’60s Top Tens

For my college 50th reunion, a four-person panel reviewed songs that had charted during our four years, September ’64 through May ’68, and came up with a list of 30 nominees to be voted on for a Class Top Ten. The songs selected had to 1)be personal favorites of at least two of us; 2)have been a popular hit – preferably charting at #5 or above, even better at #1; and 3)contribute to genre diversity – including no two songs by the same performer. What follows here are four lists: the list of 30, a consensus of our panel; the Class Top Ten, as voted by 100 or so classmates at the reunion; my personal top ten, from the list of 30; and a personal list of fifteen favorite songs that made our initial roster of 130 songs but not the final 30.

Top 30, 64-68, in chronological order:

  • Zombies, She’s Not There
  • Martha & Vandellas, Dancing in the Street
  • Roy Orbison, Oh Pretty Woman
  • Righteous Brothers, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
  • Petula Clark, Downtown
  • Temptations, My Girl
  • Supremes, Stop! In the Name of Love
  • Bob Dylan, Like A Rolling Stone
  • Wilson Pickett, Midnight Hour
    Rolling Stones, Satisfaction
    Lovin’ Spoonful, Do You Believe in Magic
  • Animals, We Gotta Get Out of This Place
  • Simon & Garfunkel, Sound of Silence 
    Rascals, Good Lovin’
    Percy Sledge, When A Man Loves A Woman 
  • Beach Boys, Wouldn’t It Be Nice
    Left Banke, Walk Away Renee
    Spencer Davis Group, Gimme Some Lovin’
  • Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth
  • Aretha Franklin, Respect
  • Doors, Light My Fire
    Beatles, A Day in the Life
  • Procol Harum, Whiter Shade of Pale
    Van Morrison, Brown-eyed Girl
  • Sam & Dave, Soul Man
    Jimi Hendrix, Purple Haze
  • Stone Poneys, Different Drum
    Monkees, Daydream Believer
    Otis Redding, Dock of the Bay
  • Sly & Family Stone, Dance to the Music

Class of ’68 Top Ten

  1. Aretha Franklin, Respect
  2. Bob Dylan, Like A Rolling Stone
  3. Rolling Stones, Satisfaction
  4. Otis Redding, Dock of the Bay
  5. Simon & Garfunkel, Sound of Silence
  6. Temptations, My Girl
  7. Doors, Light My Fire
  8. Righteous Brothers, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
  9. Percy Sledge, When A Man Loves A Woman
  10. Wilson Pickett, Midnight Hour

Bob’s Top Ten

  1. Temptations, My Girl
  2. Bob Dylan, Like A Rolling Stone
  3. Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth
  4. Procol Harum, Whiter Shade of Pale
  5. Supremes, Stop! In the Name of Love
  6. Left Banke, Walk Away Renee
  7. Lovin’ Spoonful, Do You Believe in Magic
  8. Righteous Brothers, You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’
  9. Petula Clark, Downtown
  10. Otis Redding, Dock of the Bay

Personal Favorites beyond the Top 30

  • Beau Brummels, Just A Little
  • We Five, You Were On My Mind
  • Turtles, You Baby
  • B.J. Thomas, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
  • Tremeloes, Silence Is Golden
  • BeeGees, I Can’t See Nobody
  • Jimmy Ruffin, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
  • Casinos, Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye
  • Buckinghams, Kind of a Drag
  • Miracles, Tracks of My Tears
  • Swinging Medallions, Double Shot
  • Shades of Blue, Oh How Happy
  • Bob Lind, Elusive Butterfly
  • Herman’s Hermits, There’s A Kind of Hush
  • Outsiders, Time Won’t Let Me

 

Eight ’60s Songs

For one evening’s entertainment at my Harvard 50th Reunion, four of us presented 30 songs to be voted on by our classmates in order to arrive at a Class of ’68 Top Ten (see “’60s Top Tens,” above). Each of us took seven or eight songs to champion. Here are the ones I put into nomination:

Like A Rolling Stone  I’m humbled to be able to talk about the #1 all-time greatest song in rock history, according to Rolling Stone Magazine. (Maybe the name had something to do with it?) Bob Dylan is without question the greatest songwriter of the pre-Bruce Springsteen era, and Like A Rolling Stone is his unquestioned masterpiece. It marks the transition of Dylan from folk singer – at which he was pretty good – to rock star. Just as significant it broke the three-minute barrier for songs on the radio. I remember being in Elsie’s, picking up roast beef sandwiches for the Crimson editors, when this song came on the air. I couldn’t leave, for six minutes. This paved the path for long songs to come, from Light My Fire to MacArthur Park to Stairway to Heaven.

The lyrics also broke ground: far from the usual love song, it’s a vicious revenge song, telling the saga of a princess on a steeple who falls and is on her own, with no direction home, a complete unknown, like a rolling stone.  Books have been written about just this song, and tomorrow you can get a taste of a Harvard course on Bob Dylan. He turned rock’n’roll into an intellectual art form, and here’s where he did it.

My Girl  Whereas it took Beethoven four notes to write the most famous introduction in classical music – ba-ba-ba, bum – it took the Temptations only three notes to produce the sweetest, most tantalizing, most recognizable introduction in rock: ba, bum-bum. Then the song absolutely soars with a perfect opening line: “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day. When it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May.” How can you not be happy when you hear this song? The great Smokey Robinson wrote lyrics of unalloyed happiness: “I’ve got all the riches one man can claim.” The Temptations were smoothness personified in their dance steps while they sang – or lip-synched – and the horns played a trumpet fanfare that makes the nerves tingle. My Girl was a #1 hit in the spring of our freshman year, and it captures the innocence of that time.

Do You Believe In Magic  This is simply the happiest, most hopeful song of our era. It hooks you from the opening note and races along without a letup. Perhaps best of all, it’s a paean to rock’n’roll. For some reason, every song that has the words “rock’n’roll” in its lyrics is a good one – the same is true for “rain” and “bells.” Not so much the word “groovy” – that dates this song; but the rest is magical: “the magic’s in the music and the music’s in me, yeah.” John Sebastian and the Spoonful grew out of the Greenwich Village folk scene and went on to have the record for most consecutive top ten hits in the ‘60s, but nothing would top this song that virtually exploded off the radio into your mind, in a feelgood way.

The Sound of Silence  Named the “quintessential folk-rock” song, Sound of Silence has a special connection to the coffee-house scene we discovered when we arrived at Harvard. Released as an acoustic number in 1964 it bombed. Then a late-night DJ at WBZ started playing it and listeners at Harvard and Tufts started calling for it. Sensing its potential, the record producer that helped Dylan go electric added electric guitars and drums – without Simon & Garfunkel’s knowledge – and the new version went to #1 in Boston before sweeping the country. It also helped establish Paul Simon as the second great Rock Poet, after Dylan. “People talking without speaking; People hearing without listening” – hello, t.s.eliot.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice  Everyone loves the Beach Boys, the soundtrack of growing up in the ‘60s. They glamorized surfing, cars, love and California. Wouldn’t It Be Nice, though, was something different from their macho teenage posturing; it was both more mature and more innocent. The trademark harmonies were there, but the composition and instrumentation were more sophisticated, more orchestral, more haunting. The lyrics perfectly captured the fantasies of my parietals-bound sophomore mind: “You know it’s gonna make it that much better/ When we can say goodnight and stay together.”  A year later, when the Rolling Stones sang “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” it sounded more like sexual assault. The Beach Boys instead offered a magical dream of mutual consent: “We could be married/ And then we’d be happy/ Wouldn’t it be nice?”

Walk Away Renee  Teenage heartbreak. What an empty feeling, a pit in the stomach, when you break up with a girlfriend – or worse, when she leaves you. And what comfort a good rock song, plaintive in a minor key, can provide, solace for the afflicted, balm for the broken heart. Walk Away Renee captured this feeling. The strings, the haunting flute, the images: “your name and mine, inside a heart upon a wall.” In My Fair Lady Freddie sings in rapture about The Street Where You Live. Here, the Left Banke sings, “The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same.” I cry inside when I hear this song. It captured my feelings perfectly – except I never dated a girl named Renee.

Whiter Shade of Pale  From those opening chords, we’re back in the Summer of Love, 1967, when we were self-important about-to-be seniors. The group’s name sounded Latin, the melody was lifted from Bach, the Miller’s Tale came from Chaucer, and the sonorous organ was more serious than guitar and sax. Here was the start of Progressive Rock – bands like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, the Moody Blues that would soon play with symphony orchestras.  The lyrics were sheer poetry: meaningless but endlessly evocative. It was said you had to be stoned for them to make sense. But what images: “the ceiling flew away,” “sixteen vestal virgins,” and best of all: “her face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale.” Huh?

This April the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame inducted the first five singles from performers not in the Hall into its pantheon. There was Louie, Louie; Born to Be Wild; and Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale.

Daydream Believer

By the spring of ’68 the era of top-40 rock as we knew it was coming to an end. There was psychedelia, ProgRock, the advent of FM radio, revolution and Vietnam – teenage love songs just didn’t cut it. The Monkees’ final #1 hit, Daydream Believer, is a melancholy epitaph, a postgraduate look at life. Instead of excitement at getting the girl into bed, the singer is now being woken up by the 6 a.m. alarm and having to shave. The romance is still there – “you once thought of me as a white knight on a steed” – but now it’s relegated to a daydream belief.

Recruited to play a band like the Beatles on a TV show, the four Monkees turned out to have musical chops of their own, and they graced us with an upbeat catalog of pleasant hits our last two years at Harvard.

Natalie Merchant

From the moment she started singing at the Bowl Saturday night, you knew Natalie Merchant still had one of the greatest, if not the greatest, female voices in rock (not that she admits to being a rock singer). With the power of a foghorn, the timbre of an oboe, her voice is a musical instrument; and the inclusion of a string quartet in the second half of her program reflected her own recognition of that comparison. (Her scheduled appearance with actual symphony orchestras on a 2011 tour, including a performance I was scheduled to see in Minneapolis until a lockout canceled the Minnesota Orchestra season, was even greater evidence.)

Unfortunately, her personal appearance and performance, like that of an orchestra cellist, didn’t add much to the sound. No longer young or sexy or waiflike, she dressed like a librarian and her moves, mostly twirling around, made me think she thought she was Stevie Nicks, but she wasn’t.

Her song selection was mostly pleasant, only occasionally stirring, and could have used more 10,000 Maniacs material, which is what the crowd was anticipating. On too many songs there were long bridges between vocals, which left us to watch her wandering around, instrument-less, onstage. In addition, she had a self-described “summer cold,” and the sight of her snorting nasal spray between songs was a bit of buzzkill. Spontaneous joy was in short supply, provided mainly by her guitarist, Gabriel.

In sum, the show was a good listen, but I never found myself caught up in the crowd’s enthusiasm.

[Santa Barbara Bowl, July 15, 2017]

Hall of Fame?

Although not averse to visiting should I get to Cleveland, I have never considered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to be a meaningful institution. The only “hall of fame” that means much to me is Major League Baseball’s, the oldest and by far the hardest to get into. Although imprecise, there are also established criteria by which candidates are judged: the number of wins for a pitcher, home runs or batting average for a hitter, etc. How do you rate musical performers? Popularity? Originality? Influence? Musical ability? Longevity? Equally mysterious, at least to the layman, is the identity, or qualifications, of the 600 “rock experts” who decide who is inducted. Almost every year someone is inducted who befuddles me, and this year, no exception, it is Joan Baez. She’s a wonderful singer, an admirable political activist and, see my review, a delightful performer. But did she have, as the judges supposedly require, “influence and significance to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll”? Come on!

To begin with, Joan Baez is not a rock’n’roller, which she admitted following yesterday’s announcement. She is a folk singer. Her principal pop music credits are cover versions of songs by Bob Dylan and The Band. So much for her “influence.” Is she the least qualified member of the RAFHOF? I think so, although a glance at the list of Hall members suggests some competition, mainly from Bobby Darin (1990), who, after the very minor pop classic “Splish Splash,” never sang another rock ‘n’ roll song in his life.

Very few performers can or ever will live up to the inaugural Hall class (1986) of Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, James Brown and, although we’re already slipping a little, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis. The following year saw the entry of clearly second-tier, but still very influential, performers like Bo Diddley and Bill Haley; but the inclusion of Eddie Cochran established that a singer need not have more than one “hit” to reach the Hall. Sam and Dave had two hits, but they made the grade in 1992. Janis Joplin must have been chosen in ’95 for her persona, as her music, take away “A Little Piece of My Heart,” is hardly memorable and barely listenable (my conclusion after seeing the movie “Blue”). The Young Rascals (1997) were a fine pop group in the late ’60s, but their songs hardly stand out from the work of a dozen other bands. 1999 saw the induction of both Del Shannon and Bruce Springsteen. If I were Bruce I would’ve felt insulted. Bonnie Raitt (2000) is a hard-working industry favorite but not much of a rock ‘n’ roller or commercial success. Ditto for Laura Nyro (2012) and Bill Withers (2015). In fact, those are three singers who routinely prompt me to change the channel. Leonard Cohen (2008) fits in the Joan Baez wing of the Hall, although he at least wrote his own music, and a lot of it. When you examine the output, however, of Ritchie Valens (2001) – “La Bamba” and “Donna,” that’s it – you suspect the voters are weighing diversity as a criterion.

The Sex Pistols (2006) refused to attend their induction ceremony, calling the Hall a “piss stain,” which of course fits their character like Dylan’s snubbing the Nobel proceedings, but I won’t argue. How much the Hall of Fame has now become a commercial product, with a need to have acts justifying the HBO telecast, I don’t know. This year’s other winners – and I’m thinking of Yes, ELO, and Journey, not Pearl Jam – had a signature song and a couple good records each, but it’s hard to distinguish them from, or rate them above, the ones that didn’t make it: the Cars, Zombies, J. Geils Band and Steppenwolf. All of them are a far cry from past inductees who would constitute a meaningful Hall of Fame: the Rolling Stones, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, John Mellencamp, the Four Seasons, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Eric Clapton. Then again, it’s possible that this year Tim Raines will get into the real Hall of Fame.

Joan Baez

What a privilege to spend 90 minutes listening to Joan Baez from the second row of the Arlington Theater (thank you, UCSB Arts & Lectures)! With appropriate song and still-beautiful voice and brief but intimate introductions, she took us back to 1959 coffee houses in Harvard Square and before, up through the draft-resistance and anti-war movement and into the present with her black T-shirt that read “Nasty Woman” on the front and “No DAPL” [Dakota Access Pipeline] on the back. The musical itinerary covered Paul Robeson and a Marian Anderson spiritual; Pete Seeger and a Woody Guthrie anthem relevant today (“Deportees”); her own Prison Trilogy and Diamonds and Rust, both also still relevant; nods to modern songwriters Tom Waits, Richard Thompson and, less successful, Josh Ritter; classics she has made her own, House of the Rising Sun and The Boxer; and never far away, Bob Dylan, here in It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, With God on Our Side and Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right. Just imagine all we have seen and all she has lived through, a person of principle never far from the action, injecting grace and art into sordidness, not least the campaign season we are suffering through.

In person she was charming, with her good looks aging but attractive, her trademark-sexy pixie haircut in place and, despite 75 years, the ability to stand and sing with nary a break and only an occasional sip of tea. Her retinue could not have been more down-home and honest: her “co-singer” was her personal assistant, short and heavy, underdressed; her roadie was a young woman in flats and a complementary white “Nasty Woman” T; her band, the “Bad Hombres,” consisted of her middle-aged son Gabe on percussion and a wizard instrumentalist who played banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle, accordion and piano with equal virtuosity. He also happened to be the stepson of Joan Hartman, who is running for 3rd District Supervisor in Santa Barbara County; his request for our votes made the political subtext of the concert that much more real.

Baez’s voice has inevitably lost range from the days of her early ballads, but she knows better than to push it. She left guitar theatrics to her sideman but handled her own accompaniment, starting with the opening Love Is a Four-Letter Word, with remarkable ease. She was always comfortable with what she was singing and she made us comfortable, and more.