Saturday Single No. 575

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from January 27, 1968, a date that’s somehow managed to slip fifty years into the past:

“Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred & His Playboy Band
“Chain Of Fools” by Aretha Franklin
“Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers
“Woman, Woman” by the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett
“Bend Me, Shape Me” by the American Breed
“Hello Goodbye” by the Beatles
“Spooky” by the Classics IV
“Daydream Believer” by the Monkees
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Gladys Knight & The Pips
“If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

Did I know those at the time? Most of them, probably. Maybe not the two bits of R&B at the bottom of that Top Ten. Did I know the artists? Probably not, except in the case of the Beatles, inescapable as they were.

And just for the fun of it, I head to the very bottom of the Hot 100 from that date fifty years ago, and I find an artist with whose work I was very familiar: Al Hirt. But I don’t recall the single, a cover of Jay & The Techniques’ “Keep The Ball Rollin’.”

I have to acknowledge that by the time 1968 rolled around, I wasn’t buying any more of Hirt’s albums, though I still listened to the three I already had. But with the stereo still in the living room – Dad’s work on the basement rec room wasn’t quite finished in January 1968, if my memory serves me – listening to records wasn’t the daily occurrence it would soon be.

And it wouldn’t have mattered if I had been buying Hirt’s albums: From anything I can find on the ’Net this morning, Big Al’s version of “Keep The Ball Rollin’” didn’t show up on an LP until 1970, when Al’s Place came out on the RCA/Camden label.

Additionally, had I heard Hirt’s new single on the radio, I likely would not have been impressed: My love for his music came from his work on the standards of what we now call the Great American Songbook and his work on show tunes and movie themes. (There were a few exceptions to those sources on the three albums of Hirt’s I had at the time, and those were my least favorite tracks. Even “Java,” Hirt’s biggest hit, and the track that had led me to Hirt’s music in 1964, was to me one of the lesser tunes on Honey In The Horn, the first Hirt album I owned.) And to hear Hirt cover a pop single from the previous year – a tune I would have recognized – would have made me think that Al was pandering to the masses (though I would not have had those words in 1968).

As it turned out, the masses didn’t notice. Hirt’s music no longer had much popular appeal. His take on “Keep The Ball Rollin’” is one of those Hot 100 rarities: It spent one week at No. 100 and then disappeared. It was his last Hot 100 hit, although two later releases bubbled under.

The record still seems slight, fifty years later. Nevertheless, Al Hirt’s cover of “Keep The Ball Rollin’” is today’s Saturday Single.

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