(Above: The song at Number One, as I remember it looking….)
Fifty years ago this week Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue” was the number one song in the country. About three years after that it became my earliest memory of a phonograph.
I’ve shared a picture before of my mother holding me next to our phonograph – a Magnavox Astrosonic that I believe dated back to 1964 or so. It was the phonograph in our home until it stopped working sometime in the late 1970s, and it went to the curb. (I’d love to have it now, now that I know a little about fixing the things.) I have scattered memories of our home in Chicago, but that’s one of them: watching a pale blue record with bits of orange on the label spinning around while a song with no words to it was playing. I think I was two. We moved from Chicago to Tinley Park not long after I turned three, so it was most likely then.
But for some reason, that single wasn’t in the original bunch of records I inherited. (Next month, I’m planning a piece on all of those.) It took me until well into my collecting years to draw the connection between the piece of music and the label, and added it to my collection. It, perched on the model of the first phonograph that I truly owned, has become the cover photo for this blog. When I play it, I see the pale blue with the orange streak, and it’s 1971 all over again.
There’s a lot more fantastic music on the chart this week. As I like to do, let’s look below the Top 40 and see what lurks there:
100. The Tremeloes- “Suddenly You Love Me.” This song has me thinking about another feature that would be interesting to research: How many songs made the Billboard Hot 100 for exactly one week, peaked at #100, and disappeared? This one debuted at #100, but went on to hit #44. It was a Top Ten record in the UK, but no such success here.
99. The Happenings – “Music Music Music.” This one would qualify as a bad record. It’ll slide up to #96, and then that will be it.
97. Hugo Montenegro and His Orchestra and Chorus – “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.” You absolutely know this melody; maybe you’ve even whistled it walking through the woods or something. It eventually makes its way up to #2.
96. Patti Page – “Gentle On My Mind.” Glen Campbell had the big hit. Elvis covered it. Patti was trying for a hit with it in ’68 and couldn’t push it past #66. Interestingly, this version is sung from a very female perspective and the words don’t match the version sung by the guys exactly. “When I’m drifting through the marketplace” doesn’t have the same feeling to it, and “watching the endless chase of leaves across my yard” sounds more comfortable than soup in a train yard.
89. The Four Sonics – “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.” It’s a cover of the Dusty Springfield hit, and it’s worth a listen.
84. Gene and Debbe – “Playboy.” Another “oh, wow” record that you don’t hear on the radio often enough. It made it up to #17.
69. Al Martino – “Love Is Blue.” Yes, there’s two versions on the chart. At least I spared you Claudine Longet.
63. Georgie Fame – “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.” It’s debuting this week. It also probably holds the record for highest body count on this week’s chart.
62. Billy Vera and Judy Clay – “Country Girl – City Man.” Years before viewers of Family Ties heard “At This Moment,” Billy Vera was trying his hand at pop music. This went on to peak at #36 and become his first Top 40 hit.
61. Barbara Mason – “Oh How It Hurts.” It’s highway robbery that this was not a bigger hit. It peaked at #59. At least it made it up to #11 on the R&B chart, which still seems low to me.
54. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass – “Carmen.” The Bugs Bunny fan in me is pleased to find this here. And why isn’t there more Mexican opera? Either way, there’s some weird stuff on this chart.
49. Paul Revere and the Raiders (featuring Mark Lindsay) – “Too Much Talk.” The band is putting singer Mark Lindsay front and center in 1968. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet: I had him as a guest for a morning on my show in 1994 at WQQL and he was willing to play along with the stupid stuff that we did. This is a fantastic record that doesn’t get enough Oldies airplay.
46. Lalo Schifrin – “Mission: Impossible.” There’s a lot of instrumental songs on this chart, aren’t there? The TV show was big, and the soundtrack sold more than a few copies along the way.
Let’s climb into the Top 40:
39. Jay and the Techniques – “Strawberry Shortcake.” Jay’s best known for “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie.” This was the follow-up record. Jay likes food, and songs that sound similar.
38. The Hesitations – “Born Free.” Man, there’s some weird stuff on this chart.
37. The Four Tops – “Walk Away Renee.” I have always loved the original of this song by the Left Banke; that’s a band that should get his own post. Normally, I don’t appreciate cover records, and this is one of those cases where an exception must be made. This is a damned fine record.
33. The Beach Boys – “Darlin’.” Yes, the Beach Boys were still relevant in 1968, and still made some really good music – even without Brian’s help.
32. The Bee Gees – “Words.” I have always been partial to early pre-helium-sounding Bee Gees and worked them into my Oldies playlists when I programmed. This is a great record and fits a down-tempo chart.
30. Spanky and Our Gang – “Sunday Morning.” An altogether neat record. Listen closely for the voice of producer Bob Dorough at the end of the LP version. You know him from Schoolhouse Rock, which he also helped to create.
29. Sam & Dave – “I Thank You.” Never mind ZZ Top – the original’s still the greatest.
27. The Small Faces – “Itchykoo Park.” It’s a record that I still love to play loudly in the car. And, I don’t mind feeding the ducks with a bun.
26. Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood – “Some Velvet Morning.” When I was putting Oldies WGVU on the air – with its ultra-deep playlist – I popped this one on the list to see if we could get away with it. It’s a hauntingly complex record that stays with you long after it ends. The “video” made for it is neat as well.
23. The Strawberry Alarm Clock – “Tomorrow.” You know them, of course, for “Incense and Peppermints,” but they had a few other singles as well. This one’s pretty decent, and the ending is straight outta ’68.
20. The Dells – “There Is.” From Harvey, Illinois, this is a band that shoulda been bigger. This record proves that, in my estimation.
18. The Buckinghams – “Susan.” Another great Chicago contribution to the charts. Of course, in an attempt to cash in on the psychedelic craze, Columbia Records added the “trippy” break to this song. Carl Giammarese of the band once explained that he never knew about it until he heard the record.
15. The Impressions – “We’re A Winner.” As long as we’re keeping it in the Windy City, let’s not forget Curtis Mayfield’s band.
13. The American Breed – “Bend Me, Shape Me.” OK – last one, and they’re technically from the suburbs of Chicago. Cicero, to be exact.
12. Gary Puckett and the Union Gap – “Woman, Woman.” Between the Buckinghams and the Union Gap, bands in uniforms are still a thing in 1968.
11. The Foundations – “Baby Now That I Found You.” Sure, “Build Me Up Buttercup” gets all the airplay, but this one’s still a decent record, too.
10. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight.” Boyce and Hart wrote some fantastic songs for others – “Last Train to Clarksville” and the Monkees’ theme – and kept a few good ones for themselves. This is one of those.
7. The Lettermen – “Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” The 1968 charts are weird. You get psychedelic sounds, you get sweet instrumentals, you get pop classics – and you get records for the parents to buy. This is one of those, and it’s a smash.
6. Otis Redding – “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.” We’re just a few weeks past the death of Redding, and this song is still climbing the charts to its eventual spot at the top.
5. Dionne Warwick – “(Theme From) The Valley Of The Dolls.” Note the overall easy feeling of the chart at this level. It’s America’s calm before the storm, in a way; 1968 will become one of the most tumultuous years in American history. You wouldn’t know it from hearing the countdown this week.
4. The Temptations – “I Wish It Would Rain.” Years ago I was programming an Oldies station in a building that contained a rock station as well. One day this was on in my office, and one of the young men who worked for the rock station stopped in my doorway and said “This is a fantastic song.” He stood there until it ended, shook his head, and walked away. Some songs are timeless.
3. The Classics IV – “Spooky.” Is this as rockin’ as we’re going to get at the top of this chart?
2. The Lemon Pipers – “Green Tambourine.” I guess so. The other day I ran across “Moonflight” by Vic Venus (who was really Jack Spector from New York radio). “Moonflight” was a break-in record in the style of Dickie Goodman records, except Dickie’s were funnier, and used records from more than one label. “Moonflight” is all bubblegum records, and the Pipers’ entire catalog is in it.
And – of course – #1, as mentioned above. That’s a Soft Seven to round out this weeks’ chart. There’s also so many great surprises buried in here that I wish someone would just play the whole 40. Maybe this blog needs a companion podcast?