1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 840 to 831
Today’s lesson – how a New Orleans drag queen wrote Slade’s first hit record.
840. “Astronomy Domine,” Pink Floyd. Songwriter: Syd Barrett; Did Not Chart; 1967. Pink Floyd was founded by a trio of London architecture students who started performing in 1963. Syd Barrett joined the band in 1965 and the group evolved from an R&B act to a psychedelic/space rock unit. “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play” were U.K. pop hits before the band released their first album, 1967’s “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” “Astronomy Domine,” the album’s lead track, sounds like puppy dog psychedelia, but works between Barrett’s insistent guitar chords and Nick Mason’s continual drum fills. Barrett and the band explored the same theme at more length on “Interstellar Overdrive,” which starts with a riff that could be as ubiquitous as “Smoke on the Water” or, at least “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” if Barrett had milked it for the entire nine minute plus freak out.
839. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Temptations. Songwriters: Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff, Jerry Ross; #2 pop/#2 R&B; 1968. The Supremes and The Temptations were Motown’s best selling acts during the 1960s and the label capitalized on their popularity with a 1968 television special and album featuring both groups. Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, the pioneers of the 1970’s Philadelphia soul music, had written “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” with manager Jerry Ross and it had been a minor pop hit for Dee Dee Warwick (Dionne Warwick’s sister) in 1967. You have to give Diana Ross credit for even trying to keep up with Eddie Kendricks’ peerless falsetto vocals. Elvis Costello, “When I was a teenager, I didn’t just listen to rock. I remember being smitten with some girl and listening to the Supremes and Temptations doing ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.’”
838. “Galveston,” Glen Campbell. Songwriter: Jimmy Webb; #4 pop/#1 country; 1969. Arkansas native Glen Campbell had been a touring member of The Champs and The Beach Boys, as well as a respected studio musician, before having his major breakthrough hit with Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” in 1967. Songwriter Jimmy Webb was riding an incredible hot streak in the late 1960s, composing “Up, Up and Away” for The 5th Dimension, the cake melting “MacArthur Park” for Richard Harris, “Worst That Could Happen” by The Brooklyn Bridge, and the Frank Sinatra album cut “Didn’t We?” Romantic notions of the Texas Gulf Coast inspired the anti-war hit “Galveston,” where the narrator fears for his life and misses his significant other. Webb envisioned a different arrangement for this #1 country/#4 pop hit. “I play it for the audience the way I wrote it, which is kind of elegiac and more subdued than Glen’s rip-roaring, uptempo version.”
837. “Mony Mony,” Tommy James and the Shondells. Songwriters: Tommy James, Bo Gentry, Ritchie Cordell, and Bobby Bloom; #3 pop; 1968. Tommy James, “Originally, we did the track without a song. The idea was to create a party rock record; in 1968 that was pretty much of a throwback to the early ’60s. Nobody was making party rock records really in 1968, those big-drum-California-sun-what-I-sing-money-type songs. So, I wanted to do a party rock record. I had the track done before I had a title. I wanted something catchy like “Sloopy” or “Bony Maroney,” but everything sounded so stupid. Ritchie Cordell and I were writing it in New York City, and we were about to throw in the towel when I went out onto the terrace, looked up and saw the Mutual of New York building (which has its initials illuminated in red at its top). I said, ‘That’s gotta be it! Ritchie, come here, you’ve gotta see this!’ It’s almost as if God Himself had said, ‘Here’s the title.’ I’ve always thought that if I had looked the other way, it might have been called ‘Hotel Taft.’”
836. “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” The Beatles. Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney; #8 pop; 1969. This is the first entry of the countdown from The Beatles, the band who revolutionized popular music during the 1960s and need no further introduction than that. “The Ballad of John and Yoko” chronicles the marriage of John Lennon and Yoko Ono and their highly publicized “Bed-In” that occurred during their honeymoon. Quickly written and recorded, Lennon and McCartney are the only musicians on what became the band’s 17th and final U.K. #1 single. Lennon, “When I get down to it, I’m only interested in Yoko and peace, so if I can sing about them again and again and again – its only like I’m going through my blue period as a painter. It’s like he’s gonna paint this cup for a year, you know, to get into that cup. So maybe I’m doing that.”
835. “Come a Little Bit Closer,” Jay and the Americans. Songwriters: Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart, Wes Farrell; #3 pop; 1964. Jay and the Americans were a high school doo wop group from Queens, who first hit the Top Ten with “She Cried,” an early version of blue-eyed soul. “Come a Little Bit Closer,” their biggest hit, has plenty of kitsch from the south of the border musical touches to the lyrical story about the manipulative female antagonist. I mean, the band almost breaks into “La Bamba” in the outro, but the chorus is hard to resist, as fans of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise may have discovered. The three songwriters would later become manufactured band specialists – Boyce and Hart were hired hands for The Monkees and Wes Farrell served in that role The Partridge Family.
834. “Get Down with It,” Wayne Cochran. Songwriter: Bobby Marchan; Did Not Chart; 1966. Covered by Slade in 1971. Singer/songwriter Bobby Marchan must have lead an interesting life. He started his performing career by working in drag as a teenager and once received a record contract from a businessman who thought he was a woman. He performed the lead vocals on the Huey Smith and the Clowns’ hits “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” and “Don’t You Just Know It” in the late 1950s, then had a #1 R&B hit in 1960 with “There’s Something on Your Mind.” Marchan recorded the original version of “Get Down with It” in 1965, which Wayne Cochran, “The White Knight of Soul,” arranged in the style of James Brown in 1966. “Get Down with It” received a gospel/soul/R&B treatment from Little Richard later in 1967 and was Slade’s first U.K. charting single in 1971, retitled to “Get Down and Get with It.”
833. “I’m So Proud,” The Impressions. Songwriter: Curtis Mayfield; #14 pop/#2 R&B; 1964. “I’m So Proud” is one of the first collaborations between Curtis Mayfield and producer Jerry Pate, two of the primary forces who shaped the Chicago soul sound. “I’m So Proud” is whipped cream smooth soul crooning with the lightness of the atmosphere reinforced by the xylophone solo on the instrumental break. Iman Lababedi, “’I’m So Proud,’ which opens with a lift from ‘A Summer Place,’ is a black pride anthem as black love manifesto.” Cover to discover – Todd Rundgren’s 1973 celestial reading, which sounds somewhat like a parody and a beautiful tribute at the same time.
832. “The Boy from New York City,” The Ad Libs. Songwriters: George Davis and John T. Taylor; #8 pop/#6 R&B; 1964. The Ad Libs were a New Jersey African-American vocal group who were active for over twenty years, despite having only one major hit. Saxophonist John T. Taylor, who had worked in music since the 1930’s big band era, penned “The Boy from New York City” and helped the band get signed to Lieber and Stoller’s Red Birds Records. The record merged jazz influenced songwriting with the doo wop vocal style of early rock ‘n’ roll. Lieber and Stoller weren’t the only famous producers on the track, Leon Huff was working as a studio musician at the time and played piano on the record. “The Boy from New York City” was a #2 U.K. hit for the Darts in 1978 and was molested by The Manhattan Transfer for a Top Ten U.S. pop hit in 1981.
831. “Ride Your Pony,” Lee Dorsey. Songwriter: Naomi Neville (Allan Toussaint); #28 pop/#7 R&B; 1965. Steve Huey, “Lee Dorsey epitomized the loose, easygoing charm of New Orleans R&B perhaps more than any other artist of the ’60s.” New Orleans native Lee Dorsey was a Navy man, a prizefighter, and an auto mechanic before he began his singing career. He continued to work as a mechanic throughout his music career, being termed “the best body man in the 9th Ward.” “Ride Your Pony” is an example of light percussion, New Orleans funk with a rhythmic dance groove for lassoing on the dance floor. Dorsey’s primary attribute as a singer was succinctly summed up by Allen Toussaint, “His voice had a smile in it.”