A look back at the pop charts as the Summer of ’69 drew to a close
The summer of 1969 was precisely 50 years ago. Meanwhile, Woodstock happened 50 years ago this month, and Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is set in 1969.
So between all three of these factors, it seemed appropriate, even necessary, to take a look back at the charts for the last week of Bryan Adams’ beloved summer of ‘69. I’ll take a look at some of the week’s biggest albums later this week, but for starters, let’s examine the 40 biggest songs in the country, as 1969’s summer months came to an end.
Notes: I use “Soul” and “R&B” interchangeably in talking about chart positions; same with “A/C” (Adult Contemporary) and “Easy Listening.”
Here’s your accompanying Spotify playlist, with songs not included given YouTube links in their titles, below.
[TW LW TITLE –•– Artist (Label)-Weeks on Chart (Peak To Date)]
1 1 HONKY TONK WOMEN –•– The Rolling Stones (London)-7 (2 weeks at #1) (1) — The entirety of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion discography can be found in these three minutes. Sleazy rock ‘n roll at its apex.
2 2 A BOY NAMED SUE –•– Johnny Cash (Columbia)-6 (2) — What saddens me is the thought that Cash’s biggest crossover hit (#2 pop/#1 A/C) is seen, and likely definitely was seen at the time — as a novelty. It’s by no means my favorite Cash record, either, and is in fact close to the bottom of his barrel; “Sue” is a story song with a cheap “moral.” I mean, he’s great, but he did so much better, so often.
3 14 SUGAR, SUGAR –•– The Archies (Calendar)-6 (3) — [insert cavity/diabetes joke here] The song deserves no more time spent on it; it’s a giant pile of saccharin.
4 6 PUT A LITTLE LOVE IN YOUR HEART –•– Jackie DeShannon (Imperial)-10 (4) — Late-’60s “love everyone” sentiment, Up With People-style.
5 4 SWEET CAROLINE (Good Times Never Seemed So Good) –•– Neil Diamond (Uni)-10 (4) — The horns squawk, Neil nearly yells, and nothing “seem[s] so good.”
VIDEO: Neil Diamond – “Sweet Caroline”
6 9 GET TOGETHER –•– The Youngbloods (RCA)-18 (6) — A dud two years prior, this was re-released at hit #5 after being used in a public service announcement for “brotherhood” by the National Conference of Christians and Jews — the kind of thing we could use again “right now,” 50 years later. The song itself, folkie at its heart, is a little simplistic, but I confess to loving the way Felix Pappalardi, later a producer of Cream and member of Mountain, produces it. There’s a lot of space in the record.
7 7 GREEN RIVER –•– Creedence Clearwater Revival (Fantasy)-5 (7) — It’s not my thing — I respond negatively any time I hear John Fogerty’s voice, he’s truly nails on a chalkboard to my ears — but I can hear how heavy it is, in a good way. Cracks me up that these swamp rockers were Californians.
8 5 IN THE YEAR 2525 (Exordium and Terminus) –•– Zager and Evans (RCA)-11 (1) — Like a “pop” (not rock) record made by the most pessimistic computer program you could imagine, if such a thing had existed at the time. Also akin to Ferrante & Teicher trying their hands at “hit” songcraft. One of the worst #1s of the decade, hands down.
9 12 LAY LADY LAY –•– Bob Dylan (Columbia)-8 (9) — OH, yes. Nashville Skyline is one of my favorite Dylan albums, and its lead single is one of my favorites of his singles, as well. “Lady” is so many things we don’t commonly, these days, associate with him, like gorgeously-sung, and achingly romantic. The slide guitar on this, I mean. The drums and percussion. And that bridge!
10 3 CRYSTAL BLUE PERSUASION –•– Tommy James and the Shondells (Roulette)-13 (2) — I’m no Tommy James fan, but this is kinda lovely. The reverb on the guitar helps.
11 8 POLK SALAD ANNIE –•– Tony Joe White (Monument)-9 (8) — White wrote “Rainy Night in Georgia,” an incredibly beautiful song, especially as sung by Brook Benton. I can’t say the same, unfortunately, for this would-be swamp rock that’s kind of curdled, in part because of the addition of Vegas-y horns, and in part because the song is just unpleasant. An Elvis cover four years later hit #2 in the UK for some reason.
12 10 LAUGHING –•– The Guess Who (RCA)-8 (10) — The sound of these Canadians curdled into what I call “butt rock” (think bottom-of-the-barrel Freedom Rock, emphasis on the “rock” portion) pretty quickly — i.e. their pair of 1970 #1s — but their ‘69 top 10s, this and predecessor “These Eyes” (refreshingly spooky psych-pop) sounded, and still sound, fairly unique.
13 18 EASY TO BE HARD –•– Three Dog Night (Dunhill)-4 (13) — I loathe most of 3DN’s biggest hits, including all three of their #1s, but this one, the follow-up to “One,” heading for a #4 peak, is fairly lovely. For once their lyrics don’t come off as fake — and even include the phrase “social injustice”! — which is due to the fact that the band didn’t write this themselves; it’s from the rock musical phenom Hair. Chuck Negron sings it well.
14 19 I’LL NEVER FALL IN LOVE AGAIN –•– Tom Jones (Parrot)-12 (14) — A dud when released in 1967 (#28 AC/#49 pop), this got re-issued two years later and was a monster, reaching #1 AC and #6 pop. It’s Jones very much in big-lunged crooner mode, so your enjoyment of the song (an unexceptional Lonnie Donegan composition from 1962) will largely rise or fall on your enjoyment of Jones of the era. I fall squarely in the middle.
VIDEO: Plastic Ono Band – “Give Peace A Chance”
15 15 GIVE PEACE A CHANCE –•– The Plastic Ono Band (Apple)-6 (15) — The very first solo Beatles single, this only climbed one notch higher (but went to #2 in the UK), and I don’t understand why — I mean, the hype around this had to have been hysterical. Is it because it’s so underproduced and stripped down (two acoustic guitars, some hand percussion, and voices)? It’s not an amazing record by any means, but it’s kinda the definition of important.
16 13 BABY, I LOVE YOU –•– Andy Kim (Steed)-15 (9) — This can of songwriting Cheez Whiz co-wrote “Sugar Sugar,” too, along with his own 1974 #1 “Rock Me Gently,” which explains plenty. I’ve never heard a record connected to him that I’ve thought was any good at all.
17 26 I’D WAIT A MILLION YEARS –•– The Grass Roots (Dunhill)-9 (17) — The musical sibling to ‘68’s #5 “Midnight Confessions,” and close to as good. This is classically 1969 pop-rock: it sounds like the year, in a good way, with a sense of urgency in its arrangement. How was this not used in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood?!?
18 24 SOUL DEEP –•– The Box Tops (Mala)-9 (18) — Sounds like the Righteous Brothers attempting “rock” cred.
19 29 HURTS SO BAD –•– The Lettermen (Capitol)-14 (19) — I have a thing for overwhelmingly Caucasian easy listening stuff from the period, like the Lettermen and Jack Jones; there’s something I find incredibly comforting about the dryness of the production and the stacked vocal harmonies. Only stopped from the top of A/C by Zager/Evans and Johnny Cash — and, as opposed to both of those records, this one’s the epitome of “easy listening” — this got to #12 on the Hot 100, their final top 40 hit. “Hurt” was originally done by Little Anthony & the Imperials (#10 pop, 1965), and you most likely know the glorious Linda Ronstadt version that was the biggest (#8 pop, 1980). The Lettermen’s version is different from both of those, and utterly gorgeous. (I do really love the guitar solo — hell, and everything else — on Ronstadt’s take, too.)
20 20 WORKIN’ ON A GROOVY THING –•– The 5th Dimension (Soul City)-7 (20) — Don’t be fooled: the 5th Dimension were much more a pop than soul group, as evidenced by their chart record. They had a trio of R&B top 10s, compared to seven on the Hot 100 and 15 A/C! This follow-up to their #1 pop Hair medley didn’t make it any further on the pop chart, but its follow-up, “Wedding Bell Blues,” would return them to the pop top. As for “Groovy,” well, it tries way too hard to be/sound “groovy,” and sounds like it.
21 16 MY CHERIE AMOUR –•– Stevie Wonder (Tamla)-14 (4) — One of Wonder’s most devastatingly pretty songs, this does what he tried (and failed) to do again 15 years later with “I Just Called To Say I Love You.” Just those “la la la”s alone — man.
22 11 RUBY, DON’T TAKE YOUR LOVE TO TOWN –•– Kenny Rogers and the First Edition (Reprise)-13 (6) — The sentiments in this song strike me as the kind(s) of things Don Draper would say to a woman, were he a wheelchair-bound war vet — i.e., they’re not particularly kind to women. Interesting to note that with the First Edition, Rogers had no country success; this peaked at #39 on that chart, while it was their second pop top 10 hit. But boy, it is not a nice song.
23 31 SHARE YOUR LOVE WITH ME –•– Aretha Franklin (Atlantic)-5 (23) — The first version of this song I knew — and it was originally recorded by Bobby Bland in 1964 — was Kenny Rogers’s 1981 cover (#1 AC/#5 country/#14 pop), which peaked one notch lower on the Hot 100 than Aretha’s take (#13 pop). Aretha’s also spent five weeks ruling the Soul roost, and is classic late ‘60s Queen of Soul, with King Curtis’s horns and that Muscle Shoals rhythm section chugging along. And of course her voice at its peak, and the Sweet Inspirations on backup, which never hurts, y’know.
24 30 THE NITTY GRITTY –•– Gladys Knight and the Pips (Soul)-7 (24) — This only made it to #19 pop, but with its ascent to #2 R&B, started a run of six consecutive top 3 singles on the latter chart. Knight and her Pips were on the Motown subsidiary Soul at the time, and you can hear it: this is, well, kind of gritty, definitely a soul-rock sound, completely with some greasy guitar. The song lets ‘em down, but the production and arrangement about make up for it.
AUDIO: The Impressions – “Choice of Colors”
25 21 CHOICE OF COLORS –•– The Impressions (Curtom)-10 (21) — A #1 R&B single, this is one of Curtis Mayfield’s finest compositions, and musically too, not just lyrically. I think folks tend to think his music-writing gifts for granted and focus instead on his spot-on lyrics — few of the era wrote more, or better, about racial issues, as evidenced smartly right here. And when it comes to the music components here, those string arrangements alone! Not to mention the tender, strong vocal Mayfield delivers, good god.
26 17 WHAT DOES IT TAKE (To Win Your Love) –•– Jr. Walker and the All Stars (Soul)-16 (4) — On its way out of the chart after a #4 pop peak (and #1 R&B), this groovin’ midtempo soul number rides a rhythm of pure joy. Kenny G’s 1986 cover, just as joyous, is his biggest R&B hit, making it to #15 on that chart.
27 27 BIRTHDAY –•– Underground Sunshine (Intrepid)-7 (27) — This mixed-gender band of Wisconsin “psychedelic” rockers only graced the charts once, with this, yes, Beatles cover. They sound like a bad local bar band, which they essentially were.
28 39 KEEM-O-SABE –•– The Electric Indian (United Artists)-5 (28) — Not-very-talented artist/producer Len Barry (who somehow sang lead on a trio of top 3 records between 1961-65) assembled a group of studio musicians to cash in on the “[American] Indian craze” of the late ‘60s — which included one Daryl Hall, who has called “Keem-O-Sabe” “[o]ne of the stupidest records you ever heard in your life” — and this was the result. It’s an instrumental, any “Indian” sound is truly insulting, and, well, Daryl’s not entirely wrong; this is pretty bad.
29 40 OH, WHAT A NIGHT –•– The Dells (Cadet)-3 (29) — In 1956, “Oh What A Nite [sic]” became the Dells’ first hit, going to #4 R&B (but not charting pop). 13 years later the vocal group re-recorded it and got to #1 R&B — and #10 pop. The original’s doo-wop sound has been freshened just a touch, especially with the addition of some snazzy horns, and it works like a charm, updated for ‘69.
30 48 I CAN’T GET NEXT TO YOU –•– The Temptations (Gordy)-3 (30) — On its way to become the Temps’ ninth R&B #1 and second Hot 100 topper (after 1964’s “My Girl”), this isn’t quite psychedelic soul, but it’s certainly progressive soul. Is prog-soul a thing? Because this might be it, in intent if not exactly sound. It fairly smokes, of course.
31 43 YOUR GOOD THING (Is About To End) –•– Lou Rawls (Capitol)-7 (31) — En route to #18 on the Hot 100, and peaking at #3 Soul (behind Aretha and Gladys), this Isaac Hayes/David Porter waltz-time composition is sturdy as a brick-and-mortar house. Rawls of course sings the hell out of it — talk about one of the great/est soul voices (especially of, but not limited to, the late ‘60s and ‘70s). Bonnie Raitt did a great cover in ‘79, BTW.
32 28 MARRAKESH EXPRESS –•– Crosby, Stills and Nash (Atlantic)-7 (28) — I’m not inherently opposed to CSN, but both musically and lyrically this is really just a load of hippie-shit clichés.
33 44 JEAN –•– Oliver (Crewe)-3 (33) — He’d hit #3 pop/AC earlier in the year with a cover of Hair’s “Good Morning Starshine”; this bested it, going to #2 pop and #1 AC. And wow, is it a pool of canola oil on the kitchen counter: limp balladry that must’ve moved someone, but I’ve a hard time imagined whom. Likely helped chartwise by being the “theme” from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the hit Maggie Smith film.
34 36 DID YOU SEE HER EYES –•– The Illusion (Steed)-9 (34) — This bunch of psych-rock merchants from Long Island had their first single written and produced by Mitch Ryder, and all three of their full-lengths produced by Tin Pan Alley giant Jeff Barry. Unfortunately, on their one and only US hit (which peaked two notches higher), there’s nothing to distinguish them from legions of psych-rock wanna-bes. “Did You See Her Eyes” is fine, and muscular, but nothing more.
AUDIO: Creedence Clearwater Revival – Commotion”
35 32 COMMOTION –•– Creedence Clearwater Revival (Fantasy)-5 (32) — The b-side of “Green River” — they were so big in ‘69 that even their b-sides charted — is almost proto-metal, it’s so loud and hard. This might be the best CCR record I’ve ever heard.
36 42 HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME –•– Sly and the Family Stone (Epic)-4 (36) — There are few artists whose appeal befuddles me more than Sly and his Stones, who have never sounded anything more than a mediocre rock/soul combo to my ears. This song is very much included in that summation.
37 37 I’M FREE –•– The Who (Decca)-7 (37) — Can you believe this is its peak position? For all their album chart success, they weren’t nearly as big a single act. Tommy’s second single probably makes more sense if you’re familiar with the plot of Tommy, which I’m not. And what the hell is that “freedom tastes of reality” malarkey?
38 35 TRUE GRIT –•– Glen Campbell (Capitol)-6 (35) — I had no idea until I started writing this, that Campbell is one of the stars of the original True Grit. Its title theme (Oscar-nominated) is classic Hollywood title theme garbage, with a lyric so stridently adhering to its film’s plot as to be fairly ridiculous. Campbell, of course, pours on the creamed corn in his delivery, as he was oft prone to do.
39 45 GOO GOO BARABAJAGAL (Love Is Hot) –•– Donovan (with the Jeff Beck Group) (Epic)-5 (39) — The final top 40 hit on either side of the Atlantic for the dippy hippie; Beck’s group doesn’t particularly distinguish themselves.
40 34 IT’S GETTING BETTER –•– Mama Cass (Dunhill)-13 (30) — This is considered textbook “sunshine pop.” I loathe “sunshine pop” — listening to it is like being blasted in my eyes with a klieg light for hours on end while having Kool-Aid poured down my throat simultaneously.