Category Archives: 1965

136) The Beach Boys – “Help Me, Rhonda”

Since we last checked in with Brian Wilson, his ambition has expanded beyond arranging intricate vocal harmonies over more-or-less standard surf-pop to constructing majestic pop symphonies to rival the Wall of Sound. “Help Me, Ronda” (as it was then spelled) first appeared on the 1965 album The Beach Boys Today! as an overstudied emulation of the Philles Records style. There’s Latin percussion and semi-unusual instruments (ukulele, saxophones, harmonica), vocals swathed in echo, and volume levels that fade in and out, but the pieces feel jumbled without Phil Spector’s intuitive sense of order. Perhaps realizing he’d gotten ahead of himself a bit, Wilson rerecorded “Help Me, Rhonda” for single release in a more straightforward, slightly more uptempo version. But while “Rhonda” doesn’t have the showiness of “Ronda,” it’s a far more immediate record. “Rhonda” launches straight into Al Jardine’s lead vocal with no introduction, bouncing along from there on an insistent tambourine beat. A brief guitar solo replaces an undercooked harmonica break. The harmonies are now tighter and more melodic; Mike Love’s bass “bow-bow-bow-bow” adds an extra hook.

This newfound sense of urgency keeps “Help Me, Rhonda” fresh and vital, yearning with the pangs of young lust. Our narrator sketches a story of heartbreak, but frankly neither Jardine nor the rest of the band sound all that broken up about it. It’s a pretty good come-on, though, one that makes him look sensitive and vulnerable while also appealing to her vanity, making her believe that she’s the only girl who could possibly save him from his misery. Meanwhile, the rest of the Boys are gazing soulfully in her eyes, cooing “come on, Rhonda,” don’t you see how down this kid is, if you really liked him etc. We never find out how sympathetic Rhonda is (though what girl could resist a line like “I know it wouldn’t take much time”!), but that doesn’t matter. “Help Me, Rhonda” isn’t about getting the girl; it’s about wanting the girl, and the euphoria of anticipation. Every element on the single slots neatly into place, with none of the clutter of the Today! version. Wilson’s still experimenting with dynamics, for instance, but now the crescendo into the chorus soars because it has a purpose: to signify the flood of desire overtaking our narrator. With the new “Help Me, Rhonda,” Wilson modifies Spector’s lessons to his own ends, creating a style that emulates the intensity of adolescent emotions but feels a little less grandiose, a little more rock and roll. 8

Hit #1 on May 29, 1965; total of 2 weeks at #1
136 of 1009 #1’s reviewed; 13.48% through the Hot 100


Filed under 08, 1965

135) The Beatles – “Ticket to Ride”

Desolation and self-flagellation gnawed at the edges of Beatles for Sale, but it wasn’t until “Ticket to Ride” that the band tried crafting an arrangement to match the darkness of the subject matter. And certainly, compared with A Hard Day’s Night‘s thematically similar “I’ll Cry Instead” (John Lennon gets rejected, vacillates between despair and contempt), “Ticket to Ride” is depression in audio form. The lead guitar sketches the same figure over and over; the bass refuses to shift from the note where it’s gotten comfortable; the drums lumber sideways and crooked, anything to avoid taking a single step forward. But for a song that’s supposed to be such a drag, “Ticket to Ride” is remarkably buoyant. The brightness of the 12-string Rickenbacker and the countryish harmonies shine through the fog of self-pity and gloom, and even the off-kilter rhythm section manages a danceable groove. Surely part of this peppiness was with an eye to the charts – dirges don’t make for good number-ones, especially when they’re meant to be promoting frenetic comedies. Yet The Beatles weren’t afraid to go full-downbeat on fellow Help! track “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” and they’d top the charts again a few months later with a record even more melancholy and decidedly un-rock and roll.

More likely, then, is that the tension between lethargy and dynamism is intended to cover all the emotions that come with the end of a relationship, especially one that’s lasted far longer than it should’ve. Lennon’s first line is the tentative “I think I’m going to be sad,” and he probably is, at least at first. But it isn’t long before that sadness revs up into self-righteous self-pity (“and she don’t care!”). He then spends the second verse puzzling over his girlfriend’s stated reasons for leaving, unsure of whether to feel remorse for his behavior or to scoff at her unreasonableness.  The more he thinks about it, the more his blood starts to boil, and the music follows suit, swapping out the lopsided drums for the frantic pulse of the tambourine. The bridge is the angriest part of “Ticket to Ride” – “she oughta think twice, she oughta do right by me” sounds suspiciously like a veiled threat – but the surge in tempo and the glee in Lennon and McCartney’s voices also make it the liveliest. (There is some perverse pleasure in feeling like the one wronged.)  Then it’s back to the verses, only this time around, the musical repetition feels less like the numbness of depression than a reminder of the grind of a romance gone stale.  Lennon’s re-examining his earlier sentiments from a different perspective: “I think” is now a stifled laugh; “she says that living with me is bringing her down” sounds more wry than resentful. When the coda kicks into double-time, Lennon’s falsetto cries of “my baby don’t care!” are self-mocking, as if unable to believe he could have ever cared either.

Not all of the emotions Lennon courses through in “Ticket to Ride” are attractive, but the frankness is astonishing. No longer did the band seem concerned with adhering to whatever The Beatles were supposed to sound like. Instead, they showed a willingness to branch out into darker subject matter and sonic experimentation. (Lennon would later jokingly claim “Ticket to Ride” as the first heavy metal song, but the droning bass and clattering, off-kilter percussion sound more like a precursor to the band’s flirtation with raga rock.) “Ticket to Ride” doesn’t just feel like a dividing line for The Beatles, though, but for the British Invasion as a whole. The chipper rock and roll revivalism of the first wave was falling from favor; bluesy hard rock and baroque pop were on the horizon. It would be nearly two months before another British single topped the Hot 100, this time by a band much tougher and rawer than any of the early comers. Even so, “Ticket to Ride” proves The Beatles were more than capable of surviving the transition. 9

Hit #1 on May 22, 1965; total of 1 week at #1
135 of 1009 #1’s reviewed; 13.38% through the Hot 100


Filed under 09, 1965

134) Herman’s Hermits – “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”

Herman’s Hermits were sort of the kid brothers of the British Invasion, and, as such, were often treated as a band to be mocked or manipulated. Singer Peter Noone was 16 when the group had its first hit, half a decade or so younger than most other beat groups and a full 11 years younger than Freddie Garrity. Unlike their peers, the Hermits hadn’t dug through crates for imported blues records or paid their dues in sketchy German clubs. But Animals producer Mickie Most recognized the group’s fresh-scrubbed innocence as an opportunity to diversify his portfolio, pairing Noone’s child-actor cuteness with a poppier, less R&B sound designed to appeal to young girls. Rather than trying to sound American as possible, Herman’s Hermits emphasized their Manchester roots, treading the same music hall boards as Freddie and the Dreamers and singing in their own accents (or, sometimes, a put-on Cockney one). The experiment succeeded; the group became one of the most successful imports of the British Invasion, racking up more top 10 hits in the US than in their native country and briefly reaching near-Beatles levels of sales and popularity. The group only netted a single UK number one with “I’m Into Something Good,” not coincidentally the most American of their hits: a Goffin/King song marrying Beach Boys harmonies to a Motown beat. Meanwhile, many of their biggest American hits – both US number-ones, as well as “Leaning on the Lamp Post” (#9) and the Ray Davies-written “Dandy” (#5) – were never released at home, where they’d likely have been laughed off as too old-fashioned, too English, for a credible beat group. But, as with Freddie and the Dreamers before them, this acute foreignness just made Americans love them more.

“Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” sounds even less like a rock song than “I’m Telling You Now,” as befitting its origin in a 1963 television play called The Lads. The most prominent instrument is a guitar, yes, but it’s been muted to sound like a ukulele or a banjo; the bass and drums are shoved so far down in the mix as to be barely audible. The shuffling jauntiness of the instrumentation seems at odds with the song’s lyrics about the end of a young romance, but, like Noone’s straightforward, unsentimental reading, it’s an attempt to hide raw emotions behind a pleasant face. Despite his feelings for the girl, the narrator accepts her lack of reciprocation without kicking up a fuss or pleading for her return, anything that might embarrass her or make her feel guilty. Because he refuses to emphasize his own heartbreak, our hearts break for him. But even more than a song about the loss of first love, “Mrs. Brown” is a song about learning that two good people aren’t always good together, that no matter how much he loves her he can’t make her love him back. That the narrator needs to confide in his ex-girlfriend’s mother reminds you he’s still a kid; that he handles the rejection with dignity and considerateness shows he’s becoming an adult. For all the ridicule Herman’s Hermits got for being teen idol lightweights, it’s their very youth and lack of tough-guy posturing that makes the song. “Mrs. Brown” could easily have been a jokey novelty; instead, it’s a rather touching reflection on growing up. 7

Hit #1 on May 1, 1965; total of 3 weeks at #1
134 of 1008 #1’s reviewed; 13.29% through the Hot 100


Filed under 07, 1965

133) Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders – “Game of Love”

While the British Invasion relied on British bands reinterpreting American forms of music, the ratio of “Americanness” (blues/country rave-ups, emphasis on the groove) to “Britishness” (polished, traditional pop song structures) could vary wildly depending on the band. At one end were groups like Freddie and the Dreamers, rockers more out of circumstance than conviction; at the other, The Rolling Stones, whose earliest singles betray a band convinced they were the reincarnations of the not-yet-dead Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders leaned closer to the latter end of the spectrum; both their hits (the other being “Groovy Kind of Love,” released later in 1965 after Fontana left the group) were even written by Americans. But unlike their compatriots, who drew from ’50s rockabilly and R&B, the Mindbenders adopted the trappings of the burgeoning garage rock scene.

Why the Mindbenders topped the charts when The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” didn’t is more likely due to the momentum of the British Invasion than because “Game of Love” is the superior record. Really, “Game of Love” isn’t even a garage rock song; it’s a compilation of garage rock archetypes strung together with only the loosest attempt at coherence. First up is the I-IV-V-IV semi-verse, which starts off sounding like a draggy “Louie Louie” before suddenly perking up (“Come on, baby!”) and tumbling into the chorus. This is the best part of the song because it features future 10CC-er Eric Stewart’s credible blues-rock riffing and has the two hooks everyone remembers: the lines “The purpose of a man is to love a woman/ And the purpose of a woman is to love a man” – lyrics so simple and direct it’s a marvel they hadn’t turned up before – and the octave-bounding call and response “LUH” “UV” “LUH” “UV” “LUHLUHLUHLUHLUHLUV.” Then “Game of Love” decides it wants to be a Bo Diddley tune for a few bars, because even though every frat-rock band in the United States played “Who Do You Love,” no one had made a hit out of it yet. The band switches off between faux-“Louie” and faux-Diddley again before veering right into a Beatles impression in the coda, just to remind everyone they were, in fact, a British Invasion band (even though U.S. garage rockers were equally capable of the same).

So yes, it’s a bit of a mess. And as much as I’d like to add “and so is rock and roll!” to that statement and slap a 10 on the end of this paragraph, something about “Game of Love” is a bit too disjointed and by-the-numbers, as if the different parts were pilfered from the discarded remains of pastiches that didn’t quite take. Wayne Fontana is an OK singer, and the Mindbenders are perfectly able rockers, but there’s no raw power or exuberance in the execution to make up for the lack of imagination. Which doesn’t keep “Game of Love” from being worthy of its place in permanent rotation on oldies radio, or stop it from sounding good coming out of tinny speakers. But compared with their fellow British rockers’ developing songcraft and the Americans’ commitment to attitude, it can’t help but feel distinctly second-tier. 6

Hit #1 on April 24, 1965; total of 1 week at #1
133 of 1008 #1’s reviewed; 13.19% through the Hot 100


Filed under 06, 1965

132) Freddie and the Dreamers – “I’m Telling You Now”

When Freddie and the Dreamers first had a UK #2 hit with “I’m Telling You Now” in 1963, no one bothered pressing copies for the U.S. market. Cut to two years later, the middle of the British Invasion, and suddenly the record’s bright guitars, close harmonies and prominent use of the bVII chord made for passable filler between Beatles singles. The Dreamers lacked The Beatles’ muscle and groove, though, much less their musical complexity and ambition. Instead, Freddie and the Dreamers drew inspiration from the simple melodies, broad humor and professionalized merriment of the English music hall tradition. This theatrical element carried over into the band’s ridiculous appearance: a puckish young (but not that young) man in Buddy Holly glasses, flailing with loopy energy, backed by what appeared to be a gang of Mancunian wide boys (or mysterious shadow people, depending on what clip you’re watching). Freddie Garrity’s stage routine – spastic leaps, maniacal cackling, a “dance” called the Freddie (see video above) – evinced a desperation to entertain that was sort of winning, if a little exhausting. This was a group that made no pretentions to hipness or sex appeal. Beneath that guitars-bass-drums set-up – an inevitable byproduct of the beat era – lurked the souls of Christmas panto performers.

Freddie and the Dreamers had a brief but fruitful career in the UK, banking four top 10 hits in just over a year, but were unable to duplicate this success in the U.S. The follow-up single, “Do the Freddie,” topped out at #18 in June. By the time the group released “Send a Letter to Me” three months later, they had fallen out of the Hot 100 for good. Never the most versatile of bands, the Dreamers were swiftly elbowed aside by their tougher, more innovative compatriots. Even their niche as kings of the Northern-vowelled music hall revivalists would soon be usurped by a band with stronger material and a teen idol frontman. Of all the records that topped the Hot 100 in 1965 (admittedly, an exceptionally good year), “I’m Telling You Now” has sustained the least amount of cultural endurance. The Dreamers’ true legacy is as a foil for the “real” British Invasion rockers, the kind who went on to create critically beloved albums and show up from time to time on the cover of Mojo. But while Freddie and the Dreamers were a cut-rate rock band, their strong visual identity and catchy songs opened them up to listeners who might otherwise have been indifferent to the British Invasion.  For older listeners, Freddie and the Dreamers were a throwback to the golden age of vaudeville. For kids, they were an elementary education in rock and roll. 5

Hit #1 on April 10, 1965; total of 2 weeks at #1
132 of 1008 #1’s reviewed; 13.10% through the Hot 100


Filed under 05, 1965

131) The Supremes – “Stop! In the Name of Love”

The Marvelettes were sassy, and Martha and the Vandellas tough, but The Supremes, under Berry Gordy’s watch, were the ladies.  The group’s best strategy for crossover stardom was to construct a persona embodying the ideals of postwar middle class femininity. Each of The Supremes’ prior number-ones found the girls on the losing end of a bad romance, but did they complain? Retaliate? Threaten to break it off? Of course not — they were resigned to moon about, pleading feebly while their boyfriends went out on the town, consequence-free. The idea that The Supremes could record a kiss-off like “Too Many Fish in the Sea” or “Come and Get These Memories” was unthinkable. But by 1965, the definition of what was proper for a lady was due for revision. Thematically, “Stop! In the Name of Love” is a continuation of The Supremes’ eternal suffering narrative. The difference is in the title. The boyfriend’s still unfaithful, but the girls now refuse to suffer in silence. The command may be hollow, and Diana Ross’s smiling, preening live performances might deflect from the force of the message, but for a group as demure as The Supremes, it’s strikingly forceful, particularly when paired with the iconic choreography — right hand shoved forward, firm and unflappable — and the unrelenting repetition of the notes in the chorus.

Every Supremes single so far improves on the last, but “Stop! In the Name of Love” is a drastic step forward in terms of production, thanks largely to Motown’s newfound stylistic cohesion. There’s still a snare on every beat so that you know it’s a Supremes record, but the chord progression is the most complex yet, and the vibraphone adds a kick that’s both classy and slightly exotic. Likewise, the organ and sax parts find the group courting a more R&B sound for the first time since the days before superstardom. “Stop! In the Name of Love” isn’t deep soul, nor is it a feminist anthem. What makes the single exciting — other than the monster chorus, of course — is the suggestion that The Supremes can expand their sound and subject matter without betraying their inherent grace. 8

Hit #1 on March 27, 1965; total of 2 weeks at #1
131 of 1008 #1’s reviewed; 13.0% through the Hot 100

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Filed under 08, 1965

130) The Beatles – “Eight Days a Week”

Barely a year had passed since The Beatles conquered America, but the fatigue had already begun to set in. Despite touring almost non-stop since the release of Please Please Me in early 1963, the band managed to crank out Beatles for Sale in time for Christmas ’64.* That album, their fourth in 21 months, is widely considered The Beatles’ weakest.  Unlike their previous album, the all-originals A Hard Day’s Night, nearly half of the tracks on Beatles for Sale are cover versions. The band’s exhaustion pervades the record, from the decidedly unchipper cover art to the downbeat themes in many of the new songs (“I’m a Loser,” “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” “No Reply”). Even “Eight Days a Week,” generally perceived as one of the brighter spots, is one of those Beatles songs that tends to be beloved mostly by casual listeners. Hardcore fans often dismiss it as Beatles by rote: a memorable title, close harmonies, a tweaked chord progression, George Harrison’s 12-string Rickenbacker. John Lennon later dismissed it as “never a good song”: “We struggled to record it and struggled to make it into a song. … But it was lousy anyway.”**

As with all things Beatles, lousiness is relative. Those elements that make “Eight Days a Week” standard Beatles also serve as reminders of what made the band so distinctive and exciting. The joy in the song is infectious, even if the performances drag ever so slightly from over-rehearsal, and Lennon’s wordless melisma at the 1:30 mark ranks as one of the most thrilling vocals of his career. “Eight Days a Week” also continues the experimentation of “I Feel Fine” by being one of the first pop singles to open with a fade-in. While The Beatles’ previous records arrived fully formed from their stage show, “Eight Days a Week” was the first to be written and arranged largely in studio. This practice would soon become customary, steering the direction of the group’s most sonically innovative output. In fact, these changes would come more quickly than anyone could have anticipated. “Eight Days a Week” may sound like The Beatles treading water, but it’s really a victory lap. Never again would the group sound so chirpy and carefree, so unburdened by the weight of art. 8

*Beatles for Sale wasn’t released in the U.S. Instead, eight of its tracks appeared on Beatles ’65 (also released to the Christmas market), with the balance turning up on Beatles VI six months later.
**From David Sheff’s September 1980 interview with Lennon and Yoko Ono for Playboy; quoted in Beatlesongs by William J. Dowdling.

Hit #1 on March 13, 1965; total of 2 weeks at #1
130 of 1006 #1’s reviewed; 12.92% through the Hot 100


Filed under 08, 1965