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.

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