1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 690 to 681
690. “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” Peter, Paul & Mary. Songwriter: John Denver; #1 pop; 1969. John Denver worked in the Los Angeles club scene during the early 1960s and was a member of the folk act The Mitchell Trio from 1965 to 1969. “Leaving on a Jet Plane” was a song that Denver recorded in 1966, using the title “Babe, I Hate to Go,” that eventually found its way to Peter, Paul & Mary producer Milt Okun. Peter, Paul & Mary had formed in the New York folk scene in 1961 and scored Top Five pop hits in 1963 with “Puff (The Magic Dragon)” and their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Their only #1 pop hit and their last charting single was this forlorn look at departure. John Denver introducing the song years later, “This is a very personal and very special song for me. It doesn’t conjure up Boeing 707s or 747s for me as much as it does the simple scenes of leaving. Bags packed and standing by the front door, taxi pulling up in the early morning hours, the sound of a door closing behind you, and the thought of leaving someone that you care for very much.”
689. “Mr. Record Man,” Willie Nelson. Songwriter: Willie Nelson; Did Not Chart; 1961. Nelson wrote “Mr. Record Man,” a tale of a downhearted driver who takes comfort in hearing a song about loneliness, while working as an encyclopedia and vacuum cleaner salesman. Nelson tried to sell “Mr. Record Man” to Houston bandleader/future Nashville producer Larry Butler, who responded by giving Willie a loan and a regular club gig. Nelson signed to Liberty Records in 1961 and cut “Mr. Record Man” in Los Angeles with producer Joe Allison, the man who co-wrote the Jim Reeves’ hit “He’ll Have to Go.” This 4/4 shuffle number didn’t make the country charts, but inspired the name The Record Men for Nelson’s backing unit and was re-cut by Nelson for his 1989 #2 album “A Horse Called Music.”
688. “I Got You, Babe,” Sonny and Cher. Songwriter: Sonny Bono; #1 pop; 1965. Sonny Bono, “At the time, Dylan was always going ‘Babe this, babe that.’ ‘Babe’ was all over the streets. I thought, ‘Man, that’s a hook if you ever use it right.’” Cher on her introduction to her first #1 single, “I was sleeping. We bought a piano for $82 that only had a couple of broken keys. And we had only furniture for the bedroom, and he used to have a piano in the living room. He used to write, and he’d wake me up and go, ‘Cher, come here, I just need you to sing this,’ which I never wanted to do. So he was writing, and he said, ‘Cher, I want you to come here and sing this.’ I said, ‘Sonny, I’m embarrassed.’ He said, ‘Cher, Jesus, it’s just me.’ It was ‘I Got You, Babe.’ And I went, ‘I’m going back to bed. This is just nothing.’”
687. “There’s A Kind of Hush,” Herman’s Hermits. Songwriters: Geoff Stephens, Les Reed; #4 pop; 1967. “There’s a Kind of Hush” was originally performed in 1966 by The New Vaudeville Band of “Winchester Cathedral” fame, using a neo-British music hall instrumentation. After an Ohio act named Gary and the Hornets had a regional hit with their cover, Herman’s Hermits quickly released their version. It may surprise casual fans that half of Led Zeppelin were involved in recording material for Herman’s Hermits. Peter Noone, “I am sure Jimmy Page played for money and that he was slightly amused by as we were not his cup of tea. He played on a couple of our tunes and I can’t find the session lists to see which. John Paul Jones is on lots of stuff. Any time Barry (Whitman) isn’t on a record you will find John Paul Jones. He was the bass player and arranger (strings brass, drums, guitars, bass) on ‘No Milk Today,’ ‘Dandy,’ ‘There’s a Kind of Hush,’ ‘My Sentimental Friend,’ and most of the stuff after 1965.” Songwriter Geoff Stephens also wrote the 1964 U.K. Top Five hit “The Crying Game” for Dave Berry. That song would enter U.S. consciousness almost three decades later with the 1992 film that uses the same title and Boy George’s corresponding cover hit.
686. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” Brenda Lee. Songwriter: Johnny Marks; #14 pop; released in 1958, peaked on the charts in 1960. The Yuletide classic “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” was recorded when Brenda Lee was 13 years old in 1958, but only became a hit after Lee’s 1960 singles “I’m Sorry” and “I Want to Be Wanted” topped the pop charts. The song was produced in the summer with producer Owen Bradly providing the holiday spirit. Brenda Lee, “Owen had the studio all freezing cold with the air conditioning, and he had a Christmas tree all set up to kind of get in the mood just a little bit. We had a lot of fun.” By the mid-1990s, Christmas was a year round event at a Brenda Lee show. Lee, in 2006, “About 10 years ago I’d be finishing a show and they’d say, ‘You didn’t sing Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah, but it’s not Christmas,’ and they’d say ‘We don’t care.’ So, I put it in and I close my shows with it.”
685. “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” The Monkees. Songwriters: Gerry Goffin, Carole King; #3 pop; 1967. Producer Chip Douglas, “Mike (Nesmith) played the lead guitar. That was my riff that I threw in there and taught to Mike. Not many guitar players can play it the right way. It’s kind of an offshoot of the Beatles song ’’I Want To Tell You’ but in a different tempo and with different notes. I wish I could hear the original demo, because I can’t recall if I got a (lyric) line right or not. I do remember seeing Carole King up at the Screen Gems office from across the room after we did ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday.’ She kind of gave me this dirty look. I thought, ‘Was it that line that I got wrong, perhaps? Or didn’t she like the guitar intro?’ It was faster, definitely, than the way she had done it. She had a more laidback way of doing stuff.” Peter Tork found the vocals perhaps more interesting than the lyrics about suburban conformity, commenting, “A notion of mine that I was real pleased with took over at one point, and that was having two guys sing in unison rather than one guy doubling his own voice. So you’ve got Mike, who was really a hard-nosed character, and Micky, who’s a real baby face, and these two voices blended and lent each other qualities. It’s not two separate voices singing together, it’s really a melding of the two voices. Listening to that record later on was a joy.”
684. “This Diamond Ring,” Gary Lewis and the Playboys. Songwriters: Al Kooper, Bob Brass, Irwin Levine; #1 pop; 1964. Al Kooper and his colleagues who penned “This Diamond Ring” had envisioned an R&B treatment for the song and it was originally pitched to The Drifters. He was later appalled by the pop version popularized by Gary Lewis and The Playboys, calling it a “turkey milkshake.” Gary Lewis was the son of comedian Jerry Lewis and his mother helped to finance the equipment for the band. Signed by manager Snuff Garrett, the band’s first single was “This Diamond Ring” and it’s a first rate pop song, despite Mr. Kooper’s objections. It’s been a subject of controversy over the years whether “The Playboys” performed on this record or if it is the work of “The Wrecking Crew.” My ears tell me there was plenty of musical flourishes beyond the grasp of a young teen band. Although largely forgotten today, Gary Lewis and the Playboys scored seven consecutive Top Ten singles in 1965 and 1966.
683. “Spooky,” Classics IV. Songwriters: Mike Shapiro, Harry Middlebrooks Jr., James Cobb, Buddy Buie; #3 pop; 1967. The Classics IV, originally named The Classics based upon the brand of their drumkit, formed in Jacksonville, Florida in 1965 and signed to Capitol Records the following year. Their breakthrough hit “Spooky” was originally an instrumental song released by saxophone player Mike Shapiro. Guitarist J.R. Cobb of the Classics IV added lyrics to Shapiro’s song for their jazz infused pop hit. The band had two more Top Ten singles in the late 1960s with “Stormy” and “Traces.” A few members of the Classics IV were later in the Southern soft rock act the Atlanta Rhythm Section, who covered “Spooky” for a Top Twenty pop hit in 1979.
682. “Leaving Here,” Eddie Holland. Songwriters: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland; #76 pop/#27 R&B; 1963. Eddie Holland was simultaneously working as a songwriter and a recording artist for Motown in the early 1960s. He already had writing credits on the Top Ten hits “Mickey’s Monkey” by the Miracles and “(Love Is Like a) Heatwave” by Martha and the Vandellas when his 1963 single “Leaving Here” was released. “Leaving Here” starts with a Bo Diddley riff and turns into a high energy, rhythm based rocker about girls departing for better options. While not a hit record, “Leaving Here” was quickly discovered by the garage rock and metal bands with covers by The Who, The Sonics, and Motorhead, among others.
681. “Around and Around,” The Rolling Stones. Songwriter: Chuck Berry; Did Not Chart; 1964. Originally, the 1958 b-side to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” “Around and Around” describes an all-night party so out of control that even police intervention couldn’t stop it. The Rolling Stones began their career primarily as an R&B cover band, with their first single being a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On.” “Around and Around” is the lead track of the “12 X 5” album and it’s most notable for the instrumental break, where non-member Ian Stewart displays his manic Jerry Lee Lewis style boogie-woogie chops and Keith Richards plays a riff that sounds like a variation of “Tequila” by The Champs.