How do 42-year-old hits by the Supremes, the Beach Boys, and Manfred Mann hold up today? Whitney Pastorek gives 'em another listen
Going way, way back! This week in ’64
All right, Flashbackers! After last week’s battle with Retrigue, I decided to hop in the way-way-back machine today and head to a time long before the existence of one-hit wonders like Spandau Ballet or Men Without Hats. That’s right, I said ”one-hit wonders” again. See, I’m sticking to my guns, because I’m afraid some of you may think that ”one-HIT wonder” is analogous to ”one-SONG wonder,” and I believe it is not. I define ”hit” as ”Top 10 song on the American pop charts.” (This is because yes, I am a slave to the system, and no, I am not European.) So Spandau Ballet only made it to No. 29 with ”Gold,” and Men Without Hats only made it to No. 20 with ”Pop Goes the World.” By my standards, therefore, one-hit wonders those bands shall remain.
However, I have removed the Fixx from the list, as I see that ”Are We Ourselves?” hit No. 15 on the Hot 100 as well as No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart, and I think that’s enough to declare it a hit. (I am feeling charitable.) And so, the Fixx Army, I would like to apologize for offending you. It was not intentional. Please stop throwing bricks through my window.
Speaking of offending people, I’d like to invite you all to stick around at the end of this week’s exciting gallery-style Chart Flashback for the world premiere of our new Chart Flashback FAQ, a.k.a. ”The Man in the Mirror Manifesto.” It’s the yammering essay everyone’s going to be talking about!
And now: Billboard‘s top 10 singles for the week ending Oct. 24, 1964…
10. Have I the Right?
Chart Flashback: How does ”Have I the Right?” hold up today?
This is one peppy little number — so peppy, in fact, that I am willing to overlook its slightly nonsensical lyrics and just clap along. Won’t you join me? I mean, gosh, how can you not like this band? First of all, chick drummer! (Whose name is Honey!) (And whose drumming inspired Karen Carpenter!) (Could there be a less flattering photo of her than this one?) Secondly: This song bumped ”A Hard Day’s Night” out of the No. 1 spot on the British charts back in August of 1964, and that makes them a scrappy little underdog who made it big (just like me)! Love the beat, love the chirpy vocals, love the aa-ooos in the background… but now, seriously, let’s take a look at these lyrics:
”Have I the right to hold you?” (Well, that’s sweet; he’s asking permission. No date rape here!)
”You know I’ve always told you / That we must never, ever part.” (Goodness, that certainly got creepy.)
”Have I the right to kiss you?” (Very gentlemanly once again…)
”You know I’ll always miss you” (Wait. Where has she gone? I thought they weren’t allowed to part?)
”I’ve loved you from the very start” (Aw.)
”Grrr” — (Um.)
”Come right back / I just can’t bear it / I’ve got some love and I want to share it / Come right back / I’ll show my love is strong, oh yeah…” (So clearly, she has gone away, this woman he loves… and if I were her, I’d stay gone. That ”we must never, ever part” bit has really taken a nasty turn for the stalkeriffic, hasn’t it? Still: toe-tapping!) B+
9. When I Grow Up to Be a Man
The Beach Boys
Chart Flashback: How does ”When I Grow Up to Be a Man” hold up today?
Hey! It’s the song that may have led to Brian Wilson’s nervous breakdown — and this tiny trifle of sweet harmonies, boyish charm, and harpsichord can now be a part of your personal collection! (Oh, dang. If you click through that link to the store, you’ll see it’s sold out. Shucks. But ”Sloop John B” is still available!) Anyway. Cute song. Oddly prescient in some way, if you think about it: This fluffy number about how the things you liked as a kid might not be your bag when you’re older is the beginning of the end of the Beach Boys’ happy-fun-surfy time, and the beginning of the road toward Pet Sounds, which, as everyone knows, is The Most Visionary Album of All Time Ever (especially when mashed up with other stuff). And sure, this is no ”Help Me Rhonda,” and it’s certainly no ”Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” but it’ll do in a pinch. Don’t like the counting, though. The counting is weird. B-
8. Let It Be Me
Betty Everett and Jerry Butler
Chart Flashback: How does ”Let It Be Me” hold up today?
Everett is better known for ”The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss).” Butler is better known for… oh, just read this report some high schooler did on the guy. And the song itself is by no means an original, having been recorded by everyone from Bob Dylan to David Hasselhoff. But watch this clip of Everett and Butler from a 2000 PBS special, and tell me if their version — even 42 years later — isn’t sweet as all get-out. The actual recording has much more of a sweeping-strings thing going on, and when held up next to perhaps the best-known rendition of this chestnut — the Everly Brothers’ slightly Disneyfied arrangement — it comes across as sophisticated and mature, voices dripping with hard-earned love. A total classic. A-
7. A Summer Song
Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde
Chart Flashback: How does ”A Summer Song” hold up today?
Hello! This song is familiar to me; why ever could that be?
Oh. Well. We shan’t hold its recent participation in a $30 million commercial for a failed cell phone service against this song. I’ll tell you what I will hold against it, though: It is sappy. It makes Simon and Garfunkel sound street. I like the initial jam, a happy little doo doo doo doo doo doo doo that seems promising until the song drags on and everything gets a little dragged down into a muck of slightly more loo loo loo loo loo loo loo. I like all the parts (strings, horns, harmonies, sassy beat), but I don’t like the production or something. It’s like dishwater. Except the last three notes, a crescendo of positivity and life that gives the song a lift it’s been lacking for all of its 2 minutes and 36 seconds. Hooray for those last three notes! B-
63. ”WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO” (1964)
6. Baby Love
Chart Flashback: How does ”Baby Love” hold up today?
Is there anything more sublime than Diana Ross’ vocals on this song? They are like cotton candy on a cloud, like a pony ride through a forest of strawberry shortcake, like bunny-rabbit slippers that come to life and nuzzle your nose. Add in some twinkly piano, some soft vibes, and a deep, dark sax and you’ve got a retro masterpiece. My goodness, it makes me want to wear pearls and long gloves and swoon around my office… except in a really depressed way, because kids, this is not a happy song. The woman is damn near suicidal about her lost love, begging for him to return, and the way Diana understates that quiet desperation is just so perfectly mournful. Although in this clip, it looks like Ms. Ross is mostly just trying not to look at the white folks dance. A
5. Oh, Pretty Woman
Chart Flashback: How does ”Oh, Pretty Woman” hold up today?
If you think about it, this song is like the male version of ”Baby Love”: Whereas Diana is distraught because the man she loves has strayed, and she passionately implores him to return and complete her, Roy has just decided that the hot piece of ass on the other side of the bar is worth his time, and so he gives her a quick rraowr and she comes a-runnin’. Interesting, that. And I mean no disrespect to the song by bringing that up. It’s a great song. I suppose I’m being somewhat absurd, actually. There is something so charming in Roy’s unabashed celebration of woman that it’s hard to hate, even from my cold, lonely perspective. Fine. Rock on with your bad Coke-bottle-eyed self, Roy. A
4. We’ll Sing in the Sunshine
Chart Flashback: How does ”We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” hold up today?
Yah! What the…? It’s like ”A Summer Song” was pissed about the review I gave it, and sent this song to beat me up. Gale! What is wrong with your voice? Too much cough syrup again? Or are you just the most boring vocalist who ever lived? Meh meh meh! Meh meh meh! Oh, another verse? Really? THANK YOU SO MUCH, GALE. A hearty meh meh meh right back atcha! C-
3. Last Kiss
J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers
Chart Flashback: How does ”Last Kiss” hold up today?
So J. Frank’s version of this song about a really bad car crash has fairly effectively been rendered obsolete by the Pearl Jam cover, but there is something really amazing going on here, namely the ghost voice of the dead girlfriend singing backup in the chorus. I wish I could find a free mp3 online for you kids, because it’s tremendous. Freakin’ eerie, really. And sounds a little like Yma Sumac, who I find equally creepy. But even with Ghost Yma’s contribution, I must admit I find this song a bit dull, albeit dull in that pleasant old-timey way that makes it really hard to complain. I can see where listening to this sort of music kept everyone nice and oppressed for a while back there. C+
2. Dancing in the Street
Martha and the Vandellas
Chart Flashback: How does ”Dancing in the Street” hold up today?
I feel it is safe to say that Martha’s version of this party-time classic has not been rendered obsolete by the cover performed by Whoopi Goldberg and her wacky nun friends in Sister Act 2. (Tragically, I can’t find a clip of that for you to watch, but I did find this, which I think you’ll agree is absolutely outstanding, and about which I would write pages and pages of glowing text if I didn’t think it would completely undermine my credibility. Oh, wait…). Anyway, I also wish I could find you a better video of Martha et al than this one, which is incredibly awkward and kind of really not good, but alas, YouTube disappoints. So you all know this song, right? Sort of like ”Everybody Have Fun Tonight” for the ’60s? Good. Then you can be really pissed when I say that I rank it third in the M&tVs repertoire, right behind ”Nowhere to Run” and ”Heatwave,” both of which are infinitely more interesting songs. So there. B+
1. Do Wah Diddy Diddy
Chart Flashback: How does ”Do Wah Diddy Diddy” hold up today?
Okay, so I got this Casio keyboard, right? And I turned it on, and I put my fingers on some keys, and then I moved them up and down and sound came out! And then I made up some words! And that is how I wrote this song! Oh, except I didn’t write this song! It is actually a cover! I willingly re-recorded this song! I am Manfred Mann and I am awesome!
As you can see by my dramatic re-creation of Mr. Mann’s inner monologue, I am generally underwhelmed by this tune. HOWEVER. Its Wikipedia page does contain what I believe to be the greatest sentence in the history of Wikipedia: ”The song would later achieve worldwide fame when it was performed by Jesse and the Rippers on Full House, sometimes in medley with the Beach Boys’ ‘Kokomo.”’ And so, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado: John Stamos. C+