A Happening Thing

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(Pictured: the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, 1967.)

As we make our way through the 50th anniversary of 1967, looking back at the Billboard Hot 100 week by week is a mind-blowing experience: so many songs that remain imprinted on our DNA, so many acts that define what pop and rock music means to us, all appearing in what was then real time. The chart dated March 11, 1967, is almost too much to take in: “Ruby Tuesday,” “Kind of a Drag,” “Penny Lane,” “Happy Together,” “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “For What It’s Worth,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “The Beat Goes On,” “I’m a Believer,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and others. You know them all.  Some notes follow:

—There’s remarkable volatility on the chart, at least by pre-Soundscan standards. “Penny Lane” jumps from #36 to #5 and “Strawberry Fields Forever” enters the Top 40 at #16 from #45 the week before. “Happy Together” leaps to #8 from #21, and “Dedicated to the One I Love” by the Mamas and the Papas hits #10 from #26.

—Amidst the rock classics, middle-of-the-road pop continues to make a stand as Ed Ames’ “My Cup Runneth Over” moves into the Top 10. It’s a love song of remarkable power and poignancy, as we’ve noted before. Also among the Top 60 this week: Frankie Laine, Tom Jones (with the classic “Green Green Grass of Home”), Al Martino, Jack Jones, and Petula Clark.

—The Royal Guardsmen had spent four weeks at #2 in January with “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron. ” They had sent a copy of the record to Charles Schulz hoping to get his blessing. According to group member Barry Winslow, Schulz’s lawyers suggested the record be renamed “Squeaky vs. the Black Knight.” Eventually, the Guardsmen got official permission to use the Snoopy character, in exchange for “a pretty healthy chunk of money.” Fifty years ago this week, “Return of the Red Baron” blasts into the Top 40 on its way to #15. Two more Snoopy-themed hits will follow. At the end of 1967, “Snoopy’s Christmas” will become one of the most successful holiday novelties ever. “Snoopy for President” will stall at #85 in the summer of ’68.

—“I Never Loved a Man” by Aretha Franklin is in its second week on the chart, moving from #80 to #52. It was the only song finished during Aretha’s January session at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals—which dissolved into chaos thanks to a racially charged dispute between Franklin’s husband/manager and some of the session musicians.

—The chart is studded with other classic soul performances: “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” by Wilson Pickett, “It Takes Two” by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston, “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” by Sam and Dave, the Four Tops’ “Bernadette,” “Jimmy Mack” by Martha and the Vandellas, Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music,” and James Carr’s “The Dark End of the Street.” Also appearing: Jerry Butler, Freddie Scott, Solomon Burke, James Brown, Joe Tex, Jackie Wilson, Percy Sledge, Eddie Floyd, and Bo Diddley.

—Heads tuned to psychedelic rock can dig “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night,” “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet,” and “It’s a Happening Thing” by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy this week. There are also plenty of pop songs sprinkled with trippy fairy dust: among them “Happy Together,” “Pretty Ballerina,” “98.6,” “Mairzy Doats” by the Innocence, and “That Acapulco Gold” by the Rainy Daze, whose chemical inspiration is right in the title.

—Besides “Kind of a Drag” at #2, the Buckinghams also score with “Laudy Miss Claudy” (badly misspelled by Billboard) at #98 and “Don’t You Care” at #100. “Kind of a Drag” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” were released on the Buckinghams’ original label, Chicago-based USA. “Don’t You Care” was the first release after the Buckinghams’ new deal with producer James William Guercio and Columbia Records, and it would blow “Clawdy” away, getting to #6 while “Clawdy” made only #41—although the fact that “Don’t You Care” is miles better had something to do with it too.

—Let’s find a reason to mention “Western Union” by the Five Americans (#58) and the Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” (#61).

We have occasionally noted the phenomenon of a great chart loaded with classic hits that ends up topped by a song that is neither great nor classic. The week of March 11, 1967, is one of those. “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone” would be the weakest #1 song in the Supremes catalog if it wasn’t for “The Happening” later in 1967. But the songs behind it are so insanely great that it doesn’t matter.

(Promotional announcement: One Day in Your Life is now its own blog, mostly repeating posts that have previously appeared here—but this past week I wrote a brand-new one, so please go and read it.)

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