Nobody would deny that 1964 was among the most pivotal years in rock and roll. Nobody except Lester, a guy I worked with decades ago. He was an idiot. The Beatles and the other artists who stormed the US pop charts during the first British Invasion made an indelible impact on contemporary music and culture. Motown was ascending and producing classic singles. Girl groups were still hanging around creating pop perfection. Bob Dylan was making himself known, messing with the vocals one expected on a hit record. And Dionne Warwick was already the queen of Twitter.
Here are thirty songs that partly defined 1964. Take note, Lester.
I’ve been immortalized in print! And thankfully not in a book called The Twenty-First Century’s Biggest Garbage People!
In 2019, acclaimed singer-songwriter Amy Rigby published her memoir, Girl to City, and I have a cameo therein. In the middle part of the 1990s, Amy was my assistant at Sony Music. I remember her visiting a few months after she left the company (her leaving having nothing to do with me, and something to do with a mishap involving FedEx and Julio Iglesias), bringing me an advance copy of her debut CD Diary of a Mod Housewife and a promotional potholder. The potholder was good; the CD was (is) great. The Village Voice placed it as the eighth best album of 1996 in their annual survey of music critics.
She’s released more great music in the years since. We got to catch up again a few months before COVID restrictions went into place, when she came to L.A. while doing a book tour promoting her memoir. I recommend the book – it’s an entertaining read. I also recommend checking out her music. There’s a playlist below.
There’s the voice. In its 2008 survey of the greatest singers of all time, Rolling Stone placed Sam Cooke (born January 22, 1931) at number four.
There are the songs. “You Send Me,” “Wonderful World,” “Cupid,” and many others are classics, known to generations. Cooke not only sang these songs; he composed them as well. I think that when you listen to the Sam Cooke playlist below, you’ll recognize a lot more songs of his than you realized.
There’s the business acumen. Cooke was among the first African American entrepreneurs in the music business, starting his own record label, SAR Records, in 1961. Artists signed to the label included Bobby Womack, Johnnie Taylor and Mel Carter. He founded a song publishing imprint. He created a management firm.
There’s the civil rights activist. Cooke took an active role in the civil rights movement. Inspired by Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Cooke composed and recorded “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Released as a single in December 1964, less than two weeks after he was shot to death at age 33, the recording is considered by many to be his finest work and a classic protest song.
There’s the legacy. Sam Cooke was among the charter inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s actually in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice – once as a solo artist and once as a member of the gospel group The Soul Stirrers. He’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He’s a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner. He has a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. In addition to his ranking on their Greatest Singers survey, Rolling Stone also placed him at number sixteen on their Greatest Artists of All Time list.
Today’s playlist pays tribute to the great Sam Cooke, with two dozen of his best recordings plus covers of a few of his hits.
“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. 1963
“He had a dream now it’s up to you to see it through, to make it come true” – “King Holiday”
This week I’m reviving a feature I used to do on Tunes du Jour – Throwback Thursday, with each week focusing on a different year in the rock and roll era. This week we’ll listen to the music of 1966. Some notable events:
The Mamas & the Papas had their first hit with “California Dreamin’.” Perhaps you’ve heard it.
Simon & Garfunkel had their first top 40/top 10/#1 single in the US with “The Sounds of Silence.” The duo had actually broken up already and were unaware that their record label released a version of their 1964 acoustic recording on which electric guitar and drums were added.
Bob Dylan released his game-changing album Blonde On Blonde, a staple of greatest albums of all-time lists since.
? and the Mysterians released their debut single, “96 Tears.” Perhaps you’ve heard it.
Producer Phil Spector released what he considered to be his best work – Ike & Tina’s Turner “River Deep – Mountain High.” In actuality, Ike had nothing to do with the recording. Though a hit in the UK and several European countries, the single stalled at #88 in the US, leading Spector to retire for two years and produce far less frequently following that.
Percy Sledge released his debut single, “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Perhaps you’ve heard it.
The Beatles performed their last official concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
The Supremes scored two more #1 pop singles plus another two that went top ten. During their career the group would have 12 #1s and 20 top tens. Many more hits followed for the trio’s usual lead singer, Diana Ross. Perhaps you’ve heard of her.
New York City’s WOR became the first FM radio station in the US with a rock format.
Inspired by the December 29 birthdays of The Band’s Rick Danko, Marianne Faithfull, The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Jim Reid, The Offspring’s Dexter Holland, Propellerheads’ Alex Gifford, Yvonne Elliman, UGK’s Pimp C, GQ’s Emanuel Rahiem Leblanc, Brand Nubian’s Sadat X and Mary Tyler Moore.
Inspired by the December 28 birthdays of Pops Staples, The Weather Girls’ Martha Wash, Alex Chilton, John Legend, Edgar Winter, Terrace Martin, Johnny Otis, Kym Sims, Lonnie Liston Smith, and 2 Unlimited’s Anita Doth.