For the past couple of weeks I’ve promised to do a set of songs from the US, and that time has come. American pop and rock music has undoubtedly had a massive influence on music here, and I thought it only right that I should focus this week on artists and bands who were important to many here, not just to me. Whilst making my choices I was struck by how much my musical tastes were ‘growing up’ in the sixties, from simple pop music to what I know as rock music, which is my staple diet for listening. It is no coincidence that from about 1969 onwards I rarely bought singles, preferring to go for the longer listening experience offered by albums, and my seventies choices will reflect that. For now, though, I thought I’d begin with a couple which I think show how my tastes were subtly changing, starting with this one:
I did find a live version of that from the Ed Sullivan Show but the owner has banned it from being shared: spoilsport! This was the opening – and title – track on the Byrds’ debut album, which was released in 1965, a month or so after the single. The album reached #6 in the US and #7 in the UK, and the single was #1 in both countries. To us, they were a little bit different, exotic almost, and I instantly fell in love with that jangly guitar sound. That has been a big feature of music I’ve enjoyed over the years: I’ve written here before about how big a Tom Petty fan I am, and he is one among many who have carried on that tradition.
My next choice this week is from a band who had a couple of years’ head start on the Byrds, having released their first album in 1962. They were very prolific: a month after Mr Tambourine Man was issued, they released their ninth album in a little over three years. Their early days had a number of classic surf music singles, and I’ve had real difficulty in making a choice of just one of their songs. For no other reason other than that I loved it at the time and bought the single, I’m going with this one:
I’ll happily accept that this isn’t the most obvious choice, but hey – I’m making the decisions here! The song was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, and was a conscious revisiting of their original surf sound, which they hadn’t used since 1964. By 1968 the band were beginning to decline in popularity in the US but still sold loads of records here: this one only reached #20 in the US but was a massive hit here in the UK, where it spent a week at #1 before being replaced by a bit of schmaltzy tat by the Bee Gees – you’ve never been able to trust the British public, have you!
Next up is a choice from a man who has sold over 100m records, so he clearly has something that people like! He has written many songs that have been recorded by other artists, of which this is one:
I always think it a mark of a songwriter to see who has covered their songs. In this case, the most notable cover for me is Johnny Cash’s, which was the title track of his album American Recordings III: Solitary Man. Whilst I’ve always loved Neil’s version I have to say that Johnny’s gravelly voice adds a whole new dimension to it: check it out if you haven’t heard it, I can highly recommend it. Which is more than I can say for Cliff Richard’s version but, to be fair, it doesn’t appear to have ever been released as a single or on one of his albums, so at least we’ve been spared that! The song was from Neil’s early career days, before things really took off for him, and it only reached #55 in the US. It was re-released in 1970, when it did better, peaking at #21. It didn’t make the UK charts on either occasion (see earlier comment about the British public!).
Neil Diamond wrote some songs that were hits for The Monkees. The most famous is probably I’m A Believer, but I prefer this one:
That was released as a non-album single in March 1967, and reached #2 in the US and #3 in the UK, driven by the success of their TV show. The show ran for just two series, from September 1966 to March 1968, but they managed to pack in 58 episodes in that time. It was shown here at Saturday tea time, and was enjoyed by the whole family: it made my parents laugh a lot and they even accepted that the music wasn’t bad! I think my mum had a crush on Davy Jones, if I’m honest. Incidentally, that was the first Monkees single on which Davy took lead vocal: I think they missed a trick by waiting so long, but their sales were still pretty good anyway!
I mentioned earlier that it was around the end of the Sixties that I converted to buying mostly albums, and this next choice, although released as a single, is very much an album track:
That was the second track on CS&N’s eponymous debut album, which I bought and just about wore out! To this day I still think they are one of the best ever folk-rock bands, and their music has been a big part of my listening down the years. I would have thought the song ideally suited to be a single, but it only reached #28 in the US and didn’t chart here. Graham Nash wrote it while he was still a member of The Hollies, who rejected it as not being sufficiently commercial. Given that it is a live show favourite, which they have played over 450 times, I think he may have had the last laugh there despite its lack of success as a single!
I really struggled to get the selection down to manageable numbers this week, and then realised that I hadn’t made room for my all time favourite song. I couldn’t possibly leave it out, so you’re getting six tunes this week. This is still, to me, a musical masterpiece:
The song was written by Bryan MacLean, who took lead vocal – until Arthur Lee persuaded their record company that his was the stronger voice, so they added him into the mix. I bought it as a single, but didn’t get around to the album for a few years. The song peaked at #123 in the US but didn’t chart here, though the album – Forever Changes – fared rather better here, reaching #24, compared with #154 in the US. Maybe the British record-buying public weren’t so bad after all: we were into our psychedelic rock in those days! The album has since become a seminal work, and is often cited in those ‘best ever albums’ polls that newspapers and magazines are so keen on making up. I think it deserves all the kudos it has received.
Thats it for this week. I hope there is at least one here that you enjoyed: preferably six, but that may be a touch optimistic. We’re in the process of being put back into lockdown, in a tacit admission by the government that things aren’t any better than they were in March. All part of life’s rich tapestry, I guess. Stay safe and well, take care of yourself and those you love.
See you next time.