Now that we’re almost to the end of 1963, what would you guess was the best-selling song of the year? Remember, there was a lot of classic stuff to hit the top of the charts in 1963: The Four Seasons’ best single, Jan & Dean’s take on The Beach Boys’ surf-ready harmonies and, of course, many of girl group’s best-loved songs. And yet, as you’ve surely figured out by now, that honor went to the largely-forgotten single in the video above. It isn’t that “Sugar Shack” is a bad song. But as blockbuster hit of the year, it’s an awfully unassuming track. In fact, it’s almost a perfect specimen of post-first wave, pre-British Invasion rock and roll. Basically, it’s a spunkier version of what your parents were listening to, with little of the raucousness that made rock so revolutionary. Which is probably why “Sugar Shack” was so successful: it gave teenagers an approved to spend their allowances, and parents had an inoffensive gateway into understanding their kids’ music.
That said, “Sugar Shack” does have one factor weighing heavily in its favor: the song’s innovative use of distorted bass. The record’s worth listening to at least once to check out the rough, crunchy sound that anticipates the fuzzbox’s reign over mid-late ’60s rock. While “Sugar Shack” isn’t garage rock, it’s arguably a precursor to Top 10 run of The Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie” two months later. Much like “Alley Oop,” “Sugar Shack” is an early harbinger of the harder, more psychedelic rock that would close out the decade. Shame the rest of the record is so tame. 5
- “Sugar Shack” is also infamous for being the record that kept “Be My Baby” from hitting #1 on the Hot 100 – but that didn’t prejudice my review, I swear.
Hit #1 on October 12, 1963; total of 5 weeks at #1
99 of 978 #1’s reviewed; 10.12% through the Hot 100