Turntable Talk #8 – Best Year In Music?

Once again, Dave from A Sound Day has asked some of us music lovers to participate in another round of Turntable Talk. This time around was a bit of a challenge for me. Dave’s e-mail stated:

Put your thinking caps on and go through your stacks of records (or scroll thru that I-pod) and … come up with what you think the best year for music was. A tough call of course, thankfully there have been more than a few good ones! I’m interested in what you pick and don’t worry if yours duplicates someone else’s , you still have your reasons which might be different.” He goes on to say, “I think I have a guess on a couple of years that might come up more than once, but we’ll wait and see.

This particular blog will be one of the last ones to be featured and I do not know if my year will be or has been featured. I plan on writing this KNOWING that the year I have chosen very well may be one that comes up in another post. Before I tell you the year I picked, let me tell you that I had a very difficult time narrowing it down.

My first thought was to go with 1956/1957 because those years were always so unique. You had the birth of rock and roll mixing with pop standards. When I worked at Honey Radio, I loved doing the Top 12 at 12 show when those years popped up because there was such a big variety in what was played. You could go from Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis to Pat Boone or Nelson Riddle. When I looked at the list of songs, however, were they really the BEST? No.

The same thing can be said for some of the years in the 70’s decades. I looked through many lists and while there were many great songs, there were also a lot of really crappy songs! I just couldn’t really come up with the conviction to pick a year in that decade as the BEST.

One year kept coming up every time I started thinking about it – 1964.

I want you to know before I continue that I was dead set AGAINST 1964 when I read Dave’s e-mail. Why? Well, I felt that it would just be too Beatle heavy and loaded with British Invasion stuff. And it is. On the Top 100 Chart, The Fab Four nabbed 9 spots. 18 spots were held by other British Invasion acts. In total 27% of the Top 100 were British acts. When I really looked at the chart, the more and more I felt like this WAS the year.

1964 really was the year of the Beatles, so let’s discuss them first. They were present almost right from the start as their “Introducing The Beatles” album was released in America on January 10th of that year.

This album preceded Capitol Records “Meet the Beatles” by 10 days and there was a lawsuit surrounding that whole issue. Capitol Records won an injunction and Vee-jay Records was not allowed to put out any more Beatles recordings.

In February of 1964, the Beatles arrived in the US and appeared on Ed Sullivan’s show three times (2/9, 2/16, and 2/23). In March of 64, Billboard magazine stated that the Beatles were responsible for 60% of all single record sales! In a feat that has yet to be matched, on April 4, 1964, the Beatles held the Top 5 spots on the Billboard chart!

A week later, the boys held 14 spots on the Hot 100 Chart! That broke the previous record of 9 spots held by Elvis Presley in 1956.

In May, The Beatles Second Album was released and in July, they would release A Hard Day’s Night in theaters. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” wound up being the #1 song for the whole year of 64 (“She Loves You” was #2) To say that they played a small part in the music of 1964 would be a huge understatement.

Among the other artists that came over from “across the pond” in 64 were Manfred Mann (Do Wah Diddy Diddy), Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (Little Children and Bad to Me), The Dave Clark Five (Glad All Over, Because, Do You Love Me), Peter and Gordon (A World Without Love), The Animals (House of the Rising Son), The Honeycombs (Have I The Right), Dusty Springfield (Wishin’ and Hopin’), Gerry & The Pacemakers (Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying and How Do You Do It), Chad and Jeremy (A Summer Song), The Kinks (You Really Got Me), and the Searchers (Don’t Throw Your Love Away and Needles and Pins). It is interesting to note that the Rolling Stones debut album was released this year, but no songs appear in the Top 100 for the year.

Once you move away from the British artists, the chart has a nice variety of pop, rock, folk, country, soul, and even a few novelty songs. I think that is what made me ultimately choose this particular year.

It was nice to look over the Top 100 and see Motown represented with some classics. The Supremes hold two of the six Motown songs (Where Did Our Love Go and Baby Love), Motown was female heavy as Mary Wells (My Guy) and Martha and the Vandellas (Dancin’ In The Street) grabbed the next two spots, and the male gender was represented by The Four Tops (Baby I Need Your Loving) and The Temptations (The Way You Do The Things You Do).

While they were not “oldies” at the time, there were some classic songs that are still in hot rotation today on the oldies stations across the country. Roy Orbison had a smash with Pretty Woman in 64, and also had a hit with It’s Over. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons grabbed three of the Top 100 with Rag Doll, Dawn and Ronnie. The Beach Boys only entry in the Top 100 was I Get Around.

1964 brought us classics like The Drifters Under The Boardwalk, Chapel of Love by the Dixie Cups, Suspicion by Terry Stafford, It Hurts to Be In Love from gene Pitney and Come A Little Bit Closer by Jay and the Americans. Johnny Rivers had a hit with Chuck Berry’s Memphis, Bobby Freeman invited us to C’mon and Swim, Detroit’s Reflections offered up Just Like Romeo and Juliet and the Shangri-Las told us the story of the Leader of the Pack.

Car songs were well represented in 64! Ronny and the Daytonas had GTO, while the Rip Chords sang Hey Little Cobra, and the Hondells had Little Honda. Jan and Dean told us the stories of The Little Old Lady from Pasadena and Dead Man’s Curve, while J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers told us the tragic story of a Last Kiss.

Soul music is represented by The Impressions (I’m So Proud and Keep on Pushing), Joe Hinton (Funny How Time Slips Away), The Tams (What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am), Jimmy Hughes (Steal Away) and Nancy Wilson (How Glad Am I). If you throw Blues into the “Soul” mix, the great Tommy Tucker song “Hi Heel Sneakers” was out in 1964.

Instrumentally, Al Hirt had a monster hit with Java, The Ventures had Walk Don’t Run 1964, The Marketts had The Outer Limits, and Robert Maxwell had the incredibly cheesy lounge version of Shangri-la. While novelty songs included Jumpin’ Gene Simmons (Haunted House), The Trashmen (Surfin’ Bird) and Roger Miller (Chug-a-Lug).

While Rock was dominant in 1964, there were still some pop (and even folk) songs that made the Top 100 – one of them, doing the “impossible.” Two of the biggest pop hits of the year couldn’t be more different from each other. The third biggest hit of the year belonged to Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and his Dixieland hit “Hello, Dolly!” Barbra Streisand (who won Album of the year at the 1964 Grammy Awards) had the 11th biggest hit of the year with “People.”

Pop/Folk was also represented by Gale Garnett (We’ll Sing in the Sunshine), The Ray Charles Singers (Love Me With All Your Heart), Dionne Warwick (Walk On By), Al Martino (I Love You More and More Every Day), and Andy Williams (A Fool Never Learns). But the biggest surprise came from an artist who hadn’t had a top 40 record since 1958!

Dean Martin didn’t care for Rock and Roll. With the British Invasion in full swing, there was very little chance of him ever having another hit. His kids loved the new artists. His son, Dean Paul, loved the Beatles. Dean told his boy, “I’m gonna knock your pallies off the charts!” On August 15, 1964 – he did just that with a song that became his NEW theme song, “Everybody Loves Somebody.” (It replaced That’s Amore as his theme song)

The song knocked the beloved Beatles A Hard Day’s Night out of the number 1 spot! It went on to stay at #1 on the Pop Standards Singles Chart for 8 weeks. It also became the theme to his weekly television show in 1965.

I picked 1964 for a few reasons. Despite my initial worry about it being British act heavy, it was the year that introduced us to the Beatles (who changed the music scene forever!). It is also the year that one act held the top 5 spots on the charts (a record that remains in place). It is also the year that my favorite singer of all time bumped the biggest group in music out of the top spot.

It is also a year that encompasses such a vast variety of music. While there may be better songs that appeared before and after 1964, it truly represents a unique time in history. America was still recovering from the loss of a beloved president, there were still Civil Rights issues, and a war in Vietnam. The music of 1964 was a welcome escape from so many things.

Was it all good? No, and that is true of every year. However, as I look at the 100 biggest songs of the year, there are a lot of great songs that have gone on to become classics. There are so many songs that are still looked at as pivotal in the music scene. The fact that many of these songs are still getting airplay today is a statement to just how good they are.

Thanks again to Dave at a Sound Day for allowing me to be a part of this feature. I can only hope that my contribution is worthy of an invite to participate in the next round.

TV Show Draft – Round 10 – The Untouchables

We have reached the final round of the Hanspostcard TV Show Draft. I want to take a moment and thank Max from the Power Pop Blog for taking up the reigns and helping us continue this round in Hans’ absence. It truly has been a fun draft!

For my final pick, I have gone back to another classic – The Untouchables. The show ran from 1959 to 1963 and starred the great Robert Stack as Eliot Ness. It is hard to imagine anyone but Robert Stack in the role of Ness, but believe it or not, Desi Arnaz had originally offered the role to actor Van Johnson. Supposedly, he wanted double what they were offering to pay for the role, and it ultimately went to Stack.

When asked about the character some years later, Stack said, “Ness was a precursor of Dirty Harry. He was a hero, a vigilante in a time when breaking the law meant nothing because there was no law because Capone owned Chicago, he owned the police force.”

The show was based on the book of the same name written by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley. Brian De Palma would use the book as the basis for his 1987 film of the same name.

According to Wikipedia:

The series originally focused on the efforts of a real-life squad of Prohibition agents employed by the US Department of Justice and led by Eliot Ness (Stack) that helped bring down the bootleg empire of “Scarface” Al Capone, as described in Ness’s bestselling 1957 memoir. This squad was nicknamed “The Untouchables” because of its courage and honesty; squad members could not be bribed or intimidated by the mob. Eliot Ness himself had died suddenly in May 1957, shortly before his memoir and the subsequent TV adaptation were to bring him fame beyond any he experienced in his lifetime.

The pilot for the series, a two-part episode entitled “The Untouchables,” originally aired on CBS’s Westinghouse Desilu Placyhouse (and was introduced by Desi Arnaz) on April 20 and 27, 1959. Later re-titled “The Scarface Mob”, these episodes, which featured Neville Brand as Al Capone, were the only episodes in the series to be more-or-less directly based on Ness’s memoir, and ended with the conviction and imprisonment of Capone. CBS, which had broadcast most of Desilu’s television output since 1951 beginning with I Love Lucy, was offered the new series following the success of the pilot film. It was rejected it on the advice of network vice president Hubbell Robinson. ABC agreed to air the series, and The Untouchables premiered on October 15, 1959. In the pilot movie, the mobsters generally spoke with unrealistic pseudo-Italian accents, but this idiosyncratic pronunciation was dropped when the series debuted.

The weekly series first dramatized a power struggle to establish a new boss in Capone’s absence (for the purpose of the TV series, the new boss was Frank Nitti, although this was, as usual for the series, contrary to fact). As the series continued, there developed a highly fictionalized portrayal of Ness and his crew as all-purpose, multi-agency crime fighters who went up against an array of 1930s-era gangsters and villains, including Ma Barker, Dutch Schultz, Bugs Moran, Lucky Luciano, and in one episode, Nazi agents. On many occasions during the series run, Ness would blatantly violate suspects’ Fourth Amendment rights with no legal ramifications.

The terse narration by gossip columnist Walter Winchell, in his distinctive New York accent, was a stylistic hallmark of the series, along with its ominous theme music by Nelson Riddle and its shadowy black-and-white photography, which was influenced by film noir.

The series produced 118 episodes which ran 50 minutes each. Though the book chronicled the experiences of Ness and his team against Capone, and in reality the Untouchables disbanded soon after Capone’s conviction. The series continued after the pilot and book ended, depicting the fictitious further exploits of the Untouchables against many, often real life, criminals over a span of time ranging from 1929 to 1935.

The show came with some controversy. Italian-American groups protested over what they felt was an unfair presentation of their people as Mafia-types. “We are plagued with lawsuits after certain shows” one of the show’s producers Josef Shaftel explained, noting that the series was “heavily insured against libel.” With good reason – the first lawsuit against the show was instigated by Al Capone’s angry widow. She didn’t like the way her deceased husband was made into a running villain on the show and wanted a million dollars for unfair use of his image. (She lost.)

The FBI and J. Edgar Hoover were ticked off too. They were the ones who collared the famous names that Ness was supposedly busting each week on TV and they rightfully wanted credit for it. The second episode of the series, for example, depicted Ness and his crew involved in the capture of the Ma Barker gang, an incident in which the real-life Ness played no part. The producers agreed to insert a spoken disclaimer on future broadcasts of the episode stating that the FBI had primary responsibility for the Barker case. Even the Bureau of Prisons took offense, complaining that the show made their treatment of Al Capone look soft.

The show itself was considered one of the most violent television shows of its time. Of course, by today’s standards it’s not that bad, but it was violent enough at the time to spark protests from parents who were worried about their children seeing this violence.

My Thoughts

This is one of those shows that I just love! Robert Stack’s delivery of almost every line as Ness is perfect. He won an Emmy in 1960 for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series for his portrayal of Ness.

Despite the fact that many of the stories are fictionalized to work the Untouchables into them, they are great! The show really was a forerunner to shows like The FBI, Crime Story, and even Hawaii 5-0. I love the film noir feel of it. Every episode plays like a good 50 minute movie.

The Lebanon Pennsylvania Daily News said of The Untouchables: “Between the hard-nosed approach, sharp dialogue, and a commendably crisp pace (something rare in dramatic TV at the time), this series is one of the few that remains fresh and vibrant. Only the monochrome presentation betrays its age. The Untouchables is one of the few Golden Age TV shows that deserves being called a classic.” It really does hold up well.

As I have mentioned before, one of the things I love about these old shows is seeing big stars (who are not quite yet stars) show up. In regular roles throughout the series you could see Raymond Bailey (Mr. Drysdale on the Beverly Hillbillies), Barbara Stanwyck, Barbara Nichols, Ed Asner (Lou Grant), Harry Morgan (Col. Potter on MASH), and Henry Silva.

The list of guest star appearances is long and amazing. They include: Jack Elam, Paul Frees, Jim Backus, Sam Jaffe, Martin Balsam, John Dehner, William Bendix, Whitt Bissell, Charles Bronson, James Caan, James Coburn, Mike Conners, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Norman Fell, Alan Hale Jr., Brian Keith, Jack Klugman, Cloris Leachman, Jack Lord, Lee Marvin, Telly Savalas, Elizabeth Montgomery, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Redford, Ricardo Montalban, Rip Torn, Jack Warden, Dick York, Cliff Robertson and so many more!

“The Untouchables” Paul Picerni, Robert Stack circa 1961

You know, they play reruns of Law and Order on TV all the time. Many of the shows I have seen numerous times. I know what’s going to happen, yet I still watch (a lot like my previous picks – Perry Mason and Columbo). The Untouchables is a show that could very easily be rerun like a Law and Order. It is that good.

I love Walter Winchell’s narration

And I love the theme song!

It has been so much fun writing on some of my favorite shows. It’s been just as fun to read about the shows picked by other members of the TV Show Draft. I hope you have enjoyed my picks…

Thanks for reading!