The most famous musical events of 1969 were two legendary concerts. At a Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, California, a fan was stabbed to death by Hells Angels, a biker gang that had been hired to provide security for the event. In retrospect, many commentators have concluded that the violence signalled the failure of the so-called "hippies", who espoused an ethos of free love and peace. It was this event that Don MacLean was referring in the last verse of his song "American Pie" - the day the music died - after being "ten years on our own" since the death of Bully Holly, the "day the music died" of the first verse.
Even more famous than the Altamont concert is Woodstock, which consisted of dozens of the most famous performers in the world at the time, playing together in an atmosphere of peace with nature and love, with many thousands of concertgoers; it is still one of the largest concerts in the history of the world.
The isle of wight festival saw the return of Bob Dylan to live music after his motorbike accident in 1966. Soul Shakedown was the debut album by Bob Marley & the Wailers, who would go on to become one of the most popular groups around the world. The album achieved very little popularity outside of the group's native country, Jamaica, but began establishing themselves as superstars there. In 1969 Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, but when that singular moment in the history of mankind was announced at an Earth-bound rock festival, the self-absorbed audience booed the news. A year later, The Beatles broke up and Diana Ross right the Supremes; one year after that, Berry Gordy moved his Motown operations from Detroit to Los Angeles. The musical decade of the sixties was over.
Top 20 Singles of 1969
1. Penny Arcade - Roy Orbison (right) By the time this single was released, Roy Orbison's dream run of Top 10 hits was all but over in the US but elsewhere, his star continued to shine. "Penny Arcade" sold poorly in all markets except Australia, where inexplicably it was the year's best selling single. The song was written by Sammi Smith, who had a hit with her classic version of Kris Kristofferson's 'Help Me Make It Through The Night'.
2. The Real Thing - Russell Morris (right)
"Do you know what I like best about all this?" asks its writer, Johnny Young. "It's hearing people say, 'Johnny Young didn't write The Real Thing'.' It's great that I'm so identified with Young Talent Time that they get blown away when they find out I wrote it." Young had already been through a few different careers by the time 'The Real Thing' became a number one hit in May 1969. He had his own television show at the age of 16, then became a bona fide pop star in the mid-60s with songs such as 'Cara-lyn' and 'Step Back'. By 1967, he had made the obligatory trip to the UK and was getting songwriting tips from Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees with whom he was sharing a flat in London. "You can't really get a better teacher than that," he says. "Barry basically taught me the structure of a song, where to put a middle eight, and the importance of a guitar lick that can serve as a great hook."
When he returned to Australia, John Farnham had taken his place as king of pop, so Johnny turned to songwriting. One Friday night after playing a gig with a band, the 21 year old Johnny started playing around with a few chords that were floating around in his head. "At the time everything was telling you to do this, or do that, because 'it's real'," he recalls. At the time, Coca Cola's adverising slogan was "It's The Real Thing". "I wanted to say no to all that - I am the real thing, you are the real thing, we are the real thing." He put on tape his ideas and by 2am had 20 minutes worth of material. Young intended to use the song for his own band, but Molly Meldrum heard the band playing around with it soon afterwards in the dressing room for Uptight, a morning TV show, and insisted Young give him the song for Russell Morris (right), who he was managing at the time.
"I give Molly 100 per cent credit for what he did producing 'The Real Thing. He can be an incredible bullshit artist, but in a studio he can be a genius. Considering the time and the technology back in 1969, what he achieved was incredible. It wouldn't have been a hit if I'd sung it. My time as pop star was over. Russell Morris was unique, like a Roy Orbison, and I was like a Frankie Avalon. The reality was that it was the right song by the right person at the right time."
'The Real Thing' became more Meldrum's creation than either Russell's or Johnny's. Russell just sang it. Johnny just happened to have written the basis for it. In the studio, using The Groop as backing musicians, Meldrum spent unprecedented hours and money to create a seven-minute production extravaganza, complete with The Groop's Brian Cadd reading from the side of a recording tape box for an imitation Hitler speech. The song was released to shocked radio Djs who had never been asked to play such a long Australian single before. Against all odds, it reached Number One nationally in June 1969 and newcomer Russell Morris was instantly challenging Johnny Farnham as Australia's pop king. Without any promotional support from Russell, 'The Real Thing' even reached Number One in Chicago, Houston and New York, making it the first song by an Aussie outfit to achieve No. 1 status in the US.
3. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da - The Beatles
During their career, The Beatles attempted many forms of music; here they attempt reggae and almost pull it off. The title comes from the phrase "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, life goes on, bra" which Paul picked up from a Jamaican named Jimmy Scott, who called his band Jimmy Scott and His Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da Band. When Jimmy Scott needed money for bail (he was jailed for missing alimony payments), Paul McCartney had his friend Alistair Taylor put up the money in exchange for Scott dropping rights to the name. McCartney wrote the song, on the take used, Paul mistakenly sings "Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face": it was intended to be "Molly," but Paul decided to leave it in to create confusion.
McCartney did a huge number of takes (around 60), John Lennon was in the other room listening while doing drugs and became increasingly frustrated to hear Paul record it slow so many times. He subsequently burst into the recording room, pushed Paul aside and got on the piano, playing the song very fast and upbeat. The recording with John playing fast is the one heard on the White Album. John hated the song, in fact he didn't like a lot of McCartney's later Beatles songs, feeling they were trite and meaningless. It was like rubbing salt into the wound when DJs and the record-buying public showed a preference for McCartney's songs over Lennon's. This was the only song released as a single from the so-called White Album to make the top 10. The best a Lennon-only composition could do on the charts was reach No. 25 ("Julia").
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" was also a No.1 hit in England for Marmalade. With this song, Marmalade became the first Scottish group to top the UK charts (leaving little doubt about their origin, they performed the song on Top Of The Pops wearing kilts). Marmalade's bassist Graham Knight recalls; "The Beatles' music publisher, Dick James, played us the acetate of The Beatles' "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da" and we thought it was great. He said, 'You can have it, I won't give it to anyone else,' but of course he passed it to another 27 acts. We rush-recorded it in the middle of the night during a week of cabaret in the north-east. Our manager, who was in America at the time, kept sending us telegrams not to do it. He didn't think we should record a Beatles song. We expected it to do well, but we didn't think it would go to No.1. We got no feedback from The Beatles at all. There had been so many covers by that time that I shouldn't think they'd have been very interested."
4. Honky Tonk Woman - The Rolling Stones
Appearing on the Through The Past Darkly album, this was one of The Stone's bigger hits of the late 60s. Written about a prostitute, like many Stones songs, it has highly suggestive lyrics, but they were just subtle enough to keep it from being banned by radio stations. The Stones started recording this as a Country song based on Hank Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues."
They made it into a rocker for the single and released the country version, "Country Tonk," a few months later on 'Let It Bleed'. This single was released on 3rd July 1969, the same day lead guitarist Brian Jones was found dead in his swimming pool. The single was given away to all the fans who helped clean up after The Stones free concert in Hyde Park on 5th July 1969. This was the first concert Mick Taylor played with the band. A life-size cutout of Brian Jones was kept on stage and the show was dedicated to him. More ...
5. Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head - B.J. Thomas / Johnny Farnham (shared) Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, a western-come-buddy movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, was one of the most popular movies of the year, and 'Raindrops', sung by B.J. Thomas, was the title song. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, it was the first million-seller for the legendary songwriters. The song won the Oscar for Best Song From A Motion Picture at the 1970 awards, where Thomas performed it. Bacharach also won for Best Score. Bacharach recalls: "'Raindrops' was done for the score. When you're scoring a motion picture you service the picture and there was that scene with the bicycle. I did keep hearing that title, I must say. That is my title, 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.'
Hal tried to change it and come up with another lyric but it never seemed to work as well. I watched the film so much when I was scoring it. It was a convenient way to get B.J. Thomas to sing it because he was in the stable of Scepter at the time. Our first choice was Ray Stevens. They flew Ray out to see the picture and hear the song but he didn't like the picture and he didn't like the song." Thomas was getting over laryngitis when he recorded this. It gave the song a raspy quality that the producers of the movie liked. A few weeks later, Thomas recorded another version that was released as a single in October 1969. By January, 1970 it was a No.1 hit. 'Raindrops' was seen as the perfect vehicle for Australian singer Johnny (soon to be known as John) Farnham (right) who was looking for material that moved him away from the teeny bopper image that was limiting his audience. His version was rush released and already charting when Thomas' version went on sale in Australia.
6. Something / Come Together - The Beatles
'Something' is a winsome ballad that George Harrison had written on piano the previous year during a break in the White Album recording sessions. It was written about British model, Patty Boyd, who was then Harrison's wife (right). On 25th February, 1969, his twenty-sixth birthday, Harrison recorded three demos at EMI Studios in London, singing and playing guitar and piano. He did two takes each of "Old Brown Shoe," soon to be cut by the Beatles for a B side, and "All Things Must Pass," the title song of his 1970 solo album. Harrison and the other Beatles would labour on the song for the next six months, repeatedly coming back to it during the making of Abbey Road, editing, arranging and re-recording it to perfection.
John Lennon would later confess that "Something" was the best song on Abbey Road. Coupled with Lennon's "Come Together," "Something" went to No.3 on Billboard's Top 100 and spawned a major industry in cover versions, second only in number to those of Paul McCartney's "Yesterday." Frank Sinatra recorded "Something" in the 1970s, describing it as "the greatest love song of the past fifty years". It marked Harrison's commercial and artistic coming-of-age as a pop songwriter, earning him the respect he had long been denied. "It took my breath away," Martin later said, "mainly because I never thought that George could do it.
He wrote some pretty rotten songs in the beginning, but he gradually developed. I first recognised that he really had a great talent when he did 'Here Comes the Sun.' But when he brought in 'Something,' it was something else. It was a tremendous work - and so simple." On the final day of recording, Harrison shared the conductor's podium with Martin during the string overdubs and recut his elegant guitar solo, a sparkling combination of blues-like slide and soaring romanticism. "He actually did it live with the orchestra," engineer Geoff Emerick says of that guitar break. "It was almost the same solo [as before] - note for note. The only reason I feel he wanted to redo it was emotion."
7. He Ain't Heavy ... He's My Brother - The Hollies (right)
This was the biggest hit for the British group, The Hollies, and deservedly so. The title came from the motto for Boys Town, a community formed in 1917 by a Catholic priest named Father Edward Flanagan. Located in Omaha, Nebraska, it was a place where troubled or homeless boys could come for help. This was the second single The Hollies released after Graham Nash right the group to form Crosby, Stills, and Nash; the first was 'Sorry Suzanne'. Nash was replaced by Terry Sylvester. Elton John played piano on the recording; Allan Clarke sings lead. In 1988, the song was re-released in the UK after it was used in a Miller Beer commercial, and charted for a second time.
8. One - Johnny Farnham
Like 'Raindrops' (see No. 5 above), this song was used by John Farnham to widen his appeal beyond the teen markert of his early singles. It was also recorded and released by a new US group, Three Dog Night, in single form that sold alongside Farnham's version. The song was written by Harry Nilsson, a popular songwriter who had hits as a singer with "Everybody's Talkin'" and "Without You" among others. This was the first song on Three Dog Night's first album. It was one of 21 US Top-40 hits for the group, who did very well with songs written by other artists. Other hits by Three Dog Night include "Joy To The World" (written by Hoyt Axton), "Mama Told Me (Not To Come)" (written by Randy Newman) and "The Show Must Go On" (written by Leo Sayer).
9. Make Me An Island - Joe Dolan
Joe Dolan began his music career with The Drifters Showband as guitarist and lead Singer. It was in 1964 that Dolan cut his first record, an old Del Shannon song called 'The Answer To Everything'. A string of hits followed but it was this Albert Hammond/Michael Hazelwood composition that brought him his first No.1 hit. The song went to No.1 in no less than 14 countries.
10. Where Do You Go To (My Lovely) - Peter Sarstedt (right)
A wry, offbeat song from a wry, offbeat singer songwriter who enjoyed a brief period of popularity with a couple of hits - this one and the bubbly "Frozen Orange Juice" (1970). This sardonic song, which drops names like a Who's Who of the 1960s, has been described by one critic as a "perfect distillation of middle class angst that temporarily fitted the mood of the times". Peter wrote it for a girl he fell madly in love with in Vienna in 1965. She died tragically in a hotel fire and he took a year to recover. Writing this song in Copenhagen, more for her than about her, helped him pull through.
This 5-minute song was not originally intended to be a single. Peter recalls: "I wanted to write a long, extended piece because I was working in Folk clubs and universities, and Al Stewart had something that was half an hour long and Bob Dylan's 'Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands' took a whole side of an album. 'Where Do You Go To My Lovely' was my first attempt at writing something longer than my normal 3 minutes. It was amazingly easy to write, but I knew what I wanted to say." When first released as a single, the song was censored and a verse describing her body as being firm and inviting was cut as it was deemed to be too suggestive. So much for the swinging, liberated sixties! Apart from a string quartet which is heard during the last verse, the only accompaniment to Peter's vocals is the guitar he strummed as he sang and an accordion playing the introduction and the fills between verses. Its all very simple, totally effective and quite unforgettable.
11. Build Me Up Buttercup - The Foundations
The Foundations were the kings of the unpretentious beat'n'bubblegum brigade of the late 60s/early 70s, with their clap-happy variant on southern soul. Singer Clem Curtis, and his replacement Colin Young, fronted a sound that is as listenable today as it was back then. This was written by Mike D'Abo and Tony Macaulay. D'Abo was lead singer of Manfred Mann, and Macaulay was a successful songwriter who also wrote The Foundations hit "Baby Now That I've Found You" as well as songs by The Hollies, Andy Williams and The New Seekers. David Essex, who was unknown at the time but went on to success with "Rock On," was offered this song, but he turned it down as he didn't like the title.
12. Hair - The Cowsills (right)
The original Cowsills band, formed in the early 1960s, consisted of four brothers. They worked hard as the months and years passed to perfect their sound, which revolved around tight vocal harmonies. Following a string of TV specials and a number of hits in the US, Columbia Pictures' television division dispatched a group of screenwriters to observe the Cowsills' daily lives for a possible series based on their story; the show never panned out, but was later fictionalised as The Partridge Family. By the time The Partridge Family hit the airwaves in 1970, however, The Cowsills' career was in decline, and in the wake of the 1971 LP, On My Side, the group disbanded. Their biggest hits were 'Indian Lake' and the title song from the rock musical 'Hair'.
13. I Started A Joke - The Bee Gees
Bee Gee Robin Gibb who sings the lead, also wrote this song. In interviews he has claimed the song, which came to him whilst on a plane, has no specific meaning, and is not about religion or a specific incident in his life as has been suggested. For many years it was said to have been inspired by an incident in which a Pennsylvania official claimed that several college students, high on LSD, were blinded after lying in a meadow and staring at the sun. After the story gained notoriety around the world, and reporters were unsuccessful in tracking down the source, the hospital, or the students involved, the official admitted to concocting the entire story and was forced to resign.
14. My Sentimental Friend - Herman's Hermits
The mid-60's music scene was dominated by British acts; among them was Herman's Hermits from Manchester. Their lead singer was Peter Noone, who fronted the band through numerous albums and hit singles until he right to pursue a solo career in 1971. 'My Sentimental Friend' was the band's second last major hit (the last was 'Years May Come, Years May Go').
15. The Girl That I Love / Part Three Into Paper Walls - Russell Morris
This single was rush recorded and released to cash in on the phenomenal success of Morris' megahit, 'The Real Thing', which was the biggest locally made record in years. The new single was a double-sided success, reaching No.1 across the country, though Morris was not around to enjoy its success - he right the country for Britain in late 1969 for the launch of 'The Real Thing' there. Russell's enormous popularity was reflected in him being voted Australia's most popular vocalist in the Go-Set pop poll of 1969. He returned home just prior to Christmas to receive the news and anounce the release of his latest single, "Rachel", which he recorded in England.
16. Suspicious Minds - Elvis Presley
This was Elvis' first No.1 hit in seven years and his last during his lifetime (a remixed version of "A Little Less Conversation" hit No.1 in the UK in 2002). Memphis singer Mark James (real name Francis Zambon) wrote the song and had recorded and released his own version, but it didn't go anywhere. Memphis Soul producer Chips Moman brought this to Presley in 1969, and Elvis immediately fell in love with it. The song was recorded between 4 and 7 in the morning, during a landmark Memphis recording session that helped Elvis reclaim his title as The King; it played a major role in his comeback. One of Presley's best tracks, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
17. Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In - The 5th Dimension
This is one of four songs from the rock musical, Hair, that made the Top 40 in 1969. The others were 'Good Morning Starshine' recorded by Oliver, 'Easy To Be Hard' by Three Dog Night and of course 'Hair' by The Cowsills. The backup band for the song was the Wrecking Crew with Hal Blaine on drums, Joe Osborne on bass and Mike Deasy Sr. playing guitar. Produced by Bones Howe, the structure of "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In" is very similar to The Beatles' "Hey Jude". Both songs were No. 1 hits for multiple weeks, both were over-average in length ('Hey Jude' clocked 7:11 and Aquarius' single edit 4:45), and their second halves are loops, recurring in crescendo. Contrary to what the song says, we are currently in the Age of Pisces. This is determined by which constellation is on the horizon on the morning of the spring equinox. The Age of Aquarius is when the sun is in the constellation Aquarius during the springtime. The next time that this will happen is 2448.
18. Picking Up Pebbles - Matt Flinders
Matt Flinders was a singer, bassist, band leader and TV entertainer, born in Egypt of French-Italian-British background, who had lived in Australia since 1951. Formerly known as Louis Bonett, his adopted name would sound familiar to most Australians through the name of the colonial era explorer and chartmaker Matthew Flinders (1774-1814). Written by Johnny Curtis, 'Picking Up Pebbles' was a hit in South Africa for an artist named Cornelia (full name Cornelia Myler) in 1968; its composer also released a version of the song in Britain. Flinders' cover, released on Astor, was produced by Ron Tudor. The B-side was 'Susan Walks Away', an original by Aussie songwriter Peter Best. Flinders released another four singles that charted; of these, 'Butterfly' was the only top 10 hit, peaking at No.4. It was English language cover of a song by Frenchman Danyel Gerard.
19. In The Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus) - Zager & Evans
A folk rock duo of the late 1960s/early 1970s from Lincoln, Nebraska, Zager & Evans named after its two members, Denny Zager and Rick Evans. They are best known for the bleak futuristic song "In the Year 2525", written by Rick Evans, that presents views on the dangers of technology as it portrays humanity as being increasingly destroyed by its own technological innovations and inability to adapt. The song actually started its chart run the week before the Apollo 11 moon landing. David Bowie's "Space Oddity" (the tale of Major Tom) was released a week after the first moon walk, and two futuristic sci-fi movies - Planet Of The Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey - receive Oscars in that year. "In The Year 2525" was a very unusual song, but 1969 was a very unusual year musically, with Hippie anthems like "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" played alongside Bubblegum songs like "Sugar, Sugar." The duo's followup single, "Mister Turnkey," failed to chart and in 1971, they released their third and final album.
20. You're Everything - Don Lane
It was in 1969 at the height of his success as a variety show host on Australian television that the 'Lanky Yanky' as he was affectionately known, Don Lane, cut his one and only album, 'You're Everything'. The title track sold well as a single but no other recordings were forthcoming. After tiring of Australian television, he returned to the US in 1973 but was back again to front a tonight show on Channel 9 Melbourne two years later.
8. La La - The Flying Circus
The Flying Circus were formed in August 1968 in Sydney, Australia starting out as a country/folk-rock band. They performed "harmony-rich covers of Byrds, Dylan and Dillards country songs". Like The Byrds, a prominent part of their early sound came from the featured use of a 12 string Rickenbacker guitar. 'La La' was their biggest hit. Their first hit was 'Hayride', which was followed up by 'La La'. After releasing another single and two albums, they won the Hoadley's National Battle of the Sounds, their prize being a trip to the US. While there, they enjoyed some success and returned a year later to set up residence in Canada but failed to consolidate on their earlier success.
9. The Star - Ross D. Wylie
Brisbane born Ross D. Wylie began as lead singer for the Kodiaks at the age of 16. Three years later, he went solo, at which time he also became compare of the TV show, Uptight. 'The Star' was the second of two singles recorded by Ross, and by far the most successful. It reached No.1 and charted for 16 weeks. It was written by Johnny Young.
10. Dear Prudence - Doug Parkinson In Focus
After a number of years as lead singer in a semi-folk group called The A Sound, Doug Parkinson (right) formed a quartet with other members of that band in 1968 under the name of Doug Parkinson In Focus. Their first single, the A-side of which was a cover of The Beatles' 'Dear Prudence', enjoyed instant success and went a long towards them winning the Hoadley's National Battle of the Sounds for 1969.
Here Comes The Sun - The Beatles
The two best songs on The Beatles' superb Abbey Road album were George Harrison's two contributions, this one and "Something". Written in Eric Clapton's garden one morning after George (right) sought refuge there during one of The Beatles' infamous squabbles after the death of their manager, Brian Epstein, it is one of the brightest, feel-good songs George ever wrote. The instrumental break is similar to "Badge," which Harrison helped Clapton write for his band Cream. John Lennon did not play on this: he was in hospital when this was recorded, (7th July 1969) recovering from injuries from a car crash.
Around this time, he was making a habit of not playing on Harrison's compositions as the two were not on the best of terms. The two eventually settled their differences as George contributed quite a bit to Lennon's album Imagine two years later. Harrison sang lead vocals, played acoustic guitar and used his newly acquired Moog synthesizer on this. It was one of the first Pop songs to feature a Moog synthesizer. He fluffs the lines on the last verse - rather than singing "It seems like" or "It feels like", he sings a combination of the two - "It seels like". View the video online
Smile A Little Smile For Me - The Flying Machine
Not to be confused with the US band from James Taylor's pre-Apple Records days, this Flying Machine was the brainchild of British writers and producers Tony Macauley and Geoff Stephens. Recorded by session musicians, "Smile A Little Smile For Me" failed to chart in the UK, but it soared to No. 5 in the US and No. 2 in Australia in November 1969. View the video online
Something In The Air - Thunderclap Newman "Something In The Air" has become one of the most durable of one-hit wonders, in constant demand for television commercials, film soundtracks and compilations. The band was originally created by The Who's guitarist Pete Townshend as a vehicle to record songs by a former Who roadie, drummer/singer John 'Speedy' Keen. He wrote the opening track on The Who Sell Out album, "Armenia City In The Sky". Townshend produced the single, arranged its strings, played its bass guitar under the pseudonym Bijou Drains, and hired for it GPO engineer and Dixieland jazz pianist Andy 'Thunderclap' Newman and the fifteen year old Glaswegian, Jimmy McCulloch.
"Something in the Air" captured post-flower power rebellion, marrying McCulloch's sweeping acoustic and glowing electric guitars; Keen's powerful drumming and falsetto, Newman's legendary frostbite in boxing gloves piano solo and Townshend's (uncredited) electric bass. The single was originally titled "Revolution", but had to be renamed due to The Beatles releasing their single by that name. It perfectly captured the spirit of post flower-power rebellion. View the video online
Someday We'll Be Together - Diana Ross & the Supremes
This was the last single to be put out under the name Diana Ross and The Supremes prior to Ross leaving the group to pursue a solo career. It is more of a Diana Ross (right) single than a The Supremes single, however, since she was the only member of the group who sang on it. The backing vocals on the recording are by session artists and Johnny Bristol, who co-wrote the song. Listen carefully and you can hear Bristol coaching Diana through the song, offering "Sing it pretty" and "You better" along the way. The other Supremes backed Ross on a television show performance of the song, which was in fact the last time they performed together. This single was the last Billboard No.1 song of the 1960s. Jackie and Johnny (Johnny Bristol was the Johnny half of the duo; his singing partner was Jackie Beavers) recorded the original version of the song. View the video online
Blackberry Way - The Move
The Move were led by guitarist, singer and songwriter Roy Wood, who composed all the group's UK singles and from 1968 also sang lead vocal on many of them. They were extremely successful in Britain in their early career, scoring nine Top 20 UK singles in five years, but they were not as well known in Australia. "Flowers in the Rain", released in 1967, was their first hit - less guitar-oriented than their previous two singles, it featured an inventive woodwind arrangement by producer Tony Visconti. Written by Roy Wood and produced by Jimmy Miller, 'Blackberry Way' was a bleak counterpoint to the sunny psychedelia of the group's earlier recordings. It nevertheless became the band's most successful single.
Richard Tandy, who would later play keyboards with Roy Wood's next band, ELO, played harpsichord. The bridge of "Blackberry Way" is taken from the intro of Harry Nilsson's "Good Old Desk." The song's sound, so reminiscent of The Beatles' "Penny Lane", is off-set by its bleak lyrics ("Absolutely pouring down with rain / It's a terrible day . . . Goodbye blackberry way / I can't see you, I don't need you"), and was seen as a dark answer song to the Lennon-McCartney tune. View the video online
Lay Lady Lay - Bob Dylan (right)
Bob Dylan wrote this song for the 1969 movie, Midnight Cowboy. Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'," which was released the year before, was chosen for the theme song instead because Dylan submitted his song too late. Nilsson actually wrote "I Guess the Lord Must Be In New York City" for the same movie - the director had asked for a song that sounded like Nilsson's previous recorded cover of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'." He finally decided to use the older song.
Many radio stations refused to play this recording simply because of the use of the word "lay" in the title, assuming it referred to sex. Despite the accusation of being "sexually titled", Dylan denied any sexual terminology and has indicated it is actually about his dog. One wonders what he was on when he wrote it! Lifted off his country-oriented National Skyline album, the song and album represents a total change of direction for Dylan who was trying desperately to shake the mantle of leader of the 60s revolution that had been placed on him. His voice had never sounded like it does here, either before or since, and it makes him almost unrecognisable. Hear the song online
The Ballad of John and Yoko - The Beatles
Primarily written by John Lennon, the song was attributed, as was the custom, to the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team. It chronicled the events surrounding Lennon's marriage to Yoko Ono and their subsequent activities together, including their famous first Bed-In, and demonstration of bagism. The single was released while the couple was in the middle of their second Bed-In. It was recorded during the sessions for the Abbey Road album, and although it sounds like a straightforward recording of the full band, "The Ballad of John and Yoko" was in fact performed by just Lennon and Paul McCartney. Lennon had a sudden inspiration for the song and called on McCartney, suggesting the two of them record it immediately without waiting for the other Beatles (George Harrison was on holiday, and Ringo Starr was filming The Magic Christian, in which John and Yoko lookalikes make a cameo appearance). Lennon sang lead vocals and played lead guitar and acoustic guitar. McCartney sang harmony vocals and played bass, drums, piano, and maracas.
The outro guitar riff was inspired by the Dorsey and Johnny Burnette song, "Lonesome Tears in My Eyes", notably covered by The Beatles in their early years and released on the album Live at the BBC. The song was banned by several US radio stations, due to Lennon's use of the word "Christ" and the phrase "They're gonna crucify me" in the lyric. These allusions, in combination with Lennon's controversial "Jesus" comment in 1966, might have contributed to the fact that it reached No.1 everywhere but the US. Additionally, the song was found objectionable by the then-current Spanish government due to its statement that Gibraltar was "near Spain" (the status of Gibraltar being a hot issue between the UK government and Franco's dictatorship at the time). This caused it to be dropped from the tracklists of Beatles Again (not replaced) and The Beatles 1967-1970 (where it was replaced by the Let It Be version of 'One After 909'). View the video online
But You Know I Love You - Kenny Rogers and The First Edition
In his early years, Kenny Rogers moved from solo artist to group lead singer and back again on numerous occasions. In 1966 he joined the New Christie Minstrels. Feeling they were not going anywhere, Rogers right with fellow members Mike Settle, Terry Williams and Thelma Camacho to form The First Edition in 1967 (later renamed "Kenny Rogers and The First Edition"). They chalked up a string of hits including "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town", "Reuben James", "But You Know I Love You" and "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)." In his First Edition days Rogers had long brown hair, an earring, and pink sunglasses. Known affectionately in retrospect as "Hippie Kenny", Rogers had a much smoother vocal style at the time. When the group split in 1976, Rogers launched his latter-day solo career, developing a more middle of the road, gravel-voiced style that sold to both pop and country audiences. Hear the song online
Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town - Kenny Rogers and The First Edition
Written by Mel Tillis, this song was originally recorded in 1967 by Johnny Darrell, who scored a top 10 country hit with it in the US. Other singers, Roger Miller and Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek's Mr Spock) among them, also recorded the song, but no one had a major hit with it. However, in 1969, after their success with the hits "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" and "But You Know I Love You", Kenny Rogers wanted to take his group more and more into country music. The song itself is about a disabled, dying veteran of "that old crazy Asian war" (the Korean War), who begs his lover not to cheat on him. Tillis based the song on a couple who lived near his family in Florida. In real life, the man was wounded in Germany in World War II and sent to recuperate in England.
There he married a nurse who took care of him at the hospital. The two of them moved to Florida shortly afterward, but he had periodic return trips to the hospital as problems with his wounds kept flaring up. His wife saw another man as the veteran lay in the hospital. Tillis changed the war to the more recent Korean War in the song, and departed from the ending that happened in real life: the man killed his wife in a murder-suicide. This is however alluded to in the song, with the singer avowing, "If I could move I'd get my gun and put her in the ground." Rogers recorded his version of the song in one take. In 1969, telling the story of a crippled veteran was a daring act of compassion, especially as at that time the Vietnam War was rumbling and military service was unpopular. The song was therefore considered to be one of the most powerful anti-war songs of its time. View the video online
Crimson and Clover - Tommy James & the Shondells
"Crimson and Clover" was written and recorded by the duo of Tommy James (right) and Peter Lucia Jr., the Shondells' drummer. Lucia played drums and delivered backing vocals, while James played all other instruments and sang the lead vocals. The song is famous for a unique "wobbly" vocal effect near the end of the song. To produce this effect, Tommy James plugged his microphone into a guitar amplifier, flipped the tremolo switch, and repeatedly sang the line "crimson and clover, over and over". When it was released just before Christmas 1968, many listeners thought he was saying "Christmas is over" instead of "crimson and clover." Hear the song online
Get Back - The Beatles
Though largely the work of Paul McCartney, this song's writing credits are John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It was originally released as a single on 11th April 1969 and credited to "The Beatles with Billy Preston". It would later become the closing track of The Beatles' last album to be released before they split, Let It Be (1970). The album was originally to be called Get Back; the spine of the album sleeve was never changed and still carries that name. The single was The Beatles' first single release in true stereo internationally - in the UK they remained monaural records until "The Ballad of John and Yoko". "Get Back" is unusual in The Beatles' canon in that almost every moment of the song's evolution has been extensively documented, from its beginning as an offhand riff to its final mixing.
The song's melody grew out of some unstructured jamming during the rehearsal sessions on the sound stage at Twickenham Studios. Over the next 15 minutes or so, McCartney introduced the lyrics to the chorus - lifting "Get back to the place you should be" from fellow Beatle George Harrison's "Sour Milk Sea" and turning it into "Get back to where you once belonged" - and some of the elements of the verses. Later, on the press release to promote the "Get Back" single, McCartney would write, "We were sitting in the studio and we made it up out of thin air ... we started to write words there and then...when we finished it, we recorded it at Apple Studios and made it into a song to roller-coast by." More ...View the video online
Gimmie, Gimmie Good Lovin' - Crazy Elephant
Crazy Elephant was a short-lived British bubblegum pop band noted for their 1968 hit single "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'". The group only released singles. They never released an album except for a "collected singles" album that was released after they had broken up. The core of the group's members went on to form 10CC. Hear the song online
Give Peace a Chance - John Lennon (right)
"Give Peace a Chance" was written by John Lennon and originally credited to Lennon-McCartney. However, when Lennon's posthumous live album with the backing band, Elephant's Memory, called Live in New York City (recorded in 1972), was reissued in the 1990s, "Give Peace a Chance" was credited solely to Lennon. It was origtinally recorded solely by John Lennon and issued as a single under the name Plastic Ono Band. To maximise media exposure, newlyweds John Lennon and Yoko Ono originally intended to host their second "Bed-In" event in New York City (the first was held in Amsterdam), but U.S. immigration officials refused to allow Lennon in the country because of his November 1968 drug conviction in London. The couple instead chose Montreal because it was close to the U.S. border.
Early in the Bed-In, a reporter asked John what he was trying to do. John said, "All we are saying is give peace a chance," spontaneously, but he liked the phrase and set it to music for the song. He sang the song several times during the Bed-In, and finally, on 1st June 1969, rented an 8-track tape machine from a local music store and recorded it in bed in Room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Canada. The recording session was attended by dozens of journalists and various celebrities, including Timothy Leary, Rosemary Woodruff Leary, Petula Clark, Dick Gregory, Allen Ginsberg, Murray the K and Derek Taylor. Lennon played acoustic guitar and was joined by Tommy Smothers of The Smothers Brothers, also on acoustic guitar. View the video online
In the Ghetto - Elvis Presley
Written by American singer-songwriter Mac Davis, the song is a narrative story of a young boy who grows up in the ghetto, steals and fights and who is eventually shot and killed. Although the setting is urban Chicago, there is no mistake in Elvis's connection to this tale of poverty and desperation - after all, it could have been his story had things worked out any differently. "In the Ghetto" was recorded during Elvis' session in the American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. It was Elvis' first creative recording session since his 1968 comeback, and the songs recorded here probably owed some of their financial success to that. Other hits recorded at this session were "Suspicious Minds", "Kentucky Rain", and "Don't Cry Daddy". There were initial fears that the song would damage Elvis' reputation for not being politically unbiased, but Elvis loved the song and recorded it. After finally achieving a master take, Elvis claimed from then on, he would only do songs that he believed in. The song was Elvis' first Top 10 hit in 4 years. View the video online
The Israelites - Desmond Dekker and the Aces
Dekker (born Desmond Dacres) was raised in Kingston, Jamaica and trained as a welder before becoming a singer. He formed the Aces and teamed up with hit producer Leslie Kong in 1966 (with whom he worked until Kong's death in 1971). He has over 20 Jamaican No.1 hits and 2 other international hits: "It Mek" and "You Can Get It If You Really Want." Dekker died of a heart attack in 2006 at age 64. In an interview, Decker once recalled: "It all happened so quickly. I didn't write that song sitting around a piano or playing a guitar. I was walking in the park, eating corn. I heard a couple arguing about money. She was saying she needed money and he was saying the work he was doing was not giving him enough. I relate to those things and began to sing a little song - "You get up in the morning and you slaving for bread." By the time I got home it was complete. And it was so funny, that song never got out of my mind. It stayed fresh in my head. The following day I got my little tape and I just sang that song and that's how it all started." View the video online
Listen to the Band - The Monkees (right)
Though ten further singles were released by The Monkees before they broke up, "Listen To The Band" was their last hit down-under. Featuring Michael Nesmith as lead singer (he also wrote the song), the single was recorded without Peter Tork who had quit shortly after the band's Far East tour in December 1968, after completing work on their 1969 NBC television special, 33 Revolutions Per Monkee. Reduced to a trio, the remaining members went on to record two more albums. Throughout 1969, the trio would appear as guests on various television programs.
The three Monkees also embarked on a tour with the backing soul band Sam and the Goodtimers. Unfortunately the 1969 Monkees' tour was not all that successful; some shows were cancelled due to poor ticket sales. In March 1970, Nesmith right the group, leaving only Dolenz and Jones to record "Changes" as The Monkees. Eventually, Jones too departed, leaving Dolenz as the sole remaining recording Monkee. View the video online
Living In The Past - Jethro Tull
Jethro Tull was a Grammy Award winning English rock band that formed in 1967-1968. Their music is marked by the distinctive vocal style and lead flute work of front man Ian Anderson. Initially playing blues rock with an experimental flavour, they have, over the years, incorporated elements of classical, folk and 'ethnic' musics, jazz and art rock. Eclectic influences, diverse instrumentation, and often elaborate song construction led them to be labelled as an archetypal "progressive rock" band. "Living In The Past" was the group's breakthrough hit. Tull had further success with their other singles, "Sweet Dream" (1969) and "The Witch's Promise" (1970), and a five-track EP, Life Is a Long Song (1971), all of which made the top twenty. In 1970, they added keyboardist John Evan (initially as a guest musician) and released the album Benefit. View the video online
Love Child - Diana Ross & the Supremes (right)
In 1967, Diana Ross & the Supremes, having dropped Florence Ballard, acquired new member Cindy Birdsong, and added Ross' name to the billing. Following this string of changes, the Supremes had mixed success on the pop charts, with five of their singles from this period failing to make it into the Top Twenty. Motown label chief Berry Gordy held a special meeting in a room at the Ponchartrain Hotel in Detroit, which was attended by a team of writers and producers at the label, including Frank Wilson, Henry Cosby, Pam Sawyer, Deke Richards, and R. Dean Taylor. The group, who named themselves The Clan, set to work on a hit single for Diana Ross & the Supremes. Instead of composing another love-based song, the team decided to craft a tune about a woman who is asking her boyfriend not to pressure her into sleeping with him, for fear they would conceive a "love child." The woman, portrayed on the record by Diana Ross, is herself a love child, and, besides not having a father at home, had to endure wearing rags to school and growing up in a "old, cold, run-down tenement slum." The background vocals echo this sentiment, asking the boyfriend to please "wait/wait won't you wait now/hold on/wait/just a little bit longer."
As was often the case with many of the records released under the "Diana Ross & the Supremes" name, Supremes Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong do not appear on the record. Motown session singers The Andantes perform the background vocals, with all lead vocals by Diana Ross, who would leave the group in a year for a solo career. The resulting track had a decidedly different feel than previous Supremes singles, not only because of its change-of-pace subject matter, but also because of The Clan's production, which gave the melodramatic tale a driving, almost hedonistic rhythm. The public responded well to "Love Child"; the song outsold all of the group's previous or subsequent singles. Hear the song online
Marrakesh Express - Crosby, Stills & Nash
This song became the recently formed Crosby Sills And Nash's first hit in the US, and surprisingly their only Top 40 single in the UK. Graham Nash told Rolling Stone magazine the story of this song: "In 1966 I was visiting Morocco on vacation to Marrakesh (a city in Morocco famous for leather goods) and getting on a train and having a first-class ticket and then realizing that the first-class compartment was completely f--king boring, you know, ladies with blue hair in there - it wasn't my scene at all. So I decide I'm going to go and see what the rest of the train is like. And the rest of the train was fascinating. Just like the song says, there were ducks and pigs and chickens all over the place and people lighting fires. It's literally the song as it is - what happened to me." Prior to exiting the Hollies in 1968, Nash offered this to his band mates. However, the tune was ultimately rejected as being not commercial enough. Their refusal to record this and other tunes he wrote was one of the main reasons Nash right the band and moved to Los Angeles to join up with Crosby and Stills. His new band mates liked the tune and it ended up on their debut album. View the video online
The Games People Play - Joe South
Performer and songwriter Joe South virtually created the genre of country soul through his unique blend of sounds and influences. This song is about how people go through life deceiving others or pushing their ideals onto others in an effort to get ahead or just simply survive, without thinking or caring about the effect it has on those around them. Joe South, a session player who played guitar on Aretha Franklin's "Chain Of Fools," Tommy Roe's "Sheila" and Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound Of Silence" and Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde album, performed all the vocal and instrumental parts himself. South won Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Best Contemporary Song. South's other hits include "Don't It Make You Wanna Go Home", "Walk A Mile In My Shoes", "Down In The Boondocks" (a hit for Billy Joe Royal) and "Rose Garden" as recorded by Lynne Anderson. Sadly, the suicide in the 1970s of his brother Tommy, who played drums in his band, sent South spiralling into a deep depression from which he never fully recovered. His songwriters and recording ceased at that time and was never fully revived. View the video online
Pinball Wizard - The Who (right)
This song was featured in The Who's 1969 rock opera, Tommy. The lyrics are written from the perspective of a local pinball champion astounded by the skills of the opera's eponymous main character, Tommy Walker: "That deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball", and "I thought I was the Bally table king, but I just handed my pinball crown to him." Townshend, who is known for making contradictory statements about his work, once called it "the most clumsy piece of writing [he'd] ever done".
The song was however a gigantic commercial success and one of the most recognized tunes from the opera. It was a perpetual concert favourite for Who fans due to its pop sound and familiarity. The song was actually introduced into Tommy as an afterthought. In late 1968 or early 1969, when The Who played a rough assembly of their new album to critic Nik Cohn, who gave a lukewarm reaction. Following this, Townshend, as Tommy's principal composer, discussed the album with Cohn and concluded that, to lighten the load of the rock opera's heavy spiritual overtones (Townshend had recently become deeply interested in the teachings of Meher Baba), the title character, a "deaf, dumb, and blind" boy, should also be particularly good at a certain game. Knowing Cohn was an avid pinball fan, Townshend suggested that Tommy would play pinball, and Cohn immediately declared Tommy to be a masterpiece. The song was written and recorded almost immediately. View the video online
My Cherie Amour - Stevie Wonder
A soul classic from Motown artist Stevie Wonder, it was co-written by singers Henry Cosby and Sylvia Moy with Wonder, who was 19 at the time. The song was an autobiographical account by Wonder about a girl named Marcia who he was fascinated with while in school at the Michigan School for the Blind. The song was written under the name "Oh My Marcia" but Moy suggested the title change. This was released as the B-side of "I Don't Know Why (I Love You)" in March, 1969. By June, Disc Jockeys flipped the record and played this as the single, where it eclipsed the original single. On TV's 'Saturday Night Live' in the early '80s, Wonder appeared in a skit with Eddie Murphy, who was known for his Wonder impression. In the skit, Murphy played a record executive and Wonder played a bad Wonder impersonator. Murphy "teaches" Wonder how to act and sing like Wonder. Murphy starts to sing My Cherie Amour, then Wonder finishes it in his normal singing voice. Murphy pauses, then says "No, it still sucks." View the video online
Proud Mary - Creedence Clearwater Revival (right)
Written by CCR lead singer and guitarist John Fogerty, it became the band's first top ten hit and the first of five singles that the band released that would peak at No.2 on the US charts (the group never had a single reach No.1 there), giving them the record for the most No.2 singles for a group without a No.1. In 1971, a cover version was released by Ike & Tina Turner that differed greatly from the structure of the original, but is also well known and has become one of Tina's most recognizable signature songs. Stylistically, the song merges elements of several genres, including rock and roll, blues, gospel, and soul. Nevertheless, it contains many of Creedence Clearwater Revival's most characteristic elements, including a repeated guitar riff, "down-home on the Bayou" lyrics, and a guitar solo Fogerty said was influenced by Steve Cropper of Booker T. & the M.G.s. The second line of the second verse has generated considerable confusion, and can be considered a type of mondegreen.
Listeners have variously interpreted it as "pumped a lot of pain" and "pumped a lot of 'pane", referring to propane, which is commonly used as a fuel. The author finally laid the confusion to rest, saying, "Sometimes I write words to songs because they sound cool to sing. Sometimes the listener doesn't understand what I'm singing because I'm dedicated to singing the vowel, having fun with the word sounds coming out of my mouth. 'Cleaned a lot of plates in Memphis, pumped a lot of pain down in New Orleans,' is a good example. I think Tina Turner sang `tane instead of 'pain,' as in a contracted form of 'octane'. But I knew what she meant." Hear the song online
Space Cowboy - Steve Miller Band
Steve Miller founded the Goldburg-Miller Blues Band along with bassist Roy Ruby and drummer Maurice McKinley after moving to Chicago to play the blues. The band was signed to Epic Records after playing many Chicago clubs. They appeared on Hullabaloo with the Four Tops and the Supremes, and gigged at a Manhattan club. Their other hits include "Fly Like an Eagle", "Abracadbra", "Rock 'N Me", "Jungle Love", "Swingtown", "The Joker", "Take the Money and Run", and "Jet Airliner". Miller has a star for Recording on the Hollywood Walk of Fame outside 1750 Vine Street. "Space Cowboy" is often confused with another Steve Miller composition, "The Joker", because the latter contains a reference to "Space Cowboy" in its lyrics. View the video online
Sugar, Sugar - The Archies
"Sugar, Sugar" was originally released on the album Everything's Archie, supposedly by fictional cartoon characters The Archies, actually the product of a group of studio musicians managed by Don Kirshner, after The Monkees rejected the song. Produced by Jeff Barry and written by Barry and Andy Kim, "Sugar, Sugar" is considered a canonical example of the bubblegum pop musical genre that was popular in 1969. Ron Dante's lead vocals were accompanied by those of Toni Wine (who sang the line "I'm gonna make your life so sweet"), Andy Kim and Ellie Greenwich. Together, they provided the voices of the various Archies using multitracking. Numerous cover versions have since been released. In February 2006, "Sugar, Sugar" was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (Kim is originally from Montreal, Quebec). Hear the song online
Guitarzan - Ray Stevens
Ray Stevens' recording career began in the mid-1950s with two singles released on Prep Records. By 1958, Stevens had joined Lowery's National Recording Corporation (NRC), playing numerous instruments, arranging music, and performing background vocals for its band. After NRC filed for bankruptcy, he signed with Mercury Records with whom Stevens recorded a series of comical hit records in the 1960s that included songs such as "Ahab the Arab", "Harry the Hairy Ape", "Funny Man", the original recording of "Santa Claus is Watching You", and "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving, Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills".
Of his novelty songs, "Guitarzan", about a guitar-playing Tarzan and his back-up singer Jane, and "The Streak" (1974) were his two million sellers. 1969 was Stevens' biggest year as a recording artist. In 1968, Stevens had signed with Monument Records and started to release serious material. "Mr. Businessman", "Have A Little Talk With Myself" and the original version of Kris Kristofferson-penned "Sunday Morning Coming Down", all of which made the top 40, were all released in 1969. Hear the song online
Rain - Jose Feliciano (right)
One of the few artists to have hits in both English and Spanish, Jose Feliciano is an easily identifiable pop icon. As a blind singer and guitarist, he first received attention playing in the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village while still in high school. His passionate, soulful voice and Flamenco guitar embellishments catapulted him into the pop mainstream, and his version of the Doors' "Light My Fire" topped the hit charts in 1968; he even performed the national anthem at the World Series that year.
A prolific recording artist, he recorded light versions of popular rock songs that were embellished with strings and marketed to mature audiences. Although first cast under the American spotlight, he ended up more popular with Latino audiences. "Rain" was lifted from "10 to 23", Feliciano's sixth album, which was released in August 1969. "Rain" was followed by another top 10 hit a year later - "Destiny". Hear the song online | View the song performed live online