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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Music: Flashback - 1968 - The Year in Singles Part Two

Compiled by Noah Mallin

Wrapping up our trip to 40 years ago, 1968 was a great year for singles. This was true of almost any year in the 60s, even though the album format was starting to become more dominant in rock. There was still a whole mess of soul, country, and other genres best heard on singles, and many rock bands like the Stones and The Beatles were still releasing key songs only as singles:

Here's 11 through 20, in no particular order:

11) Simon and Garfunkel – "At The Zoo"
"Someone told me it's all happening at the zoo, I do believe them, I do believe it's true..." I have no freaking clue what they're going on about in this song other than checking out the Central Park Zoo but it ain't no thang. When that portentous sizzling sound leads into the barrelhouse piano and they get into the rave-up it's just all the stuff I like in a Simon and Garfunkel song (and I don't like em all.)Even if it's not a patch on The Kinks' "Animal Farm".

12)Tyrone Davis – "Can I Change my Mind"
Tyrone Davis is all, "Whoa, baby, OK I was a total asshole" but it's so too late. Damn baby, can I change my mind? The player plays himself. Did I mention the killer riff and horn chart?

13) Procol Harum – "Homburg"
Procol Harum is mostly remembered for their 1967 classic "A Whiter Shade of Pale" but there was plenty more where that came from. "Homburg" is one of their best, a stately Dylanesque lament that finds insult in inept haberdashery. Oh yeah, and killer piano line.

14) Tommy James and the Shondells – "Crimson and Clover"
Tommy James knew his way around a pop song and the shivery "Crimson and Clover" is no exception. An unusual combo of swagger and longing, Joan Jett would unlock the sapphic raunch embedded in the James original when she covered it in the 80s. James' original actually prefigures some of the sound of glamsters like T. Rex and Bowie but their poppiness meant that most rock critics looked down on them until relatively recently. It didn't help that Hubert Humphrey wrote the liner notes to one of their albums.

15) Aretha Franklin – "The House that Jack Built"
Aretha had a lot of great songs during 1968 but this is my favorite, mostly because it rocks like nobody's business. The backing vocals nag, the drums thwack and the horns saunter while Aretha cuts Jack down to size.

16) Creedence Clearwater Revival – "I Put a Spell on You"
You gotta have pretty big balls to cover a Screamin' Jay Hawkins song but CCR pull it off ably with this track. This is before John Fogerty would find his feet as a songwriting genius cranking out track after classic track throughout 1969, but this is where the band's skill and chops at song arrangement come to the fore.

17) Delfonics – "La-La Means I Love You"
What'd you think it meant? The Delfonics took soul into a buttery smooth zone that would begin to dominate in the 70s under Philadelphia producer Thom Bell. There's at least one foot in the doo-wop of the past but the light approach sweetened with strings set the scene for a whole new sound.

18) Tammy Wynette – "D-I-V-O-R-C-E"
Like Aretha, Tammy's simply had enough of her no good man. Divorce was a growing national phenomenon but it wasn't much talked about. Her comes Tammy, spellin' it out so the brat don't know. Once again soul and country were tackling social realities that rock, for all it's supposed frankness, avoided.

19) Steppenwolf – "The Pusher"
One thing rockers did know about was drugs. Here Steppenwolf helpfully educated about the difference between some dude who sells grass (good) and the pusher (bad).Damned if I can tell 'em apart, 'cept "The Pusher don't care if you live or if you die.." Ok. helpful hint everyone.

20) The Temptations – "Cloud Nine"
The Tempts get all proto-funky on "Cloud Nine," and like the Supremes they were all about Motown's nascent social conscience. Poking a hole in all those folks who try to live on "cloud nine" while Detroit was falling apart the song struck a definite nerve. It helps that the arrangement is spring-tight with every piece of the Motown machinery locked into a great groove.

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