A lot of things will be turning 50 in 2019: the moon landing, the start of the Nixon presidency, the Chicago Cubs almost winning the pennant, the author of this blog… you get the idea. 1969 often gets overlooked in the retrospectives largely because of 1968 and the impact that that year had on American history and culture. I even saw a piece the other day – I’ve since misplaced it – arguing that 1968 may have been the best year ever in American popular music. (My response, of course, was to yell “Five points off for ‘Honey.'”)
That gave me an idea: what if we looked at all of the songs that also turn fifty this year?
Qualifications are simple: each week, look at the Billboard chart, look at what’s added, and go from there. Billboard chart days are Saturdays, and the 2019 calendar is one day off of the layout in 1969. That means that each Friday there will be a new chart to look at from fifty years ago.
So – what was new on the charts this week?
“Baby Baby Don’t Cry” – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles ( debuting at #53). How we don’t hear more of this escapes me. This was a #8 hit nationally, and I don’t mean on the R&B chart. It seems like for years Oldies programmers fed us a steady diet of “Tears of a Clown” and “Ooh Baby Baby” and decided that we were good. More of this would be good, thanks.
“I Forgot To Be Your Lover” – William Bell (#81). I have to admit I didn’t recognize this one by its title (you almost got a joke along the lines of “I Forgot This Song”), but it flooded back once I heard the first few notes. If you are under a certain age, you know this from being sampled by Ludacris on “Growing Pains.”
“Rain In My Heart” – Frank Sinatra (#82). Yes, Sinatra was still putting records on the charts in 1969. While it failed to make the Top 40, it was a #3 hit on the Adult Contemporary chart, which admittedly is a good place for it.
“Build Me Up Buttercup” – The Foundations (#84). Without question this is the most recognizable song on this list, being played another 274 times as I typed this sentence. The Foundations are, of course, NOT a one-hit wonder, but you get ten of these for every “Baby Now That I’ve Found You,” so it seems that way. At #2 in the US and #3 in the UK, it’s the biggest hit released this week.
“Ob-la-Di, Ob-La-Da” – Arthur Conley (#88). What is it with this song today? I just finished a piece on The Marmalade, who hit #1 in the UK in December 1968 with their version. Arthur Conley, he of “Funky Street” and “Sweet Soul Music,” plays the song fairly true to its original working by the Beatles. It didn’t even make the top 40 on the R&B chart, but the guitar on the track is played by a guy named Duane Allman, who you might be familiar with already.
“She’s a Lady” – John Sebastian (#89). Following the breakup of the Lovin’ Spoonful, Sebastian kept making records. He didn’t hit gold until Gabe Kotter went back to Brooklyn, but this is a nice song all the same. It only made it to #84.
“You Showed Me” – The Turtles (#90). Another of those records that I love. Years ago – hell, 28 now to be exact – I had Howard Kaylan on my radio show at WCFL-FM for an extended interview. He explained that this song was supposed to be an uptempo number, but the old church organ had a leak in the compressor and could only be played slowly. The band decided they liked the more haunting sound and went with it – all the way to #6 here and to #4 in Canada.
“If It Wasn’t For Bad Luck“ – Ray Charles and Jimmy Lewis (#92). Holy hell, how was this not bigger? This missed the Top 40 but made #21 on the R&B chart. It’s got more than a little bit of a James Brown feel to it, doesn’t it?
“Looking Back” – Joe Simon (re-entry) (#94). This sort of doesn’t count, since it’s re-entering the list. It’s a 1968 release written in part by Brook Benton, who also did it. This stalled at #70 and also missed the R&B Top 40.
“Ain’t Got No/I Got Life” – Nina Simone (#99). Now HERE is the “oh, wow” of this list. At the end of last year, when Galt McDermot passed, I wrote about singing along with “I Got Life” in a grocery store Muzak version. THIS is the version I want in my head now, because it’s fantastic. This live version might be even better. There’s a soulfulness to this that the original soundtrack version cannot come anywhere near. How did it chart? Who cares? Wait – I do – it’s my job. It crawled up to #94 and disappeared. Shame.
“Goodnight My Love” – Paul Anka (#100). I’m just going to stop you right here and point you to Jesse Belvin, if you are not familiar with his version. It made #7 on the R&B chart, was used to close Alan Freed’s show every night, and supposedly (depending on who you believe) features an 11-year-old kid on keyboard named Barry White. (It also closed out Peter Dean’s portion of the Saturday night oldies show on WCLR, from which I taped dozens of songs as a kid, each week.) The fact that Anka’s version, at #27, was the bigger hit (Belvin didn’t make the pop chart) is one of those examples of highway robbery that is sometimes Billboard.