Elvis Army 1960 4 1960 PressConference 1500

introduction to the #1 records on the cash box pop chart of the ’60s

ON JANUARY 1, 2109, I launched a new pub­li­ca­tion on Medium, the largest and most-read blog­ging plat­form in the world. The pub­li­ca­tion is called Tell It Like It Was and is a joint ef­fort by my­self along with John Ross and Lew Shiner. It covers rock & roll and re­lated pop music from 1955 through 1975, fo­cused on the ’60s.

As I am trying to sway my blog readers to join Medium and read our stuff there It’s free but there is a pre­mium mem­ber­ship that costs $5 a month. Readers “award” that money to the writers they read each month. There­fore the pos­si­bility ex­ists that John, Lew, and I could get paid for our writing.

Who wouldn’t want that?

But I don’t want to keep my new stuff from my reg­ular Rather Rare Records readers (and that’s the most al­lit­er­a­tion I have used in a while!), so I will start posting Medium ar­ti­cles here. The ar­ti­cles on Medium are lumped to­gether under the title “The Top­per­most of the Pop­per­most,” a ref­er­ence to a clever state­ment that John Lennon used to tell his three mates as they were be­gin­ning their climb on the ladder of suc­cess.

I have de­cided to leave the Top­per­most title with Tell It Like It Was. For the same ar­ticle here on Rather Rare Records, I will lump the ten ar­ti­cles to­gether as “The #1 Hit Records on the Pop Charts.”

There will prob­ably be a time lag be­tween ar­ti­cles pub­lished there and then here as I want the Medium sto­ries to at­tract s much at­ten­tion as pos­sible as orig­inal and unique pieces.

 

BeachBoys PetSounds First Taiwan 500

I need an image here so why not one of my fav­er­avest album of all time, the Beach Boys’ PET SOUNDS? This ver­sion was pressed in Taiwan in the late ’60s without au­tho­riza­tion from Capitol Records. As Taiwan was not a sig­na­tory to many of the in­ter­na­tional copy­right agree­ments of the time, they got away with this piracy for years. Most of the records are cheesy re­pro­duc­tions of abysmal quality but a few had in­ter­esting al­ter­na­tive cover art or de­signs, like this one.

The hits helped define the time

Back in the 1960s, the dis­sem­i­na­tion of pop­ular cul­ture through the radio waves of the country was far more im­por­tant than it has been for decades—at least since the world wide web has be­come, well, world­wide! With the Top 40 format of many AM radio sta­tions, anyone could share in that pop­ular cul­ture, re­gard­less of our per­sonal back­grounds. And back then, everyone knew what the #1 record was at any given time.

Not nec­es­sarily the #1 record in the country, but the record that was at the top of the chart on the Top 40 radio sta­tion in their neck of the woods. What de­ter­mined the hits of the week on a na­tional basis were sev­eral music in­dustry pub­li­ca­tions: Bill­board and Cash Box were the most promi­nent.

Diehard fans who lived in a town with a well-stocked news­stand might see four dif­ferent charts a week. Wilkes-Barre, Penn­syl­vania, was blessed with Leo Ma­tus’s news­stand, which is where I leafed through those mag­a­zines each week. And here I am, fifty-odd years later, writing about the records that I loved, along with the ones I hated. And no­body hates a dumb record like a teenager who takes their pop music se­ri­ously!

The hits of the day helped de­fine the time in which we lived. Radio and the cul­ture of the United States were very dif­ferent than what they are today. Top 40 radio was some­thing we could all share in if we wanted to, re­gard­less of back­ground or lo­ca­tion. The radio was more im­por­tant, even more per­sonal.

We knew our disc-jockeys by name and on-air per­sona; we some­times even met them and chatted with them at local events. We com­mu­ni­cated with them—usually by telephone—requesting our fa­vorite records be played: “I’m gonna write a little letter, gonna mail it to my local DJ. It’s a rocking rhythm record I want my jockey to play.”

 

Medium 45 1960 ChubbyChecker TheTwist 1960 600

The toppermost of what?

This is an in­tro­duc­tion to a se­ries of ar­ti­cles that dis­cusses every single to reach #1 on Cash Box mag­a­zine’s Top 100 weekly survey from 1960 through 1969. These ar­ti­cles are col­lec­tively ti­tled “The Top­per­most of the Pop­per­most,” a phrase that the Bea­tles re­peated to each other as a pep talk as they climbed the rungs of the ladder of suc­cess during the early part of the decade.

There are three writers of these articles—John Ross, Lew Shiner, and me—and we grew up with the rock & roll music of the ’50s and ’60s. For­tu­nately for us, Top 40 radio was so in­clu­sive that we were also—and often against our will—exposed to rhythm & blues and soul records, pop and easy-listening records, country and blues records, and even silly nov­elty records!

While we cover all those genres here, the ar­ti­cles re­flect the im­por­tance of rock & roll as it came to dom­i­nate the recording in­dustry. It also had an im­pact on our lives in ways that drive and mo­ti­vate us to write about it decades after most folks have written it all off as part of their mis­spent youth.

 

Medium 45 1961 RayCharles HitTheRoadJack 600

About the ’60s

Just as ‘10’ is the tenth number in a se­ries that be­gins with ‘1,’ 1960 was the tenth and final year in a se­ries that began with 1951. But in our cul­ture we are ac­cus­tomed to a dif­ferent kind of chronology: When we refer to “the ’60s,” most of us are re­fer­ring to 1960 through 1969. And that is the chronology I use here.

There is one ar­ticle for each year from 1960 through 1969. Each ar­ticle lists each record that topped the Cash Box pop chart. Each entry in­cludes a few facts and at least one com­ment by at least one con­trib­utor noting achieve­ments or em­bar­rass­ments or of­fering opin­ions, in­sights, or even per­sonal anec­dotes.

In the 1960s, 45 rpm sin­gles were the coin of the realm for pop artists. Most new sin­gles were con­ceived, written, recorded, and pro­moted as sep­a­rate en­ti­ties from an album, as most pop artists sold few of the ex­pen­sive long-playing records to their teenaged fans.

By the mid-’60s, artists like the Bea­tles, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, and Bob Dylan in­tro­duced a new level of in­tel­lec­tual am­bi­tion to pop music which upped the level of com­pe­ti­tion. Making a record that stood out from the thou­sands of other records com­peting for the forty places at the top of the chart re­quired cre­ativity, in­tel­li­gence, adapt­ability, and luck.

The need or de­sire among artists and groups on both sides of the At­lantic to keep up with or even sur­pass one an­other made for some heady com­pe­ti­tion and al­most non-stop great lis­tening! The second half of the decade was ar­guably the most com­pet­i­tive, heady, and down­right fun pe­riod in the his­tory of Top 40 radio!

During the 1970s, things changed: more and more sin­gles were recorded as part of album projects and then se­lected after the fact as a single to au­di­tion the up­coming album. There were still great sin­gles, but the com­pe­ti­tion just wasn’t the same. There is a vi­brancy, a vi­tality, in the hits of the ’50s and ’60s that has been missing since that time.

The in­ten­tion of these ar­ti­cles is to in­tro­duce you to a lot of great (and some not-so-great) music that you might not oth­er­wise ever know about. That is un­less you live some­where that still has a radio sta­tion with a golden oldies or oldies but goodies format (and not that classic rock crap).

The var­ious In­ternet out­lets that pro­gram music for each lis­tener (Pan­dora, Spo­tify, etc.) simply aren’t the same, as they play you what you want to hear without the shock and jolt of hearing some­thing you never knew was there to be heard.

These ar­ti­cles were not written for specialists—not for afi­cionados, not for his­to­rians, not for record col­lec­tors. They were written for you, for—and this is not meant ironically—normal people. They were not written to teach anyone any­thing. The three of us had fun writing them and we be­lieve that you’ll have fun reading them.

While reading these ar­ti­cles, keep in mind that every record that made it to #1 of­fered some­thing that the record buyers at the time wanted. Every one of these records con­nected with mil­lions of lis­teners in a way that the other 99 records in the Top 100 did not. Each chart-topping hit spoke to the most listeners—and usu­ally the most record buyers—in a way that they wanted to be spoken to at the time it was re­leased.

If the chart-topping pop­u­larity of some of these records baf­fles a young reader in the 21st cen­tury, well, some of them baf­fled us then and baffle us still!

 

Medium 45 1962 Tornados Telstar 600

About the charts

For decades, the Amer­ican recording in­dustry was served by sev­eral weekly news pub­li­ca­tions. The most promi­nent and re­spected were Bill­board and Cash Box, but there was also Record World and the en­ter­tain­ment mag­a­zine Va­riety. Over time, Bill­board be­came the “in­dustry bible” and its sta­tis­tics and data have been quoted in count­less mag­a­zines, books, and web­sites since.

Along the way, Cash Box was for­gotten and re­mains un­known to younger au­di­ences. But I chose the Cash Box Top 100 survey over the better known Bill­board Hit 100 survey for a very simple reason: Cash Box is a more re­li­able in­di­cator of a record’s ac­tual pop­u­larity.

On the Bill­board Hot 100, a record reached #1 ac­cording to some ar­cane for­mula that com­bined how many copies it sold with radio air-play (which was free and ar­guably more a form of free pro­mo­tion) and jukebox play (the number of times a teenager dropped a nickel in the coin slot of a jukebox in a malt shop and se­lected a song).

On the Cash Box Top 100, a record reached #1 ac­cording to how many copies it sold.

Pe­riod.

 

Medium 45 1964 Beatles IWantToHoldYourHand 600

About the listings

These ar­ti­cles in­clude each record that reached #1 on the Cash Box Top 100 be­tween Jan­uary 1, 1960, and De­cember 31, 1969. Here is a break­down of each en­try’s in­for­ma­tion:

Line 1: the date the record was #1
Line 2: 
the artist or group’s name
Line 3: 
the song title
Line 4: 
the record com­pany and cat­alog number
Line 5: 
the number of weeks at #1

Each song title is hy­per­linked to a recording of the song on YouTube so that the reader can listen to the song being dis­cussed. I tried to link to a recording of the orig­inal 45 rpm mono single when­ever pos­sible. Fol­lowing the com­ments by our trusty con­trib­u­tors, there is a bul­leted list of hard data, such as sales of the record and awards.

These five lines of in­for­ma­tion are fol­lowed by com­ments, with the first, un­cred­ited com­ment in each entry by me. Then John and Lew added their com­ments, each pre­ceded by their name. Any ad­di­tional com­ment by me is pre­ceded by my name.

These com­ments are fol­lowed by a bul­leted list of data (million-seller, gold record, etc.). Each of these bits of data is num­bered in su­per­script that matches a num­bered de­scrip­tion below the record’s listing that ex­plains that bit of bul­leted data. Let’s use Petula Clark’s “Down­town” from 1965 as an ex­ample (and it has been edited for use here as a demon­stra­tion record):

 


Medium 45 1965 PetulaClark Downtown 600

January 23–January 30

Petula Clark
Down­town
Warner Brothers 5494
(2 weeks)

By the time that Petula Clark topped the US charts in early 1965 with “Down­town,” she was 32 years old and had been a star for twenty of those years! She had half a dozen Top 10 hits in the UK and even more in France, but not a single side in her fif­teen years as a recording artist had graced the Top 100 in the US.

That all changed with “Down­town,” a re­mark­able song written by Clark’s pro­ducer and col­lab­o­rator Tony Hatch as a re­sponse to seeing New York City for the first time in early 1964.

It won the Grammy Award for Best Rock and Roll Song of 1965 (and only the Grammy people would con­sider “Down­town” to be rock & roll).

John: My de­f­i­n­i­tion of rock & roll is any record that could not have been con­ceived, let alone made, be­fore 1955. “Down­town,” as it ex­ists, in all its sweep and grandeur, could not have been con­ceived, let alone made, be­fore 1955. I can come up with plenty of rea­sons to be mad at the Gram­mies, but—especially if by “song” they re­ally meant “record”—I’ll give them a pass on that one.

Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (2 weeks) 1
• Million-seller: Yes 
2
• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (March 1, 1965) 
3
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: 3,000,000 
4
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No 
5
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No 
6
• Grammy Award: Best Rock & Roll Recording 1964 
7

But do you like it? 8
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew: ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal:  ✯ ✯ ✯


 

In the ex­ample above, for the weeks ending on Jan­uary 23 and 30, 1965, Petula Clark’s “Down­town” (Warner Brothers 5494) was the #1 best-selling 45 rpm record in the na­tion. Below are the ex­pla­na­tions for the bul­leted data:

1. Billboard Hot 100 #1

This bit of data tells you whether or not the entry also made it to #1 on the Bill­board Hot 100 survey and if it did, how many weeks it spent there.

2. Million-seller

In 1945, Joseph Mur­rells left his po­si­tion as a music li­brarian for the BBC and be­came a free­lance music re­searcher. He built one of the most com­pre­hen­sive music li­braries in the world and set out to doc­u­ment every record that had been re­ported in a re­li­able trade journal to have sold more than a mil­lion copies. I refer to his book Mil­lion Selling Records from the 1900s to the 1980s and note whether or not Mur­rells de­ter­mined it to be a million-seller.

3. RIAA Gold Record

In 1958, the Recording In­dustry As­so­ci­a­tion of America (RIAA) in­tro­duced its “of­fi­cial” Gold Record Award as a way to sta­bi­lize and unify such in­dustry pre­sen­ta­tions. To qualify for this award, a 45 rpm single had to sell 1,000,000 copies in the US. An LP album had to sell $1,000,000 at the al­bum’s whole­sale price, which was ap­prox­i­mately 750,000 copies for a stan­dard long-playing record album.

Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quired the record com­pa­nies to open up their books to an in­de­pen­dent au­ditor, an ac­tion that many com­pa­nies did not wel­come. Con­se­quently, the awards had little im­pact on the recording in­dustry and were greeted by the in­dustry with a col­lec­tive yawn. Things started to change in the mid-1960s when com­pa­nies began to rec­og­nize the pro­mo­tional value of the award in selling more records.

In these list­ings, I only listed a “Yes” if the RIAA awarded the Gold Record no later than 1970. A few ti­tles re­ceived awards decades after re­lease; I noted these in a com­ment on the record.

4. Accumulated sales

Ac­cu­mu­lated sales refer to the number of records sold world­wide as es­ti­mated by Joseph Mur­rells and listed in his book Mil­lion Selling Records from the 1900s to the 1980s.

5. Songs that shaped rock

James Henke, the chief cu­rator for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, oversaw a team of writers and critics in se­lecting 500 songs that they be­lieve have been in­flu­en­tial in “shaping” rock & roll. Like many things con­nected with the Hall of Fame, many of the se­lec­tions are con­tro­ver­sial, if not lu­di­crous. But that’s an­other con­ver­sa­tion for an­other time.

6. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The goal of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foun­da­tion is to rec­og­nize and ac­knowl­edge the best-known and most in­flu­en­tial artists, song­writers, pro­ducers, en­gi­neers, and record com­pany ex­ec­u­tives who have had a major in­flu­ence on the de­vel­op­ment of rock & roll. Through 2018, the Hall has 323 in­ductees and like other sim­ilar or­ga­ni­za­tions, there have been con­tro­ver­sies over who has been in­ducted.

Each #1 record notes whether the artist who recorded the record has been in­ducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Here at Tell It Like It Was, we have little in­terest in who has been in­ducted but we have a great deal of in­terest in who has not been in­ducted. And that, too, is an­other con­ver­sa­tion for an­other time.

7. Grammy Award

The first Grammy Awards cer­e­mony was held on May 4, 1959, to honor the mu­sical and tech­nical ac­com­plish­ments in the Amer­ican recording in­dustry. In the pop­ular music fields, most of the awards were given to “older” style artists—Elvis and his fellow rock & rollers were con­spic­uous by their ab­sence.

For years, it was a run­ning joke with those fans (like me) who paid any at­ten­tion that the Grammys were in­vented to give back to the crooners what the rock & rollers had taken away from them—namely promi­nence.

Con­se­quently, in 1964, the year that the Bea­tles con­quered America with an un­prece­dented seven #1 records, the Grammy people se­lected Henry Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses” as Record of the Year.

In 1966, the year of the “Eight Miles High” and “Pa­per­back Writer” and “Paint It Black” and “I Want You” and “Good Vi­bra­tions,” those same Grammy folks named “Win­chester Cathe­dral” the Best Con­tem­po­rary Song.

As ridicu­lous as these awards have been for so long, they are still held in high re­gard. Con­se­quently, each #1 record that re­ceived a Grammy Award is so noted in the list­ings in these ar­ti­cles.

But do you like it?

What’s a project like this without some kind of grading? Rather than awarding stars based on some per­ceived “great­ness’ in the record, we just gave each #1 record one, two, or three stars. here’s what they mean:

I re­ally like this record: ✯ ✯ ✯
It’s okay: ✯ ✯
I re­ally dis­like this record:

 

Medium 45 1965 RollingStones GetOffOfMyCloud 600

About the images

There are at least fif­teen im­ages of record la­bels in each chapter. I lifted the im­ages from two sources:

Discogs is on a mis­sion to build the biggest and most com­pre­hen­sive music data­base and marketplace—a site with discogra­phies of all la­bels, all artists, all cross-referenced, and an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket­place built off of that data­base. More than 440,000 people have con­tributed to build up a cat­alog of more than 10,000,000 record­ings and 6,000,000 artists.

45Cat is an on­line archive ded­i­cated to the magic of the vinyl, seven-inch single. Visit the site and dis­cuss, rate, re­search, or simply ad­mire some of the al­most one mil­lion records they have on their data­base.

 

Medium 45 1968 Supremes LoveChild 600

About the contributors

John Walker Ross has been writing non-stop for six years on his blog The Round Place in the Middle. There he reg­u­larly says things you don’t hear every day about movies (es­pe­cially west­erns di­rected by John Ford and Budd Boet­ticher), books (es­pe­cially de­tec­tive fic­tion), and rock and pop music of the ’60s and ’70s.

Once an alien­ated, overly cre­ative teenage misfit, Lew Shiner has been a crit­i­cally suc­cessful writer for more than thirty years. He has been one of my fa­vorite writers since the late, great Paul Williams turned me on to Glimpses twenty-some years ago. Check out both his sites: Fic­tion Lib­er­a­tion Front and Lewis Shiner Dot Com.

What fol­lows is the text of the in­tro­duc­tion to the Top­per­most of the Pop­per­most ar­ti­cles on Medium. There will be ten ar­ti­cles looking at the #1 records of the ’60s as de­ter­mined by the Cash Box Top 100 charts.

 

Elvis Army 1960 4 1960 PressConference 1500

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo the top of this page was taken during Elvis Pres­ley’s final press con­fer­ence in Ger­many on March 1, 1960, be­fore flying to the States for sep­a­ra­tion from ac­tive duty in the US Army. A few days later he would be in RCA’s Studio B in Nashville recording both sides of his new single, Stuck On You / Fame And For­tune.

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