This was the year I was born. It was also the year that four young men from Liverpool, England, released their first single, titles “My Bonnie.”
Early in the year, President John Kennedy announced an embargo on the communist regime in Cuba. Later that same year, Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev tests the President’s mettle when he installs nuclear missiles in Cuba. A week later, after intense diplomacy and worldwide fear, the USSR backs down and removes them.
America’s mission to the moon takes a giant leap forward. While aboard Friendship 7, John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth, three times in 4 hours, 55 minutes. In June, Adolf Eichmann – considered the architect of the Holocaust - is hanged in Israel. In October, James Meredith registers at the University of Mississippi, escorted by Federal Marshals. He is the first black student to attend classes at the previously segregated college.
In sports, Sonny Liston defeated Floyd Patterson to win the World Boxing championship and Wilt Chamberlain, Center for the Philadelphia Warriors, scored a record 100 points in an NBA game – a record that has still not been broken.
Can't Help Falling In Love - Elvis Presley
This was featured in the 1961 Elvis movie Blue Hawaii. According to songwriter George Weiss, neither the movie producers nor Elvis' associates liked the song demo. Elvis insisted on recording this song for the movie. This was Elvis' most popular and famous "love song," but it was not sung to his love interest in Blue Hawaii - It was sung to his grandmother on the occasion of her birthday. Elvis presented her with a music box, which she opened and it played the song, which Elvis then sang along with. The soundtrack to Blue Hawaii hit #1 on the US charts in the fall of 1961 and remained there for 20 weeks in a row, a record that wasn't broken until 1977 by Fleetwood Mac's landmark album Rumours.
Duke of Earl - Gene Chandler
This was first recorded by The Dukays for Nat Records in 1960. Vee Jay Records bought it and had one of their members, Eugene Dixon, change his name to Gene Chandler and take credit for it. The song was not intended to be released with it was first sung: it was a method of doing vocal exercises until Dixon ad-libbed verses one day. Sandwiched between The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969, Doo-Wop cover band Sha-Na-Na performed to what was left of the crowd on Monday morning. This was one of the songs they played - others included "Jailhouse Rock" and "At The Hop."
Hey! Baby - Bruce Channel
Channel wrote this around 1959 with his friend Margaret Cobb. He had already been performing the tune for a couple of years before recording it amidst a series of demos for Fort Worth producer Major Bill Smith. First released locally on Smith's label, it was picked up for national distribution by Smash. Delbert McClinton played the harmonica part. At one Channel's shows, he was supported by a then-unknown Liverpool group, the Beatles. John Lennon was so impressed with the harmonica intro that he asked McClinton how to play it. A year later a similar harmonica passage showed up on The Beatles "Love Me Do."
Sherry - Four Seasons
This was originally called "Terry." The group loved it and performed it over the telephone for their producer, Bob Crewe, who liked everything about it but the name. After considering "Jackie" (after Jackie Kennedy), the group changed the name of the song to "Sherry," after Cheri Spector, the daughter of one of Crewe's best friends. Bob Gaudio wrote this. He formed The Four Seasons with Frankie Valli the previous year. This convinced Valli that Gaudio was a good songwriter.
I Can't Stop Loving You - Ray Charles
This was written and originally recorded by a Country singer named Don Gibson in 1958. His version was released as the B-side of his #7 hit "Oh Lonesome Me," which he wrote the same day. Ray Charles was known as a Gospel and R&B singer, but he defied convention and decided to record an album of Country and Western songs. His producer, Sid Feller, put together tapes containing about 150 classic Country songs so Charles could choose which ones to record. Included on the tapes was "I Can't Stop Loving You," which Charles remembered from when he would listen to The Grand Ole Opry. At first, this was not released as a single, but a lot of DJs played it from the album and it started getting popular. A white singer named Tab Hunter heard Charles' version and recorded his own, which was rushed out as a single. This infuriated Charles, so ABC Records quickly edited down the 4-minute album version and released it as a single with lots of publicity, including a full page ad in Billboard magazine. Charles' version became a huge hit and went to #1 on the US Pop, R&B and Easy Listening charts.
Soldier Boy – The Shirelles
One of the biggest '60s girl-group hits, in this song The Shirelles sing from the perspective of a girl who is left behind when her boyfriend goes off to war. Along with "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?," it's one of 2 #1 hits by The Shirelles. Florence Greenberg wrote this with Luther Dixon. Greenberg was The Shirelles manager and signed the group to her Scepter record label. Dixon was an established songwriter who had written the hit "Sixteen Candles" by The Crests. He co-wrote other Shirelles songs as well, including "Boys" and "Tonight's The Night."
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do - Neil Sedaka
This was a song that Allmusic described as "two minutes and sixteen seconds of pure pop magic". It hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on August 11, 1962 and was a huge hit all over the world, sometimes with the text translated into foreign languages. For example, the Italian version was called "Tu non lo sai" (" You don't know ") and was recorded by Sedaka himself. Originally an uptempo song, Sedaka re-recorded it as a ballad in 1975 and the new version peaked at number eight in February 1976 and went to number one on the Adult Contemporary chart; it was only the second time that an artist made the Billboard Top Ten with two different versions of the same song.
Sealed With A Kiss - Brian Hyland
This archetypal American high-school teen love song was composed by Gary Geld and lyricist Peter Udell. The duo began their writing partnership in the early sixties and wrote over 100 songs together. One of their first songs was this, which they wrote in 1960 and was a hit for Brian Hyland two years later. Hyland said in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, "Sealed With A Kiss was recorded about a year before I did it by The Four Voices, who had a sound like The Brothers Four. It dragged and didn't have any life in it, so it wasn't a hit. I told them we should do it. Gary Geld was a classically trained musician and he had been inspired to write it from a finger exercise for the piano." This was Hyland's biggest hit in the UK, but 2 years earlier in the US at the age of 16, he enjoyed an American chart topper with "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polk-a-dot Bikini."
Please Mister Postman – The Marvelettes
The Marvelettes were 5 teenage girls from Inkster, Michigan. This was their first single and their only #1. They went through many member changes before breaking up in 1969. William Garrett, a songwriter friend of group member Georgia Dobbins, offered this to The Marvelettes when she asked if he had anything for them to sing. He wrote it as a Blues song, but Dobbins completely rewrote it (she saved only the title) and taught it to lead singer Gladys Horton. Before The Marvelettes recorded it, Dobbins left the group to care for her mother. Motown producers Robert Bateman and Brian Holland worked on the song with The Marvelettes and crafted it into a hit. Holland, along with his brother Eddie and Lamont Dozier, went on to write many other Motown classics. Marvin Gaye played drums on this. He was 22 at the time and trying to break into the business. This song was covered by many different artists, including the Beatles and it was #1 hit for The Carpenters, who covered this on their 1975 album Horizon. It was their biggest hit ever worldwide, reaching # 1 in the US, Australia, Germany, Japan and several other countries, as well as reaching # 2 in the UK and Canada.
Runaround Sue – Dion
Normally backed up by his band, the Belmonts, Dion is instead backed here by the Del Satins – who had a big hit of their own, with “In the Still of the Night.” In the liner notes of Dion's box set King Of The New York Streets, he wrote: "It came about by partying in a schoolyard. We were jamming, hitting tops of boxes. I gave everyone parts like the horn parts we'd hear in the Apollo Theater and it became a jam that we kept up for 45 minutes. I came up with all kinds of stuff. But when I actually wrote the song and brought it into the studio to record it, well, her name wasn't actually Sue. It was about, you know, some girl who loved to be worshiped but as soon as you want a commitment and express your love for her, she's gone. So the song was a reaction to that kind of woman.