There are some songs that, when I hear them, take me back to the first time I heard them. All of them except one are from the 60s and the other is from the 50s. In fact when I look through my (growing) list of favourite songs, about 70 or 80 at the moment, some are from the 50s but the majority are from the 60s, quite a few are from the 70s and early 80s, and very few after that. That could mean:
- the songs were better then and they’ve been going downhill ever since
- I’m getting older and my palate is becoming more jaded
- I’m getting older and don’t listen to as much music as I used to
- I’m getting older and my hearing is gradually getting worse
- All of the above
I could have chosen 20, or 50, but I thought that 10 was a reasonable number to start with. Anyway, here they are. I’ve added the intro for each song so you can have a listen and see what you think. They may not all be great songs (some of them are), but they all bring back memories.
Let me know if you agree, disagree or have any other thoughts on the songs I’ve chosen and my reasons for choosing them.
1. God Only Knows by The Beach Boys (1966)
I don’t know what to say about this song – Two minutes fifty-five seconds of perfection?The greatest pop song ever written? Whatever you say, I can remember hearing this, probably on Radio Caroline, in the summer of 1966, walking round in the sun on Morecambe fairground behind the Winter Gardens, seventeen years old and touched by bliss. It still touches me deeply when I hear it but, of course, never in the way it did then.
Here’s the intro
If you’re interested I’ve written more about God Only Knows here
2. The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens (1961)
My parents had bought me a second hand record player from one of the neighbours and with it were seven or eight seven-inch singles. This was one of them and I loved it. It seemed mysterious and alien, not like anything else around at the time. Of course I didn’t know at the time that The Tokens were an American doo-wop group and that the song was actually written in the 1920s by Solomon Linda, a South African singer of Zulu origin. Anyway, I loved at and I still think it’s a great record.
3. Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds (1965)
I’m not sure if I’d heard Dylan’s version at this point, probably not as Bringing it All Back Home had only just come out and I hadn’t really got into Dylan by that point. I love his version and will no doubt write about it at some point but this was the version I first heard and that intro on the 12-string guitar is fantastic with the bass sliding in. Then there was the way they looked, cool, with Roger McGuinn (Jim as he was then), with his rectangular sunglasses. That was how they looked when I first saw them singing it, on Top of the Pops I think.
A great pop song.
4. Tell Him by Billie Davis (1963)
I still think this is a really good pop song, sort of representative of that period at the beginning of the sixties just before pop music exploded with the coming of The Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks and all the others. It sounds like a British answer to the American girl groups that Phil Spector was producing, The Ronettes and The Crystals. I just like it.
5. Cathy’s Clown by The Everly Brothers (1960)
Although this is a song about not wanting someone, it has a yearning to it that hit me at a time when I was first thinking about girls and love. I was in love with a girl at school (she never new, it was one of those adolescent secret loves, but Cathy’s Clown fit the way I felt. The harmonies are distinctive and had a big impact on The Beatles
6. Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan (1968)
This is another song I’ve written about before here. Hurdy Gurdy Man takes me right back to the West End Pier at Morecambe (long gone, blown down in a storm) where Steve and I used to go roller skating several times a week. Memories of skating round the rink at the end of the pier trying to look cool and wanting to be one of the skaters who could whizz round effortlessly. Never managed it.
7. She’s Not There by The Zombies (1964)
This is one of two Zombies songs I love, the other being Time of the Season. A great understated intro on organ, bass and drums then Colin Blunstone’s vocal. A fantastic voice and a great song. Still gets me.
8. Smokestack Lightning by Howlin’ Wolf (1956)
In the early to mid-sixties I was listening to a lot of blues and R&B; Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Bill Broonzy, Leadbelly, Bo Diddley. It sounded more real and immediate than a lot of the stuff I could hear on the radio or TV. Living in Heysham it wasn’t easy to get hold of blues records. There were only three record shops locally, one at Strawberry Gardens in Heysham and two on Queen Street in Morecambe. I would go down to Morecambe on a Saturday with my pocket money and root through the singles, not often finding much but, occasionally, a single or EP. Then it was home to play whatever I’d bought to death. I’ve got to say it was much more fun doing that than going on line and finding what you want in a few seconds. Anyway, it was either Smokestack Lightning or Help Me by Sonny Boy Williamson and I chose this, partly because of the minimal, stripped back arrangement (something you don’t get in much modern music) and partly Howlin’ Wolf’s huge voice, a big influence on Captain Beefheart.
9. Telstar by The Tornados (1962)
A typical over-the-top intro from Joe Meek who did a lot of his recording in the flat he lived in above his landlady’s leather-goods shop.
He was an innovator who’s interest was in sounds and effects, something that can be heard in Telstar. It’s worlds away from the clean, clinical sound of The Shadows and was revolutionary for 1962.
I did used to have one single produced by Meek that I didn’t realise was one of his productions until long afterwards. It’s a song called Sky Men by Geoff Goddard, who was one of the main songwriters working with Meek. It’s quite odd but has some of the same production sounds as Telstar.
10. Somebody Help Me by The Spencer Davis Group (1966)
This is just a great single with a fantastically compressed, overdriven guitar and bass and a great lead vocal from another fantastic singer, Steve Winwood. This is mid-sixties pop music at its best. Well, that’s my opinion.