1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 710 to 701
A raccoon hunting mandolin player joins the party.
710. “Handy Man,” Jimmy Jones. Songwriters: Jimmy Jones, Otis Blackwell; #2 pop/#3 R&B; released in 1959, peaked on the charts in 1960. Alabama native Jimmy Jones penned “Handy Man” and it was first recorded as a blues comedy number by the Sparks of Rhythm in 1956. Jones had been a member of that vocal group for a few months, but left before they recorded his song. Jones performed with other R&B acts until going solo in 1959, recording a doo wop version of “Handy Man” with producer Otis Blackwell whistling away in lieu of an absent flute player. Decades later, the publishing company that owned “Handy Man” sued the Culture Club for similarities in the song structure of “Karma Chameleon.” Boy George, “”I might have heard it once, but it was certainly not something I sat down and copied. We gave them ten pence and an apple.” “Handy Man” returned to the airwaves in 1977 as a Top Five pop hit for James Taylor.
709. “Lady Madonna,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #4 pop; 1968. Paul McCartney was inspired by Fats Domino, by jazz pianist Humphrey Lyttelton’s version of “Bad Penny Blues,” and by a “National Geographic” photo of a breastfeeding Malayo-Polynesian woman for the music and lyrics of “Lady Madonna.” McCartney, “One particular issue (of the magazine) I saw in the ’60s had a woman, and she looked very proud and she had a baby. I saw that as a kind of Madonna thing, mother and child … You know, sometimes you see pictures of mothers and you go, ‘She’s a good mother.’ You could just tell there’s a bond and it just affected me, that photo. ‘Lady Madonna’ was me sitting down at the piano trying to write a bluesy boogie-woogie thing. It reminded me of Fats Domino for some reason, so I started singing a Fats Domino impression. It took my other voice to a very odd place.” John Lennon’s typically blunt assessment, “Maybe I helped him on some of the lyrics, but I’m not proud of them either way.” On a completely irrelevant, but humorous note, here’s George Harrison from an interview with Bill Holdship and John Kordosh about the pop star Madonna during the 1980s, “I think she has the ability to be a really nice person – you have to see it from the other side, which I can see too, which is that the pressure you’re under when you are fab is tremendous. So I sympathize from that point of view, too. But what she needs is just 500 milligrams of LSD.”
708. “The Beat Goes On,” Sonny and Cher. Songwriter: Sonny Bono; #6 pop; 1967. Sonny Bono worked in promotions for Specialty Records in the late 1950s, then became an understudy of Phil Spector. He had his first commercial success co-writing The Searchers’ hit “Needles and Pins” and started recording with Cherilyn LaPierre in 1963. The Sonny and Cher 1967 release “The Beat Goes On” was a variation on the concept that the more things change, the more they stay the same and would become the couple’s theme song for their early 1970’s television program. Wrecking Crew member/bassist Carol Kaye, “It was a nothing song, and then the bass line kind of made that.” La de da de de. La de da de da.
707. “You Don’t Know My Mind,” Jimmy Martin. Songwriter: Jimmie Skinner; Did Not Chart; 1960. East Tennessee native Jimmy Martin was a hard drinking, raccoon hunting, tenor singing guitarist/mandolin player, who performed with Bill Monroe, The Osborne Brothers, and formed his own act known as The Sunny Mountain Boys. Songwriter Jimmie Skinner had the good fortune of being born in Blue Lick, Kentucky and scored three Top Ten country singles in the 1950s, with his biggest being 1957’s #5 hit “I Found My Girl in the USA.” As a vocalist, Skinner proved that the 1950’s country audience had very forgiving ears. “You Don’t Know My Mind” is a bluegrass, rambling man number, which should have charted, but didn’t. Martin hit the Top Twenty twice, with “Rock Hearts” in 1958 and the truck driver fatality number “Window Maker” in 1964. Martin also appeared on “Grand Ole Opry Song,” the opening track of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
706. “Baby I Love You,” Aretha Franklin. Songwriter: Ronnie Shannon; #4 pop/#1 R&B; 1967. Songwriter Ronnie Shannon was living in his car when he drove from Georgia to Detroit, looking for Motown Records. Instead, he connected with Ted White, who was the husband of Aretha Franklin and has been described as a “hustler” and a “pimp” in various accounts. Shannon penned “Baby I Love You,” a Top Ten pop hit that followed “Respect” onto the charts and was the only single from the “Aretha Arrives” album. There’s a bit of girl group soul on “Baby” with Aretha’s sisters Carolyn and Erma chiming in to validate Aretha’s romantic intentions. Ted White was a key figure in the history of Muscle Shoals music – his fistfight with FAME studio owner Rick Hall eventually lead to Hall’s studio band, The Swampers, leaving to start their own recording facility.
705. “Memphis,” Johnny Rivers. Songwriter: Chuck Berry; #2 pop; 1964. This long distance plea for help was originally the b-side to Chuck Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A.” in 1959 and Berry’s original version was a U.K. Top Ten single in 1963. Guitarist Lonnie Mack released an upbeat instrumental version of “Memphis” in 1963 that peaked at #5 on the U.S. pop charts. Despite Mack’s success, the real hook is in the story of the song. Instead of reaching out to a lover, the lyrics reveal that the phone call was made in hopes of finding a six year old daughter, the victim of a broken family. Johnny Rivers on his breakthrough hit, “I always liked the lyrics and the feel on it, so when we recorded my first album, I mean, that was one of the songs we recorded, and also we got a lot of requests for it every night because people liked dancing to it. So we pretty much knew it was going to be some kind of chart record.” Most interesting cover of “Memphis” – Wilson Pickett’s 1973 release sounds like a Blaxploitation film waiting to happen.
704. “The Monkey Time,” Major Lance. Songwriter: Curtis Mayfield; #8 pop/#2 R&B; 1963. While Curtis Mayfield is generally known for his serious compositions, he had an ear for Top 40 music and current trends during the early 1960s. “The Monkey Time” is based upon the dance called The Monkey. It is the most basic step imaginable, a participant merely extends their arms and alternates moving them up and down. Gene Chandler of “Duke of Earl” fame wanted to record “The Monkey Time,” but Mayfield had promised the song to his high school friend Major Lance and it became Lance’s first hit. After this Chicago soul hit was released, Motown quickly released their take on the phenomenon with the Top Ten Miracles’ single “Mickey’s Monkey.”
703. “Smokey Joe’s La La,” Googie Rene Combo. Songwriter: Joan Sampson; Did Not Chart; 1966. Googie Rene was raised in the music industry. His father, Leon Rene, had writing credits on the 1940 Top Five pop hit “When the Swans Come Back to Capistrano” by The Ink Spots and the Louis Armstrong hit “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South.” Leon and his son Rafael “Googie” Rene ran the Los Angeles based Class Records label, allowing Googie to record his compositions with top West Coast session players. Rene hit the R&B charts three times during the 1960s, including the jazz instrumental “Smokey Joe’s La La,” released after The Ramsey Lewis Trio had a major pop hit with their jazz take of Dobie Gray’s “The ‘In’ Crowd.” Rene’s hipster jazz party track was rescued from obscurity after being included on the soundtrack to the 2017 film “Baby Driver.”
702. “In the Basement (Part 1),” Etta James and Sugar Pie DeSanto. Songwriters: Billy Davis, Carl William Smith, Raynard Miner; #97 pop/#37 R&B; 1966. For Etta James and Sugar Pie DeSanto, a room downstairs serves as a virtual Las Vegas on their 1966 single “In the Basement.” It’s a dance destination with no cover charge, no age limit, and free food and drinks. The teenaged friends turned soul singers turn in remarkable performances on this scorching R&B party number. Robert Pruder, “’In the Basement’ is one of the most uncompromising hard-soul songs Chess Records ever released.”
701. “ Party Lights,” Claudine Clark. Songwriter: Claudine Clark; #5 pop/#3 R&B; 1962. Philadelphia singer Claudine Clark was in her early twenties when she recorded “Party Lights,” but sounded like a young teenager. The lyrical theme is that of a girl asking her mother for permission to attend a nearby party, which is so close that the singer can see her peers doing the twist, the fish, and the mashed potato. Written by Clark herself, “Party Lights” fully captures teen disappointment, versus rebellion, as the narrator is stuck at home watching her friends’ festivities. Clark was a true one hit wonder, never touching the pop or R&B charts again after “Party Lights.”