Saturday, May 02, 2009

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year


I initially left this year off my list because I felt I was way too young at the time to remember these songs. But in truth, while I was just 2 years old at the time, these songs were frequently played by my siblings over the next few years so often that I can not help but have strong memories from hearing them again.

But when I look back upon those days, I realize how much music (and life) has changed since 1964. Entering that year, most Americans had not heard of The Beatles, John Kennedy's assassination was fresh in everyone's minds and Vietnam was hardly worth thinking about. We were still 5 years away from a man on the moon, civil rights were just for white folks and most moms stayed home to raise the children. It was a time of innocence, a time where we may have seen the storm coming, but under no circumstance did we fathom just how dark the days would be.

But for one last year, we basked in the sun, listened to music that made us feel good (without thinking about the lyrics) and were still living the dream of the Eisenhower years. Soon, Father Knows Best and Make Room For Daddy will become relics of the past and a new generation will arise amidst the chaos and confusion of the turbulent ‘60s.

Don't Worry Baby - Beach Boys

This was conceived as a follow up to the Ronettes' #2 hit "Be My Baby." When he heard the Ronettes' song on the radio, Brian Wilson wondered aloud if he could match it. Wilson 's wife Marilyn reassured him, saying, "Don't worry, baby." Wilson remembered it when it came time to write songs with his DJ friend Roger Christian. This song was actually the B-side of the band's first number one hit, “I Get Around.” However, DJ's all over the country liked it so much that they played it regularly on air and caused it to reach as high as #24 on the Billboard chart.

Viva Las Vegas - Elvis Presley

Viva Las Vegas was the most successful of the 31 films Elvis starred in, returning more than $5 million to MGM Studios on an investment of less than $1 million. This was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman as the title song for the film of the same name staring Elvis Presley. Among the other songs they wrote for Presley were the hits "Little Sister," "Suspicion," "Surrender" and "His Latest Flame (Marie's The Name)." This features Glen Campbell on guitar. Before he became a successful Country/Pop recording artist, Glen Campbell was much in demand as a session guitarist in the mid 1960s. He even briefly replaced Brian Wilson in The Beach Boys in 1965.

Walk On By - Dionne Warwick

The songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal Davis wrote this. Bacharach came up with the music, and David wrote the lyrics about a woman asking her former lover to leave her alone. This was released as the B-side to Warwick 's single "Any Old Time Of The Day." She'd had several releases that went nowhere, and her latest tune was, in the opinion of her label, her manager, and herself, her last shot at making the Top 40. Murray the K, whose show on radio station WINS was the top-rated program in New York, wouldn't play it. No matter how many people called and pleaded with him, he played the B-side instead because he knew that was the tune with potential. Warwick 's record company wasn't happy with this, but listeners agreed with Murray and "Walk On By" became the hit.

A Summer Song - Chad & Jeremy

This was the biggest hit by the British duo Chad & Jeremy, who were sometimes confused with another British duo: Peter and Gordon. The melody bears some resemblance to Buddy Holly's "Words of Love," which was covered by The Beatles the same year. The lyrics and the melody are both upbeat and lushly melancholic. Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde met at the Central School of Speech and Drama and by 1962 began appearing together in folk music shows around London . This was their biggest hit.

Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying - Gerry & The Pacemakers

Gerry and the Pacemakers were the second group be signed by manager Brian Epstein (after The Beatles). They were part of the Merseybeat sound emanating from Liverpool , UK . This was their first hit in the US , although they scored a number of #1 hits in their native Britain . This was produced by Beatles producer George Martin. Another example of his lush, melancholy string arrangements can be found on the 1974 America album Holiday. The band reached the top 10 a year later with “Ferry Cross the Mersey.” By late 1965, their popularity was rapidly declining on both sides of the Atlantic. They disbanded in October 1966, with much of their latter recorded material never released in the UK .

Baby I Need Your Loving - The Four Tops

During their early Motown years, the Four Tops recorded jazz standards for the company's Workshop label. In addition, they filled in time by singing backup on Motown singles such as The Supremes' "Run, Run, Run." They were said to have been the male voices on The Supremes' first top 40 hit, "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes", but this was proven to be untrue, it was actually writing/production team Holland-Dozier-Holland who wrote ten number one pop singles for The Supremes from 1964 to 1967. The Tops also did backing vocals for the group who is known as the equivalent to The Four Tops (Like The Supremes are known as the equivalent to The Temptations), Martha Reeves & The Vandellas on their 1966 hit "My Baby Loves Me". In 1964, Motown's main songwriting/production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland created a complete instrumental track without any idea of what to do with it. They decided to craft the song as a more mainstream pop song for the Four Tops, and proceeded to create "Baby I Need Your Loving" from the lyric-less instrumental track. Upon its mid-1964 release, "Baby I Need Your Loving" made it to #11 on the United States Billboard pop charts. However, the song proved to be much more popular on trend-setting radio stations in key U.S. markets; "Baby I Need Your Loving" was a strong top 10 hit on both WMCA in New York, and WKNR in Detroit - stations watched by radio people all over the country because these stations broke new artists and songs. After the single's success The Tops were pulled away from their jazz material and began recording more material in the vein of "Baby I Need Your Loving."

Leader Of The Pack – The Shangri-Las

This is a tale of young love, parental disapproval and death by motorbike. Mary Weiss, the lead vocalist of the Shangri-Las, said in Telegraph magazine, April 14, 2007, "I don't think I would be able to put feeling into the song unless I had really thought about the lyrics. I put a lot of my own pain into that song. I don't think teenage years are all that rosy for a lot of people-they certainly weren't for me. They are the most confusing time of people's lives and there is a tremendous dark side to the record, which I think teenagers related to. The studio was a great place to let the pain out." She went on to comment: "I thought it was amusing when they (British radio and TV stations) banned Leader because of the mod and rocker stuff. When I got off the plane in my leather jacket everyone knew which side I was on." Incidentally, a young Billy Joel played the piano on the band's first hit, “Remember (Walking in the Sand).”

Under The Boardwalk – The Drifters

This was written by Arthur Resnick and Kenny Young. Resnick also wrote "Good Lovin'" for The Rascals; Young wrote songs for Herman's Hermits and formed a band called Fox. Johnny Moore sang lead. He was with The Drifters in 1958 when their manager fired everyone in the band and brought in new members. Moore rejoined the band in 1964 when lead singer Rudy Lewis died of a heart attack. This was Moore's first single after returning to The Drifters. The Drifters released a sequel to this a few months later called "I've Got Sand In My Shoes." It hit #33.

A World Without Love – Peter and Gordon

John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote this. It is the biggest hit they wrote that was not released by The Beatles. Peter and Gordon are Peter Asher and Gordon Waller. Paul McCartney went out with Asher's sister, actress Jane Asher, which is how he met Peter. In the '60s, Jane had a famous father, a really famous boyfriend, and some prominent movie roles, including the 1966 film Alfie. In later years, she became an author and an expert on baked goods. She runs her own business called Jane Asher Party Cakes. This was the first and biggest hit for Peter and Gordon. In the years following their success, Asher became the manager of James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt.

A Hard Day's Night - The Beatles

The title was taken from an expression Ringo used to say. In a 1964 interview with DJ Dave Hull, Ringo explained: "We went to do a job, and we'd worked all day and we happened to work all night. I came up still thinking it was day I suppose, and I said, 'It's been a hard day...' and I looked around and saw it was dark so I said, 'Night!' So we came to 'A Hard Day's Night.'" John Lennon wrote this song, which contains long, repeating notes that are uncommon in pop music. Albert Goldman wrote in his 1980 book The Lives of John Lennon , "The whole composition is written in mixolydic key, an old key which was abandoned in the beginning of the seventeenth century, but is maintained in English and Irish Folk music." This was the title song to the first of 5 Beatles movies. It got 2 Oscar nominations and was a hit with critics and audiences. At the time, a lot of movies were made starring musicians, but most were showcases for the singers and not very good (think Elvis movies). A Hard Day's Night was a surprise because it actually had cinematic value.