The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – 1,000 to 991
Having spent over a year chronicling the history of country music, my next foolish project is looking at my version of the “1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1960s.” Pop, R&B, rock, and country music will all be included, with less emphasis on traditional blues and jazz music. Without further ado…
1000. “Last Kiss,” J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers. Songwriters: Wayne Cochran, Joe Carpenter, Randall Hoyel, Bobby McGlon; #2 pop; 1964. “Last Kiss” was co-written and originally performed by the man will the million dollar pompadour Wayne Cochran. The San Angelo, Texas based J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers took a somewhat subdued approach to the teen tragedy genre and, ironically, the band was involved in a major car wreck while promoting this single that killed band manager Sonley Roush. The Cavaliers were a one hit wonder act and lead singer J. Frank had his own personal tragedy, becoming an alcoholic who died at the age of 49. “Last Kiss” returned to the #2 slot on the pop charts thirty five years later when Pearl Jam turned from contemporary angst to nostalgia.
999. “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. Songwriter: Mel Tillis; #6 pop/#39 country; 1969. Perhaps inspired by the 1958 Johnny Cash composition “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” stuttering Mel Tillis wrote this Vietnam era sad sack number about a crippled veteran who can no longer sexually satisfy his presumed spouse. Originally, a #9 country hit by Johnny Darrell in 1967, Kenny Rogers, mapping out his future direction, recorded the song to move into the country genre. The First Edition had hit Top Ten the previous year with the Mickey Newbury LSD warning, psychedelic guitar driven “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” Trippy times.
998. “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?,” The Lovin’ Spoonful. Songwriter: John Sebastian; #2 pop; 1966. The Lovin’ Spoonful spurted out of the Greenwich Village folk revival/jug band scene and were signed to Elektra Records almost immediately after being formed. Oddly, “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?,” John Sebastian’s playful look at young romance, was from the band’s 1965 debut release, but was only issued as a single after the band had two Top Ten hits from their 1966 album “Daydream.” Cover to discover: Thao & the Get Down Stay Down’s 2009 version, where Thao Nguyen struggles to bust out of her emo soul.
997. “Bird on a Wire,” Leonard Cohen. Songwriter: Leonard Cohen; Did Not Chart; 1969. Leonard Cohen had his first book of poetry published in 1956 (“Let Us Compare Mythologies”) and was in his mid-thirties when he decided to become a songwriter. “Bird on a Wire” is from his second album, 1969’s “Songs from a Room.” Decades later Cohen described his composition as “simultaneously a prayer and an anthem, a kind of bohemian ‘My Way’.” “Bird on a Wire” has been covered dozens of times, but nobody’s matched Cohen’s ruminative depth.
996. “Out on the Floor,” Dobie Gray. Songwriters: Fred Darian, Al DeLory; #42 U.K.; 1966. Lawrence Darrow Brown left his sharecropping family in Simonton, Texas for Los Angeles, where he was eventually named Dobie Gray and had his first minor hit in 1963 with the R&B number “Look at Me.” “Out on the Floor” was released on the soundtrack to the 1966 beach party film “Out of Sight” and while it never charted in the U.S., it became a major hit within the U.K. Northern Soul club scene. Although 1970’s disco music is generally believed to have evolved from Philadelphia soul music, “Out on the Floor” has the light dance feel and decorative strings that would later be associated with that much maligned genre. This song hit became a minor U.K. radio hit nine years after it was released in the U.S.
995. “Your Old Stand By,” Mary Wells. Songwriter: Smokey Robinson, Janie Bradford; #40 pop; 1963. In 1960, a 17-year-old Mary Wells approached Barry Gordy with her composition “Bye Bye Baby,” a song that she hoped would be recorded by Jackie Wilson. Gordy quickly signed Wells to Motown and insisted that she perform “Bye Bye Baby,” which became a #45 pop hit for the young singer/songwriter. She became a star in 1962 with the Smokey Robinson composed Top Ten singles “The One Who Really Loves You,” “You Beat Me to the Punch,” and “Two Lovers.” Wells voices the youthful pain of being the perpetual romantic second choice on “Your Old Stand By.” The Beatles were such big fans of Wells that a British journalist once wrote that she had “the highest paid publicists in the world.”
994. “I Don’t Want to Cry,” Chuck Jackson. Songwriters: Chuck Jackson, Luther Dixon; #36 pop/#5 R&B; 1961. Chuck Jackson was a product of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who joined the 1950’s doo wop act The Del-Vikings after they recorded “Come Go with Me,” their signature song. Jackson plays the role of a forgiving lover on “I Don’t Want to Cry,” a record that includes a string heavy arrangement courtesy of a teenage Carole King. Covers to discover: The Shirelles girl group reading, Eddie Floyd’s Stax Memphis Horns workout, Jay & The American’s blue eyed soul/pop rendering.
993. “You, I,” The Rugbys. Songwriter: Steve McNicol; #24 pop; 1969. This Louisville, Kentucky based act were at the tail end of the commercial garage rock era, hitting #24 on the pop charts with the primitively produced “You, I.” Originally a b-side, “You, I” became a hit in that era when one disc jockey could flip a record over, generate interest, and other radio stations would follow suit. The intro riff was later reworked by Rare Earth for their 1971 Top Ten hit “I Just Want to Celebrate” and The Rugbys quickly disappeared into the pop culture wilderness.
992. “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures),” The 5th Dimension. Songwriters: James Rado, Gerome Ragni, Galt MacDermot; #1 pop; 1969. As purveyors of “Champagne Soul,” The 5th Dimension had scored Top Ten hits in the late 1960s with the Jimmy Webb composition “Up, Up and Away” and Laura Nyro’s “Stoned Soul Picnic.” However, they scored one of the biggest hits of the decade with “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” which spent six weeks at #1 on the pop singles charts and is one of the first songs I remember hearing contemporaneously when I was three or four years old. A medley of two songs from the musical “Hair,” “Aquarius” is a ridiculous triumph, bombastic music with hippie damaged lyrics that works in spite of itself. Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. left The 5th Dimension during the mid-1970s and the husband and wife team scored a #1 pop hit in 1977 with “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show).”
991. “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy,” Ohio Express. Songwriters: Arthur Resnick, Joey Levine; #4 pop; 1968. Producers Jeff Katz and Jerry Kasenetz specialized in bubblegum pop records and garage rock bands, releasing material by the Music Explosion (“Little Bit O’ Soul”), Crazy Elephant (“Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’”), 1910 Fruitgum Company (“Simon Says”), and the Ohio Express. Like Crazy Elephant, Ohio Express was comprised completely of studio musicians, although a Mansfield, Ohio band was hired to become that band to promote the material for live shows. As with any bubblegum, “Yummy Yummy Yummy” alternates between a sugar rush and making your teeth rot. Sticking with the masticating theme, the “act’s” second biggest hit was “Chewy Chewy,” which was unfortunately released nine years before the first “Star Wars” film.