My coverage of previous years in Hot 100 year-end lists:
– Rock and Roll Music: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1957
– Great Balls of Fire: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1958
– Teen Beat: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1959
– Alley Oop: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1960
– I Like It Like That: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1961
If one had to weed out a single momentous feat of 1962 that served as most vital to the overall trajectory of popular music, it would most likely be the fact that this was the year that The Beatles first charted, with their first single “Love Me Do”. However, this was in the UK charts – the song didn’t chart in the US and Beatlemania is still a couple years away from making any significant dent anywhere. The Hot 100 of 1962, however, still proves to contain some absolute gems in the mix. While I had noted that the 1961 list had been the strongest up until that point, I would argue that the following year’s Hot 100 could stand as some pretty strong competition. Much like the 1961 chart, I genuinely enjoyed over half of this list, and while it still continues to have its share of songs I really don’t care for, the great, fun classics make up for it all.
Probably the most apparent trend unique to 1962 – at least what the charts indicate – is the popularity of dance crazes, of which a good number of them are present on this list alone. One of the more unusual recurrences in the Hot 100 come in the form of Chubby Checker’s “The Twist”; this song made 1960’s list, only to reappear a good two years later at #9. Seeing that a large number of upbeat, catchy party songs made the year-end chart this year (a good ten songs alone contain the word “twist” in the title), it’s not hard to see how this song’s popularity reemerged. Other entries of the dance craze song subgenre this year include Joey Dee and the Starliters’ “Peppermint Twist” (#25), The Orlons’ “The Wah-Watusi” (#24), and Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion” (#7). Yet the real leader of the charts this year was Dee Dee Sharp, who (along with Dion) had the most singles in the Hot 100 with three: “Mashed Potato Time” (#3), “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)” (#90), and “Slow Twistin'” (#17), which she performed with Checker. With an absolute dynamite voice, a stage presence to match, and distinctive back-up vocals from The Orlons themselves, Sharp stands as one of the quintessential icons in this brief era of dance music, and one of the greatest at that.
One other really exciting facet on this list is – you guessed it – the heightened presence of songs at least partially credited towards women. While I thought the previous year was impressive, this year has it beat with thirty-two women represented across twenty-four entries. That’s right – an entire quarter of the songs on this list feature women. It’s still not good representation, but it’s better. The highest ranking of these songs is “Mashed Potato Time”, but Shelley Fabares’ “Johnny Angel” (#6), “The Loco-Motion”, The Sensations’ “Let Me In” (#8) and The Shirelles’ “Soldier Boy” (#10) all make the top ten. While I sense that this newfound openness to women in the Hot 100 (and in music industry as a whole) will be relatively short-lived, it’s still nice to see that such talented female musicians were given the respect and admiration they surely deserved.
Besides Sharp, there were a good number of newcomers that came onto the scene with many vibrant, varied singles. These include Barbara Lynn’s “You’ll Lose a Good Thing” (#71), The Crystals’ “Uptown” (#72), The Marvelettes’ “Playboy” (#27), and The Ikette’s “I’m Blue (The Gong-Gong Song)” (#94). One of my personal favorites is Mary Wells, who made the chart with “You Beat Me to the Punch” (#70) and “The One Who Really Loves You” (#19), two wonderful songs both written by Smokey Robinson. I would also recommend the non-charting “Two Lovers”, also written by Robinson and delivering one of the most awesome twist endings I’ve ever heard in any song.
Along with newcomers, this list also had some previously-charting lady artists making their return to the year-end Hot 100. Continuing with past trends, both Brenda Lee and Connie Francis continue to churn out singles; the former making the list with “Break It To Me Gently” (#26) and “Everybody Loves Me But You” (#73) and the latter with “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You” (#31). Truthfully speaking, these women demonstrate their talents just fine in these tracks, yet they lack the energy and spirit that so defined their earlier, stronger breakout hits. However, The Shirelles have also made a hugely-welcomed return to the chart, performing their strongest work with the aforementioned “Soldier Boy” as well as “Baby It’s You” (#44). Patsy Cline also makes a return to this list with her heartbreaking “She’s Got You” (#78), one of the very last singles released before her untimely death. The sheer sharpness and longevity of these hits goes to prove that these ladies were nothing less than absolute queens.
At this point, I would like to touch upon two songs by Dion on which I’ve had some recent epiphanies. Although I’ve enjoyed these songs since childhood (thanks to relatives with older tastes), it wasn’t until I listened to them with a more critical mindset did I realize how much they reveal on the traditional, sexist mindset of gender roles for young people. The first song is “Runaround Sue”, which made the Hot 100 in 1961. I mentioned in the last post that the song is undeniably catchy, but also pretty disappointing in its view of female promiscuity as shameful. One only needs to hear the opening stanza to catch a glimpse of the song’s overall story: “Here’s my story, sad but true / It’s about a girl that I once knew / She took my love, then ran around / With every single guy in town”. Throughout the rest of the song, the speaker laments on his girlfriend leaving him for the love of other men, telling other (assumedly) men to “keep away from Runaround Sue”. The tone of these lyrics are possessive and disturbing, as all the fault is placed on Sue for not subjecting to his treatment of her as property and for “[going] out with other guys”. She has absolutely no agency in the context of this song and is treated as some sort of villainess for not falling into her assumed gender role.
Now, I might’ve just passed this off as usual 60s ridiculousness, falling in line with the plethora of other songs with polite, tamed Teen Idols singing about retired notions of young love. But upon listening to “Runaround Sue” alongside Dion’s highest ranking song this year, “The Wanderer” (#12), it’s revealed that the situation only grows thornier. Here, it is the speaker who carries the torch of promiscuity, declaring: “I’m the type of guy who will never settle down / Where pretty girls are, you know that I’m around / I kiss ’em and I love ’em, ’cause to me they’re all the same”… You get the picture. It’s the same old story of men being able to get away with what has been stigmatized once performed by women. There is no amount of critique being assumed here; instead, it almost seems to be a celebration when he states: “when I find myself a-fallin’ for some girl / I hop right into that car of mine and drive around the world”. In this traditional view of (always heterosexual) romance and relationships, men are the ones who do the owning while women are the ones who are owned; women must always be faithful, but men can be choose to wander and roam around as they please with no ramification. Lovely.
This isn’t even mentioning the fact that in Dion’s “Little Diane” (#86) (another song about a cheating woman), he declares his willingness to “slap [her] face” and “drag [her] down ’cause [she’s] no good”. I am really getting the impression that Dion simply hates women and this is turning me off from his music more and more.
While The Beatles are still a little ways away, this year’s chart introduced another major player in the rock ‘n’ roll scene of the 1960s. While “Surfin’” was the first official US single by The Beach Boys, it’s “Surfin’ Safari” that finds its way on the year-end chart at #100. This song is a long cry from the more experimental, poetic work that the group is known for in the later part of their career, but it still is awfully catchy and feel-good. It’s interesting to note that The Beach Boys were one of the very first genuine American rock bands, in that they weren’t a backing band (they weren’t called “Brian Wilson & the Beach Boys”) and also played all their own instruments. The Shadows would be another competitor, as they debuted in the same year as well, though the Beach Boys’ fame soon obscured their own. They were also hugely important in popularizing the surf rock genre which would grow much larger through the decade. While artists like Dick Dale and The Ventures are renown for developing the genre, The Beach Boys’ harmonies and instrumentation became the definitive sound for the general appeal of surf rock.
Another important group of musicians that debuted on the charts this year was The Four Seasons, widely considered to be the most successful and prolific vocal group of the immediate pre-Beatles era. After nearly a decade of performing and recording failed singles, the group finally found their sound with their breakthrough hit “Sherry” (#55). Perhaps the most prominent aspect of the group generally – and this song specifically – is Frankie Valli’s unusually powerful falsetto , which sets it far apart from other very similar-sounding songs of this era. In some ways, the success of his voice may even account for the acceptability of Brian Wilson’s falsetto on some of the more later Beach Boys tracks. In any case, this song is absolutely fun and timeless, and I can’t wait to listen to more from this group in later blog posts.
- The #1 song of this year-end Hot 100 is “Stranger on the Shore”, performed by clarinetist Acker Bilk. I can see people being moved by this piece back in its day and even in the modern age, but overall, I found it kind of boring. Unlike “Theme From a Summer Place”, I failed to remember much about it soon after it finished. Though that’s more on my personal tastes than on the talent of Mr. Bilk. I’ve read some theories somewhere that this song marks the unofficial start of the British Invasion, given that Bilk was the first British artist to top the US charts, so there’s that.
- Besides this, there were many other instrumental tracks this year that were just absolutely fun. Parting ways from The Coasters, King Curtis proves he’s as groovy as ever with “Soul Twist” (#92). Also released was Billy Joe and the Checkmates’ “Percolator (Twist)” (#87) – I dare anyone to listen to this without feeling totally happy as a result. Dave “Baby” Cortez perfects the cha-cha swagger with his “Rinky Dink” (#59), while also taking cues from Micky & Sylvia’s “Love is Strange”, a song I wrote about in the past. Booker T. and the M.G.’s smooth “Green Onions” (#53) stands as one of my favorite instrumental tracks of all time, one that barely misses my top of the year. Finally, the sly and silly “Alley Cat” (#37) from Bent Fabric has been one of my favorite new finds in this whole Billboard challenge overall.
- Along with the Smokey Robinson-penned songs that I mentioned earlier, another prominent songwriter this year was Pete Seeger. He was behind two songs that charted this year: Peter, Paul, & Mary’s “If I Had a Hammer” (#98) and The Kingston Trio’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (#95). The first song is actually the first I ever head from the group and I loved it instantly. The second marks The Kingston Trio’s third venture into the Hot 100, after “Tom Dooley” and “The Tijuana Jail”. It also marks the first time I’ve ever completely appreciated and enjoyed a song from the trio, and I think a lot of that praise has to go towards the beautiful songwriting from Seeger.
- From my experience with this Billboard challenge, it seems that these early years all have at least one song that draws upon blatantly racist ideology. “Running Bear” and “Mr. Custer” are just a couple examples. This year there were two songs that charted that dwelled upon racist instances. Pat Boone’s “Speedy Gonzales” (#45) centers around the cartoon character of the same name, known for his exaggeration of Mexican stereotypes. Mel Blanc even appears on the track to spout out faux-Mexican phrases in Speedy’s ridiculous nasal voice. The second song, Ray Stevens’ “Ahab the Arab” (#61), is probably even more racist to the core, in its portrayal of Arabic people as grotesque, ugly caricatures (with mock “Arabic” language included). Both of these songs assert their white supremacy to make a mockery of their corresponding racial heritages; for these reasons, both do more harm than good for these marginalized groups and the fact that they are celebrated at all is shameful.
- One huge song from this year that I was surprised to see didn’t make the year-end list is “Monster Mash” from Bobby “Boris” Pickett. Combining elements of “Mashed Potato Time” with a more macabre style and a killer Boris Karloff impression, this song remains a staple of every holiday season up to this day. At one point it was even banned by the BBC for being too morbid. While some may find it annoying and overplayed, I’ve always been a huge fan of it. The whole album is pretty fun too!
- It was nice to see The Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout” (#38) on this list, given that most people these days seem to be more familiar with The Beatles’ cover. However, it’s also interesting to note that another earlier song from The Isley Brothers appeared on this list: a cover of “Shout” (#58) from White group Joey Dee and the Starliters. While I do really enjoy “Peppermint Twist”, the gospel undertones and call-and-response feel of “Shout” are definitely something unique to Black culture and the end result of this feels a bit clumsy. As always, White appropriation lives on.
- Sorry, but this post seems to be all about things that make me angry. Continuing with his absolutely creepy, not-very-charming vibe he set up with last year’s “I’m Gonna Knock on Your Door”, Eddie Hodges comes back this year with the equally as disturbing “(Girls, Girls, Girls) Made to Love” (#96). It further objectifies women and is one of the more blatantly misogynistic songs I’ve come across in this challenge thus far.
At this point, I’ll count down my top songs of this year in the Hot 100. As I did for a past post, I’ll expand my top to six songs instead of five, since it was too hard for me to narrow it down any further!
6) “The Loco-Motion” (#7)
Plainly speaking, this is one of the most fun songs to come out of 1962 and my personal favorite of all the dance craze songs of this year. Little Eva has such a sweet, clear voice that offers a lot of personality to this song. With just “a little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul”, this is simply one of the most satisfying, life-affirming party songs of this era as a whole and I love it to bits.
5) “Soldier Boy” (#10)
On quite another point in the spectrum comes this bittersweet, slightly sad love anthem from The Shirelles, which I’ve always personally preferred a bit more than their slightly more popular hits. It’s hard not to be completely wooed by these four wonderful singers, lamenting over the overseas departure of a loved one. After I’ve had to listen to dozens of songs about sappy romance and heartbreak, something as honest and simple as this is so refreshing and so wonderful. As always, The Shirelles power on.
4) “You Beat Me to the Punch” (#70)
If “Two Lovers” had made the list this year, that would be the Mary Wells song that would surely make my top; as it stands, “You Beat Me to the Punch” is the next best thing. I really love songs that tell a story, especially if done so through clever writing to which one could sing along. I’ve heard this song later performed by The Temptations, but I feel that there’s a more feminist edge to this song when Wells sings it. Especially in the last verse when she finally leaves the guy who’s done her wrong, declaring: “This time I’m gonna play my hunch / And walk away this very day / And beat you to the punch”. So good.
3) “If I Had a Hammer” (#98)
I really wonder why I’ve never heard a single song from Peter, Paul, & Mary until just now; if this song is like any of their others, there’s no doubt that I’d have loved them long ago. As it stands, I am an instant fan. This song has an interesting history itself, as first recorded version by The Weavers was released dozens of years earlier to minimal commercial success. The changing of times and the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement could account for this. In either case, it’s a wonderful song that calls for justice, peace, tolerance, and love in such a lasting, compelling way. Besides its lyrics, it is the powerful voice of Mary Travers that really drives the song’s point forward and gives it the extra punch it sorely deserves.
2) “I Can’t Stop Loving You” (#2)
“I Can’t Stop Loving You” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard from Ray Charles – and a song that I’ll always connect to Charles, despite the fact that it was a country song first. Truthfully speaking, I had only heard the song for the first time when I watched the animated film Metropolis (2001) and was blown away by how it was incorporated via montage. By itself, it’s still a beautiful song. While its melancholy vibe and easy pace hark back to its country roots, the piano and string arrangements and the terrific, soulful vocals by both Charles and his backup choir make it something else entirely. The call-and-response nature of its final verse bring it back to gospel tradition, while somehow making its lyrics all the more heartbreaking. It’s probably the most accurate example of a song too beautiful for words.
1) “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)” (#90)
I’m not sure if it still counts as an “unpopular opinion” if the subject in consideration is over fifty years old, but I digress. Although “Mashed Potato Time” is definitely the hugest hit of Dee Dee Sharp’s career, I personally prefer her follow-up “Gravy” so much more. While “Mashed Potato” is about having a good time at a party, “Gravy” takes it one step further by asserting that she needs a little something extra. The lyrics are just so great: “Now when the Mashed Potato’s finally through / There’s lots of groovy, gravy things to do / Lots of lovin’, kissin’, huggin’ / I wanna ride that gravy train with you”. The common theory is that artists and songwriters in the day, because of censorship, needed to be creative with euphemisms and metaphors when singing about sex. I like to interpret the song this way, and it really makes it so much better. After all, who wouldn’t like a little gravy for their mashed potatoes?