As our pal j.b. at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ has noted on occasion, our culture has a fascination with round numbers and anniversaries: Twenty years ago, thirty years ago, and so on. I have the same fascination (as does j.b., whose plan this year is to feature posts about 1976, his year of years). Not only do I like to look at round numbers, but I also like the numbers halfway in between: the fives.
So we’re going to look for our first Saturday Single of 2016 by using round numbers and those halfway numbers. We’re going to look at the Billboard Hot 100 for the first week of the year, starting in 1981 and heading back five years at a time to 1956 (when the chart was called the Top 100). We’ll check out one record on each chart (and look at the No. 1 record at the time, as well).
Thirty-five years ago, in 1981, the No. 35 record on the first chart of the year was the Eagles’ live version of “Seven Bridges Road,” on its way to No. 21. The No. 1 record that week was John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over,” in its third week at the top of the chart.
We go back five years from there, forty years ago, and the No. 40 record during the first week of 1976 was “Squeeze Box” by the Who, heading to No. 16. The No. 1 record as 1976 began was “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers (and that’s the first mention of that group in the nearly 2,000 posts I’ve written for this blog).
As 1971 began, the No. 45 record was “The Green Grass Starts To Grow” by Dionne Warwick, closing in on its peak at No. 43. Sitting on top of the chart forty-five years ago was George Harrison’s double-sided single, “My Sweet Lord/Isn’t It A Pity,” in its second week at No. 1.
The No. 50 single in the first Hot 100 of 1966, fifty years ago, was “A Well Respected Man” by the Kinks, on its way to No. 13. The No. 1 record fifty years ago this week was “The Sound Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel. It would stay there another week.
The first Hot 100 of January 1961, fifty-five years ago, had “My Last Date (With You)” by Joni James at No. 55, heading for a peak at No. 35. Parked at No. 1 for the first of three weeks was Bert Kaempfert’s “Wonderland By Night.”
Our final stop is the chart from the first week of 1956, sixty years ago, when the No. 60 record was Dorothy Collins’ “My Boy – Flat Top.” The No. 1 record in that long-ago first week of January was Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made Of This,” in the first of six weeks atop the chart.
So, we have three candidates that I know well and don’t particularly like (the records by the Eagles, the Who and the Kinks) and three candidates that I doubt I’ve ever heard (the records by Warwick, James and Collins).
Warwick’s record is a typical Burt Bacharach/Hal David joint, similar in style and production to almost any of the hits she had in the 1960s. Think “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” or “Message To Michael” or “I Say A Little Prayer.” In other words, it’s a good record but nothing out of the ordinary except for the fact that I don’t remember ever hearing it before.
James’ single, “My Last Date (With You)” is a country-ish adaptation of (or answer to) pianist Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date,” which went to No. 2 in late 1960. The lyrics were added, according to Second Hand Songs, by Boudleaux Bryant and Skeeter Davis, and Davis’ version of the song went to No. 2 on the country chart and No. 26 in the Hot 100 in early 1961. James’ version, as I noted above, went to No. 35 in the Hot 100. It was the last of her eighteen records in or near the Billboard pop chart between 1955 and 1960, and Joel Whitburn notes in Top Pop Singles that James also had eight Top Twenty hits in 1952 and 1953.
Collins’ “My Boy – Flat Top” is a poppy and peppy celebration of a boyfriend with a severe crew cut; there’s a great sax break in the middle, but the record comes off as more of a novelty than anything else. Collins was the star of the television show Your Hit Parade! for most of the 1950s, and “My Boy – Flat Top” was the first – and most successful – of four records Collins put into the Billboard pop chart between 1955 and 1960.
Sifting all that out, I fall on the side of the adaptation/answer song. It’s not a great record, but it’s not bad, and it’s the best of the three that I’ve got to choose from, according to the rules I’ve set. So here’s Joni James’ “My Last Date (With You),” your Saturday Single.