Thursday, April 12, 2012

Psychobabble’s 20 Greatest Singles of 1962!

At last! Following a couple of dry years for Rock & Roll, many interesting new developments were afoot. Breakthrough records by The Beach Boys and Phil Spector joined great new discs by old favorites like Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison. A young troubadour named Bob was having his first go at Rock & Roll. And some odd rumbling began in merry-old England when a London band topped the U.S. charts for the first time and a quartet of shaggy weirdos from Liverpool released their first hit on their home shore. Here are Psychobabble’s picks for the twenty greatest singles released during that revolutionary year, 1962!

20. “Puddin’ N’ Tain” by The Alley Cats

Phil Spector’s early production of the doo-wop nonsense “Puddin’ N’ Tain” lacks the drama of his great girl-group work, but right from the opening moments, this is clearly a leap forward from earlier records in the same vein. Echo shrouds a popping percussion ensemble soon joined by dancing-finger piano. Over it all, The Alley Cats lose it, repeating the title mantra, leaping into hysterical falsetto. But the Spectorian bells that twinkle out on the bridge leave no question as to who brought the magic to this record.

19. “Love Me Do” / “P.S. I Love You” by The Beatles

The decision to introduce The Beatles to the world with the halting folk ditty “Love Me Do” was a strange one considering they had better original material, and that includes the single’s flipside, “P.S. I Love You” (early evidence of McCartney’s brilliance with the pop-standard form). Certainly this isn’t one of The Beatles’ best, yet it’s historical significance lies somewhere between Darwin’s fish crawling out of the ocean and man setting foot on the moon.

18. “Telstar” by The Tornadoes

Joe Meek’s freaky production of The Tornadoes’ instrumental is not quite as monumental as “Love Me Do”, yet it is significant as the very first record by a British band to top the Billboard charts. More importantly, it is a transporting period piece buzzing with Meek’s signature special effects. Although the title was inspired by the first communication satellite launched into the atmosphere, the track is more reminiscent of the ambling of a wind-up robot.

17. “Sheila” by Tommy Roe

Buddy Holly’s death left a hiccup in the pop world that several singers tried to fill. Bobby Vee was the first, but the most convincing was Tommy Roe, who copped Holly’s delivery over a dead-on Jerry Allison beat on his debut single, “Sheila”. Roe went on to a surprisingly long career as a chirper of bubblegum smashes like “Sweet Pea”, “Hooray for Hazel”, and “Dizzy”, but none lived up to the Rock & Roll promise of the rolling Holly-homage “Sheila”.

16. “Hitch Hike” by Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye wailed the praises of a questionable pastime on his second great single, “Hitch Hike”. Gaye locates the small swatch of sandpaper at the back of his honeyed throat. Finger-snapping percussion and stray flute flutters suggest the rays of passing headlights while riding along with strangers down Route 66. The thumping intro is so distinctive that Lou Reed later claimed it for his own on “There She Goes Again”.

15. “Return to Sender” by Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley may have entered the army as the King of Rock & Roll, but when he got back in early 1960, that title would never be completely convincing again. The raw vitality of his early hits and the earlier Sun Sessions that produced his greatest work was gone. The army and his beloved mother’s death seemingly sanitized away all of the hip-swiveler’s rough edges. He settled for starring in dopey B-movies and making pop music while the invading British filled the void he left. This doesn’t mean Elvis stopped making good records. One of his very best was “Return to Sender”, a jaunty number from his 1962 flick Girls! Girls! Girls! Chugging sax and cheeky backing vocals help mask the fact that Elvis had lost his yen for screaming.

14. “Surfin’ Safari” / “409” by The Beach Boys

Every surfer worth his or her salt knew the real soundtrack of the waves was the echo-drenched guitar instrumentals of Dick Dale and not the Chuck Berry-meets-Four Freshman fusion The Beach Boys introduced on their first great record. Of course, to the landlocked majority, “Surfin’ Safari” is the essence of California’s favorite sport. And for those who just couldn’t relate to balancing on a plank of wood in swim trunks, they could just flip the record over and dig the equally terrific drag-racing anthem “409”. Surfing and driving. That’s called diversification, kids.

13. “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” by Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans

It’s kind of amazing to realize Phil Spector masterminded one of his most experimental records during the same year he cut “Puddin’ ‘N Tain” and even more amazing that he made “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” before “Puddin’ ‘N Tain”. Most amazing of all is the fact that his bizarrely mechanical rendition of a ditty from Disney’s most controversial movie hit the top ten. Percussion clatters; fuzzy guitars snarl; Bobby Sheen yowls as Darlene Love shouts “Yeahs!” of encouragement. It all sounds like the gears winding away in some massive robotic clock. Mesmerizing.

12. “Twist and Shout” by The Isley Brothers

It had been two years since Chubby Checker introduced the world to its most famous dance craze, but twist fever was still riding strong in 1962. In fact, Checker’s hit returned to number one in early 1962 after his appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” prompted a rerelease. Parents always questioned the wholesomeness of churning ones hips in time to a pop record, but “The Twist” sounds positively square next to The Isley Brother’s interpretation of the dirty dance. “Fuck and Shout” might have been a more appropriate title as Ronald, O’Kelly, and Rudolph unleash animal screams in their incitation to “work it on out.” The Beatles would give the song an even more frenzied reading, but The Isleys’ original remains a wild soul classic.

11. “Palisades Park” by Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon

“Palisades Park” is a perfect piece of pop program music. You can smell the sawdust, taste the cotton candy, and feel the wind blasting off the Tilt-a-Whirl as Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon celebrates a Jersey Amusement Park over carousel organ. We have Chuck “Gong Show” Barris to thank for the composition, but Cannon’s carnival barker shouting and a production completed with the vérité screams of roller-coaster riders are what make it pop gold.

10. “These Arms of Mine” by Otis Redding

“These Arms of Mine” was not Otis Redding’s first record, but he didn’t fully come into his own until he joined forces with Stax Records (and some may argue that Stax didn’t either). The combination was magic, and that’s very evident on this burning, yearning ballad. This is a more restrained Otis than the guy who lost his shit while growling “Satisfaction” and “Try a Little Tenderness”, but as a showcase for the man’s crooning at its purist, “These Arms of Mine” is complete luxury.

9. “Green Onions” by Booker T. and The M.G.’s

Otis Redding possessed soul’s greatest voice, but let’s not forget that he wasn’t singing those classics a cappella. Stax was so integral to the wonderfulness of those records because it was the home of soul’s raunchiest house band: Booker T. & The M.G.’s. The guys cut a lot of records on their own, but none are as indelible as the super-cool jive of “Green Onions”. The bandleader rolls out an incessant riff on his organ as Steve Cropper whips off tortured string bends on top. No Mod dance party is complete without a spin or two of “Green Onions”.

8. “The Loco-Motion” by Little Eva

Heaviness wouldn’t become an essential element of Rock & Roll until The Kinks powered through “You Really Got Me” a couple of years later, but Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion” is early evidence of that coming direction. Some recall this one-hit wonder as little more than a Chiclet of bubblegum soul. They should reacquaint themselves with the gut-busting boom of sax and guitar that begins this record. It’s a powerful moment that contrasts the sweetness of Eva’s chugga, chugga motion.

7. "Let's Dance" by Chris Montez

And do we now hear the birth of heavy metal drumming? Like “The Loco-Motion”, “Let’s Dance” is a seemingly innocent invitation to twist and stomp on the dance floor, but the pounding intro sounds more like an invitation to rip down the ceiling. The cheesy/glorious organ line does little to sanitize the brutality of those tom-tom thumps. The Ramones certainly recognized this track’s inherent ferocity when they covered it on their debut album.

6. “Uptown” by The Crystals

Phil Spector made some great records when he first got behind the board, but his artistry took a shocking jolt forward when he recorded “Uptown” in early 1962. This is the birth of The Phil Spector sound: the clattering percussion, the soaring strings, the bedrock of basses. Everything merges into a miraculous, unified cry, even as the flamenco runs of nylon-stringed guitar dance out of the mix. Spector was also working with his best material yet. Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill’s tale of class and romance in the city is well matched by The Crystals’ rough-hewn vocals. They weren’t as mighty as Darlene Love or as distinctive as Ronnie Spector, but they convey this lyric’s gravity and hunger magnificently.

5. “Mixed-Up Confusion” by Bob Dylan

Everyone knows Dylan went electric in 1965, but many don’t realize he’d already dipped his toes into Rock & Roll waters three years earlier. His fellow folkies were shocked to hear him thrash up a Rockabilly hurricane on the non-L.P. single “Mixed-Up Confusion”. Clearly, it did not play to his fan base either as it failed to hit and remained largely forgotten until its inclusion on the Biograph box set in 1985. Yet this is a thrilling indication that Bob longed to be Elvis right from the start.

4. “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” by The Miracles

It had been two years since Smokey Robinson and The Miracles had cracked the top- ten with “Shop Around”. “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” was a triumph as both a return to the upper region of Billboard charts and a startlingly mature new phase in the quintet’s soul pleading. Apparently, this heart-stopping ballad about a bad relationship the singer just can’t shake was almost relegated to the B-side. Perhaps the bluesy boogie “(Have a) Happy Landing” could have made the grade, but it certainly would not have survived the ages as its single-mate did. Fall to your knees as Smokey stops the band to weep “Please… Squeeze…Hold Me” at the gripping climax.

3. “Twist Twist Señora” by Gary “U.S.” Bonds

When “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” has stopped spinning, and you’re done drying your eyes, give yourself a complete mood adjustment with Gary “U.S.” Bonds’s “Twist Twist Señora”. Perhaps no other artist had such a knack for boiling the essence of an off-the-hook party down to 45 rpms. “Twist Twist Señora” was not quite as iconic or commercially successful as “Quarter to Three” or “New Orleans”, but for sheer ecstatic excitement, it may take the cake.

2. “Dream Baby” by Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison was always best known for operatic, tear-jerking ballads like “Crying” and “Only the Lonely”, but he could also work magic with a rocker. Although “Pretty Woman” was his best-known number in this vein, it didn’t quite pack the drama of his down-tempo classics. “Dream Baby” did because of its ingenious structure. No bridge or chorus is necessary as Roy keeps repeating the same verse with ever mounting intensity over 2:35. Bass pulls off a couple notes; then Roy enters with his haunting voice and acoustic guitar. Layers of percussion, additional voices, piano, electric guitar, and sax gradually join the gang. Building, building to an expansive drum fill two-minutes in. Then everything comes to a sudden stop. Just a moment. Just a moment. Now! A quick snatch of drums and sax and all reenter in earth-shaking unison. Sticks fly all over drum skins. Sax and guitar weave in and out of each other like drunken gulls. Backing vocalists swirl in a cyclone of “Dream Baby, ah ha!” Roy’s voice keeps rising and rising maniacally through a fade that could have continued for another 20 minutes as far as I’m concerned.

1. “He’s a Rebel” by The Crystals

Who could possibly top Roy Orbison for theatrical force? Not many, but Darlene Love is a definite contender. Don’t be fooled by the group name on the record label. This is not The Crystals who recorded “Uptown”, but rather a Phil Spector hoodwink meant to capitalize on that successful name in the days when Darlene was not yet household-name material. But that voice is as unmistakable as Spector’s signature clamor, which was rarely more exhilarating than it is here. Gene Pitney composed this rather moving declaration of allegiance to a boy who ain’t nearly as bad as the naysayers say. Love could wring premium emotion out of “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”, so when she’s given a lyric of greater meaning to sing, the effect could be emotionally overwhelming. “He’s the Rebel” is the sound of a great singer metamorphosing into a great star.

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