Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Do #1 Hits Provide a Good Guide to the Quality of Current Music? Did They Ever?

I've been doing a series of posts (on a closed FB site) on the #1 hit singles from 1965 to 1969.  (Because my 45th college reunion is coming up, that's why.)  My memory is that the music of those four years was extraordinary, and somehow that was not coming through when I looked at the #1s.  Especially those from September 1967 to August 1968 (The final column is weeks at #1).

August 20 – September 16 1967
Bobbie Gentry - Ode to Billie Joe
September 17 – October 14 1967
Box Tops - The Letter
October 15 – November 18 1967
Lulu - To Sir with Love
November 19 – 25 1967
Strawberry Alarm Clock - Incense and Peppermints
November 26 – December 23 1967
Monkees - Daydream Believer
December 24 1967 – January 13 1968
Beatles - Hello, Goodbye
January 14 – 27 1968
John Fred and His Playboy Band - Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)
January 28 – February 3 1968
Lemon Pipers - Green Tambourine
February 4 – March 9 1968
Paul Mauriat - Love Is Blue
March 10 – April 6 1968
Otis Redding - Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay
April 7 – May 11 1968
Bobby Goldsboro - Honey
May 12 – 25 1968
Archie Bell and The Drells - Tighten Up
May 26 – June 15 1968
Simon and Garfunkel - Mrs. Robinson
June 16 – July 13 1968
Herb Alpert - This Guy's In Love With You
July 14 – 27 1968
Hugh Masekela - Grazing In The Grass
July 28 – August 10 1968
Doors - Hello, I Love You
August 11 – September 14 1968
Rascals - People Got To Be Free

Now, there are some very good songs here.  But there's also a lot of fluff and dreck ("To Sir, With Love;" "Incense and Peppermint;" "Judy In Disguise';" "Green Tambourine;" "Love Is Blue;" "Honey;" "Tighten Up;" "This Guy's In Love With You;" accounting for 25 of the 53 weeks).  And much of what I remember from 1967-68 is not to be found.

There are some reasons for this.  For example, The Beatles chose not to release any singles from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  For example, the only album Bob Dylan released in this period was John Wesley Harding, and the only single from the album was "Drifter's Escape."  ("All along the Watchtower" was released in November 1968, and Jimi Hendrix had a monster hit with it separately.)  The Kinks album of the time was Something Else, which peaked on the album charts in the US at #135; "Waterloo Sunset" is probably the best-known song from the album, and although it reached #2 on the British pop charts, if never made the top 100 in the US.  The Who Sell Out was released in December 1967, with only 1 single released--"I Can See For Miles"--which peaked at #10 in the US.

But the number of outstanding songs...well,, looking back, I am amazed.  Here's a list of songs that hit the top 40, and never made it to #1, that I personally think are terrific (note that this is not a complete list of songs from the top 40):

Light My Fire (twice, two different performers)
I was Made To Love Her
A Whiter Shade of Pale
Funky Broadway
All You Need Is Love
Brown-Eyed Girl
There Is a Mountain
Higher and Higher
Soul Man
Natural Woman
People Are Strange
I Can See For Miles
I Heard It Through the Grapevine
I Second That Emotion
Chain of Fools
Different Drum
I Wish It Would Rain
I Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Is In
Walk Away Renee
I Thank You
Dance To the Music
The Mighty Quinn
Scarborough Fair/Canticle
Lady Madonna
A Beautiful Morning
Summertime Blues
Like To Get To Know You
Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing
Cry Like a Baby
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Stoned Soul Picnic
Hurdy-Gurdy Man
Classical Gas
Sunshine of Your Love
Born To Be Wild
You Keep Me Hangin’ On
Journey To the Center Of Your Mind
Dream a Little Dream Of Me
People Got To Be Free

I did not list the performers (but will note that there are three song by Aretha Franklin on the list).  There were 17 #1 songs from September 1967 to August 1968.  My list has 40 songs on it.  Take the 17 worst songs from my list and compare those to the #1 hits.  Which would you rather listen to?  For me, it's an easy choice.

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