Saturday, December 13, 2008

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


This year is the fortieth anniversary of the most tumultuous year of our generation. What started out from the previous “Summer of Love,” turned into a nightmare of hate. It started out innocently enough, with the Green Bay Packers winning their second consecutive World Championship and “Laugh-In” debuting on TV – much to the chagrin of the broadcast sensors.

But soon after, Vietnam erupted once again with the Tet offensive, followed by increased attacks by the Viet Cong against the U.S. Embassy in Saigon . A month later, American forces forge retribution with the My Lai Massacre, which killed scores of Vietnamese civilians.

Black Power and the Black Panther political movement begin violent disruptions in the name of civil rights and within a few weeks, civil-rights leader and American-icon Martin Luther King is gunned down in Memphis , Tennessee . Less than a month later, President Lyndon Johnson signs into law the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

On June 3rd, radical feminist Valerie Solanas shoots Andy Warhol as he enters his studio, wounding him and just two days later; Robert F. Kennedy is shot and killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles by Sirhan Sirhan, an Arab nationalist. All of which lead to the Democrat National Convention in Chicago , where riots break out disrupting the nomination of the compromising Hubert Humphrey. However, Richard Nixon defeats him in the general election in November.

Hey Jude – Beatles

Paul McCartney wrote this as "Hey Jules," a song meant to comfort John Lennon's son Julian as his parents were getting a divorce. The change to "Jude" was inspired by the character "Jud" in the musical Oklahoma ! . McCartney loves show tunes. In 1987 Julian ran into Paul in New York City when they were staying at the same hotel and he finally heard Paul tell him the story of the song first-hand. He admitted to Paul that growing up, he'd always felt closer to him than to his own father.

A Beautiful Morning - The Rascals

This was the first of the group's singles to be credited to "The Rascals," the original name of the group, rather than "The Young Rascals" which their producer had them take in order to avoid confusion from listeners with another group "The Harmonica Rascals." Written by band members Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati, this is an upbeat, optimistic song similar in theme to their 1967 hit "Groovin'." While the late '60s were a tumultuous time in America and a lot of the music dealt with social and political issues of the time, The Rascals provided hopeful songs that were a welcome relief for many listeners. Although the band was a mainstay on radio for much of the late 60's, Cavaliere only managed one top 40 hit as a solo artist – 1980's “Only a Lonely Heart Sees.”

Over You - Gary Puckett and Union Gap

Puckett's powerful voice, and the skills of producer/songwriter Jerry Fuller, made this band one of the most familiar sounds on the radio during the late 60's. In addition, many of their songs were loosely linked by a common theme of female empowerment (most notably, “Lady Willpower,” Woman, Woman,” “Young Girl” and “This Girl is a Woman Now.”) which was unusual for the era and genre. Another characteristic of The Union Gap that distinguishes it from its contemporaries was the band's (at the time) risqué lyrics. One of the band's gimmicks was that the members often performed dressed in Civil War era Union Army uniforms

Midnight Confessions - Grass Roots

The " Midnight Confessions" in this song are the secrets the singer will not reveal to the girl he loves. He's a bit obsessed with her, and while he thinks about her all the time, he's tormented because he can't have her. After all, she's married. This was written by Lou Josie, a songwriter and guitarist from Ohio whose credits include "Hey Harmonica Man" by Stevie Wonder, "Soul Finger" by the Bar-Kays and "We Can Make Music" by Tommy Roe and was the biggest hit for The Grass Roots. They also hit the US Top 10 with "Sooner Or Later" and "Let's Live for Today."

I'd Like To Get To Know You - Spanky and Our Gang

Spanky and Our Gang was band led by Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane. The band derives its name from Hal Roach's popular Our Gang comedies of the 1930s (known to modern audiences as The Little Rascals ). McFarlane was nicknamed "Spanky" because one of the band members, perhaps influenced by her last name, said that she resembled Our Gang star George "Spanky" McFarland. After two successful albums, the band suffered the tragedy of the accidental death of lead guitarist Malcolm Hale, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty space heater. This led to the band's break up soon after. However, "Spanky" enjoyed some success as a solo artist. She toured for years with the Mamas and the Papas, singing primarily the parts previously performed by the late Cass Elliot.

Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon) - Moody Blues

This was written by lead singer Justin Hayward: "I sat down in a field, smoked a funny African cigarette, and that song just came out. It was a Tuesday afternoon.” Ironically, Hayward had a dog named Tuesday. Although he had nothing to do with the song, the dog would respond to his name whenever Hayward played this song. The London Festival Orchestra played on this. The original idea for the album was to record a rock version of a Classical piece called " New World Symphony" by Dvorak. This song uses a Mellotron. The instrument is a keyboard which triggers taped loops of a chosen instrument recorded at different pitches. It is not synthesized sound, but actual instrument recordings. In this song the recorded loops were strings. The strange and unique quality of the sound comes from the warble in the tape loops as they play back.

Abraham, Martin and John – Dion

This song is a tribute to those involved in the battle for civil rights. The title refers to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last verse in the song refers to "Bobby" - JFK's brother, Robert Kennedy. Everyone mentioned in the song has died ("has anybody here seen my old friend...") and this is symbolized by their progression over a hill. This was written by Rockabilly singer Dick Holler (who also wrote the novelty hit "Snoopy versus the Red Baron"). Dion had just recovered from heroin addiction and was offered this as a possible comeback song. It made it to number 4 on the charts and reestablished Dion in the music business.

This Guy's In Love with You - Herb Alpert

Alpert was a trumpet player and bandleader who started a record label with Jerry Moss in 1962. They named it A&M Records, after their last names. This was the first #1 hit for both Alpert and the record label. Alpert's previous material consisted of instrumental songs recorded with The Tijuana Brass Band. This was his first release on A&M Records that contained vocals. He had released vocal recordings for another label, Dot Records, under the assumed name of Dore Alpert. Alpert sang this to his first wife in a 1968 TV special called Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass . The sequence was taped on the beach in Malibu . The song was not intended to be released, but after it was used in the TV special, thousands of telephone calls to CBS asking about it convinced label owner Alpert to release it as a single 2 days after the show aired. In 1969, Dionne Warwick's version ("This Girl's in Love with You") peaked at #7 in the US . She recorded a lot of songs Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote, including "Don't Make Me Over" and "I Say a Little Prayer." Herb Alpert is the only solo act to be credited with a #1 vocal single ("This Guy's in Love with You") and a #1 instrumental single ("Rise").

Harper Valley PTA – Jeanie C. Riley

The country singer Margie Singleton asked Tom T. Hall to write her a song similar to "Ode To Billie Joe," which she had covered the previous year. After driving past a school called Harpeth Valley Elementary School in Bellevue, Tennessee, he noted the name and wrote "Harper Valley P.T.A." about a fictional confrontation between a young widow Stella Johnson and a local PTA group who objected to her manner of dress, social drinking, and friendliness with town's men folk. Jeannie C. Riley, who was working as a secretary in Nashville for Jerry Chesnut, got to hear the song and recorded it herself and it became a massive hit for her. This hit inspired a 1978 film and a 1981 spin-off television series, both starring Barbara Eden playing Stella Johnson.

Those Were the Days – Mary Hopkin

The origins of the melody appear to be strongly claimed by the Russians and Russian gypsies consider it their song. The name of this song seems to be "Dorogo' Dlinnoyu" and translated means "By a long road (or way)" or "Along a long road (or way)" or "On a long way." Some sources claim it was written by two Russian composers - B. Fomin (music) and K. Podrevsky (lyrics) at the end of the 19th century or in the beginning of 20th century. There is another song, Russian title given as "Darogoi Dli Mayou." calling itself "Dear to Me. " this too is supposed to be a version of "Dorogo Dlinnoyu," first recorded by Alexander Wertinsky in the 1920s. In 1962, Gene Raskin took the melody and wrote English lyrics to it. It was popularized in the US by the folk trio The Limeliters. In 1965, Paul McCartney saw Raskin and his wife perform this in a London club. McCartney remembered the performance 3 years later, when The Beatles formed Apple Records. In 1968, British model Twiggy telephoned McCartney about a singer who performed on the UK TV program Opportunity Knocks (the US had a similar TV show in the '90s - Star Search ). Three-time winner Mary Hopkin was a 17-year-old from Wales who had people talking about her performances. McCartney returned to London and auditioned Hopkin. He was impressed by her voice and recommended that she record "an American folk song" that he heard a few years earlier, "Those Were the Days."


Allison Guerriero said...

WOW! This is a great year. Hey Jude. Abraham, Martin and John. Harper Valley could have made a list of 100 songs and they would all be fantastic.

Mary hopkin Friendly Society said...

Mary won opp knocks 6 times and appeared on there 8 times in total.
I have up-datd the page you copied your text about "Those were the Days" from as well yours is now a little out of date!

Shayne said...

Thanks for the update!