Friday, January 12, 2024

Let's listen to the pre-Beatles hit songs of 1964!

This image was posted on some facebook music group I'm a part of:

I'm not exactly sure where the rankings come from, I don't know why it goes to fourteen, and I have no idea what "big bonus" means, but it's an interesting look at the calm before the storm, just before the British Invasion changed everything.  Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to listen to them--see what our parents' generation were grooving out to.

The Kingsmen, "Louie Louie"--Not "The Kings Men," as the chart styles them.  This is one of the few songs on the list that I'd been familiar with.  It gives us what I would call a welcome blast of primitivism.  A lot of these, as we'll see, are perhaps a bit too mannered for their own good, but this is the real deal.  Hey, remember how this song was the subject of an FBI Investigation for the possible crime of having obscene lyrics, an absolutely real thing that happened?  The culture wars have been with us always.

The Singing Nun, "Dominique"--So our number two song (for at least the second consecutive week) is...a folk song about a hermit who goes around praising God, sung in French?  GOOD GOD YOU 1964 PEOPLE WERE WEIRD.  Obviously, it's impossible to imagine any of these charting today, but somehow it's the most impossible for this one.  For what it's worth, it's pleasant enough, a bit jaunty, but generally forgettable.

Bobby Vinton, "There I've Said It Again"--GOOD LORD.  This is one of the most soupy, lugubrious things I've ever heard.  When people go on about how great music used to be and how now it's bad Justin Bieber blah blah, play them this and just dare them to try to defend it.

Bobby Rydell, "Forget Him"--Why do we need so dang many Bobbies, huh?  Tell me that!  This is in sort of the same vein as the Vinton number, but it's much more tolerable--faster-paced, and even if it's not exactly my cup of tea, I can recognize that Rydell does have a terrific singing voice.  I don't know; I won't complain if I hear this again someday.

The Murmaids, "Popsicles and Icicles"--I...don't get the purpose of the 'U' is.  It's not recognizably a pun, so what's it for?  At least "Beatles" meant something.  Anyway, as you might guess, it's a girl group.  The singers talk about the things that their boyfriend likes, and let us know that "these are a part of the boy I love."  That line, I dunno.  I tried to put myself in the headspace of the singer, and maybe it's just because I'm a bit stoned, but it actually kind of worked, and I appreciated the song more than I expected to.  It's still not good, though; if I hear this again some day, I'll probably turn it off halfway through.

Lenny Welch, "Since I Fell for You"--So I don't think this is terrible; I can absolutely see why it was popular with our parents; it doesn't make me feel alienated from previous generations.  Welch has a powerful voice, and he uses it effectively on this torch song standard.  Nonetheless, I dunno.  I appreciate it more than I like it, maybe you'd say.

Barry & the Tamerlanes, "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight"--So does Barry's backing band have a gimmick where they all come on stage dressed as feared fourteenth-century Mongol warlord Tamerlane the Great?  I would assume so.  And I've spent a lot of time contemplating that to avoid focusing on how much this song bores me.  It kind of sounds exactly what you'd think a song from 1964 would sound like, and not the best version of that song.  Whatever, you can have it, it's not the worst thing in the world, but it's not super high on the list of best things in the world either.

Jack Jones, "Wives & Lovers"--Oh, gross.  This isn't, as it turns out, a song about infidelity, at least not in the most obvious way.  It's about how wives always should make sure to stay hot for their husbands, or else, you know, there are girls at the office...blah.  Actually, if you make it gender neutral, advising people to stay attractive for their partners (within some parameters, of course) is unobjectionable if banal advice.  But man, I don't like this.  It's by Burt Bacharach, which may give it some cachet, but blah.

Jan and Dean, "Drag City"--Yeah!  A song about driving your cool car!  What more do you want?  I feel like Jan and Dean got overshadowed by the Beach Boys, but they were plenty capable on their own.  This isn't transcendent or anything, but it's reasonably fun.

Dion Dimuci, "Drip Drop"--Well this is goofy.  And the thing is, I can't tell how serious it's meant to be.  I mean, "the roof is leaking and the rain's falling on my head, it won't stop/The roof is leaking and the rain's falling on my head, I need a mop?"  That seems goofy.  But then again, he's anguished because his girl left him, which is serious.  Maybe.  Then again, serious songs can also be goofy.  "There ain't no Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box?"  I don't know.  I'm confused by this.  I don't like it I don't not like it I just want to stop thinking about it.

The Trashmen, "Surfin' Bird"--I must admit, to my great shame, that my only previous familiarity with this song was from--sigh--a Family Guy episode, in which Peter becomes obsessed with it.  But good God; I take back any criticism I've made of our forebears.  I'm with them one hundred percent here, and I kind of do wish that current popular music sounded like this.  It really is the most gleefully idiotic thing imaginable, and I love it unironically.

Dale & Grace, "I'm Leaving It Up to You"--She wants him to decide whether their relationship will last or not.  A slow, boring country ballad that seems way longer than two minutes.  I have nothing else to say.

Chiffons, "I Have a Boyfriend"--I've been kind of waiting for a fun, peppy girl group song along the lines of "And Then He Kissed Me" or "My Boyfriend's Back."  This one isn't on that level, but it's certainly better than that Murmaids thing, with some nice harmonies.  An honorable if fairly minor effort.

Johnny Tillotson, "Talk Back Trembling Lips"--A better country song than that Dale & Grace thing.  Another of those instances where I'm not a huge fan but I can understand how someone else might be.  Well, maybe not a huge fan.  WHATEVER.  BLARGH.

The Tymes, "Somewhere"--A doo-wop song with irritating finger snaps.  I don't know, I suppose it's okay, I don't want to trash it, but I don't find the harmonies that interesting, and the main singer's voice sounds notably weak to me.  I don't like it.

Marth and the Vandellas, "Quicksand"--Well hello there!  This song definitely feels bigger than most of the stuff here, if that makes sense.  That they're really going for it.  I really like Martha's voice, and I really like this song.

Shirley Ellis, "The Nitty Gritty"--Hey, this is a catchy little thing.  I like it.  Mind you, the lyrics are almost self-parodying in their utter refusal to say anything, and there might not be quite enough song here to really fill up two minutes.  I'd still rank it high as far as this lot goes, however!

The Rip Chords, "Hey Little Cobra"--YES!  Here have a Beach-Boys-alike group doing a song about that classic surf band preoccupation, cool teenagers racing souped-up hotrods against kids from rival schools.  How come we don't have hit songs about that anymore?  Our culture has lost so much.  Anyway, this is a perfectly serviceable example of the genre.  Not only would I not turn it off if it came on the radio, but I might even--gasp--seek it out on my own.  I mean, probably not, but it's not inconceivable.

The Caravelles, "You Don't Have to Be a Baby to Cry"--Yeah, okay.  Another girl group thing.  As with so much on this list, it defies my critical faculties.  It's an exemplar of the thing that it is.  No more, no less.

The Ronettes, "Baby I Love You"--The first thing you notice about this is the rather murky production.  The second is that the lead Ronette has a slightly grating voice.  I don't know, this really isn't all that different musically from "I Have a Boyfriend," but less catchy, and that overbearing production really is a problem.  It's no joke.

Lesley Gore, "You Don't Own Me"--Fuck yeah!  Here's a pleasingly bracing blast of feminism.  Musically, it's definitely of its time, but it has a sinuous rhythm that reveals itself on multiple listenings.

Joey Powers, "Midnight Mary"--The cool title may give you unreasonable expectations for this song, unfortunately.  He has to meet his girlfriend, Mary, at midnight, because "your daddy says I'm a bad boy and you've no future with me/So we can only get togther by meeting secretly."  I worry that writing it out like that may unfairly make it sound dumber than it is, but no, it's pretty dumb however you experience it.  The narrator also "just got a job on the railroad," he wants you to know, to "build us a future and show your daddy he's wrong."  That's a weird detail!  And in general, the lyrics are just laborious as heck.  This is definitely one of the dumber songs on the list, and not in a good "Surfin' Bird" kind of way.

The Marketts, "Out of Limits"--Oh man, here's an awesome surf-rock instrumental.  Surf rock is dope, is my opinion, and this is a nice, sizzling example of that.

Rick Nelson, "For You"--I know it's usually "Ricky," but it's credited different ways different places.  I didn't know 'til now that he died in a plane crash.  That sucks.  But regardless, this is another boring-ish love song.  Look, I can't keep finding things to say about all this stuff.

Nino Tempo & April Stevens, "Whispering"--Most musical duos don't use their first and last names, do they?  Weird.  Well, not that weird.  Nino and April's voices combine fairly neatly, but the actual song...well, there's probably a reason they don't, as a duo, rank with Simon and Garfunkel or Hall and Oates.

Ray Charles, "Lucky Old Sun"--Huh.  The second-last song on this list, and it's the only one by an artist who would probably be said to still have some degree of cultural cachet, or whom anyone would still think of as cool.  Does that mean I'm a philistine if I say I also found if a bit boring?  I mean, I listen to it and sure, I can't see the level of artistry involved, and I can easily imagine that it could grow on me with multiple listenings, but eh.  That doesn't seem likely to happen.

Major Lance, "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um"--HA!  You probably didn't even realize this was a song at first.  Well, it is.  Obviously.  By Curtis Mayfield, no less.  Unfortunately, it's not as dumb as its title might indicate, but nor is it a work of genius.  Basically, all men just need to go um, um, um, um, um, um from time to time.  As simple as that.  Alas, all those "um" DO get a bit boring.  Guy has a nice voice, though.

SO WHAT CAN WE CONCLUDE from this exercise?  I don't know; not that much, but I am surprised by the number of songs on this list that I actually kind of liked.  I really expected this to mostly be an exercise in masochism, but while it had its low points, it wasn't nearly as bad as I had thought (hoped?) it would be.  At any rate, I'll take "Louie Louie," "Drag City," "Surfin' Bird," "Quicksand," "Hey Little Cobra," You Don't Own Me," and "Out of Limits."  Maybe "Forget Him" and "The Nitty Gritty." Not a terrible ratio, really.  It might be interesting for me to look at a contemporary pop chart--which music I have even less experience with than the above--to compare and contrast.  We'll see.


Blogger Pan MiluĊ› pontificated to the effect that...

I'm very familiar The Singing Nun "Dominique" a lot I guess much like Sister Cristina part of novelty is the fact that she was a nun with incredible singing talent but never the less I find the song very catchy and plesant.

6:24 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

EMERGENCY! I realize I missed several songs from the list! I'll give them a listen later today and update!

4:31 PM  
Blogger Ed Moses pontificated to the effect that...

So where's the update anyway? The suspense is killing me!

10:25 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

I did it, I did it! I had missed "Wives & Lovers," "Drag City," and Drip Drip." Now, they're on the list. A miracle!

11:28 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon pontificated to the effect that...

"Murmaid" makes me think "murmur", but that's admittedly kind of the opposite of what a singer does. Hm.

8:01 PM  

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