Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Best Songs of 1961 - Nos. 10 to 6

10. Please Mr. Postman – The Marvelettes (Please Mr. Postman)

Gladys Horton and the rest of the Marvelettes took this song to number one. It was the first of many songs from the Motown label to reach that height. The story of a girl waiting on a letter from her distant lover has been covered numerous times, most famously by the Beatles and the Carpenters. Unfortunately, the Marvelettes didn’t have many more hits as they were soon overshadowed by the Supremes and the Vandellas.

9. Running Scared – Roy Orbison (Running Scared)

Probably the first rock song to be performed in the style of Bolero, Roy Orbison is at his operatic best as he builds “Running Scared” up to its tremendous crescendo. Asking his girl to choose between him and her ex, you can feel the fear and indecision as he doesn’t know what her ultimate choice will be. This beauty of a song made it all the way to number one.

8. I Fall To Pieces – Patsy Cline (I Fall To Pieces)

This was Patsy Cline’s first number one Country hit and the first song to be released from her new contract with Decca Records. She had one of the most perfect sounds to her voice and this track really brings out the crispness in her voice. While the song was climbing the charts, Patsy almost lost her life in a terrible automobile accident. It hit number one while she was in the hospital.

7. Unchain My Heart – Ray Charles (A Man And His Soul)

Great horn work and wonderful backing from the Raelettes really makes this hopping Ray Charles number. Ray tells a story of a woman who has him under her control and he just wants to be let go. It made it to number nine on the pop charts and number one on the R&B charts. It was another in a line of great Ray Charles songs.

6. Can’t Help Falling In Love – Elvis Presley (Blue Hawaii)

This song, one of the most covered in Elvis’ repertoire, was written for his 1961 film Blue Hawaii. It’s an incredibly beautiful ballad and easily one of Presley’s finest works. It peaked at number two on the pop charts. My favorite cover of this is the version that Lick the Tins did on the Some Kind of Wonderful soundtrack back in the 80s.

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Best Songs of 1961 - Nos. 17 to 11

17. Runaround Sue – Dion (Runaround Sue)

Dion updated the doo-wop sound with “Runaround Sue” and brought it into the newer rock sounds of the sixties. This story of a cheating girlfriend wasn’t too far removed lyrically from many similar stories that had come before, but the delivery was something else. The song was a really big hit and set Dion forward onto a very interesting musical career.

16. Little Sister – Elvis Presley (Little Sister)

“Little Sister” was a terrific little song about a fellow who has a bit of trouble in his pursuit of one girl then decides to woo her little sister instead. It had an infectious lead guitar riff and Elvis’ vocal delivery was pure rock mastery. As much as I liked this song however, the single’s B-side can be found just a little bit higher up on this list.

15. The Lion Sleeps Tonight – The Tokens (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)

An early version of this song was a huge hit in South Africa back in 1939. It was altered and made into a 1952 Top Twenty hit in the US by folk singer Pete Seeger. However, the most famous version of this song has to be the Tokens’ 1961 Number One hit. This song has such infectious vocal work. The chorus just draws you in. This is a real classic.

14. The Wanderer – Dion (The Wanderer)

This one is about a guy who gets around with a lot of girls. Funny, it sounds like the male version of “Runaround Sue”, the subject of Dion’s other big hit of 1961. I really like Dion’s updated rockier version of classic doo-wop. In many ways, his sound was a link between the rock of the fifties and the rock of the sixties. Great saxophone work as well.

13. (Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame – Elvis Presley (Little Sister)

This story of lost love has a wonderful rhythm to it. It sets itself apart from many of Elvis’ other songs and almost has a touch of the alternative to it. Perhaps it only strikes my ear that way because the first version of it that I heard was the live version that the Smiths put on their live album, Rank. It tells a good story with entertaining lyrics and a terrific beat. What more do you want?

12. Blue Moon – The Marcels (Blue Moon)

This is a song with a long history. The tune had three sets of lyrics written for several Hollywood movies by the team of Rodgers and Hart. The fourth set of lyrics, turned the song into a standard. The Marcels doo-wop interpretation shocked a lot of purists and became a huge pop hit. It has what is probably the most significant vocal bass-line in doo-wop history.

11. Runaway – Del Shannon (Runaway)

What a great, hooky song. This is one of those that can easily get stuck in your head all day long. From Del Shannon’s falsetto on the chorus to Max Crook’s influential synth solo, this song is just filled with hooks. It went to number one in 1961 and became a hit for Del all over again in the eighties when it was featured as the theme song for the TV show Crime Story.

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

What else happened in 1961?

In the news…

*Jan. 17 – Dwight Eisenhower gives his final State of the Union Address to Congress. In a Farewell Address the same day, he warns of the increasing power of a “military-industrial complex.” It’s as if Ike could see the future. We should never forget his warning or let things get this close to disaster again.

*Jan. 20 – John F. Kennedy is inaugurated the 35th President of the US.

*Jan. 31 – Ham, a 37 pound male chimpanzee, is rocketed into space aboard Mercury-Redstone 2, in a test of the Project Mercury capsule, designed to carry US astronauts into space.
*Mar. 1 – JFK establishes the Peace Corps.
*Mar. 21 – The Beatles perform at Liverpool’s Cavern Club for the first time.

*Apr. 12 – Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, becomes the first human in space.
*Apr. 17 – The Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba begins.
*Apr. 19 – The Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba fails.
*May 5 – Alan B. Shepard becomes the first American in space aboard Mercury-Redstone 3.
*May 9 – FCC Chairman Newton N. Minow criticizes TV as a “vast wasteland”.
*May 25 – JFK announces his goal to put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade.

*May 27 – The black light is introduced.
*May 28 – Amnesty International is founded.
*Jul. 2 – Ernest Hemingway commits suicide by gunshot in Sun Valley, Idaho.
*Aug. 13 – Construction of the Berlin Wall begins.
*Oct. 1 – Roger Maris of the New York Yankees hits his 61st home run in the 162nd and last game of the season, breaking Babe Ruth’s 154-game 1927 record.
*Dec. 11 – The Vietnam War officially begins, as the first American helicopters arrive in Saigon along with 400 US personnel.

Famous Births…

*Jan. 13 – Julia Louis-Dreyfus, SNL alum, Elaine on Seinfeld and one of the most beautiful women in the world. I’m talking top ten.
*Jan. 13 – Suggs, singer with Madness.
*Jan. 18 – Mark Messier, great hockey player. He has six Stanley Cup wins and I will never forget that Rangers Stanley Cup win back in 1994.

*Jan. 22 – Daniel Johnston, incredibly talented singer-songwriter. If you haven’t heard him, seek out his stuff.

*Jan. 26 – Wayne Gretzky, The Great One. He is the greatest hockey player in the history of the game. He holds the records for most career goals, assists, and points.
*Feb. 8 – Vince Neil, singer for Mötley Crüe.
*Feb. 13 – Henry Rollins, singer for Black Flag, punk rock icon, and extremely cool guy.
*Feb. 16 – Andy Taylor, guitarist for Duran Duran.
*Mar. 14 – Gary Dell’Abate, Baba Booey!!!
*Mar. 16 – Todd McFarlane, great comic book creator and producer of wonderful toys.
*Apr. 3 – Eddie Murphy, SNL alum, big movie star and extremely funny guy.

*Apr. 4 – Tom Byron, extremely prolific porn actor.
*Apr. 14 – Daniel Clowes, creator of Ghost World.
*Apr. 18 – Jane Leeves, hot British actress.
*Apr. 28 – Roland Gift, singer for Fine Young Cannibals.
*May 6 – George Clooney, extremely cool actor. He did great work on ER. Check out Three Kings and O Brother Where Art Thou.
*May 9 – John Corbett, extremely cool actor. He was Chris the DJ on Northern Exposure.

*May 12 – Bruce McCulloch, one of The Kids in the Hall.

*May 14 – Tim Roth, cool actor. Check out Reservoir Dogs.
*May 16 – Kevin McDonald, one of The Kids in the Hall.

*Jun. 9 – Michael J. Fox, cool actor. Hey, Back to the Future was really cool.
*Jun. 10 – Kim Deal, bassist for The Pixies, leader of The Breeders and The Amps, and one of the coolest individuals in the music world. Kim Deal rocks!!!
*Jun. 14 – Boy George, singer for Culture Club.
*Jun. 18 – Alison Moyet, singer for Yaz.
*Jun. 22 – Jimmy Somerville, singer for Bronski Beat and The Communards. Damn, what a voice he has!
*Jun. 25 – Ricky Gervais, insanely funny guy. He was the boss on the original British version of The Office.
*Jul. 15 – Forest Whitaker, incredibly talented actor. Check out The Crying Game.
*Jul. 23 – Martin Gore, extremely cool member of Depeche Mode.
*Jul. 23 – Woody Harrelson, very cool actor. Check out The People vs. Larry Flynt.
*Jul. 30 – Laurence Fishburne, cool actor.
*Jul. 30 – Richard Linklater, great filmmaker. Check out Slacker and Dazed and Confused.
*Aug. 4 – Barack Obama, cool politician and potential future President.
*Aug. 4 – Lauren Tom, cool actress. She’s the voice of Amy Wong on Futurama.
*Aug. 8 – The Edge, guitarist for U2.
*Sep. 11 – E.G. Daily, very cool and extremely attractive actress. Check out Valley Girl and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
*Sep. 18 – James Gandolfini, very cool actor. He plays Tony Soprano on The Sopranos.
*Oct. 31 – Peter Jackson, great New Zealander filmmaker. He made the Lord of the Rings movies and the recent King Kong remake. Be sure to check out Dead Alive and Meet the Feebles. *Oct. 31 – Larry Mullen, Jr., drummer for U2.
*Nov. 2 – k.d. lang, one of the greatest female vocalists in the world today.
*Nov. 12 – Nadia Comaneci, great Romanian gymnast.
*Nov. 19 – Meg Ryan, very attractive actress.
*Dec. 16 – Bill Hicks, one of the coolest guys ever, one of the funniest stand-up comedians of all time and the greatest philosopher of my generation. If you’ve never heard him, seek out his stuff. Bill Hicks absolutely freakin’ rocked!!!

*Dec. 29 – Jim Reid, singer for The Jesus and Mary Chain.
*Dec. 30 – Douglas Coupland, great author. Check out Generation X, Shampoo Planet, Life After God, and Microserfs. This guy is probably my favorite author of the past twenty years.

Famous Deaths…

*Jan. 4 – Erwin Schrödinger, Austrian physicist. Creator of the Schrödinger equation and the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment.
*Jan. 10 – Dashiell Hammett, great author of detective novels. Creator of Sam Spade and Nick & Nora Charles. Check out The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man.
*Feb. 3 – Anna May Wong, great silent film star.
*Feb. 17 – Nita Naldi, great silent film star. Check her out in Blood and Sand with Valentino.
*May 13 – Gary Cooper, movie star.
*Jun. 6 – Carl Jung, great Swiss psychiatrist.
*Jul. 2 – Ernest Hemingway, great American author.
*Oct. 11 – Chico Marx, one of the Marx Brothers and one hell of a funny guy.

*Nov. 2 – James Thurber, great American humorist.
*Nov. 16 – Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House for 17 years. One of the great American legislators.

In the world of movies…

The Top Grossing Films of 1961

10. One Hundred and One Dalmatians
9. Gone with the Wind (re-issue)
8. The World of Suzie Wong
7. Come September
6. Swiss Family Robinson
5. The Alamo
4. The Absent-Minded Professor
3. The Parent Trap
2. Exodus
1. The Guns of Navarone

Oscar Winners of 1961

Best Picture – West Side Story
Best Actor – Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg)
Best Actress – Sophia Loren (Two Women)
Best Supp. Actor – George Chakiris (West Side Story)
Best Supp. Actress – Rita Moreno (West Side Story)
Best Director – Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins (West Side Story)

Other Films released in 1961

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
The Hustler (I recommend this one. It’s a very cool movie with great performances across the board.)

The Misfits
Mothra (I loved Mothra!)

One-Eyed Jacks
The Pit and the Pendulum
A Raisin in the Sun
Through A Glass Darkly
Yojimbo (I highly recommend this one. Kurosawa is one of the great directors and Toshiro Mifune is incredibly cool in this. This film was the inspiration for A Fistful of Dollars. It is also Leo's Pick for Best Movie of 1961.)

In the world of television…

Shows premiering in 1961

The Avengers (Diana Rigg was so awesome as Emma Peel.)

Ben Casey
The Bullwinkle Show

Car 54 Where Are You?
The Dick Van Dyke Show (Leo's Pick for Best New TV Series of 1961.)

Dr. Kildare
Mister Ed
Wide World of Sports

Shows ending in 1961

Peter Gunn
Sea Hunt

Most Watched Shows of 1961

10. Candid Camera
9. Dr. Kildare
8. The Danny Thomas Show
7. The Andy Griffith Show
6. The Red Skelton Show
5. Perry Mason
4. Hazel
3. Gunsmoke
2. Bonanza
1. Wagon Train

Emmy Winners of 1961

Best Drama – The Defenders (CBS)
Best Comedy – The Bob Newhart Show (NBC)
Best Actor in a Series – E.G. Marshall (The Defenders)
Best Actress in a Series – Shirley Booth (Hazel)
Best Supporting Actor in a Series – Don Knotts (The Andy Griffith Show)

In the world of books…

Great Books published in 1961

James and the Giant Peach – Roald Dahl
Thunderball – Ian Fleming
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein (This is my favorite book of all time)
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
The Carpetbaggers – Harold Robbins
The Winter of Our Discontent – John Steinbeck

In the world of comics…

DC Comics publishes Green Lantern #7 in July, featuring the first appearance of Sinestro, Green Lantern’s arch-enemy.

DC Comics publishes Showcase #34 in September, featuring the first appearance of Ray Palmer, the Silver Age Atom.

DC Comics publishes The Flash #123 in September, featuring the first cross-over between a Golden Age Earth-2 character and a Silver Age Earth-1 character in the story “Flash of Two Worlds”. This would lead to many more cross-overs and eventually to the Crisis.

Marvel Comics publishes Strange Tales #89 in October, featuring the first appearance of Fin Fang Foom, one of Stan Lee’s greatest monster creations.

Marvel Comics publishes Fantastic Four #1 in November, featuring the first appearance of the Fantastic Four; Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Thing, and the Human Torch and marking the beginning of Marvel’s Silver Age.

In the world of sports…

*World Series – The New York Yankees win 4 games to 1 over the Cincinnati Reds.
*NBA Finals – The Boston Celtics win 4 games to 1 over the St. Louis Hawks.
*NFL Championship – The Green Bay Packers win 37-0 over the New York Giants.
*AFL Championship – The Houston Oilers win 10-3 over the San Diego Chargers.
*College Football champions – The Alabama Crimson Tide and The Ohio State Buckeyes (shared).

*Stanley Cup – The Chicago Blackhawks win 4 games to 2 over the Detroit Red Wings.

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

I'll be leaving for my vacation in a couple of days so it'll be about a week and a half before I post again.