Archive for the ‘1960s’ Category

Is there a better song than “Up on the Roof”?

According to Rolling Stone, the answer is yes – 113 songs, to be precise, as the original rendition by the Drifters, which was released in 1962, ranks No. 114 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list, which was put together in 2004.

I rate it higher.

Written by the husband-and-wife team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the single peaked at No. 5 on the pop charts and No. 4 on the R&B charts in early 1963. In the years since, it’s been covered by an array of artists, both in concert and on vinyl. The idea for the song came to King – who was all of 20 at the time – while she was out for a drive; her original title was “My Secret Place.” Goffin suggested the roof as the escape destination, as he was a West Side Story fan, and penned poetic lyrics that echo a universal truth. (American Songwriter delves deep into the song’s sophistication here.) 

Here’s the demo for it, which features Goffin singing and King playing piano.

As wonderful as the Drifters’ single is, however, it flopped in England – but East London-born Kenny Lynch’s version made it to the Top 10.

Up-and-coming singer Julie Grant made her U.K. chart debut with the song right around the same time.

In 1970, fellow New Yorker Laura Nyro recorded it for her Christmas and the Beads of Sweat album; it became her sole single to crack the Top 100, peaking at…No. 97?!

That same year, Carole King recorded it for her debut album, Writer.

A year later, Dusty Springfield performed it on the BBC’s The Rolf Harris Show

In 1975, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band covered it in concert:

In 1979, James Taylor – who had performed it with Carole King on Writer and their early tours together – scored a Top 40 hit with it.

Jumping ahead a few decades, Neil Diamond covered it on his 1993 salute to Brill Building songs…but the orchestral touches are a tad over the top, IMO.

The British pop duo Robson & Jerome topped the U.K. charts with their faithful cover of it in 1995…

 … and actor-singer Sutton Foster does a sweet version of it on her 2009 debut album, Wish.

There are far too many additional covers of the song to list here, so I’ll close with this: Carole King and James Taylor at the Troubadour in 2010. does it get any better than this?

As far as summer days go, July 20th, 1969, was a pleasant (Delaware) valley Sunday in the Philadelphia area: After a string of hot-and-humid days caused the Philadelphia Electric Co. to issue a power emergency due to the increased use of air conditioning and a generator failure, the temperature wasn’t predicted to push past 85 degrees Fahrenheit (and, as the day played out, never made it past the upper 70s). The only downside: It was cloudy, and thunderstorms were possible at just about any moment.

The biggest news of the day, as evidenced by the front page of “the oldest daily newspaper in the United States,” the Philadelphia Inquirer, was the Apollo 11 mission. The culmination of President John F. Kennedy’s push to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, it was and remains a breathtaking human achievement.

The other headline is for a story that likely changed the course of history: Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy drove his car off a Chappaquiddick Island bridge. He escaped the wreck, of course, but Mary Jo Kopechne – one of the “Boiler Room Girls” of Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign – died. Kennedy claimed he made repeated attempts to save Kopechne before leaving the scene of the accident, which he didn’t report to the police until the next morning.

Prior to the accident, he was considered the frontrunner for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. After? The questions of what happened haunted him for the rest of his days, and shifted his national appeal into the “what if” territory. 

On the entertainment front, here’s a list of movies playing the theaters.

As I’ve noted before, movie distribution was very different back then: There were no large-scale openings. All films started in select markets, and gradually made their way across the country. (That would change in the early-mid ’70s.) And, too, they hung around longer, as there was no actual after-market. The Graduate, for example, dates to 1967, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Love Bug to late 1968. Goodbye, Columbus and Popi, as well as True Grit, were more recent flicks.

Then, as now, Philly was a hot bed for concert-goers. Interestingly, however, one of the ads is for a three-day music festival happening in upstate New York…

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Now, as astute readers may remember, I covered this same date last year, so am delving deeper into the same Weekly Top 40 chart (for the week ending July 19th) for today’s Top 5: July 20, 1969 (Part Deux).

1) Stevie Wonder – “My Cherie Amour.” The No. 9 single in the land is this classic song from Stevie Wonder, who was 18 when he released it and possibly 19 in this vintage clip…

2) Henry Mancini & His Orchestra – “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet.” Yes, there was a time when the singles chart consisted of more than songs targeted at the young. One example: Mancini’s rendition of the theme to Franco Zeffirelli’s classic adaptation of the Shakespeare play, which dropped to No. 10 this week during a slow drop from the top of the charts. The film, as evidenced by the above movie listings, was still in some theaters nine months after its premiere, and quickly became a mandatory class outing for middle-school students.

3) The Dells – “I Can Sing a Rainbow/Love Is Blue.” Written by Arthur Hamilton, “Sing a Rainbow” – which became the theme song to the Philly children’s TV show Captain Noah and His Magical Ark TV, which aired from 1967 to 1994 – was first recorded by Peggy Lee for the 1954 movie Pete Kelly’s Blues, covered by Andy Williams in 1964 and Cilia Black in 1966, and then as part of a medley by the Dells in 1969, whose version peaked this week at No. 22 on the pop charts.

4) Neil Diamond – “Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good).” On its way up the charts is this now beloved-detested song, which sits at No. 24 while on its way to its peak, No. 4, which it would hit the following month.

5) The Rolling Stones – “Honky Tonky Women.” Debuting on the charts, at No. 79, is this classic tune from Mick, Keef and the boys. 

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Last week, I watched Bob Dylan: Roads Rapidly Changing, a documentary that recounts Dylan’s rise in and eventual departure from the Greenwich Village folk scene. He arrived in the Big Apple from the Land of 10,000 Lakes in 1961 with no connections, but – due to his talent and drive – quickly made a name for himself. “Blowing in the Wind,” The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are a-Changing,” Another Side of Bob Dylan and Bringing It All Back Home, his 1965 farewell to the folkie world, date to this period in his life.  

The film, which I highly recommend, features a wealth of archival footage and performances alongside insights from an assortment of fellow Village folkies (Eric Andersen, Maria Muldaur and Tom Paxton) and rock journalists (Robert Christgau and Anthony DeCurtis).

Highway 61 Revisited, released a mere five months after Bringing It All Back Home, isn’t covered in the doc, which is understandable – it was his first full-fledged rock album, and the film focuses exclusively on his folkie days. Still, think about that for a second: In an era where it can take an artist years to release the next album, Dylan released two monumental sets within five months of each other. Paradigms shifted with each.

Of Bringing It All Back Home: The first side features Dylan backed by an electric band – a radical notion within the purist folk scene at the time. In the most simplistic description, the new sound marries the folk form to the rock beat.

The second half features an acoustic Dylan at his most electric.

There’s little more to say but this: The album, which expanded the concept of what popular music could and should be, is consistently rated as one of the greatest of all time. (This Rolling Stone article delves into its impact.) It sounds as fresh today as it must have sounded in 1965.

One last thought: Since the dawn of written history, there have always been purges of the past in order to placate the present. (You might say that we, as a people, have a long history of criticizing what we can’t understand.) Humans are flawed creatures, in other words, with our biggest flaw being that we tend to run with the pack. But in the mid-‘60s, Bob Dylan didn’t turn his back on what came before. Instead, he synthesized it into something new.

The track list:

Sunday July 20th, 1969, marked a momentous moment in the history of humankind: Neil Armstrong stepped from the lunar module Eagle and descended a ladder to the surface of the moon. After touching ground at 10:56pm ET, he paused to say, “that’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” (The “a” is in brackets because it wasn’t audible on the transmission beamed to the 600 million people watching on Earth.)

The U.S. president – the 37th in the country’s history – was Richard M. Nixon, who took the oath of office six months earlier. His time in office was accented by chicanery, cynicism and brilliance, though much of that was yet to come. At this point in time, though he was viewed with disdain by some, his approval ratings were routinely in the 60s.

On the economic front, the unemployment rate began the year at 3.4 percent and ended at 3.9 percent. Everyone who wanted one had a job, just about. Inflation, on the other hand, was a source of concern: When Nixon took office, it was already high at 4.4 percent, and it continued to inch higher each month. 

When it came to foreign affairs – specifically, the Vietnam War – this very month marked two significant events: the first U.S. troop withdrawals from Vietnam occurred on the 8th; and, on July 25th, the “Nixon Doctrine” – aka the Vietnamization of the war – was announced. The plan was for the U.S. to turn over the defense of South Vietnam to the South Vietnamese.

In the Philly region, it was an atypical summer’s day, topping out at a mere 78 degrees (Fahrenheit). The Phillies didn’t take advantage of the cool weather, however, as starting pitcher Bill Champion failed to live up to his surname in a 6-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Connie Mack Stadium.

Among the movies playing in the theaters: Hook, Line & Sinker, True Grit, The Wild Bunch, and Easy Rider, which was released on July 14th. As I’ve noted before, however, this was the era when it could take a movie six or more months to make it to your local cinema.

Aside from the moon transmission, TV was basically in yesteryear’s DVR mode – rerun season. It’s when folks caught up on episodes they had missed.

In the world of music, June and July 1969 saw the release of a few notable – and not-so-notable – albums, including Roberta Flack’s First Take, Elvis Presley’s From Elvis in Memphis, Fairport Convention’s Unhalfbricking, Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad, The Doors’ Soft Parade, and Yes’ eponymous debut. 

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: July 20, 1969 (via Weekly Top 40; the chart is for the 19th).

1) Zager and Evans – “In the Year 2525.” The next time a baby boomer laments the state of today’s music, point them to this song. And laugh. Because on July 20th, 1969 – less than a month before Woodstock – this “prophetic” song was the No. 1 song in the land.

And for you Gen-Xers feeling smug right now, here’s R.E.M. covering it:

2) Blood, Sweat & Tears – “Spinning Wheel.” Holding steady at No. 2 for a second week is this jaunty philosophical ode, which was penned by BS&T singer David Clayton-Thomas. 

To again leave the pop charts for a moment, earlier in the year Peggy Lee released an effervescent rendition of the song that reached No. 24 on the Easy Listening charts…

3) Three Dog Night – “One.” Dropping from No. 5 to No. 6 is this song, which I first heard in the mid-1970s on a commercial for a mail-order compilation. The song was written and originally recorded by Harry Nilsson, who released it in 1968.

And – yes, this is a trend – Aimee Mann recorded “One” for the For the Love of Nilsson tribute album in 1995. It also appeared on the soundtrack for Magnolia.

4) Elvis Presley – “In the Ghetto.” Elvis continued his comeback with this classic song written by Mac Davis that tackles poverty. (Sad to say, 50 years later, it remains as relevant as it was then.)

A few decades years later, on the 1998 Lilith Fair tour, Natalie Merchant – accompanied by Tracy Chapman – sang the song.

5) Jackie DeShannon – “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” One of the week’s “power plays” is this catchy plea for love, which jumps from No. 55 to 48. FYI: Jackie co-wrote it.

And, finally, Dolly Parton recorded a wonderful version of the song for her 1993 album Slow Dancing With the Moon. Here she is singing it a few months earlier on the CMA Awards…