As the third week of September closed in 1968, your narrator had just finished his second week of high school and was beginning to know his way around the building. In that progress, he was about a week behind his classmates, as he’d missed the first week of school.
A family vacation – coinciding with the arrival in Philadelphia of my sister from a six-week stay in France – had meant that I showed up for my first days of high school at the start of the second week of school. I wasn’t at all unhappy to trade time devoted to geometry, physical education and the rest for time in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Springfield, Illinois, but when I did start the year at St. Cloud Tech High, I was a week behind in everything. Not just schoolwork, but in things like knowing which rooms were in the old wing of the building and which were in the new, and when could I go somewhere without a hall pass and when could I not. My fellow sophomores had already gone through those adjustments, and I felt a little conspicuous.
And I never did catch up in geometry, although that might have more to do with study habits than with a week’s late start; I’d never had to study hard to succeed in school before, and the college prep schedule I was facing that sophomore year was going to require it.
So what music was easing my way through a season of change? Well, I was still putting Al Hirt and Herb Alpert and my growing collection of soundtracks on the stereo at home. I was a year away from actively seeking out Top 40 music, but of course I heard it at friends’ homes through their listening and that of their siblings. And I heard Top 40 at home, too, as my sister had begun the long-time habit of retuning the kitchen radio from WCCO to KDWB when she and I were taking care of chores there.
Here’s some of what was in the air – the Billboard Top Ten – as the third week of September came to a close in 1968:
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley
“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals
“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“Hush” by Deep Purple
“1, 2, 3, Red Light” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company
“Light My Fire” by José Feliciano
“Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf
“The Fool on the Hill” by Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66
“I’ve Got To Get A Message To You” by the Bee Gees
“The House That Jack Built” by Aretha Franklin
That’s a decent chunk of listening. I even like the Jeannie C. Riley and 1910 Fruitgum Company tunes although I wouldn’t want them popping up more often than every couple of months. They were, of course, in a far heavier rotation at the time. But that’s a very good Top Ten: Some inventive pop, some country, some bubblegum, a couple of records with Latin sounds, an R&B classic, a little blue-eyed soul and couple of heavier tunes.
So what do we find when we head a little further down the Billboard Hot 100 for that week?
At No. 33, we find a piece of bubblegum that was about to lose its flavor. “Down At Lulu’s” by the Ohio Express had reached its peak, moving up to No. 33. A week later, the single – the third of five by the Ohio Express to reach the Top 40 – would slide to No. 40 before falling entirely out of the Hot 100 the next week.
There appears to be an interesting story to “Brown Eyed Woman,” a solo recording by Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers that was at No. 46 for the second week. The record, which would peak at No. 43 during the first week of October, is said to be Medley’s musical response to his romance with singer Darlene Love. Love evidently confirmed the relationship, according to a piece at answers.com: “In 1968, Love and Leonard Peete divorced. Soon afterward, she began a long-running relationship with Bill Medley, one of the Righteous Brothers. ‘A lot of people don’t know that me and Bill Medley almost got married,’ Love told Chris Morris of Billboard. ‘It was a very controversial thing then, back in the sixties. It just wasn’t publicized that blacks and whites were in love, especially in our business.” (The version of the record offered at YouTube is evidently the version from Medley’s 1968 album, Bill Medley 100%. I’ve seen a label for the single with a running time of 3:17.)
Jackie DeShannon had gone some time looking for her second Top 40 hit. “What The World Needs Now Is Love” had reached No. 7 in 1965, and she’d not cracked the Top 40 since. In the early autumn of 1968, “The Weight,” a cover of The Band’s tune from DeShannon’s Laurel Canyon album, had been slowly moving up the Hot 100. By September 21, the record had reached No. 56, but it wouldn’t go much further. “The Weight” peaked at No. 55, occupying that spot during the last week of September and the first week of October. (A couple of interesting notes: One of the background singers on “The Weight” is Barry White. The track also has Dr. John on piano.) While “The Weight” fell short, DeShannon would get back to the Top 40 during the summer of 1969 with “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” (No. 4) and then again in December 1969 with “Love Will Find A Way” (No. 40). (It’s worth noting that The Band’s version of “The Weight” was at No. 70 on September 21, 1968; it would peak at No. 63 the following week.)
Just a little bit lower in the Hot 100, we find a song that became a Top 40 hit not quite a year later: The 5th Dimension took “Workin’ On A Groovy Thing” to No. 20 in the late summer of 1969, but during the week we’re looking at – September 21, 1968 – the song belonged to Patti Drew, a soul/R&B singer from South Carolina. Her first single, as a member of the Drew-Vels – a group that included two of her sisters – was “Tell Him,” which is not – as I first wrote – a cover of the Exciters’ 1962 hit. It reached No. 90 on both the Hot 100 and the R&B chart. Three years later, Drew’s solo version of “Tell Him” went to No. 85 on the Hot 100 and reached No. 22 on the R&B chart. And during the early autumn of 1968, Drew’s version of “Workin’ On A Groovy Thing” went to No. 62 on the Hot 100 and to No. 34 on the R&B chart. It seems to have been her last charting single, and if that’s the case, she went out with a winner, a great record that should have done better. To my ears, this is sweet stuff.
At No. 80, we find a true rarity: A record that – at the end of October – would make the least possible impact in the Top 40, reaching No. 40 for one week only: “Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde. The group, says All Music Guide, was a duo: vocalists Chuck Woolery and Elkin “Bubba” Fowler, and “Naturally Stoned” was the group’s second release. “Yellow Beads” had been released in late 1967 but made no impact. After “Naturally Stoned,” the duo released a less-psychedelic single, “Fly With Me,” which bubbled under the Hot 100 for two weeks, and with that, the duo called it quits. Fowler went on to a brief solo career and then played a few sessions, including guitar on Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait. Woolery, as many folks likely know, went on to fame as a television game show host.
And as long as we’re being trippy, let’s drop to No. 105 in the Bubbling Under portion of the Hot 100 and get into the “Smell of Incense” from Southwest F.O.B., a band from Dallas, Texas. The single was a cover of a record originally done by the the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, notes AMG, adding – fascinatingly – that “most of their material was original, penned by Dan Seals and John Ford Colley [sic], who went on to land some big soft-rock hits in the 1970s as England Dan and John Ford Coley.” The single peaked at No. 56 at the end of October.
We’ll see you Thursday, when we’ll take a look at the next six tunes in the Ultimate Jukebox.
(Error in Patti Drew segment corrected after first posting.)