Sunday, December 2, 2018

50 Years Ago December 1968 Twisted Top 40

Seven Top 40 song titles that make you go, “Huh?”  

Aha! It took only a moment to discover something a little unique to offer you for the final month of 1968. Let’s go all-music this month—no, not Christmas/Holiday music; there are enough Silver Bells* floating in the air. Think instead, the standard vintage radio music chart 50 Years Ago this Month … with a twist. 
(*Bob Hope & Marilyn Maxwell in The Lemon Drop Kid, 1951. Wonderful!)

Perusing this month’s Featured Radio SurveyWRIT/Milwaukee’s Top 40—I was struck by the number of unusual and ambiguous song titles that punctuated the list.

Most of the time, record labels prefer song titles to be immediately understood by the public and preferably strike an emotional chord. December 23, 1968 seemed to buck the norm with 7 song title oddities out of the top 40. Oh, there are a few others that if you saw them for the first time, make you wonder what they could possibly be about: “Crimson & Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells, and “Till,” a sentimental tune by The Vogues, are such. But nothing like these (in order of chart position): 

1) “Abraham, Martin & John” by Dion, hit WRIT’s #1 spot in December 1968 and stayed there for a couple of weeks. Think you don’t know anyone by those names? History proves you knew them—Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy (and Robert F. Kennedy not named in title, but in verse). The song’s tribute to four of history’s revered architects of social change became a career revival for Dion. ♪ But it seems the good they die young

4) “Bang Shang a Lang,” a simple love song (♪ My heart went bang shang a lang ♪), somehow made it to the top ten, despite its animated (yes, fictional, as in not real) garage band. The Archies starred in a Saturday morning TV show based on the Archie comic book series, with a significant attachment to Pop radio! Former Boston DJ Norm Prescott, was one of three founding owners of Filmation Associates which produced the show for CBS. While “Bang” was their debut single, you’ll likely recall a more popular “Sugar, Sugar” the following year.

9) “Chewy Chewy” (no, not from Star Wars!) is a seriously sugary pop tune wrapped up in pseudo sex. Ohio Express dedicated 1968-70 to light on lyrics and heavy on innuendo. ♪ Baby a living box of candy wrapped up so very fine ♪ is about the least sexual lyric I could quote from “Chewy.” It’s fun to read the lyrics from some of the ‘60s songs now, and wonder … did they really say that?! Heehee. Which of course, is nothing compared to today’s sexually, violently, explicit hip hop fare. (Sorry, can’t call it “music.”) Ohio Express’s swinging door of artists and session musicians fashioned a vague anomaly in an era of well-defined, iconic bands. By most accounts only Tim Corwin remained a constant. Wiki’s depiction attempts to untangle the confusion. 

15) “Not Enough Indians” by … surprisingly … Dean Martin. Oh, how he’d be vilified on Twitter today!There's too many chiefs and not enough Indians around this house ♪ And before you go
politically correct wacko on me, I will say what I’ve said many times in recent years … Yes, recognize the insensitivity of it and learn from it. But the past cannot be changed or erased! We are dangerously close to mimicking the worst of Orwell’s 1984—attempting to eradicate the past needs to stop. In 1968, “too many chiefs, not enough Indians,” was viewed as a customary Native American proverb. Remember the past for all its inequities and look to the future. Besides, we can’t be angry at Dean Martin. He sang the words with such smooth finesse.

23) “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was certainly not a “new” song, considering its inception during the Civil War more than a hundred years prior. Andy Williams, famously known for his theme song, “Moon River,” gave this battle cry a popular lift. We were not in short supply of patriotism in 1968—however, given the national strife of the Vietnam War, it held our patriotism a bit closer. ♪ He has sounded from the trumpet that shall never call retreat ♪ 

25) “1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero” is not the standard Top 10 fare of love found, love lost, or plain ol’ lust. Bobby Russell sings a catchy tune dedicated to the praise of the neighborhood nice guy. You would know Russell best as a country and pop songwriter, penning such hits for others as, “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” (1973, then-wife, Vicki Lawrence) and “Honey” (1968, Bobby Goldsboro). Like novels, lyrics are often based in truth. Was “Hero” a personal touch? ♪ Christmas time, he took | 'Em down to see the floats ♪ … just one reason he was a hit with the local kids.

… and last but not historically least …

33) “Vance” is another tribute tune that makes you think; especially if you remember the era. While Roger Miller performs the spoken/tuneful song with reverence in his deep, meaningful voice, the lyrics eventually lead you down a path that ends in vintage reality. It’s a perfect example of what was once thought a man had to do to be a man—a principle that we’d like to think, no longer applies. (Sadly again, see hip hop comment above.) ♪ And it did my heart so much good when Vance hit ole SmittyBut he had finally made a stand and he'd become a self made man ♪ “Vance” dropped off the chart at this point.

Hope you’ve enjoyed December 1968 50 Years Ago this Month’s reverie of eclectic Top 40 song titles, and BFYP’s whole year of retro memories. I do it for you … looking forward to what 2019 & 1969 will bring …

Featured Radio Survey: WRIT/Milwaukee “Merry Christmas from the Good Guys,” December 23, 1968. Take a gander at the relatively “normal” tunes on the chart and rev up your memories to recall … 50 Years Ago This Month. That awesome day when …

Celebrate DECEMBER 1968 and … Rock On!

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LinDee Rochelle is a writer and editor by trade, and an author by way of Rock & Roll. She has published two books (of three) in her Blast from Your Past series, available on Amazon (eBook and print): Book 1Rock & Roll Radio DJs: The First Five Years 1954-1959; and Book 2Rock & Roll Radio DJs: The Swinging Sixties. Coming soon, … The Psychedelic Seventies!

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