Category Archives: 1965

143) The Beatles – “Help!”

Earlier in 1965, “Ticket to Ride” had introduced a new page in the Beatles songbook: an anti-love song alternating between dejection and sarcasm with an unsteady, lumbering beat to match. “Help!” at first blush seems a throwback to the snappy pop and three-part harmonies that had defined the group’s early singles, with just enough of the post-Hard Day’s Night folkiness to fit comfortably among the 1965 pop landscape. Closer inspection, however, reveals John Lennon focused as ever on his personal anxieties. “Help!” is the cry of a once-confident man who’s suddenly found the ground pulled out beneath him — by fame, marriage or neurosis — and is clawing at anything or anyone who might save him. Unlike the other Dylan-influenced hits of that summer, it skips the poetic language and politics but embraces the confessionalism, even if Lennon presents himself as a far more vulnerable figure.

Lennon had intended to record “Help!” at a slower tempo to express his anguish, but commercial concerns called for an upbeat theme tune to promote its namesake film. If anything, though, the faster pace makes the record far more panicked and intense. Paul McCartney and George Harrison’s backing vocals frequently beat Lennon to the lines he’s about to sing, as if he’s struggling to keep up with his own song. In both the intro and the chorus, the lead guitar continually descends in three note phrases, as if slowly pressing down on him, before ending in a swiftly repeating arpeggio that seems to reflect his swirl of anxious thoughts. Lennon gets a brief respite in the third verse (actually a retread of the first verse), when the drums let up and he gets a few peaceful moments to recall his independent younger days. But as soon as he admits to feeling “not so self-assured,” the drums start up again insistent as ever, escalating into a desperate pounding on the transition into the chorus. From then on, there’s no letting up until all the instruments drop out at the end, leaving just a meld of three voices crying “help me – ooh” as one falsetto. There’s no resolution or rescue imminent, and the bleak ending suggests it’s too late anyway. Perhaps not coincidentally, the next Beatles number-one primarily written by Lennon wouldn’t arrive for two more years. As Lennon pursued darker, more personal avenues of songwriting, McCartney (as we’ll soon see) also expanded the Beatles’ sound — and the band’s audience. 8

Hit #1 on September 4, 1965; total of 3 weeks at #1
143 of 1013 #1’s reviewed; 14.12% through the Hot 100

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Filed under 08, 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

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Filed under 07, 1965

141) Herman’s Hermits – “I’m Henry VIII, I Am”

One of the things that makes the pop charts more fascinating than carefully curated lists of “important” records, like Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, is all the junk that filters through. That’s not an insult — junk may not be particularly well-written, and it’s often annoying, but at its best it embodies the careless vitality that makes rock and roll so exciting. The very fact that junk hits aren’t so-called timeless classics makes them snapshots of the transient tastes of a lost age. And for one week in 1965, the single that best captured the state of American pop taste was a 17-year-old English kid and his beat group covering an old music hall hit. Less than two minutes long, consisting of little more than three choruses and a time-killing guitar solo, “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” feels barely substantial enough to pass for a B-side. Like “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” before it, the single didn’t even merit release in Herman Hermits’ native country. (Unlike “Mrs. Brown,” this doesn’t feel like an oversight.) But the record’s exotic Cockneyisms, old-timey flavor and unshakeable chorus were enough to buoy it to the top of the US charts in August. What better time for a nice repetitive song that takes no effort to learn quickly than the mind-dulling heat of late summer? It’s cheerful and a bit funny and tailor-made for group singalongs. Eventually it’ll wear out its welcome, but it’s so slight that it can be cast aside without guilt.

Certainly there are better records — better Herman’s Hermits records, even — more deserving of the number-one spot. But compared with the horrors of past novelty chart-toppers, “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” is downright pleasant. The band is charming enough, Peter Noone doesn’t oversell the joke, and the whole thing ends quickly. Better a tossed-off piece of junk than a record that’s ponderous or bloated or a self-serious attempt at social relevance. Squint and you can maybe even detect the seeds of punk in its stripped-down insouciance — after all, the Ramones did quote “second verse, same as the first” in “Judy is a Punk.” But is “Henry VIII” a good record? Even the band probably thought of it as nothing more than a bit of filler that got lucky. 5

Hit #1 on August 7, 1965; total of 1 week at #1
141 of 1011 #1’s reviewed; 13.95% through the Hot 100

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Filed under 05, 1965

140) The Rolling Stones – “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

The Rolling Stones arrived relatively late to the British Invasion. Most of the band’s compatriots scored major hits almost overnight after “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” often on their first or second US single. With the exception of “Time is on My Side” (#6, Dec ’64), though, the Stones’ blues and R&B covers that made up the bulk of their early material mostly failed to move US record buyers. The band’s luck improved stateside when they began focusing on their own poppier material: “Tell Me” (the first Jagger/Richards A-side and the group’s Top 40 debut, Aug 1964), “Heart of Stone” (Top 20, Feb ’65), “The Last Time” (Top 10, May ’65). By the time the band netted their first US chart-topper, though, they weren’t just contending with The Beatles and Herman’s Hermits. The Byrds’ success with “Mr. Tambourine Man” heralded the first real threat to the British Invasion: soft, sunny folk rock, pop that was supposed to have a message.

But while The Byrds were dressing Dylan’s ragged clown in a fringe vest and a vacant smile, The Rolling Stones were topping the charts with a more potent kind of protest music. The hero of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” rails against everything around him, from TV advertising and “useless information” on the radio to his inability to get off with a girl. But “Satisfaction” is too sharp-witted to be mistaken for a litany of grievances. A line like “he can’t be a man ’cause he does not smoke/ the same cigarettes as me” seems to parody the self-righteous folkie moralist, while the sneering vocals frame the complaints in quotation marks, as if to acknowledge the absurdity of a rock star whining about how hard he has it. The Rolling Stones didn’t just score a hit with an anti-establishment message; they mocked the self-indulgence of it, made it seem as solipsistic as moaning about not getting laid.

Of course, all suggestions of social critique and irony are secondary to the song’s shocking-for-1965 salaciousness (“tryin’ to make some girl”!), and all lyrics period are secondary to that guitar riff, as fuzzy and unshakeable as a hangover headache. It’s the first sound you hear on the single, and it’s pushed to the front of the mix, dominating the rest of the record. The riff cycles without changing, heavily syncopated as if scoffing at the confines of the beat. Even when it knocks off for a bit, the bass keeps circling in place, the snare drum snaps on every beat, the tambourine gets its three shakes in at the end of each measure. There barely needs to be a verse or a chorus, and there barely is; the song wants to be a 12-bar blues, but it never gets to resolve itself. There’s no middle eight or guitar solo to churn up the monotony — and at nearly four minutes long, it does get monotonous. You don’t need to hear the lyrics to tell you the song’s about being stuck in a rut without release or escape.

Nor do you need them to understand Mick Jagger’s chewy, drippy, overly-underenunciated drawl, simultaneously a frank come on and a caricature of our narrator’s sexual/societal frustration. The real Mick Jagger may want satisfaction, but he certainly doesn’t have trouble getting it; the real Mick Jagger will write a song bemoaning advertising, then spend the royalties on a Bentley. Perhaps it’s this duality that’s helped the song withstand decades of over-exposure. “Satisfaction” is pro-hedonism and anti-consumerism, social commentary and a mockery of social commentary, an ain’t-got-no blues for middle class white kids self-aware enough to know they don’t have real problems but are going to complain anyway. That, and it’s got a massive guitar riff. 9

Hit #1 on July 10, 1965; total of 4 weeks at #1
140 of 1010 #1’s reviewed; 13.86% through the Hot 100

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Filed under 09, 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

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Filed under 07, 1965

138) Four Tops – “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)”

“I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” replaced “Back in My Arms Again” after just one week atop the charts, giving Motown its first set of back-to-back number-ones. As with The Supremes before them, Four Tops succeeded with the help of the writing/production team Holland-Dozier-Holland, who rescued the promising group from the label’s B-list and crafted a musical persona for them that was both distinctive and easily replicable. Four Tops had bounced around labels for nearly a decade, mostly recording lite-jazz standards and touring the supper club circuit. But it wasn’t until H-D-H positioned the Tops’ sound as a heavier, more gospel-influenced take on The Supremes’ polished soul-pop that the group had their first hit, 1964’s “Baby I Need Your Loving.” Lead singer Levi Stubbs began shouting against the upper limits of his baritone, the strain adding both a desperation and a forcefulness to his voice that marked it as the ultra-masculine, ultra-emotive counterpart to Diana Ross’s demure girlishness. “I Can’t Help Myself” even shares a similar chord progression and some lyrical content with “Where Did Our Love Go,” albeit fleshed out with a bridge and full Funk Brothers instrumentation, including vibes, strings and a saxophone.

While The Supremes sang in questions (“Where did our love go?” “Why must we separate?” “Won’t you hurry?”), though, the Four Tops issue proclamations. Stubbs isn’t apologetic or insecure about telling his girl how he feels; he lays out his anguish in plain terms, take it or leave it. Nor does he hold her directly responsible for causing his heartache. Rather, he turns the blame on himself for being “weaker than a man should be,” for letting himself fall in love at all. But even as he resists her, the swell of the strings and the jangle of the tambourine betray the rush of exhilaration he’s so desperate to tamp down. He may complain about the burning in his heart, but he can’t deny its warm glow. This being a Holland-Dozier-Holland production, Four Tops would repeat the formula with the aptly-titled “It’s the Same Old Song” – though as with “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me,” the knockoff arguably improves on the original. But the group’s most electrifying material was still around the corner, as H-D-H’s productions would grow increasingly gothic to match the exquisite agony of Stubbs’ voice. 8

Hit #1 on June 19, 1965 for 1 week; repeaked on July 3, 1965 for 1 week; total of 2 weeks at #1
138 of 1009 #1’s reviewed; 13.68% through the Hot 100

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Filed under 08, 1965

137) The Supremes – “Back in My Arms Again”

After a taking few tentative steps toward independence with “Stop! In the Name of Love,” The Supremes retreat back into the arms of a man who may not be worth the trouble. But the narrator of “Back in My Arms Again” isn’t begging for her man not to leave her. She’s broken it off with him once before, but her pleas for him to come back have paid off. It’s not enough for her to take comfort in their reunion, though; no, she has to get all smug about it. “I listened once to my friends’ advice, but it’s not gonna happen twice,” she smirks, willfully ignoring that if everyone’s saying the same thing, they might have a point. But give her the benefit of the doubt: it is easy for them to say when they’re not the ones in love. The canon of popular music would be far slimmer without all the lovers who made it against the protestations of friends/parents/the world at large. But then our narrator needles her fellow Supremes by name, and all sympathy dissipates. Oh Diana, didn’t you “lose your love so true,” just like Mary? And isn’t calling Flo’s boy “a Romeo” engaging in the same judgmental gossip you’ve just spent two minutes dismissing? Suddenly, “Back in My Arms Again” starts sounding less like a love song than an anti-friendship screed, maybe even a precursor to the ’00s fascination with telling off haters.

Musically, it’s a step back from the more sophisticated “Stop!” as well, essentially reprising “Come See About Me” without the call-and-response vocals and crisp bounce. “Back in My Arms Again” would become even more redundant when the pre-chorus, one of the song’s best hooks, would be recycled for The Isley Brothers’ superior “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” the following year. The Supremes’ first three number-ones are still terrific singles, but (as with the boyfriend in the song) we know they can do better now, so it’s disappointing to watch them backpedal. Maybe that’s why “Back in My Arms Again” would end The Supremes’ streak of five number-ones in a row, after soundalike follow-up “Nothing But Heartaches” stalled at #11. If the girls were to regain their place at the top, they’d have to stop spinning their wheels and keep moving forward. 6

Hit #1 on June 12, 1965; total of 1 week at #1
137 of 1009 #1’s reviewed; 13.58% through the Hot 100

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Filed under 06, 1965