Category Archives: 1966

163) Frank Sinatra – “Strangers in the Night”

In 1965, Frank Sinatra celebrated his fiftieth birthday with two albums overtly taking stock of his past: A Man and His Music, a mostly re-recorded retrospective of his biggest hits, and September of My Years, a concept album about aging. Sinatra had never exactly gone away – he spent the early part of the decade starring in a string of movies (mostly Rat Pack throwaways, but also The Manchurian Candidate), and his three or four albums per annum regularly charted in the Top 20 – but his pop dominance of the mid-to-late ’50s had run its course. Sinatra’s semicentennial heralded a comeback, one of half a dozen over the course of his career. September became his first album to go Top 5 since 1961, spawning a Top 40 hit with “It Was a Very Good Year.” More importantly, Sinatra sounded invested in what he was singing for the first time in years: a personal, melancholy reflection on regret and growing older.

Perhaps that’s why Sinatra so resented “Strangers in the Night,” his hatred of it well out of proportion for a banal love ballad. September was Sinatra making an artistic statement; “Strangers” was one for the dinner show, guaranteed not to make the audience reflect on their life choices nor remind them of their nearing obsolescence. It worked: “Strangers” became his biggest single since the advent of rock and roll and cemented his comeback on the pop charts. Nelson Riddle, whose sensitive arrangements brought out the best in Sinatra on ’50s classics such as In the Wee Small Hours and Only the Lonely, here layers the record with bombast and floridity. Despite his distaste for the song, Sinatra’s a pro – his phrasing is impeccable and his voice in fine form. Nevertheless, his delivery rings a bit hollow, his reading as rote as the arrangement’s emotional signposts (ritardando -> dramatic pause -> key change). The closest Sinatra gets to letting the curtain slip is in the famous “doodie-doobie-doo” outro, a parody of his trademark scatting that ebbs into tuneless blither.

At the very least, Sinatra must have gotten some satisfaction from having matched his pal/rival Dean Martin’s feat of topping the post-British Invasion charts, and for having displaced the type of music he despised. But like “Everybody Loves Somebody,” Sinatra’s hit remained at the top of the Hot 100 for a single week before being replaced by the rock- and R&B-influenced acts that had become the new pop norm. Music like Sinatra’s and Martin’s had become a niche market, consigned to its own Billboard chart: Easy Listening, where “Strangers in the Night” held the top spot for seven weeks. Sinatra would manage one more mainstream chart-topper, but not without the help of a younger singe arguably even more popular than him at the time. By the end of the decade, Sinatra was obliged to cover the softer end of the rock spectrum he had once maligned: songs by Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles, the new standards. 5

Hit #1 on July 2 1966; total of 1 week at #1
163 of 1019 #1’s reviewed; 16.00% through the Hot 100

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162) The Beatles – “Paperback Writer”

The “Paperback Writer” single is one of the odd cases where the flipside of a record proves more influential than the hit. “Rain,” the B-side in question, is credited as a watershed in The Beatles’ transformation into studio experimentalists, though it’s less notable as a song than as a Whitman’s Sampler of tape effects: sped-up lead vocals, slowed-down rhythm track, a fade-out followed by a fade-in and, most strikingly, John Lennon’s voice run backwards in the coda.  In comparison, “Paperback Writer” could easily be overlooked as one more of the band’s riff-driven rockers – “son of ‘Day Tripper,'” as Lennon himself later called it.* But while “Paperback Writer” may have been more immediate and commercial than its flip, it too foreshadows Revolver’s sonic exploration and eclecticism. The song dispenses with the band’s trademark sticky choruses and distinctive chord progressions, instead locking on to a single G7 chord for nearly the entire verse. (Paul McCartney cites Little Richard as inspiration, but it also brings to mind the drone of raga-influenced Revolver tracks “Love You To” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.”) McCartney’s infatuation with Stax and Motown (cf. “Got to Get You Into My Life”**) inspired the boosted sound of his ever-melodic bass guitar; it would remain essentially a co-lead instrument from Revolver on. The distorted guitar riff, pushier and thornier than “Day Tripper”’s groove, points toward psychedelic rock, as does the trippy vocal echo on the harmonies at the end of the verse: a prêt–à–porter take on “Rain”’s avant-gardisms.

The lyrics of “Paperback Writer” also hint at the expanded subject matter The Beatles were beginning to explore. The name-checking of Edward Lear in the verse and “Frère Jacques” in the backing harmonies preview “Yellow Submarine” and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’s fixation with willful nonsense and childlike whimsy. More directly, the song itself is an early example of the type of character vignette McCartney would develop with “Eleanor Rigby” and “For No One,” but with those songs’ pathos swapped for a satirical take on the drive for fame.  The narrator has ambition and self-confidence to spare, assuring his anonymous contact that his thousand-plus-page behemoth will be an instant bestseller and breathlessly pleading for a break.  Whether he’s got the talent is another question. For all his attempts to dress his manuscript up in the trappings of a salable pulp paperback (“it’s a dirty story of a dirty man”), it’s clear that it’s in fact a dense autobiographical roman à clef, penned by a writer whose overearnest proposals to change his novel aren’t exactly proof of artistic integrity. (That he claims it’s based on a novel by Edward Lear, who never actually wrote a novel, seems in keeping with both his eagerness to say the right things and his all-around cluelessness.) While such a depiction of a struggling wannabe could seem mean-spirited coming from a band at the pinnacle of both creativity and fame, the song treats the aspiring novelist with a measure of affection and good humor. He may be naïve but he’s also sincere, and it’s hard not to root for his unlikely novel to be accepted. (Note that the only time the song changes chords is on the phrase “paperback writer,” as if acknowledging that’s the only way out of his rut.) Perhaps The Beatles even recognized something familiar in the story: the tale of a creative young man trying to pack a thousand pages’ worth of ideas and personal expression into a typically disposable, commercial piece of pop culture. 8

*From David Sheff’s All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Of course, it’s worth remembering that Lennon was the primary author of “Day Tripper” while McCartney wrote “Paperback Writer,” and that McCartney won the A-side of both singles.

**In which, incidentally, McCartney reprises the “Paperback Writer” guitar riff.

Hit #1 on June 25, 1966 for 2 weeks; repeaked on July 9, 1966 for 1 week; total of 3 weeks at #1
162 of 1018 #1’s reviewed; 15.91% through the Hot 100

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161) The Rolling Stones – “Paint It, Black”

The Beatles, ever the pop pioneers, introduced the sitar to rock and roll on the song “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” released at the end of 1965 on the album Rubber Soul.* The exoticism of George Harrison’s sitar complements John Lennon’s worldly-wise sketch of a casual affair, each in its own way signifying the expanding horizons of the 1960s. Harrison wouldn’t start studying with Ravi Shankar until the following year, but he had already begun to take the instrument seriously. Brian Jones, on the other hand, had no such pretensions to authenticity or mastery of the instrument. The sitar appealed to The Rolling Stones because it sounded foreign, and by extension sinister and unsettling. If the sitar in “Norwegian Wood” represented knocking down established boundaries, in “Paint It Black” it captures the feeling of being stranded in an alien culture, fearful for your life and unable to find your way home.

The hell that the song’s narrator finds himself trapped in is existential despair provoked by his girlfriend’s sudden death. The song marks the point where The Rolling Stones’ juvenile negation of the world in “Satisfaction” and “Get Off of My Cloud” withers into absolute nihilism, its pitch-blackness prefiguring the flirtation with the occult that would culminate in Their Satanic Majesties Request and “Sympathy for the Devil.” “Paint It Black” may not feint at satanism, but the classical Indian instrumentation and Jewish/Arabic/Persian-inspired vocal lines evoke a mysticism far beyond the borders of genteel Britain and its institutional Anglicanism.

Like several of the preceding number-ones, “Paint It Black” casts off the standard verse-chorus song structure, instead alternating between two rival sections. Part A is the Eastern half of the song, driven by sitar and invoking Southwest Asian percussion and melodic styles. Jagger looks inside himself and finds only blackness; outside himself, the only things he can see are hearses and dead flowers. His all-consuming despondency starts to spew out to the world around him. He wants to drain the color of everything – to paint the red door black – and make the rest of the world match his own darkness. Part B is the song’s Western half, driven by guitar and adhering to a more familiar rock format. This is the part of the song where the living dwell: newborn babies, girls in summer clothes, people who avert their eyes from the funeral procession. Here, Jagger can recognize that there’s light out of the blackness (summer, the sun), and that what feels to him like the earth shattering “just happens every day.” “Paint It Black” is driven by this tension between Jagger’s competing options, whether to rejoin the rest of the world or disappear inside himself. The band rage against the darkness, trying to outmenace the menace – note especially Charlie Watts’s cymbal-heavy thrash, the manic counteracting the depressive – but Jagger chooses to “fade away,” reneging on a promise from more innocent days. The only living thing left is an imaginary version of his love, a vision of whom he can almost make out in the vanishing sun. Soon he even wants to blot that out, and the song gives way to the abyss, fading out as he fades away. 9

*The Yardbirds had experimented with the instrument in the sessions for the 1965 single “Heart Full of Soul,” but the final version replaced the sitar with an electric guitar.

Hit #1 on June 11, 1966; total of 2 weeks at #1
161 of 1018 #1’s reviewed; 15.82% through the Hot 100

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160) Percy Sledge – “When a Man Loves a Woman”

Southern soul had been a commercial force since the beginning of the decade, but its rawer, more groove-focused sound kept it trailing behind Motown’s hit-driven commercial polish. Memphis-based Stax Records netted a handful of big hits at the beginning of the ’60s – Carla Thomas’s Chantels-ish ballad “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes)”; her father Rufus Thomas’s dance novelty “Walking the Dog”; a pair of funky instrumentals by the label’s house band (The Mar-Keys’ “Last Night” and Booker T. & the M.G.’s’ “Green Onions”) – but by 1966, the label still hadn’t produced a breakout artist who could rival The Supremes or Marvin Gaye. Stax’s biggest star, Otis Redding, had yet to reach the Top 20 of the pop charts. Atlantic Records up-and-comer Wilson Pickett, who recorded at Stax, had a bit more luck, hitting #13 in March with “634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.).” But the singer who finally gave Southern soul its monster crossover hit was an unknown unaffiliated with the Memphis scene. Percy Sledge worked days as a hospital orderly when he recorded his debut single at Norala Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama. Atlantic quickly picked up the single, and within months “When a Man Loves a Woman” became the label’s first gold record, almost single-handedly establishing the Muscle Shoals region as a capital for soul music.

The churchy organ line that opens the song announces immediately that this is something completely different from any R&B- and soul-flavored pop hit that had come before it. That Farfisa, along with the backing choir vocals, betrays soul’s origins in gospel music, while the twangy guitar could have been ripped from a country song. Sledge’s secular testifying seems freeform and off the cuff, yet carves out a melody as indelible and resilient as any hymn or Tin Pan Alley tune. The song starts out like an ode to devotion: “when a man loves a woman / can’t keep his mind on nothing else / he’ll trade the world for the good thing he’s found.” But for all its romantic slow-dance potential, “When a Man Loves a Woman” is less about love than it is about heartbreak and self-ruin. As the song progresses, the admirable aspects of a relationship begin to warp into their carnival-mirror images. The infatuated man’s imperception of his lover’s flaws reveals itself as fatal blindness; his willingness to sacrifice deteriorates into masochism; his loyalty mutates into codependency. Sledge begins the song in the third person, singing about a generic man and woman, but the pretense of distance drops away in the bridges: “I gave you everything I had,” “I know just how he feels.” The use of “man” and “woman” also universalizes the song, making the relationship between the two feel more like the rule than an unfortunate exception. This is how love always is, Sledge seems to be singing. Even if the woman isn’t worth the pain, the man is doomed to suffer anyway. By the time the slightly out-of-tune horns show up in the final few seconds, they sound as broken as the singer’s spirit.  8

Hit #1 on May 28, 1966; total of 2 weeks at #1
160 of 1016 #1’s reviewed; 15.75% through the Hot 100

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159) The Mamas & the Papas – “Monday, Monday”

Like The Byrds, the members of The Mamas & the Papas started out as mid-level folkies who found success blending their native style of music with modern pop. But whereas The Byrds primarily drew from the up-to-the-minute sounds of Bob Dylan and The Beatles, The Mamas & the Papas seemed equally comfortable in the present and the past, aligning themselves with the burgeoning folk-rock scene but also reaching back to 1950s vocal groups (particularly the boy-girl harmonies of The Fleetwoods), the soft orchestral arrangements of easy listening and the dramatic flair of vaudeville. Their purified version of folk-rock filtered out its rough edges and political streak while retaining its immediacy and autumnal beauty. The group’s warm yet crystal-clear harmonies and immaculate folk-classical production set the template for sunshine pop, but many of their best songs seemed more partly cloudy, as if their perpetual optimism had developed as resistance to the undercurrent of melancholy coursing through their music. The tension within the group frequently seeped into their lyrics, giving even their more upbeat songs an air of fragility.

“Monday, Monday” isn’t as bleak as The Mamas & the Papas’ previous single, “California Dreamin’,” but nevertheless it captures a similar uncertainty and ambivalence. Monday is the day for returning to regular life, the pleasures of the weekend reduced to nothing more than memories and perhaps some lingering aftereffects. It marks both an end of something that may or may not have been good, and a fresh start that may or may not be welcome. “Monday, Monday” neatly splits the difference between these conflicting emotions: in the left channel, it’s all uplifting ba-da-da harmonies; in the right, it’s Denny Doherty’s plaintive lead and a rolling harpsichord line. The opening line of each verse alternates between anticipation (“Monday, Monday / so good to me”) and dread (“can’t trust that day”). In turn, the mellow sway of the verses are twice split by a faster, more driven bridge, where the melancholy tips over into outright misery (“but whenever Monday comes / you can find me crying all of the time”). Like the preceding number-one, the intensity of “Monday, Monday” is heightened by a false ending. But whereas the stop in “Good Lovin’” is like a blown fuse, the song’s relentless scramble gone into overdrive, the one in “Monday, Monday” stems from a reluctance to move forward. But time marches on and so does the song, concluding on a note of acceptance if not enthusiasm: “Monday, Monday / it’s here to stay.” Rather than coming to a fully resolved ending, the song fades out in a cycle of harpsichord and harmonies. There will always be more Mondays. 8

Hit #1 on May 7, 1966; total of 3 weeks at #1
159 of 1016 #1’s reviewed; 15.65% through the Hot 100

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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

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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

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