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“My Little Runaway” 1960-62

January 24, 2020

With the new year and a new decade upon us, naturally I thought about the fact that it is the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the 1960s, the most important rock music decade. While I have virtually no memory of early 60s music during my early years (Ages 5-8) with no siblings or parents that ever played the music in our household, I did start to listen to and collect oldies and greatest hits albums by the late 1960s. In my more limited view, 1960-1962 were an extension of the 1950s and certainly did not feature much of what I liked the most in the mid and late 1960s–rock music.

  • There was no Beatles music (at least not in the US.)
  • There was no Rolling Stones music
  • There was no rock music and only a limited amount of rock n roll music
  • There was no British Invasion.
  • There was no folk-rock or beach rock.
  • There was still plenty of Elvis Presley, but the 50s version of Presley with great rock n’ roll songs such as “Jailhouse Rock” “Hound Dog” “Don’t Be Cruel”, “A Big Hunk of Love” and “Heartbreak Hotel” was largely gone and had been mostly replaced by crooner Elvis with mostly slower love songs which were never my favorites.

In fact, there were plenty of slow love ballad hits that would never be among my favorites but that reached or almost reached the top of the charts. These included:

  • Paul Anka “Puppy Love” (#2 Apr. ’60)
  • Brenda Lee  “I’m Sorry” (#1 Jul. ’60) and “I Want to Be Wanted” (#1 Oct. ’60)
  • Connie Francis’ “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” (#1 Sep. ’60) and “Don’t Break the Heart that Loves You” (#1 Mar. ’62)
  • Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight” (#1 Nov. ’60), “It’s Now or Never” (#1 Aug. ’60) and  “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (#2 Jan. ’62)
  • Pat Boone “Moody River” (#1 June ’61)
  • Bobby Vinton’s “Roses are Red” (#1 Jul. ’62)
  • Johnny Angel (#1 Apr. ’62) – Shelley Fabares

Fortunately, amidst the many slow love songs that seemed to predominate the charts, there was some very good music that would set the stage for the mid 60s rock revolution. And not surprisingly, a lot of this was Rhythm and Blues (R&B).

Rhythm and Blues Lead the Way

Fresh off his first top-ten success with the brilliant “What’d I Say” (#6 Aug. ’59)  Ray Charles had his greatest success in the early 1960s. His first #1 was the soul ballad of the early 1960s “Georgia on My Mind” (#1 Nov. ’60). He also recorded one of the biggest hits of the decade with the country/soul “I Can’t Stop Loving You” (#1 Jun. ’62) followed by the beautiful “You Don’t Know Me” (#2  Sep. ’62). However, it was his only other #1 hit that I loved the most — the lively and catchy soul hit “Hit the Road Jack” (#1 Oct. ’61) (“and don’t you come back no more”).

The Drifters had their only number one hit with the interesting and thoroughly enjoyable “Save the Last Dance for Me” (#1 Oct. ’60). The song features a nice rhythm shifting between a dance beat to a slower love song cadence, in line with the lyrics. Early in the year, they had the hit “This Magic Moment” (#16 Apr. ’60) which was later covered with even greater success as a comeback hit for Jay and the Americans in early 1969. But it was Carole King-Gerry Goffin beautifully composed and written “Up on the Roof”(#5 Feb. ’63) released in late 1962  that was my favorite by the group.

Mississippian Sam Cooke had some of his best output in the early 1960s with five of his best songs- “Wonderful World” (#12 Jul. ’60), “Chain Gang” (#2 Oct. ’60), “Cupid” (#17, Jul. ’61) “Twistin’ the Night Away” (#9 Mar. ’62) and “Bring it On Home to Me” (#13 Aug. ’62) all within a two-year period. Cooke’s smooth soul voice and his song writing talents were unmatched at the time, but tragedy struck in December 1964 when he was shot to death at the age of 33 by a motel manager under mysterious circumstances.

Other R&B classics included “Tossin and Turnin'” (#1 Jul. ’61) (“I couldn’t sleep at all last night“)  by Bobby Lewis , a lively song for insomniacs everywhere. Lewis an orphan born in Indianapolis, was brought up in Detroit, Michigan. Another R&B song and one of my favorites of the early 1960s was the heartfelt  “Raindrops” (#2 June ’61) by Dee Clark. In a very different vein “Mother in Law” (#1 May ’61) (“The worst person I know”) by Ernie K. Doe was catchy and utter fun.

The early 60s was also the era of the girl groups with the Shirelles (named for lead singer Shirley Owens) leading the way. The Shirelles had their first big hit courtesy of a beautiful Carole King/Gerry Goffin composition “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (#1 Feb. ’61) followed shortly thereafter by another favorite of mine “Dedicated to the One I Love” (#3 Mar. ’61). Both of these songs were covered brilliantly by the Four Seasons and the Mamas and Papas respectively later in the 1960s. By the middle of 1961, the group had another excellent song “Mama Said” (#4 June ’61) (“There’ll be days like this, mama said”) followed by another stellar ballad in early ’62  “Baby’s Its You” (#8 Feb. ’62) and then the group’s final #1 hit “Soldier Boy” (#1 May ’62) (“I’ll be true to you”). In fact, during a 15 month period from early ’61 to mid ’62, the Shirelles had eight c harting singles including five top 10s and two #1s. Other than the Supremes there was no other female group during the 1960s and 1970s, that was as successful. By late 1962, another excellent “girl group”, the Crystals hit the top of the charts with the excellent “He’s a Rebel” (#1 Nov. ’62).

Motown had its early beginnings in the 1961-62 with the Marvelettes  “Please Mr. Postman” (#1 Dec. ’61) and the Miracles “Shop Around” (#2 Feb. ’61) featuring lead singer Smokey Robinson. But it was the lesser-known Contours that had my favorite Motown song of the early 60s with “Do You Love Me” (#3 Oct. ’62) which later played a prominent role in the 1980s hit movie “Dirty Dancin'”.

Let’s Dance!

The early 60s was the era of dance music – with many new songs introducing new dances. This began with Chubby Checker‘s “The Twist” (#1 Sep. ’60; #1 Jan. ’62) and the even better “Let’s Twist Again” ( #8 Aug. ’61) (“like we did last summer“) . Checker (orig. Ernest Evans) also had other dance hits including “Pony Time” (#1 Feb. 61), The Fly (#7 Nov. ’61) and “Limbo Rock” (#2 Dec. ’62) the latter which would became an outdoor pool party staple for decades.

Meanwhile, other artists achieved their first successes with the dance craze. This included the “Peppermint Twist Pt. 1” by Joey Dee and the Starliters, “The Wah-Watusi” by the Orlons (#2 Aug. ’62) and the enjoyable “Bristol Stomp” by the Dovells (#2 Oct. ’61), as well as Dee Dee Sharp with “Mashed Potato Time” (#2 May ’62). But my favorite of all the dance songs was the “The Locomotion” by Little Eva (#1 Aug. ’62) yet another early 60s King- Goffin composition, this time written for Goffin and King’s 16-year old babysitter Eva Boyd.

Meanwhile, other songs simply talked about dancing. This included the simple but thoroughly enjoyable “Let’s Dance” (#4 Oct. ’62) with Chris Montez exhorting us to move, with a driving beat and a melodic organ.

Roots of Rock

Late 50s teen idol Ricky Nelson arguably had his two best songs in 1961 both on the same 45 RPM record. “Travelin’ Man” (#1 May ’61) was an excellent tune (originally written for Sam Cooke) featuring Nelson’s mellow folk-country rock blend and his understated voice. Almost as good was the b-side “Hello Mary Lou”( #9 May ’61) which I do remember hearing at the time. I have vague memories of a few of the The Ozzie and Harriet Shows which always ended with Rick Nelson and his band introducing a new song. But at age 7 I can remember distinctly disliking this part of the show. Imagine that!

Legendary singer/songwriter Roy Orbison had his first great successes beginning in 1960 with “Only the Lonely” (#2 Aug. ’60) a song he almost gave away to Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers before recording it himself. By 1961, he reached the top of the charts with “Runnin’ Scared” (#1 Jun. ’61) another brilliant ballad. Later in the year, he recorded the beautiful “Crying” (#2 Oct. ’61) and then followed in 1962 with “Dream Baby” (#4 Mar. ’62).

One of my favorite songs of the early 60s was “Runaway” (#1 Apr. ’61) by Del Shannon.  In addition to Shannon’s tenor and falsetto voices, it featured a synthesizer-like electronic organ called the ‘musitron’ which created a unique sound most clearly heard in the musical bridge of the song.  “Runaway” was followed up nicely by Shannon’s “Hats Off to Larry” (#5 Aug. ’61) which had many similarities to its predecessor.

In the late 1950s, the Everly Brothers had notable success with early rock n’ roll standards such as “Wake Up Little Susie” and “Bye, Bye, Love” but in 1960 they scored with one of the best songs of the early ’60s, “Cathy’s Clown” (#1 May ’60) (“Don’t want your love anymore“). This was to be their first #1 song that was also written by the Everly Brothers. But there was much more in 1960 with two beautiful love ballads  “Let it Be Me” (#7 Mar ’60) and “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad” (#7 Oct. ’60) and the more lively “When Will I Be Loved” (#8 Aug. ’60), which was covered superbly by Linda Ronstadt in 1975. The Everly Brothers continued to have hits thru the early 1960s with “Crying in the Rain” (#6 Mar. ’62) another favorite.

Late 50s or Early 60s?

The “Doo Wop” genre of the late 1950s was still alive and well in the early 60s. The two best of this genre were Blue Moon (#1 Apr. ’61) by the Marcels and the infectious Duke of Earl (#1 Feb. ’62) by Gene Chandler. Chandler recorded another 21 singles (that reached the top 100) over the next 8 1/2 years before he would score with his second most successful hit “Groovy Situation” (#12 Sep. ’70) which was a much more conventional pop-rock song. Another catchy tune was released by the Earls a white doo-wop group from the Bronx at the end of 1962 “Remember Then” (#24 Jan. ’63).

In 1962, a major new group The Four Seasons had their first two big hits–back to back #1s with “Sherry” (#1 Sep. ’62) and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (#1 Nov. ’62). While the Four Seasons music was to evolve into a popular rock sound, these early hits owed as much to the doo top sound as anything. In a similar vein, also featuring falsetto voices, the Tokens had by far their biggest hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (#1 Dec. ’61) (“Wimoweh, wimoweh….In the jungle, the mighty jungle“) about a year earlier. This was their only major success though they kept recording into the early 1970s and by 1964 had formed a record label B.T. Puppy and produced the Happenings  who had big hits with “See You in September” and “I’ve Got Rhythm” in the mid-1960s.

Though not exactly doo-wop music, Neil Sedaka did owe his roots to late 50s music and some doo-wop influences. His first breakout hit was “Oh Carol” (#9 Dec. ’59) which he wrote for fellow songwriter Carole King. By the early 1960s, Sedaka had a string of hits the best of which included “Calendar Girl” (#4 Feb. ’61) and my favorite “Breaking Up in Hard to Do” (#1 Aug. ’62) (“Comma, comma, down-doo-be-doo-down down“).

Dion and the Belmonts had their first big hit in 1959 with the 50s classic “Teenager in Love” (#5 May ’59). Dion went solo in 1960 and then later wrote and recorded my favorite song by him, the lively “Runaround Sue” (#1 Oct. ’61).

And though I was never a huge Elvis Presley fan (particularly in the 1960s), I did love the clever “Return to Sender” (#2 Nov. ’62) (“address unknown, no such person, no such zone“).

Other good singles included Hey! Baby (#1 Mar. ’62)- Bruce Channel ; the lively “Palisades Park” by Freddie Cannon (#3 Jul ’62) and my favorite Bobby Vee song – Take Good Care of My Baby- Bobby Vee (#1 Sep. 61) . In the last case, this was due to the song writing talents of Carole King and husband Gerry Goffin who seemed to have a monopoly on good songs in the early 1960s.

Last but not least, there were multitudes of instrumentals during the early 1960s many of which reached the top of the pop charts. This included Percy Faith “Theme from a Summer Place” (#1 Feb. ’60); Bert Kaempfert “Wonderland by Night” (#1 Jan. ’61); Lawrence Welk “Calcutta” (#1 Feb. ’61); Acker Bilk‘s “Stranger on the Shore” (#1 May ’62) and David Rose “The Stripper” (#1 Jul. ’62). But the best of the lot was The Tornadoes “Telstar” (#1 Dec. ’62), owing to its unique electronic sound.

**************

While the early 60s weren’t the best years for rock and pop music, there were still plenty of songs that were pretty darn good. Further, songs by the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Del Shannon, Rick Nelson, Ray Charles and early Motown music served as an excellent segue to what was to come next. The rise of the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys was to begin in earnest in 1963 with rock and soul music ascendant soon thereafter.

 

 

 

From → Music 60s70s

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