30 Essential Obscurities from the 1960s
The songs on this list failed to touch the U.S. pop, country or R&B charts during the 1960s, but should have reached a broader audience. From Northern soul to garage rock, from psychedelia to country, there are plenty of treasures here waiting to be discovered. Put on your soulful dress and start digging.
29. “Wait Till Tomorrow,” The Banana Splits. Songwriters: Ritchie Adams, Mark Barkan; 1968. The television program The Banana Splits brought the acid generation to children’s television. The characters performed in adult sized animal costumes and the television program was a combination of live action, animation, rock music, and psychedelic imagery. The Splits didn’t have the commercial radio success of other manufactured bands of their era, only hitting the charts once, with “The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Bananas)” peaking at #96. That tune was covered by the U.S. comedy punk band The Dickies, resulting in a U.K. Top Ten single in 1979. “Wait Till Tomorrow” sounds like a bubblegum version of The Left Banke, a concept the world wasn’t pining for at the time. Songwriter Ritchie Adams also has credits on the Bobby Lewis hit “Tossin’ and Turnin’” and Engelbert Humperdinck’s “After the Lovin’.”
28. “Why,” Lonnie Mack. Songwriter: Lonnie Mack; 1964. Indiana raised Lonnie McIntosh merged country and R&B influences to develop his own whammy bar heavy, Flying V propelled guitar style. He hit the pop charts twice in 1963, once with an instrumental version of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee,” peaking at #5, and secondly with his own composition “Wham!,” which was not a jitterbug. Mack takes an unforgettable vocal turn on the love is pain “Why,” described by Greil Marcus as “”a soul ballad so torturous, so classically structured, that it can uncover wounds of your own. Mack’s scream at the end has never been matched, God help us if anyone ever tops it.” One could argue that Lorraine Ellison’s ruptured organ screaming on “Stay with Me” competes favorability with Mack’s haunted wailing, but both can give you nightmares.
27. “Luxury Liner,” The International Submarine Band. Songwriter: Gram Parsons; 1968. Gram Parsons was admitted to Harvard University during the mid-1960s, but his personal focus quickly shifted to the Boston folk scene instead of academia. He formed the International Submarine Band, a seminal country rock act, in 1966, eventually finding his way to Los Angeles and recording the “Safe at Home” album. “Luxury Liner,” an upbeat shuffle train tune with phrasing similar to “It’s All Over Now,” has a sound that is reminiscent of the country edged material Michael Nesmith brought to the Monkees. Parsons had left The International Submarine Band prior to the release of their debut album to join The Byrds.
26. “Don’t Look Back,” The Remains. Songwriter: Billy Vera; 1966. “The Remains were the band that led the way for rock ‘n’ rollers in Boston,” Peter Wolf of The J. Geils Band. Songwriter Billy Vera, “’Don’t Look Back’ was written on assignment from my publisher for soul singer Chuck Jackson, who wound up not recording it. When I heard The Remains’ version, it wasn’t what I’d expected, but I loved it and thought it had hit potential. Lenny Kaye included it on his ‘Nuggets’ album. Twenty years later, Rhino put out an expanded version box set which sold like crazy, earning me the first real money on that song. After that, they released a Robert Plant box set which included ‘Don’t Look Back,’ selling another ton of records. So, 40 years after I wrote it, the song finally made some real money and has become a garage rock classic.” Despite the quality of this song, Barry Tashian disbanded the group three days after completing their 1966 tour with The Beatles.
25. “Across the Alley from the Alamo,” Bob Wills. Songwriter: Joe Greene; 1969. Bob Wills career as a touring performer ended in 1969, he suffered a major stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body. His recording of “Across the Alley from the Alamo” during that year is a testament to his towering influence in Western swing; the song had been considered a jazz and pop tune, originally performed by songwriter Joe Greene in 1947. Wills was almost two decades removed from being a major star in 1969, but his cover of this pinto pony/Navajo/Hi-De-Ho novelty number eventually made the tune a standard in his genre. It’s since been recorded by Asleep at the Wheel, The Pine Valley Cosmonauts, The Quebe Sisters, and Riders in the Sky. Note the absence of the Texas Playboys in the billing, Wills was recording with Nashville studio musicians at the time.
24. “Don’t Send Me No Flowers (I Ain’t Dead Yet),” The Breakers. Songwriter: Donna Weiss; 1965. While the Memphis teenage act The Gentrys seemed like nice boys you could take home to meet your mother, The Breakers sounded like snarling punks, bragging about their prowess with the opposite sex. Both bands recorded “Don’t Send Me No Flowers (I Ain’t Dead Yet)” in 1965 with The Breakers clearly dealing the winning hand. The song includes a nice Charlie Rich reference, noting that it’s too early to place a headstone on their grave. Songwriter Donna Weiss later co-wrote the Kim Carnes’ hit “Bette Davis Eyes” with Jackie DeShannon.
23. “A Public Execution,” Mouse (Mouse and The Traps). Songwriters: Ronnie “Mouse” Weiss, Knox Henderson; 1965. Mouse and The Traps were a high school Texas outfit that included Bugs Henderson, later a major cult figure on the Texas blues scene. Bugs, on the age old reason for starting a band, “I saw Mouse (Ronnie Weiss) in assembly at high school, when I was into Elvis. He played ‘Money Honey’ and ‘I’m Walkin’,’ and girls were screaming.” “A Public Execution” is an uproarious deadpan Bob Dylan pastiche. Ronnie feigns Dylan’s condescending, venomous tone while the guitarists play their best punk rock version of “Like A Rolling Stone” in the background. Lenny Kaye, “There are some who say that Mouse does Dylan’s ‘Highway 61’ period better than the Master himself.”
22. “Mr. Record Man,” Willie Nelson. Songwriter: Willie Nelson; 1961. Nelson wrote “Mr. Record Man,” a tale of a downhearted driver who takes comfort in hearing a song about loneliness, while working as an encyclopedia and vacuum cleaner salesman. Nelson tried to sell “Mr. Record Man” to Houston bandleader/future Nashville producer Larry Butler, who responded by giving Willie a loan and a regular club gig. Nelson signed to Liberty Records in 1961 and cut “Mr. Record Man” in Los Angeles with producer Joe Allison, the man who co-wrote the Jim Reeves’ hit “He’ll Have to Go.” This 4/4 shuffle number didn’t make the country charts, but inspired the name The Record Men for Nelson’s backing unit and was re-cut by Nelson for his 1989 #2 album “A Horse Called Music.
21. “I’m Nobody’s Baby Now,” Reparata and the Delrons with Hash Brown and His Orchestra. Songwriter: Jeff Barry; 1966. The unfortunately named Reparata and the Delrons formed at a Brooklyn Catholic school in 1962 and this girl group had their biggest American success with 1964’s “Whenever a Teenager Cries.” That song was a rather insipid re-write of “Chapel of Love” and peaked at #60 on the U.S. charts. “I’m Nobody’s Baby Now” is a melodramatic heartbreak number produced in the style of Phil Spector/Shadow Morton and deserved to be a hit. Reparata and company peaked commercially in 1968 when the puerile psychedelic pop number “Captain of Your Ship” went to #13 on the U.K. charts.
20. “Days of the Broken Arrows,” The Idle Race. Songwriter: Jeff Lynne; 1969. The Idle Race originated with a Birmingham, England band that formed in 1959 and were known at that time as Billy King and the Nightriders. Roy Wood was a member of the group during 1964 and 1965, leaving to form The Move. Future ELO frontman Jeff Lynne joined the band in 1966 and his skills as a songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist were quickly recognized by his colleagues. Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne had started working together before Lynne joined The Move and “Days of Broken Arrows” has similarities to The Move’s “Wild Tiger Woman.” The song also reflects the Beatles influenced pop sensibility that would make Lynne an international star during the 1970s.
19. “You Don’t Know My Mind,” Jimmy Martin. Songwriter: Jimmie Skinner; 1960. East Tennessee native Jimmy Martin was a hard drinking, raccoon hunting, tenor singing guitarist/mandolin player, who performed with Bill Monroe, The Osborne Brothers, and formed his own act known as The Sunny Mountain Boys. Songwriter Jimmie Skinner had the good fortune of being born in Blue Lick, Kentucky and scored three Top Ten country singles in the 1950s, with his biggest being 1957’s #5 hit “I Found My Girl in the USA.” As a vocalist, Skinner proved that the 1950’s country audience had very forgiving ears. “You Don’t Know My Mind” is a bluegrass, rambling man number, which should have charted, but didn’t. Martin hit the Top Twenty twice, with “Rock Hearts” in 1958 and the truck driver fatality number “Window Maker” in 1964. Martin also appeared on “Grand Ole Opry Song,” the opening track of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
18. “Goin’ Back to Miami,” Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders. Songwriters: Wayne Cochran, Charles Brent; 1966. Wayne Cochran was visually eccentric and his performances were as over the top as his appearance. He released singles throughout the 1960s without commercial success, but did gain a cult following with his James Brown inspired stage shows. The bass pumping “Goin’ Back to Miami,” later covered The Blues Brothers, is a mixture of frat rock and R&B horns. Cochran on his dynamic stage performance, “We’d be out there in the audience, standing on tables. We’d make the whole room part of the show. We’d play at full volume; it was like this wall of sound, and there was never a stop between songs. We’d write horn interludes to take you from one song to the next. Once it would start, the show literally never stopped. You couldn’t breathe until the show was over.”
17. “You Can’t Ever Come Down,” Joe Byrd & The Field Hippies. Songwriter: Joseph Byrd; 1969. Joseph Byrd developed an interest in avant-garde music at a young age and studied under John Cage in New York after graduating from Stanford. The psychedelic chaos of the 1968 album from his experimental rock band The United States of America make Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention sound like a glee club. Byrd worked with West Coast session musicians on his 1969 album “The American Metaphysical Circus,” credited to Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies. “You Can’t Ever Come Down” sounds like a bizarro world Jefferson Airplane with vocalist Victoria Bond wondering, “How did the sand get inside of your brain?” The song is the centerpiece of a trilogy titled, you guessed it, “The Sub-Sylvian Litanies.”
16. “Gino Is a Coward,” Gino Washington. Songwriter: Ronald Davis 1964. Detroit native George “Gino” Washington started performing at thirteen and was releasing singles while attending Pershing High School. On the upbeat R&B number “Gino Is a Coward,” the singer notes he has muscles made of iron and steel, but remains a coward when it comes to pursuing his love interest. Despite the theme, “Gino” is a party record with raw energy like the Gary “U.S.” Bonds singles of the early 1960s. Bruce Springsteen rewrote “Gino Is a Coward” for his “Tunnel of Love” tour as an extended live performance number titled “I’m a Coward (When It Comes to Love).” Gino never had a national hit, but hosted a Detroit television program during the 1970s and still performs local club gigs.
15. “Mind over Matter (I’m Gonna Make You Mine),” Nolan Strong. Songwriter: Devora Brow; 1962. Nolan Strong started singing as a Detroit teenager with The Diablos, who are highly regarded by doo wop fans for their 1954 single “The Wind.” Eventually, Nolan Strong took top billing for the act, since Fortune Records wanted to emphasize his high tenor voice, reportedly a seminal influence on Smokey Robinson’s singing. From the Detroit Metro Times on “Mind Over Matter,” “Built around a six-string riff that Keith Richards would later swipe for “Start Me Up,” this genre-defying single was as much about the ground-breaking approach of guitarist Chuck Chittenden as it was the ethereal-voiced delivery of its lead singer. Surf drums, doo-wop harmonies, country chord changes and a blazing guitar solo compounded Berry Gordy’s attempt to cash in with a cover version by the aptly named Pirates (actually the Temptations in disguise).”
14. “Walking Up a One Way Street,” Willie Tee. Songwriter: Earl King (Earl Johnson); 1965. Pianist Willie Turbinton had a lengthy career on the New Orleans music scene, performing in R&B, jazz, and funk outfits. He had his only chart success with the 1965 #12 R&B hit “Teasin’ You,” one of several songs from that Tee released from this timeframe that would later be associated with Carolina beach music. The 1965 b-side “Walking Up a One Way Street” has found audiences among aficionados of Carolina beach and Northern soul music. Tee sings of romantic devastation on this number, but the New Orleans horns are more bop than teardrop. After his solo career ended, Tee had a long association with the funk act The Gaturs (their 1972 instrumental “Gatur Bait” sounds like The Meters on Quaaludes) and worked with the Mardi Gras “Indian Tribe” The Wild Magnolias in the mid-‘70s.
13. “Making Time,” The Creation. Songwriters: Kenny Pickett, Eddie Phillips; 1966. The British band known as The Creation formed in 1963 as the Blue Jacks and later were known as Mark Four (Mark Four bassist John Dalton replaced Peter Quaife in The Kinks in 1966). Despite having a sound similar to The Who (both bands were produced by Shel Talmy), The Creation had more chart success in Germany than in their native U.K. On the unusual instrumental section of “Making Time,” Eddie Phillips played an electric guitar with a violin bow, years before Jimmy Page popularized that gimmick. Phillips on the recording, “It was like a gig really, we’d just set the stuff up and just whack it out. That probably accounts for the rawness of The Creation’s stuff. It’s a bit unpolished, it’s a bit raw, but that’s because we just used to set up and play.”
12. “Action Woman,” The Litter. Songwriter: Warren Kendrick; 1967. The Litter was a Twin Cities garage rock/psychedelic band whose work was significantly shaped by producer Warren Kendrick. Guitarist Tom Caplan, “Warren Kendrick was a good guitar and keyboard player in his own right – he was also a good songwriter and an electronic math genius. He came up with the phasing technique used on our second album many months before the Small Faces came out with ‘Itchykoo Park.’ Anyway, after he lost the use of his left arm from some weird medical condition he turned to producing and managing and signed the group to record ‘Action Woman’ and the first album.” While the lyrics may have somewhat of a caveman quality, the raw/distorted guitar sounds on “Action Woman” are pure garage rock bliss.
11. “(I Don’t Want No) Part Time Love,” The Falcons. Songwriters: Robert West, Willie Schofield, Wilson Pickett; 1961. Wilson Pickett biographer Tony Fletcher wrote that Pickett “struggled with the meandering, James Brown-like vocal approach to (I Don’t Want No) Part Time Love,” completing missing the strength of the recording. There’s a spooky undercurrent to the song and insistent electric guitar squiggles that makes this sound like a bridge between Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the psychedelic rock era. There’s also what sounds like some trippy vibraphone runs in the background. Unprecedented weirdness for 1961.
10. “Here I Am (Take Me),” The Sweet Inspirations. Songwriters: David Porter, Isaac Hayes; 1967. The Sweet Inspirations, a gospel group that evolved from The Drinkard Singers, included Emily “Cissy” Houston (Whitney Houston’s mother) and Lee Warwick (Dionne Warwick’s mother) in their ranks. In addition to recording their own albums, The Sweet Inspirations were highly sought backing vocalists who worked with Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, and Dusty Springfield, among others. Not the Al Green hit, the bluesy “Here I Am (Take Me)” features Cissy Houston serving herself up as an offering to an unnamed party or spiritual being. For a gospel outfit, “Here I Am (Take Me)” sure sounds like it is addressing matters of the flesh.
9. “Sliced Tomatoes,” Just Brothers. Songwriter: Winifred Terry; 1965. Frank Bryant was a Detroit based bass player who did studio work with Gino Washington and J.J. Barnes during the mid-1960s. His guitar playing brother Jimmy Bryant returned from military service in 1965 and they were hired to record with Winifred Terry of The Drifters. Out of those sessions came “Sliced Tomatoes,” an irresistible instrumental that integrated surf guitar into soul music. The record was rescued from obscurity in 1971 by U.K. Northern soul dee-jay Ian Levine and the track was the basis for Fatboy Slim’s 1998 international hit “The Rockafeller Skank.” Norman Cook (a.k.a. Fatboy Slim), “I had this vocal, “the ‘right about now, the funk soul brother’ bit, but it was at 160 bpm, and it was like, ‘What happens at 160 bpm?’ That week I happened to play the Just Brothers’ ‘Sliced Tomatoes’ at (the Brighton club) the Big Beat Boutique and everyone was really grooving to it. I’m like, ‘Ooh we’re onto something here.’”
8. “Big Legged Woman,” Jerry Lee Lewis. Songwriter: Jimmy Williams; 1969. Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis made his prodigal son return to the airwaves in the late 1960s as a major country star, releasing eight Top Ten country singles in 1968 and 1969. Sun Records, which was purchased from Sam Phillips by Shelby Singleton in 1969, used this return to fame as an opportunity to release material from the vault, including the 1969 album “Rockin’ Rhythm & Blues.” The album is primarily a collection of famed rock classics with the sole obscurity being the lascivious cover of “Mr. Blues” Jimmy Williams’ 1961 b-side “Big Legged Woman.” With the name Howlin’ Wolf already taken, Jerry Lee could have been billed as Howlin’ Lust on “Big Legged Woman.”
7. “You Didn’t Say a Word,” Yvonne Baker. Songwriters: William Jackson, Joseph Renzetti, Jean Wells; 1967. Yvonne Baker was a member of the Philadelphia doo wop act The Sensations and wrote their 1962 #4 pop hit “Let Me In.” She later became a solo act and had one of the U.K. Northern soul scene’s biggest hits with “You Didn’t Say a Word,” although most listeners didn’t know the song title or artist. Simon Price, “Many of the feather-cut kids in their three-star tops, flare-flapping Oxford bags and slippery Solatio shoes would have known this as the James Bond song. Identities of highly localized dancefloor hits, sometimes associated with just one venue, were jealously guarded by DJs who stuck plain white paper over the labels to prevent rivals from stealing their set.” “You Didn’t Say a Word” does cop its intro from John Berry’s “James Bond Theme” in an audaciously fun way and maintains an insistent surging, dancefloor arrangement. Simon on the enduring impact of the song, “(It) is sufficiently iconic that a T-shirt bearing only its title and a mock-up of the Bond gun barrel is available, no further explanation needed.”
6. “Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut,” Bo Diddley. Songwriter: Elias McDaniel (Bo Diddley); 1964. Rock critic Robert Palmer, “Bo Diddley, and his right hand man Jerome Green, were the first popular artists to seize on black street corner culture – children’s games and game songs, the ritualized rounds of bragging and insults known as ‘the dozens.’” Diddley maintains his insulting demeanor on “Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut.” Instead of trying to curry favor with a parental authority figure, Diddley demand silence in return for an assurance of safety. The music is much sweeter than the attitude, with background claves lightening the mood. This obscure b-side found a bigger audience when it was covered by The Pretty Things in 1965 – their debut album also had covers of Bo Diddley’s “Road Runner” and “She’s Fine, She’s Mine.”
5. “If That’s What You Wanted,” Frank Beverly and the Butlers. Songwriter: Frank Beverly; 1967. Frankie Beverly is best known for his soul/funk unit Maze, a band that had 29 R&B hits from 1977 to 1994 and never crossed over to pop audience. Born Howard Beverly, he changed his name in honor of ‘50’s pop star Frankie Lymon. Beverley, “I used to sing Frankie Lymon songs on street corners and people use to throw me money.” A Philadelphia native, Beverly performed in local doo woo groups before forming The Butlers in 1963. The Butlers never made any noise on the charts, but the soul/pop of “If That’s What You Wanted,” which sounds like a lost Motown classic, found an audience on the Northern soul scene. British DJ/remix specialist Will Ritson, “This is one of my favorite tracks and I love playing it out more than any other. Frankie can totally handle himself anywhere in a set. Begin the journey here and don’t look back.”
4. “Soulful Dress,” Sugar Pie DeSanto. Songwriter: Maurice McAlister; 1964. Maurice McAlister of The Radiants penned “Soulful Dress,” a great groove number about a small woman with a big attitude. Ed Ward in 2010, “’Soulful Dress’ is probably Sugar Pie DeSanto’s best-known song these days, not least because Texas singer Marcia Ball has had it in her set for years, but it also established DeSanto’s persona: an assertive young woman who took no mess. With this and its successor ‘I Don’t Wanna Fuss’ hitting the charts, DeSanto went off to tour Europe, and they’re still talking about her shows – wild dancing and standing back flips included – and her using martial arts on a hefty guy who invaded the stage in England.” Nancy Sinatra’s boots weren’t the only symbols of fashion feminism during the 1960s.
3. “Why,” The Durty Wurds. Songwriter: M. Matthews; 1965 or 1966. The Chicago garage band The Durty Wurds started as a bluegrass trio and switched to an electric rock sound following in the footsteps of Bob Dylan. Their entire recorded output during the 1960s consisted of two singles, but “Why” sounds more like the beginning of the punk rock era than “Blitzkrieg Bop” does. Mick Mackles screams like a deranged stalker, while the band sharpens The Mindbenders’ “Game of Love” riff with rusty switchblades. As primal and hard hitting as Iggy Stooge.
2. “Nothing Can Bring Me Down,” The Twilighters. Songwriter: Jay White; 1968. The communities of Belton, Killeen, and Waco, Texas were never hotbeds for psychedelic garage rock, but that reality didn’t stop The Twilighters from releasing the brain melting track “Nothing Can Bring Me Down.” The song was written as a b-side in the studio, because they originally only had one song to record, but after 500 copies of the single were manufactured, local radio airplay made “Nothing Can Bring Me Down” the “hit.” From the “Rarest Garage 45s” website, “Here’s the crossover point, pinned precisely to mid-1968. The band uses fuzz guitar and splendid farfisa, both played with savage intensity as they were in ’66. The drummer pounds mercilessly at the kit, blissfully unaware of the soon-to-be obvious fact that it’s missing several rack toms and a gong. However, the guitarist HAS heard Jimi Hendrix and was very, very impressed. And the singer HAS heard Cream and Vanilla Fudge, and has changed his vocal inflections to a deeper, more mature soulful tenor. A monster garage nugget.” A suitably savage cover kicks off Pussy Galore’s 1989 “Live: In the Red” album.
1. “Save My Soul,” Wimple Winch. Songwriters: Demetrius Christopholus, Johnny Kelman; 1966. Wimple Winch formed in Liverpool in 1963, first recording Beatles influenced material using the name Just Four Men. They changed their name in 1966 when they adopted a more aggressive rock sound, which has alternately been described as psychedelic rock, protopunk and freakbeat. The band carries their pride like a burning cross on “Save My Soul,” which is carried by a heavy bassline in the verses then explodes in the chorus. Wimple Winch demonstrated their diversity by creating an interesting, self-contained rock opera with their 1967 single “Rumble on Mersey South Square.” Shunned by the marketplace, Wimple Winch disbanded during the summer of love.