The 25 Greatest #2 Pop Singles of the 1960s

Written by | August 30, 2018 6:02 am | No Comments

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Bob Dylan and Creedence rank as the ultimate bridesmaids of 1960’s pop music, while The Beatles managed to elbow “Twist and Shout” out of the #1 slot with another single by The Beatles.

25.  “Bad Moon Rising,”  Creedence Clearwater Revival; #2 pop; 1969.  John Fogerty, “’Bad Moon Rising’ was a title in my songwriting book.  It was a good image. I was up late at night trying to write, and I started thinking about this old movie, ‘The Devil and Daniel Webster,’ about a farmer who sells his soul to Mr. Scratch— the devil— for good fortune.  I knew ‘Bad Moon Rising’ was good before any singing happened. The lick is a big part of the song, and it’s certainly borrowed from the Scotty Moore guitar lick on the Elvis record ‘I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone.’ In places it’s exactly the same. I didn’t make the song out of his lick, but I used it. I wasn’t hiding it— that lick was so great! I was honoring it.”  Kept out of the top slot by Henry Mancini’s “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet.”

24.  “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35,” Bob Dylan.  Songwriter: Bob Dylan; #2 pop; 1966.  Producer Bob Johnston envisioned a Salvation Army sound on Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35,” a song that may be about recreational drug use or personal persecution or both or neither.  Bob Dylan in a 1986 interview, “‘Everybody must get stoned’ is like when you go against the tide.  You might in different times find yourself in an unfortunate situation and so to do what you believe in sometimes, some people they just take offense to that. You know, I mean, you can look through history and find that people have taken offence to people who come out with a different viewpoint on things. And ‘being stoned’ is like…it’s just a kind of way of saying that.”  Kept out of the top slot by The Mamas & the Papas’ “Monday, Monday.”

23.  “Chain Gang,” Sam Cooke.  Songwriter: Sam Cooke; #2 pop/#2 R&B; 1960.  Charles Cook, Sam’s Brother, on the origin of “Chain Gang,” “We was driving along this highway, man, and we saw people working on a chain gang on the side of the road.  They asked us, ‘You got any cigarettes?’ So, we gave them the cigarettes we had.  Then we got down the road about three or four miles and bought five or six cartons.  We carried them back to the dudes that was working on that gang and Sam said, ‘Man, that’s a good song, right there.’”  Kept out of the top slot by Connie Francis’ “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own.”

22.  “Walk, Don’t Run,” The Ventures.  Songwriter: Johnny Smith; #2 pop; 1960.  Alabama native Johnny Smith, perhaps best known for his 1952 recording of “Moonlight in Vermont” with Stan Getz, was a jazz guitarist who wrote and recorded “Walk, Don’t Run” in 1954.   He performed in a cool jazz style, reminiscent of Django Reinhardt, and his composition stayed in obscurity throughout the ‘50s, even after being covered by Chet Atkins in 1957.  The surf rocking Ventures heard the Chet Atkins take, but due to their musical limitations, recorded a simpler and more dynamic version.  Ventures guitarist Don Wilson, “(Chet Atkins) played it in a classical jazzy style and we couldn’t play it like that. We weren’t good enough. So we decided to make our own arrangement of it and simplify it and that’s how that happened.”  Kept out of the top slot by Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never.”

21.  “She’s Not There,” The Zombies.  Songwriter: Rod Argent; #2 pop; 1964. Rod Argent, “If you play that John Lee Hooker song (‘No One Told Me’) you’ll hear ‘no one told me, it was just a feeling I had inside’ but there’s nothing in the melody or the chords that’s the same.  It was just the way that little phrase just tripped off the tongue.  I know I was very concerned with the lyrics on ‘She’s Not There’ but in the sense that they had to really complement the melody.  They had to stand on their own, and had to have their own rhythm and, in that last section I was using the words with different stresses at different times to propel it along towards the final chord.”  Kept out of the top slot by Bobby Vinton’s “Mr. Lonely.”

20.  “Only the Lonely (Know the Way I Feel),” Roy Orbison.  Songwriters: Roy Orbison, Joe Melson; #2 pop; 1960. “Only the Lonely” was Orbison’s breakthrough pop hit, written with his frequent collaborator Joe Melson and peaking at #2 on the pop charts.  Orbison’s material wasn’t crossing over to the country charts during the 1960s, despite being recorded in Nashville with that city’s top session players.  Music critic Stephen Holden, “The voice propelling ‘Only the Lonely’ expressed a clenched, driven urgency, as Orbison detonated a small emotional explosion in two and a half minutes.  As the song climbed to a peak, the singer’s voice metamorphosed from a grim Texan twang into a keening, high tenor that arced into a half-yodeled falsetto cry before plunging back to earth.” Kept out of the top slot by Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry.”

19.  “It’s Your Thing,” The Isley Brothers.  Songwriters: Ronald Isley, O’Kelly Isley, Jr., Rudolph Isley; #2 pop/#1 R&B; 1969.  By 1969, The Isley Brothers felt they were sucking hind tit at Motown and left to start their own label.  They kicked off their newfound freedom with the deathless funk as sexual liberation, I-can’t-tell-you-who-to sock-it-to, “It’s Your Thing.”  Once the song became a smash, Berry Gordy sued claiming that The Isley Brothers were still under Motown contract.  It took eighteen years (insert Kanye West sample here) for the courts to rule in favor of the Isleys.  Author Eric Weisbard, “The instant funk groove of ‘It’s Your Thing’ – passed across speaker channels between bass riff, guitar scratch, summoning piano chords, and ride cymbal; horns and full drums surging in after Ronald Isley – gave the song a different affect than the group’s earlier hits.”  Kept out of the top slot by The Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures).”

18.  “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” Elvis Presley.  Songwriters:  Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, George David Weiss; #2 pop; 1961.  “It’s Now or Never” wasn’t the only Elvis hit based upon a well established European melody.  “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was a rewrite of the French song “Plasir d’amour” (“The Pleasure of Love”), which dates back to the late 18th century.  It was recorded by a combination of Nashville session men (Floyd Cramer, Bob Moore) with future Wrecking Crew member Hal Blaine on drums, and long time Elvis sidemen Scotty Moore and The Jordanaires.  According to songwriter George Weiss, Elvis insisted on including this love ballad in the movie “Blue Hawaii,” against the wishes of the movies’ producers.  It became Presley’s standard show closing number and UB40 had the most successful cover of a song popularized by Elvis with their 1993 #1 light reggae cover.  Kept out of the top slot by Joey Dee and the Starliters’ “Peppermint Twist.”

17.  “I Was Made to Love Her,” Stevie Wonder.  Songwriters: Stevie Wonder, Lula Mae Hardaway, Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy; #2 pop/#1 R&B; 1967. Stevie Wonder’s born in Little Rock/childhood sweetheart song was lyrically inspired by his first romantic infatuation.  Producer Henry Cosby reportedly took Wonder to see a local Baptist minister’s service to replicate some of the intensity and cadences from the pulpit to the recording studio.  Wonder, “She was my third girlfriend but my first love. I used to call Angie up and, like, we would talk and say, ‘I love you, I love you,’ and we’d talk and we’d both go to sleep on the phone. And this was like from Detroit to California, right? You know, mother said, ‘’Boy, what you doing – get off the phone!’”  Kept out of the top slot by The Doors’ “Light My Fire.”

16.  “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” Sly and the Family Stone.  Songwriter: Sly Stone; #2 pop/#3 R&B; 1969.  Author Miles Marshall Lewis, “The week after Woodstock, ‘Hot Fun in the Summertime’ entered the top 100 and speedily shot to number two for two weeks, Sly and the Family Stone’s biggest hit since ‘Everyday People.’ The languid, melancholy tone of the song perfectly captures the lazy haziness of summer. Beginning with simple piano trills, Sly jumps right into the lyrics: ‘End of the spring and here she comes back…’ It’s the first Sly and the Family Stone song with sentimental string orchestration, a universally appealing subject, instantly nostalgic. The trademark throaty growl Sly would later use time and again debuted here.”  Kept out of the top slot by The Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next to You.”

15.  “You Don’t Know Me,” Ray Charles.  Songwriters: Cindy Walker, Eddy Arnold; #2 pop/#5 R&B; 1962.  Cindy Walker once reflected that the best songs “have a face.”  Walker, “You recognize them.  You know them.  It’s like a person.  They have a face that’s outstanding.  Other songs don’t have a face; you just hear them, that’s all.  The really good ones are few and far between.”  Brother Ray was kept out of the top slot by Tommy Roe’s “Sheila.”

14.  “Born To Be Wild,” Steppenwolf.  Songwriter: Mars Bonfire; #2 pop; 1968.  Songwriter Mars Bonfire, “I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard one day and saw a poster in a window saying ‘Born to Ride’ with a picture of a motorcycle erupting out of the earth like a volcano with all this fire around it.  Around this time I had just purchased my first car, a little secondhand Ford Falcon.  So all this came together lyrically: the idea of the motorcycle coming out along with the freedom and joy I felt in having my first car and being able to drive myself around whenever I wanted.”  Kept out of the top slot by The Rascals’ “People Got to Be Free.”

13.  “Green River,” Creedence Clearwater Revival.  Songwriter: John Fogerty; #2 pop; 1969..  Fogerty, “’Green River’ is really about this place where I used to go as a kid on Putah Creek, near Winters, California.  I went there with my family every year until I was ten.  Lot of happy memories there.  I learned how to swim there. There was a rope hanging from the tree.  Certainly dragonflies, bullfrogs.  The actual specific reference, Green River, I got from a soda pop-syrup label.  You used to be able to go into a soda fountain, and they had these bottles of flavored syrup.  My flavor was called Green River.”  Kept out of the top slot by The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar.”

12.  “The Wanderer,” Dion and the Belmonts.  Songwriter: Ernie Maresca; #2 pop; 1961.  Dion, “At its roots, it’s more than meets the eye. ‘The Wanderer’ is black music filtered through an Italian neighborhood that comes out with an attitude. It’s my perception of a lot of songs like ‘I’m A Man’ by Bo Diddley or ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ by Muddy Waters. But you know, ‘The Wanderer’ is really a sad song. A lot of guys don’t understand that. Bruce Springsteen was the only guy who accurately expressed what that song was about. It’s ‘I roam from town to town and go through life without a care, I’m as happy as a clown with my two fists of iron, but I’m going nowhere.’ In the fifties, you didn’t get that dark. It sounds like a lot of fun but it’s about going nowhere.” Kept out of the top slot by Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl.”

11.  “Twist and Shout,” The Beatles.  Songwriters: Bert Berns, Phil Medley; #2 pop; 1963.  The Beatles inserted this screaming crowd pleaser into their marathon sets in Germany during the early 1960s and it was the final song recorded as part of a thirteen hour session for their first album.  John Lennon’s voice was ragged from singing all day and his pushing-through-the-pain raspy vocals add to the sense of frenzied euphoria. Author Ian McDonald, “The results were remarkable for its time: raw to a degree unmatched by other white artists and far too wild to be accepted by an older generation.” Kept out of the top slot by The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

10.  “19th Nervous Breakdown,” The Rolling Stones.  Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards; #2 pop; 1966.  Jagger, “We had just done five weeks hectic work in the States and I said, ‘Dunno about you blokes, but I feel about ready for my nineteenth nervous breakdown.’ We seized on it at once as a likely song title. Then Keith and I worked on the number at intervals during the rest of the tour. Brian, Charlie and Bill egged us on – especially as they liked having the first two words starting with the same letter.”  Kept out of the top slot by SSgt Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets.”

9.  “You Don’t Own Me,” Lesley Gore.  Songwriters: John Madara, Dave White; #2 pop; 1963.  One generally doesn’t associate the subject of feminism with early 1960’s pop music, but Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” is a dramatic statement of independence and equality.  Song co-writer John Madara, “Our original intent was to write a song with a woman telling a man off: ‘Don’t tell me what to do, don’t tell me what to say.’  Though we didn’t realize it at the time that it would become a woman’s anthem, it definitely was our intention to have a woman make a statement.”  Kept out of the top slot by The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

8.  “Proud Mary,” Creedence Clearwater Revival.  Songwriter: John Fogerty; #2 pop; 1969.  John Fogerty on writing ‘Proud Mary,’ “Pardon me for not sounding humble. This thing had landed on me and I recognized that this was truly great, far above me. Far above anything I had ever even thought about. I had grown up with my mom talking to me about Irving Berlin and Hoagy Carmichael, how they wrote standards. I knew, ‘Man, this is a standard.’ Meaning it was like ‘Stardust.’ Or ‘White Christmas.’ I had never even brushed up against anything like that. It was like being struck by God.” Kept out of the top slot by Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.”

7.  “Soul Man,” Sam and Dave.  Songwriters: Isaac Hayes, David Porter; #2 pop/#1 R&B; 1967.  Isaac Hayes, “’Soul Man’ was written when there was a lot of racial unrest in the country.  There was uprising in various cities, people burning buildings.  I was watching TV and one of the news commentators said, ‘If the black businesses write ‘soul’ on the building, the rioters will bypass it.’  I realized the word soul keeps them from burning up their establishments.  Wow, soul.  Soul.  Soul man.” Kept out of the top slot by Lulu’s “To Sir with Love.”

6.  “Shop Around,” The Miracles.  Songwriters: Smokey Robinson, Berry Gordy; #2 pop/#1 R&B; 1960. Author Mark Ribowsky, “That record was the turning point.  It was R&B and pop for a new, young generation and upgraded Motown’s national image, both creatively and as a business nexus.”  Smokey Robinson on his high pitched vocals, “I had a complex about my voice. People would confuse me with Claudette. People would go, ‘Oh, I thought you were a girl.’ I remember, one of our first hits, probably ‘Shop Around,’ I got sick and couldn’t go on stage, so Claudette sang for me.  And in the middle of the songs, guys would be yelling out, ‘Sing it, Smokey!’” Kept out of the top slot by Lawrence Welk’s “Calcutta.”  It is to weep.

5.  “Louie Louie,” The Kingsmen.  Songwriter: Richard Berry; #2 pop; 1963. Rock critic Dave Marsh, “’Louie Louie’ is the most profound and sublime expression of rock and roll’s ability to create something from nothing. Built up from a Morse code beat and a ‘dub duh dub’ refrain, with scratchy lead vocal, tacky electric piano, relentless rhythm guitar, and drums that sound like the guy who’s playing ‘em isn’t sure what comes next, ‘Louie Louie’ scales the heights of trash rock to challenge the credentials of all latter-day rockers: If you don’t love it, you’ve missed the point of the whole thing.” Kept out of the top slot by The Singing Nun’s “Dominque.”

4.   “Dancing in the Street,” Martha and the Vandellas.  Songwriters: Marvin Gaye, William “Mickey” Stevenson, Ivy Jo Hunter; #2 pop/#8 R&B; 1964.  Author Tom Moon, “This is the ultimate summer single, two minutes and thirty-eight seconds of heat in audio form. Hear just a few seconds of the introduction, a fanfare for soul-revue horns, and pretty soon that school’s-out-let’s-party state of mind takes hold.” Kept out of the top slot by Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.”

3.  “Wooly Bully,” Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs.   Songwriter: Domingo Samudio; #2 pop; 1964.  Author Sally O’Rourke, “The Kingsmen’s version of ‘Louie Louie’ may have sparked the garage rock revolution, but ‘Wooly Bully’ managed to be both more commercially successful and much, much weirder. ‘Wooly Bully’ is somehow ever rawer than ‘Louie Louie,’ with a one-chord verse, a two-word chorus, and 15-bar structure that sets the song on an odd, wobbling groove. Sax player Butch Gibson toots out a decent solo in the middle of the song, but all of the other musicians sound as though they discovered their instruments for the first time at the song’s recording session. Yet it’s this boneheaded simplicity that makes ‘Wooly Bully’ such a classic, standing out both from the diluted faux-rock of the early ’60s, and from the increasingly artistic ambitions that rockers like the Beatles were beginning to explore.” Kept out of the top slot by The Beach Boys’ “Help Me, Rhonda.”

2.  “Be My Baby,” The Ronettes.  Songwriters: Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector; #2 pop/#4 R&B; 1963.  Author Jason Ankeny, “‘Be My Baby’ announces its arrival with arguably the most dramatic introduction in all of rock & roll – Hal Blaine’s drums are the Morse code of the gods – and somehow just keeps getting better from there; the quintessential Phil Spector production, it begins as the Wall of Sound but ends up a full-blown Taj Mahal, a gleaming sonic temple erected in eternal tribute to Ronettes frontwoman (and the future Mrs. Spector) Veronica Bennett.” Drummer Hal Blaine, “That famous drum intro was an accident. I was supposed to play the snare on the second beat as well as the fourth, but I dropped a stick. Being the faker I was in those days, I left the mistake in and it became: ‘Bum-ba-bum-BOOM!’ And soon everyone wanted that beat. If you listen to me in Frank Sinatra’s ‘Strangers in the Night,’ I’m playing the ‘Be My Baby’ beat, just very softly.” Kept out of the top slot by Jimmer Gilmer and the Fireballs’ “Sugar Shack.”

1.   “Like A Rolling Stone,” Bob Dylan.  Songwriter: Bob Dylan; #2 pop; 1965.  After Bruce Springsteen, “The first time that I heard Bob Dylan I was in the car with my mother, and we were listening to, I think, maybe WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody kicked open the door to your mind, from ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ I knew that I was listening to the toughest voice that I had ever heard. It was lean, and it sounded somehow simultaneously young and adult, and I ran out and I bought the single. Dylan was – he was a revolutionary, man, the way that Elvis freed your body, Bob freed your mind. And he showed us that just because the music was innately physical, it did not mean that it was anti-intellect. He had the vision and the talent to expand a pop song until it contained the whole world.” Kept out of the top slot by The Beatles’ “Help!”

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