Friday, April 27, 2007

The Best Songs of 1963 - Nos. 5 to 1

Before I get started, I want to mention a couple of things. First of all, I really appreciate all the nice things that you guys have said about the work that I’m doing here. It really is a labor of love and it means a lot to know that people are digging on it. I specifically want to mention Canuck Rob’s comment that both he and his kids are enjoying the lists, because that touches on one of my goals in this project. I hope that I’m able to present a music history where young people will have the opportunity to hear some of the stuff that came before their time and, once I get up into the 80s and 90s, some of the older folks might get turned on to some really good music that they may have missed.

Another thing I wanted to mention is the frequency of my posts. I’m working full time now, so I don’t have the time to devote to this project that I had before. I will still try to get a post out a week. In fact, I’m going to add a new feature starting next week that will bring us up to two posts a week, hopefully: Leo’s Week in Review. Once a week, I’ll post my thoughts on whatever TV or movies I’ve seen or other interesting events of the previous week that I want to comment on. I hope that you guys will all enjoy that. I have been watching a lot of movies lately. Since I started doing a top ten movies list for each year as I’ve been moving forward, I decided that I really should watch all the important movies for each of these years, so that my lists will come from an informed perspective. I’ve watched twenty films from 1964 over the past few weeks and I’ll be watching twenty-four movies from 1965 before I create my top ten films of 1965 list.

Well, that’s enough chatter for now. On with the top five, and be sure to let me know what you think.

5. Busted – Ray Charles (Ingredients In A Recipe For Soul)

I think most of us can identify with being broke. Ray gave us an anthem relating to the condition. It made it to number four on the pop charts and won the Grammy for Best R&B Recording. Ray’s vocal was great and I just love that horn riff. I’ve been broke before, not this broke, but pretty damn broke and Ray describes the feeling incredibly well.

4. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right – Bob Dylan (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan)

This may be the greatest break-up song of all time. After writing about love song after love song, it’s a pleasure to finally have the opportunity to write a few words on the ultimate antithesis of that. The song describes in great detail a really terrible girlfriend. One line in particular that always struck me was, “I give her my heart but she wanted my soul.” I dated a girl like that in high school. I can totally relate with this whole song.

3. Sweet Dreams (Of You) – Patsy Cline (Sweet Dreams)

That amazing voice just tears me up every time I hear it. This was a posthumous hit for Patsy as she had died in a plane crash not long before the song’s release. It made it to number five on the Country charts and years later it became the title song for the movie of Patsy’s life. This sad tale of unrequited love was originally written and recorded by Don Gibson, but the song will always be remembered for Patsy’s version.

2. Please Please Me – The Beatles (Please Please Me)

Please Please Me was John Lennon’s attempt to write a Roy Orbison-style song. George Martin suggested an arrangement with a much faster tempo and the result was one of the Beatles finest early songs. Lennon’s harmonica work and the incredible vocal harmonies pull the track together wonderfully. The song made it to number three on the US pop charts and it would have been my choice for the best song of the year if not for an actual Roy Orbison song.

1. In Dreams – Roy Orbison (In Dreams)

Roy Orbison’s operatic tendencies came to the fore again with In Dreams, a song that becomes steadily more powerful as it goes on until by the end he is hitting emotional heights and phenomenal notes. The lyrics are beautifully poetic in their descriptions of the Sandman and the world of dreams which is the only place he can hold the woman he loves. This is the best song of 1963.

The Top Artists of 1963

10. Marvin Gaye9. The Beach Boys8. The Crystals7. The Ronettes6. The Kingsmen5. Ray Charles4. Bob Dylan3. Roy Orbison2. Patsy Cline 1. The Beatles

Male Voice of 1963

10. Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones9. Marvin Gaye8. Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys7. George Harrison of The Beatles6. Jack Ely of The Kingsmen5. Ray Charles4. Bob Dylan3. Roy Orbison2. John Lennon of The Beatles1. Paul McCartney of The Beatles

Female Voice of 1963

4. Darlene Love3. Dolores Brooks of The Crystals2. Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes1. Patsy Cline

Top Groups of 1963

5. The Beach Boys4. The Crystals3. The Ronettes2. The Kingsmen1. The Beatles

Top Albums of 1963

5. The Kingsmen In Person (The Kingsmen)4. Ingredients In A Recipe For Soul (Ray Charles)3. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (Bob Dylan)2. In Dreams (Roy Orbison)1. Please Please Me (The Beatles)

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Best Songs of 1963 - Nos. 10 to 6

10. Do You Want To Know A Secret – The Beatles (Please Please Me)

Do You Want To Know A Secret made it to number two on the American charts, although it was never released as a single in the UK. George Harrison provided the vocal on this track. I love the lyrics. It really is a beautiful way to tell someone that you love them. The story is that John Lennon meant the song for his new wife Cynthia during the time when Brian Epstein wanted them to keep their marriage a secret from the public in order to increase the band’s popularity with young female fans.

9. Then He Kissed Me – The Crystals (Then He Kissed Me)

I love that Wall of Sound. This song just sounds so big. It was one of the best of the girl group songs of the early 60’s and one of Phil Spector’s finest productions. Dolores Brooks provided a tremendous vocal on this story of a girl who meets a handsome stranger and falls in love. The song has been used in several movies, but the scene that most sticks out in my mind is from Goodfellas where the song plays during that incredible long tracking shot where Ray Liotta takes Lorraine Bracco through the back entrance of the Copa on their first date.

8. Be My Baby – The Ronettes (Be My Baby)

Here we have another Phil Spector produced track and another example of his famous “Wall of Sound”. I absolutely adore the sound of Ronnie Spector’s voice and this song was her best. It made it to number two on the pop charts and she even had a chance to repeat that success when Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight” went to number four on the charts in 1986 with her reprisal of the chorus of “Be My Baby”.

7. Love Me Do – The Beatles (Please Please Me)

John Lennon’s harmonica really makes this wonderful song. It was the first single for The Beatles and it was a number one hit on the pop charts. It was one of the first songs Paul McCartney ever wrote. According to John Lennon, Paul had completed the main structure of the song by the time he was sixteen. Before this single was released, most bands recorded songs written by professional songwriters. Lennon and McCartney wrote their own songs and very well at that. Nothing in the music business was quite the same after this.

6. Louie, Louie – The Kingsmen (The Kingsmen In Person)

This is one of the most covered tunes in rock history, but the most famous version of Richard Berry’s song was recorded by Portland, Oregon’s Kingsmen. The song made it to number two on the pop charts, despite, or possibly because of, the controversial urban legend that sprang up over Joe Ely’s unintelligible interpretation of the lyrics. The song was banned by the governor of Indiana and even investigated by the FBI, but there was no actual obscenity in the song.

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Best Songs of 1963 - Nos. 15 to 11

15. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Darlene Love (A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector)

This is the greatest Christmas song of all time. In November of 1963, Phil Spector released an album of Christmas songs recorded by several of the artists who he regularly worked with. It didn’t attract much notice at the time, but the song found new life after U2 covered it on 1987’s A Very Special Christmas album. Since the late 80’s, Darlene Love has regularly performed the song on the final new episode of David Letterman’s show before Christmas.

14. Can I Get A Witness? – Marvin Gaye (Can I Get A Witness?)

Marvin Gaye makes his first appearance on the list with this gospel-influenced track. It made it to number 22 on the pop charts and helped Marvin on his way to becoming the quintessential Motown artist of the 60s. The song may have a gospelly sound but the story of a man whose woman treats him wrong is definitely of a more secular sentiment. Marvin was really in top form here and his vocal was incredible.

13. Back In Baby’s Arms – Patsy Cline (Sweet Dreams)

Back in Baby’s Arms was the B-side of the Sweet Dreams single and is one of Patsy’s best songs. Her vocal was amazing and I love the beat of this track. It really grew on me after it was included on the soundtrack for Natural Born Killers. It’s a wonderful story of a couple reconciling after a fight and Patsy’s interpretation was just about perfect.

12. In My Room – The Beach Boys (Surfer Girl)

1963 is a really big year for the debuts of major artists. Besides Beatles, Stones, Dylan, and Marvin, The Beach Boys make their first appearance with In My Room. This was one of Brian Wilson’s great introspective songs. I can relate. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in my room and it truly was a sanctuary for me. The song is quite beautiful. It’s hard to believe that it was originally released as a B-side.

11. All My Loving – The Beatles (With The Beatles)

All My Loving, the third track on With The Beatles, was the song that they chose to open with when they debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964. It’s a splendid little love song that Paul McCartney originally envisioned as a country song. This explains the countrified flavor of George Harrison’s guitar work. It’s a really exceptional entry in the McCartney catalog.

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Best Songs of 1963 - Nos. 19 to 16

19. Blowin’ In The Wind – Bob Dylan (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan)

Blowin’ in the Wind was a magnificent piece of philosophical poetry and marks Bob Dylan’s first appearance on my list. This song inspired a great many artists to break away from the standard love song and to write about more substantive subject matter. It also inspired countless cover versions from artists as disparate as Stevie Wonder and Dolly Parton. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song at number fourteen on their list of the greatest songs of all time.

18. It Won’t Be Long – The Beatles (With The Beatles)

And so The Beatles make their first appearance on the list. With a fantastic lead vocal from John Lennon and a great guitar riff, our favorite Liverpudlians opened up their second album with this track. It tells the story of a fellow whose girl temporarily left him, but now she’s coming back. Personally, I really love that high note that closes the song out. This was great stuff.

17. Pipeline – The Chantays (Pipeline)

A surf rock classic and the only hit The Chantays ever had. This song had great guitar and keyboard parts, but the whole track had an ethereal quality due to that lead guitar and keyboard being slightly muted in the mix while the bass and rhythm guitar are at the forefront. The song has been covered by artists such as Dick Dale and The Ventures and has become a surf music standard.

16. I Wanna Be Your Man – The Rolling Stones (I Wanna Be Your Man)

The Rolling Stones make their first appearance on my list playing a Lennon-McCartney song. The Beatles recorded this song for their With The Beatles album, but I prefer the version by The Stones. It may be a bit clich├ęd to say it, but The Stones were just dirtier. I don’t mean that in the sense of naughtiness, but rather they were grittier and had a bit more of hard bluesy edge to them. It certainly worked for this song, but I think the best thing about their version was Brian Jones’ incredible slide guitar.

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Movies of 1963

The Top Grossing Films of 1963

10. Come Blow Your Horn

9. Bye Bye Birdie

8. Charade
7. Dr. No

6. Son of Flubber5. The Sword in the Stone4. Irma la Douce3. Tom Jones2. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World1. Cleopatra
The Top Stars of 1963

10. Jerry Lewis

In 1963, Jerry Lewis starred in Who’s Minding the Store? and played Professor Kelp and Buddy Love in The Nutty Professor. He also ran over Spencer Tracy’s hat in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
9. Paul NewmanIn 1963, Paul Newman starred in The Prize and A New Kind of Love. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for playing Hud Bannon in Hud.
8. Sandra Dee

In 1963, Sandra Dee starred in Take Her, She’s Mine and Tammy and the Doctor.
7. Elvis Presley

In 1963, Elvis Presley starred in Fun in Acapulco and It Happened at the World’s Fair.
6. Elizabeth TaylorIn 1963, Elizabeth Taylor starred in The V.I.P.s and Cleopatra.
5. Cary GrantIn 1963, Cary Grant starred in Charade with Audrey Hepburn.
4. Jack LemmonIn 1963, Jack Lemmon starred in Under the Yum Yum Tree and Irma La Douce.
3. Rock HudsonIn 1963, Rock Hudson starred in A Gathering of Eagles.
2. John WayneIn 1963, John Wayne starred in McLintock! and Donovan’s Reef.
1. Doris Day

In 1963, Doris Day starred in Move Over, Darling and The Thrill of it All, both films co-starring James Garner.

The Top Stars of Tomorrow for 1963

10. Tony BillTony Bill got his start as an actor in 1963 with featured roles in Come Blow Your Horn and Soldier in the Rain. He acted steadily for a few years and then moved into directing and producing. He won an Oscar in 1973 as one of the producers of The Sting. He’s since directed such films as My Bodyguard, Untamed Heart, and last year’s Flyboys.
9. Ursula Andress

Ursula Andress had been working in the Italian film industry since 1954, but she made her first impression on American audiences when she stepped out of the sea in that iconic white bikini in Dr. No in 1962. She was the first of many Bond girls and some still consider her the best. In 1963, she starred in Fun in Acapulco with Elvis and in 4 for Texas with Dean Martin. She continued to work steadily through the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. My favorite of her later films being a Skinemax classic, 1975’s The Sensuous Nurse, where she proved that she was still one of the world’s sexiest women at the age of 40. In 1995, Empire Magazine declared her the 53rd Sexiest Star in film history.
8. Barbara EdenBarbara Eden began appearing on television in 1956. Previous to 1963, she had made guest appearances on such shows as I Love Lucy, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, and The Andy Griffith Show, as well as appearing in movies like Flaming Star and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. In 1963, she starred opposite Pat Boone in The Yellow Canary and did a guest spot on Dr. Kildare. Two years later, in 1965, she began to play her most famous role in I Dream of Jeannie.
7. Dorothy ProvineDorothy Provine got her start in 1958 playing the famous gun moll in The Bonnie Parker Story. She made guest appearances on several TV series and starred in a few more “B” movies in the late 50s and early 60s. In 1963, she played Milton Berle’s wife and Ethel Merman’s daughter in the classic It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. She retired from acting in 1976.
6. Patrick WaynePatrick Wayne is John Wayne’s son. He started acting in his father’s films in 1950 at the age of eleven. He had roles in his father’s Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, The Conqueror, The Searchers, The Alamo and several others through the 50’s and early 60’s. In 1963, he had parts in Donovan’s Reef and McLintock. He didn’t break big away from his father until he fought Ray Harryhausen’s monsters in the title role of 1977’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. He later went on to do more TV guest appearances and host several game shows.
5. Pamela TiffinPamela Tiffin got her start in the business in 1960 and quickly earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1961’s One, Two, Three opposite James Cagney. In 1963, she appeared in Come Fly With Me and an episode of The Fugitive. She continued to act throughout the sixties, but other than an appearance in a 1986 Italian TV movie, she hasn’t been in anything since 1974.
4. Diane McBainDiane McBain’s career began in 1959 with a couple of episodes of Maverick. In 1961, she joined the cast of Surfside 6. In 1963, she joined the cast of 77 Sunset Strip. She continued to appear regularly on TV and in the occasional movie throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, making appearances up to 2001.
3. Stella StevensStella Stevens’ career began in 1959. She first got the public’s attention when she appeared as Appassionata Von Climax in 1959’s Li’l Abner. She did quite a bit of TV and movie work up to the time of her placement on this list, including appearing opposite Elvis in 1962’s Girls! Girls! Girls! She was Playboy’s centerfold in January 1960. In 1963, she starred opposite Glenn Ford in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and opposite Jerry Lewis in The Nutty Professor. She went on to great success in the industry and is still working regularly today.
2. Peter FondaThe son of Henry Fonda and younger brother of Jane Fonda, Peter got his start with a few TV guest spots in 1962. In 1963, he starred opposite Sandra Dee in Tammy and the Doctor. He went on to appear in many of the late 60s counterculture’s greatest classics like The Wild Angels, The Trip, and especially Easy Rider. He’s been nominated for two Oscars and had roles in two of this year’s highest grossing films, Wild Hogs and Ghost Rider.
1. George ChakirisGeorge Chakiris got his start in movies in 1947’s Song of Love at the age of 12. He went on to appear in numerous musicals throughout the 50s as an uncredited dancer. In 1961, he appeared as Bernardo in West Side Story and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He appeared in three films in 1963; Kings of the Sun with Yul Brynner, Diamond Head with Charlton Heston, and La Ragazza di Bube with Claudia Cardinale. He continued acting and had a successful career until his retirement in 1996.

The Oscars of 1963

Best Supporting Actor nominees –

Nick Adams (Twilight of Honor)Bobby Darin (Captain Newman, M.D.)Hugh Griffith (Tom Jones)John Huston (The Cardinal)
And the winner was… Melvyn Douglas (Hud)
Melvyn Douglas was very good in this role, but I think I would have gone a different way. I was very impressed with five supporting performances in particular from The Great Escape; the ones from Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, and Donald Pleasance. I think they were each worthy of nomination. I also would have liked to see Walter Matthau nominated for his work in Charade. If it were up to me, I think I would have given this Oscar to Richard Attenborough for his portrayal of Roger Bartlett.

Best Supporting Actress nominees –

Diane Cilento (Tom Jones)Edith Evans (Tom Jones)Joyce Redman (Tom Jones)Lilia Skala (Lilies of the Field)
And the winner was… Margaret Rutherford (The V.I.P.s)
Again, I would have gone in a different direction than the Academy. There are three performances that would qualify in this category that really stood out for me. Suzanne Pleshette in The Birds and Claire Bloom in The Haunting were both terrific in their respective horror films, but I’ve got to give the award to Ethel Merman as the mother-in-law from Hell in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The Academy has never been generous to comedic performances, but I think this one should have stood for an Oscar in 1963.

Best Actor nominees –

Albert Finney (Tom Jones)Richard Harris (This Sporting Life)Rex Harrison (Cleopatra)Paul Newman (Hud)
And the winner was… Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field)
I’ve never seen Lilies of the Field, so I can’t really comment on Poitier’s performance. I never saw This Sporting Life either. Rex Harrison was OK as Caesar. Albert Finney was quite good in Tom Jones. Paul Newman was excellent in Hud. I can’t say whether the Oscar should have gone to Poitier or Newman, but I will say that Marcello Mastroianni should have been nominated for 8 ½.

Best Actress nominees –

Leslie Caron (The L-Shaped Room)Shirley MacLaine (Irma la Douce)Rachel Roberts (This Sporting Life)Natalie Wood (Love with the Proper Stranger)
And the winner was… Patricia Neal (Hud)
I would have liked to see Audrey Hepburn nominated for Charade and Julie Harris nominated for The Haunting, but this is a case where I agree with the Academy. Patricia Neal deserved her Oscar.

Best Director nominees –

Federico Fellini (8 ½)Elia Kazan (America, America)Otto Preminger (The Cardinal)Martin Ritt (Hud)
And the winner was… Tony Richardson (Tom Jones)
This one should have gone to Fellini.

Best Picture nominees –

America, AmericaCleopatraHow the West Was WonLilies of the Field
And the winner was… Tom Jones
Leo’s Top Ten Films of 1963

10. Tom Jones (d. Tony Richardson)This one may have won the Oscar, but there were nine other films this year that I would rank higher. It was a very well-made and enjoyable story with a terrific performance from a very likable Albert Finney. I can see how it achieved the popularity that it did at a time when people were hot for anything British.
9. Cleopatra (d. Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

I’m a sucker for a big historical epic and this certainly qualifies. At the time, it was the most expensive film ever made. I particularly enjoyed the opulence of the sets and costumes and the chemistry between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
8. Irma la Douce (d. Billy Wilder)

I totally get Jack Lemmon’s character here, because it is hard not to fall in love with Shirley MacLaine as Irma la Douce. It’s a fantastic performance and she really deserved her Oscar nomination. I especially enjoyed her dance on that pool table. “Dis-donc!” She was a really sexy lady back then.
7. The Birds (d. Alfred Hitchcock)

Did you ever notice that the character Tippi Hedren plays is like a 60’s version of Paris Hilton. She’s the heiress to a hotel fortune who jetsets around Europe and has a scandalous reputation. Anyway, Hitchcock tapped into our inner fears of nature going all nutty on us and did it in his own inimitable style. It’s a great horror flick, but not as good as…
6. The Haunting (d. Robert Wise)

This was the best horror flick of 1963 and one of the best haunted house stories ever put to film. The creepy atmosphere Robert Wise put together was highly effective. That was one spooky-ass house! Claire Bloom and, especially, Julie Harris gave Oscar worthy performances. This film should have gotten much more acclaim at the time.
5. From Russia With Love (d. Terence Young)

This is one of the best of the Bond series with great action, gadgets, locations, and one of the most intense and realistic fight scenes in the history of the series. I’m referring to Bond’s fight on the train with Red Grant, not the earlier gypsy camp catfight scene. Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb was one of the most interesting of Bond villains. Sean Connery was terrific as always.
4. The Great Escape (d. John Sturges)

What a fantastic ensemble cast! There were great performances across the board in this story of captured airmen in a German POW camp. The escape sequences were suspenseful and exciting. Although the ending was a bummer, the fact that the story was true made it much more inspirational. I was glad to see that it was dedicated to the fellows that didn’t make it.
3. It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (d. Stanley Kramer)

This was one of the all-time great comedies. The cast was amazing and featured almost every comic star in Hollywood at the time. I love the broad almost slapstick humor. There were so many great scenes from Sid Caesar destroying a hardware store to Jonathan Winters taking a gas station apart with his bare hands.
2. 8 ½ (d. Federico Fellini)

Fellini did a tremendous job with this surreal story of the life and dreams of a filmmaker much like himself that has a creative block while working on his new movie. I think Fellini should have won that Best Director Oscar for this one, but there was another film that I liked more.
1. Charade (d. Stanley Donen)

This wonderful romantic suspense film teaming Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn was my favorite film of 1963. It’s been called “the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock didn’t make.” I love all the twists and turns and how you spend the entire movie not really knowing who to trust. There were great performances from James Coburn and George Kennedy as a couple of bad guys, Walter Matthau in a very important role and especially Grant and Hepburn. If you haven’t seen this one, I recommend it highly.

Other Films released in 1963

Beach PartyThe first of the “Beach Party” films with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.
Blood FeastA groundbreaking gore film from Herschell Gordon Lewis. It’s a camp classic and nothing like it had been seen before.
Jason and the ArgonautsA story from Greek mythology featuring Ray Harryhausen’s amazing special effects.
The Nutty ProfessorJerry Lewis’s Jekyll-Hyde story.
The Pink PantherThis was the first of the Panther series, but it was a fairly weak entry. This was because the focus of the film was not Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, but rather David Niven’s cat burglar character. The producers figured it out in the next entry when they made it all about Clouseau.
The RavenVincent Price, Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre all together in one film? How can you go wrong?
The TerrorInteresting Roger Corman film with Boris Karloff and a very young Jack Nicholson.

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.