So it’s July 4, Independence Day. And rather than get all philosophical about the meaning of the day or get all curmudgeonly about how that meaning gets ignored in favor of barbecues and fireworks – both of which I’ve done in the past – we’ll just talk about music. What we’ll do is dig into three separate editions of the weekly Billboard Hot 100 for a taste of what we were hearing on three July Fourths in the past. In a nod at history we’ll check out the records that sat at No. 17 and No. 76. And we’ll note, as we go by, the No. 1 record at the time.
We’ll start with 1966, go to 1971 and then finish in the Bicentennial year of 1976.
The Beatles were sitting atop the Hot 100 on July 4, 1966, as “Paperback Writer” was in its second week at No. 1. (It had been No. 1 two weeks earlier, was pushed to No. 2 for a week by Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” and then moved back to No. 1 for another week.)
Another familiar tune was at No. 17: Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock” was heading down the chart after peaking at No. 3, the fifth of an eventual twenty records the duo would put in or near the Hot 100. During high school a couple of years later, when I really listened for the first time to Paul Simon’s lyrics on the record, I admired the narrator’s stance for what I saw as his self-sufficiency. Now, more than forty years later, I hear Simon’s words and think, “Boy, what a lonely life that would be.”
R&B singer and songwriter Joe Simon had a long and productive career, with a total of thirty-five singles in or near the Hot 100 and a total of forty singles in the R&B Top 40 between 1964 and 1978. He shows up today with “Teenager’s Prayer” sitting at No. 76 on July 4, 1966. It’s a pretty but lyrically vague tune (the teenager in question asks for love and peace of mind, which are not bad things to pray for) that would peak at No. 66 on the pop chart and at No. 11 on the R&B chart.
When the fireworks went off on July 4, 1971, Carole King’s double-sided single, “It’s Too Late/I Feel The Earth Move,” was in the fourth week of a five week stay at No. 1.
Just down the chart a ways, we find the only Top 40 hit by the Beginning of the End, an R&B group from the Bahamas. The groove-shaking “Funky Nassau – Part 1” was sitting at No. 17 in the first week of July 1971, heading to a peak position of No. 15. On the R&B chart, the record peaked at No. 7.
Near the other end of the chart at No. 76, we find one of the classic R&B records: “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics. The first charting single for the group from Detroit, the record was in the early weeks of its climb to No. 9 on the pop chart and No. 3 on the R&B chart. The Dramatics would end up with a total of fourteen singles in or near the Hot 100 and twenty-two singles in the R&B Top 40.
As the U.S. celebrated its Bicentennial in 1976 (the only Independence Day for which I have a concrete memory: It was a Sunday, and I joined my parents for a community commemoration of the day at St. Cloud’s Lake George downtown), the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 was occupied by a single that appropriately mentioned “skyrockets in flight” (though the fireworks on the record came from a markedly different source than the Jaycees’ annual fireworks show): “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band was in the first of two weeks at No. 1; it peaked at No. 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
At No. 17 during that Bicentennial celebration was Neil Diamond’s “If You Know What I Mean” from his Beautiful Noise album, which for a few years found its way regularly onto my turntable. (A note to myself: Give it another listen and see how it sounds nearly forty years on). The single, produced – as was the album – by Robbie Robertson, was on its way to No. 11 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the AC chart. The record was the thirty-eighth of an eventual (and remarkable) fifty-six records on or near the pop chart for Diamond.
And our Independence Day observance ends at No. 76 on July 4, 1976: “Crazy on You” by Heart. The Seattle group’s first charting hit, the record was coming down the chart after peaking at No. 35. (A reissue of the single after the band had some hits performed less well, getting only to No. 62 in early 1978.) Heart was, of course, an regular chart presence during into the 1990s, with a total of thirty-two records in or near the Hot 100. (I should note that the linked video is the track as it appeared on the album Dreamboat Annie; I think the single eliminated the acoustic intro.)
In April, after I wrote about being a Beatles fan during the confusing year of 1970, regular reader and commenter porky recommended a book: He told me that You Never Give Me Your Money, Peter Doggett’s examination of the Beatles during and after their break-up, would be released here in the U.S. in June. (He got his own copy, he said in his note here, during a December vacation in England, lucky man.)
My copy arrived last week, and I’ve found it hard to set aside. The tales of bitterness and anger among the four men who’d created some of the world’s best pop-rock are – even forty years after the fact – saddening and frustrating. Beyond the personal hurts of what was, in effect, a four-person divorce, Doggett also chronicles the details of the tangled hodge-podge of Beatles’ business interest, which made sorting those things out daunting as well.
The book seems impeccably researched, calling on a wide range of interviews and reviews of documents and publications; what impresses me most is that not only am I being reminded of what happened (I’m up to about late 1972), but Doggett fills the gaps other chroniclers seem to have left over the years in letting us know not only what happened (and in some cases of urban legend, what didn’t happen), but how the four ex-Beatles and those around them felt about the things that took place.
As I said, it can make for sad reading. As I go through the tales of bitterness and anger and the thousands of rumors of Beatle reunions, I also reflect on something I read long ago in the first volume I ever owned of the Rolling Stone Record Guide. John Swenson, one of the editors of the guide, wrote:
“In retrospect, the group’s much-lamented decision to call it quits as the Seventies began was entirely appropriate; the collected work does not leave you with the impression that there were unfinished statements. There is a perfectly resolute and logical progression of ideas from Meet the Beatles to Abbey Road. They did it all, they did it right, and then they went their separate ways.”
Swenson wrote that in 1976 or so, when a reunion of the four – however unlikely – was possible, implying, as I read it, that a reunion was unnecessary and would probably be ill-advised. All these years later, with a reunion having been impossible for almost thirty years, Swenson’s main point remains valid: The music stands on its own as a complete story.
As sad and as frustrating as You Never Give Me Your Money can be, it’s also compelling, and I’ll make quick work of it. Leavening the sadness and frustration as I read is the knowledge that the music is still there. For many years, the Beatles were my favorite group, and their body of work keeps them very close to the top of my list still today. And two of their recordings made it through my winnowing and are included in my Ultimate Jukebox.
The first is a track from Revolver that I wrote about last December, detailing the high school courtship that found me leaving the song’s lyrics in the locker of my romantic interest. I’ve seen comments from Paul McCartney and John Lennon that “Got To Get You Into My Life” – McCartney’s creation entirely – was influenced, especially in its use of horns, by the Motown sound. That makes sense. I’ve also seen vague references to an interview with McCartney – one I’ve never read, I don’t think – in which he said the song was written about his need for marijuana. That’s possible, I suppose, but I got the impression somewhere – I must have read it, but it would have been long ago soon after I discovered the Beatles – that McCartney wrote the song soon after meeting Jane Asher, who for a few years was his girlfriend.
Whatever the source, “Got To Get You Into My Life” from the 1966 album Revolver is still a great record:
A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 22
“Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin, Atco 6147 
“Got To Get You Into My Life” by the Beatles from Revolver 
“The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel, Columbia 44785 
“Let It Rain” by Eric Clapton from Eric Clapton 
“Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics, Volt 4058 
“Arms of Mary” by Chilliwack from Light From the Valley 
Bobby Darin never seemed to know what kind of singer he wanted to be. Or it might be more fair to say that the record companies for whom he recorded had no clue what to do with him. From the silliness of “Splish Splash” in 1958 (silly or not, it went to No. 3 and was No. 1 for two weeks on the R&B chart) through his folk-rock period in the mid-1960s (with Top 40 singles in1966 and 1967), Darin wandered through changes of style after style. Among the things that didn’t change, however, were his great voice and his superb sense of timing. I’m not sure if it’s his best performance, but my favorite performance of Darin’s is “Mack the Knife,” a tune pulled from the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill production, The Threepenny Opera. Adding some Las Vegas/Rat Pack swing to the tune – which is crushingly staid in the versions of the opera I’ve seen – Darin swaggers his way through “Mack the Knife,” famously name-checking opera character Lucy Brown and Lotte Lenya, Weill’s wife and star of several stagings of the opera. Darin’s version of “Mack the Knife” was No. 1 for nine weeks in late 1959.
I suppose there’s little argument about which record was the best thing that Simon & Garfunkel ever did. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is an extraordinary song and record. But as much as I’ve loved it over the years, I found myself uneasy sliding it in among the other records in this mythical jukebox. As well as looking for good records, I guess I was also looking for flow, for a collection of songs that would make interesting combinations and patterns as the tunes played. And I decided as I considered the work of Simon & Garfunkel that “Bridge” just brings a little too much weight along with it, stopping the show. So I opted for “The Boxer,” which comes from the same album and was actually the first single released from Bridge Over Troubled Water. (It went to No. 7 in the spring of 1969.) And “The Boxer” was a better choice for my purposes. For the past few months, my pocket mp3 player has been loaded only with the tunes from the Ultimate Jukebox, and after hearing it pop up in several contexts, I’ve concluded that “The Boxer” is a better fit for what I was seeking than its towering neighbor. Beyond that, I like the story, seemingly told as it is from the shadows, and I love the long “lie-la-lie” ending.
Speaking of extended endings, Eric Clapton’s lengthy and compelling solo at the end of “Let It Rain” was one of my earliest exposures to Clapton as guitarist. I might have heard some of his work with the Yardbirds, and I know I heard some of Cream’s stuff, but those hearings would have come in the days before I paid much attention to who was actually doing the playing. When I finally got to that point – sometime between late 1971 and the summer of 1972 – Clapton was one of the first musicians I began to explore, along with his friends who helped record “Let It Rain” and the rest of his first solo album: Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett (she co-wrote “Let It Rain” with Clapton) and the group of friends that included Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, Leon Russell and all the rest. “Let It Rain” wasn’t released as a single in 1970 when Eric Clapton came out, but when Polydor released the anthology Clapton At His Best in 1972, the label also released “Let It Rain” as a single (it may have been an edit of the album track; I don’t know). The record somehow missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 48.
It took nine years and a few personnel changes for the Dramatics to get from their formation in Detroit in 1962 to the recording of their first album, Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get in 1971. All the work seemed worth it, I imagine, when the record was a hit. The album went to No. 20 on the Billboard 200 and to No. 5 on the R&B album chart. At the same time, the album threw off three hit singles: “In The Rain” went to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 1 on the R&B chart; “Get Up and Get Down” went to No. 78 on the Hot 100 and to No. 16 on the R&B chart; and “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” went to No. 9 on the Hot 100 and to No. 3 on the R&B chart. Of the three, the sweet and pretty “In The Rain” did a little better, but “Whatcha See” has a groove that can’t be refused. So I won’t try.
I have ten versions of the song “Arms of Mary” right now, and I’ll collect more as I find them. It’s one of those songs that grabs hold of me – it’s a song of memoir and memory, after all – and I knew one version of it would end up in this list. The original, by the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver, off of 1975’s Reach For The Sky, is nice enough, and managed to get to No. 85 on the Billboard Hot 100, but the spare folky accompaniment is somehow wanting. As a result, I prefer the slightly tougher version from the Canadian group Chilliwack. The track comes from the album Lights From The Valley, and the Mushroom label released the song as a single, as well. I imagine it might have done well in Canada, but all I know is that it didn’t make the Hot 100. Well, the other thing I’m sure of is that it should have been a hit.