Posts Tagged ‘1968’

Throughout the 1960s, many Motown albums followed a predictable pattern: a few hits (or would-be hits), songs made popular by other artists and, depending on the singer or group, a show tune or two. The formula wasn’t unique to Hitsville, U.S.A. – most of the era’s popular acts, including the Beatles on their early albums, adhered to it. Everyone, or almost everyone, sang other people’s songs – until they didn’t. Within the world of rock music, then just over a decade old, the shift began with the Beatles’ Rubber Soul LP, which arrived just in time for Christmas 1965. Suddenly, the idea that an album could be an artistic statement took hold and cover songs became the exception, not the rule.

That said, and forgive this indulgence, the Fabs and their contemporaries weren’t the first to see the possibilities inherent in the LP, which was introduced in 1948 by Columbia Records. Self-proclaimed saloon singer Frank Sinatra released the 10-inch Songs for Young Lovers LP in 1954; the eight songs, all recorded for the project, sported a unified theme. He followed it later that year with Swing Easy!, another 10-inch set, and then released the classic In the Wee Small Hours, a 12-inch LP often credited as the first concept album, in 1955. Ol’ Blue Eyes wasn’t alone, either – jazz artists and other performers released sets that were more than just their latest single(s) and filler.

Not that any of that matters when it comes to Silk N’ Soul. It’s simply evidence that, by 1968, pop-oriented Motown had yet to follow the route laid down by the Beatles and other mainstream acts, preferring the old-school, supper-club approach instead. It also serves to show how Gladys Knight & the Pips were treated within Hitsville at the time. Although they were fresh off of a No. 2 hit with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and a Top 20 hit with “The End of Our Road,” there are no original songs. Instead, the 12 tracks were known quantities at the time of the album’s release – and “I Wish It Would Rain,” the LP’s lone single, was a recent hit by the Temptations.

In a sense, it’s almost as if they were being punished for their success. It’s been well-documented, after all, that Diana Ross’ petty jealousies caused Gladys and the Pips to be ditched from a tour with the Supremes, as she feared they were too good. (As she told Gladys years later, “We all had to grow up.”) Was Berry Gordy trying to sabotage their careers?

Well, if he was, it doesn’t much matter. Gladys and the Pips, simply put, are at the top of their game throughout the album’s 12 tracks, with Glady becoming one with the songs when she sings. She’s similar to Elvis and Aretha, among others, in that every song she sings becomes hers in the moment.

Available on the usual streaming suspects, including YouTube, Silk N’ Soul is a thoroughly enjoyable album. No, it’ll never make anyone’s Top 10 list (nor should it), but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile listen. It’s a glimpse of the way life used to be. Pull it up, press play and let the music cleanse the soul. You won’t regret it. 

Yesterday, WXPN featured a day-long “Throwback Thursday” devoted to 1968. Although I didn’t listen all day, what I heard was an interesting mix of the expected and unexpected, with Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” followed by the raw rock of Big Brother & the Holding Company, the soft psychedelic lather of Jefferson Airplane, and a five-track tour of some of Simon & Garfunkel’s classic tunes, as well as songs by the Temptations, Laura Nyro, Van Morrison and the Delfonics.

Today, their “Throwback Thursday” inspires my “Flashback Friday,” which looks back 50 years to Saturday June 8, 1968. The biggest story in the news: Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral.

But that wasn’t the only news of the day: James Earl Ray, the prime suspect in the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. two months earlier, was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Among the movies one could expect to see in the theaters this weekend: Planet of the Apes; Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows; Yours, Mine and Ours; The Odd Couple; Prudence and the Pill; The Detective; and Wild in the Streets. Due for release in just four days: Rosemary’s Baby. As I’ve mentioned before, however, in those days “wide” releases weren’t the way of the movie world. Films opened in select markets at select theaters, with new markets and theaters added each week and month.  

In the land of TV, the 1967-68 season was over. The Andy Griffith Show concluded its eight-year run atop the Neilsen charts at No. 1, and The Lucy Show ended its six years on the air at No. 2. Gomer Pyle, USMC was the third-ranked show; and three shows tied at No. 4: Gunsmoke, Family Affair and Bonanza. (I actually remember seeing an episode of Family Affair when my family visited Beirut in the early 1970s, but that’s grist for another post.) Variety shows were also in vogue: The Red Skelton Show, Dean Martin Show, and Jackie Gleason Show were No.s 7, 8 and 9; and NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies, which featured both made-for-TV and theatrical films, rounded out the top 10.

In my world: I was 2 years old, soon to be 3, and our family lived in a row home in northeast Philly. Not that I remember much beyond our pet cat, Missy, and the backyard – none of our immediate neighbors had installed fences, so it was a huge expanse to little me. And most of those neighbors also had young children. Everyone knew everyone, and everyone had fun.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: June 8th, 1968 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) Simon & Garfunkel – “Mrs. Robinson.” Enjoying its second (of three) weeks atop the pop charts is this memorable song featured in The Graduate, one of the era’s defining films. 

2) Archie Bell & the Drells – “Tighten Up.” Clocking in at No. 2 is this funk classic, which was perched atop the charts just a few weeks earlier. An interesting sidenote to this song: Bell was drafted shortly before recording it, and by the time it reached No. 1 he was in Germany, where he was assigned to the 53rd Transportation Unit – and in the hospital due to an accident. (He talks about it in an insightful interview with the Rebeat blog.)

3) Herb Alpert – “This Guy’s in Love With You.” Here’s an interesting piece of trivia about this classic song: It may never have been recorded if not for Albert asking Burt Bacharach (who wrote it with lyricist Hal David) if he had any old songs lying around. It’s since been sung hundreds of times by a who’s who of singers far more gifted than Alpert, often with “girl” substituted for “guy,” including Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick and Rumer.

4) Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra and Chorus – “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The title song of the movie of the same name hit its peak the week before, when it claimed the second slot. Here, it drops two spots to No. 4.

5) Tommy James & the Shondells – “Mony Mony.” So James had the music, but not the lyrics. While in New York, he and one of the song’s co-writers, Ritchie Cordell (who’d go onto produce Joan Jett and the Ramones, among others), were about to throw in the towel when, from the terrace of his Manhattan apartment, he saw the Mutual of New York building, which was illuminated with its initials. And, thus, a smash hit was born… 

And a few bonuses…

6) Merrillee Rush and the Turnabouts – “Angel of the Morning.” Jumping from No. 30 to 14 is this single, which was produced by Chip Moman and Tommy Cogbill at Moman’s American Studio in Memphis; and though Rush’s band received billing on the 45, the actual musicians were Moman’s usual crew. The song itself was written by Chip Taylor, and was first offered to Connie Francis – but she turned it down due to its “risqué” theme. (It’s about the morning after a one-night stand.) It was recorded by Evie Sands and a few other artists, but Merrillee’s was the first to chart. It garnered her a Grammy nomination for best Contemporary Pop Female Vocalist. 

7) The Rolling Stones – “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” After their ill-advised dalliance with psychedelia on Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Stones get back to the basics with this classic single, which would top out at No. 3 in July. It debuts on the charts this week at No. 62.

And, last, here’s a clip of Paul Simon discussing “Mrs. Robinson” and The Graduate with Dick Cavett in early 1970: