Even though I’m an aging baby boomer, I try to keep up with the current hits on the radio. I like a lot of them, and have even come around on Taylor Swift, a few years late. I think her most recent album “1989” is outstanding.
But because I am a child of the 60s and 70s, I guess I’ll always be partial to that era. Many hits from the “Top 40 era” have held up well, and you can still hear them on the radio today. Here in Chattanooga, Big 95.3, Sunny 92.3 and KZ-106 still feature these classic hits (the word “oldies” is now frowned upon), and Sirius XM has several channels devoted to them.
I must admit, I’m sick and tired of some of them. Over the years, radio consultants have compiled lists of hit songs that they believe are familiar to most listeners, who won’t switch away from them. Obedient radio stations have played those songs, over and over, while ignoring hundreds of others that didn’t “test” as well with focus groups. As a result, you’ll hear songs like “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones, “Happy Together” by the Turtles, “My Girl” by the Temptations, “Sister Golden Hair” by America, “Dream On” by Aerosmith and “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey far more than most other vintage hits.
Generally, if I like a song, I can listen to it a few thousand times before I start screaming, “No more!” Now, after listening to the radio pretty faithfully since I was 12, some of those overplayed songs have met their expiration date, to my ears anyway. I won’t be negative and tell you the songs I’m sick of hearing. Instead, let me share my list of five old songs, that I still enjoy hearing after all these years.
“Turn Turn Turn” by the Byrds. This song came out fifty years ago, but in a sense it dates back hundreds of years before that. Much of the song is from the book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3: 1-8. Its biblical roots are pretty obvious. But did you know that before the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn put that iconic 12-string guitar sound to it, actress-singer Marlene Dietrich recorded it in German? It was called “Glaub, Glaub, Glaub.” I’m not kidding: watch this video and be amazed.
I guess it goes without saying that I prefer the Byrds’ version:
Next up on my Fab Five list is Johnny Rivers’ “Poor Side of Town” from 1966. Maybe I have a soft spot for songs about poor guys from the wrong side of the tracks, and their struggles to compete with “that rich guy you’ve been seeing.” We all love an underdog’s story, and maybe that’s why I also like Billy Joe Royal’s “Down In The Boondocks.”
For whatever reason, I crank up this song every time it comes on. I think it’s beautifully orchestrated and produced, and the background vocals are heavenly (listen to Darlene Love and the Blossoms sing, “So tell me….how much you love me” at 2:32). Add to that a flawless performance from Johnny Rivers, who sings like he’s really the guy in the song. Although this is a soft ballad, Johnny had lots of upbeat songs too. I will never understand why he is not the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Even with all the competition from the British Invasion and Motown, he OWNED top-40 radio during the 1960s. This song sounded great on AM radio then, and it sounds perfect on your stereo speakers today.
Next up is a 1972 song from Todd Rundgren. Notice I didn’t say “hit,” because it really wasn’t one. It’s funny how some songs that didn’t chart that high have a longer shelf life than many number-one hits. “Disco Duck” was #1, but few want to hear it today. “I Saw The Light” only reached #16, but it still sounds good. Todd played every instrument, in his effort to create a song in the style of Carole King’s “Tapestry” album. I like everything about it. It’s a perfect pop song, beginning with the storyline. It’s something to which we can all relate. You run out on someone, realize your mistake, and then you’ve got some catching up to do. “I tried to run, though I knew it wouldn’t help me none, ’cause I couldn’t ever love no one, or so I said,” Todd sings early in the song. By the end, he’s seen the light. “I ran out before, but I won’t do it anymore, can’t you see the light in my eyes…” I always smile, and turn up the volume when I hear the opening notes to this song.
This one is played less these days than any of the others on my short list. “Morning Girl” by Neon Philharmonic is quick little two-minute song that stood out from everything else on the radio in the summer of 1969. First, there’s a full orchestra, plus a synthesizer that sounded super-cool back then. A great vocal by Don Gant, and catchy lyrics: “Morning girl, put your dreams away, and read your box of Cheerios, and powder-puff that pretty nose, and go out and find your man where the wild wind blows…”
When I was hosting a morning TV show in the mid-80s, the songwriter and symphony conductor Tupper Saussy came to town, and I was excited to meet the writer of this great song. The only problem was, by then he was no longer in the music business. He had become an author on a crusade against the US government and the IRS. When he was on my show, he was not interested in discussing his music. He only wanted to encourage people to avoid paying taxes. I remember him being very unpleasant, maybe because he knew the feds were on his tail. Soon afterward, he went into hiding for ten years, and when the feds found him, they locked him up. He was a weird dude, but I still like his song.
Finally, the greatest shower song ever made. “Walking On Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves (1985). This is the musical equivalent of an energy drink. The first time I heard this was in “Look Who’s Talking,” when John Travolta danced with Kirstie Alley’s baby boy. I’ve loved it ever since. Oddly enough, the official video has no sunshine. There’s a little dancing though, and a good chance it will make you feel younger. What are the songs you’ve never gotten tired of? I’d love to hear from you.