Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Leap Year Countdown Continues ... With 1964!

Beatlemania had reached epidemic proportions by February 29th of 1964 ...

The Fab Four had just completed their third consecutive appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show ... and anybody and everybody who had access to material The Beatles had recorded prior to Capitol Records' launch here in The States with "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was putting out singles.
This is most evident in this week's Top Ten Countdown for February 29th, 1964 ... where The Beatles have THREE of the nation's Top Ten Songs!!!   

#10.Um Um Um Um Um Um - Major Lance: 
Major Lance would have quite a few of his R&B Hits cross-over to the pop charts in the early '60's. "Um Um Um Um Um Um" would be turn out to be his biggest. It returned to The Top 40 in 1978 when Johnny Rivers recorded it under the new title "Curious Mind."   

#9. Stop And Think It Over - Dale and Grace: 
Dale and Grace topped the charts with their previous release, "I'm Leaving It (All) Up To You," at the end of 1963. This follow-up release, "Stop And Think It Over," would be their last Top Ten (and Top 40) hit. 

#8. Navy Blue - Diane Renay: 
Diane Renay hit The Top Ten with her first release, "Navy Blue" ... a sound-alike follow-up hit, "Kiss Me, Sailor", peaked at #28 later that year ... and then she was gone. When this record was first released, more than a few people thought she sounded an awful lot like Lesley Gore! (Speaking of whom, you'll find at the #7 on this week's countdown!)

#7. You Don't Own Me - Lesley Gore: 
"You Don't Own Me" is one of my VERY favorite Lesley Gore songs ... a personal favorite of all-time for that matter! (Was it an early example of The Women's Lib / Women's Rights Movement? Perhaps ... if not, it certainly was a FAR cry from "He Hit Me And It Felt Like A Kiss", recorded just a year and a half earlier by The Crystals under the auspicious guidance of Super Producer Phil Spector!)
Lesley had become quite a regular in The Top Ten during the past year: "It's My Party" topped the charts in early-summer, 1963, followed by "Judy's Turn To Cry" (#4 in August) and "She's A Fool" (#5 in the fall.) "You Don't Onw Me," a powerful ballad produced by Quincy Jones (and  co-written by our good friend Johnny Madara) would keep that string alive and it went all the way to #1 here in Chicago. In fact, Lesley would go on to have seven more Top 40 Hits by 1967 ... and I'm guessing that, back in 1964 anyway, there were probably a FEW people out there who thought that Lesley Gore sounded an awful lot like Diane Renay!!!  (Go figure!!!)

John Madara tells us about "You Don't Own Me" here ...

#6. Please Please Me - The Beatles: 
By February 29, 1964, Beatlemania was EXPLODING here in The United States ... in fact, you'll find THREE of The Beatles' earliest U.S. releases firmly planted in this week's Top Ten Countdown. (Of course, this particular track was already a year old by the time America was FINALLY ready to embrace The Fab Four From Liverpool.) Despite ALL legends to the contrary, (and George Martin's oft-repeated quote, "Congratulations, Gentlemen ... you've just recorded your first #1 Record"), "Please Please Me" never OFFICIALLY hit #1 in England OR The United States ... but it IS a classic early Lennon-McCartney tune nonetheless ... and it helped to ignite Beatlemania all around the world back in early 1963 ... well, everywhere but HERE anyway, where the record tanked the first time around. Fact is, Vee Jay Records thought so little of the band, they mis-spelled their name on the record label as "The Beattles" ... with TWO "T's"!!! (That pressing's worth a small FORTUNE today!) In 1964, The Beatles would revolutionize and revitalize the recording industry ... and music has NEVER been the same since.
#5. California Sun - The Rivieras: 

Although The British Invasion was just starting to get under way here in The States back on February 29, 1964, thanks to artists like The Beach Boys, The Surfaris, and these guys, The Rivieras, Surf Music was ANOTHER hot sound of the era. In fact, "California Sun" went all the way to #5 that year and the song is still quite popular today, continuing to receive regular oldies airplay. Ironically, the band was from South Bend, Indiana, more than a few miles away from the nearest ocean (or the California Sun for that matter!) This single was no sooner recorded (right here in Chicago, btw) than guitarists Marty Fortson (who also sang the lead vocal) and Joe Pennell left the band to join the Marines. (In fact, Fortson later recalled hearing the song played on the radio while he was being shot at in Viet Nam, wondering if, perhaps, he had made the wrong career decision!) Their manager, Bill Dobslaw, who later took over the lead vocal duties, recruited new musicians for their low-charting follow-ups "Little Donna" / "Let's Have A Party" and "Rockin' Robin".  (Despite peaks in the 90's for these two singles on the National Charts, both were Top Ten smashes here in Chicago.) Their brand of "surfing-up" some oldies (Joe Jones first recorded "California Sun" back in 1961, but his version stopped at #81 ... "Let's Have A Party" was an Elvis tune that saw some chart success by Wanda Jackson ... and "Rockin' Robin", of course, was a #2 smash for Bobby Day) coupled with the Midwestern Garage Band Sound of the day made for an interesting combination and "California Sun" became an instant classic. All of these hits were released on their very own "Riviera" record label ... and we've given Indiana's Rivieras The "Forgotten Hits Treatment" a FEW times over the past few years! 

#4. Java - Al Hirt: 

Al Hirt (who always reminded me of Sebastian Cabot for some reason ... and, to the best of my knowledge anyway, was NEVER confused with either Lesley Gore or Diane Renay) was quite a television fixture back in the mid-'60's. Early on, he spent time in both Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey's combos and later headed his own Dixieland band (with famed clarinetist Pete Fountain.)  In fact, next to Herb Alpert, Hirt just may have been the most recognized trumpet player in America at the time! (Ironically, it was Diane Renay's hit "Navy Blue" that knocked Hirt out of the #1 Spot on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Chart back in March of '64!) "Java" was written by renown New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint (Hirt was also from New Orleans) and the single was produced by Nashville legend Chet Atkins, who probably first saw it as a country song (since Nashville session man extraordinaire Floyd Cramer had also cut the tune.) In fact, both Toussaint's version and Cramer's version were piano instrumentals, showcasing their musical strong suit. It was Hirt who added the "Honey In the Horn" and made "Java" the hit it ultimately became. RCA billed him as "Al 'The King' Hirt" (pretty amazing in that Elvis also recorded for the label!) Hardly a sex symbol, (he, at times, weighed as much as three hundred pounds) he recorded his follow-up LP "Beauty And the Beard" with soon-to-be Elvis movie co-star (and not so secret girlfriend) Ann-Margret.

#3. Dawn - The Four Seasons: 

By the time "Dawn" peaked at #3 on the National Charts, The Four Seasons had already topped the charts three times with "Sherry", "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like A Man".  Today they've been forever immortalized in "Jersey Boys," a MUST-SEE musical depicting the highs and lows of their entire career.

#2. She Loves You - The Beatles: 

Despite the encouragement from Paul McCartney's father to "un-Americanize" the lyrics and sing "yes, yes, yes" instead of "yeah, yeah, yeah," The Beatles stuck to their guns and had their second biggest hit of the year in America ... and their biggest British hit ever!

#1.  I Want To Hold Your Hand - The Beatles: 

This is the one that started it all over here ... targeting their recording for "American ears," The Beatles really nailed it with "I Want To Hold Your Hand" ... even Capitol Records couldn't deny it this time ... and a HUGE advertising campaign (along with appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and at Carnegie Hall) paved the way for John, Paul, George and Ringo to enter into the open arms of their biggest, worldwide audience yet. Beatlemania was here to stay. (Don't believe me? Flip through your radio dial today, nearly sixty years later, and count how many Beatles songs you hear in a single day. It's frickin' AMAZING!!!)