Desert Island Jukebox: My 300 Favorite 45s of the 1960s (Part 1 of 10)

by M.C. Antil on June 10, 2014

Look, I’ve always prided myself on having eclectic taste in music.  But as cool as I have always tried to be, I gotta be honest, when it comes to music I’m really a nerd, if not a stone cold one.

I’m the kind of geek, after all, who grew up kneeling at the altar of pop music at a time when pop DJs were kings and their kingdom was Top 40 radio. Hard rock, electronica, new age and all other hybrid forms of music came to me long after I’d already drunk the Kool Aid and consumed a lifetime’s worth of pop hits and station jingles.

After all, where else but Top 40 radio could I have gone in the 1960s to sample almost every musical style under the sun, from folk, funk, soul, reggae, country and bluegrass to instrumentals, easy listening, show tunes, acid rock, swamp rock, psychedelic rock, early metal, swing, bubblegum, garage, power pop and the Great American Songbook – all at the same place?

Where else but Top 40 radio were all those styles being lumped together and billed as simply “pop?”

And where else were those styles being played on the same day and on the same station, many times back to back within in the same hour?

Let me tell you a quick story.  When my middle sister was born, I was not even two years old yet.  And to keep me occupied while giving herself a measure of relief, my mother told me that one day she decided to place a small clock radio next to my crib to act as something of an electronic baby sitter.

It wasn’t long before I was blowing off my afternoon nap and, instead, spending those two hours listening intently as that little clock radio played one 45 after another. In time, I apparently even taught myself to lean over the railing and with my right thumb move the dial on that old brown GE clock radio back and forth between one of two Top 40 stations, WNDR, at 1260 on the AM dial, and WOLF, just a half a turn away at 1490.

The year was 1958, and as it turns out that very same three-year old kid would then spend the bulk of the next twenty years switching back and forth between those two stations, making constant value decisions on which one was playing the better song.

So while yours truly may not have grown up to become a musician, a musical expert, or hell, even musically literate, I did develop a clear understanding of what I liked.

What’s more, I cut my musical teeth when each station’s playlist was still being driven by a handful of young, music-loving, risk-taking and entirely autonomous DJs, who were often local kids who’d grown up, gotten a job at the station, and then found themselves empowered to play whatever they wanted whenever they felt it.  So I spent my early years not only embracing the eclectic nature of Top 40, but passing judgment on literally tens of thousands of songs, day after day, week after week, for the entire decade.

Make no mistake, however; this list is not my attempt to show off my knowledge of 60s music, or to be hip, or cool, or even contrarian. Just the opposite, in fact. What follows are some of the cheesiest and corniest songs you’d ever hope to ear.

Yet, there are some nuggets here too, all of them hand picked because they all meant something to me along the way – still do, as a matter of fact – and have, at least in my mind, managed to stand the test of time.

This list is, in other words, an entirely subjective exercise in memory and taste, and what follows is nothing more than one man’s reflection on a small but meaningful portion of his life.

(And as someone coming off a months-long battle with Stage IV cancer, I have to admit there’s something about going toe-to-toe with a tumor that makes one reflect on life in a way that goes far beyond posturing or being cool for cool’s sake.)

Before we get to the list, let me detail why certain songs didn’t receive consideration.  You won’t find, for example:

Singles that have been criminally overexposed by the worst thing to ever happen to 60’s music, oldies radio. (Think Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, the Stones’ Satisfaction, the Monkees’ I’m a Believer, Aretha’s Respect, etc.)

Onetime beloved nuggets that have been soullessly hi-jacked by wedding planners, Hollywood producers, Madison Ave hacks, marketers, hucksters, corporate suits, TV execs and countless other musical agnostics.  (Think Etta James’ At Last, the Righteous Brothers’ Unchained Melody, Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild, etc.)

Late-60s singles released during the early days of AOR that don’t pass the sniff test as 45s and still feel more like album cuts. (Think Led Zepplin’s Whole Lotta Love, Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, Buffalo Springfield’s Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing, etc.)

Fabulous country singles that never crossed over onto the pop charts — though they easily could have. (Think Merle Haggard’s Mama Tried, Jim Ed Brown’s Pop a Top, Marty Robbins’ Big Iron)

Huge smash hits that, frankly, never moved me all that much to begin with. (Think the Beatles’ Hey Jude, the Foundations’ Build Me Up Buttercup, the Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash, I Feel Good by James Brown, etc.)

Album cuts that I loved that were, alas, never released as singles. (Think the Beatles’ Lovely Rita and A Day in the Life, It’s a Beautiful Day’s Hot Summer Day, Wind by Circus Maximus, etc.)

And last but not least, one incredible 60’s song – Nina Simone’s Feeling Good – that was not released as a single until nearly two decades later and was, therefore, excluded on a technicality.

Here’s what you will find: 300 of my favorite songs that were released between 1960 and 1969, recordings that I’ve listed from #1 to #300 in a very loosely knit reverse order and that still sound as fresh and new today to my ears as they did roughly a half century ago when I first heard them.  They are, in other words, 300 recordings that have maintained their ability to stir my soul.

Because above all else, what these 300 songs represent are 300 tiny shards of emotion and memory, and songs that many years ago not only helped turn me into a music lover, but helped me become the man I am now.

Enjoy, and I hope you’ll forgive this rather lengthy intro.  I hope too that you’ll someday share your list with me – regardless of how long (or short) it is, regardless of how cool (or un-cool) it is, and regardless of what decade your list and your musical heart happen to call home.

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
Desert Island Jukebox: Songs 1 thru 5

271. I’m Alive
Johnny Thunder
A brilliant song (and version) that makes one wonder what was involved in determining what became a hit back then and what became Top 40 roadkill. This blistering take, largely neutered when recorded by its composer Tommy James, remains by just about any measure a soul classic, one that deserved a far better fate than it ultimately received.

272.  Say I Am
Tommy James and the Shondells
Never a big hit for a band that seemed to churn out hits like they were rolling off an assembly line. But I’ve always loved the rawness and under-produced, low-tech and demo-like quality of this recording (co-written by George Tomsco, guitarist for Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs), as well as the fact that to this day I somehow still have only heard it maybe a dozen times in my life.

273.  (The Best Part of) Breaking Up
I realize I’m in a distinct minority here, but even before the latter would end up being played to death by oldies stations across the country, I loved this lesser Ronnie Spector hit much more than its two more lionized and critically lauded stable mates, Be My Baby and Baby I Love You.

274.  Wild One
Martha and the Vandals
Motown’s answer to Leader of the Pack, released during the early days of the biker craze, this underrated little gem is just one more reason why I still believe that while the Supremes may have harvested Berry Gordy’s most intensive star-making efforts, it was Martha and her Vandellas who were blessed with his label’s most timeless songs.

275.  Angela Jones
Johnny Ferguson
I probably heard this fringy, country-ish hit a handful of times as a five year old, and yet somehow managed to carry around its infectious 14-note hook in my id for the next half century, during which it would find its way into my consciousness at the strangest times; quite often (get this) while I was on the putting green during a round of golf. But I never realized the catchy melody that regularly popped into my head as I bent over a slippery downhill six-footer came from a real-life song until I was researching this list a few weeks ago and looked up composer John D. Loudermilk.  And lo and behold, there it was.  And now, here it is.

276.  I Can Never Go Home Anymore
No desert island jukebox of 60s vintage singles would be complete without at least one overwrought and overproduced Shadow Morton teenage opus.  I chose this one, if only because every time I hear it the schoolboy in me still get a little tingle in his nether reaches every time he hears lead singer Mary Weiss – who at that point was just a 17-year high school kid herself (with thick, horned-rimmed glasses, no less) – scream out, “Mama!!!”

277.  Call Me Lightning
Make no mistake; I love where Peter Townsend eventually herded his mates and I take a back seat to no one in my admiration for the Who’s bold-faced artistry and constant willingness to break ground. But never forget that before the lads became an FM staple they were one hell of a singles band, as evidenced by such diverse little gems as Happy Jack, My Generation, Magic BusI Can See for Miles and, in particular, this one – which, frankly, has always been my personal favorite.

278. I Can’t Stop Dancin’
Archie Bell and the Drells
One can argue whether Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and The Sound of Philadelphia were more important to Archie Bell, or vice versa. What cannot be argued is that Gamble and Huff plucked Bell out of obscurity in 1968 and recorded two fabulous sides with him, the first of which, Tighten Up (which Bell composed), eventually suffered the slings and arrows of overexposure, while the latter (which Gamble and Huff penned), found its way under the radar and was able to retain its freshness and infectious nature decades later.

279.  I Don’t Wanna Hear It Anymore
Dusty Springfield
I once had Dusty in Memphis in my car’s multi-CD player for over a year.  And in that time I realized that for all its greatness, Springfield’s masterwork doesn’t really contain any great individual songs (including the played-to-death Son of a Preacher Man), except one; this melancholy Randy Newman ballad.  When it was released as a 45 it tanked, but it has nevertheless retained its power to blow me away and I could hear it (and frankly have), day after day, week after week, for days on end and never come close to saying, “Uncle.”

280.  Always You
The members of a rocking garage band from little Glens Falls in Upstate New York, having signed with Decca Records, found themselves in L.A. under the guidance of Curt Boettcher, one of the architects of the famed “California Sound.”  And even though they’d later profess to hate the arrangement/production of their one and only single to chart nationally, that single remains to this day not merely a textbook example of the California Sound, but something of a sunshine pop masterpiece.

281.  Bowling Green
Everly Brothers
By the time this one was released during the Summer of Love, the brothers were considered little more than dusty relics from a bygone era.  As a result, the last single the Kentucky-born duo released to crack the Hot 100 would rise no higher than #40. But it’s my favorite of theirs, and by a wide margin. (In fact, hearing the song’s bridge even now can bring me to my knees). What’s more, when 80s one-hit wonder a-ha (Take On Me) did one final concert in their native Norway, this was the song they chose for an encore. Go figure.

282.  King of the Road
Roger Miller
Cool is as cool does.  And growing up even as a nine year old, I knew cool when it heard it.  And in the spring of 1964, this Roger Miller crossover monster was all that and a bag of donuts.  Still is, in fact – especially the third verse when the song changes key and ups the coolness ante for anyone who dares follow.

283.  Unwind
Ray Stevens
I never much cared for Ray Stevens and his listen-to-them-once-and-move-on novelty tunes. But in 1968, out of the blue, Stevens released an album from which two straightforward singles were spawned; Mr. Businessman and this little nugget, neither of which were any more than fringe hits, but both of which made sincere social statements, both of which reached inside my young mind and made it question some mix of tradition and accepted wisdom, and both of which found their way onto this jukebox.

284.  98.6
In the winter of 1967, for Christmas that year my parents gave me this 45, along with about a dozen or so others and six full-length albums that had been recommended to them by the guys behind the counter at Gerber Music (Supremes a Go-Go, Buffalo Springfield Again, Groovin’, Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful, More of the Monkees and Along Comes…the Association).  That deliciously eclectic collection of vinyl would turn out to be the greatest Christmas present I ever received in my life.

285.  I’m Alive
I’d like to point out that there are a few of us out here who feel that, as beautiful as Graham Nash and David Crosby’s voices were in harmony, their harmonies still didn’t stir the soul or make the hairs rise on the back of one’s neck the way Nash and his former jingle-jangle mates Allan Clarke and Tony Hicks did – especially when the Hollies stretched their vocal muscles and transformed otherwise ordinary pop tunes into something else entirely.

286.  People Get Ready
Sit down with me some night, we’ll crack open a bottle of aged brown liquor, and I’ll detail for you my man-crush on Curtis Mayfield and my belief that he was one of the most sensitive, talented, soulful, overlooked and under-appreciated composers, lyricists, singers and guitarists in the history of American music – not to mention one of the precious few from the rock and roll era who truly earned the term, “artist.”  And revisiting this awe-inspiring, almost chill inducing pop spiritual some three decades after it was first released was the thing that first opened my mind to the greatness of both the man and his music.

287.  Fever
Yeah, Hang on Sloopy was a monster hit for these guys, but I’ll take their minor-key rendering of Peggy Lee’s timeless and bluesy classic, if only for the ferociously cool little “Baby turn on your love light…” thing the four small town Hoosiers do at around the two minute mark.

288.  I Will Always Think About You
New Colony Six
Like so many kids in the Northeast, I often learned what was hot by waiting each day for the sun to set, the local stations to fade, and the 50,000-watt superpowers out of Chicago to assume control of the nighttime sky. It was then, thanks to DJs like Larry Lujack and Dick Biondi of WLS and WCFL, that I could turn on my radio, tune the dial oh-so carefully, and learn about (and often hear) the Windy City’s exciting new breed of rock bands, the Buckinghams, Cryan’ Shames, Ides of March, American Breed, Shadows of Night, and my personal favorite, the New Colony Six.

289.  The Cheater
Bub Kuban & the In Men
There was something hopelessly cheesy and yet tragically hip about both this song and the eight-piece hybrid rock band/cocktail lounge outfit out of St. Louis that recorded it; kinda like a leisure suit worn with just enough swagger and tongue-in-cheek moxie to make that clothing choice seem, I don’t know, edgy.

290.  Make Me Your Baby
Barbara Lewis
It should come as no surprise that this little beauty was co-written by Helen Miller and arranged by Artie Butler, two people who cut their teeth in the tiny cubicles and cramped studios of Aldon Publishing in New York’s Brill Building.  After all these years, the song retains that early 60s Tin Pan Alley feel, which is, I guess, as good a reason as any for it to make the cut and earn a spot on my list.

291.  Do the Freddie
Freddie and the Dreamers
Laugh all you want, but remember this is my jukebox and I’ll be the one living on that God-forsaken island for God knows how long. No, this isn’t a great song.  But it was a huge hit in the early days of the British Invasion and (probably because you never hear it anymore) to behold Freddie Garrity and his over-the-top vocals now, along with this single’s energetic production, is to realize that if you had ever wanted to build a time capsule to capture the hope, optimism and naiveté of the still rosy-cheeked America of 1965, this soon-to-be-forgotten 45 wouldn’t have been a half bad place to start.

292.  This Town
Frank Sinatra
Late in his career, the aging icon seemed to record two types of songs; honest, unflinching, and perhaps slightly autobiographical ones (It Was a Very Good Year, That’s Life, Cycles); and ones that were feeble, often awkward attempts to remain relevant (Mrs. Robinson, Don’t Sleep in the Subway, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown). But every now and then Ol’ Blue Eyes would break the mold and remind all of us of his astounding interpretative powers by placing his stamp squarely on a fresh new original; like this ballsy, brassy Billy Strange-arranged number written specifically for him by his daughter Nancy’s very own in-house cosmic cowhand, Lee Hazelwood.

293. I Saw Her Again
The Mamas & the Papas
A song that serves as testament to four immutable truths: the brilliance of John Phillips as a pop tunesmith, the greatness of Denny Doherty as a lead singer, the magical touch of Lou Adler as a producer, and (above all) the sultry allure, if not the almost feral sexual power of Michelle Phillips who, at the time of this recording was sleeping with not only Phillips and Doherty, but Gene Clark of the Byrds — and driving all three at various points out of their (bleeping) minds.  (And, oh yes, the song is by, for, and about her, to boot.)

294. Spooky
Classics IV
I’m not sure what drew me more to this tune, Dennis Yost’s raspy, soulful rendering of its playful lyrics or the record’s infectious hook, fueled by James Cobb’s simple yet full-bodied guitar (not to mention that power strumming of his, that would utterly define the sound of his next group, the Atlanta Rhythm Section). Tell you what. Let’s call it a draw.

295.  The Look of Love
Lesley Gore
For my money, just maybe the best record Gore ever made. This is not the Bacharach/David tune, but a little gem written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich and produced by the incomparable Quincy Jones (who gave the singer’s paper-thin voice some extra oomph by double-tracking her lead vocals). By all rights, this minor hit should have climbed much higher on the charts than #27, but then again by December of ’64 the British Invasion was in full bloom and most artists on this side of the pond were in the process of discovering they couldn’t fall out of a boat and hit water.

296. Venus in Blue Jeans
Jimmy Clanton
Let’s be fair, while the British Invasion was clearly a much needed a shot in the arm, Top 40 radio was hardly a wasteland before I Want to Hold Your Hand exploded onto the airwaves. There was the fertile folk scene in Greenwich Village, Southern California’s emerging surf sound, Motown, Tin Pan Alley, and all that high-energy, Creole-inspired fare rising up from New Orleans. What was bad, at least for some of us, was so much of that white-boy-in-a-pompadour crap spewing out of Philly. But every once in a while one of those toothy, teen idol types made a record that, somehow, didn’t suck. Case in point; this little gem by a slightly doughy teen crooner from, of all places, Baton Rouge.

297.  The Night Has a Thousand Eyes
Bobby Vee
Speaking of good looking white boys with big, stiff, vertical hair and songs that didn’t suck, Bobby Vee was one of those early 60s cardboard cutouts who actually put together a string of hits that, truth be told, have held up OK.  And the best of those (not to mention my personal favorite) was this catchy finger snapper – which, should you be interested, had nothing to do with the film noir thriller that carried the same title, starred Edward G. Robinson, and was released as a B-movie some 15 years earlier.

298.  (I Had) Too Much to Dream Last Night
Electric Prunes
Almost as soon as the decade ended, a lot of the era’s psychedelic hits and misses were immediately (and thankfully) put out to pasture and never heard from again.  But this fuzzy little kernel of reverb, feedback and love hangover – which sounds to this day like a mash-up of pre-punk garage and trippy psychedelia – still has the ability to somehow bring home the bacon.

299.  Do You Wanna Dance?
Beach Boys
In their long and glorious history the boys from Hawthorne clearly released meatier and more musically significant sides than this twice-removed cover of an old Bobby Freeman hit.  But there has always been something about this recording’s energy, its twangy twin guitar leads, and its unabashed and unapologetic sense of joy (along with, of course, the fact Brian chose not Carl or himself to sing lead, but middle brother Dennis) that has always kept it near and dear to my heart.

300.  Enter the Young
A year later, Break on Through, the very first cut on the very first Doors album, would symbolically shatter an invisible wall and usher in a bold new era of pop music, if not an entire subculture. In my 12-year old suburban sort of way, that’s what this tune – Side A/Song One of the first album I ever opened and played – would become for me; a musical portal into self-discovery and my very own theme song as I took those wobbly first steps on the long and winding road to manhood.


My Desert Island Jukebox of 60s singles, Part 2.

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