Since it’s Rocktober, I thought I’d revisit the charts.
When I was growing up in New York City, the local stations made a big deal about their weekly countdowns, and every week music fanatics (like me) were glued to the radio, ready to jot them down as they were played and guess which songs finished where. Forget Dick Clark and Casey Kasem, in NYC it was all about WABC and WMCA. At the end of the year they’d do their annual countdown and even mail you the final list if you sent in an envelope. Somewhere in a dusty attic box, I still have a few that I treasured as a kid.
I guarantee that when pop culture historians look at the tail end of the 1960s, they will rate that period as important to music history as the Industrial Revolution was to Western Civilization. Living through it was amazing. But even looking back on how the charts morphed over a decade, it’s obvious that a seismic shift had occurred.
So this week I give you Ten Rocktober Chart Toppers - the Number One hits from the first week of October. It’s only going to get stranger each Friday.
1963) Blue Velvet (Bobby Vinton) – The early 60s was crooner heaven, as well as a haven for single-named teen idols. Four lads from Liverpool changed all that the year prior, but you don’t build Rome in a day. I can’t listen to this song anymore without picturing Dennis Hopper.
1964) Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison) – I still can’t believe that voice came out of that head. Orbison’s growl on the bridge just made a cool song even cooler – even Van Halen couldn’t ruin this gem.
1965) Hang On Sloopy (The McCoys) – The Ohio State National Anthem, this garage rock chestnut featured a teenage Rick Derringer and still sounds great. A very underappreciated band who cut some great pop sides and then morphed into Johnny Winter’s best band. (This rare version has the extra verse)
1966) Cherish (The Association) – Not quite rock, I know, but you must have that slow grind song for the prom, and this was it – plus it covered the pain of unrequited love! And if you want to punish this great vocal group for being wimpy, you have to give them props for “Along Came Mary”.
1967) The Letter (The Box Tops) – Teenage Alex Chilton hooked up with Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham and cut one of the gruffest, blusiest vocals ever recorded. Absolute killer stuff, in and out in under two minutes and always sounds fresh when you hear it.
1968) Hey Jude (The Beatles) – Beginning its nine week run atop the charts, an instant sing-along classic and one of the longest tracks in chart history. Whatever happened to those guys?
1969) Sugar Sugar (The Archies) – If he could make a gazillion dollars with four actors, how much could Don Kirschner make from four cartoon characters who wouldn’t insist on playing their own instruments? This was the song that dethroned “Honky Tonk Women”…I am not making that up.
1970) Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Diana Ross) – Motown ruled the charts in the 60s but this version pales in comparison to the 1967 version by the great Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell - a hit three years earlier.
1971) Maggie May (Rod Stewart) – Single and album simultaneously blew up and made rooster head a star. For a couple of years he and The Faces made the best music on Earth and then Rod followed the money, which he is still doing forty years later.
1972) Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me (Mac Davis) – And you wonder why people said “rock is dead”? Other 1972 chart toppers included “Candy Man” from Sammy Davis Jr., Michael Jackson’s turgid ”Ben” and Melanie’s screeching “Brand New Key”. The year was so lame that Gilbert O’Sullivan’s nasal “Alone Again Naturally” spent four weeks at the top, lost its place and then floated up again like a dead fish for two more.
Thankfully, album rock was there to save the day.