Saturday, September 27, 2008

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


Every decade seems to be ultimately defined by the culmination of events in its final year. When we consider the 70’s, we see the end of a decade of malaise, fueled by disco and cocaine. The 80’s by greed and boy bands.

The 1960’s were perhaps the most challenging time in modern American history. The decade was ushered in with tremendous anticipation with a view of optimism and excitement. What started out with such promise, with the election of John Kennedy and the race for the moon, ended with Woodstock, riots and Richard Nixon. Although we succeeded in the race to the moon, the country was shattered by the Vietnam War and perhaps even more disturbing, the loss of innocence.

Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In – Fifth Dimension

"Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In", sometimes incorrectly known as "The Age of Aquarius" or "Let the Sunshine In", is a medley of two songs from the musical Hair ("Aquarius" and "The Flesh Failures (Let The Sunshine In)") written by James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot, and released as a single. The song held the number one position on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks and was certified Platinum. The song was based on the astrological belief that the world would be entering the Age of Aquarius, an age of love, light and humanity, unlike the then current Age of Pisces. This change was presumed to occur at the end of the 20th century.

Crystal Blue Persuasion – Tommy James/Shondells

It has been suggested that this song was also inspired by a book Tommy James had read called “The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life” by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses). The book gives information about the future of mankind based on bible scripture. However, in an interview in 1985, James claims that it was based on Book of Revelations, from the Bible.

In The Year 2525 – Zager & Evans

Fueled by the space race, a number of science-fiction based themes hit the mainstream during the year, including David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and the film, “Planet of the Apes.” The song describes a nightmarish vision of the future as man's technological inventions gradually dehumanize him. It includes a colloquial reference to the Second Coming (In the year 7510, if God's a' coming, He ought to make it by then.), which echoed the zeitgeist of the Jesus Movement. The song also references examples of technologies that were not fully developed but were known to the public in 1969, such as robots, as well as future technology that would come into existence long after being prophesied in the song, the science of test tube babies and genetic selection by parents of their future children.

Build Me Up Buttercup – The Foundations

This was written by Mike D'Abo and Tony Macaulay. D'Abo was lead singer of Manfred Mann, and Macaulay was a successful songwriter who also wrote The Foundations hit "Baby Now That I've Found You" as well as songs by The Hollies, Andy Williams and The New Seekers. This was featured in the 1998 film There's Something About Mary. The Foundations were the first visibly multi-racial group to have a number 1 hit in the UK in the 1960s.

Jean – Oliver

This was the theme song to the motion picture The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The song was an enormous success, and along with "Good Morning Starshine," briefly put Oliver (William Oliver Swofford) at the top of the business. Unfortunately, his singing career trailed off, and he eventually left the entertainment industry. The lyrics were written by poet Rod McKuen.

My Cherie Amour – Stevie Wonder

Wonder wrote this for his girlfriend at the time, Marcia. It was originally titled "Oh My Marcia.” The title is French for "My Dearest Love.” This was released as the B-side of "I Don't Know Why (I Love You)." Disc Jockeys flipped the record and played this as the single.

Traces – Classics IV

One of my absolute favorite songs when I was just a little kid, the lyrics to this song are simple - a man looks back on a love he lost and still longs for. It points out how even simple things can bring back vivid, even painful memories. One of two mega hits written by Dennis Yost (the other being “Stormy”). The Classics IV eventually broke up and formed the foundation of the Atlanta Rythym Section (“So Into You”, “Imaginary Lovers” and “Spooky”). Members of the band were also featured on the first two Lynard Skynyrd albums as well.

Smile a Little Smile for Me – The Flying Machine

This was a British studio rock band not to be confused with the American folk-rock group “The Flying Machine” with James Taylor that was also formed in the 1960’s. The members were Stewart Coleman on bass, Steve Jones on lead guitar and vocals, Samuel Kemp on autoharp and vocals, Anthony Newman on rhythm guitar and vocals and Paul Wilkinson on drums. Jones was not the same Steve Jones who later would be a member of “The Sex Pistols”. The Flying Machine formed by Pye records producer/songwriter Tony Macaulay and producer/songwriter Geoff Stevens. Macaulay was the co-writer of The Foundations biggest US hit “Build Me up Buttercup.”

More Today that Yesterday – Spiral Staircase

This song tells of a love so deep, that it grows each and every day. Every day seems brand new when the singer is with the object of his affection. The Spiral Starecase released one album and a couple more singles before poor management and squabbles over finances caused the group to splinter by 1969. They were a classic one-hit-wonder.

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down – The Band

The lyrics tell of the last days of the American Civil War and its aftermath. Confederate soldier Virgil Caine "serves on the Danville train," the main supply line into the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia is holding the line at the Siege of Petersburg. As part of the offensive campaign, Union Army General George Stoneman's forces "tore up the track again". The siege lasted from June 1864 to April 1865, when both Petersburg and Richmond fell, and Lee's troops were starving at the end ("We were hungry / Just barely alive"). Virgil relates and mourns the loss of his brother: "He was just eighteen, proud and brave / But a Yankee laid him in his grave." Robbie Robertson wrote this song but has said it is not related to his heritage, as Robertson is half-Mohawk Indian, half-Jewish Canadian. Robertson came up with the music for this song, and then got the idea for the lyrics when he thought about the saying "The South will rise again," which he heard the first time he visited the American South. This led him to research the Civil War.


Anonymous said...

Much of Tommy James' work from 1969 to the present is fairly deep, and always great to listen to. Consider Ball of Fire (especially with 9/11 in mind, it is almost prophetic), and Sweet Cherry Wine (a mild anti-Viet Nam war song, but the main message is seldom discovered. Sweet Cherry Wine has nothing to do with alcohol as the answer, but represents the blood of Jesus..."to save us, he gave us, Sweet Cherry Wine"... Dale Smith, Lebanon, IN

Shayne said...

Thanks for your comment, Dale! I appreciate hearing more about these artists and Tommy James was always one of my favorites from way back when.

Sher said...

Wow! Great list. I actually knew of all of them and had 9 in my head before listening to them. i am a bit surprised by the Crystal blue persuassion revelations as i had an English teacher who swore it was demonstrative of the resurgence in the new age movement. of course The Way became popular in the 60's and could have had some influence since its a feel good new agey interpreation of the gospels.