Top 5: Gimme an A

Several years ago, I attended a lecture by a prominent critic whose gig was decrying the commercialism of education. One example he cited was a promotion by a restaurant that would give a student a free dessert for every A on the kid’s report card. He seemed to think this was, in the middle of the 1990s, a new innovation—but it wasn’t. At the end of the school year 44 years ago, at WCFL in Chicago, night jock Barney Pip invited his young listeners to send in test papers on which they’d received A’s or B’s. Papers with A’s were eligible to win albums in a drawing; papers with B’s were eligible to win singles. One grand prize winner would receive a Honda—which would have been a motorcycle in those days.

Some of the music the kids were listening to during the week of June 16, 1966 has endured as classic: “Paint It Black,” “Paperback Writer,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Some of it has faded into the mists of history. Our task here is to dispel some of the fog.

14. “You Wouldn’t Listen to Me”/Ides of March (debut). This was the first single for the Chicago band that would later score more famous hits with “Vehicle” and “L.A. Goodbye,” but it doesn’t sound much like either one of them, or anything else the Ides would do. But as an example of garage pop circa 1966, you can scarcely do better.

15. “Oh Yeah”/Shadows of Knight (up from 17). From the garages of Mount Prospect, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, the Shadows of Knight had launched their version of “Gloria” earlier in 1966. “Oh Yeah,” which bears a completely understandable resemblance, was the followup, but it wasn’t long afterward before the band began to splinter. By early 1967, only one original member was left.

16. “Day of Decision”/Johnny Sea (up from 19). The Wikipedia entry for Johnny Sea is one of the more interesting Wiki pages I’ve ever come across. It features copious parenthetical corrections by somebody claiming to be Johnny Sea himself. One of the corrections is that Sea had never heard Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” before he wrote the spoken-word “Day of Decision.” Perhaps. It doesn’t address McGuire’s contentions directly, preferring instead to drown dissenters in a wave of timeless patriotic glurge. (Lyrics here.)

New: “The Pied Piper”/Crispian St. Peters. One of the underrated earworms of the 1960s, “The Pied Piper” became an international smash that kept St. Peters (given name Robin Peter Smith) singing professionally and writing songs, over 300 in all, for 30 years before a stroke in 1995. St. Peters died last week at age 71.

(Digression: Is there a more perfect trio of happy summer songs than “The Pied Piper” and two other songs from this survey’s “Sound 10 Stairway” section, “Oh How Happy” by the Shades of Blue (another Midwest act, from suburban Detroit) and “Red Rubber Ball” by the Cyrkle? With all those earworms playing in your head all the time, you’d scarcely need a radio.)

New: “Race With the Wind”/The Robbs. Another act semi-local to the Chicago area, the Robbs were from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, a little bit west of Milwaukee. They were a group of cousins, and according to their Wikipedia entry, they hit the Bubbling Under chart without crossing into the Hot 100 more often than any other act in chart history, which should probably make them the patron saints of this blog. If the perfect pop record that is “Race With the Wind” didn’t make it, nothing of theirs was going to.

In June 1966, I had just finished Miss Morgan’s kindergarten class. I would teach myself to read that summer, and I was looking forward to the arrival of a new sibling in the fall. In my life, change was already constant, but how would I have known?

Recommended: Many of the most influential radio stations in my life were from Chicago. If you were a fan of Chicago radio in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Chicago Radio Online is worth a listen. Meanwhile, Kinky Paprika discusses the radio stations of his life, and Michele Catalano has some advice for bands touring this summer. And finally, if you’re on Twitter, you need to be following Tweets of Old.

5 responses

  1. I love the Robbs! Their LP and most of their 45s are great.

    I just restored the link to my post about the original version of ‘Pied Piper’ by the Changin’ Times.

    http://ironleg.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/changin-times-pied-piper/

  2. I agree with Funky 16 corners. When bands like theirs turned “rural” they became “Cherokee” and did a decent LP (Cherokee is also their recording studio with a very fabled list of customers).

    There’s a great history of Chicago rock floating around on the internet. The Ides’ Jim Peterik says they’re in a meeting with a record company guy who loves “You Wouldn’t Listen” but says if they do a modulation at the end it’ll be a smash. The band nods their heads, the guy leaves the room and they look at each other and say, “what’s a modulation?”

    I’ll tell anyone who WILL listen that the Ides’ “Roller Coaster” from about a year later is one of the greatest songs ever to slip through the cracks. It sounds like Keith Moon was passing through Chicago and sat in with the band.

  3. A TV kids’ show and an amusement park here in the Twin Cities ran a “Free Rides For Good Grades” promotion for years, but academic bribe-ola could never compete with the magic coming out of my radio. And 1966 was pure magic, the Johnny Sea glurge notwithstanding. Thankfully, the Brothers Warner found the perfect antidote a few weeks later in one Napoleon XIV.

    All was forgiven with the Ides. “You Wouldn’t Listen” was a fave all summer long. In my mind, the chorus ends with “now you have got a toupee, you’ve got a toupee.” Perhaps the Ides’ finest ’60s moment was the Jeff Milne-written gem buried on the B-side of “My Foolish Pride.” “Give Your Mind Wings” had the jangliest intro imaginable, hooky harmonies galore and a perfect false ending, followed by an encore of blissful la-la-la-las.

    Another vote for “Rapid Transit” here; it’s a shame that Mercury Records couldn’t break it nationally. Speaking of which, I couldn’t help but notice that Dee Jay & The Runaways’ Midwest smash “Peter Rabbit” was missing from ‘CFL and WLS, both that and every other week. Wow! I’d love to know why Mercury couldn’t break a top-50 Midwest hit in the label’s own back yard.

  4. The Cleveland Press newspaper apparently used to give 15 pairs of Indians tickets to students who got straight A’s in the final marking period.
    Not one pair of tickets each to 15 students; but 15 pairs to any qualifying student.
    I practically vomited with envy when I read that.
    (This was back when the Tribe played in an 80,000-seat stadium and never sold more than half the seats, so there were plenty to give away.)

  5. A couple memories you might be interested in:
    Growing up across the lake from Chicago in New Buffalo, Michigan, I remember the B&K Root Beer stand across from my house on US-12. On summer weekends it stayed open until 12 or 1 and I remember hearing only the high notes from the outdoor speakers and particularly “Pied Piper” from Crispian St. Peters. All I could hear is that flute…or was it a piccolo?

    Also, there was a slab of concrete on the banks of the Galien (guh-LEEN) River very near the beach wooden-fenced in pink with BIG polkadots. It was called “Surf Gardens” and in the early and mid-sixties ALL the big Chicagoland groups used to play there, often hosted by the WLS or WCFL “J’s”. My friends and I weren’t old enough to go in but we would ride our bikes to the nearby dunes, climb up to peer in and groove to the likes of The Buckinghams, The Shadows of Knight and The Cryan’ Shames.

    Any memories from anyone who actually went INSIDE?
    J.R. Russ
    Movie Ticket Radio dot com

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