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Sunday, June 8, 2008

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

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 21 through 30, in no particular order:

21) James Brown – "Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud"
It's hard to overstate the importance of James Brown groundbreaking anthem to black pride. 1968 was a tough year with widespread rioting in black communities, particularly in the wake of the murder of Dr. King. Before 1968 the word "negro" was often used to describe African Americans but afterwards it became tainted, relegated to the dustbin by Brown and others.

22) Moody Blues – "Ride my See-Saw"
Plenty of bands still had more psychedelia left in them and the Moodys had morphed from a soulful British Invasion -era beat combo to one of the most commercial purveyors of slightly pretentious psilocybin silliness. They also knew how to write a killer single. By the early part of the 70s progressive rock would change the parameters and force ever more flashy musicianship and song structures on what was once psych-rock. The Moodys however stuck to their poppy guns and kept having hits.

23) Archie Bell and the Drells – "Tighten Up"
"We can dance just as good as we walk" Archie Bell was probably not dancing much as the infectious "Tighten Up" climbed the charts and he found himself on his way to Vietnam, a victim of the draft.The Quintessential let every member have a chance song, a damn good recipe if you ask me. So good Roxy Music used it at the end of "Re-Make/Re-Model"...

24) Beatles – "Hey Jude"
Paul wrote this to cheer up John's son Julian (of "Much Too Late for Goodbye's" semi-fame)who was depressed over his parent's split-up. When John heard it he thought it was a song giving the thumbs up to his budding relationship with Yoko. Paul himself was thinking more of Linda as he fleshed the lyrics out. Either way, one of the Beatles best and the longest number one single in Billboard chart history. Anyone who doesn't have the urge to go "Judee Judee JUdee Arrrrrghhhh..." during the coda has icewater for blood.

25) Desmond Dekker – "Isrealites"
Dekker was one of reggae's biggest stars and this was his first massive hit, splicing Rastafarian bible interpretation to everyday struggles to get by, all to a loping jaunty groove. "I don't want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde..." he laments, trying to feed his family in a nation that oppressed his religious beliefs.

26) Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrel – "You’re All I Need to Get By"
Many thought that Tammi and Marvin were an item and hearing them harmonize on songs like this classic its easy to see why. The classic vocal hook is underpinned by lithe bass and quivering strings all climaxing together in a great big chorus. Whew, I need a towel.

27) Wilson Pickett – "I’m a Midnight Mover"
"Wicked" Wilson Pickett was a pioneer of what would become funk. Always deep in the pocket, exhorting the band with his gravelly voice and spacious bouncing arrangements he rivaled James Brown for sheer killer charismatic groove, if not innovation. This is one of his best.

28) Donovan – "Hurdy Gurdy Man"
Like the Beatles Donovan went to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's retreat and came back with a clutch of songs. At this point the new Dylan tag was long past but Donovan was still capable of writing great pop including this off-kilter trippy dirge full of fuzzed out guitars and rolling drums.

29)The Who – "Magic Bus"
1968 found the Who touring and prepping their 1969 opus Tommy. "Magic Bus" was a great percussion driven placeholder, and one of their biggest American hits.

30)Rufus Thomas – "The Memphis Train"
Rufus Thomas' recording career stretched from the mid-50s until his death in the 90s. In between he was one of Memphis most beloved DJs and the father of Stax star Carla Thomas. "The Memphis Train" is one of his best, a bumptious rollicking good time.

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