Counter-cultural revoultionary decade or surprisingly conservative vehicle for mainstream stars? Can it be two things?
The 1950’s lasted for approximately thirteen years. The 1960’s, by contrast, lasted around seven. This is the phenomenon of the Long Decade, by which the social and cultural impacts of a particular decade are measured not by strict calendar date but rather by the point at which they are superseded by in the incoming decade. Thus it can be said that the Long Fifties last until around 1963 with the arrival of the Beatles. Musically 1960, 1961 and 1962 have far more in common with the preceding decade than they do to the years that would follow. Rock and Roll had provided a seismic shift in music but ultimately it ruffled feathers rather that killing the bird. Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry burned bright, and the importance of what they did is unquestionable, but they never quite managed to erase the waves of crooners and balladeers that filled the charts.
“Everyday People” spent three weeks at Number 2 in February of 1969 before finally ascending to the hallowed Number 1 position in the U.S. And the message of “Everyday People” really couldn’t be simpler. We’re all the same, let’s get on. Race, society and people need peace between them, and since we’re all the same – we’re all everyday people – there should be no reason we can’t do that. It’s a nice idea, though 1969 would go out of its way to try and prove otherwise, what with Reagan sending state troopers into the People’s Park a few months before while declaring a state of emergency. Over a park. And the violence at the Isle Of White festival. And there’s Vietnam, of course. Altamont. 1969 is littered with examples of exactly why a song like “Everyday People” was so necessary.
Question – what genre is “Delilah” even in? It’s not really pop music, except in the literal sense that it was “popular” – “Delilah” was the sixth-biggest selling single in the UK in 1968, though even with those figures it didn’t propel it to the top of the charts. So popular but not really pop music in The Beatles or The Kinks sense of the phrase. It’s probably a ballad and maybe even a power ballad, a peculiar genre that simply won’t die and will provide steady incomes to everyone from Bonnie Tyler to Guns’n’Roses. It’s definitely a singalong, but is “singalong” even a genre? Probably not.
Engelbert Humperdinck – named after the famous classical composer, Engelbert Humperdinck – has never not been a bit of a musical punchline. I mean, there’s that unwieldy name – effective in its uniqueness but scarcely something that begs to be taken seriously. He’s a man who found a furrow and just kept on ploughing, turning out ballad after ballad of mostly fairly bland but competent songs that would nicely fit the average 1960’s dinner party and wouldn’t ruffle any feathers. Limited success and a stalling career in the early 60’s hadn’t really led anywhere, and a change of name from the original could-be-anyone Gerry Dorsey to the strikingly unforgettable Engelbert Humperdinck was a move to try and catch some attention for a singer badly in need of a hit record.
Who invented punk music anyway? We can be certain it wasn’t the Sex Pistols and The Clash, and glam-rock trash aesthetic embracers The New York Dolls definitely didn’t. Iggy and the Stooges? Well, there’s some credibility there. Maybe The Velvet Underground. That takes us back to 1967, but what about The Troggs? Of course the real answer is “nobody” since, like all genres of music, punk is both an amalgam of what came before it and something emergent in its own right – there’s no unique progenitor, just a sequence of them. And there’s no correct answer to “who invented punk”. But “Wild Thing” with its profoundly simple three-chord verse and two chord chorus, played by a band who sound like they’ll never both to learn any more, delivered with a snarled vocal over primitively-recorded instruments? Well, that sounds pretty much like the punk scene that would materialise a decade after Reg Presley and his merry band of troglodytes threw the hand-grenade of “Wild Thing” at the public then ran away gleefully to see what the explosive effect would be.
Q. What’s so great about “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” by the Animals?
I mean, as a band the Animals are best known for two songs and this one is probably, and appropriately, number two after “House Of The Rising Sun”. And there’s clearly no denying how great “House Of The Rising Sun” is, because that would be insane. It’s a melodramatic classic, full of brooding Southern Gothic, pain and loss. It’s an amazing song, and almost anything would be eclipsed by a song of that magnitude. And yet here’s “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” popping up to prove that almost comprehensively wrong.
By some distance the best song covered so far, Petula Clark’s “Downtown” is an easy stand-out in 1964 music. If 1963 saw the start of what we think of as “the Sixties” in a cultural sense, 1964 is where that seed really bloomed. Everything in 1964 is the arrival of the Sixties. The vast majority of that cultural momentum comes, naturally, from The Beatles, and their complete domination over the first half of year means hardly any other music even got a look-in. “Downtown” came out at the end of 1964, when things had calmed down a little, but so many bands that we think of as quintessentially Sixties really found their footing during this year. Some of them were high-quality mainstays of the music scene – The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks – and some were destined to clog up cheap, tacky compilations and nostalgia television for ever – Manfred Mann, Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits and many, many others. The sheer number of bands that broke through in 1964 is remarkable, even while so many of them prove Sturgeon’s Law. Petula Clark falls into neither camp – more than simply nostalgia but never quite destined to be a name in lights for all time – and “Downtown” doesn’t fit conveniently into a year whose material is otherwise fairly easy to categorise.
Another feature of the charts which has been lost to time is the idea of multiple artists releasing the same song around roughly the same time. In this case we have the Number Two hit “Do You Want To Know A Secret”, a comparatively slight Lennon/McCartney* number from the debut Beatles album Please Please Me, which Billy J Kramer knocked out as a single the same year that album was released.
Some years are easier than others when it comes to choosing material. Ray Charles very nearly had it this time out, though it would likely mean discussing either “I Can’t Stop Loving You” or “You Don’t Know Me”, neither of which are remotely his best material and both of which are syrupy slop. Elvis rears his inevitable bequiffed head again but will not be distracting us. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” made it to Number 2, though discussing it would consist of a lot of legal talk about how artists get screwed over copyright. Anyone for “The Loco-motion”? No? Fine, then let’s go with Chubby Checker, owner of the award for the most successful single in Billboard 100 chart history. That song – “The Twist” – isn’t what we’re talking about this week though. Instead we’re discussing “Let’s Twist Again”.