Two days ago, my sister and I learned that Mom would have to be moved to a smaller apartment, almost an efficiency, in a facility adjacent to her assisted living center where she can get a greater level of care.
That means packing, moving, downsizing, renting another storage unit and all the stuff that goes with that. I’ve spent most of the past two days running errands and making phone calls as well as trying to keep things running smoothly here at home. Sorting and packing starts tomorrow, and the move is set for a week from today, April 12.
Add some sleep issues, and I’m already weary. I’ve got most of today to refresh – although there are some lingering domestic duties – so I’m going to go do that.
In the meantime, here are Jim and Jean Glover, the musicians who recorded during the 1960s as Jim & Jean, with their version of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” from their 1966 album Changes. (Dylan’s version of the song, recorded in 1963 for his album The Times They Are a-Changin’, was eventually released in 1985 as part of the Biograph box set.)
For the past four months, I’ve been working with two friends – Lucille Guinta-Bates, a dancer, and Heather Helmer, a singer – on a cabaret-styled program scheduled for three performances during the second weekend of November.
My part in what we’re calling Cabaret De Lune is not huge. I give an opening monologue, accompany Heather on the piano for several songs, join her in singing one, and I perform three of my original songs. I guess when it’s written down like that, it sounds pretty hefty, but in the context of the show – with Lucille offering memoirs as monologues interspersed with dance and Heather singing five numbers – including that duet with me – it doesn’t seem as daunting.
Or so I tell myself.
Beyond performances at our Unitarian Universalist church in the past few years, I haven’t really sung or played in public since the last performance with Jake’s band, which I think took place in the summer of 2000. And I had a whole band behind me then. There are moments in Cabaret De Lune when I am alone at the piano, and I will be performing for people whom I do not know. The prospect of that is un-nerving.
There will be people there whom I know, certainly. The Texas Gal will attend one of our three performances, and my sister and brother-in-law are bringing my mom to one. And there will no doubt be other folks in the audiences for the three performances whom I know, as Lucille, Heather and I know a fair number of people in common. (I met Lucille, our co-director, through Heather, who used to work with the Texas Gal at the legal aid office. And our other co-director, Tom Hergert, is a member of our church.)
So what’s it about? Well, our promotional material says:
Cabaret De Lune is a show that explores themes of feeling alone, different and misunderstood. How do we find our way during the dark times?
If you give yourself the gift of following your bliss you just might also end up finding your tribe.
I’m pretty nervous about it. As I should be. I do know, however, that when the lights go up in our small performance space on Saturday, November 12, and I look up from my perch at the piano and begin to tell the tale that frames our various pieces, I’ll be energized and ready in spite of my nerves.
We’re doing a full run-through this afternoon and a couple full dress rehearsals next weekend, so I’ll be able to polish my performances a little bit more, and I can only hope that all will go well and will continue to do so.
With all that, the only suitable tune this morning, of course, is “Cabaret,” the theme from the 1966 Broadway music, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. Here’s Louis Armstrong’s take on the tune. It was released in 1966 as a Columbia single, but it did not chart.
For those readers nearby who are interested, Cabaret De Lune will be presented at 5 and 7 p.m., Saturday, November 12, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, November 13, at StudioJeff, which is located at 701 W. Saint Germain St., Suite 201, in downtown St. Cloud. If you need more information, leave me a message here.
The top ten records in the Billboard Hot 100 that was released fifty years ago today – October 22, 1966 – make, with one exception, a great stretch of listening:
“Reach Out I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops
“96 Tears” by ? & The Mysterians
“Last Train to Clarksville” by the Monkees
“Cherish” by the Association
“Psychotic Reaction” by Count Five
“Walk Away Renee” by the Left Banke
“Poor Side of Town” by Johnny Rivers
“What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” by Jimmy Ruffin
“Dandy” by Herman’s Hermits
“See See Rider” by Eric Burdon & The Animals
Even though I was about three years away from rescuing my grandpa’s old RCA radio from the basement and listening to Top 40 every night, I knew most of those during my second month of eighth grade. I probably would not have recognized the Count Five record nor perhaps “See See Rider,” but I heard the others all around me and liked most of them although even then I thought that “Dandy” was pretty slight.
But as I often do when looking at a long-ago Hot 100, I’m going to head toward the bottom of the chart in search of something new or different (or at least forgotten). Way down at the bottom, bubbling under at No. 135, is “Clock” by Eddie Rambeau. When I saw that it was produced by Bob Crewe, I had hopes for it, but it’s pretty bland. It turns out that “Clock” was the last of five records that Rambeau got into or near the Hot 100; four of them did no more than bubble under, but his cover of “Concrete and Clay” went to No. 35 in the spring of 1965. (The original, by Unit Four plus Two, went to No. 28 the same week.)
Still in the Bubbling Under section, I see records by Don Covay, the Baja Marimba Band, Laura Nyro, Del Shannon, Bert Kaempfert, the Shirelles and the Chiffons. And I see two versions of “Dommage, Dommage (Too Bad, Too Bad),” one by Jerry Vale, whose name I recognize, and one by Paul Vance, whose name is new to me, as is the tune. As I expected, it’s a slow sad ballad; I might have found it moving when I was thirteen (and vainly besotted with a sweet blonde who sat near me in science class), but it’s not what I’m looking for today. Vale’s version peaked at No. 93 and Vance’s at No. 97; Vale’s version went to No. 5 on the chart that is now called Adult Contemporary.
In the records ranked from No. 80 to No. 99, I see a lot of familiar names – B.B. King, Brian Hyland, Lee Dorsey, Percy Sledge, the Standells, Bobby Bland, the O’Jays, James Carr and more – but not a lot of familiar records. Still, nothing much catches my attention, so we climb upward.
At No. 77, we find one of two versions in this chart of “The Wheel of Hurt,” this one by Al Martino, a regular in the charts from 1959 to 1977. I remember him best for his 1967 record “Mary in the Morning.” The other version of “The Wheel of Hurt” in the Hot 100 fifty years ago today was Margaret Whiting’s version at No. 68. I know Margaret Whiting’s name as one of the most successful female vocalists of the 1940s. “The Wheel of Hurt” was her most successful offering of ten charting or near-charting records in the Hot 100 era, going to No. 26 in the Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the AC chart. Martino’s version got to only No. 59 in the Hot 100 and went to No. 12 on the AC chart. Still I’m not pulled in, and we go up to the records ranking from Nos. 50 to 59.
Back in the Bubbling Under section, we passed Patti Page’s cover of “Almost Persuaded” sitting at No. 113. It would go no higher, but it’s worth noting because David Houston’s original version of the song was still in the Hot 100, sitting at No. 43 after peaking at No. 24. (Thinking about Houston’s record always reminds me of Leo Rau, the record and candy jobber who lived across the alley; in one of the boxes of records he passed on to me in the mid-1960s were several sleeves for the Houston single although I’m not sure I ever got a copy of the record.)
Also in the Hot 100 fifty years ago today was “Almost Persuaded No. 2,” a drunken-sounding satire of Houston’s record recorded by Sheb Wooley of “Purple People Eater” fame and released under the name of Ben Colder. It was one of five novelty sequels to popular country tunes credited to Colder; none did very well, with “Almost Persuaded No. 2” doing the best by reaching No. 58.
Then we reach No. 42, and we find a record that’s new to me and that I’m a little reluctant to write about. That’s not because it’s not a good one, but because seeing it in the chart makes me feel a little stupid. It’s a record I should have known about a long time ago, and my only defense is that I was thirteen when it was in the charts. Anyway, from what I see at oldiesloon, Brenda Lee’s “Coming On Strong” did not make the survey at the Twin Cities’ KDWB, which was the main St. Cloud source of Top 40 tunes in 1966, so I’m not sure where I could have heard it.
Lee’s record was heading up to No. 11, and, as I said, I should have known about it a long time ago, and not just because it’s a good record. I should have known about it because I should have tried to figure out years ago exactly what Golden Earring meant with the line “Brenda Lee is comin’ on strong” in the 1974 hit “Radar Love.” Well, confession is supposed to be good for the soul, and I’ll confess here that sometimes I’m an idiot.
And with that, here’s Brenda Lee’s “Coming On Strong,” today’s Saturday Single.
There’s been some hoopla in recent weeks about the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ Revolver album. (And it’s been deserved hoopla at that: I’d put Revolver second among the Beatles’ oeuvre behind only Abbey Road and somewhere in the top dozen of the greatest albums of all time.) So I thought I’d check a few radio station surveys from August 20, 1966, and see what a few of the hits were fifty years ago today, when kids who bought Revolver the day it came our had been listening to it for a couple weeks.
(Of course, American kids were listening to an abridged and diminished version of the album, as Capitol sliced three tracks from the album and scrambled the original order of the ones remaining, which means that most listeners in the U.S. didn’t hear the album as it was originally envisioned until the group’s catalog was reissued on CD.)
So what was on the radio fifty years ago, based on a limited look? We’ll check out three station surveys and look at No. 8 and No. 20 (based on today’s date) and also take a look at No. 1.
First up is the WCTC Sound Survey out of New Brunswick, New Jersey, not all that far from New York City. The No. 8 record there was Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman,” which at the time was sitting at No. 10 in the Billboard Hot 100. At No. 20 in New Brunswick was the Mamas & The Papas’ “I Saw Her Again,” which Billboard had at No. 24. The No. 1 record on the Sound Survey fifty years ago today was the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City,” which also topped the Hot 100.
Not far away from me during that week fifty years ago – about 140 miles – WEBC in Duluth, Minnesota, offered “The Northland’s Original and Only Fabulous Forty Survey.” Parked at No. 8 was “Somewhere, My Love” by the Ray Conniff Singers (No. 19 in the Hot 100), while the No. 20 record on WEBC was Bryan Hyland’s “The Joker Went Wild” (No. 21). The top record in the Northland during that long-ago week was “Little Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs (No. 3 in the Hot 100).
In southern California, some listeners were taking their cues from the KIST List sent out by KIST of Santa Barbara. Sitting at No. 8 in the KIST List that week was “Guantanamera” by the Sandpipers (No. 27 in the Hot 100), while the No. 20 spot was occupied by “Tar & Cement” by Verdelle Smith (No. 38). The No. 1 record on KIST fifty years ago today was “Psychotic Reaction” by Count Five, which would not enter the Hot 100 for another three weeks.
Looking at the three records from those three surveys brings something that’s rare and possibly unique. Usually, when I do these survey digging posts, I have some repeat records listed among the three to five stations I choose pretty much by whim. Today, we have nine different records. I don’t think that’s happened before, but if it has, it’s been rare.
We usually drop the No. 1 records, but I’m pretty impressed with the folks at KIST, who had “Psychotic Reaction” at No. 1 before it entered the Hot 100, so that one will be considered for today’s spotlight. Among the other eight records, most are familiar. I don’t remember hearing Hyland’s “The Joker Went Wild” before today, and I thought it was pretty slight. The rest I know, most of them well. The least-known of those in these precincts is probably “Tar & Cement.”
And there’s something else to consider this morning: In more than ten years of blogging about popular music, I have never once until today mentioned either Verdelle Smith or Count Five. And given that I want something with a little more bite to it this morning, here’s “Psychotic Reaction” by Count Five, today’s Saturday Single.
Here, edited slightly, is one of this blog’s earliest posts, originally offered here on February 5, 2007:
When I was a kid, the man across the alley – Leo Rau—was a jobber. That’s what my dad said he was. I didn’t know what a jobber was, but from what I could see of Mr. Rau’s work life, it was probably a lot of fun: In the Raus’ garage were boxes of candy and cases of cigarettes, and boxes and boxes of 45 rpm records.
What being a jobber meant, of course, was that Leo Rau had a chain of vending machines that he kept filled with the good stuff of life: Snickers, Nut Rolls and Juicy Fruit gum among the candy; Camels, Winstons and Herbert Tareytons among the cigarettes, and performers such as Sandy Posey, Petula Clark and Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass on the records destined for juke boxes in the St. Cloud area.
As I headed into my teens, being across the alley from the Raus seemed like a pretty good deal. Steve Rau, who was a few years older than I was, decided one day to get rid of his comic book collection, and gave it to me: Lots of Jughead and Archie, some war comics (stories of World War II, which was just more than twenty years past), and comics based on television shows of the mid-1950s, which I didn’t recall at all. It was a treasure trove.
And on several occasions, Mr. Rau passed on to me a box of 45 rpm records. I don’t recall everything he gave to me; I know one of them was Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” because I still have it. Another was the subject of this little piece, ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” by Bob Dylan and The Band, released as the B-side to Dylan’s” I Want You” (Columbia 43683). There are a few others that Mr. Rau gave me that have survived the forty years since I was thirteen.
And it’s remarkable that any of them survived. You see, at thirteen, I was distinctly unhip. I did not listen to Top 40 radio. I had only a few LPs and no singles to speak of in my record collection. And I didn’t listen to the records Mr. Rau gave me – I used them for target practice with my BB gun.
I cringe. I have no idea how many 45s I aimed and shot at, punching neat little holes in the grooves. Maybe a hundred. A lot of the records Mr. Rau gave me were country & western, a genre that was far less cool (and far more real and gritty) than country music is today. I remember a lot of Sandy Posey, Sonny James and Buck Owens, records that it would be nice to have today. But I know a good share of the records that met my BBs were pop and rock, simply because of the two for sure that I know survived: the Procol Harum and the Dylan. And it’s knowing how close I came to destroying the Dylan record that makes me shake my head in something near disbelief.
Here’s what Dave Marsh said about the record in his “Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made,” where he ranked the B-side at No. 243.
“If you liked the jingly folk-rock of ‘I Want You’ enough to run out and buy the single without waiting for the album (which only turned out to be Blonde on Blonde), you got the surprise of your life: A B side taken from Dylan’s recent European tour on which and a rock band (which only turned out to be The Band) did things to ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,’ a song from Highway 61 Revisited, that it’s still risky to talk about in broad daylight.”
Marsh continues: “Rock critics like to make a big deal about B sides but there are only maybe a dozen great ones in the whole history of singles. This one’s rank is indisputable, though, because it offers something that wasn’t legally available until the early Seventies: a recorded glimpse of Dylan’s onstage prowess. ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ came out before anybody ever thought of bootlegging rock shows, before anybody this side of Jimi Hendrix quite understood Dylan as a great rock and roll stage performer. And so this vicious, majestic music, hidden away in the most obscure place he could think of putting it, struck with amazing force.”
The group behind Dylan wasn’t exactly The Band: The drummer for the European tour was Mickey Jones. Levon Helm had become fed up with performing in front of angry and jeering crowds who wanted to hear Bob Dylan the folksinger and were being presented with Bob Dylan the rock and roll performer. He’d gone back to Arkansas and wouldn’t reunite with the other four members of what became The Band until after the tour, when he joined them and Dylan in Woodstock (where the six of them began recording the music later released as The Basement Tapes and where The Band began work on its debut, Music From Big Pink.)
The version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” that so entrances Marsh was recorded in Liverpool, England, on May 14, 1966, just three days before the so-called “Albert Hall” concert, which actually took place at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester (and was released in 1998 as The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966).
I look at the fragile 45 that survived my BB gun and shake my head. It’s undeniably a treasure, but it didn’t survive because I knew that. It didn’t survive when so many other records were splintered by BBs because it was by Bob Dylan. As unhip as I was at the ages of twelve and thirteen, I had no real good idea who Bob Dylan was; that awareness would take at least another four to five years. It was an accident, pure and simple, that I never looked past the sights of my BB rifle at the Dylan record – a happy accident, to be sure. Historically, the sounds on the record are priceless; musically, they’re astounding.
Dave Marsh sums up his comments about the record: “Today it sounds like the reapings of a whirwind, Dylan’s voice as draggy, druggy and droogy as the surreal Mexican beatnik escapade he’s recounting, Robbie Robertson carving dense mathematical figures on guitar, Garth Hudson working pure hoodoo on organ. Slurred and obtuse as Little Richard reading Ezra Pound, there’s a magnificence here so great that, if you had to, you could make the case for rock and roll as a species of art using this record and nothing else.”
The riddle I find is this: The label on the 45 from 1966 says clearly “Recorded in Liverpool, England,” and the date of that show was May 14, 1966. And the Live 1966 “official bootleg” set released in 1998, says just as clearly that everything in the set was recorded in Manchester three days later. But the video below from the Live 1966 set sounds the same as my B-side.
So is it Liverpool or Manchester? I don’t know, but because the first recording date that I saw for that singular B-side was fifty years ago today, the supposed Liverpool performance of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by Bob Dylan (and most of The Band), is today’s Saturday Single.
So we’ll cast our glance at the Billboard Hot 100 from May 7, 1966, exactly fifty years ago today, and see what we can find. And yes, we’ll play some games with numbers, taking today’s date – 5/7/16 – and turning it into No. 12, No. 23 and No. 28 to find a single for a Saturday.
But we’ll start with a quick look at the No. 1 record of the week, which turns out to be “Monday, Monday,” by The Mamas & The Papas, the second charting record for the quartet (“California Dreamin’” had gone to No. 4 in early 1966). They’d have seven more Top 40 hits and a bunch more in and near the Hot 100 before the magic ran out. They were, it seems to me, one of those groups – like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the best of the Motown groups – than even an unhip kid could not miss in the mid-1960s. I remember hearing their stuff and liking it long before I was a dedicated Top 40 listener.
Sitting at its peak of No. 12 fifty years ago today was a record I do not remember ever hearing until this morning, “Try Too Hard” by the Dave Clark Five. I imagine I did hear it somewhere, but it clearly made no impression. Nor did anything by the Dave Clark Five. I have none of the group’s LPs although I imagine some of their singles are on some of the various anthologies, but those tracks certainly weren’t the reasons for buying the collections. And I find only two mp3s by the group on the digital shelves, and both of those came my way in the portions of the massive Lost Jukebox collection I found somewhere in the wild. I clearly never cared for or about the Dave Clark Five, and I doubt that will change now.
The record parked at No. 23 fifty years ago today is one that I did hear back then and still like today: “A Sign Of The Times” by Petula Clark, coming down the chart after peaking at No. 11 (and at No. 2 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart). I remember hearing – probably because of her presence on the AC chart – and liking everything Petula from 1964’s “Downtown” through her last Top Ten hit, “Don’t Sleep In The Subway,” in mid-1967. I guess you could call her one of my faves: I’ve got maybe five of her LPs on the shelves and about fifty mp3s tucked away in the chips, including a 1975 cover of Mocedades’ “Eres Tu,” which is one of those songs I collect in as many versions as possible.
And at No. 28 in the Hot 100 from fifty years ago today, we find an Elvis Presley track from one of the many movies Elvis starred in that are pretty lightly regarded these days (and likely were similarly regarded when they came out): the title track from Frankie and Johnny. It’s another record I don’t recall ever hearing, interesting to me for two reasons: The record features a faux Dixieland arrangement, and Elvis sings the old song about a cheating lover in the first person, taking the role Johnny as he does Frankie wrong. It’s a little odd, but it’s not awful. It didn’t do all that well, either, as it had already peaked at No. 25.
So, three records to choose from, two of which I’d never heard before. Well, there are days like that. I do like the Petula Clark record, but it’s very familiar. And choosing between the other two, I find that I really don’t like the Dave Clark Five. So here’s Elvis Presley’s take on “Frankie and Johnny,” today’s Saturday Single.
As we continue to make our ways here through the Valley of Virus – the Texas Gal seemingly ascending from its depths toward the uplands of recovery and me evidently making my way into its unpleasantness – there’s not much energy here.
So I was going to play the easy card that I’ve dropped on the table several times recently: In today’s case, asking the RealPlayer to find tracks recorded on April 15 over the years. I had a hunch that among them would be the recordings of Mississippi John Hurt’s concert on April 15, 1965, at Oberlin College in Ohio. And I was right. The tracks from that concert came up in the list.
But the RealPlayer also told me those tracks are no longer in the folder where I stashed them. And that’s true. Evidently, as I was updating my collection of Hurt’s music the other day, I inadvertently deleted the Oberlin concert tracks. I will have to replace them, and I’m not sure where I originally found them, likely somewhere out on the ’Net some years ago. The local library might have the CD, or I may track it down on Amazon and add it to the physical stacks here.
In any case, it’s always a good day to hear Mississippi John Hurt, so I’ll shift to a track included on his Last Sessions album, recorded in February 1966 at the Manhattan Towers Hotel in New York City. It’s suitable accompaniment for a trip through any valley: “Trouble, I’ve Had It All My Days.
In my look earlier this week at Ssgt. Barry Sadler’s 1966 hit “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” I noted that as the record climbed the charts and sat at No. 1 for five weeks, I liked it. But I may have inadvertently left the impression that I still do. I don’t, and I haven’t liked it or what it represents for a long, long time. And a comment about the record from a Facebook friend this week got me thinking about how that shift came to be.
I was twelve when the record came out, and I was just beginning the process of figuring out what was going on in the world around me and how I felt about those things. Most of those things were much closer at hand than the war in Vietnam, things like seventh grade math and girls. But I was also, as Thursday’s post indicated, reading newspapers and listening to news reports about events going on in the larger world and beginning to form, I guess, the ideals and principles that I’ve carried – or that have perhaps carried me – in the fifty years since. And among the things I pondered was the war in Vietnam.
As I wrote this week about my twelve-year-old self, “How much did I grasp about the war? Well, more than my classmates, certainly, and probably as much as many adults. . . . I believed what I read in the papers and heard on TV about Vietnam, as did, I think, my parents and all the other adults in my life. It would take a few years before we would realize that our government would lie to us.”
Over the next few years, I did figure out – as did many others in the U.S. – that our government was lying to us about Vietnam (and about many other things as well). And as I realized that, my thoughts and feelings about that war (and a lot of those other things) changed radically. As regards the war specifically, another impetus toward a changed attitude came on a sunny Saturday in 1969 when my sister’s boyfriend came home from Vietnam severely wounded and fundamentally changed; at the same time, that boyfriend’s best friend came home, as Country Joe would say, in a box. That was when, to adapt somewhat a 1960s trope, the political became personal.
And I imagine that if I’d ever thought about Ssgt. Barry Sadler and “The Ballad of the Green Berets” between that day in 1969 and the moment this week when I noted that it had been No. 1 fifty years ago, I’d have dismissed it as a bit of pop culture ephemera that offered a glorification of the war and of unthinking militarism that I rejected long ago.
So why did I write about Sadler and his record this week? Because they’re part of our musical and cultural history, and one of the things I try to do here is connect that history with the present. I perhaps didn’t do a very good job of that in my earlier post. I likely should have written – as I have here – about how my views of the record and the things it represents changed in the years that followed.
Thinking this morning about those changes brought to mind a song I still do like, one written and recorded by the late Phil Ochs in 1966, the same year Sadler’s record went to No. 1. It’s a song that’s been recorded numerous times over the years. One of my favorite versions, also from 1966, is by Julie Felix, an American folk singer whose long career has been based in Britain. So here (with guitarist John Renbourn evidently lending a hand) is Felix’s version of “Changes,” today’s Saturday single.
Fifty years ago this week, the top spot in the Billboard Hot 100 belonged, for the fourth week in a row, to a jingoistic march celebrating some of America’s soldiers. The record? “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by SSgt. Barry Sadler.
Sadler’s record was a phenomenon, one of those records that both reflects and creates a pop cultural moment. At the time, the war in Vietnam was escalating rapidly: In 1964, according to the website American War Library, there had been 23,300 U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam; by 1966, that number had risen to 385,300. (It would peak in 1968 at 536,100.) Here at home, we were told we were fighting the Communists there so we would not have to fight them here. And because the government told us so, we thought we were winning.
And the Green Berets – or U.S. Army Special Forces – were among the heroes of the moment, a status propelled in good part by the book The Green Berets by Robin Moore. The book detailed Moore’s experiences training with the Special Forces and then being deployed with them to Vietnam. Interestingly, Wikipedia notes that “Moore’s account included several controversial facts about Special Forces missions that were classified at the time, prompting Moore to publish his book as ‘fiction’.” (The book spawned an equally jingoistic 1968 movie of the same title starring John Wayne.)
Sadler, who was in fact a staff sergeant in the Special Forces, had written the song while recovering from wounds sustained in Vietnam, and Moore encouraged him to record it. (Sadler’s picture – the same one that was used on the sleeve for the 45 and the LP jacket of his album – was also used on the cover of the paperback edition of Moore’s book.) The single, on RCA Victor, topped both the Hot 100 and the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart for five weeks.
It was, as I said above, one of those records that both created and celebrated a moment, feeding the country’s need for heroes and goodness in a post-Kennedy world. And, I remember, we ate it up. I was in seventh grade, I knew a bit about the war in Vietnam, and I thought the record was neat. How much did I grasp about the war? Well, more than my classmates, certainly, and probably as much as many adults. I was already – as I have noted here many times – a news junkie. I believed what I read in the papers and heard on TV about Vietnam, as did, I think, my parents and all the other adults in my life. It would take a few years before we would realize that our government would lie to us.
I haven’t heard “The Ballad of the Green Berets” in years. It’s on the digital shelves, but I don’t recall it ever popping up during a random shuffle. Nevertheless, as I write about it this morning, I can hear it in my head, and I would guess that I could type in almost all the words without straining. It was everywhere fifty years ago.
As to Sadler, a follow-up single, “The ‘A’ Team,” made it to No. 28 in May 1966. After that, Wikipedia says, he wrote some novels about the military. In 1978, he killed a man in a dispute over a woman and was convicted of voluntary manslaughter; he appealed, arguing self-defense, and his sentence was reduced to twenty-one days. He moved to Guatemala, where in 1988 he was shot in the head during a robbery attempt. Despite treatment in the U.S. – provided by friends from the magazine Soldier of Fortune – Sadler never really recovered, and he died at the age of 49 on November 5, 1989. (All that from Wikipedia.)
Here’s his hit. And yes, I could have written the words from memory before listening to it. (And I noticed at some points the same awkward phrasing and timing that caught my attention, even as I liked the record, fifty years ago.)
So, what were they listening to around the English-speaking world fifty years ago today? Let’s find out a little bit, anyway, by taking a look at four surveys offered at the Airheads Survey Radio Archive. We’ll check out the No. 27 record (selected for today’s date), hoping to find something worthy for a listen on a Saturday morning, and along the way, as we generally do, we’ll check out the No. 1 records.
Across the pond and anchored in the North Sea, Radio London was in its last year of sending its Fab 40 – as it called its survey – to British pop fans. The so-called pirate station began broadcasting in December 1964 and shut down in August 1967, when its activities became illegal under British law. It was still going strong in February of 1966, though, and fifty years ago today, it released its Fab 40 for the week. Parked at No. 27 was “Hide & Seek” by the Sheep, a record I don’t ever recall hearing. Checking the U.S. charts, I learn why: The record got only as high as No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100, and in those years before I was much of a pop listener, I wouldn’t have likely heard a record that didn’t make the Top Twenty.
The Sheep was actually the group the Strangeloves, who charted several times in 1965-66, most notably with “I Want Candy,” which went to No. 11 in the U.S. The joke, of course, is that the Strangeloves were marketed in the U.S. as wealthy Australian sheep farmers. As to “Hide & Seek,” a garage anthem heavy on the drums, bass and sax, the next week’s Radio London survey finds it moving up to No. 23. Sadly, the next two surveys are missing at ARSA, and by the time March 27 rolled around, “Hide & Seek” had dropped from the Fab 40.
The No. 1 record on Radio London fifty years ago today was “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” by the Kinks.
Heading Down Under, we check the Top 40 at 4BC in Brisbane, Queensland, where the No. 27 record on February 27, 1966, was “Wind Me Up (Let Me Go)” by Cliff Richard. I’ve written before that I’ve never quite understood the attractions of Cliff Richard’s music (save, perhaps, for “Devil Woman”), and if I didn’t get it during the years I listened to Top 40, I certainly wouldn’t have known anything from before those years, and that’s certainly the case with the plaintive “Wind Me Up (Let Me Go).” The record was on its way back down 4BC’s survey, having peaked a few weeks earlier at No. 13. It did not make the Billboard charts in the U.S., falling in the nearly four year period from August 1964 to June of 1968 when Richard was absent from the Hot 100.
The No. 1 record on 4BC fifty years ago today was “My Generation” by the Who.
Stepping on American soil, we head to the shores of Lake Michigan and check out the Silver Dollar Music Survey at WRIT in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And perched at No. 27 we find the melancholy classic “Crying Time” by Ray Charles. The record peaked there a week later at No. 25. Nationally, the record went to No. 6 in the Billboard Hot 100, to No. 5 on the magazine’s R&B chart and was No. 1 for three weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart. Even the kid who listened to trumpet music and soundtracks at the time remembers hearing that one coming out of the speakers.
The No. 1 record at WRIT fifty years ago was Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.”
Our last stop this morning takes us northwest, across the Canadian border and up to Edmonton, Alberta, where CHED released its Hitline Top Thirty. Barely making the cut at No. 27 fifty years ago today was “Call Me” by Chris Montez. I know the song, and I suppose I’ve heard Montez’ version before; it went to No. 22 in the Hot 100 and to No. 2 on the AC chart. But Montez’ voice is not one I would associate with the song; in my head, I hear a female voice, but it’s not Petula Clark’s version, which evidently was the original. Montez’ version is not bad, but his voice is pretty thin (and I’ve always though the same about his performance on his better-known hit, “Let’s Dance,” which went to No. 4 in 1962). I do like the backing on “Call Me,” and I note that “Let’s Dance” was included on the massive 2013 box set The Wrecking Crew: We Got Good At It, so it’s quite likely, I would think, that it’s the Wrecking Crew backing Montez on “Call Me.”
The No. 1 record in the Hitline Top Thirty fifty years ago today was “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.”
So, we have four candidates. The Cliff Richard record drops out immediately, and the Sheep’s “Hide & Seek” – not awful but not what I needed this morning – goes next. “Call Me” is a great song, but Montez’ vocal just doesn’t do it for me. So we end up with Brother Ray, and that’s not a bad place to end up. Here’s “Crying Time,” today’s Saturday Single.