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Sucking In The Sixties 

The dark side of music's "golden age"

You can't get more than three baby boomers together these days without at least one of them cracking jokes about the "awful shit" on the radio now and how much better music was in the 60s.

Granted, we had it made then, what with the Beatles and Motown and Dylan and folk rock and garage bands and psychedelia and a revival of the blues, all happening in about a six-year period. Not to mention record companies that didn't quite grasp what was going on but were happy to keep giving out record deals like candy as long as the profits kept soaring. But when I hear my fellow "advanced youths" slamming some new artist, with the implication that 60s popular music was consistently great, I want to tell them to gulp down more gingko, because their memory is failing them.

Over the years, a myth developed around 60s popular music that goes like this: it was a uniformly glorious era, a golden age, the very definition of what popular music, and music radio, should be: bold, experimental, creative.

Well, I was there and paying close attention, and I've got some bad news: that's mostly bullshit. Don't get me wrong, I was inspired and thrilled in those heady times by the sounds of Hendrix, Joplin, Otis Redding, et al, and I still listen to those artists to this day. But the cold truth is that the 60s also produced a mountain -- make that a mountain range -- of crappy hit songs. The whole decade, in fact, was drenched in dreck, soaked in slop. What I remember from that "golden age" are rays of light shining through a thick fog of musical waste products that, for the most part, dominated the charts.

Let's set the record straight, shall we? What follows is my own Top Ten list of the musical crème de la crap from 1964-69, the years most people are referring to when they say "the 60s." Note that I've chosen only hits -- songs we listened to over and over, whether we wanted to or not -- hey, that's what my fellow Boomers are referring to when they talk about today's "awful shit."

10. CHERISH -- The Association (Valiant), 1966, #1. Old-bag teachers performed this song in my high school's faculty talent show that year. Enough said.

9. THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN -- Brooklyn Bridge (Buddah), 1969, #3. The worst that could happen was being alive and owning a radio when this atrocity was popular.

8. THE HAPPENING -- The Supremes (Motown), 1967, #1. A laughable attempt to keep up with counterculture trends and language, this showed how out-of-it Motown had become, just before Norman Whitfield took over as the Temptations' mentor. Ungroovy.

7. MR. LONELY -- Bobby Vinton (Epic), 1964, #1. Vinton vented his bias for bilge throughout the decade. This maudlin soldier---away-from-home ballad took it a step further, exploiting Vietnam-era emotions for the sake of mush and moolah. Yuck.

6. SHE'S JUST MY STYLE -- Gary Lewis & the Playboys (Liberty), 1966, #3. A true lowlight of the 60s, Lewis' out-of-tune vocals and, um, creative way of keeping time (and he was the drummer!) were never worse than in this song. Imagine what the rejected takes sounded like.

5. LOVE IS BLUE -- Paul Mauriat (Philips), 1968, #1. Treacly and omnipresent, this was the most embarrassing song of the decade to have on the radio when someone walked in your room.

4. YOUNG GIRL -- Gary Puckett & the Union Gap (Columbia), 1968, #2. One of the more inglorious chapters in rock history was this band's run of songs glorifying infidelity and/or pedophilia. Jailbait Rock, sung by a guy in a Union army uniform. What were we thinking?

3. MACARTHUR PARK -- Richard Harris (Dunhill), 1968, #2. A confused ode to psychedelics in LA turned into a ludicrous melodrama, with Harris stretching even his own limits of bombast.

2. IT MUST BE HIM -- Vikki Carr (Liberty), 1967, #3. A stunningly dreadful song on many levels. Histrionics, female dependence, a soap opera view of romance, and a just plain bad tune. Plus, it wins the low self-esteem trophy hands-down.

1. HONEY -- Bobby Goldsboro (UA), 1968, #1. Goldsboro became a big star when this mega-maudlin doggerel about the death of a young wife was sopped up by millions of record buyers. Power to the people, eh?

I could name a hundred more musical disasters from the 60s, just from memory. If you think I've left any out, let me know.

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