“Play The Hits!” Volume 4: March 1967

Ryan Jones, Editor-in-Chief

We’ve studied the charts. Crunched the numbers. Crossed every t and dotted every i. After a long break, we can now confirm with 100 percent fact that you are about to be reading nothing if not the hits.

If this is your first time reading this column, we take a deep dive into a random year and look at the top five songs from a particular week. All rankings are taken from Billboard’s Hot 100 archives, which can be accessed on billboard.com. All videos posted below are from Youtube, please don’t sue me.

We’ve covered the bizarre music videos of the ’80’s, the mesmerizing melodies of 2000’s R&B and “I’m Too Sexy,” which…speaks for itself. This week, we’ll be taking it back to a pivotal year in the music industry and the world. The Vietnam War and the civil rights movement bring with them one of the biggest cultural revolutions in the United States’ recent history. Life often imitates art and music is no different. Let’s take a look at the top five from the week of March 25, 1967.

Number 5: Baby I Need Your Lovin’ – Johnny Rivers

We’re kicking off this week’s list with a cover! Johnny Rivers made a living in the ‘60’s off of covering other people’s songs, which is a great lesson in life: if you can’t do it yourself, just copy somebody who can!

Here, Rivers takes a spin at the Four Tops’ classic. He probably shouldn’t have. Don’t get me wrong, this song is good, but it’s pretty tough to choose this version over the original for me, and it’s even harder to try and separate the two. Rivers takes a slower approach to the song than the Four Tops, which I’m not mad it. The slower pace gives the song a more unique feel which is always nice to hear from covers.

My problem comes in on the singing. It’s certainly not terrible, and certainly better than anything I could do, but when you listen to both versions together, the differences are apparent. Rivers puts less emotion into his vocals and is never quite as convincing as the Four Tops. Even the background vocals in the original have more flare than this version. Also, the wall of sound orchestration that was popular for this period is something I despise. Not really something particular to this song, just needed to get that off my chest.

On a similar note, this era of covers are not the best. Artists tried too hard to emulate the original songs and rarely gave songs a style of their own. The ones that did (i.e. “All Along The Watchtower”) stand out over the ones that don’t (i.e. this song).

Number 4: There’s a Kind of Hush – Herman’s Hermits

Well what do you know, we’ve got yet another cover coming in at number four. Did anyone write their own songs in the ’60’s? I suppose not many people do now either.

I’m not going to lie, the history behind this one was pretty confusing to follow when I was doing some research for it. The song was originally recorded in 1966 by the British group the New Vaudeville Band (what happened to the old one?). Then that same year, an American group called Gary and the Hornets (okay, these names have to be fake) released their version and found some success in their home state of Ohio from it.

Before Gary and the Hornets could become the most successful band in the world, Herman’s Hermits swooped in and recorded the best (and most popular) version of the song. I was familiar with Herman’s Hermits before, but had never heard this song. Honestly? Big fan. The lyrics are nothing crazy, which is to be expected, but the melody is divine. It sounds simple but its set apart from the simpler repetitive melodies we see on the list for sure. To be fair, I’m a sucker for the harmonizing groups did back then, as we’ll get into later on the list. The trumpet is a beautiful touch, too.

I know I’ll get a lot of hate from the Hornet Hive for this, but I’ll say it: this is the best version of the song. No I did not listen to the Gary and the Hornets’ version.

Number 3: Penny Lane – The Beatles

To be fully transparent here, I consider myself somewhat of a Beatles scholar. I became obsessed with the group when they started remastering songs in 2009 and took an amazing class here at CCSU centered around the group (shoutout Professor D’Addio!). From an unbiased perspective, it’s still hard to judge the Beatles with other groups on the list. They were always (at least) a year ahead of their peers in terms of sound and influenced even their most bitter rivals. In fact, they wrote the Rolling Stone’s first hit single.

All fun facting and ice breakers aside, why is this the number three song? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great, catchy tune. But this single was released with STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER! Lyrically, sonically, however you want to judge it, that song deserves this spot over “Penny Lane.”

“Penny Lane” is a fun song that was penned by McCartney. It tells the story of, you guessed it, a place called Penny Lane, which is in fact a real street in the Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool. Recounting the lives of Penny Lane’s inhabitants, McCartney tells the stories of the banker, barber and so on. Nothing crazy here. The real magic comes in the melody and instrumentation. McCartney changes keys at the drop of a hat mid verse, which almost jolts the listener back into the world that is Penny Lane. What takes the cake for me is the piccolo trumpet solo, which Professor D’Addio can play superbly. Seriously, take that class if you can.

Number 2: Dedicated to the Ones I Love – The Mamas & The Papas

I hope you’re sitting down folks, we’ve got ANOTHER COVER SONG.

This one is done by the Mamas & the Papas, one of my favorite groups from this era. Interestingly enough, this song is not sang by Mama Cass Elliot, the group’s lead singer normally. Instead, Michelle Phillips takes lead singing duties and delivers better than anyone could have expected.

She can’t belt out the emotions Elliot does in her songs, but Phillips is a perfect pairing with these lyrics. She brings a vulnerability to lyrics such as “While I’m far away from you my baby/I know it’s hard for you my baby/Because it’s hard for me my baby/And the darkest hour is just before dawn.” In between Phillips’ haunting verses comes the Mamas & the Papas’ bread and butter: harmonies. The group joins together behind a more upbeat sounding chorus in beautiful fashion while still conveying the loneliness of the lyrics.

It’s worth noting that the version from the Shirelles, which I would also highly recommend, has a much more upbeat approach than this version. While I love the Shirelles, I think the Mamas & the Papas perfectly encapsulated the vision of the lyrics with their more lonely, slower paced version.

Number 1: Happy Together – The Turtles

I simply can not believe it. I didn’t know this before researching for this week, but this song was not written by the Turtles. That’s right, we’ve got our fourth unoriginal of the week.

This song perfectly wraps up all of the sounds of the ’60’s and makes for a perfect place to finish off this week with. The Turtles are one of the more underrated groups of the era in my mind. Their sound, especially in “Happy Together,” sounds like a marriage between the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and it just works so well. The song is simple enough with catchy verses that follow a similar pattern.

The chorus and accompanying arrangement is what makes it worthy of the number one spot to me. It’s so carefree yet sung in such a matter of fact way that is compelling. It’s upbeat, got great harmonies and some killer arrangements. My favorite part of the song has to be towards the end though. The horns begin to build up behind Turtles’ singer Mark Volman as he repeats the phrase that matches the song’s title, leading you to believe he’ll belt out another strong chorus. But then, it just ends. You have to know when to go out on top and boy did the Turtles know how to.

Thanks for tuning in for another edition of NOTHING but the hits. We heard a lot of covers this week but also a lot of hidden gems from a fantastic period of music. If you’ve got any recommendations for our next edition, leave a comment down below!