonderful song and a masterpiece of storytelling.  Must be one of the most melancholy songs ever.  Simple guitar and deadpan voice utterly brilliant.  The unanswered questions , the half formed characters, the detached bits of dialogue, the heat, the work, religion , the bridge and two deaths...or is it three?

The mournful background particular beginning and no particular life in the 50s/60s Delta...just going on, a monotone, flat.  The haunting ambivalence of this song is its true brilliance.  Obviously the interpretation of the rather simple (on the surface) lyrics keeps people thinking and pondering and arguing decades after its many songs can say that?

A movie based on the song (also titled Ode to Billy Joe) was released in 1976.


"The Sound Of Silence"
Simon & Garfunkel

Paul Simon had just graduated from college, and was just starting out as a songwriter, as an aspiring artist, when he presented this song to producer Tom Wilson at Columbia Records.  At the time, Paul was hoping to get a publishing deal.  Wilson had ideas of presenting it to a group, but Simon wanted Wilson to see how it would sound with two singers, so he and Art Garfunkel sang it.  Wilson and the brass at Columbia were so impressed with the sound that he signed them to a recording contract on the spot.  Simon explained to NPR:

"It was just when I was coming out of college.  My job was to take the songs that this huge publishing company owned and go around to record companies and see if any of their artists wanted to record the songs.  I worked for them for about six months and never got a song placed, but I did give them a couple of my songs because I felt so guilty about taking their money.  Then I got into an argument with them and said, "Look, I quit, and I'm not giving you my new song."  And the song that I had just written was "The Sound Of Silence."  I thought, 'I'll just publish it myself,' and from that point on I owned my own songs, so that was a lucky argument.

Simon continued:

I think about songs that it's not just what the words say but what the melody says and what the sound says.  My thinking is that if you don't have the right melody, it really doesn't matter what you have to say, people don't hear it.  They only are available to hear when the sound entrances and makes people open to the thought.  Really the key to '"The Sound Of Silence" is the simplicity of the melody and the words, which are youthful alienation.  It's a young lyric, but not bad for a 21-year-old.  It's not a sophisticated thought, but a thought that I gathered from some college reading material or something.  It wasn't something that I was experiencing at some deep, profound level - nobody's listening to me, nobody's listening to anyone - it was a post-adolescent angst, but it had some level of truth to it and it resonated with millions of people.  Largely because it had a simple and singable melody.

So Simon and Garfunkel went into the studio, with the first recording an acoustic version that they placed on their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM.  It's sales?  About 2,000.  When the album sold so poorly, Simon and Garfunkel split up.  But Wilson, unbeknownst to the duo, overdubbed the song with electric instruments and released that version as a single.  Al Gorgoni and Vinnie Bell played guitar, Joe Mack played bass and Buddy Salzman was on drums.  The pair was shocked to hear the song; Simon at the time was in England, while Garfunkel was in college.  Had it not been for this strange twist of fate, the great music we now know of from this duo would not have been heard.
"The Sound Of Silence" was one of the songs that Simon & Garfunkel performed in the folk clubs of Greenwich Village in New York City.  In 1968, director Mike Nichols used the song in the movie The Graduate, and also hired the duo to write "Mrs. Robinson", "Scarborough Fair" and "April Come She Will" for the film.
"The Sound Of Silence" sold over one million singles and went to #1 for two weeks in the midst of heavy competition ("Yesterday", "Turn!  Turn!  Turn!", "We Can Work It Out", "Day Tripper", "Barbara Ann", and "I Hear A Symphony").  But its timeless value and appeal are evident in album sales of 19.5 million for albums that include the song, and radio airplay now exceeding five million.  When you rank songs and you get close to a "top 10", you look for a song which has everything going for it.  This has it--popularity at the time of release, good single sales, great album sales and great airplay.
One insightful music fan had this to say about the song:  

Whenever I hear this song I get good reminders of the the way we live and carry out our daily lives.  Just as one would get a panoramic view from a mountain top, this song: "The Sound Of Silence" in a pensive manner opens up and penetrates the hearts and minds of listeners thereby giving us a broader scope things that happens around us.  Failure to communicate with each other is the shaping of a destructive end and remaining silent on burning and troubling issues is equally destructive, dangerous and weighty as the title of the song itself.
The songs you just heard, especially the last few, were strong contenders for the Top 10--there isn't much difference between those and The #10 Song*.  The ten we have selected are the ones we believe have the most overall strength, with all factors considered.  And Inside The Rock Era will unveil them to you tomorrow--don't miss it!

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