A fella only turns 45 once (time travel and reincarnation notwithstanding). And, being the pop music geek that I am, I decided to honor the occasion by making a couple of suitably themed mix CDs to give away as door prizes (first 45 celebrants only!) at today’s birthday bashes. And, just to make folks who can’t be here today jealous — or to make the locals who were still deciding whether to show up for the festivities — the playlists and liner notes look like this.
I’m turning 45, which certainly seems like an important number, but I’ll be damned if I know what it’s really supposed to mean.
Growing up, though, “45” meant only one thing: a 7” inch circle of magical, musical vinyl. I can still recall the first pop single I ever got as a gift (Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)”) and the first single I ever bought for myself (the Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight”). I once spent the better part of two straight days in an Austin record store flipping through their massive (and completely unsorted) collection of used 45s for hidden gems. And while it’s been ages since I’ve played any of them, I have several hundred 45s tucked away in my living room. Even hidden and silent, they’re still magical.
Despite growing up in the era of the concept album, I’ve long believed that the single is vastly underrated. Rock’n’roll didn’t really take to the album as a major aesthetic form until 1965. Even then, it took a few more years before the LP truly replaced the 45 as the center of the rock universe. Take away Rubber Soul, Highway 61 Revisited, and Bringing It All Back Home, and all the great “albums” of 1965 are merely collections of singles padded out with a few filler tracks.
So one of the obvious (to me anyway) things to do for my 45th birthday was to create a mega-mix of 45 of my favorite 45s from 45 years ago. But when I sat down to tackle this project, two big problems quickly presented themselves.
First, there was the length problem. I can usually fit 22 or 23 tracks on an 80-minute CD, so a 2-disc set should have worked fine . . . but my mixes typically don’t draw from a pool of songs that mostly run less than three minutes. So either I needed to trim the project down to one 30-song disc, or I needed to scale it up to 60 songs.
Second, there was the “favorite child” problem. My initial list of viable candidates was about 150 songs long. Some of these were easy to eliminate: Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” has its schmaltzy charms, but there were clearly at least 60 better songs on that list. Nonetheless, even after I made those easy calls, there was still a lot of great music to consider. Chopping things down to 30 songs was out of the question. Even getting down to 60 felt too brutal.
I made things a little easier by imposing several rules on myself.
Any eligible song had to have appeared on a single. It didn’t have to be the A-side. It didn’t have to have hit the charts. But if it were strictly an album track (e.g., Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam”), or if I wasn’t sure it had been released as a single, it was out.
The song had to have been released in 1965. A few tunes here may have first entered the world in late 1964, but the historical record is also fuzzy enough that I gave a few tunes the benefit of the doubt.
No artist was allowed more than one slot in the finished mix — which made things easier and harder. I didn’t have to decide whether, for example, Edwin Starr’s “Agent Double-O-Soul” deserved a spot ahead of two James Brown classics . . . but I did have to choose between “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).”
Other obligatory disclaimers and explanations:
These aren’t absolutely, positively, unmistakably the 60 best singles of 1965. My goal, after all, was to make a really good mix: not to define some sort of canon. And the sequencing is more about creating a mix that flows well than about trying to rank these tunes top to bottom.
Still, quality matters. I paid some attention to chart success, but I also didn’t let the vagaries of Billboard’s rankings rule the day. You don’t really want to hear Freddie & the Dreamers’ treacle-filled “I’m Telling You Now” (which was a #1 Pop hit) instead of the Apollas’ totally divine “Absolutely Right” (which never charted at all), do you? And you’d stop being my friend if I’d included any of the seven Top Ten Pop singles (including two #1s) that Herman’s Hermits released in 1965 — especially if I’d left low-charting gems by the Who or Them out of the final mix. If you really want “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” or “I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” you can find them yourself. But I don’t have to be party to such insanity.
I sometimes chose tunes that you most likely know from some later version. Gloria Jones, for instance, did the original “Tainted Love” more than a decade before Soft Cell. You may already know “Thanks a Lot” because of Neko Case (if you don’t, you should; it’s on The Virginian), but she clearly owes a lot to Brenda Lee (even more than she does to Ernest Tubb, who did it first). The J. Geils Band would later cover the tracks by the Contours and the Marvelows. “Respect,” of course, was a hit for Otis Redding before Aretha Franklin made it her own. And many of you may not realize that one of Britney Spears’ biggest hits was first recorded by a band out of England called the Rolling Stones. No, really, it’s true. I wouldn’t lie about that.
A few tunes wound up on the cutting room floor because they pushed too hard against the feel of the rest of the mix. The Wonder Who (a pseudonym that the Four Seasons used for a handful of singles in 1965 and 1966) went to #12 on the Pop charts with a so-bad-it’s-great version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice.” The We Five (a semi-folky two-hit wonder) had a #3 hit with “You Were on My Mind” that I’ve always loved. Elvis had a few forgettable movie-related hits (“Do the Clam,” “Tickle Me,” and “Puppet on a String”) that I wouldn’t inflict on you, but he also reached #3 with the genuinely worthy “Crying in the Chapel.” And yet these tracks would have muddled the vibe of all the great garage band and soul that simply had to be included.
The final mix also held a few surprises for me. While he was a true maestro of the pop single, there’s nothing here from Phil Spector’s stable of artists, largely because the great girl groups he worked with didn’t do much of note in 1965 — but also because I’m not fond enough of the Righteous Brothers to include either (yawn) “Unchained Melody” or (mega-yawn) “Ebb Tide.” I expected the Stones would provide me with tough choices to make . . . but none of their other 1965 hits (“Heart of Stone,” “The Last Time,” “Play With Fire,” “Get Off of My Cloud,” “As Tears Go By”) come anywhere near “Satisfaction.” On the other hand, I didn’t expect quite so many great singles from the Animals and the Yardbirds: “It’s My Life,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” “For Your Love,” and “I’m a Man” all missed the final cut (though none did so by much). And I hadn’t thought of Nina Simone as a singles artist — or even as an artist who reluctantly played that game to keep her record label happy — so I was thrilled to find that her deliciously smoky version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” made it onto a 45, so that I could share it with you here.
1. Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs — Wooly Bully (#2 Pop, #31 R&B)
2. Animals — Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (#15 Pop)
3. Contours — First I Look at the Purse (#57 Pop, #12 R&B)
4. Marvelows — I Do (#37 Pop, #7 R&B)
5. Shirley Ellis — Clapping Song (Clap Pat Clap Slap) (#8 Pop, #16 R&B)
6. Strangeloves — I Want Candy (#11 Pop)
7. Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders — The Game of Love (#1 Pop)
8. Gentrys — Keep On Dancing (#4 Pop)
9. Dixie Cups — Iko Iko (#20 Pop, #20 R&B)
10. Cannibal & the Headhunters — Land of 1000 Dances (#30 Pop)
11. McCoys — Hang On Sloopy (#1 Pop)
12. Sir Douglas Quintet — She’s About a Mover (#13 Pop)
13. Brenda Lee — Thanks a Lot (#45 Pop)
14. Beach Boys — Help Me Rhonda (#1 Pop)
15. Beatles — Day Tripper (#5 Pop)
16. Knickerbockers — Lies (#20 Pop)
17. Martha Reeves & the Vandellas — You’ve Been in Love Too Long (#36 Pop, #25 R&B)
18. Marvin Gaye — I’ll Be Doggone (#8 Pop, #1 R&B)
19. Jr. Walker & the All-Stars — Shotgun (#4 Pop, #1 R&B)
20. Stevie Wonder — Uptight (Everything’s Alright) (#3 Pop, #1 R&B)
21. Apollas — You’re Absolutely Right (didn’t chart)
22. Ad Libs — Boy From New York City (#8 Pop, #6 R&B)
23. Len Barry — 1-2-3 (#2 Pop, #11 R&B)
24. Lou Christie — Lightnin’ Strikes (#1 Pop)
25. Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons — Let’s Hang On! (#3 Pop)
26. Gloria Jones — Tainted Love (didn’t chart)
27. Edwin Starr — Agent Double-O-Soul (#21 Pop, #8 R&B)
28. Little Milton — We’re Gonna Make It (#25 Pop, #1 R&B)
29. James Brown — Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (#8 Pop, #1 R&B)
30. Fontella Bass — Rescue Me (#4 Pop, #1 R&B)
1. Sam Cooke — Shake (#7 Pop, #4 R&B)
2. Otis Redding — Respect (#35 Pop, #4 R&B)
3. Betty LaVette — Let Me Down Easy (#20 R&B)
4. Ray Charles — Crying Time (#6 Pop, #5 R&B)
5. Nina Simone — I Put a Spell on You (#23 R&B)
6. Zombies — Tell Her No (#6 Pop)
7. Shirley Bassey — Goldfinger (#8 Pop)
8. Moody Blues — Go Now! (#10 Pop)
9. Who — I Can’t Explain (#93 Pop)
10. Them — Gloria (#71 Pop)
11. Marvelettes — Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead (#61 Pop, #11 R&B)
12. Velvelettes — He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ (#64 Pop, #21 R&B)
13. Mary Wells — Use Your Head (#34 Pop, #13 R&B)
14. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles — Going to a Go-Go (#11 Pop, #2 R&B)
15. Four Tops — I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) (#1 Pop, #1 R&B)
16. Temptations — My Girl (#1 Pop, #1 R&B)
17. Barbara Lewis — Baby I’m Yours (#11 Pop, #5 R&B)
18. Don Covay — See Saw (#44 Pop, #5 R&B)
19. Lee Dorsey — Ride Your Pony (#28 Pop, #7 R&B)
20. Major Lance — Come See (#40, Pop, #20 R&B)
21. Kim Weston — Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me) (#50 Pop, #4 R&B)
22. Diana Ross & the Supremes — Back in My Arms Again (#1 Pop, #1 R&B)
23. Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels — Jenny Take a Ride! (#10 Pop)
24. Dave Clark Five — I Like It Like That (#7 Pop)
25. Paul Revere & the Raiders — Just Like Me (#11 Pop)
26. Yardbirds — Heart Full of Soul (#9 Pop)
27. Rolling Stones — (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (#1 Pop, #19 R&B)
28. Bob Dylan — Subterranean Homesick Blues (#39 Pop)
29. Wilson Pickett — In the Midnight Hour (#21 Pop, #1 R&B)
30. Solomon Burke — Got to Get You Off My Mind (#22 Pop, #1 R&B)
You can find a brief explanation of “Rerun Sunday” here.
The post above originally appeared on 29 May 2010.
Updates: I tried to create a post-facto Spotify version of this mix for public consumption — and gave it up as soon as I hit the Gentrys track. Why there? Because that’s the point where my efforts ran into the limitations of Spotify’s library. Seems that every version of “Keep On Dancing” they have is the same lame re-recorded version from some much later moment in time. And including that version would defeat the very purpose of this mix.
And, yes, I went a little tag-crazy here.