(Pictured: the first pop-culture obsession of mine that I can remember was Batman. At Halloween 1966, there was no way I have gone as anything else.)
On Tumblr, user instereo007 has been posting remarkably evocative vintage Halloween pictures for a couple of weeks now. Many of them include the sort of costumes kids wore from the 60s into the 80s, those Ben Cooper things you could buy for three bucks featuring every pop culture character imaginable. (At Halloween in 1966, I wore a Ben Cooper Batman costume, and my brother, then four years old, went as an astronaut. Somewhere, there’s a home movie of us in those getups.) Lots of stories this week are noting how expensive Halloween costumes can be today—turn your kid into a character from Frozen for just $85—and although you get a more sophisticated look, it’s doubtful whether the wearer gets more pleasure than we did nearly 50 (!) years ago.
Because we grew up on a farm, Halloween was not quite the big deal it was for our friends who lived in town. Our costumes were mainly for the school Halloween party; our trick-or-treating was generally limited to our grandparents’ house on the other end of the farm. If we were feeling especially brave, we would occasionally visit our neighbors down the road—my mother knew they had a passel of nieces and nephews who lived nearby, so a couple more trick-or-treaters wouldn’t strain their candy budget. But the idea of going into town to trick-or-treat with our friends was never broached, and may never have occurred to us.
To bring this discussion back to the ostensible topic of this blog, and since I’ve already mentioned 1966, here are five songs from the WLS Hit Parade dated October 28, 1966:
1. “Last Train to Clarksville”/Monkees (holding at 1; previous week position of #3 on the survey is a typo). This song hit the Hot 100 the same week The Monkees premiered on TV. If Wikipedia can be believed, songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart imitated the Beatles as much as possible on “Clarksville,” from the distinctive guitar riff to the “no-no-no” refrain.
3. “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”/Four Tops (holding at 3). We have written many times over the years about the differences between album mixes and 45s, and how radio stations are often not particular about which ones they play. The single version of “Reach Out” brings the mighty Levi Stubbs to the front and emphasizes the rumbling bass played by the mighty James Jamerson.
18. “Wish You Were Here, Buddy”/Pat Boone (up from 20). One of the worst records I’ve ever written about is “The Ballad of Two Brothers” by Autry Inman, a remarkably unsubtle anti-antiwar number that was a minor hit at the end of 1968. By that time, most pro-war/anti-protester songs came off strident and/or self-righteous. Two years earlier, Vietnam was not so unpopular—and Pat Boone’s “Wish You Were Here, Buddy,” a letter from a soldier to a friend back home (and the 59th of his 60 Hot 100 hits), was actually pretty clever.
19. “Winchester Cathedral”/New Vaudeville Band (debut). This is not a song that endured into the era of “good times/great oldies” radio, mostly because it doesn’t evoke the 60s as much as it evokes the raccoon-coat days of the late 1920s. But there’s never been anything else that sounded like it.
31. “Bang Bang”/Joe Cuba Sextet (up from 34). A New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, Cuba (born Gilberto Calderon) is an important figure in the history of Latin pop. “Bang Bang” gets credit for launching the style known as “boogaloo,” and is revered by salsa fans as well.
Apart from “Winchester Cathedral,” I don’t remember hearing any of these songs on the radio at Halloween 1966. My obsessions back then were Batman and whatever Grandma put in my trick-or-treat bag. Other, more long-lasting obsessions were waiting to be born.