An hours worth of 60s pop

Sixties pop is not an area that I would have ever thought I’d venture into. For years, my ears rebelled against anything well produced and poppy. Had you told me that I’d be digging for 60s pop 45s in my golden years, I would have said, “Fuck me,” grabbed a stick, and beat you with it. But about five years ago, I was turned onto the Bee Gees early records. After listening to Horizontal about a hundred times, I was sold. That record, especially the song Birdie Told Me, is a gem and, if not for a few clunkers, it should be given the same praise as The Zombies’ Odyssey & Oracle.

Two other things pushed me toward 60s pop. It is essentially a genre bound to the 45. I am a sucker for 45s. Most of the time, pick them up for a buck or two each, which is little to pay in order to check something out. Unlike MP3s, with 45s you still get the pleasure of dropping the needle, the record fiend’s equivalent to setting anchor on an uncharted island (where downloading an MP3 is like taking a cruise ship). It is a perfect format: compact, efficient, immediate. A 45 grabs you or it is gone. When garage and funk 45s became scarce, my attention turned toward other genres. Sixties pop being one of them.

The other influence is my girlfriend. She is big on indie pop. So after listening to hours of Belle & Sebastian, the Delgados, Polyphonic Spree, & the Tindersticks (and begrudgingly liking a lot of it), I started searching out their influences – to inform myself and to play for my lady. Girls and 60s pop kinda go hand in hand.

From my digging, I’ve been very surprised that the Beatles do not make much of an impact on these bands. I know that in some circles this discovery is as controversial as the Turin Shroud or Barry Bonds’ homerun hunt, but I think it has been well established for some time that 1. There was more than one band making in the 1960s, 2. Teens actually listened to bands other than the Beatles, and 3. Rock and roll neither began nor ended with the Beatles. A thought a bit less acceptable is that the Beatles are the most over-rated, over-hyped, and overly written about band in the history of music. You used to be able to say that about Elvis; but science has since taken the “King” off his throne. (“Punk rock” is in danger of becoming the new Beatles. Hopefully our attention deficit society will find a new Elvis/Beatles to hype.) (And Tweadles faithful, please save your rants on the Flab Four. They will be deleted in the interest of there being too much shit said praising those sobs and I ain’t gonna contribute to it here.)

What you do hear in 60s pop is the influence of Buddy Holly, the Beach Boys, the Bee Gees, The Turtles, The Kinks, and The Zombies. Boyce & Hart (Monkees, solo stuff) and Burt Bacharach have a greater impact here than Brian Epstein. And there are the day’s fads & trends that producers tried to capitalize on.

Below is an hour’s worth of 60’s pop from 45s I’ve picked up. It runs from garage pop to bubblegum to orchestrated stuff. Some of it is hopelessly obscure and good luck finding it. Some are obscure but common. And a few are not obscure at all, but worthy of mention. All of this is good.

Michael & the Medallions
I Wanna Talk to You (Bragg)
Jangly, tambourine -driven garage pop with duel vocal, M & the Ms sound like an amped up Buddy Holly with Cowsills-style vocals. Though close to 60s punk, the lack of sneer and thud keep this from the Back to the Grave cannon.

Group Therapy
Bad News (Canterbury)
After a very odd Theme from Jaws intro, the Group Therapy lean heavily on the Zombies. Some feedback, fuzz and a great lead take this toward punk but the backing vocals, the echoed dramatic guy pop vocals, and the doodly doo outro make this radio friendly.

New Horizon
One Bad Thing (Bell)

Sounds like if the Bee Gees were making Bell Records style bubblegum. Surprise. Maurice Gibbs wrote the song and it was released by Bell. A great lazy day piece of confection that will have you singing along. Added plus is that the lyrics are pretty much a threat, something that always works will when coated in sugar.

The Avant-Garde
Naturally Stoned (Columbia)

From a distance, I love cynical cash-in pop. Let me count the cynicisms: 1. The band’s name, 2. The name of the song, brilliant in that it is geared toward both hippies and the establishment, 3. The James Bond riff is ruthlessly pillaged, 4. Gratuitous usage of the phrase “good vibrations,” 5. is for the Fifth Dimension, 6. A false concern for society… Top that with emphatically hip, tuff guy vocals by none other than Chuck Wollery and you have a winner. As it’s been said, “Bubble gum is the naked truth.”

New Colony Six
Come & Give Your Love to Me (Mercury)

Legendary Chicago garage pop/punk band come up with a harmonica filled popper that could easily have been turned into a thuddish proto punker by the MC5 or, ever better, exploded by Blue Cheer. The elements are there. And a very nice rip off of the I Can’t Explain riff.

The Dept. of Sanitation
Just a Good Show (Nite Life)

The Kinks can claim responsibility for the flute/french horn (or is it tuba?) riff that dominates this song. There is slightly raved up chorus. The magic is in the way the songs flows. Just the right amount of bubblegum, punk, and pop. As far as I know, the band’s only single.

The Clique
Soul Mates (Blue Whale)

Known in 60s pop circles, The Clique still have some songs that hit oldies radio. From Austin, Texas, these guys started out covering the 13th Floor Elevator and ended up doing Beach Boys – style pop. Their sound continued in bands like the Raspberries, The Shoes, and Belle & Sebastian. In the mid-60s, they moved to LA and became a vehicle for producer Gary Zekley (also responsible for the Yellow Balloon). Pretty easy 45 to find.

The Blue Things
Somebody Help Me (RCA Victor)

A Kansas frat band whose cover of this Spencer Davis Group song would be punk if not for the poppy group vocals. They started in 1964 and ended with this single in 1967.

The Shindogs
Who Do You Think You Are (Viva)

Leon Russell produces and plays on this punky popper. Again, close to Pebbles territory, if not for the group (and call & response) vocals – this time done Beach Boys style. A very nice lead break and the shakers are a plus. From 1967.

Society of Seven
Sweet Sad Clown (Uni)

Another cynical cash in here. The sound is pure Spiral Staircase. The name of the band is meant to make you think of the Spiral Staircase. And the lyrics use the dreaded “clown” metaphor. The vocals and horns are what I like to call Vegas pop. Swinging, sappy, and great. On the mostly reliable Uni Records label.

The Royal Guardsmen
Airplane Song (Laurie)
When the Royal Guardsmen sang “I can go for miles on my airplane,” they weren’t fucking with you. They rode their big hit, Snoopy vs. The Red Baron, for years turning out multiple Snoopy songs and extending a career that should have probably ended with that first novelty single. But, nope, they milked that fucker good. Luckily, they had to fill out their records with more than Snoopy songs and that is where little gems like this come in. A calliope is the main instrument here, in a song that sounds like a bubblegum version of something off of The Kinks’ Village Green… LP.

Ronnie Dante
I’ll Give You Things (Columbia)

I had high lyrical hopes for this Ronnie Dante b-side. Guy tells Girl that Dude ain’t shit and that Guy could give Girl things. Unfortunately Guy explains that those things are what “money can’t buy,” and there is not a leer in sight (i.e. country walks, moonlight strolls, etc.).
Not only does this use the James Bond riff, but the production is pure haunted pop, a sound pretty much defined by Brian Hyland’s Sealed with a Kiss and Gene Pitney’s Town Without Pity, both great songs. Before this single Dante did the lead vocals for the Archies & the Cuff Links, and later had a very success career as a producer.

Lonnie Duvall
Cigarettes (Hip)
My favorite song of this batch. It starts off with a cigarette being lit and slides into something that sounds like a swank, slow Them song. Great desperate vocals, haunted production, mournful harmonica, AND the cigarette sound effect is used more than once. Pop but still sinister and punk in its attitude if not sound. This is also absurdly scarce.

Rayner Rey
Rovin’ Young Man (Jerden)

From the loungy music to the wanky guitar work to the monumentally sappy vocals, I should scorn this song. But it is so over-the-top and infectious that I actually know the lyrics enough to sing along to it. Proof of the insidious stealthness of pop music.

The Los Vegas
As Time Goes By (Columbia)
The band’s name speaks the truth. This have all the trapping of Vegas pop and the dudes have Mexican accents. The song starts off with one hell of a riff and is topped by a excitingly nimble electric piano player. Lush production and accented vocals of a song everyone associates with the movie, Casablanca, and you have a very bizarre pop song. And I really dig the “The Los Vegas” – what a way with words!

The Sunrays
You Don’t Phase Me (Tower)

A Murray Wilson production of the “sibling” band to the Beach Boys, though I doubt any of the Sunrays had to shit on a plate for Pop Wilson.
Sounds like a punker version of the Beach Boys. It also has that hot edge you hear on Tower Records stuff from that time (Standells, Max Frost, even Mae West). Easy find.

The Barry Lee Show
I Don’t Want to Love You (Independence)
This starts off with a very nice fuzz guitar and then the Tom Jones vocals come in. The song slams into a confused mix of the Cowsills, Spiral Staircase, & Beach Boys. This should be a mess but somehow it works. Though these guys sound American, they were from Norfolk, UK.

The Murphy’s
I’ll Be Home Again (Thunderbird)

I know absolutely nothing about the Murphy’s or the label this record is on. But I can tell you what it sounds like. Buddy Holly influenced pop with male/female duel vocals, with a flute lead. This could have been a theme for any number of TV shows.

The Fifth Estate
Lost Generation (Jubilee)
Even more cynical than cash-in pop is right wing message pop and this is one of the best! Some of the lyrics are “You can find us in the city in the California night./And now isn’t it a pity that we don’t know wrong from right?/We’re a Lost Generation/Just a Lost Generation/We’re ungrateful and it’s sad/We ignore our mums & dads,” “Be it con-spic-u-ous con-sump-tion, TV sets and brand new cars/and we make that horrid music with electrical guitars,” and “We’re the terrors of the schoolroom, tuning in & dropping out/and our hair is much too long and our music much too loud.” What I wanna know is if Chris Stigliano was behind this! The music is pure oompah pop. Duel vocals and a catchy beat!

The Flying Machine
Smile a Little Smile For Me (Congress)
The one and only hit by this studio band. Make this twenty five guys & gals instead of just five guys and you have the Pollyphonic Spree. Here is the melodic template for more than one Spree song. An easy find and a very nice bubblegum “ballad” from 1969

Ronnie Dio & the Prophets
10 Days with Brenda (Parkway)
That the singer is the same Ronnie Dio who fronted Rainbow and Black Sabbath and later filled his name out to become Ronnie James Dio is just gravy. Anything but meathead metal, 10 Days… is a very cool, sparse haunted pop song with Shadow Morton-style production, a Roy Orbison-ish vocal chorus, and an eerie whistler. Best of all, the song is a break up song, Dio telling us that he no longer loves his girlfriend but he feel obligated to “give 10 more days to Brenda, then take my love away.” Wow, what a guy!

Ljuba Ljuba (A&M)

I could be cheating here. There is no date on the record so I am guessing that it is 60s stuff. But the T-Rex meets Nillson production style and the man-in-the-jungle theme, as well as the tabla, marimba, & jew’s harp, all say 1970s. That also says this should be crap, but there is something that makes this work. Maybe it is the lazy pace, the oddness, or that I was raised with “Put the Lime in the Coconut” on the radio.

Vigrass & Osbourne
Ballerina (Uni)
I know I am cheating here. The date is 1972, but this has a late 60s feel. It is a very eerie, slow, haunting pop song. There is an element of psych here, though mated with the Bee Gees’ With the Sun in My Eyes. The piano and the song’s theme make this very foppy, even fey. But there is a dark tone here that makes me think of the Dead Science or Legendary Pink Dots. I picked this up because it is on Uni, despite the title being Ballerina. Really.

Okay, that is it. I’ve wasted most a morning. If you want to waste an hour of your night or day, I will be playing a lot of these songs on my next radio show. It airs every Tuesday night at 11 pm on KDVS 90.3 FM and is archived on line. I probably won’t play the Ballerina song, as I don’t want to get my wrists broken by fag-hating, campus frat dudes.

I just ate a whole bunch of hash browns.
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Great show last night Scott...I think I had the New Horizon song in my head all night long.
Sorry Ryan, no Abbey Road talk.

But I will play that Mob record some day...
As far as 60's pop goes, what do yinz's think of the "Fading Yellow" reissue series? They're a nice blend of pop-psych, ork-pop, folk-pop, some arguably bubblegum stuff and straight up Beatles rip offs. All in all they're some pretty solid comps. Or well, the early volumes are, at least I think they're up to at least volume 7 now, so the quality has prolly dipped some by now.
After buying far too many, Back from the Graves types and Killed by Death-ish reissues, I've soured/burned out on reissues/single surveys and just pick up 45s and take my chances, so I am afraid I am ignorant about the Fading Yellows. I have heard a couple volumes of a comp, whose name escapes me (Mellow sounds for mellow people????), 60 sunshine pop. But it was pretty spotty.
Hmmmm, I can email ya a couple of those comps easy enough, if yer email can handle it. Just hit me up at crparson at hotmail if yer interested. Here's a link that has some more comprehensive reviews of the stuff: http://gullbuy.com/buy/2004/12_21/fadingyellow2.cfm
thanks i'll look at the reviews. unfortunately i am a dial-up man and it takes forever to get anything but text...
You know, Lonnie Duvall is of interest to me. I have an old 45 by a band called The Lancers. It sounds mid 1960's to me. Sort of garagey with a bit of a doo-wop influence. The song titles are "Somebody Help Me" and "(You've Got To) Forget Her". It's on the 3J label. I can't find a thing about the record anywhere. Songwriting credits on both sides go to Lonnie Duvall, leading me to believe that he was a member of the band. And now I see your record here. Same guy, probably.
I don't know if you ever look at blogs from your archive, but I wanted to make sure that you know that The Fifth Estate was responsible for "Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead" (pop hit, 1967), and Shango were the geniuses behind "Day After Day" (also top 100) which predicted that California would slide into the ocean. Just thought you'd like to know.
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