For reference, here are the last five entries I’ve covered in my Billboard Hot 100 challenge:
– Twistin’ the Night Away: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1962
– It’s My Party: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1963
– Glad All Over: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1964
– Like A Rolling Stone: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1965
– Land of 1000 Dances: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1966
Many music historians and music listeners in general would probably remark on 1967 being among the best – if not the best – year in 20th century music overall. It’s not hard to see why, as ’67 continues with the musical innovations it houses and has demonstrated since ’64. Both British and American musicians and bands at this point have made great, unique strides from the simpler, pop-infused music that permeated through airwaves in the 50s and early 60s. Practically every single present in 67’s year-end Hot 100 demonstrate a heightened complexity in production, musical arrangement, and lyrical composition. This also coincides with a number of social movements gaining headway in the states this very same year, namely the continual rise of the counterculture movement, the increase of peace rallies and protests regarding the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement. While people across the country are increasingly engaging in psychedelics, free love, and public protests, the popular music of the time also works to echo the people’s sentiments during this loudly confusing, emotional time. In San Francisco, where numerous elements of this counterculture flourished, the summer of ’67 was coined the “Summer of Love”; this was captured in Scott McKenzie’s popular single “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” (#48), possibly the purest anthem of the times to emerge onto this list.
While I can’t speak for most or really any of the other years I’ve covered thus far, I can say for certain that this year’s Hot 100 probably isn’t quite so accurate of a yearly snapshot. Sure, it’s a great list that’s reflective of a number of popular artists of the time – The Doors, The Monkees, The Buckinghams, etc. – but I probably wouldn’t recommend it to someone as an introduction to the year. For one thing, while this song contains two songs from The Beatles – “Penny Lane” (#55) and “All You Need Is Love” (#30) – and two great ones at that, it completely omits Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album that is widely regarded as their masterpiece and high among the greatest albums of all time. Also completely absent is The Jimi Hendrix Experience, whose Are You Experienced? demonstrates some of the finest guitar work of all time from their legendary lead musician. It’s also understandable that The Velvet Underground’s debut record The Velvet Underground & Nico isn’t on this list, given that it was a commercial failure upon release; however, the influence of the band and record should not be underestimated. Also missing from this list is Pink Floyd, who debuted in ’67 with The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and Leonard Cohen, whose introspective songwriting was first heard in his own debut Songs of Leonard Cohen. Their omissions are not complaints, however; rather, it more broadly illuminates the utter wideness of the musical climate that many would say reached its quality peak in 1967.
While psychedelic rock had become first visible in the ’66 charts (or ’65, if “Mr. Tambourine Man” counts), this year is where the genre is commonly thought to have reached its peak. As psychedelic culture had come into true fruition, the popular music that is directly influenced from this culture had also grown extremely popular. As a rule, the sound and material of psychedelic rock is widely meant to replicate the tone, feelings, and overall effects experienced while under the influenced of hallucinogenic, mood-altering drugs, such as marijuana, LSD, and mushrooms. These songs tend to be somewhat euphoric, but can also be quite dark in lieu of psychedelia’s mind-expanding qualities. Production-wise, unusual mixing, editing, and other elaborate studio effects and techniques are often implemented, as are exotic, unusual instruments (though most psychedelic singles on this list are driven by keyboard and/or guitar). Finally, the lyrical content often contains surreal, strange, drug-infused imagery; given that many of these songwriters and musicians are users themselves, this should come as no surprise.
One of the most definitive psychedelic rock singles can be found on the Hot 100 of ’67, that being Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” (#81). So much about it is blatantly unusual, from the brooding, dark tone, to the lyrical structure that outright refuses the verse-chorus-verse convention, to Grace Slick’s distinctive, striking vocals. Led by imagery that directly references Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, it snuck references to psychotropic drugs past the censors at the time. Likewise, The Doors’ “Light My Fire” (#6) proved a huge hit this year, despite (or because of) its subtle drug-laden lyrics – “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” – and its sprawling seven-minute length, a great deal which is made up of a spacey instrumental break. One of the more influential psychedelic songs on this list is Procol Harum’s beautiful “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (#38), heavily jam-fueled and thought to be a vital building block for the progressive rock genre. Even Buffalo Springfield’s important, topical hit “For What It’s Worth” (#27) (probably the only one) could be thought to contain psychedelic elements in its dark, dreary atmosphere. Some of the more lesser known stuff on this chart, however, are also really great psychedelic rock gems: The Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)” (#93), easily the druggiest, trippiest song on this whole list; Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense and Peppermints” (#23), a great balance of pop and psychedelic influences; Blues Magoos’ “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet” (#65), a fine merging of dizzy, hard rock with R&B; and The Easybeats’ “Friday On My Mind” (#66), which generally is more beat-pop than psych-rock, but still achieves the same results.
The second major genre that grew to immense popularity in 1967 is sunshine pop. Essentially, sunshine pop is characterized by an overall upbeat, cheerful tune, perhaps superficially so. Yet this also runs parallel to the complex production and arrangement that tends to run throughout these songs. The layered sound of sunshine pop is akin to that of baroque pop – which found its peak the previous year – although baroque pop tends to be more concerned with melancholy emotions and a dark, somewhat surreal tone overall. As an example, one could compare last year’s “Walk Away Reneé” from The Left Banke, to The Turtles’ “Happy Together” (#8) from this year – both deal with the same theme (unrequited love), yet the former’s dark classical influences are much more blatant, while the imagery in the latter is more fascinated with happiness, wishful thinking, and natural elements. It has been theorized that the popularity of sunshine pop could be due to its role as a form of escapism from the treacherous times occurring in the current social climate. The genre typically experimented with unusual instruments – one may even cite Brian Wilson’s work on Pet Sounds as an influence – all while being generally consistent with its upbeat attitude and tone overall.
One distinct aspect of sunshine pop is its implementation of warm, prominent vocal harmonies – not unlike those found in The Beach Boys’ early singles, in fact, The Association have always been great with these vocal harmonies, but their most explicitly poppy single thus far comes this year with “Windy” (#4). Sunshine pop band The 5th Dimension make their debut on the charts this year with “Up, Up and Away” (#47), a delightful, extravagant song that makes great use of the orchestral elements of its production, as well as its awesome vocal harmonizing. One of the more visible bands this year is The Buckinghams; while the lyrical material of songs such as “Don’t You Care” (#39) and “Kind of a Drag” (#16) aren’t quite as cheerful as others of the genre, the style is unmistakably sunshine pop. In “The Rain, The Park & Other Things” (#49), family band The Cowsills perform their own kind of bright, sunny music that would find a resurgence in popularity in the 70s. While these are probably the most definitive singles of the sunshine pop craze of ’67, there are a good number of other bands that capture at least some essence of the genre in their own music. These bands include: The Monkees (“I’m a Believer” (#5), “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (#74), “Daydream Believer” (#94)), The Mamas and the Papas (“Dedicated To The One I Love” (#62)), Van Morrison (“Brown Eyed Girl” (#35)) and Tommy James and the Shondells (“I Think We’re Alone Now” (#12)).
Now here comes my customary feminist rant about how unfair the music industry is to women. However, 1967 in particular isn’t completely free of any step forward in this department. Sure, representation is still terrible on the gender front, as there are only twenty-eight women presented across the same number of entries; considering how many all-male bands are present on this list, my best guess for the number of men is close to two hundred. However, this year also marks the very first time that a solo female performer is responsible for the top-selling single of the year, that being Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love”. Not far behind at #3 is Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe”, a Southern Gothic folk narrative surely darker than anything put out by a man this year. Although its still painfully true that White women tend to sell more records than Black women, one of the most timeless singles to come from this year is Aretha Franklin’s powerful, game-changing “Respect” (#13). The fourth and final lady to crack the top twenty is Nancy Sinatra, performing the lovely “Something Stupid” (#7) with Frank Sinatra.
There are some truly fine female-led songs spread throughout the rest of the Hot 100 as well. Aretha Franklin is the most represented woman on this list, with her other two singles “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” (#75) and “Baby, I Love You” (#59) both being excellent demonstrations of her awesome vocal talent. Along with “White Rabbit”, Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” (#33) remains a definitive anthem of the times, thanks partially to Grace Slick’s distinct, deep voice. Falling in line with concerns of the Civil Rights Movement at this time, Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child” (#85) address the topic of interracial romance with heartfelt sympathy and sensitivity. The legendary Supremes are still hanging on this year albeit with a bit of a different approach, as their singles “Reflections” (#41) and “Love is Here and Now You’re Gone” (#26) demonstrate both an influence from baroque pop and innovative use of psychedelic instruments, particularly the synthesizer. More male-female duets continue to flourish this year, as the charts are invigorated with the talents of Tammi Terrell with Marvin Gaye (“Your Precious Love” (#32), “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (#87)) and Cher with Sonny Bono (“The Beat Goes On” (#83)). Finally, an appreciatory mention goes toward Vikki Carr’s “It Must Be Him” (#25); not only does the song sound like it should have come from an flowery Broadway musical, but Carr herself is of Mexican descent, which I believe is a first for a female artist on the Hot 100.
Through every year I cover, it’s always interesting to see which artists make a comeback onto the Hot 100 and how they cope with the changing of times and listeners’ tastes. For instance, while Bobby Vee has been hanging around the charts since 1960, he hasn’t made a particularly strong effort since 1961’s “Take Good Care of My Baby”. He makes a surprise return this year (accompanied by backing band The Strangers) with “Come Back When You Grow Up” (#15), a rather condescending song that is, above all, old-fashioned and tired. Lesley Gore has been relatively absent since her peak in ’64 and ’65, and her bland, forgettable “California Nights” (#61), while desperately trying to tap into the trend of the California sound, fails to deliver. Same goes for Petula Clark: while both “This is My Song” (#52) and “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” (#99) are perfectly lovely, neither of these two could match up to the wondrous tones of her “Downtown” from a couple of years ago. Ray Charles also offers up some of his classic, soulful talent to the bunch – although his one entry on the chart, the slow, lazy “Here We Go Again” (#80), probably isn’t the best example of such.
Meanwhile, for every artist that seems to be struggling on that tightrope that is the music scene of ’67, there are others who seem to be doing quite well for themselves. Herman’s Hermits seem to be hanging in there pretty well, with “There’s a Kind of Hush” (#50) marking a smooth transition from their beat roots into something more akin to sunshine pop. The Rolling Stones are another British Invasion band that refuses to fall into obscurity, demonstrating a moodier, more poetic side to them with “Ruby Tuesday” (#24). Moreover, ’67 marks the fourth year in a row that Four Tops have appeared on the list; while “Bernadette” (#82) is far from their strongest effort, it’s still more soulful than lot of other singles from this year. Interestingly enough, Frankie Valli – without The Four Seasons – released his very successful “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (#10), despite the fact that his career had not been riding nearly as high since before ’64. Finally (or not, as there are many other comebacks other than what I’ve chosen to name), Stevie Wonder continues to only rise upwards in quality with his absolutely infectious, super catchy single “I Was Made to Love Her” (#14).
Now is the time where I’ll list off some other points I’d like to make note of before moving on to my top songs of the year.
- Much like the Hot 100 of 1960 and 1961 had self-aware hits that referenced other popular music at the time – “Let’s Think About Living” and “More Money For You and Me”, respectively – this type of song makes a comeback this year with Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “I Dig Rock and Roll Music” (#91). Despite the seemingly appreciatory title, the song is actually rather critical of rock music, whose popularity in the past few years had completely overtaken any fame that the folk and country scene had possessed. Among other issues, Peter, Paul, and Mary remark upon the lackluster lyrics of The Mamas and The Papas (“They got a good thing goin’/When the words don’t get in the way”), as well as the commercial appeal of The Beatles (“When the Beatles tell you/They’ve got a word ‘love’ to sell you/They mean exactly what they say”). Personally, I don’t feel like this is a rather well-produced song at all, although dissenting opinions of such easily-consumed musicians are always welcomed in my book.
- Production-wise, one of the most bombastic singles to come from this year is The Who’s “I Can See For Miles” (#98), which is also the band’s only top ten hit. The song is a particularly great example of just how far studio production of pop music has come, especially with the mixing of the many different parts that make the whole. There’s just layers upon layers of sound going on here – apart from the fact that the song itself is so great and iconic as well.
- Another phenomenon that, while didn’t exactly start in 1967, is probably more prominent than ever is that of blue-eyed soul. The term itself is rather controversial, as its origins lie in White people remaking soul and R&B songs for White audiences (a lá Joey Dee’s remaking of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout”), which has been widely seen as appropriation. In essence, it’s a particular kind of soul music performed by White people, controversial in the sense that it arose and continues during a time of racial segregation. The Righteous Brothers are one of the most well-known acts of the subgenre; while they aren’t present in this list, the past few years have brought us such blue-eyed soul hits as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”, “Unchained Melody”, and “Just Once In My Life”. The major blue-eyed soul from this group is The Young Rascals, evident in their silky smooth “Groovin'” (#9) and their cabaret-infused “How Can I Be Sure” (#63). The Box Tops (featuring Alex Chilton on vocals) scored a huge hit in ’67 with the soul-rock single “The Letter” (#2), as did The Spencer Davis Group with “Gimme Some Lovin'” (#68); both songs remain definitive of the 60s sound. Overall, blue-eyed soul is less a musical fad and more a recurring, consistent trend that extends beyond this decade or the next. While many of these songs may be rather catchy, well-written, and enjoyable, the roots and ramifications of its existence should not be passed over.
- The instrumental tracks of this year are particularly lacking, but still continue to bring something exciting to the table. The first is Booker T & The M.G.’s “Groovin'” (#72), a cover of the aforementioned Young Rascals song. What made the original tune so great was its ability to transport the listener to a state of blissful, natural euphoria; the cover, however, felt a little more cocktail party-ish, an atmosphere I’m not particularly feeling. On the other hand, the second instrumental track – The Bar-Kays’ “Soul Finger” (#67) – is just plain awesome. The horns, percussion, guitar, and warm chorus of neighboring children all fit together like puzzle pieces, creating quite a funky product as a result.
- One major artist whose debut I forgot to mention in the previous post has made a return this year – that being Neil Diamond. Truth be told, while I’m not the biggest fan of his music overall, his early stuff is definitely the best. I really do enjoy “Cherry, Cherry” from the previous year, as well as “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” (#86) and “Thank the Lord For the Night Time” (#100) from this year.
- Some other great songs from this year that I haven’t mentioned and didn’t make the year-end Hot 100: Nancy Sinatra’s “Sugar Town”, Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow”, Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, The Miracles’ “I Second That Emotion”, Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park”, The Beach Boys’ “Heroes and Villains”, Otis Redding and Carla Thomas’ “Knock on Wood”, The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin”, The Doors’ “People Are Strange”, and Toots & the Maytals’ “54-46 (Was My Number)”.
And now for my top five songs of this year.
Honorable mentions: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (#87),“White Rabbit” (#81), “Let’s Live For Today” (#70), “Soul Finger” (#67), “Brown Eyed Girl” (#35), “Somebody to Love” (#33), “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (#10), “Happy Together” (#8), “Light My Fire” (#6), “I’m a Believer” (#5), “The Letter” (#2)
5) “Dedicated To The One I Love” (#62)
I mentioned in a previous post that, while the original version of “Dedicated to the One I Love” is perfectly beautiful in its own right, I tend to veer toward the cover by The Mamas and The Papas. It’s not hard to see why – the arrangement and production of the song gives the illusion that it isn’t a cover at all, as the guys and gals truly make it their own. Giving Michelle Phillips lead vocals over the rest was a wise choice, as her voice is truly angelic. It’s such a gentle tune that, like many of the Spector era of pop, elevates into something magnificent up to its final chord.
4) “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (#38)
Some say it’s about drugs; others, about sex. I’m still trying to wrap my mind about this piece of work from Procol Harum, but it’s surely clear to see that this is one of the most explicitly beautiful songs on this entire list. With lyrics that are poetic in structure and content, accompanied by instrumentals that are classically-influenced, it’s easy to get lost in the fabric of this song. It’s one of the few songs on any of these Hot 100 lists that can solemnly claim not sounding like anything else that came before it. It is also one of the most instrumentally-driven songs ever to arise, without it being a straight instrumental track altogether. All in all, it’s perfect in each and every way.
Out of all the garage rock songs that I’ve discovered through my Hot 100 challenge, The Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)” has got to be the absolute coolest. From its eerie opening (with equally as unsettling fuzzy guitar), to its more upbeat verses and chorus, this song is an absolute gem from beginning to end. The lyrics sound like something out of an fevered drug trip: “The room was empty as I staggered from my bed / I could not bear the image racing through my head… / Then came the dawn / And you were gone”. In corresponding with its song title, the mood overall is very dream-like, perhaps disturbingly so. I am always a fan of psychedelic and avant-garde influences in art and music, this song remaining one of the prime examples of this done so right.
2) “Ode to Billie Joe” (#3)
Although beginning rather innocently enough, the story at play in Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” becomes suddenly dark with the introduction of its haunting recurring line: “Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”. As a fan of Faulkner, I can be certain when I say that this is one of the sharpest, best examples of the Southern Gothic narrative that I’ve come across. Although it’s obviously of the folk-country genre, I can’t help but notice influences from the teen tragedy genre – although this song, of course, is on a much less superficial level. What really tugs at me the most is the mystery surrounding the story: What exactly was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge by Billie Joe and the narrator? I continue to mull over all the interpretations myself, yet I have a feeling that Gentry’s “answer” could only be unsatisfying, as the mystery marks its own unique type of beauty.
1) “Respect” (#13)
Aretha Franklin has, without question, one of the greatest recorded vocals of all time; I’ve listened to a lot of her music, and “Respect” remains one of the strongest showcases of her flair. When she belts out lines such as, “What you want / Baby, I got it / What you need / You know I got it / All I’m asking / Is for a little respect when you get home”, you know she means it. Presented at the intersections of both the Civil Rights Movement and second-wave feminism, this song is extremely important for the refusal of submission and empowerment of Black women all across the country. An underrated aspect of this song, I think, is King Curtis’ saxophone solo about halfway through, which prepares listeners for the iconic “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” break. As a whole, it refuses to hold back any of its punches, making it one of the best singles of all time from any performer. Sure, this song may have been praised to death – which is not to mention the karaoke bars – but there’s nothing quite like the original, worthy of every bit of respect it earns.