Category Archives: 07

180) The Supremes – “Love is Here and Now You’re Gone”

You Keep Me Hangin’ On” was The Supremes’ biggest departure, and also their best record yet – dramatic but deeply felt, emphasizing the “soul” part of their soul-pop hybrid while still sounding recognizably like themselves. For the follow-up, producers/writers Holland-Dozier-Holland admirably continued to experiment, rather than adhering to their standard operating procedure of cloning the previous hit. In doing so, they gave Motown’s most commercial group one of the label’s most out-there singles.

“Love is Here and Now You’re Gone” is built on juxtaposition: a conventional ballad with a full band and a strings-heavy arrangement, interrupted by despairing spoken-word fragments backed only by bass, harpsichord and cries of “look what you’ve done! look what you’ve done!” Spoken interjections were nothing new for Holland-Dozier-Holland – Levi Stubbs’s “just look over your shoulder!” in “Reach Out I’ll Be There” is one example – but the writers usually incorporated them into the body of the song. “Love is Here” instead splits these vocal interludes off into discrete sections. The dramatic lurches between them and the melodic parts of the song create an disconcerting effect, befitting the lyrics of a promised future abruptly wrenched away.

Apart from the characteristic fluid bassline, the restless pacing of which echoes the uneasy fluctuations of the song structure, the satiny production on “Love is Here” sounds oddly un-Motownlike – even the label’s trademark stomping beat is muted to a soft thud. As it turns out, “Love is Here” was largely recorded not at Hitsville USA with the Funk Brothers, but in Los Angeles with the Wrecking Crew, a harbinger of Motown’s permanent relocation to the West Coast a few years later. Perhaps this change of scenery explains why “Love is Here,” with its frothy strings and overripe soliloquies, seems less influenced by Detroit soul than by Hollywood melodrama.

As hammy as Diana Ross’s line readings may be (complete with a gasp in the first section!), her actual singing on “Love is Here” is the subtlest and richest of any Supremes record yet. She no longer leans on the innate vulnerability of her fragile little-girl voice; instead, she adds careful shading to her phrasing, and delivers some lines with surprising strength. Ross begins the song in a crystal-clear, brisk tone, at a remove from the hurt-filled lyrics. Starting in the second verse, a slight cloudiness creeps into her timbre, as if she’s pushing through a catch in her voice. In the coda, she clings to the phrase “oh my darling, now you’re gone,” afraid to let the words get away from her as easily as he did, her soft vibrato on the word “gone” trembling like unsuccessfully suppressed sobs. While the subject matter of “Love is Here” is close to that of “Where Did Our Love Go” or “Baby Love,” Ross’s performance has progressed beyond the self-victimization of those earlier singles. Here, her hurt reaction isn’t defensive; it’s a means to force a confrontation (“look at my face!”) and assert her dignity. Ross’s revelatory performance is somewhat undermined, however, by the rather uninspired harmony arrangement given to Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson, a warning sign of changes to come.

While “Love is Here” is moderately successful in its own right, it’s more impressive when considered as a warm-up for “Reflections,” recorded the week “Love is Here” topped the charts. “Reflections” pushed the gothic pop experimentation into a decidedly psychedelic direction (most blatantly in its oscillator motif), and its slow-downed, bass- and organ-dominated groove gave The Supremes their most soulful and sexiest record to date. (Nevertheless, it topped out at #2 on the charts.) Yet “Reflections” also marked the end of an era: their last great Supremes single written and produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland, who soon went went on strike and eventually left Motown; one of the last Supremes recordings featuring Flo Ballard before she was fired from the group; and the first release to be credited to “Diana Ross & The Supremes” – a name change that pointed to the squeezing out of Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong (Ballard’s replacement), both of whom would only occasionally appear on the records bearing their group’s name. Ross’s performance on “Love is Here” proved she had the talent to carry a record, but it also meant the beginning of the end of The Supremes as a distinct entity. In that sense, the biggest transformation in “Love is Here” wasn’t its song structure or production style, but the shifting group dynamic – firmly entrenching Diana as the star, and rendering the other Supremes anonymous and inessential. 7

Hit #1 on March 11, 1967; total of 1 week at #1
180 of 1032 #1’s reviewed; 17.44% through the Hot 100



Filed under 07, 1967

172) The Monkees – “Last Train to Clarksville”

For all the negative comparisons The Monkees endured to The Beatles, the musical similarity between the two groups is largely superficial. The Monkees material, especially early on, was written and produced by the sort of Brill Building figures that the British Invasion had largely displaced. These records sound like The Beatles only inasmuch as all pop-rock of the mid-’60s followed their lead, coating classic pop structures with a folk-rock or semi-psychedelic sheen. The one place where The Monkees did owe a major debt to The Beatles, however, was their screen personas: A Hard Day’s Night’s flippant, chipper jokers; even moreso Help!’s cohabitating gadabouts contending with surreality. Even if the music sounded only moderately Beatlesesque, the Monkees TV series clearly intended to tap into the Fab Four’s fanbase – in particular, the kids who appreciated the antics and catchy melodies but were left behind by the band’s shift into arty experimentation. So when the time came to introduce The Monkees to the world, via a single released a month before the show’s premiere, it made sense to employ a pastiche of The Beatles’ glory days to convey the gist of the series (conceptually, if not sonically) before a single episode had aired.

Appropriately enough, the most Beatlesy of Monkees singles originated when songwriters/producers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart misheard the outro of “Paperback Writer” as “take the last train.” The sustained falsetto harmony vocals of “Last Train to Clarksville” also draw heavily from that single, with the descending major third on “tra-ain” modeled after the ones on “wri-ter” and “Jac-ques.” (The high, drawn-out pitch also conveniently sounds a lot like a train whistle.) Most of the inspiration for “Clarksville,” however, reaches back a year or two earlier to the friendly folk-pop of Help! and Rubber Soul rather than the more recent, harder-edged material. The prominent tambourine rolls that precede the verses evoke The Beatles’ frequent use of the instrument in that era, as a means of not only adding depth to the percussion but also an element of disruption and edginess – here evoking the restlessness and unease of preparing to depart on an uncertain journey. The main guitar riff, apparently played on a George Harrison-style 12-string, echoes the descending arpeggios of “Help!,” while the “oh no no no” refrain was (according to Boyce and Hart) a conscious negation of “She Loves You”’s “yeah yeah yeah.” Lead singer Micky Dolenz, an American, occasionally even adopts British inflections: the crisp T in “four-thirty,” the long A in the second syllable of “again,” the dropped R in “evah coming home.” (Incidentally, he’s the only Monkee to appear on the track. They weren’t really a band yet, just playing one on TV.)

Despite being an obvious Beatles pastiche, “Last Train to Clarksville” manages the rare accomplishment of standing on its own rather than merely reminding the listener of the superior material it’s copying. Boyce and Hart include enough original hooks to keep it fresh – that “oh no no no” feels like it should have been pulled from a Beatles song, even if it wasn’t – while understanding how to incorporate the cut-and-paste elements so that they speak to the song itself (as with the backing vocals and tambourine), rather than leaning on sheer familiarity. It helps too that The Monkees’ future singles wouldn’t tread the same ground. Having drawn their lineage as successors to the Fab Four’s young fans, they no longer had to directly copy them. “Last Train to Clarksville” may not be particularly sophisticated lyrically – “coffee-flavored kisses” is the closest it comes to poesy – but the sunny folk-rock masks the dark clouds on the narrator’s horizon. There’s even the interpretation, supported by Boyce and Hart themselves, that the song’s narrator is departing for military duty in Vietnam, based largely on the line “and I don’t know if I’m ever coming home” and the coincidence (unknown to the writers at the time) of a basic combat training center located near Clarksville, Tennessee. While this claim to topicality is roughly as probable as that of Martha & the Vandellas’ “Jimmy Mack” (i.e., probably speaking more to the climate of the time than being literally about the war), it does point the way to a defining feature of The Monkees especially on TV and film, of sneaking in evidence of the wider, shifting culture under the guise of kids’ entertainment. 7

Hit #1 on November 5, 1966; total of one week at #1
172 of 1023 #1’s reviewed; 16.81% through the Hot 100

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Filed under 07, 1966

169) The Association – “Cherish”

As rock and roll went mainstream, those bands for whom rock was a deliberate statement, where the sound was the message, were joined by acts who adopted the style more or less by default. The Association had the standard rock guitar/drums/keyboards set-up; they played songs inspired by The Beatles and The Byrds; they’d even serve as the opening act for Monterey Pop in 1967. Yet there’s the sense that they’d have been just as comfortable playing Kingston Trio-style collegiate folk five years earlier, or Four Preps-ish vocal pop a decade before that, or, in a prior generation, even barbershop. They opted for pretty harmonies over raw power, their music as airy and iridescent as soap bubbles and just as clean (rumors of drug references in “Along Comes Mary” notwithstanding). The group’s demeanor too was more in line with professional entertainers than garage thrashers. Even the name “The Association” sounds more like a business conglomerate than a pop band, an impression furthered by their dress code (suits) and personality (friendly but faceless).

Their songs were models of mechanical efficiency – all the moving parts locked in place, running smoothly and burnished to a sheen. As such, The Association challenge subsequent decades of received wisdom as to what rock is “supposed” to be, which prizes subversion and grit, and casts polished, pretty music as hollow or emotionally inauthentic. Never mind that most “raw” music is no less practiced and performative – it’s still hard to listen to The Association, with their precise enunciation, polite arrangements and showmen’s permagrins and hear more than sentimentality impersonating true feeling. While “Along Comes Mary,” the group’s debut single, benefited from a springy beat and cleverish turns of phrase, follow-up “Cherish” has none of that song’s modest edge. Instead, it’s a sticky-sweet declaration of love, with no drama or imagination to save it from its own banality.

Or is it? “Cherish” may have soundtracked millions of weddings and slow dances (BMI ranked it as the 22nd most played song of the previous century), but the gentle crooning and candy-heart lyrics gloss over the fact that its love story is unrequited: “You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I could mold you/ Into someone who can cherish me as much as I cherish you.” The song’s narrator, unable to create a perfect romance, instead creates a perfect record, layering impeccable six-vocal harmonies, serene drums and the chime of a celesta (substituting for wedding bells never to be). The superficial sweetness holds together at first, but then the song wanders into a discursive middle section as the narrator imagines “a thousand other guys” saying the same things to the girl he loves with the same questionable motives. (At this point he seems uncertain as to whether he really “needs” her or just “wants” her – which is perhaps why he settles on “cherish.”)

As the emotions pile up, the façade of control becomes harder to maintain, climaxing in a key change and a more honest reworking of the first verse. Rather than the strait-laced hyperperfection of the song’s start, the vocals now are more demonstrative, the drums more urgent, the cheerful “bom bom” backing replaced with wordless howls. The overly formal language and convoluted syntax (“‘Cherish’ is the word I use to describe/ All the feeling that I have hiding here for you inside”) are pared down to the more direct “And I do/ Cherish you.” There’s still a patness to the arrangement that keeps it from cutting as deeply as it should (take that overripe harmonizing on the closing line, for example), but when “Cherish” works, it’s because the slickness and superficial beauty act as cover for messy emotions, creating a disconnect between the ideal and the actual. What’s more subversive – more rock and roll, even – than that? 7

Hit #1 on September 24, 1966; total of 3 weeks at #1
169 of 1022 #1’s reviewed; 16.54% through the Hot 100


Filed under 07, 1966

165) The Troggs – “Wild Thing”

Only one week after “Hanky Panky” comes a chart-topper years ahead of it – not only in regards to when it was recorded, but also in terms of mindset. When Tommy James and the Shondells recorded their single, The Beatles had yet to play The Ed Sullivan Show or tour the US; The Troggs, an English band but too late for the British Invasion, hit #1 with “Wild Thing” on the eve of Revolver’s release and the final concert at Candlestick Park. Not just any two years separated the two, in other words – the chasm between early ’64 and ’66 is as wide as the one between ages 14 and 16, or of that between the fantasizing kid of “Hanky Panky” and the would-be seducer of “Wild Thing.” The two songs share a similarly modest degree of construction (even by garage rock standards), focusing on a simple, repetitive chorus and guitar riff, with just a bare minimum of verse to pad it out into something song-shaped. The differences between the two – in attitude (coy versus brash), tunefulness (sprightly versus sludgy) and the heaviness of the guitar distortion (buzzing gnat versus chemical burn) – chart garage’s subsequent divergence into bubblegum and hard rock, two genres split not only by sound, but by the age of their target audience.

Still, not everything can be figured out in only two years. The narrator of “Wild Thing” knows what he wants, and he has some idea of how he’s supposed to go about it, but he hasn’t quite worked out how to mesh the two. Thus such sensitive balladeer platitudes as “you make my heart sing/ you make everything groovy” get wrapped in Reg Presley’s Jagger-jacking lech drawl, and a delicate ocarina solo (a bird call to attract the “wild thing”?) flutters over a crude guitar riff. Once Presley’s laid out the bait, the the trap begins to ease shut. The instruments drop out (save for an occasional guitar outburst) and Presley lowers his voice to a whisper. “I think I love you” – careful not to commit there – “but I want to know for sure” – how so, Reg? – “come on and … hold me tight.” Ah. It’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” all over again, this time from the guy’s POV and thus without the attendant hesitations and concerns. Like “Tomorrow,” we never find out the girl’s decision. The Troggs may be confident, but there’s no guarantee they’ll succeed. They sure are trying, though, and their inability to get it exactly right makes their efforts almost endearing, in a troglodyte sort of way.  (After all, the sensitive balladeers are after the same thing too – The Troggs are just more transparent about it.)

“Wild Thing” became an instant garage classic, for obvious reasons – it’s the same chord progression as “Louie Louie,” but with the garbled pseudo-filth swapped for more blatant come-ons. Jimi Hendrix closed his Monterey Pop set with it, but it loses its striver’s charm amidst the wizardry and showboating, performed by the kind of guy who didn’t have to try, who’d say “groovy” and actually mean it.* The Troggs themselves picked up a little bit of finesse along the way. Their next-biggest US hit, 1967’s “Love is All Around,” forgoes their caveman past entirely for a string quartet and promises of eternal love. At its heart, though, it’s just “Wild Thing” all over again, just in prettier wrapping: “So if you really love me, come on and let it show.” 7

*Hendrix’s version also quotes “Strangers in the Night” in his guitar solo, turning Sinatra’s song into a double entendre.

Hit #1 on July 30, 1966; total of 2 weeks at #1
165 of 1019 #1’s reviewed; 16.19% through the Hot 100


Filed under 07, 1966

158) The Young Rascals – “Good Lovin'”

Even long after rock and roll had established itself as its own genre, rock bands continued to borrow from R&B as a reliable source for danceable material. Covering an R&B single rather than a song by another rock group also allowed bands more flexibility to remake a song in their own image. Oftentimes, as The Dave Clark Five demonstrated, this resulted in rock groups ironing out the R&B track’s idiosyncrasies to conform to a narrow definition of what rock is supposed to sound like. Occasionally, though, a good band could apply rock’s rawness and urgency in a way that complemented the original without blanding it out.

On the surface, The Young Rascals’ version of “Good Lovin’” doesn’t change too much from the 1965 original by The Olympics, apart from a slightly faster tempo, more prominent guitar and an organ solo. But whereas The Olympics relax into a steady groove, the Rascals’ version accelerates relentlessly. Every element of the arrangement propels the song forward, from the frantic “one-two-three!” that kick-starts the song, to the push-pull call and response between Felix Cavaliere and his bandmates in the verses, to the rising tide of “yeah”s in the bridge, culminating in the cries of “GOOD LOVE!” punctuating the chorus. Gene Cornish’s guitar cycles restlessly under the verses and fills transitions with a riff like the revving of an engine, ready to go for another round. The momentum builds: a guitar riff bleeds into a scream into an organ break, the notes fluctuating then building, until the tension snaps – silence. Then, just as suddenly, another “GOOD LOVE!” (now rather breathless, sounding more like “hooh love”) and the boys are making up for lost time. The band thrashes through one more chorus (devolved into “love love / love love love love love”), one more guitar rev, one more organ build, then silence again.

The lack of release (musical or otherwise) could potentially be exhausting, but the band leavens the urgency with easygoingness and good humor. (It’s a fever, yes, but not a matter of life and death.) Much of this ease stems from the band’s experience and self-assurance. Three-quarters of the Rascals had met touring as part of Joey Dee and the Starliters; the fourth, drummer Dino Danelli, had played with Lionel Hampton. So while it lacks the dumb-luck lightning in a bottle of the best garage records, “Good Lovin’” bears the imprint of professionals who know exactly how to move a song forward without feeling rushed or overcrowded. They’re confident enough that they don’t need to show off (even the organ solo isn’t exactly complex) or stretch the song out past its welcome. The result is a record that isn’t risky but still thrills – an exemplar for how rock music could be polished without sacrificing its spark. 7

Hit #1 on April 30, 1966; total of 1 week at #1
158 of 1016 #1’s reviewed; 15.55% through the Hot 100


Filed under 07, 1966

157) The Righteous Brothers – “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration”

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil began work on “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” for The Righteous Brothers as a follow-up to “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” but soon abandoned it for being too derivative of the previous hit. (Phil Spector enlisted Gerry Goffin and Carole King to write the equally beholden “Just Once in My Life” instead.) Once Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield cut ties with Spector and jumped to another label, though, a near-facsimile of their greatest hit seemed like the ideal way to kick off the next phase of their career: a reminder of their finest moment and proof they could do it themselves. Mann and Weil dutifully completed the song for the duo, even as they sensed they were writing their own knockoff. In Fred Bronson’s The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, Weil praises Medley’s production on the record but remains less enthusiastic about the song itself: “It will always be ‘Lovin’ Feelin” sideways to me.”

While “Soul and Inspiration” is better than Weil gives it credit for, her assessment isn’t too far off. “Soul and Inspiration” feels as though it had been assembled from the Ikea instructions for “Lovin’ Feelin'”; the end product more or less resembles the original model, but the connections between the pieces don’t fit together quite right. Both songs open on Medley’s bass-baritone croon plumbing the depths of his despair over a lost love. From there, “Lovin’ Feelin'” builds gradually as subtle behavioral changes pile up, one by one, until the weight of the evidence forces a painful but undeniable conclusion. There’s no such process of discovery in “Soul and Inspiration” – the narrator knows before the song even begins that she’s leaving him. As a result, the Brothers are basically treading water, begging her not to leave, until the mandatory explosion of a chorus, in which they beg louder.* The rest of the song sticks to the “Lovin’ Feelin’” template: a hushed moment of pleading (here, a spoken-word monologue by Hatfield); a re-escalation in which Medley cries in anguish for her return; and one final chorus where the Brothers are reunited and no stop is left unpulled. “Soul and Inspiration” compresses this trajectory into under three minutes – a full minute shorter than “Lovin’ Feelin’,” but without the valleys and gentle slopes that gave the previous hit its impact. Instead, the Brothers rely on an extended wordless coda to round it out to an acceptably epic running time.

Even if “Soul and Inspiration” misses some of its predecessor’s subtlety, though, its foundation is so solid that it mostly winds up working anyway.  Medley doesn’t just imitate Spector’s production style; he understands how such intense feeling needs a Wall of Sound to shore it up. Not only do Medley and Hatfield have voices distinctive and powerful enough to compete with string crescendos and cymbal crashes, but there’s a sincerity to their delivery that keeps the song just this side of over-the-top. It’s easy to believe that the Brothers could have carried on making hits in this vein for years, especially as Spector, their greatest competition, would retreat from the recording studio just a few months later. Instead, the record ended up as their final Top 10 hit of the decade, and the duo split in 1968. By the time of their reunion and comeback hit, 1974’s “Rock and Roll Heaven,” their fondness for looking back on past glories had ossified into permanent nostalgia, the gracefulness and dramatic swell of their classic period replaced by generic AM Gold sheen. 7

* “Soul and Inspiration” can’t even get that quite right. The great melody leap in the chorus, which should be the peak of emotional intensity, instead lands awkwardly on the word “my,” chopping it into two syllables (“mah-hah”).

Hit #1 on April 9, 1966; total of 3 weeks at #1
157 of 1016 #1’s reviewed; 15.45% through the Hot 100


Filed under 07, 1966

149) The Byrds – “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)”

After the success of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” The Byrds stuck to the Bob Dylan songbook, releasing  “All I Really Want to Do” as their second single and covering “Spanish Harlem Incident” and “Chimes of Freedom” on the Mr. Tambourine Man LP. To allay charges that they leaned too heavily on Dylan for material, they scrapped plans to release “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” as their third single. Instead, they replaced it with a song penned by folk revival patriarch Pete Seeger, whose “The Bells of Rhymney” had also appeared on the band’s debut album. “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)” became an even bigger hit than “Mr. Tambourine Man,” swept along by the gathering momentum of the folk-rock boom that The Byrds themselves had launched. The record’s flowery 12-string guitar, campfire vocals and gentle optimism (“a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late”) offered an appealing alternative to Barry McGuire’s apocalyptic Vietnam nightmare, even as the line “a time for war and a time for peace” implied the necessity of both states.

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” finds The Byrds fully settled in their element, polishing and embellishing the genre hybrid of “Mr. Tambourine Man” into a seamless, finely-wrought piece of musical craftsmanship. (It helps that the whole band are playing their instruments this time around.) The biblically-derived lyrics share the vague mystical profundity of Dylan’s work, but their comparative straightforwardness avoids competing with the band’s ornate arrangement. The extended length (nearly four minutes) allows more space for the song to unwind, giving it the shape and direction of a complete statement rather than the forced brevity of their debut.

But as with their earlier singles, there’s a formality to the band’s pristine vocals and unmussed instrumentation that renders it opaque, holding the listener at arm’s length. It isn’t that The Byrds were incapable of genuine feeling – look at anything Gene Clark wrote – but that they often prioritized aesthetics over emotion. This wasn’t always the case: the melancholy of the band’s next single, “Set You Free This Time,” would be the first ripple the tranquil pond, while the disparity between the exquisite harmonies and searing guitar in “Eight Miles High” resulted in one of the decade’s greatest records. But “Turn! Turn! Turn!” remains a masterpiece in a different sense: a piece of art you can appreciate for its skill and admire for its beauty, even if you can never quite make your own. 7

Hit #1 on December 4, 1965; total of 3 weeks at #1
149 of 1015 #1’s reviewed; 14.68% through the Hot 100


Filed under 07, 1965

145) The McCoys – “Hang On Sloopy”

And now for a song that’s brainless on purpose. “Hang On Sloopy” is just as derivative and opportunistic as “Eve of Destruction,” but with the benefit of working in a genre where eloquence and sincerity trail distantly behind the goal of getting kids dancing. Instead of ripping off Bob Dylan’s protest songs, “Hang On Sloopy” draws from the British Invasion — or, more specifically, the American garage rock bands trying to pass for imported beat groups. The record reworks co-writer Bert Berns’s own “Twist and Shout” (conveniently, a then-recent hit for The Beatles), steeps it in the rhythm of “Louie Louie” and slaps on a “Rag Doll”-esque class-divide storyline. With that genetic material, how could it not be a hit?

Like “Twist and Shout,” the song was an R&B smash (as “My Girl Sloopy” by The Vibrations) before finding mainstream success in a rock/pop remake. The McCoys were the lucky band of Indiana teenagers recruited to cover the song by producers Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer, who, as The Strangeloves, were riding the crest of their own pseudo-garage/proto-bubblegum hit “I Want Candy.” (They were also the team responsible for “My Boyfriend’s Back” two years earlier.) “Sloopy” is a little heavier on the bass than “Candy,” but otherwise replicates its formula: bright and hooky enough to be teen-pop friendly, but with just enough grit — especially in the thudding intro and Rick Derringer’s scruffy guitar solo — to lend it a bit of rock and roll credibility. Never mind that there’s scarcely an original thought in the whole record. “Hang On Sloopy” might not be authentic garage rock, but it understands what made the genre so exciting: originality doesn’t matter, so long as what you’re ripping off is good and the band’s got energy. 7

Hit #1 on October 2, 1965; total of 1 week at #1
145 of 1014 #1’s reviewed; 14.30% through the Hot 100


Filed under 07, 1965

142) Sonny and Cher – “I Got You Babe”

The Byrds proved the burgeoning counterculture could be prettied up for the mainstream, but Sonny and Cher watered it down and sweetened it enough that conventional pop fans would hardly know what they were drinking. But the hippie generation’s Steve and Eydie weren’t bandwagon jumpers, exactly. Sonny Bono had co-written the proto folk rock “Needles and Pins” for Jackie DeShannon two years before, while Cher had a solo hit earlier that summer with a version of Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do.” But “I Got You Babe” is hardly trying to be folk rock anyway, apart from a few trendy superficialities: Sonny’s nasal squawk, the Dylanesque “babe,” the duo’s long hair and bellbottoms. The lovey-dovey lyrics are too sentimental, and any guitars that might be floating around in the mix are drowned out by woodwinds and bells. If Sonny and Cher are ripping off anyone, it’s their former boss Phil Spector. With its low-rent Wall of Sound arrangement and us-vs.-the-grownups mentality, “I Got You Babe” sounds an awful lot like a Righteous Brothers record if they crooned Crystals lyrics to each other. Its unabashed corniness is thoroughly charming, and the orchestral build and false ending confirm that Sonny picked up on his mentor’s grasp of dynamics. That the arrangement is more stripped down than Spector’s usual aural onslaught is less a failure of ambition than a concession to the new era of rock.  Sonny and Cher’s voices may seem mismatched – hers low and forceful, his whiny and hardly on key – but they have the vocal chemistry of a couple in love. Even when the pair sounds like they’re trying to out-sing each other, it’s like they’re saying “no, I love you more.” “I Got You Babe” may have knocked off everything about folk rock (except the folk part and the rock part), but it’s so genuinely sweet that it never feels like a sorry imitation.  7

Hit #1 on August 14, 1965; total of 3 weeks at #1
142 of 1011 #1’s reviewed; 14.05% through the Hot 100


Filed under 07, 1965

139) The Byrds – “Mr. Tambourine Man”

The British Invasion didn’t so much kill the folk music revival as put it out of its misery. What had begun as a virtuous quest to bring a sense of history and social conscience to popular music had ended up overly polished, collegiate and dull. But while some folkies dismissed rock and roll as inauthentic and commercialized, others recognized that it shared the directness and anti-establishment bent of protest songs. The Animals’ success with “House of the Rising Sun” proved a rock band could cover traditional material without sacrificing the music’s integrity; records by The Searchers, Jackie DeShannon and The Beatles further blurred genre lines. Rock and roll started gaining acceptance as a native art worth repatriating, and so American musicians began “bringing it all back home,” to quote the title of Bob Dylan’s half-electric, half-acoustic LP. The album wasn’t his first foray into rock and roll, either: his debut single, 1962’s “Mixed Up Confusion,” was backed by an electric band, while 1964’s Another Side of Bob Dylan found him moving increasingly toward pop song structures and themes. In May 1965, Dylan scored his first Top 40 hit with the Chuck Berry-biting “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” The following month, another song from Bringing It All Back Home would even top the charts – just without Dylan.

“Mr. Tambourine Man,” as performed by The Byrds, was more than just a number-one record; it became the template for the entire folk rock subgenre. The record was the debut single for the band, a bunch of LA folkies (ex-New Christy Minstrels, -Limeliters, -Les Baxter’s Balladeers) converted to rock and roll by The Beatles, inspired not only by Lennon-McCartney’s melodies and George Harrison’s 12-string Rickenbacker, but also their commercial success and distinctive image. The Byrds came to Dylan a bit later – their manager more or less forced him on the group* – but he soon became sort of the band’s patron saint, the tambourine man they’d spend the rest of the ’60s following. Four of his songs appear on their debut album, and he’d remain a steady source of material for most of their career.

The original “Mr. Tambourine Man” is one of Dylan’s early experiments with non-literal, stream-of-consciousness writing. While the specifics of what the title character represents are debatable – interpretations range from artistic inspiration to LSD to death – the narrator’s following him in hopes of a diversion from his numbing desolation, even if only for a short while. Dylan’s ever-ragged vocals and acoustic strumming emphasize the narrator’s dejected state, while Bruce Langhorne’s electric guitar countermelody offers the promise of an escape. For their cover, The Byrds cut all but the chorus and second verse, ostensibly to trim the track down to a radio-friendly 2:30. But abridging the lyrics shifts the song’s focus to the alluring new world (“the magic swirling ship”) instead of the narrator’s existential weariness. The Byrds’ arrangement, with its rolling guitar arpeggios and intertwining, sweet-voiced harmonies, further situates the song in some sort of peaceful dreamland, while altering the time signature from 2/4 to 4/4 ensures any vestiges of melancholy can be danced away in the warm California sunshine.

The Byrds knew their blend of folk and rock made a statement, but they seem conflicted on how to treat the new sound. There’s an overly formal quality to the record, an unwillingness to cut loose, that, along with the Bach-inspired guitar intro, insists on being taken seriously; but Jim (aka Roger) McGuinn’s simpering lead vocals come off as sardonic, as if mocking the material.** Thus it’s even more remarkable that by the time the Mr. Tambourine Man album was recorded, the rest of the tracks (particularly Gene Clark’s compositions) blend folk and rock so naturally as to render them inseparable. Less than a month after “Mr. Tambourine Man” topped the charts, Dylan released “Like a Rolling Stone,” a full-on rock single that would earn him his biggest hit (at #2) without having to lop off verses or polish up his sound. Next to “Like a Rolling Stone,” The Byrds’ single comes off as superficial, soft, self-conscious. But “Mr. Tambourine Man” proved there was an audience for this kind of music while providing a more accessible, imitable route into what folk rock could become — in the process, helping invent the Late Sixties as a cultural concern, its lineage stretching from folk rock, through psych rock, to Woodstock. 7

*Bassist Chris Hillman: “Jim Dickson picked the song [“Mr. Tambourine Man”]; we didn’t really like it or even understand it at the time, but he drove it down our throats until we realized what it was. That’s the way it went.” (Quoted in Robert Shelton, No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan)

**Part of the single’s stiffness may also be attributed to the fact McGuinn is the only Byrd actually playing on the record. The rest of the band was replaced by studio musicians for this session (though not for the album).

Hit #1 on June 26, 1965; total of 1 week at #1
139 of 1010 #1’s reviewed; 13.76% through the Hot 100


Filed under 07, 1965