We are going to be up to our eyeballs in 50th anniversary stuff before long—the March on Washington in August, the Kennedy assassination in November, Beatlemania next February, and the dozens of notable Sixties events we’ll relive in the next few years—so we should probably get used to being unimpressed by the passage of that much time. Nevertheless, I can’t help being boggled by the survey from WHK in Cleveland dated May 13, 1963. Count the boomer classics that were on the radio 50 years ago this spring: “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “I Will Follow Him,” “Surfin’ USA,” “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “It’s My Party,” “Pipeline,” “Sweet Dreams.” The tectonic forces driving popular music at the time are writ large: surf music, girl groups, Motown, folk, teen idols, MOR schmaltz—it’s all there, even as it was all save Motown about to be swept away by the Beatles (just starting to happen in the UK in the spring of 1963).
Were songs from 1913 as present in the minds of people of 1963 as this stuff is in our minds now? Some songs of that vintage would have still been part of the vernacular in 1963, including “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” “You Made Me Love You,” and “Peg o’ My Heart,” although they were better known as songs than as specific performances, which is the way we remember our old songs. A few eccentric antiquarians might have been chasing after Al Jolson’s “The Spaniard That Blighted My Life” or Henry Burr’s “When I Lost You,” but most music lovers of 1963 were not.
Here are five records from the WHK survey that interest the eccentric antiquarians of today. Say, for example, you and me.
3. “You Can’t Sit Down”/Dovells (up from 10). I can remember hearing “You Can’t Sit Down” on WLS in the early 70s, but my sense of it—which could be completely wrong—is that it didn’t rank high in the oldies pantheon, back when oldies stations still played early 60s cuts.
24. “Take These Chains From My Heart”/Ray Charles (down from 16). Brother Ray’s two 1962 albums, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Volume 2, contained performances that every music fan should know: “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “You Are My Sunshine,” and “Busted” among them, along with “Take These Chains From My Heart.” They show just how closely related country and soul music can be, yet none of them made Billboard‘s country Top 40.
30. “If You Need Me”/Wilson Pickett (up from 33). Instantly identifiable as the Wicked Pickett from the first word he sings, “If You Need Me” was his first single, although the version by Solomon Burke was much bigger and is more famous. Pickett was still a couple of years away from “In the Midnight Hour.”
39. “Crazy Days of Summer”/Nat King Cole (debut). When I was a kid, the local radio station would bust out “Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer” late in May, about the time school got out. My mother loved it, and it became a signifier of summertime at our house. To this day, it has vivid associations with that place and time, lighted by the morning sun, windows open, breezes blowing in, Mom bustling around with her countertop radio playing, and her children reveling in the freedom of summer vacation.
41. “10 Commandments of Love”/James MacArthur (up from 44). MacArthur cut a couple of singles in the early 60s. He doesn’t actually sing on “10 Commandments of Love,” and so he’s easily recognizable as Danny Williams of Hawaii Five-O, which he would one day be.
It’s obvious but it’s true, and nothing proves it like this WHK survey: 1963 is a lot further away than it used to be.