(Above: Joe South tended to travel in triplicate.)
There was positive response to the first installment in the “New this week in ’69” series that started last week, so we’ll continue. This is a weekly look at the new songs added to the Billboard Hot 100 exactly fifty years ago.
A point of reference: a Facebook commenter made mention of the #1 song for the given week. People do have an interest in what was the number one song on a birthday, anniversary, etc., so I will start to include that in the list each week as well.
January 11, 1969
At #1 this week – as it was last week, and the week before that, and the week before that – “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye.
New This Week:
Some weeks are lighter than others. There are only four new releases in the Hot 100 this week. They are:
“Games People Play” – Joe South (#91) – This record has always been near the top of my personal playlist. While many of the “message” songs that have been popular tend to show their age, this one is remarkably relevant fifty years down the road. From the very beginning, when South suggests that perhaps our work/life priorities are out of whack (“While they while away the hours/In their ivory towers/’Til they’re covered up with flowers in the back of a black limousine”), you get the sense that he’s got something to say. From there, it’s on to fights we don’t make up from and lost connections.
I’ve been living in West Michigan for 12 (!) years now. It’s an area with pockets of religious fervor – the sort of “screw you all week, go to church on Sunday, we’re all good” that South sang about as well: “People walking up to you/Singing glory hallelujah/And they’re tryin’ to sock it to you/In the name of the Lord.” Amen, brother, if I may.
The only way the song is dated is the reluctance to put the word “damn” in it. Once upon a time that would keep you from getting airplay. Now, it wouldn’t draw any notice. Perhaps that could be the next verse in a re-recording.
“If I Only Had Time” – Nick DeCaro and his Orchestra (#95). Ah, for the days when instrumental music was still popular. The other day on one of the social networks I saw people wondering aloud how long it had been since an instrumental piece had been on the charts, citing “The Harlem Shake” as the last one. This will require further research. In any case, this is the only week we’ll see this tune on the charts.
“Riot” – Hugh Masekela (#97). We can call this “Grazing In the Grass, Part 2,” since it borrows an awful lot of that tune. This will eventually peak at #55, but it got new life this year when rapper Earl Sweatshirt included a sampled version of it on his album. (Earl’s dad was a musician, and Earl has referred to Masekela as “my uncle Hugh.”)
“Tragedy” – Brian Hyland (#98). The latter part of the 1960s reveals the beginnings of an interest in nostalgia. From about a year before, and into the 1970s, we’ll see an uptick in the number of songs from the Fifties (and in some cases, even the Forties) that get new treatments. This is yet another one. Originally a hit for Thomas Wayne in 1959, the song was also covered by the Fleetwoods and Brenda Lee shortly thereafter. Hyland’s cover stays pretty true to the original, and makes it up to #56. We’ll hear from Brian again in the 70s with another cover, “Gypsy Woman.”
That’s all for this week. Up ahead: a lot of new records in seven days.