I only discovered yesterday that the version of “The Happy Organ” I had been listening to for this project was actually a 1960 rerecording. The “Happy Organ” that hit #1 is the version above: tamer, more controlled, less exciting. In the rerecording, Cortez attacks the tune with the abandon of Jerry Lee Lewis, his organ-playing garnished with a rip-roaring guitar solo. The guitar in this version, however, is a little too strait-laced, too rock and roll by the numbers. The tune’s not bad, but it’s a bit anticlimatic after the killer version I’d been used to hearing over the past few weeks.
Then again, Cortez’s tune is credited with introducing the organ – my favorite musical instrument – to rock and roll. Without it, an integral part of the ’60s might be lost, especially in garage rock. Would there be “Like a Rolling Stone”? “California Sun”? “Little Bit O’Soul”? “Chest Fever”? Billy Preston?* Well, if Cortez wasn’t the first, someone else would have been. Still, “The Happy Organ” isn’t a bad start. 6 (for the original; 7 for the rerecording)
*Conspicuously absent from this list is perhaps the most famous organ riff in rock history – for obvious spoilerific reasons.
Hit #1 on May 11, 1959; total of 1 week at #1
13 of 963 #1’s reviewed; 1.35% through the Hot 100