Chart 5: Invasion

This is the day, 50 years ago, when the Beatles captured the top five positions on the Hot 100. As we’ve noted before, Billboard‘s chart tended to run behind the streets by a little bit—so let’s visit a local chart for the week of April 4, 1964, from WOKY in Milwaukee.

WOKY has the same top two as Billboard, but in a different order: “Twist and Shout” is #1 in Milwaukee and “Can’t Buy Me Love” is #2. Other Beatle hits were starting to cool on WOKY: Billboard‘s #3, “She Loves You,”dropped to #7; “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Billboard‘s #4, was down to #13; “Please Please Me,” Billboard‘s #5, fell to #19. Two other Beatle hits, also on the Hot 100, were on WOKY: “Do You Want to Know a Secret” (#9 at WOKY, #46 in Billboard) and  “All My Loving,” which made its debut on the WOKY chart at #31—it was at #58 in Billboard.

Other British invaders storming Milwaukee included the Dave Clark Five, the Searchers, and the Swinging Blue Jeans. Apart from all the Brits, however, the chart’s a bit thin on enduring classics: the Beach Boys’ “Fun Fun Fun” is there (#16), as is Betty Everett’s “The Shoop Shoop Song” (#14). Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” (#3), which will briefly break the Beatles’ dominance of the #1 position in Billboard, is on its way up, although it’s more oddity than classic today. Two big stars of the moment, Brenda Lee and Elvis, are on with double-sided hits, although none of the four songs is particularly memorable. Terry Stafford does Elvis better than Elvis with “Suspicion” (#4).

Here are five others that catch my eye and/or ear:

6. “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down”/Serendipity Singers (up from 7). One of the casualties of the British Invasion was the folk boom, although the demise of this nine-member group from Colorado was no great loss. To quote some Internet hack, “‘Don’t Let the Rain Come Down’ sounds like something a group of middle-aged middle-school teachers might do to sublimate an unmet desire to get laid.”

12. “White on White”/Danny Williams (up from 20). A South African pop crooner, Danny Williams was modestly popular in the UK until the beat groups went big. Early in ’63 he went on one of those big package tours that included the not-yet-famous Beatles, and was billed well above them. “White on White” is dang sappy, but not terrible.

15. “Little Boxes”/Pete Seeger (up from 18). You may have learned “Little Boxes” at church camp or Bible school, or maybe when it was the theme song to the early seasons of Weeds. It was Seeger’s lone charting single, reaching #70 on the Hot 100. (A half-century later, it still rings true.)

24. “Understand Your Man”/Johnny Cash (down from 17). I’m currently reading Robert Hilburn’s Johnny Cash: The Life, and I can’t recommend it enough. “Understand Your Man” was written at a time when Cash’s marriage to Vivian Liberto was coming apart (although the couple would not divorce until 1966), and its bitter lyric is aimed—unjustly, it seems to me—at her.

27. “Shangri-La”/Robert Maxwell (up from 34). Providing an adult antidote to all that kiddie music, “Shangri-La” opens and closes with a big ol’ harp flourish played by Maxwell himself, who was a composer, conductor, and arranger in addition to a harpist. But the song is mostly powered by an enormous orchestra riff and a lascivious saxophone that skates the line between cheesy and awesome. It was heard—anachronistically—in the first episode of Mad Men, which was set in 1960.

Folkies, crooners, and big orchestras weren’t the only artists swept away by the British Invasion. Chubby Checker and Chuck Berry, both on WOKY 50 years ago this week, got swamped too. And we are, to a certain extent, still living in the musical world that was just then being born.

2 responses

  1. “White on White” certainly IS sappy, and it’s one of those surprise songs that once you’ve heard it the first time, you can never be surprised again. (“My Girl Bill” comes to mind, and “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” too.) And yet I still love it. I like how Williams sings the first verse full of joy and confidence, so he really fools us. And then as the truth slowly is revealed in the second verse, he does a nice job of letting his heartbreak come through even as he keeps his dignity. And the chorus is damned catchy. I remember hearing “Little Boxes” when it was new (I was 6) and having no idea what it meant. I think I also remember hearing a competing version by the Womenfolk. Finally, I worked with Robert Hilburn for many years at the Los Angeles Times, when he was the pop music critic. I started reading his articles in 1970 (when he reviewed the album “Let It Be” and on through the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, so when I finally got to work with him starting in 2003, it was an honor. Best of all, even though his writing could sometimes be snarky toward artists and songs he didn’t care for (Billy Joel and Barry Manilow come to mind), he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with and a great storyteller. The Johnny Cash biography is his second book since he retired from the Times (the first, “Cornflakes with John Lennon,” is full of essays about the various artists he covered over the decades and is a fun read, too). He knew and admired Cash for many years — he even attended the Folsom Prison concert in 1968 when he was still free-lancing for the Times. I haven’t started reading the book yet, but it’s on my must-read list for this year.

  2. to be fair to Chuck Berry he was in his post-hoosegow phase for violating the Mann Act and was doing pretty well chartwise, as compared with other 50’s rockers. Plus thanks to the British Invasion, bands he influenced were now filling up the American charts.

    And I’ve never gotten past the pretentious (or whatever you’d call it) lyric “ticky tacky” of “Little Boxes.” Just reminds me of what some prim do-gooder would say.

    “Suspicion” is a great record.

    Finally, Cher ruined the “Shoop Shoop Song” for me. Two notes of that and the channel is changed.

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