the #1 hit records on the pop charts 1968

Estimated reading time is 34 minutes.

THIS IS THE NINTH in a series of ten articles listing and addressing the #1 records of the year as they appeared on Cash Box magazine’s Top 100 chart from 1960 through 1969. It was originally published as “Grazing In The Grass With Mrs. Robinson” on my publication Tell It Like It Was on Medium on September 19, 2019. The article below is identical to that one.

Please read “Introduction To The #1 Records On The Cash Box Pop Chart Of The 1960s” before reading this article. It will explain the nature of this project, introduce you to the writers whose opinions follow, and will make everything easier to understand.

The opinions expressed below are those of John Ross, Lew Shiner, and me. John is the talent behind the Round Place In The Middle website where he opines about rock & roll, western movies, and detective novels. John is my favorite writer writing about rock & roll. He is currently working on his first novel.

Lew is one of the finest novelists in America. Since you’re reading his name here, start with his novel Glimpses, which combines time-travel with fantasy and the milieu of ’60s rock music. Follow that with Deserted Cities Of The Heart (time-travel and psychedelic mushrooms!) and then his latest, Outside The Gates Of Heaven, which also takes place in the ’60s.

If you want to skim through this article and skip around from record to record or comment to comment, that works and you’ll have fun. But this article will make more sense if you read it from beginning to end.

One of the first things you will notice is that each of the articles opens with a calendar of events that reflect the zeitgeist of the era. Hopefully, these will give you some background and some context in which the #1 records of that were made.

 JohnFred PlayboyBand bw 1000

FEATURED ARTIST: In the last weeks of 1967, well after SGT. PEPPER blew millions of minds and tens of thousands of those mind-blown listeners put some flowers in their hair and headed to San Francisco and the Summer of Love, a rather strange record from a group with a dorky name started getting a lot of airplay on Top 40 radio stations across the country.

The first hundred times I heard Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)—and there was no way to avoid it if you followed the hits—I thought that John Fred & His Playboy Band (I mean, c’mon, that’s so, so unhip a name!) were a bunch of old farts (maybe even in their thirties!) trying their earnest best to capture the sounds and feel of the psychedelic ’60s.

And failing.

I didn’t get the spot-on humor of the record even when it hit the toppermost of the poppermost on every chart in the country and gone its blessed way to Golden Oldies Land.

In 1971, I found a sealed stereo copy of the JUDY IN DISGUISE album for 99¢ and bought it. I played it while stoned and got it!

Finally.

1968

January
The North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive.

February
A
pex Novelties published Robert Crumb’s Zap Comix #1.

March
American troops massacred hundreds of Vietnamese civilians in what became known as the My Lai Massacre. It helped undermine public support for the U.S. efforts in Vietnam. Three US servicemen tried to halt the massacre and rescue hiding civilians; these men were shunned and denounced as traitors. 

April
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, causing riots to erupt around the country.

May
Approximately 1,000,000 protestors marched through the streets of Paris, partly in opposition to American involvement in Vietnam.

June
Democrat frontrunner for the party’s presidential nomination Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles.

July
Approximately 1,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities participated in the first International Special Olympics Summer Games in Chicago.

August
Police attacked anti-war protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

September
The television news show 60 Minutes débuted on CBS-TV.

October
The Walter Reade Organization released the movie 
The Night of the Living Dead in the US.

November
Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States.

December
The television special Elvis was broadcast on NBC-TV.

 


 

1968

 

Medium 45 1967 Beatles HelloGoodbye 600

January 6

The Beatles
Hello Goodbye
(1 week)
This record spent one week at #1 on December 30, 1967, for a total of two weeks at the top. Refer to that date for more information.

 

Medium 45 1968 GladysKnight IHeardItThrough 600

January 13

Gladys Knight & the Pips
I Heard It Through the Grapevine
Soul S-35039
(1 week)

Gladys Knight—the grittiest, the funkiest, and the bluesiest female singer on the Motown roster—was given the best song and the best production of her career and she makes the most of it. If she had made this one record and died, we’d still remember her.

Lew: The Gladys Knight version is fine, but like a lot of folks, I prefer Marvin Gaye (below). Marvin had a quality of longing and pain in his voice that took him over the line into the all-time greats

John: Gladys did add a new dimension to Motown, not just the distaff side. As to the comparison between this and Marvin, I’ll just say that her version could never have followed his and we all know what happened when his version followed hers. That only proves how great his version was because, in the abstract, I wouldn’t have bet this could be bettered.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: No
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Accumulated sales: 2,000,000
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 ArethaFranklin ChainOfFools 600

January 20

Aretha Franklin
Chain Of Fools
Atlantic 45-2464
(1 week)

Back-to-back chart-toppers by two of Americas’s finest female soul singers, Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin. This was Aretha’s fifth consecutive Top 10 single since joining Atlantic the year before.

Lew: This song was written by the incredible Don Covay (for Otis Redding, but Jerry Wexler wisely gave it to Aretha). Covay wrote Mercy, Mercy (later done by the Rolling Stones), Pony Time for Chubby Checker, and a raft of other great songs, in addition to being a powerful and soulful singer in his own right. In retrospect, given the gospel feel of the a capella sections, Aretha seems the inevitable choice for this one.

Neal: And there’s the great dance scene in the 1996 movie Michael where John Travolta gets all the gals a-moving and a-grooving by playing Aretha on the jukebox in a cowboy bar. I did not include a link to this scene on YouTube as it has a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie. Needless to say, I recommend those folks do see it!

John: I’ve encountered several anecdotes of Vietnam vets secretly dedicating this one to everyone from LBJ to the lieutenant who was risking a frag by ordering them into the brush one more time. Some of the memories may have been rearranged by the convenience of hindsight, but it’s the kind of record that will do that. Possibly Aretha’s greatest, assuming any one record could carry such a burden.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: No
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (January 10, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: 2,000,000
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: Yes
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes
• Grammy Award: Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance – Female 1968

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 JohnFred JudyInDisguise 600

January 27

John Fred & the Playboy Band
Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)
Paula 282
(1 week)

Perhaps the year’s most infectious record to be such a big hit, it was also the year’s goofiest record to be a big hit. Louisiana’s John Fred & His Playboy Band took a poke at both psychedelia—especially the Beatles and SGT. PEPPERand soul music.

So, something that isn’t obvious is the meaning of the third line in the third verse: is it “Cantaloupe Eyes, come to me tonight” and “Cantaloupe Eyes” is a pet name the singer uses for Judy?

Or is it “Cantaloupe eyes come to me tonight” and “cantaloupe eyes” is a vision or hallucination the singer is having?

John: Goofy, infectious, funny. It’s all those things. Forget being a hit. Forget even being made. It’s the kind of record that could only have been dreamed of in the late ’60s. I always thought the lyrics amounted to an attempt at a secret language. Reading them just now online I pray I was right. As usual, the “real” lyrics are somewhere between no big deal and a bummer, man. It’s what you hear in your head that counts!

Neal: The first time I heard this in late 1967, I thought it was a serious attempt by a bunch of old guys—you know, in their 30s (the ones we were never supposed to trust)—trying to sound young. It took me a while to figure out it was a bunch of young guys too busy being funny to have time to be hip.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: Yes (2 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (January 31, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : 
Neal: ✮ ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 LemonPipers GreenTambourine 600

February 3

The Lemon Pipers
Green Tambourine
Buddah BDA-23
(1 week)

Psychedelic music for people who had never done acid. (Which was me in 1968.) And probably never would. (I would; I did.) This gets lumped in with bubblegum music, with which it has nothing in common, because it was issued on Buddah Records and because the group’s follow-up singles were bubblegum.

Lew: I might argue that it has a few things in common with bubblegum: a complete lack of soul, a calculated construction motivated solely by greed, and stupid lyrics. (I was not charmed.)

Neal: For interested parties, the Lemon Pipers were a very talented band who “sold out” to make some money—a not unreasonable decision then or now—who were capable of producing some fine music. Give a listen to Through With You from their GREEN TAMBOURINE album: it is intelligent, adventurous, and (yes) psychedelic—everything that their silly singles are not.

John: It certainly wasn’t anywhere near as strange (or good) as Judy In Disguise.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: Yes (1 week)
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (February 14, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: 2,000,000
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: 
Lew : 
Neal: ✮ ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 PaulMauriat LoveIsBlue 600

February 10–March 23

Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
Love Is Blue (L’Amour Est Bleu)
Philips 40495
(7 weeks)

At the height of the supposedly Psychedelic Sixties, a French orchestra led by Paul Mauriat took the pumped-up, irresistible, easy-listening instrumental Love Is Blue (L’Amour Est Bleu) to the top of the pop charts, where it remained #1 for seven consecutive weeks!

In spite of being a fine recording, for many of us record buyers, it overstayed its welcome at the top by six weeks.

Lew: I agree that it’s a really irresistible melody. An interesting footnote is that after his split from the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck covered this as one of his first single releases, along with the childish Hi Ho Silver Lining and Tallyman, on both of which Beck did lead vocals.

These were the, uh, unusual decisions of producer Mickey Most, as he flailed around trying to find a direction for the band. Beck finally put his foot down and insisted on Rod Stewart being allowed to sing, and the rest is history—or at least TRUTH.

John: Well, it’s better than Percy Faith. I’ll give it that.

Neal: John, that’s a good way to look at this record, because while it is orchestrated easy-listening, it’s night-and-day different from the orchestrated easy-listening hits of the first few years of the decade by Percy Faith and Bert Kaempfert!

• Billboard Top 100 #1: Yes (5 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (February 27, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: 4,000,000
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 Monkees Valleri 600

March 30–April 6

The Monkees
Valleri
Colgems 66-1019
(2 weeks)

The Pre-Fab For restored some balance to the pop charts with a neat piece of hard-driving pop-rock.

Lew: Nesmith tries to tear off some hot flamenco-style licks on the lead break. I remember a lot of us at the time saying, “Wow, is that really Nesmith?”

Then my lead guitarist said, “Of course it’s Nesmith. Listen to all the flubbed notes.”

Oh, right. You’d never hear that many mistakes on a record these days.

Points for ambition, anyway.

John: Wikipedia and other sources list session man Louis Shelton as playing the flamenco guitar part. If he flubbed notes it was probably in imitation of the garage band ethos popular at the time, proving, yet again, that pros can imitate amateurs a lot better than amateurs can imitate pros. Another great Davy Jones vocal, though again he seems to have been the only Monkee on the record. Heading for a breakup, they were getting to be like the Beatles in more ways than one.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: No
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (February 26, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 GaryPuckett YoungGirl PS 600

Medium 45 1968 GaryPuckett YoungGirl 600

April 13

Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
Young Girl
Columbia 4-44450
(1 week)

While it’s easy to admire Gary Puckett’s raw vocal chops—Elvis was a fan—for many rock & roll fans, he was one of the more obnoxious singers of the decade. He is one of those artists who apparently sold almost all of his records to young girls.

The lyrics to Young Girl tell of a man apparently sleeping with an under-age “girl” and then blaming her for fooling him. The song is kind of sordid, even though such scenarios play out every day in “real life.” The pathetic part is the man blaming a girl for her pulling the wool over his enamored eyes.

On a lighter note, in high school, we used to sing, “Young girl, get out of my pants!” But what did a bunch of pimple-faced, 16-year-old virgins know, right?

John: Puckett’s angst always sounded convincing to me. Maybe Elvis liked this because it had him flashing on Priscilla. You know, in Germany.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: No
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (April 5, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : 
Neal: 

 

Medium 45 1968 BobbyGoldsboro Honey 600

April 20–May 11

Bobby Goldsboro
Honey
United Artists UA-50283
(4 weeks)

For those of us who thought it couldn’t get any worse than Young Girl, Bobby Goldsboro’s Honey almost single-handedly redefined the term “sappy.” The song is about the singer remembering his dead wife and the refrain is “Honey, I miss you and I’m being good, and I’d love to be with you if only I could.”

Well, the thing is he could—easily! But then this song would be about his suicide instead of his loss.

Lew: This song was guaranteed to send me lunging for the push-buttons on my car radio to change the station. I’m lucky I didn’t wreck the car.

John: I get all the objections to this and I might feel very differently if it had been gumming up my radio when I was a teenager. But as someone who bought it on a 45 a decade later on the sole recommendation that it had been a big hit in a decade I loved from afar, I don’t hate it.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: Yes (5 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (April 4, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: 3,000,000
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : 
Neal: 

 

Medium 45 1968 ArcheBell TightenUp 600

May 18

Archie Bell & the Drells
Tighten Up
Atlantic 45-2478
(1 week)

One of the lightest-weight soul records to be a hit at any time. this wiped the sap off the airwaves left behind by Honey. In hindsight, it sounds like “Dance To The Music Lite”—bubblegum soul music.

Lew: This song lends itself to parody (e.g., Loosen Up by The Nazz), especially the spoken word intro (“Hi, everybody! I’m Archie Bell and the Drells . . .”), but thanks to Archie giving a shout-out to the Bayou City, it was very big in Texas, and all the local combos (including mine) covered it. I still find it rather charming, whether because of or in spite of Archie’s less than tuneful singing.

Neal: I forgot all about The Nazz track. I bought their first two albums when they came out (Philly only being a couple of hours away from Wilkes-Barre so I heard their singles on the radio) and loved them! The first two albums were super but NAZZ III was such a bringdown.

John: Groovy and groovin’. There’s no year that can’t use some of that.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: Yes (2 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (May 22, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: Yes
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John:✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 SimonGarfunkel MrsRobinson 600

May 25–June 15

Simon & Garfunkel
Mrs. Robinson
Columbia 4-44511
(4 weeks)

Simon & Garfunkel brought us back to just how good folky-based pop music could be with the super-savvy Mrs. Robinson, which was #1 for four weeks.

Most people who played this record endlessly probably hadn’t a clue as to what the memorable line “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you” meant, but who cared?

Koo-koo-ka-choo, indeed!

Lew: This is clever in spots and certainly well-produced by the great Roy Halee (who engineered the Lovin’ Spoonful and others before becoming a producer in his own right), but singing about a character from a movie didn’t touch me the way The Sounds Of Silence or I Am A Rock or Homeward Bound had.

John: “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio” meant the center could not hold. It didn’t.

Lew: Nice one, John.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: Yes (3 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (June 10, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes
• Grammy Award: Record of the Year 1968
• Grammy Award: Best Contemporary Pop Performance – Vocal Duo or Group 1968

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 HerbAlpert ThisGuysInLoveWithYou PS 600

Medium 45 1968 HerbAlpert ThisGuysInLoveWithYou 600

June 22–July 13

Herb Alpert
This Guy’s In Love With You
A&M 929
(4 weeks)

Trumpet player and bandleader Alpert was probably second only to the Beatles in selling LP albums in the ’60s with his Tijuana Brass. With this record, he stepped out as a singer and surprised everybody with a hit that stayed at #1 for four straight weeks.

Not allowing Gary Puckett to have the chick’s record niche to himself, Herb steps away from his Tijuana Brass and croons the kind of song I normally associate with Charles Boyer (although he’d have done it slower, funnier, sexier).

John: I find this convincing, too. Herb should have sung more. And, from Elvis on down, I’ve never really been steered wrong by trusting “chicks’” tastes.

Neal: Frankie Avalon? Sajid Khan? Bobby Sherman? Michael Bolton? All those faceless “boy bands” and “overwrought” divas of the past few decades?

• Billboard Top 100 #1: Yes (4 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (July 16, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes (Lifetime Achievement in the Non-Performer Category)

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 RollingStones JumpinJackFlash PS 600

Medium 45 1968 RollingStones JumpinJackFlash 600

July 20

The Rolling Stones
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
London 45-908
(1 week)

What a breath of fresh air! Jumpin’ Jack Flash was the hardest rock record of the year to top the charts. It was also one of the few rock records to top the charts. If you were a fan of real rock & roll, this was probably the best #1 record of the year!

Of course, in the summer of ’68, I was still in my loathing the Stones period, although I had really enjoyed the THEIR SATANIC MAJESTIES REQUEST album, which would become the first Stones record I would own. My brother and I spent a couple of weeks with our best friend Connie Flynn as guests at a cabin in the Poconos Mountains (back when the Poconos was an affordable vacation spot for working-class families and hadn’t been acquired by yuppies, the nouveau riches, etc.).

That summer is memorable because Donnie had brought the Stones new single along with him and played it endlessly, forcing me to listen to “It’s a gas-gas-gas” endlessly. And I started to like it, too.

What was even more memorable than acknowledging to myself that Jagger’s singing was getting to me was that Donnie, Charles, and I went to the Pocono Playhouse a couple of nights, which also served as a repertory movie theater. There we saw a movie that scared the pants off of us: Robert Wise’s 1963 movie The Hauntingstill the best darn ghost movie ever made!

Okay, we kept our pants on throughout the movie but toward the end, we three seasoned horror movie buffs were so shocked by one scene that we spilled everything in our hands—popcorn, soda, candy, whatever—onto the floor!

If you’ve seen the movie, you should remember the scene I am talking about. Like ol’ Jumpin Jack Flash, Hugh Crain was a gas-gas-gas!

Lew: What is this song about? Sure, rock songs don’t have to be about anything, but on this one, I felt the vacuum. Lots of repetition, both lyrically and musically—a bridge would have helped. The Stones still had great work ahead of them (EXILE ON MAIN STREET), but I’m feeling doldrums here.

Neal: Please allow me to introduce Mr. Jack Flash, he’s a man of wealth and taste.

John: This record was the result of Mick Jagger’s third deal with Beelzebub (see July 10, 1965, for details of the second deal). I’m not at liberty to reveal everything, but the conversation began with, “It’s the band. They keep coming up with these riffs. I’m going to need that new voice we spoke about.”

It ended with, “Alright, Altamont it is then. I’ll give Manson to the Beatles. We’ll speak again in ’73,” and a promise the lyrics would never be properly transcribed, let alone understood.

Neal: Before you turn this Mick-Jagger-meets-the-Devil (and one of my favorite nicknames for the Fallen One is “Old Scratch”) into a novel, you might want to read George R.R. Martin’s Armageddon Rag.

John: I will do that . . . before I turn it into a novel. I’m not promising anything in regards to publishing full transcripts of these little conversations, though. Negotiations are ongoing.

Neal: I just finished Tom O’Neill’s Chaos – Charles Manson, The CIA And The Secret History Of The Sixties. If O’Neill is correct—and the evidence he presents is mighty convincing—you may have to rethink the Manson/Beatles thing.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: No
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Accumulated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: Yes
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 HughMasekela GrazingInTheGrass 600

July 27

Hugh Masekela
Grazing in the Grass
Uni 55066
(1 week)

The year’s second instrumental to top the chart, Grazing In The Grass was a blend of jazz and soul that sounded pure pop. Masekela cut the track at the last minute to have enough material for his new album! As a pop artist, Masekela was a one-hit-wonder, as none of his other singles even came close to the Top 40.

Masekela was last heard on the Top 40 accompanying the Byrds on So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star in early 1967, and he had appeared with them at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June ’67.

In 1969, the Friends of Distinction had a good-sized hit with a vocal version of Grazing In The Grass (and which sounds like proto-disco fifty years later).

Lew: Not that there’s anything wrong with proto-disco, right, Neal? I think Masekela is a great trumpeter (sure kicks Herb Alpert’s ass!) and I love this song. Especially the Friends of Distinction version, with its interlocking, rapid-fire vocal lines and sunny vibe.

Neal: I worked as a bartender at the Cosmic Train, the first ’70s era disco in Northeastern Pennsylvania in 1973. I liked discos—especially as it got girls out of jeans and into dresses—and I liked disco music. I used to tell people, “If disco ever breaks out of discos and onto radio and we have to hear it everywhere all the time, we’re all gonna hate it real fast.” (Sigh.)

John: This is one of those left-field hits which never happen anywhere on your radio dial anymore. It’s not one I seek out but it’s always fun to encounter it at random.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: Yes (2 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (July 18, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 GaryPuckett LadyWillpower PS 600

Medium 45 1968 GaryPuckett LadyWillpower 600

August 3

Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
Lady Willpower
Columbia 4-44547
(1 week)

Gary Puckett was back, arguably more obnoxious that he had been a few months before. Little girls ate it up.

John: Gary seems to have gotten over his desire to send the sweet young thing away. And experience has taught me that little girls are often right about these things

• Billboard Top 100 #1: No
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (July 18, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : 
Neal: 

 

Medium 45 1968 MasonWilliams CalssicalGas 600

August 10

Mason Williams
Classical Gas
Warner Brothers 7190
(1 week)

Yet another instrumental to make it to #1, and despite the proficiency of the playing and the cleverness of the production, it’s still a lot more easy-listening than it is rock or soul!

Lew: This is one of those instances where trying to stuff something into a genre is Procrustean at best. This is just a great song and doesn’t fit as rock or easy listening. The guitar playing is masterful and melodic, the drums and horn section are powerful and driving, the strings sweet and emotional, the time changes anything but “easy.” The excellent production never buries the guitar, yet lets the orchestra blow it out. This is still a great listen.

John: This sounds like it should have been the theme to an acid western starring Jack Nicholson as the hired gun. That’s a compliment.

Neal: Howzabout a western where Jack Nicholson is the good guy (in comparison to all the other men in the story) sheep farmer who has to fend off a hired a gunman played by some actor so huge he not only wouldn’t be intimidated by Nicholson but would steal scenes from him and Nicholson would think it was cool?

Someone like, oh, I don’t know . . . say, Marlon Brando?

John: Sounds as though you liked Missouri Breaks more than I did. Maybe acid helps?

Neal: I think I liked Missouri Breaks more than just about any of the few people who saw it! I think Rolling Stone did an interview with Nicholson at the time, asking him about Brando’s scene-stealing, which Jack thought were brilliant and hilarious.

Hmmm, I don’t think Jack or Marlon were tripping at the time; next time I see it, I will look for the tell-tale signs (especially the trails behind them whenever they move quickly).

• Billboard Top 100 #1: No
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Accumulated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No
• Grammy Award: Best Instrumental Arrangement 1968
• Grammy Award: Best Contemporary Pop Performance – Instrumental 1968
• Grammy Award: Best Instrumental Theme 1968

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 Doors HelloILoveYou PS 600

August 17

The Doors
Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name?
Elektra EK-45635
(1 week)

Notice that the song’s original title on the single is a question: Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name? (Technically, it should be something like “Hello, I Love You! Won’t You Tell Me Your Name?”) When it was included on the WAITING FOR THE SUN album, it was condensed to a statement: Hello, I Love You.

With one single the psychedelic/blues/poetry foundation that propped up the reputation of Jim Morrison crumbled. “Hello, I Love You” was effectively bubblegum music for the older siblings of kids who were buying bubblegum music records by the millions in 1968.

I consider the Doors’ self-titled—normally I would say “eponymous” but that’s another word so regularly misused by writers-without-dictionaries that I’m no longer certain most readers would understand its meaning—first album to be one of the great rock albums of all time. That said, fifty years later and I am still surprised at how quickly the group devolved from Crystal Ship and Moonlight Drive (1967) to Hello I Love You and Touch Me (1968), which we all wish were ironical but aren’t.

Lew: Actually the song predates the Doors per se and harks back to its predecessor, Rick & the Ravens, so was written no later than early 1965. They resurrected it in sheer desperation to fill out WAITING FOR THE SUN after they were unable to get a usable recording of the intended centerpiece of the album, Celebration Of The Lizard. The flip side, Love Street, is just as terrible, proving that Morrison didn’t have to look to the past to come up with a bad song.

John: This might be a function of growing up half a generation later, but I’ve never been able tell good Doors from bad Doors. Robert Christgau once wrote of Jim Morrison: “I prefer his Tommy James to his Antonin Artaud.” It doesn’t happen often, but I’m with Christgau on this one.

Neal: I consider the first two albums—THE DOORS and STRANGE DAYS (the ones where Jimbo wasn’t f*cked-up drunk)—to be among the best albums of the ’60s. I frankly don’t care if I ever hear the others again.

I loved Christgau’s system for separating albums for review that appeared in Christgau’s Record Guide! Back in the 1960s and early ’70s, when I paid sooo much attention to record reviews in Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone, etc., it never dawned on me to consider the chore of merely listening to hundreds of albums a week to pick a few to write about. His system was brutal to certain types of records and artists but what can a poor boy do?

• Billboard Top 100 #1: Yes (2 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (August 28, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : 
Neal: ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 Rascals PeopleGotToBeFree 600

August 24–September 7

The Rascals
People Got To Be Free
Atlantic 45-2537
(3 weeks)

From a rock & roll point of view, this was the year’s second-best chart-topper. Aside from being some genuine rock & roll, it was one of the most energetic and infectious hits from the Rascals. It was also their last big hit before all their creative energies as a Top 40 band seemed to dissipate.

Lew: I’m going to dissent on this one. The Rascals had made a career out of doing R&B, but this song took “blue-eyed soul” dangerously close to minstrelsy for me. The whole “train of freedom” voiceover, ending with the embarrassing “Look out, funkies, it’s coming right on through!” hit me the wrong way. A great instrumental track, driving beat, but to me, the band started their downhill slide with this song.

John: A New Testament vision offered in the wake of war, riot, assassination. One of the sad things about growing older and studying human history is discovering just how many people in all times and places have no desire whatsoever to be free.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: Yes (5 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (August 23, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 JeannieRiley HarperValleyPTA 600

September 14

Jeannie C. Riley
Harper Valley P.T.A.
Plantation 3
(1 week)

This one came out of left field: a fairly straightforward country record about nosey neighbors by a woman who likes to wear short skirts. Why a such a record caught the attention of millions of rock, soul, and pop fans escaped me then and continues to escape me decades later.

Lew: I think some songs are popular because they capture something about the zeitgeist. The rural US was infecting country music, country boys were growing their hair and sideburns, and some of them were planting something other than alfalfa in the lower 40.

Instead of being blindly pro-government like they were in the ’50s, a lot of country folk were starting to get the idea that the government wasn’t necessarily their friend.

By the time of Reagan’s first run at the presidency in 1976, after school busing and stagflation, we were seeing the seeds of the dark populism that would culminate in the apotheosis of Donald Trump. Jeannie C. Riley touched that anti-establishment nerve.

John: A takedown of small-town hypocrisy H.L. Mencken might have been proud to call his own had he lived to hear it and convinced himself the rubes themselves weren’t responsible. It’s all courtesy of Tom T. Hall’s pithy lyric and Riley’s superb vocal, which conveys a mix of righteous anger and down-home wit that isn’t nearly as easy to pull off as she makes it sound.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: Yes (1 week)
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (August 26, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: 5,000,000
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No
• Grammy Award: Best Country Vocal Performance – Female 1968

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 Beatles HeyJude 600

September 21–November 2

The Beatles
Hey Jude
Apple 2276
(7 weeks)

For some fans this 7-minute opus of opaque images and non-sensical allusions is one of the Beatles’ greatest achievements; for others, it’s just so much hooey—an unconnected mishmash of idioms (“take a sad song and make it better”) and stoned nonsense (“the movement you need is on your shoulder”).

Actually, Hey Jude is a 3-minute single with a 4-minute coda that consists of Paul singing “na-na” repeatedly, the nonsense “words” that many recording artists used in a demo when they haven’t completed the lyrics. A year later, a record credited to Steam would take the same “na-na” to the top of the chart with the now seemingly ubiquitous Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.

Whether you thought of the record as proof of Paul’s genius or proof of how badly he needed to collaborate with John, it was a very powerful record when heard on the radio. It was an even bigger hit on Billboard, staying at #1 for nine weeks on their Hot 100. That makes it one of the biggest hits of the rock era on that survey, bigger than “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

Lew: Is it worth mentioning yet again that McCartney wrote the song (originally “Hey Jules”) for Lennon’s son Julian, later to have his own musical career? No? OK, then, I won’t.

I am with Neal on this one. Three minutes of mediocre song followed by four minutes of boredom. It wouldn’t have been so bad if you’d been allowed to escape it, but it was everywhere, all the time, in the summer and fall of 1968.

John: Again, I didn’t have the chance to grow tired of this on the radio because I didn’t hear it until years later. To my late ’70s ears, it sounded like the ’60s bleeding out.

It still does

Neal: On February 17, 1999, Capitol Records had Hey Jude recertified and it received a 4xPlatinum Record Award for 4,000,000 sales.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: Yes (9 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (September 13, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: 6,000,000
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: Yes
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : 
Neal: ✮ ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 MaryHopkin ThoseWereTheDays 600

November 9–November 16

Mary Hopkins
Those Were The Days
Apple 1801
(2 weeks)

Paul McCartney followed his #1 Beatles record (Hey Jude) by watching a record he produced follow it to the top of the charts. Mary Hopkins sang like a talented teenager, the song was a pop remake of an older Russian song, and the whole thing annoyed the hell out of as many record buyers as it inspired other record buyers to buy it!

This is a record that I hated then and, fifty years later, still reach for the dial to change stations when it’s played. (I guess that statement is a wee dated as there no oldies stations on the radio anymore. So substitute YouTube or Pandora for “radio” and it works.)

John: I haven’t felt this indifferent to a chart-topping ’60s record since Percy Faith, almost a full decade ago. But at least I could imagine somebody smooching to that one.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: No
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (November 20, 1968)
• Accumulated sales: 8,000,000
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

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

 

Medium 45 1968 Supremes LoveChild 600 1

November 23–December 7

Diana Ross & the Supremes
Love Child
Motown M-1135
(3 weeks)

Love Child was about a woman born out-of-wedlock refusing to give in to her boyfriend’s pleas for sex out of fear that they might conceive yet another “illegitimate” baby. Pretty heady stuff for Top 40 radio, especially given that many white Americans thought that producing a “love child” was almost a rite of passage for black Americans.

Lew: Nothing wrong with this number, except that it lacks the magic of the songs that Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote and produced for the Supremes. The lead writer and producer here is R. Dean Taylor, who did the utterly forgettable #1 hit from 1970, Indiana Wants Me.

John: This is Diana Ross’s spiritual autobiography, even if she never lived a word of it anywhere but the studio. Art is like that sometimes. One thing that was different by this time was the relationship between Ross and her backup singers. Flo Ballard was gone and Mary Wilson wasn’t allowed to sing on a lot of the records, including this one.

Their neighborhood harmonies had given the group’s records a haunting quality which session backup singers could not reproduce. On this record, though, the professional distance only serves to reinforce Ross’s isolation.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: Yes (2 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Accumulated sales: 2,000,000
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 StevieWonder ForOnceInMyLife 600

December 14

Stevie Wonder
For Once In My Life
Tamla T-54174
(1 week)

Back-to-back chart-topping hits for Motown as Stevie Wonder continued with his new ‘mature’ sound with a song that sounded like it should have been Frank Sinatra’s latest single.

Lew: This doesn’t sound like Sinatra to me—the bounce in the drums, the chromatic harmonica, the fierce punctuation of the horns all mark it as middle period Wonder, halfway between the raw power of “Fingertips” and the sheer genius of INNERVISIONS. Not by any means Stevie’s greatest single, but a splash of sunlight on the airwaves.

Neal: I didn’t mean that Stevie’s performance was anything to dismiss—I don’t think Wonder could have cut a bad vocal at this time. It’s just that the song itself sounds so Sinatra-ish (Darin-ish?), so Vegasy. And INNERVISIONS is one of my favorite albums of the decade that follows the ’60s.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: No
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Accumulated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮

 

Medium 45 1968 MarvinGaye IHeardItThrough 600

December 21–December 28

Marvin Gaye
I Heard It Through The Grapevine
Tamla T-54176
(2 weeks)

Gladys Knight & the Pips’ I Heard It Through The Grapevine had been the first #1 song of 1968 and Marvin Gaye’s version was the last song to top the charts in ’68. Whereas Knight’s version was a fairly straightforward soul record, Marvin Gaye’s interpretation seemed to emanate from a deeper, darker recess of the human psyche.

What was never mentioned by Top 40 disc-jockeys was that the record was more than two years old and had been rejected by Motown’s Berry Gordy as a single in 1967. It had been released on Gaye’s previous album, where it caught the attention of some progressive radio stations, who began playing it as an album cut.

In his 1989 book The Heart Of Rock & Soul (sub-titled “The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made”), Dave Marsh listed Gaye’s Grapevine as the #1 single of all time. Like most books of this nature, it would have made a lot more sense if his selections had been listed chronologically instead of by Dave’s rankings.

Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine spent the first three weeks of the new year (January 4-18, 1969) at #1 for a total of five weeks at the toppermost of the poppermost.

John: Top 40 dee-jays may not have mentioned the behind-the-scenes drama (Gordy didn’t just reject Gaye’s version, he was adamant), but it’s been discussed ad nauseam ever since. Given how good the boss’s ear usually was, and how monumental Marvin’s version of this song became in the culture, I can only chalk his resistance up to Karma.

Had this come out first, it would have either buried Gladys Knight’s version (and cost somebody a lot of royalties) or flopped completely (and cost everybody involved a whole lot more). By the end of this traumatic year, a year I believe America has never walked away from and never will—that our failure to deal with the collective trauma will be seen by future historians as the source of our unraveling—Marvin Gaye’s doomier version was an inevitable smash, destined to haunt any future we could make.

Yes, it was that great.

• Billboard Top 100 #1: Yes (7 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes

• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Accumulated sales: 3,000,000
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: Yes
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✮ ✮ ✮
Lew : ✮ ✮ ✮
Neal: ✮ ✮ ✮

Paul Mauriat’s ‘Love Is Blue’ and the Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ were the biggest hits of 1968. Find out about the other big hits of the year here! Click To Tweet

ArethaFranklin 1968 3000

FEATURED ARTIST: Everyone knew that Aretha Franklin was enormously talented but a lot of people just didn’t know what to do with it. After seven years with Columbia Records, she had released nine studio albums and two-dozen singles, not one of them breaking her into the Big Time. In 1967, she signed with Atlantic Records and by the end of the year, she had three Top 10 hits and a pair of albums that would be the first of many to receive RIAA Gold Record Awards.

Her fourth single of ’67 was Chain Of Fools which topped the Cash Box charts in January but pooped out at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. While she continued to produce smash hits, she wouldn’t top either survey again until Spanish Harlem reached $1 on Cash Box in 1971.

Of the thousands of pop, rock, and soul records that have found their way onto the soundtrack of a movie, few have been better used that Chain Of Fools in Nora Ephron’s Michael (1996) with John Travolta as the arch-angel of the title’s name. Rather than put a link here to that scene, I suggest that you find the whole movie and watch it and find out why women find Michael irresistible.

Year-end observations

Twenty-three records reached #1 on the Cash Box Top 100 chart in 1968. Here is the breakdown of #1 records based on how many weeks they spent at the top of the chart:

7 weeks: 2
6 weeks: 0
5 weeks: 0
4 weeks: 3
3 weeks: 
2
2 weeks: 
3
1 week: 
13

The records that topped the Cash Box Top 100 chart in 1968 were proof of the broad taste that American record buyers had at the time. Two dozen records reached the #1 position, and while most spent the normal one week at the top, two remained there for seven weeks each.

Psychedelia was over with: except for one record that was Psych Lite and another that was a spoof of the music, mind-bending music was absent from the top of the charts.

But there was rock & roll and soul and country and hints at classical and jazz and even some Russian folk music, so it was a reasonably diversified year for styles and sounds. The first #1 record of 1968 had been 1967’s last #1 record, and 1968’s last #1 record would be 1969’s first #1 record.

Motown finished the year 1968 with three consecutive #1 records! The last hit was a rereading of the song I Heard It Through The Grapevine which had topped the chart eleven months earlier.

No artist dominated the year: only two had two #1 records, the Beatles and Gary Puckett & the Union Gap. Seven black artists had one chart-topper each, with four of them by Motown artists. The closest thing to a novelty record making the top was Harper Valley P.T.A.

Only a few records that anyone would consider rock & roll made it: Judy In Disguise, Valleri, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Hello I Love You, and People Got To Be Free.

Various forms of what could be considered easy-listening/adult contemporary ruled: Love Is Blue, Honey, This Guy’s In Love With You, Grazing In The Grass, Classical Gas, Those Were The Days, and For Once In My Life. Those hits could be an argument that adults were still buying 45s or that teens back then had truly varied tastes.

Lew: Interesting about all the easy listening stuff. 1968 was a rough year—MLK, RFK, police riots at the DNC, and maybe people were feeling a need to pull back from the intensity. Funny the trends that your analysis can pick up.

As I look over the list, what strikes me are all the second-rate songs by formerly great bands: Mrs. Robinson, which is just a movie promo; Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which always felt to me like they were going through the motions; Hello, I Love You, which is just awful; People Got To Be Free, which bordered on self-parody; and Hey, Jude, which I was tired of the third time I heard it. I think you could make an argument that 1968 was the end of “the Sixties,” which had only begun in 1962 or ’63.

Gold Record Awards

Of the twenty-three records that reached #1, Joseph Murrells lists twenty-three of them as million-sellers. Record companies sought certification from the RIAA for official Gold Record Awards for seventeen singles.

RIAA certification rate: 74%

 


 

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