As September took its bows and October prepared for its entrance in 1967, your faithful narrator was . . . Well, what was I doing?
I had probably just ordered my first subscription to Sports Illustrated. For some reason, the sports bug had bitten me during the summer, and I asked Dad about the magazine sometime during September. I recall that the first edition that arrived at our home had Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals on the cover, and the Sports Illustrated website tells me that the edition was dated October 16, which means that it likely arrived the previous Thursday, October 12. Once the magazine began showing up, I’d rely on it for the occasional oral reports on news events required in my social studies class that year. But as September ended, I was waiting, which means I was less than two weeks away from beginning to feed the sports obsessions that thrive to this day.
Having thought about it for a bit this morning, I’ve concluded that a number of separate strains of sports in Minnesota piqued my interest that late summer: The Minnesota Twins were in a four-team race for the American League pennant, a race eventually won by the Boston Red Sox. The Minnesota Vikings had hired a new coach who – not quite twenty years earlier – had been one of the greatest athletes ever at the University of Minnesota, a fellow named Bud Grant. And two new professional teams began play that autumn, the Minnesota North Stars of the National Hockey League and the Minnesota Muskies of the American Basketball Association. The Muskies would be gone – moved to Florida – within a year, and the North Stars would decamp for Dallas in the mid-1990s, but during their first seasons, the two teams drew me into sports I’d never known well before.
Add to that was the success already unfolding for three football teams I followed that autumn: The St. Cloud Tech Tigers would go 8-1 and finish in the state’s Top Ten, the St. Cloud State Huskies would go 8-1 and tie for their conference title, and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers would go 8-2 and tie for first place in the Big Ten, a position they’ve not come close to since then. All of those things combined, I think, to make me for the first time a sports fan.
Beyond sports, I know that I was already looking forward to the school musical in spring, and I was watching from a distance as a young lady whose attentions I desired made her own way through the obstacles of ninth grade.
Perhaps the most important thing about the beginning of that school year, though, was that I was observing all these things from, literally, a new perspective: I’d grown taller over the summer and had gotten more slender, so much so that it took a second look for some of my classmates to recognize me as the school year got under way. (That summer’s growth was only the start: Between the end of eighth grade in spring of 1967 and the beginning of my junior year in the fall of 1969, I grew fourteen inches.)
Taller or not, I was still stuck in my old listening habits: Soundtracks, Al Hirt, Herb Alpert and the odd bit of traditional pop. But, as had been the case for some time, I heard all around me the Top 40 music of the day, so most of the Billboard Top Ten was familiar to me as September ended:
“The Letter” by the Box Tops
“Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry
“Never My Love” by the Association
“Come Back When You Grow Up” by Bobby Vee & the Strangers
“Reflections” by Diana Ross & the Supremes
“Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” by Jay & the Techniques
“(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” by Jackie Wilson
“Funky Broadway” by Wilson Pickett
“I Dig Rock and Roll Music” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison
That’s a good Top Ten. The Jay & the Techniques single is a little lightweight – the same could be said about the winking and distinctly unrocking Peter Paul & Mary single – but other than that, this would be a great thirty-five or so minutes of radio listening.
As is my habit, though, I’m heading deeper into the Billboard Hot 100 for September 30, 1967, seeing what might be found in the lower reaches. And this time around, we’ll stay well beyond No. 100, with six tunes that were sitting in the Bubbling Under section of that Billboard chart. We’ll start near the bottom and move toward the surface.
The one album from Jefferson Airplane that I’ve not spent much time exploring is the trippy After Bathing At Baxter’s. The record, says All-Music Guide, “was among the purest of rock’s psychedelic albums, offering few concessions to popular taste and none to the needs of AM radio.” And AM radio returned the favor. Two singles from the album got into the Hot 100, but none of them got into the Top 40; the most successful, “The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil,” went to No. 42; “Two Heads” was its B side, sitting at No. 133 during the last week of September. Along with being trippy, it sounds angry, which to me helps explain its peak of No. 124. The last single from Baxter’s to make the Hot 100 was “Watch Her Ride,” which entered the Hot 100 in mid-December and got as high as No. 61.
The name of P.J. Proby has popped up enough over the years in used record bins and in charts I’ve looked at that I’m aware that I know very little about the man. A native of Houston, he’s best known, I suppose, for his cover of “Niki Hoeky,” which went to No. 23 in early 1967. AMG says he “never really hit it big in his homeland, but his trouser-busting stage antics helped make him a genuine pop star in England at the height of the British Invasion.” Okay. Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles tells me that Proby had seven other singles in or near the Hot 100; the best performing of those was “Hold Me” from 1964, which went to No. 70. In the last week of September, his “Just Holding On” was at No. 130, up four slots from its initial spot in the Bubbling Under section. It’s not a bad record, but it’s not all that distinctive, either. It would be gone from the chart the following week.
Gene Thomas and Debbe Neville were a country-pop duo, according to Whitburn, and “Go With Me” was the first of five singles they placed on or near the charts. Thomas had been a singer and songwriter who had a couple of records hit the Hot 100 in 1961 and 1963. He was working as a songwriter for Acuff-Rose in 1965 when he met Neville in Nashville, and the two ended up recording as Gene & Debbe for TRX, an imprint of the Acuff-Rose label Hickory. “Go With Me,” a folk-rock-ish tune, was sitting at No. 129 at the end of September. It would peak at No. 78. The duo would hit the Top 20 early in 1968, when “Playboy” went to No. 17, but none of their other singles would do nearly as well, with the best-performing being “Lovin’ Season,” which went to No. 81 during the summer of 1968.
So far as I know, I’d never heard of Freddie McCoy until this morning. A jazz vibraphone player, McCoy released seven albums in the mid-1960s that seem to have mixed covers of pop-rock tunes with some mildly funky and rootsy originals. In the autumn of 1967, “Peas ’N’ Rice” was the title track to McCoy’s fourth album on the Prestige label; the album included covers of hits like “Summer in the City,” “1-2-3,” and “Lightning Strikes.” “Peas ’N’ Rice” has a quiet groove to it, and I may have to dig around and see if I can find anymore of McCoy’s work. The single, the only one McCoy ever placed in the Hot 100, was sitting at No. 119 as September 1967 ended; it would peak at No. 92.
Dino, Desi & Billy had it easy. Dino was the son of singer and actor Dean Martin, Desi was the son of Cuban bandleader and actor Desi Arnaz and actress Lucille Ball, and Billy was a classmate of the other two in Beverly Hills. When the trio wanted to form a band, they got a record deal with Reprise, a label owned by a friend of Dino’s dad: Frank Sinatra. The trio eventually got eight singles into the charts, with the best-performing of them being the first, “I’m A Fool,” which went to No. 17 in the summer of 1965. “Not the Lovin’ Kind” followed and went to No. 25 in the autumn of 1965. None of the trio’s other singles made it into the Top 40; during the last week in September 1967, “Kitty Doyle” was sitting at No. 115; it’s a nice piece of bouncy pop that would peak at No. 108.
The man who would record as The Fantastic Johnny C was born Johnny Corley in South Carolina. An R&B singer, he’d put five singles in or near the Hot 100 between the autumn of 1967 and the spring of 1969. (Three of those singles reached the R&B Top 40 as well.) But none of the four follow-ups had anywhere near the success of the first single Johnny C put on the charts: “Boogaloo Down Broadway” went to No. 7 in late December, also reaching No. 5 on the R&B chart. Brilliantly simple and funky, it’s a treasure.