Go Go DancersAs this year and this list come to a close – the former a period of recovery from cancer and its treatment, and the latter an exercise in personal reflection – things boil down to a final few hours and five final songs.

Again, for those new to this list, what you’ll find below are the final handful of songs of a list I began this spring as I lay recovering from Stage IV throat cancer. It is of my 300 favorite singles of the 1960s, along with a brief (or at least briefish) narrative on why a song matters to me, or at least some memory or reflection I have of it.

These are not by any means the 300 best 45s from the Golden Age of Top 40 radio, or even my opinion of the 300 best. They are simply my 300 favorites; those songs that have not been beaten to death by oldies radio or co-opted by some combination of Hollywood and Madison Ave, and with which I maintain various levels of personal attachment.

Go Go CrowdTwo things before I bid this project adieu. First, the narratives that accompany these last few songs have grown in length as the songs become nearer and dearer to my heart and/or mind. For that I apologize.

And secondly, I’d sure appreciate your feedback and would love to hear your thoughts, either on 45s that you too liked, or one’s that would have made your cut but did not make mine.

And finally, unlike each other installment, this time I thought I’d change things up. Rather than listing the 45s in numerical order, I’m listing them in inverse numerical order, with #5 first and #1 last.

Thanks for all your support and feedback throughout this process. Here’s to you, here’s to music, and here’s to a great 2015.

Enjoy.

Desert Island Jukebox: Part 1
Desert Island Jukebox: Part 2
Desert Island Jukebox: Part 3
Desert Island Jukebox: Part 4
Desert Island Jukebox: Part 5
Desert Island Jukebox: Part 6
Desert Island Jukebox: Part 7
Desert Island Jukebox: Part 8
Desert Island Jukebox: Part 9
Desert Island Jukebox: Songs 26 thru 30
Desert Island Jukebox: Songs 21 thru 25
Desert Island Jukebox: Songs 16 thru 20
Desert Island Jukebox: Songs 11 thru 15
Desert Island Jukebox: Songs 6 thru 10

5. Not Too Long Ago
Uniques
1965
A Louisiana country boy from rural Webster Parish, near Bossier City, Joe Stampley grew up listening to everyone from Hank Joe StampleyWilliams and Merle Travis to Elvis Presley, Dale Hawkins, delta blues, traditional Creole, race records, and Cajun style boogie-woogie. So when he formed a band and heard local critics were having trouble pigeonholing their eclectic and often one-of-a-kind music, Stampley decided to call his group the Uniques. This one wasn’t the Uniques biggest selling record, but it was their best – and by far. A tune written by Stampley himself, along with country great Merle Kilgore (Ring of Fire), the 45 was produced by the aforementioned Hawkins, who even though he had written and released the rockabilly smash hit Susie Q a few years prior, remained still a largely local hero. Yet, for some reason (maybe because it was the first-ever single on Paula Records, a tiny independent label from nearby Shreveport), this one rose to no higher than #66 on the charts, where it floundered for six weeks before disappearing Dale Hawkinsaltogether – never to be heard from again. And maybe that’s why this one sits on such a lofty perch here. Because not only do I continue to love it just as much, if not more, as when I was a wide-eyed ten-year old kid running around with a bat and glove in hand, and a pocket transistor glued to my ear. But more that that, it is a flat-out stunning pop record and delicious mélange of musical influences. And perhaps just as important, it has never been played to death; not during its original release; not during any Hollywood-fueled second life; and certainly not during the past five decades, during which it seems corporate radio has been hell-bent on trying to whittle down the rich, complex and wildly diverse soundtrack of our lives to 40 or so tunes that they could then re-package, tie in a pretty bow, and cram down our throats as intellectual shorthand for the salad days of our youth when a song like Not Too Long Ago would touch us, move us and change us, if only subtly, in ways no creative director, account exec, market analyst, or corner office suit could ever begin to comprehend.

4. Can’t Find the Time
Orpheus

1969
Bud Ballou, a frenetic, high-energy kid from nearby Liverpool, scored his first DJ job at WOLF-AM in my hometown of Syracuse. The year was 1962. And in short order Ballou bayed, brayed, cajoled, preened, pranced, joked, howled, giggled and spun his way Bud Ballouto local legend status, while at the same time helping usher in Beatlemania, hosting a local dance show on TV, talking to us on the AM dial like some hip, uninhibited, and slightly deranged older brother, and developing a reputation for uncovering fabulous but largely obscure pop tunes. By the end of the decade, Ballou had station-hopped all the way up the ladder to Boston, where he became every bit the icon he’d been in Syracuse. And it was there that one day he stumbled upon a single by an unknown local group and began playing the hell out of it, often multiple times the same hour, professing his undying love for the record and urging any kid within earshot to run out and buy it. Within weeks, despite the fact Can’t Find the Time hadn’t come close to charting nationally, it shot all the way to #1 in Boston. And because it was Ballou driving the train, the single also started to get airplay back in Syracuse, where I heard and also fell in love with it. Fast-forward three years; I’m now a college freshman and one Friday decided I needed to hitch a ride to Boston, a full seven hours away. For weeks, you see, I’d been hungry – OK, make that desperate – to see a beautiful young woman named Patti. Patti was my first love, and she was the one person who in 17 short years I had come to Orpheuscherish as no other, a young lady who, after not seeing her for two months, I ached for in just about every way a man could possibly ache for a woman. Now, in full candor I admit I since have known love that was probably wiser, more stable, more mature and perhaps even stronger than the love that wrapped itself around me that Friday as we headed down the Mass Pike toward Boston a lifetime ago. But as sure as I’m sitting here typing this, I promise that the very moment this beautiful little regional hit came on that car’s AM radio, and as I sat there alone in the back seat while two strangers I’d met on a ride board drove without speaking and turned onto Beacon Street – one part of my brain listening to this song, while another overflowed with thoughts of Patti, with visions of her eyes, her smile, her voice, her smell and her touch darting though my head – I never had my heart fling more wide open, felt my skin tingle with any greater sense of anticipation, or experienced any emotion, before or since, as deep, as pure, as raw, or as all-consuming.

3. Sukiyaki
Kyu Sakamoto
1963
Kyu Sakamoto
If they were to erect a statue in the cozy suburban neighborhood of my youth to honor one of its favorite sons, it would not bear the likeness of a politician, business leader or historical figure. It would be of Ronny Paxson, a mentally challenged man-child from the next block of Parsons Drive who in his time made a greater, deeper and more lasting impression on that peaceful little valley full of schools, churches, corner markets and well-manicured patches of green than all the politicians and business leaders combined. As a seemingly normal five-year old, Ronny had enrolled in Cherry Road School, only to eventually have his parents and teachers notice his development wasn’t keeping pace with that of the others. As a result, he started going to a special school with a special bus, and in time grew into a gentle, loving giant with the mental capacity of (maybe) a six-year old, a trait that would define him for the rest of his life. But what made Ronny Paxson a Westvale legend, beyond his gentle nature, larger-than-life physicality and ubiquitous presence, was his deep and abiding affinity for Top 40 radio. I had a sense why, but Ronny’s parents always seemed to make sure their mentally challenged son had the latest in technology to accommodate what turned out to be his almost primal fascination with lyrics and melody. When we kids all started getting those cheap little pocket transistors made in Japan, Ronny would show up with a big AM/FM metal job encased in real leather and equipped with twin speakers and a handle. When the price of those came down to where our folks could actually GE radioconsider taking the plunge, Ronny started carrying around an AM/FM/shortwave unit containing untold and almost unheard of bells and whistles, including, much to our disbelief, a cassette deck built right in. And so it went, on through the rise of FM, the birth of the Walkman, the Boom Box era, the advent of the CD and, of course, the coming of the digital age. Ronny showed us the way. But despite all that steady and regular change, in Westvale one thing remained constant: Ronny Paxson. That’s why every few years he would watch as one group of friends left him and another came into his life, because every few years that eternally green and constantly renewing community would produce a new crop of six year olds, and behold as yet another moved on to the next stage of development, leaving Ronny, his gentle ways and his audio gadgetry in their rear view mirrors. I know this because I was part of Ronny’s second wave of Westvale buddies. He was maybe 13 or 14 at the time. It was the fall of 1963, football season to be exact. The Beatles had yet to appear on Ed Sullivan, John Kennedy was still President, and some of the kids he had entered Cherry Road with were playing a Kyu 45game of touch football. As Ronny and I stood there, me looking at the older kids, hoping one of them might get called home so I could fill in, and him probably wondering why his onetime classmates had slowly but surely closed him out of their lives, this song came on his big old GE radio. I would grow to love it over the years, in part because of its almost transcendent melody, but mostly because I would eventually learn its Japanese lyrics told the story of a man whose heart is broken, but who keeps his tears from falling by walking around with his head held high. I’ll never forget that image.  Nor will I’ll ever forget that cloudy, chilly afternoon in the fall of ‘63; just me, Ronny Paxson and his ever-present radio. And when Sukiyaki began to play, we were both standing there watching from the sidelines. When it was over he looked straight ahead and without a trace of emotion or judgment said, “That’s a nice song.” To which I looked up at him and replied, “It sure is.”

2. Can’t Get Used to Losing You
Andy Williams
1963
andyBy now I hope you realize this exercise has never been about trying to be cool, hip, or even contrarian. It’s been about baring my soul and revealing, as honestly as I can, the songs, music and moments from ‘60s AM radio that touched me most and made the deepest, most lasting impression on me. Case in point; my second favorite 45 of the decade was not from the Stones, Beatles or Kinks, but a squeaky clean little crooner from the far political right whose biggest claim to fame, besides his syrupy Christmas specials, cardigan sweaters and jillion-watt smiles, may have been the fact he discovered Donny Osmond. But this record blew me away when I first heard it, and the more I heard it, and the more I learned about it, the more it seared itself into my brain. The real star of Andy Williams’ incredible recording of Can’t Get Used to Losing You, you see, wasn’t Williams. It wasn’t even the fabled songwriting team of Doc Pomus and Mort Schuman, who at the time they wrote this one were coming off the blistering success of Viva Las Vegas, which they had penned for Elvis. No, the real star of this stunning, if not magical recording was a largely unknown one-time Columbia in-house arranger named Robert Mersey, who took Pomus and Schuman’s melody and layered an entirely new one atop it, and in doing so created a mini masterpiece. Without drilling too deeply, let me just say that in music there’s a concept called legato, in Can't Get Used to Losing Youwhich notes are not sung or played with individual rests, but in which each note flows into the next, with no space between. Pizzicato, on the other hand, is a technique in which a stringed instrument is not swept or strummed fluidly, but pinched or popped with short plucks, a technique that creates a series of individual sounds yet still-connected notes. What Mersey did was have Williams sing the song’s primary melody, as written by Pomus and Schuman, legato-style, while beneath him, as a counter measure, a few violins played an entirely new melody pizzicato-style. The result was not unlike having two different songs on the same side of the same 45 played simultaneously, with the listener free to choose which (or both) to follow. I remember it was New Year’s Eve. It was freezing cold and crystal clear that night, and I had just celebrated my ninth birthday just ten days earlier. On the radio, WOLF was counting down the Top 100 songs of 1963. President Kennedy was barely a month in the grave and the whole world had somehow, but in a meaningful way, changed forever. You could feel it. As I moved around the house, watched TV, played games, and listened to the hits of the year being counted down one by one, I grew restless, even – perhaps for the first time ever – a little nostalgic. Finally, not sure what to do with myself, and since my mom and dad were out at a party, I decided to take my sled to Westcott Reservoir, a gigantic man-made holding tank just up Salisbury Road, and a mountain of well manicured dirt and hard fill that rose high above Andythe neighborhood and from which a small boy could see for miles. I remember as my pack boots trudged through the crusty snow, this song began playing in my head, probably because it was the last one from the WOLF countdown I’d heard before setting out. I really don’t remember actually sledding that night. I only remember sitting atop the thing, the fog of my breath rising as I looked out over the lights of the city. It was peaceful, quiet and perfectly still as below me clocks throughout Syracuse struck midnight. Those pizzicato strings kept plucking in my head. Then, as 1963 slowly crossed over into history, and was replaced by 1964, even at nine years old I thought about the relentless, unforgiving nature of time and felt a gentle ache as it slowly passed, realizing for the very first time in my life I was powerless to stop it.

1. Five O’Clock World
Vogues
1966
Vogues
It must almost seem a letdown, as I’m sure many of you are probably saying to yourself, “What? I slog through 300 singles, tiny specks of musical minutiae and deeply, if not overly personal anecdotes for this – an inconsequential and largely forgotten pop recording by, of all people…the Vogues? Well, as I said in the previous entry and a few times prior to that, friends, this exercise was never about being cool. It was about being honest and offering 300 windows to my soul. And I can honestly say this is my favorite pop 45 of the ‘60s, if not all time. Oh, I suppose I could try to sell you on its artistic merits. I could tell you Allen Jenkins, a songwriting Hall of Famer who would later emerge as Garth Brooks’ personal producer, wrote it. I could tell you the record’s sterling, almost note-perfect instrumental track was produced in Nashville, the product of the combined talents of some of Music City’s most sought-after session players, including remarkable guitarist Chip Young and the ubiquitous and versatile jazz/pop/country pianist Bill Pursell, whose vast CV includes such country gems as Ring of Fire and Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree, as well as a pop nugget that appeared at #122 on this list. I suppose I could even tell you that, since he played on a number of the Vogues’ tracks, for years there had been whispered speculation the guy who laid down the stunning 12-string acoustic at the record’s outset was none other than Duane Allman himself. (It wasn’t. It was Young.) But rather than all that, let me just tell you this. This 45 means the world to me because it was the song I adopted as my very own end-of-the-day anthem when, after college, I moved to Chicago, scored my very first big-boy job, and became for the first time in my life a full-fledged, train-riding, and paycheck-chasing working stiff. Oh, I had tended bar for a couple years after school in my hometown of Syracuse, but this was different. In 1979, when I somehow finagled my way into an entry-level sales and marketing gig with the White Sox in Chicago, I was no longer just some grown up kid living with mom and dad in the one-time vibrant, but increasingly marginalized Rust Best town of his youth. I was not, in other words, in Kansas anymore Toto. Suddenly I was in Oz, living in the heart of the City of Broad Shoulders, the City of Vote Early and Often, the City of Mayors named Daley and the City of I Got a Guy. I was riding Chicago’s storied el train to and from work, past landmarks like Wrigley Field, the Playboy Building, the Drake Hotel Five O'Clock Worldand Marshall Fields, while along the way rubbing elbows with some of the most famous, important, and even historic people in baseball and beyond. And I worked hard too, and for staggeringly paltry sums of money. But that little detail hardly seemed to matter. I was in the big leagues. And I’m not talking about just baseball. I’m talking about living and working in a big league city, making big league memories, and developing big league contacts and a big league network of friends and colleagues. So during the baseball offseason, when we actually got to go home before midnight, this song would regularly play in my head as I sat on the el and watched the city, its sights and its many stories roll by. Because back then I was young and idealistic and truly “living on money that I ain’t made yet.” And back then, when a young lady named Susie moved from Syracuse to be with me in Chicago and share my life and apartment, she became that “long haired girl who waits, I know, to ease my troubled mind.” I said before, I don’t like it Drew Careywhen critics call a tune the “perfect” pop song, but to me this record was just about as perfect as pop could get. When I think about the shimmering quality of its production, the magnificent and even soaring nature of its vocals, and the way it joyous celebrates the brief but sustaining sense of freedom a working man gets at the end of a workday, it was the perfect song for a vital, beloved and universally anticipated moment – a moment as a 24-year old kid I embraced with eyes wide and arms open. And I clearly wasn’t alone. In fact, for one season, decades after its release, comedian Drew Carey made a full, unedited version of this one the opening theme of his hit sitcom about working-class grunts and prairie-dogging cubicle Chip Youngdwellers. Yeah, it’s not the Beatles, or the Stones, or some ultra-cool, ultra-hip and intellectually chic group or singer. It’s the Vogues, for god’s sake, four well-heeled, well-scrubbed and hygienically schooled doo-wop crooners from Pittsburgh. I get all that. But don’t kid yourself. This 45 is a more than just another long-lost oldie or just another tiny sliver of Top 40 history. Five O’Clock World by the Vogues, which went to #4 on the eve of the great blizzard of ’66, is art, pure and simple. It is pop art on a vinyl easel; pop art at its absolute finest; and pop art that has been fully realized, exquisitely executed and vastly overlooked, all somehow at the same time. In fact, as I sit here and write this, my sense is I could live to 100 and never hear a more stunning marriage of popular song, musical artistry and studio brilliance.

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Desert Island Jukebox: My 300 Favorite 45s of the 1960s (Songs 6 through 10)

December 22, 2014

It all comes down to the final two.  For almost an entire year, I have been working on this list of my 300 favorite 45s of the 1960s, writing about each in a way that, hopefully reflected why it was important to me and/or why it remains musically or culturally significant.  But more than that, these were to […]

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Desert Island Jukebox: My 300 Favorite 45s of the 1960s (Songs 11 through 15)

December 21, 2014

On this, a special day for me personally — and during this, a most special time of year — we move one step closer to the top five songs on this list and the final installment on my Desert Island Jukebox of ’60s singles. Enjoy. Desert Island Jukebox: Part 1 Desert Island Jukebox: Part 2 […]

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Desert Island Jukebox: My 300 Favorite 45s of the 1960s (Songs 16 through 20)

December 19, 2014

As one of those ubiquitous AM station IDs at the top of the hour might have bellowed out a lifetime ago, as a tympani thundered in the background…And the hit’s just keep on comin’! Enjoy. Desert Island Jukebox: Part 1 Desert Island Jukebox: Part 2 Desert Island Jukebox: Part 3 Desert Island Jukebox: Part 4 Desert Island Jukebox: […]

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A Jingling Christmas Gift for You

December 18, 2014

One thing about Christmas music on the radio these days, it’s one more opportunity to experience for yourself the extent to which the soulless, heartless modern music machine – from corporate radio to the major labels – has remained steadfast and unwavering in its zombie-like pursuit of sameness, marketability, and an almost mind-numbing lack of […]

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Desert Island Jukebox: My 300 Favorite 45s of the 1960s (Songs 21 through 25)

December 17, 2014

As we inch closer and move up this list of, if not the greatest, than at least one man’s most beloved singles from the decade of the ’60s, below for your consideration please find songs #21 through #25.  And again, I truly hope someday you’ll share with me your list, just as I am sharing with you mine. […]

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Desert Island Jukebox: My 300 Favorite 45s from the 1960s (Songs 26 through 30)

December 15, 2014

OK, slight change of plans. In the course of compiling this list, as well as writing the narratives for each entry, it’s dawned on me that the higher up the list I go the more emotionally connected and/or artistically compelled I am by the entry. As a result, what I once was able to do in […]

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Desert Island Jukebox: My 300 Favorite 45s from the 1960s (Part 9 of 10)

November 17, 2014

Nine down, one to go. And please forgive the delay between posts.  It seems the higher up this list I go, the more difficult these narratives are to write. (Not because I don’t have enough to say about each song, but because, in many cases, I have too much.  The hard part, I guess, is determining what to […]

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Desert Island Jukebox: My 300 Favorite 45s from the 1960s (Part 8 of 10)

September 30, 2014

Forgive the delay, but I am writing this today from little Verona, Italy, where I’m spending a month drinking wine, pretending to be a local and letting my mind and body clock unwind to a degree I would have never dreamed possible at this time last year. I will continue to write from here and […]

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Desert Island Jukebox: My 300 Favorite 45s from the 1960s (Part 7 of 10)

September 8, 2014

I look around and realize that my keyboard and I are heading into the home stretch. Part 7 of 10 is now in the books. For those of you, perhaps, new to this list of my 300 favorite singles of the ’60s, please keep in mind, this is not intended to be anyone’s idea of […]

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