March 6 – People Gave In To Temptations To Buy Single

Motown had one of its first big days this day in 1965 – “My Girl” by the Temptations hit #1 in the U.S., making it the first chart-topper on mainstream charts for that band and only the second one for male artists on Motown, which to that point had had most of its success with girl groups such as the Supremes. For the Temptations, it was their 11th single but the first one to go to the top of the singles chart, although the previous year they’d had their first of 15 #1’s on the R&B chart with “The Way You Do the Things You Do.”

It came about at the Apollo Theater in late-’64, when two of Motown’s top acts – The Temptations and The Miracles – were playing double bills. Smokey Robinson had written the song, with a little help from his Miracles bandmate Ronald White, and the Temptations heard it and loved it. The story varies a little depending on who tells it, and when. Robinson originally said his wife back then, Claudette, inspired it, but years afterwards would say it was “written with all the women in the world in mind.” Likewise, at times he’s said he originally planned to have The Miracles do it, with him singing it himself, but was convinced to let The Temptations do it because they loved it so much; other times he’s said he wrote it specifically for David Ruffin of The Temptations who could “belt out” the tunes with his “mellow yet gruff” voice. Either way, that’s what happened and it was the first Temptations single to have Ruffin singing lead. Eddie Kendricks had usually been their main singer upto then. The rest of the group weren’t ecstatic at the idea at first but Smokey and Barry Gordy (Motown’s owner) convinced them to let Ruffin take the mic and the results were startling- they went on to have a great string of hits with him singing including “I Wish it Would Rain” and “Ain’t too Proud to Beg.”. Of course, the universality and simplicity of the song and catchy melody would have likely made it a hit with any of the Temptations taking the lead. While the song hit #1 in the U.S., it only got to #8 in Canada and missed the top 40 altogether in Britain at the time. However, oddly enough it was re-released and got to #2 there in 1992 when it was used as the title track to a Macaulay Culkin movie!

Rolling Stone rank it as the 88th greatest song of all-time, sandwiched between two other ’60s greats, the Mamas & the Papa’s “California Dreamin’” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” By the way, Robinson apparently didn’t want to be sexist… he also wrote the hit “My Guy” for Mary Wells.


February 5 – Barrett Was One Of Motown’s Strong-est Writers

Remembering one of Motown’s greats on what would have been his 82nd birthday. Barrett Strong was born this day in 1941, in rural Mississippi. With a lot of talent and a little luck, he became one of the best R&B songwriters of his era and briefly, a hit as a singer as well.

His dad was described as a “minister” and a “farm laborer”; presumably the two could intermingle easily. However, when Barrett was just four, the father packed the family up and moved to Detroit in search of better-paying factory work. That’s where the luck part came in; they moved to a neighborhood where the lad went to school with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Lamont Dozier.

The senior Strong bought an old piano and young Barrett taught himself to play…and play well. He told NPR he and his sisters called themselves The Strong Singers and “we’d go from church to church and sing and play.” As a youth, Aretha “used to come by the house” and when established stars like Jackie Wilson or Sam Cooke came to Detroit, “they would come by. I’d play the piano and we’d just have a jamboree at the house.”

Such friends, and a real talent for playing as well as writing lyrics got him signed to Motown (or its early division, Tamla) early on in the company’s days, when he was still in his mid-teens. And he sang the label’s first hit song – “Money (That’s What I Want)”. Not only did it crack the national top 30 in 1960, it was soon covered famously by the Beatles. Barrett probably did a lot more than just sing it; he claims to have co-written it with Gordy and the original copyright would support that, but the label boss later removed Strong from the credits, and added in a teenaged secretary of his, Janie Bradford. The pair of men also dispute who played piano on the single; given Strong’s talent on the instrument and friends he played with, smart money might bet on it being him, not the corporate president.

That was it for his time in the spotlight as a singer, though he tried to record again later on, but failed to match the success of “Money.” His dislike of touring might have hindered his star potential there. No matter though, he became one of Motown’s top staff songwriters, often working with Norman Whitfield. Strong typically did the lyrics, Whitfield the composing but there seemed to be crossover at times. Anyhow, the combination worked and they wrote a stack of Motown greats of the ’60s and early-’70s including “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (“I sat down and started playing the bassline, and I said ‘I got something here.’ I knew it was a hit!”), the Undisputed Truths’ “Smiling Faces Sometimes” and several of the Temptations best, including “Ball of Confusion”, “I Can’t Get Next To You” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, for which he took home a Grammy award.

The good times came to an end when Motown moved to L.A. Strong didn’t want to leave the Midwest (by then he’d largely moved to Chicago although he still had ties to Detroit) and thus quit, embarking on his singing career again after signing to Epic Records.

He was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2004. Sadly he passed away just over a week ago, just shy of his 82nd birthday, in a nursing home in (ironically) the L.A. Area. He was survived by seven kids, but had been a widower for nearly 20 years . At least his music left behind a lot of “smiling faces sometimes.”

December 27 – A Supreme Ending To The ’60s

The decade was coming to a close and so too were some of its defining acts. By the end of 1969, The Beatles had split up (even if the public wasn’t aware yet) and had put out the last album they recorded together, Abbey Road and Motown’s lovely surefire hit-makers, The Supremes were supremely disjointed. That group had made their first appearance on the influential Ed Sullivan Show this day in 1964 and five years later, they had the #1 song. It was to be the final #1 song of the 1960s – “Someday, We’ll Be Together.

The song was on the Supremes album Cream of the Crop but the single was – generously – put down as Diana Ross and the Supremes. Generous since the other two Supremes, Cindy Birdsong and Mary Wilson weren’t on it! By then, nearly paralleling the situation across the pond in Liverpool, the Supremes, arguably the most reliable American hit artists of the decade, had hit rocky shores and Diana Ross, the face and main voice, had quit, leaving the two backup singers to flounder and look for another lead singer.

Motown boss Berry Gordy was OK with this it seems; he rightly judged that Ross could be a breakthrough star in her own right. “Someday…” was supposed to be her grand entrance onto the solo stage, her first single, but at the last moment, Gordy decided that it might work better under “The Supremes” name tag, and generate more publicity for Ross who was leaving the band. He booked them onto the Ed Sullivan Show the week before Christmas to sing it on their 20th and final appearance there and they finished their final show, in Las Vegas in early January ’70, with it.

Call it “Diana Ross”, call it “The Supremes”, it was a smash. It became their 12th – and last – American #1 hit (the Beatles , for comparison had 18 and two more in the early-’70s), and won them their second platinum single. It also hit the top 10 to the north in Canada and the south, in South Africa.

The song of hope mixed with sadness had first been released by Johnny Bristol and Jackey Beavers in 1961, to very little notice outside of a handful of cities in the Midwest. The pair, (not very successful R&B singers but writers and producers who’d go on to success in that capacity at Motown) had written the song along with Harvey Fuqua of ’50s doo-wop group The Moonglows.

The song had various interpretations, never a bad thing in the sales column. Most interpreted (probably correctly) as being a girl singing to a guy crush who was going away but , she hoped, going to be back someday. Fitting for many troubled couples, and for the gals seeing their boys shipped over to Vietnam in that era. Others thought it was more wide-reaching, thinking the “we” was the Blacks and the Whites, after years of race rioting in Detroit and other centers across the country. Still others thought it was a nice “see you soon” from Ross, meaning that she’d rejoin The Supremes after a record or two.

The latter interpretation was quite wrong. She went on to have success – not quite the level she’d enjoyed with the Supremes, but pretty bigtime nonetheless – for over two decades, while the Supremes never hit the top 5 again and quickly disappeared from the public eye. They did reunite briefly in 1983, to perform this very song on the Motown 25th Anniversary tv show, but that was that. You can catch that on the DVD release of the special – but edited. A part where Diana actually shoved Wilson out of the way to get more of the camera for herself, was edited out.

By the way, if the other two weren’t singing on it, who did we hear? Various Motown backup singers added some harmonies and Johnny Bristol adds the very definitely male bits. He was in the studio, prompting and egging Diana on; they planned to discard his part, but when Gordy heard it, he liked it and kept in on the record.

December 17 – Temptation To Call Him Birmingham’s Favorite Singing Son

One of Motown’s great voices was born 83 years ago today. Eddie Kendricks (actually born “Kendrick”) grew up in Alabama, singing as a child in Birmingham church choirs.

He formed an R&B group, The Cavaliers in 1955 and they moved to Cleveland soon after, thinking Northern audiences were a bit more receptive to Black musicians in that era. A couple of name changes and another move, to Detroit, got them a deal with Motown as Mary Wells backing band, called The Temptations. Motown soon realized they had talent in their own right and soon they were one of the label’s top acts, with Kendricks’ adding a falsetto-take to his deep tenor voice on songs like “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “I Can’t Get Next To You”- as well as picking out the snazzy wardrobe the group was noted for!

Unfortunately, he didn’t like the band’s shift in sound in the late-’60s nor Motown itself (he later said of Berry Gordy “I know he didn’t particularly care for me”) yet signed a contract with them again when he left the Temptations in ’71. He had minor solo success in the ’70s, most notably with his ’73 American #1 single “Keep on Truckin’” and briefly returned to the Temptations in 1982, even appearing with them on stage at Live Aid with Hall & Oates. Unfortunately years of smoking had hurt his voice and ultimately cost him his life. He died of lung cancer in 1992.

As time has passed, his reputation has grown somewhat. During his tenure with the band, he was often seen as a “minor” singer, and compared negatively to David Ruffin. Rolling Stone for instance, have Ruffin on their list of 100 greatest singers, but not Kendricks. But recently many, like Soulful Detroit have re-thought that. That publications says they “think he’s under-rated compared to David (Ruffin)… the two men shouldn’t be compared. Vocally they are very different…Eddie’s tenor was brilliantly sweet (at its) best conveying love and romance.” His native Birmingham love him though and dedicated a park , complete with sculpture of the Temptations, to him a few years later.

November 7 – Turntable Talk, Round 8 : A Really Big Show-y Year

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! As by now, regular readers know, that’s when I have several interesting guest writers sound off on one topic related to the music that we look at here daily. This is our eighth round of it, and if you’re new here, I recommend taking a look back at some of the earlier topics we’ve covered like why the Beatles are still relevant, or “did video kill the radio star?” or the one dealing with one hit wonders we ran at the start of last month.

This month, a simple category…but one which is challenging and should bring up some interesting memories : Those Were The Days My Friend. Simply put, we’re asking the contributors to write about “music’s best year.”

Obviously, that’s a pretty subjective choice. A few executives might try to look at sales charts and give a statistical answer based on album sales or concert grosses, but to most it comes down to the year that seemed to be when the best music was played, or when the most really good records came out. We’ve not limited it but I would expect that most are going to pick a year from the ‘rock era’ in the second half of the 20th Century. But if someone opines it was 1804 because that was when Beethoven started working on his 5th Symphony, that’ll be interesting to read about. Today we have Keith from Nostalgic Italian, where he documents his interesting life with a growing family as well as memories of bygone pictures and tunes. He worked on air in radio in the ’80s and ’90s… will that decide his pick? :

Once again, Dave from A Sound Day has asked some of us music lovers to participate in another round of Turntable Talk. This time around was a bit of a challenge for me.

This particular blog will be one of the last ones to be featured and I do not know if my year will be or has been featured. I plan on writing this KNOWING that the year I have chosen very well may be one that comes up in another post. Before I tell you the year I picked, let me tell you that I had a very difficult time narrowing it down.

My first thought was to go with 1956/1957 because those years were always so unique. You had the birth of rock and roll mixing with pop standards. When I worked at Honey Radio, I loved doing the Top 12 at 12 show when those years popped up because there was such a big variety in what was played. You could go from Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis to Pat Boone or Nelson Riddle. When I looked at the list of songs, however, were they really the BEST? No.

The same thing can be said for some of the years in the 70’s. I looked through many lists and while there were many great songs, there were also a lot of really crappy songs! I just couldn’t really come up with the conviction to pick a year in that decade as the BEST.

One year kept coming up every time I started thinking about it – 1964.

I want you to know before I continue that I was dead set AGAINST 1964 when I read Dave’s e-mail. Why? Well, I felt that it would just be too Beatle-heavy and loaded with British Invasion stuff. And it is. On the Top 100 Chart, The Fab Four nabbed 9 spots. 18 spots were held by other British Invasion acts. In total 27% of the Top 100 were British acts. When I really looked at the chart, the more and more I felt like this WAS the year.

1964 really was the year of the Beatles, so let’s discuss them first. They were present almost right from the start as their Introducing … The Beatles album was released in America on January 10th of that year.

This album preceded Capitol Records “Meet the Beatles” by 10 days and there was a lawsuit surround that whole issue. Capitol Records won an injunction and Vee-jay Records was not allowed to put out any more Beatles recordings.

In February of 1964, the Beatles arrived in the U.S. and appeared on Ed Sullivan’s show three times (2/9, 2/16, and 2/23). In March of 64, Billboard magazine stated that the Beatles were responsible for 60% of all single record sales! In a feat that has yet to be matched, on April 4, 1964, the Beatles held the Top 5 spots on the Billboard chart!

A week later, the boys held 14 spots on the Hot 100 Chart! That broke the previous record of 9 spots held by Elvis Presley in 1956.

In May, The Beatles Second Album was released and in July, they would release A Hard Day’s Night in theaters. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” wound up being the #1 song for the whole year of 64 (“She Loves You” was #2) To say that they played a small part in the music of 1964 would be a huge understatement.

Among the other artists that came over from “across the pond” in 64 were Manfred Mann (“Do Wah Diddy Diddy”), Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (“Little Children” and “Bad to Me”), The Dave Clark Five (“Glad All Over”, “Because”, “Do You Love Me”), Peter and Gordon (“A World Without Love”), The Animals (“House of the Rising Son”), The Honeycombs (“Have I The Right”), Dusty Springfield (“Wishin’ and Hopin’”), Gerry & The Pacemakers (“Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” and “How Do You Do It”), Chad and Jeremy (“A Summer Song”), The Kinks (“You Really Got Me”), and the Searchers (“Don’t Throw Your Love Away” and “Needles and Pins”). It is interesting to note that the Rolling Stones debut album was released this year, but no songs appear in the Top 100 for the year.

Once you move away from the British artists, the chart has a nice variety of pop, rock, folk, country, soul, and even a few novelty songs. I think that is what made me ultimately choose this particular year.

It was nice to look over the Top 100 and see Motown represented with some classics. The Supremes hold two of the six Motown songs (“Where Did Our Love Go” and “Baby Love”), Motown was female heavy as Mary Wells (“My Guy”) and Martha and the Vandellas (“Dancin’ In The Street”) grabbed the next two spots, and the male gender was represented by The Four Tops (“Baby I Need Your Loving”) and The Temptations (“The Way You Do The Things You Do”).

While they were not “oldies” at the time, there were some classic songs that are still in hot rotation today on the oldies stations across the country. Roy Orbison had a smash with “Pretty Woman” in ’64, and also had a hit with “It’s Over”. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons grabbed three of the Top 100 with “Rag Doll”, “Dawn” and “Ronnie”. The Beach Boys only entry in the Top 100 was “I Get Around”.

1964 brought us classics like The Drifters “Under The Boardwalk”, “Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups, “Suspicion” by Terry Stafford, “It Hurts to Be In Love” from Gene Pitney and “Come A Little Bit Closer” by Jay and the Americans. Johnny Rivers had a hit with Chuck Berry’s “Memphis”, Bobby Freeman invited us to “C’mon and Swim”, Detroit’s Reflections offered up “Just Like Romeo and Juliet” and the Shangri-Las told us the story of the “Leader of the Pack”.

Car songs were well represented in ’64! Ronny and the Daytonas had “GTO”, while the Rip Chords sang “Hey Little Cobra”, and the Hondells had “Little Honda”. Jan and Dean told us the stories of “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena” and “Dead Man’s Curve”, while J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers told us the tragic story of a “Last Kiss”.

Soul music is represented by The Impressions (“I’m So Proud” and “Keep on Pushing”), Joe Hinton (“Funny How Time Slips Away”), The Tams (“What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am”), Jimmy Hughes (“Steal Away”) and Nancy Wilson (“How Glad Am I”). If you throw Blues into the “Soul” mix, the great Tommy Tucker song “Hi Heel Sneakers” was out in 1964.

Instrumentally, Al Hirt had a monster hit with “Java”, The Ventures had “Walk Don’t Run”, The Marketts had “The Outer Limits”, and Robert Maxwell had the incredibly cheesy lounge version of “Shangri-la”. While novelty songs included Jumpin’ Gene Simmons (“Haunted House”), The Trashmen (“Surfin’ Bird”) and Roger Miller (“Chug-a-Lug”).

While Rock was dominant in 1964, there were still some pop (and even folk) songs that made the Top 100 – one of them, doing the “impossible.” Two of the biggest pop hits of the year couldn’t be more different from each other. The third biggest hit of the year belonged to Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and his Dixieland hit “Hello, Dolly!” Barbra Streisand (who won Album of the year at the 1964 Grammy Awards) had the 11th biggest hit of the year with “People.”

Pop/Folk was also represented by Gale Garnett (“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”), The Ray Charles Singers (“Love Me With All Your Heart”), Dionne Warwick (“Walk On By”), Al Martino (“I Love You More and More Every Day”), and Andy Williams (“A Fool Never Learns”). But the biggest surprise came from an artist who hadn’t had a top 40 record since 1958!

Dean Martin didn’t care for Rock and Roll. With the British Invasion in full swing, there was very little chance of him ever having another hit. His kids loved the new artists. His son, Dean Paul, loved the Beatles. Dean told his boy, “I’m gonna knock your pallies off the charts!” On August 15, 1964 – he did just that with a song that became his NEW theme song, “Everybody Loves Somebody.” (It replaced “That’s Amore” as his theme song.)

The song knocked the beloved Beatles “A Hard Day’s Night” out of the number 1 spot! It went on to stay at #1 on the Pop Standards Singles Chart for 8 weeks. It also became the theme to his weekly television show in 1965.

I picked 1964 for a few reasons. Despite my initial worry about it being British act heavy, it was the year that introduced us to the Beatles (who changed the music scene forever!). It is also the year that one act held the top 5 spots on the charts (a record that remains in place). It is also the year that my favorite singer of all time bumped the biggest group in music out of the top spot.

It is also a year that encompasses such a vast variety of music. While there may be better songs that appeared before and after 1964, it truly represents a unique time in history. America was still recovering from the loss of a beloved president, there were still Civil Rights issues, and a war in Vietnam. The music of 1964 was a welcome escape from so many things.

Was it all good? No, and that is true of every year. However, as I look at the 100 biggest songs of the year, there are a lot of great songs that have gone on to become classics. There are so many songs that are still looked at as pivotal in the music scene. The fact that many of these songs are still getting airplay today is a statement to just how good they are.

Thanks again to Dave at a Sound Day for allowing me to be a part of this feature. I can only hope that my contribution is worthy of an invite to participate in the next round.

November 6 – Turntable Talk, Round 6 : This Year Had A Lot To Cover

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! As by now, regular readers know, that’s when I have several interesting guest writers sound off on one topic related to the music that we look at here daily. This is our seventh round of it, and if you’re new here, I recommend taking a look back at some of the earlier topics we’ve covered like why the Beatles are still relevant, or “did video kill the radio star?” or the one dealing with one hit wonders we ran at the start of last month.

This month, a simple category…but one which is challenging and should bring up some interesting memories : Those Were The Days My Friend. Simply put, we’re asking the contributors to write about “music’s best year.”

Obviously, that’s a pretty subjective choice. A few executives might try to look at sales charts and give a statistical answer based on album sales or concert grosses, but to most it comes down to the year that seemed to be when the best music was played, or when the most really good records came out. We’ve not limited it but I would expect that most are going to pick a year from the ‘rock era’ in the second half of the 20th Century. But if someone opines it was 1804 because that was when Beethoven started working on his 5th Symphony, that’ll be interesting to read about. Today we have Randy from Mostly Music Covers up in Canada. Will his interest in cover songs and how they mark a great song influence his pick? :

When Dave sent out a challenge for the guest writers to choose what we believe is the best year in music, you may as well have asked me to choose my favorite child! I like lots of genre from lots of decades, and I’m old so that’s many years to sift through, let alone remember. For some reason this analogy came to mind, just 5 minutes from where I live is the Sugar Shanty operated by Rolling Ridge Maple Products. They tap about 15,000 trees; each one will produce 15 gallons or more per season. So, every Spring they take this roughly 225,000 gallons of sap and boil it down to about 5,500 gallons of Maple Syrup. For me to find my sweet spot for music will take distilling a forest of songs and yet unfortunately, it will not yield anything so delicious. I have put my researchers cap on and tried to weight the artists and songs I love with my knowledge of the historical merits of the music.

When I first read the proposed topic the years 1969, 1970 and 1971 came to mind and I am not alone on those choices. I’m a cover song person so I tend to lean heavily on this metric to gage the significance of years, songs, and artists. According to there are 31,131 covers of songs that originated in 1967. In second place is 1965 with 27,876 covers. The previously mentioned years; 1969 has 20,201, 1970 has 21,912 and 1971 has 19,830. In 1972 we see a similar total at 19,269. All lofty numbers with the peak years running from about 1956 to 1977.

I then started to think about the songs from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rolling Stone magazine and bunch of other sources that list the best years, songs, and artists. As Dave had suggested we take a scroll through our record collections and the old iPod. I did just that, my LP collection, sad as it is and un-played for many a year is almost all from the ’70’s and ’80’s with artists that I liked enough to invest in. However, the largest collection I have is in my iTunes library. The oldest songs are by Jimmie Rodgers from 1929 and the last time I downloaded an album was in 2019 so we’ve narrowed things down to a 90 year window. The most songs that I own originated in 1965. That seems as good a year as I will be able to produce, I guess I should have started there! So, be it resolved that the year 1965 is my choice for the best year in music.

Why is it that 1965 should be the best year in music? As mentioned, I am a cover song guy so it’s no coincidence I suppose that the most covered pop song of all time “Yesterday” by the Beatles/aka just Paul McCartney solo came out that year. As I mentioned above, 1965 comes in second to 1967 for the most songs covered.

Here are the some of the critical points that I believe prove that 1965 was the best year in music.

The Beatles and the British Invasion

The British invasion began in February of 1964, during that year for the first time nine songs from the UK hit #1 on Billboard and six of those belonged to The Beatles. In 1965 the trend continues as UK groups held the #1 spot for 28 weeks with new appearances by The Rolling Stones and six other bands. A record that still stands today.

To say that The Beatles were hot in 1965 is an understatement they followed their six #1’s in 1965 with another five. Apart from “Yesterday” (which currently has 1110 documented versions and there are estimates of thousands more) hitting #1 on Billboard for four weeks, in total they held the #1 spot for 12 weeks that year. Their highest charting songs were “Help” 3wks at #1, “I Feel Fine” 2wks at #1, “Ticket to Ride” one week at #1 and “Eight Days a Week”, 2wks at #1. At least twice that year British acts held the top nine songs of the week. Ok that’s not Drake or Taylor Swift stats but unprecedented for the times. From the weekly Top 40’s that year there was a total of 33 different artists from the UK.

The major point is that in 1965 the best-selling and most covered artists of all time, The Beatles or rather Beatlemania was at it’s peak. Their second U.S. tour included shows at Shea Stadium and The Hollywood Bowl with fans exhibiting a kind of mass hysteria previously reserved for Elvis Presley. The Beatles met Elvis only once, on August 27, at his home in Bel Air. The meeting was more significant to The Beatles who not only idolized Elvis but in some ways tried to emulate him, while it seems Elvis was initially somewhat non-plussed about the whole thing. John Lennon was nervous to meet the man he had worshipped since he was a teenager. The result was a friendly meeting and a jam session with John and Paul playing guitars and Elvis on bass. The Beatles would also meet with Dylan (first in 1964) and The Byrds during the tour. All these artists would take something away from the meetings that would influence their music.

Conversely in the UK the singles chart showed a reverse invasion. Something you don’t read as much about, but American acts charted very well. “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” by The Righteous Brothers followed by Roger Miller with “King of the Road”, “Crying in the Chapel” by Elvis Presley, “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds and “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher all hit #1 for two weeks each. The last American group to hold the #1 spot were The Walker Brothers with “Make it Easy on Yourself” for the week ending September 19. There was a total of 46 American acts in the Top 40 compared to the 33 UK acts in the US, and they called this period “The British Invasion”? The difference between the two was the dominance and high chart placement of the Invasion groups with 28 weeks at #1 versus the six American Acts hitting #1 in the UK for a total of 11 weeks. Nevertheless, there was no other year other than 1965 with so many American Artists in the UK Top 40.

What happened in this exchange was a new face to Popular Music. The borders were down, and artists of all stripes and genre toured foreign destinations like never before.

Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel and Folk Rock

In March of 1965 Dylan released his first electric Rock music on one half of his fifth Album Bringing it All Back Home. This album among it’s may now legendary songs had a track tilted “Mr. Tambourine Man” on the acoustic side of the album.

Mr. Tambourine Man” was covered by The Byrds and recorded April 12, 1965. Dylan had began playing the acoustic original in concert in 1964, then recorded it in studio January of 1965 but it was not released as a single by Dylan, but it was by (I have to say) the then very loosely organized band now calling themselves The Byrds. They were inspired by The Beatles and in particular George Harrisons 12 string Rickenbacker. Along with the admiration for Dylan, it turned out to be a recipe for success. They followed Dylan’s original by just three weeks as they had started to cover an amplified version in their live performances and had received an advance copy of the recording to work from in studio. They invited Dylan to listen, and he really liked it and got the blessing to release their version and Folk Rock was born.

In July of 1965, Bob Dylan released what is now considered by many, including Rolling Stone, as one the greatest songs of all time, “Like a Rolling Stone“. It was recorded on June 15 and 16 and produced by Tom Wilson. This song is significant in so many ways beyond the merits of Dylan’s artistry as a singer songwriter. First, he was disillusioned with the music business at the time and considered quitting. The recording was more than tumultuous and a bit disorganized. The record company did not think it would sell, because it (for a Dylan song) was too ‘rock-like’ and at 6:13 minutes they were certain no radio station would play it. Not to mention the lyrics were aggressive and hard on whomever “Miss Lonely” was in her “fall from grace”. According to Shaun Considine the release coordinator at the time for Columbia Records, he said he took a demo copy and got the DJ at Club Arthur in New York to play it one night. The crowd full of celebs and music industry types requested the song be played over and over. The next day radio DJs were calling Colombia Records to demand copies. The song was Dylan’s biggest hit (not that he really cared about that stuff) and reached #2 on Billboard, held back by the pesky Beatles with “Help”.

As named above, Producer Tom Wilson was convinced Folk Rock was going to take off and he had a hunch he could overdub a song he had produced by Simon and Garfunkel from their failed attempt on the now well know album Wednesday Morning 3 a.m., recorded in March of 1964 and released that October. After the sessions with Dylan on June 15 he got some musicians together and they laid down an electronic version of the music to “The Sound of Silence” and another Folk Rock classic was born, and it reunited Simon and Garfunkel to produce more legendary music starting with the final recordings of the Sounds of Silence album completed in December of 1965.

As we move along and still in July, Bob Dylan, the face of the Folk Revival in the U.S. performed his first set of electric music. This performance at the Newport Folk Festival would change much in popular music not only for Dylan but he helped blur the lines that turned out better for Rock than it did for Folk Music. The following tour that year and the next with his backup band The Hawks (from Ronnie Hawkins) would not only lead to the formation of The Band, but would impart a renaissance in American Music, with Southern Rock and Americana being just two of the beneficiaries.

If that’s not enough, “Eve of Destruction” was recorded in July of 1965 and first released that August by Barry McGuire on Dunhill Records. Likely the greatest anti War song of all time. Folk Rock was now in full swing and The Mamas and The Papas with the help of Barry McGuire would release the soon to be hit song “California Dreamin’” in December of 1965.

R&B, Soul, and Motown

By 1965 Berry Gordy had already seen remarkable success with artists like Mary Wells, Barrett Strong, The Supremes and The Miracles. In January “Come See About Me” would reach #1 for the second time and knock The Beatles down a notch and set off Motown’s best year since the beginnings in 1959. The Supremes would follow with “Stop in the Name of Love”, “Back in My Arms Again” and “I Hear a Symphony” and all hit #1 on Billboards Hot 100 as did The Temptations with “My Girl” and The Four Tops with “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)”. Although the song “Tracks of My Tears” by The Miracles did not reach #1 it was #2 on the R&B Chart and #16 on the Hot 100 and it is widely regarded as one of the best songs to come out of Motown. On a Top 10 Songs of All Time list compiled by Mojo Magazine from the top 20 writers and producers it is ranked at #5. The soon to be legendary Marvin Gaye would have two #1 songs on the R&B charts.

In Memphis Stax Records was a successful and going concern but something changed in 1965. It was the establishment of Isaac Hayes and David Porter as the Labels creative force which would later pay big dividends. With the backing of the now legendary Booker T. & the M.G.’s, here is just a sampling of the songs and artists that year; Otis Redding with “Mr. Pitiful”, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “Respect” which as we all know was taken by Aretha Franklin in 1967 and that version is ranked #1 on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs list. Sam and Dave would record “Hold on I’m Coming” in 1965, written by Porter and Hayes, to be released in 1966. There was also Wilson Pickett with “In the Midnight Hour” which has become a Soul Music staple with over 170 versions.

The under appreciated Nina Simone released the most influential versions of “Feeling Good” and “I Put a Spell on You” and a stirring version of Billie Holidays “Strange Fruit”. Stevie Wonder hits #3 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B chart with “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, Ray Charles releases a cover of “Crying Time” originally by Buck Owens, the song would hit top ten and garner a Grammy Award for Charles in 1967. “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (Pt. 1) by James Brown and The Famous Flames was Brown’s first top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 hitting #8 and it was #1 on the R&B Chart.

Last notes on 1965

I know I am running long here but just a couple more notable facts from 1965, The Beach Boys Hit #1 with “Help Me Rhonda” #2 with “Barbara Ann” and #3 with “California Girls”. The much lauded “My Generation” by The Who and one of the greatest covers ever, “Hang on Sloopy” by The McCoys.

There are 32 songs from 1965 on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame List of the 500 (+) Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, second only to 1967 with 33 songs. On the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs list, 2021 edition 1965 is second again at 20 songs, one behind 1971.

I didn’t even get to Country Music or Jazz! Ok, that’s it!

October 14 – With Friends Like Ben…

Long before the plastic surgery, long before the rumors and innuendo, long before he was arguably the most popular entertainer in the world, Michael Jackson was a cute little kid with a good voice and big future. That Michael Jackson had his first solo #1 hit on this day in 1972, with “Ben” … a song about a rat with a case of bloodlust (which when you think of it might be as creepy as the whole Bubbles the chimp thing…)

Jackson had been the voice of four-straight #1 hits earlier in the decade with his brothers, the Jackson 5. But at just 14 with this one he became the third youngest performer ever to have a #1 on Billboard – only Stevie Wonder and Donny Osmond had bested that. Osmond’s name comes up in this story as well. He was the original choice to sing “Ben”, which was from a movie of the same name, but turned it down. He says “Michael and I would talk about this (and laugh)…I had a hit about a puppy and he had a hit about a rat!”

Ben was believe it or not, a sequel to another movie about a boy and his violent pet rats, Willard. Even more incredible, the movie was put out by Bing Crosby Productions.

When Jackson got the job doing the title track, the soundtrack record was handed off to Motown and they had Jackson do the entire album, including covers of several Motown hits like “My Girl” and the Stylistics “People Make the World go Round.”

Surprisingly, not everything the ‘Gloved one’ touched turned to gold… Ben, the album was a comparative flop. However, the sweet-sounding single was one of the year’s biggies, also topping the charts in Australia and being a top 10 in Canada and Britain. It was even nominated for an Academy Award for Song of the Year, losing out eventually to “The Morning After” from The Poseidon Adventure.

Although songs have been written by scorned women about men who act like rats, one would imagine this was the only #1 song ever about a real rat…but Songfacts remind us Captain and Tennille would later score a top 10 with a song about a different rodent …”Muskrat Love.”

September 19 – Diana’s Supreme Challenge, Going It Alone

This seems like a day Diana Ross would like to celebrate. Fifty-two years ago today, she got to #1 in the U.S. for the first time with her second solo single, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Of course, having a #1 single wasn’t unique or unusual for Diana by then; she’d sang on 12 of them in the ’60s with the Supremes. But the 1970 hit was the first just labeled under her name alone.

The song was the second single off her self-titled “debut” after a much-publicized falling out with her girl group bandmates, largely spurred on by Motown’s Berry Gordy. Gordy sensed, perhaps correctly, that Ross was the real star of the Supremes and could be a household name on her own. To get her on her way he brought in Ashford & Simpson, at the time a pair that were among Motown’s elite writers and producers. In later years, they’d also record on their own and score a major mid-’80s hit with “Solid.

Not only did they produce the Ross album, they also wrote many of the tracks including this one. It wasn’t penned for her though; it was first recorded three years earlier by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, who took it up to #19. They had to do something a little different with it for Ross (who was trying to signify something of a new direction with her album cover, featuring a sexy looking Diana with short hair and in cutoff jeans instead of the elegant gowns and coiffed hair the Supremes had been known for) so they brought in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to add some strings, made it a bit funkier and featured spoken word bits too. As the BBC’s Matthew Horton put it, it became “a sexy anthem, whipping up the tension with two minutes of psychedelic soul before the delayed release of the chorus.” The song ran over six minutes … and neither Diana nor Berry Gordy liked the initial result.

Gordy thought the song much too long and weird, and didn’t like the spoken word bits. Eventually they all compromised and the song was shortened to about half its album length for the 7” single which radio typically played then.

No matter who’s toes might have been stepped on a bit (there was no word on what Marvin thought of “his” song being redone to greater effect) it paid off. It ended up being among the top 10 hits of ’70 and set Diana off to a pretty solid solo career through the decade. And into the next.

Another reason for Diana to like Sep. 19th, was ten years after “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” she was back on top of the American singles charts this day in 1980, with “Upside Down.” It was her fifth solo chart-topper (she’d go on to score one more with “Endless Love”, the duet with Lionel Richie) and it spent a full four weeks at #1, earning her a gold single and a platinum one in Canada, where it topped out at #5 (but sold for more weeks in a row, apparently.) It was from her Diana album, which went platinum in the States. That record was produced by the Chic duo of Nile Rodgers – who’s enjoying his 70th birthday today, by the way – and Bernard Edwards. Rodgers says “Diana was the first big star we ever worked with, so we took it very seriously.” Ross however, didn’t like their job of mixing this song, thinking it too funky and bass-heavy and had it remixed herself, bringing her voice more front and center and cutting the funk a bit. Rodgers was furious, but it seemed to pay off. Ross had a #1 song and Rodgers would soon be working with another “serious” big star – David Bowie, putting together his Let’s Dance album and helping on the Serious Moonlight tour.

September 8 – Let’s Get It On Soundtrack To Getting Clothes Off?

This day in 1973, people were taking clothes off to the sound of “Let’s Get It On.” Marvin Gaye hit #1 in the U.S. for the second time in his career with the song some, like Purple Clover, think the sexiest pop song ever.

There’s no denying the sultry appeal of the smooth music and unabashedly (for the era) straight-forwardly naughty lyrics. As Rolling Stone put it, Gaye came up with a “vintage ’50s melody” with an “arrangement (which) centers around a slightly eccentric rhythm pattern that deepens the song’s power” resulting in “a classic Motown single, endlessly repeatable (with) Marvin Gaye’s best singing at its center.” The song spent 10 weeks in Billboard‘s top 5 and ended up as the fourth biggest single of the year not to mention becoming the biggest hit for Motown Records to that point in time, selling some four million copies by 1974. As such it got Marvin his first platinum single and pushed the album of the same name up to #2 on the charts, the highest for any of his. It lives on not only on radio but in countless movies, including Jack Black’s surprisingly-true rendition in High Fidelity, and ads. The b-side wasn’t bad either: “I Wish It Would Rain”.

August 29 – The Statement Song That Made Starr A Star

Today we look at another angry anthem inspired by the Vietnam War, from 52 years ago. “War” by Edwin Starr hit #1 in the U.S. this day in 1970.

The song succinctly summed up the sentiments of many then, and to this day with it’s question asked and answered, “War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” The song was put out by Motown, but had a decidedly un-Motown-like vibe to it. That thanks to the writing duo of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, who also wrote “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” As British journalist David Hutter noted, Whitfield was probably the one person in the Motown organization who wanted to change their direction (away from happy, brief pop love songs) and had both the clout and nerve to take on Berry Gordy over it.

The Temptations originally recorded the song on their Psychedelic Shack album. But not only did it not really have the edge and vitriol it really deserved, the band itself weren’t crazy about it and no one wanted to release it as a single, fearing the effect it would have on the band’s career, since they had been to that point fairly typical Motown artists building a nice career on harmonic love songs. So he recruited Starr for the job of re-recording it.

Edwin Starr was a relatively low-profile artist on their roster who’d begun his career singing doo-wop in Tennessee in the ’50s and had a minor hit or two of his own in the ’60s, as well as writing the song “Oh So Happy” for the Shades of Blue. He didn’t have a big reputation to risk, and as Robert Christgau notes, “Starr is more naturally strident than any of the Temptations.” Turns out that’s just what was called for. Whitfield brought in session rock artists to do the music and The Undisputed Truth (“Smiling Faces Sometimes”) to add background vocals and the song packed a wallop.

Typical of the era’s contrasts, it knocked Bread’s “Make it with You” off the top of the charts, and spent three weeks at #1, eventually being the fifth-biggest single of the year in the States. It also went to #1 to the north in Canada, and #3 in the UK. The song would live on as a popular rally cry for the peace movement and be resurrected later in the Cold War era. Brits Frankie Goes to Hollywood recorded a version of it for the b-side to their own anti-war hit “Two Tribes” and Bruce Springsteen began playing a version of it on his Born in the USA tour. A 1985 performance of it in L.A. was recorded and put on his multi-disc Live 1975/85; becoming a top 10 hit as a single.