You’d think that slogging through the detritus of the 1960s would be a more delicate maneuver than slinging the shite of the ’50s. You’d be mistaken.
The Sixties were the baby boom’s golden era, a decade whose music will be revered above every other until Á¢€¦ well, until the boomers either shut up or die off. (Not that I’m encouraging the latter, of course; some of my best friends and relatives are boomers, and I hope they’ll stick around until they’ve completely drained the Social Security trust fund.) Nevertheless, the British Invasion, the folk revival, Motown and Stax, the blues revival, psychedelia, countrypolitan, acid-rock — all these glorious movements contributed a fair amount of crap to the popular canon, and an alarming percentage of that pabulum found its way to the top of Billboard‘s Hot 100.
It would be easy to focus on the early Á¢€Ëœ60s, to beat up exclusively on Steve Lawrence and Bobby Vinton and Lawrence Welk and other such anachronistic reminders of the pre-rock era. But what fun is that? C’mon, it’s the Sixties — let’s hit some moving targets!
10. “Somethin’ Stupid,” Frank and Nancy Sinatra (Amazon). Nancy’s boots may have been made for walkin’, but this single was made for dozin’. You’d have thought a proud, blue-eyed papa and his pop-tart daughter would have wanted their duet to swing, if not exactly rock, but Frank sleepwalks through this track while Nancy makes no impression whatsoever. (Perhaps the lack of passion here was intentional, to offset the skeeziness of a father-daughter duet on a love song. It doesn’t work.) Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman did a vaguely better version for Robbie’s Swing When You’re Winning album.
9. “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Percy Sledge (Amazon). I recognize full well that this is one of the greatest soul songs ever — hell, it’s even got a bad drunk-Meg-Ryan movie named after it — but what can I say? I Can’t. Stand. This. Man’s. Voice! It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. In fact, he sounds like he’s having his fingernails pulled out while he’s singing. Please, Mr. Cheney, stop torturing poor Percy! I prefer Bette Midler’s version of this song. I’m tempted to say I prefer Michael Bolton’s as well, but I recognize I’m already thisclose to earning a one-way trip to Hades, so I’ll stop right here.
8. “Sheila,” Tommy Roe (download) (Amazon). Roe is the man behind two of the best bubblegum hits ever, “Sweet Pea” and “Dizzy.” Unfortunately, he first was responsible for this exercise in Buddy Holly grave-robbing. “Sheila” is a cute little song, but come on, Tommy, get your own style! Roe was only 18 when he first recorded “Sheila,” just a year after Holly’s death, so it’s tempting to forgive him his youthful indiscretion. Nah, screw it: Buddy’s estate should have sued over “Sheila,” the way Tom Waits did over those Doritos commercials in the early Á¢€Ëœ90s.
7. “Don’t Break the Heart that Loves You,” Connie Francis (download) (Amazon). Connie was the top female vocalist of rock and roll’s first decade, scoring dozens of fun-in-the-sun pop hits that one would have thought were reserved for Annette Funicello. (That’s OK; Annette was a better actress.) Connie had some nice, snappy hits, but this maudlin slice-o’-hell was not one of them. Sealing a place for this song on this list is the fact that it was written by the same duo who composed “Baby Face” a million years ago; my daughter hated “Baby Face” so much that she gave up dance lessons rather than perform to it during a recital. Anyway, Connie famously lived a nightmare during the 1970s; raped following a gig, she couldn’t perform for years afterward. My generation remembers her best as the TV pitch-woman for her own greatest-hits set, in the most ubiquitous such commercial this side of Slim Whitman or Boxcar Willie’s.
6. “Hello Goodbye,” the Beatles (Amazon). The Beatles were responsible for just about 10 percent of the songs that reached Number One between 1961 and 1970 — you can look it up — so it would seem natural that they make an appearance on this list. But I don’t include “Hello Goodbye” just to establish a Beatles beachhead. C’mon, admit it — this is one dippy little piece of Paul-poo. Imagine: John shows up in the studio with frickin’ “I Am the Walrus,” and Paul says, “Right, mate, I’ve got a perfect little A-side for that one,” and starts in on the “hey-la, hey-ba hello-ah” bit. And John thinks, not for the last time, “How do you sleep?”
5. “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone,” the Supremes (Amazon). Diana Ross and her fellow Supremes were Motown’s lowest common denominator, the Wonder bread that Berry Gordy used to ease actually-soulful singers like Levi Stubbs, David Ruffin and Marvin Gaye onto pop radio during the mid-Á¢€Ëœ60s. “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone” is the worst of the Supes’ dozen Number One hits, a bit of candyfloss that — in trying to recapture the magic of their previous hit, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” — features several of the most ludicrous spoken-word asides in pop history. “You closed the door to your heart and you turned the key/Locked your love away from me — COUGH!” Diana hacks after the first chorus, enunciating in ridiculous Motown-charm-school fashion. This was the beginning of a down period for the group that would continue until they got all socially conscious with “Love Child” two years later.
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4. “Pony Time,” Chubby Checker (download) (Amazon). I liked this song a lot better when it was called “The Twist.” The latter is not exactly the greatest song in history, but it’s been propped up for a half-century by the continued popularity of its associated dance; “Pony Time” can make no such claim. Does anyone under age 55 remember how to do the Pony? If you’re interested, you can go here and learn it. Me? I’m moving on.
3. “Over and Over,” the Dave Clark Five. Meet your newest members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! The DC5 were coattail riders, crossing the Atlantic in the Beatles’ wake and scoring seven Top 10s before the end of ’65. This was the last one, and for some reason the biggest, a cover of a Bobby Day single from 1958 that somehow managed to sneak past “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and into the top slot for a week before being swatted away by “The Sounds of Silence” and “We Can Work It Out.” I mention those other songs because they make clear that, even as the Beatles, Paul Simon and the Byrds (and, of course, Dylan) were moving pop onto more intellectual ground, the DC5 were still spinning their wheels as though it were January ’64. Yo, Jann Wenner & Co.: What are these guys doing in the Hall of Fame? If they were so great, why does it appear that they have nothing in print — not even a hits disc? Anyway, enjoy the video clip; I believe George Balanchine did the choreography. Hugh Grant can do a cameo as DC5 vocalist Mike Smith in the eventual Brian Epstein biopic, “A Cellarful of Boys.”
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2. “Hello, I Love You,” the Doors (Amazon). I hate the Doors. Hate ’em. Always have, always will. I hang onto my copy of the 1985 second edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide just so I can occasionally re-read Dave Marsh as he brings the hammer down on the “obnoxious and insipid cult that now surrounds Jim Morrison.” He concludes: “Is this the most overrated group in rock history? Only a truly terminal case of arrested adolescence can hold out against such a judgment for very long.” That said, it’s hard to argue with “Light My Fire,” so instead I’ll call out the hunk of junk known as “Hello, I Love You.” It features a typically pompous, dick-swinging Morrison vocal and annoying keyboard effects by Ray Manzarek, all in the service of a girl-watching song that trashily rips off the theme of Roy Orbison’s “Oh Pretty Woman.” By the way, have I told you how much I hate the Doors?
1. “Honey,” Bobby Goldsboro (Amazon). This song, written by Bobby Russell, has topped many a worst-of-all-time list, and with good reason. It’s not merely syrupy and maudlin — it’s downright confused in its point of view. Who the heck is Bobby singing to here? Is it the “friend” who has to hear ad nauseum about that stupid tree? Or is it Honey in the great beyond, with whom Bobby would love to be “if only I could”? Well, I say get on with it! Number One hits of the Sixties offered endless possibilities for offing yourself — you could crash your motorcycle, like in “Leader of the Pack,” or you could go back to fetch your boyfriend’s ring after your car stalls on the train tracks, as in “Teen Angel.” (Oh, Mark Dinning, how close you came to making this list!) Russell also wrote that drecky song about how “God didn’t make the little green apples” — maybe they’re poison! Pull one down from the damn tree and find out. Just, for crying out loud, don’t tell me about it afterward. I’m not your friend.
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Bobby, Steve Á¢€¦ Jimmy Dean Á¢€¦ I’m letting you off easy. “Winchester Cathedral,” you’re safe Á¢€¦ for now. “MacArthur Park,” just be happy you didn’t climb higher than #2.
Next stop, the Seventies! Don’t worry, Bo Donaldson and Paper Lace — you’re aces with me. But Elton? Styx? Be afraid. Be very afraid.