A Sixties Time Machine

The 1960’s were – as everyone doubtless knows – a time of great turbulence. But it was also a time of great music. The Top 40 – (do they even still call it that?) – was filled with rock, soul and even some country. But for anyone who wasn’t around, you may well think that the airwaves were filled with British Invasion acts, Motown – and not much else.

But I’m here to tell you that there were a lot of really good songs that didn’t fit into either of those categories. So with that as my guideline, I’m going to feature seven of them here. Now, to be clear, I don’t suggest that these are the best or the coolest or the bluesiest or whatever. Just a random sampling of what you might have heard on (mostly) AM radio if you were spinning the dial in the late ’60’s.

Since I previously did my Indispensable 150 on the years up to 1963 (pre-Beatles), this post will cover the years 1963 to the end of the decade. BTW, this largely reflects the American record charts as others, notably the UK, tend to be a quite different experience.

If you are of a certain age, consider this a trip down memory lane. If younger, well maybe this will give you a better idea of what your parents might have been fooling around in the car to.

First up, Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1968 with a little tune by Southern (Oak Grove, Louisiana) singer-songwriter Tony Joe White. White is in his seventies and is apparently still alive and (one hopes) well. Wikipedia lists White’s genres as swamp rock, country funk, and blues. That pretty well describes his song “Polk Salad Annie.” Polk, aka pokeweed, is used in the South to make a salad or sallet.

This is some funky, funky shit. Elvis took it and made it one of his signature tunes:

Spotify list

Ever hear of Archie Bell & the Drells? They were an R&B group from Houston Texas. And that’s just how this next song starts. “Hi, I’M Archie Bell and the Drells.” Their big hit “Tighten Up, Part 1” landed in 1968. I don’t know if Sly Stone was listening to them or vice-versa but it’s got that same feel.

The Tighten Up was apparently a dance but I don’t remember it being as popular as, say, the frug, the twist. or the swim(!). But here’s the tune (“Tighten up on that bass”)

Spotify link

So, then there’s the Monkees. Yes, the Monkees. Love them or hate them, whether you think they’re a real band or not they were all over the airwaves in the Sixties. In fact in 1967 they outsold both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

There were any number of tunes by them I might have considered, some of which may surprise you. But I’ve always had a strong fondness for Mike Nesmith’s oddball tune, “Tapioca Tundra.” Oddly enough, this one also came out in 1968. While they were still popular I think their popularity had started to peak right about this time.

I think Nesmith is the only actual Monkee playing on this, the rest being studio musicians:

Spotify link

I absolutely loved the Turtles – great tunes, very melodic, terrific singing. They had a bunch of hits in the Sixties and you could do worse than to listen to their Greatest Hits album which I probably still have on vinyl. It’s fairly well-known I think that lead vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman – on the band’s breakup in 1970 – rechristened themselves as Flo and Eddie. They went on to work with everyone from Marc Bolan to Frank Zappa.

I love the joy of unfettered love in this tune, “She’d Rather Be With Me:”

Spotify link

I went to see the latest Mission Impossible movie the other day. It was pretty good and of course, totally plausible! Spy books, movies and TV shows were EVERYWHERE in the Sixties. (And of course, MI is based on a Sixties TV show.)

According to Wikipedia, the most famous recording of “Secret Agent Man”was made by Johnny Rivers for the opening titles of the American broadcast of the British spy series Danger Man,* which aired in the U.S. as Secret Agent from 1964 to 1966.

My friend Bill and I used to busk in Harvard Square years ago. This tune always drew a crowd. Bill can sing this tune and any Elvis tune you care to name. Great voice. This one’s just dumb fun: (Recorded at LA’s Whisky A Go Go and released in 1966).

Spotify link

Tommy James and the Shondells had a couple of big hits in the Sixties. Notably their tune “Mony Mony” has for some reason been covered by, among others Billy Idol and I think they might even play it at wedding receptions. (I try to avoid those as much as possible. You tell me.)

A better song IMHO is “I Think We’re Alone Now,” about two lovers who are

Trying to get away into the night and then you put your arms around me
And we tumble to the ground and then you say
I think we’re alone now,
There doesn’t seem to be anyone around
I think we’re alone now,
The beating of our hearts is the only sound

That was considered naughty in 1967 but so tame compared to what you hear today it’s laughable. But a good tune.

Here it is, kids, Number One for the last three weeks on the charts, that’s right it’s “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

Spotify link

“Baby It’s You” is a Burt Bacharach tune that everybody from the Beatles to the Shirelles have covered. But for me this song didn’t really hit till I heard the version from an essentially one-hit wonder band called Smith.

The lead singer here is a woman named Gayle McCormick and she wrenches every bit of sexy, sultriness out of this song that you can imagine. The band was discovered by ’50’s singer Del Shannon. This version actually outsold every other version.

Note – I was driving around years ago with a couple of buddies, Bob and Chas. I was singing this tune and I noticed Bob listening intently. Then later, he was singing it. And then a while later, he wound up with Chas’ wife. Maybe he listened a little too intently:

Spotify link

*The great cult classic, The Prisoner, was a sequel or follow-up to Danger Man. If you’ve never seen it, try to find it.

57 thoughts on “A Sixties Time Machine

  1. I live the idea of this post. The Billboard top 40 / hot 100 charts in the 60s were all over the place stylistically. You inspired me to look at all the #1 hits that knocked the Beatles off the top. Not surprisingly you find the Supremes, the Stones, and the Beach Boys…but you also find artists with entirely different audiences than the Beatles like Louis Armstrong, Dean Martin, Henry Mancini, and Frank Sinatra. And again, those were just the ones knocking the Beatles from #1. Its like kids were competing with their parents for the #1 spot.

    Also, there is no need to defend yourself for enjoying the Monkees. They made great records! And they did it in the same fashion as almost everybody else at the time: The principal corporation hired record producers to select certain types of songs, and assemble professional studio musicians to record specific styles of music. The fact that the Monkees, (esp. Mike and Mickey) were able to affect the quality and charm of Monkees records so definitively is a testament to their great talent. People that dismiss the Monkees are, to be nice, confused.


        1. No worries. I just need to occasionally explain my Mary Poppins attitude towards music – I never explain. 😂 As to your first paragraph before, spot on. The ’60’s weren’t (musically) exactly what history and myth might have us believe.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice list, Jim. There was so much happening musically in the ’60s, this is just the tip of the tip of a mammoth iceberg. I’m glad you included the Turtles, though. Anyone bold enough to venture beyond “Happy Together” will discover a treasure chest of musical delights. (Zappa called Howard Kaylan, aka “Eddie,” the best singer he ever employed.) Regarding the Monkees, I come down in the middle. They weren’t as goddawful as some would claim, but they were on the low end of the totem pole regarding ’60s pop, and only Nesmith and Tork could play instruments. My big regret was that I abandoned the Beatles for them when their TV show hit in 1966. Later on, I returned to the fold, but I lost a lot of good years!

    If you’re interested, here’s my nod to the year 1966: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/41618154/posts/1527


    1. Agreed about that tip of the iceberg. Narrowing it down to a relative few was an impossible task. So I wanted to make it clear it was a random spin of the dial, not necessarily indicative of any broad theme. As to the Turtles, it blew my mind when I first heard those guys were involved with Zappa. It just seemed so incongruous.

      I’d disagree that the Monkees were on the low-end. Over and above their “non-bandness,” some of their tunes were pretty damn catchy. It will doubtless amuse you that the first record I ever bought was “I’m a Believer” in 1967. What were singles back then, 75 cents? (5 or 6 bucks in today’s dollars.)

      I will definitely check out your toast to the Golden Year of 1966 and report back.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. (Jeez, those were the days. A great pop single for less than a buck!)

        “I’m a Believer” was a great Monkees song. However… (and you probably already know this)… it was written by Neil Diamond, and the pre-Fab Four didn’t play on it (just Dolenz’s vocals). You might like the version done by Canterbury prog-rocker Robert Wyatt, recorded not long after he was paralyzed from falling out of a window.


        1. BTW, my 12-year-old self didn’t care who wrote it or played on it. I loved it! That’s why I’m not as harsh on kids who love boy bands or whatever. I was a teenybopper. (Per my older sister.)


    2. So, I read your tribute to 1966 which was a good, thoughtful piece. I would recommend to anyone reading this to check it out if they haven’t. One thing I picked up on was this, “But the icing on the cake was multi-part vocal harmony. Great harmonies separated the men from the boys. They transformed modest two-and-a-half minute melodies into miniature symphonies.”

      Amen! My friend Bill and I talk about this all the time. Where have all the harmonies gone? Radio back then was dominated by that sound. I won’t say it’s a lost art. But I’m not hearing it as much now as I did then and that’s incredibly sad.

      And yes as we’ve been discussing, the charts back then were wildly diverse – Frank and Nancy Sinatra doing “Something Stupid” next to, say, The Who next to Tom Jones.

      As to The Leaves, that’s a new one on me.


      1. Not to brag, but here’s an interesting anecdote: Flo and Eddie were guest deejays in Cincinnati for a week back in ’95 or so. While at work, I sent a fax to them, telling them how much I loved the Turtles, and that I’d just interviewed Ken Forssi, bass player in Love, who said he’d almost joined the Turtles in 1967. And… they faxed me back! (I still have the printout.). They were real tickled to get my fan-fax, and remembered Forssi, who lived down the street from Mark Volman (Flo).

        Volman lives in Nashville now, and teaches a music biz class at a local university (he recently overcame throat cancer).


  3. Great playlist! While the British Invasion was mighty big and undoubtedly included terrific artists, I agree there were many outstanding American bands as well, such as The Beach Boys, The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield (ok, partially American). In addition to Motown, let’s also not forget Stax. Pretty much anything coming out of that label in the ’60s was awesome. And then, as you rightly pointed out, there were bands that were not as well known but still came out with great stuff.

    While as a musician I always appreciate when artists play their own instruments, I dig The Monkees. They simply had very well done pop tunes. Plus, eventually, they actually learned how to play their instruments! 🙂

    As for that scandalous tune “I Think We’re Alone Now,” growing up in the ’80s, I think I wasn’t alone when I heard the tune for the first time performed by then-teenage artist Tiffany. I only learned about the original by Tommy James and the Shondells years later.

    And how about that swampy Polk Salad Annie? Believe it or not, I could picture John Fogerty do this great tune.

    I don’t know much about The Turtles’ music but absolutely dig the title song of the album, from which you took the tune you highlighted – damn, these guys could sing!


    1. I’ve actually been digging the playlist myself. After I did the post I listened to it a few times. Just some great stuff back then. The pop charts are so different these days I don’t think I could even put a list together.

      As Listening to Records pointed out, the charts were all over the map back then. The Top Six Songs on Billboard’s year-end chart in 1964 included Beatles, Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, Louis Armstrong – and Dean Martin doing “Everybody Loves Somebody.” (!) It was the changing of the guard but the old bucks weren’t giving up yet.

      Actually Tork and Nesmith were already very accomplished musicians. (And I’m assuming you know that Stephen Stills auditioned for this show.) Don Kirshner wanted control and so wouldn’t let them play or write their own stuff. Kirshner went on to create a cartoon band called The Archies saying, “I want a band that won’t talk back.”

      I don’t even know who the fuck Tiffany is. One-hit wonder? I do remember my sister implying this song was naughty but she would never tell me why.. 🙂

      I love “Polk Salad Annie.” What a great tune. Elvis made it his own but I gotta believe others are doing it. Fogerty would kill it. There’s non better fake Southerner. 🙂
      Check out more Turtles on YouTube or Spotify. Great pop.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep, I think Tiffany may have been a one-hit wonder, though Wikipedia calls her a former teen icon. Apparently, she did write some own stuff and also was an actress. But in connection with music, this tune is the only one I recall.

        I had forgotten about Stills auditioning for the TV but now that you mentioned it vaguely recall having read it somewhere before.

        I’m going to check out more Turtles music!


    2. Yes thanks so much for posting the Tommy James and Shondells version – so much superior to the Tiffany version which is the only one I knew til now.


      1. I think that maybe managers of those who do covers don’t make any real attempt to make a connection to the original version so as to seem like somehow it sprang from his artists’s head.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Tony Joe White. I have a post coming up referring to him. I’ll send you the song when the time comes. I still listen to him. Hopefully he made some dough on the Elvis turn.
    I remember the Archie Bell tune. One of those the am radio use to spit out that caught CB’s ear. You remember ‘Let It All Hang Out’?
    The Turtles as you know are in my wheelhouse. Love Flo and Eddie. Love this tune (Lots of love). We were just talking about the Beatles version of ‘Baby It’s You’. I like this one too.
    Which brings me to Johnny Rivers. I have his greatest hits and I spin it a lot Doc. What a great tune. CB always wanted to be a “Double Knot Spy”.


    1. Yeah, I suppose White got some performance and recording royalties from that. Good for him. Wonder what he’s up to?
      I didn’t remember “Let It All Hang Out.” I had to go listen to it. Rings a faint bell but I don’t think it was a big hit in my neck of the woods. Oddly it’s on that Nuggets compilation some of was were talking about when we did the Desert Island Discs.
      I couldn’t remember if it was you or Pete who liked the Turtles. Both, I guess. Weren’t we going to catch the Happy Together tour?
      You can’t beat “Secret Agent.” There is no party you could play that at that wouldn’t get it going. For the record, Bill can even play that clunky solo.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Tony has been popping up on my Spotify (Love it Doc) when i listen to certain people. Still sounding good.
        Mellencamp did a version of ‘Hang’ a few years ago and jogged my memory. He does sa great job on it.
        Yup we’re still going to the “Big rock show” with Flo and Eddie.
        I absolutely know nothing about Johnny Rivers except i like his covers. ‘Poor side of Town’ is another good one. Even Bill.? (I was at a Karaoke (first and last time) in Calgary and a certain actor you know who played Joe Buck sang this. Hilarious).


        1. I have friends that I just cannot convince how great Spotify is. Their loss.
          Unless we can get to South Dakota tomorrow we may have missed the window for the Happy Together tour. You’re probably closer than I am.
          Boy I wish I could hear a tape of the Midnight Cowboy singing that. What a great, classic flick.

          Liked by 1 person

        1. Heh! What a bunch of crap. I do, however, kinda like ‘Midnight at the Oasis.’ She’s a good singer and it has a great guitar solo. The rest of it – along with just about all disco = may safely be relegated to the dustbin of musical history.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. I avoid lists that claim to be “Best of” or “Worst of,” but in my list of “Best Lists,” this is up near the top. This guy really knows crappy ’70s music. Like you, Jim, my only objection might be “Midnight at the Oasis.” A bit out of character for Muldaur, but a nice melody with sweet guitar. I would substitute Dan Hill’s truly abominable “Sometimes When We Touch.”

          “…the honesty’s too much
          I want to hold you
          Till the fear in me subsides!!!!!”

          (Pass the barf bowl, please)

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Pete, for once we are totally on the same page! One of most execrable, meretricious pieces of shit ever written. I think the guy wrote it just so he could get laid. I sing it to my wife occasionally for a giggle. She hates it. It’s so stupid and meaningless. I once went on YouTube where it was and pretty much said the same thing. Some guy said I had “no soul.” Heh! No accounting for taste.


        4. (I literally laughed out loud reading this.)

          You gave me an idea. I’m going to sing this wretched thing to my wife tonight just for making me watch cruise videos. Then I’m going in the bathroom to retch.


        5. BTW, the guitarist that played that solo in “Oasis” is named Amos Garrett and he’s known among guitarists primarily because of that perfect solo. That’s not uncommon. Everybody (in the guitar world anyway) knows Elliott Randall because of his solos on “Reelin’ in the Years.” (One of Jimmy Page’s favorites.)

          Liked by 1 person

        6. I needed a good laugh before I hit the hay and you and Pete gave it to me with your comments. “wretched thing”. I’m still chuckling. You guys have to do this more often, sort of a ‘Rate the Record’ bit. I’d tune in every time. ‘Having My Baby’ come on you guys what’s wrong with that?

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Some great stuff here, Jim (as always). I’ve heard of most of them – Johnny Rivers being the odd one out.

    The Monkees are the artist here I like least. I’ve tried and I just don’t like them. I do, however, like Mike Nesmith a whole lot.

    Tony Joe White is great. He’s actually released a couple of crackin’ albums via Yep Roc and, I think, has one coming soon.


  6. I was a kid in the 60’s so thanks for the history lesson. Some of these I know, some (like Tighten Up) I know I heard somewhere over the years. As we’ve discussed before, love the wide variety of types of music. Will definitely check out more from the Turtles. Flo and Eddie of course provided some harmony vocals on Springsteen’s Hungry Heart (putting on my Bruce geek hat. 🙂


    1. Funny how many people know ‘Tighten Up.’ I thought it was kind of obscure. And yes you are correct about the Flo and Eddie/Springsteen thing. Right you are. He was going for a more commercial sound and he got it.

      BTW, I’ve checked out your site and it’s good. The only reason I don’t subscribe is I can’t keep up with daily posts. I know I just won’t be able to give those songs the attention they deserve.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks. No worries. The song of day seemed like a fun thing to do when we started blog but to be honest may end up transitioning to song a week or every couple days. We would like to do more original post but of course challenge is finding time when rest of life gets in way 😀


        1. When I first started blogging about three years ago, I was doing something like 22 blogs/month. But then stuff was blowing past people so fast they didn’t have time to read. Now that I’ve slowed down to 2 – 3/week, readership has expanded. Even that’s too frequent for some people but posting once a week just isn’t enough for me. But overall, in the blogosphere, it turns out that less is more.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. There’s a sweet spot there between how often people are willing to read you and the minimum you need to write to keep yourselves engaged and interested. Just need to find it.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Just by reading your posts and some others has taught me so much about how to approach sharing my love of music in an interesting fashion so thanks for that !


    1. Sure, and I guess I have a limited sense of the ’40s’ music. It seemed all ‘big band’ but I bet there was some other stuff in there. But yeah, the ’60’s were polyglot for sure. It was a great, great time musically and that’s before you even factor in the British Invasion, Dylan, Motown, etc. Just a lot of creativity.


  7. Hey Jim. Just a heads up. I couldn’t get the link to the Indispensable 150 to work. When I click on it I get an unsupported URL error message.


    1. That’s weird. I just tried it and it was fine. Try this – go to my site and search for Indispensable 150 on my search bar. You should get 5 posts – 4 that constitute the series, the fifth one being all 150 on a Spotify list.


  8. Ok yes that worked! Weird in that it seemed like any link that I went to in the Worpress reader for your blog said it wasn’t there – must be some glitch. But site looks great – cant’ wait to dig in and check out the full list on Spotify!


    1. I remember that happening to someone else. Safe to assume you were logged in? Or, different browser? If it keeps up with other links, suggest WP support. Not sure what causes that but the only links that don’t work typically are ones that go to YouTube and for which the rights have been rescinded. When I find those I just replace them.

      Liked by 1 person

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