Throwback Thursday: 1962

A popular misconception that I sometimes fall into is that the years after The Day The Music Died (early 1959) and before The Beatles hit in America (early 1964) the pop chart was pretty dull. Sure, there was a lot of schmaltz on the Hot 100 – there always is – but there was a lot of exciting stuff, too, as today’s Throwback Thursday playlist will attest. Girl groups, Motown, Ray Charles, James Brown, Frankie Valli, Sam Cooke, The Beach Boys and lots of other good stuff made the top 40. Have a listen to thirty of 1962’s best.

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Throwback Thursday – 1962

Some time in my teen years I feel in love with the girl group sound. My favorite was The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel.” The music and the vocals hooked me. The singer tells of how others don’t approve of the boy she loves as he’s a non-conformist, but he treats her well and that’s all that matters.

The story behind the record is as interesting as the record itself. The song was written by Gene Pitney, who had several hits of his own, including “Town Without Pity” and “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valence.” “He’s a Rebel” was slated to be the debut single for Vikki Carr, but when Spector heard Pitney’s demo he knew he wanted it for one of his acts, The Crystals.

He needed to record it quickly in order to challenge Carr’s version at the stores. The Crystals, however, were on the road in New York and unable to make the recording sessions in Los Angeles. No problem. Spector hired a local group called The Blossoms, led by Darlene Wright, to record the song. Wright was paid $3000 for the session. Spector released the record under the name The Crystals, as his label owned the name. The actual Crystals first learned of their new hit song when they heard it on the radio. It became their first #1 single, meaning The Crystals had to learn this song so they could perform it at their shows. The group’s lead singer, Barbara Alston, could not match Wright’s vocal performance, so fellow Crystal LaLa Brooks moved into the lead vocalist slot. Coincidentally, the week The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel” was #1, Gene Pitney was #2 as a singer with “Only Love Can Break a Heart,” a song he didn’t write.

As “He’s a Rebel” was so successful, Spector needed to get a follow-up single out quickly. Again, he turned to The Blossoms to record “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.” Wright, however, was angry that her name was not on “He’s a Rebel” and told Spector she would only do this song if she were singed to a recording agreement and was properly credited for her vocals on the track. Spector agreed, changing her name in the agreement to Darlene Love. He released “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.” It was credited to The Crystals.

Spector used the money he made from “He’s a Rebel” to buy out his business partners in the Philles Records label. In addition to the financial settlement, Spector had to give his two ex-partners a share of the royalties of the next Philles single release, so Spector got the real Crystals into the studio and recorded “(Let’s Dance) The Screw,” a silly number clearly not intended to be a hit. A copy was sent to one of the ex-partners. No royalties were generated.

Tunes du Jour celebrates Throwback Thursday with twenty great hits from 1962, kicking off with “He’s a Rebel” by “The Crystals.”


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Happy Berry Gordy Jr.’s Birthday!

Today is the 83rd birthday of Berry Gordy, Jr., the aspiring pugilist turned songwriter turned record executive/entrepreneur. After penning hits for Jackie Wilson and Etta James in the late 1950s, Gordy went on to launch the Motown Record Corporation. The company’s first pop hit was Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want),” a song written by Gordy with Janie Bradford, in 1960. From then on the hits kept coming.

Today’s playlist is a small sampling of great Motown releases. If you have a favorite Motown record, let me know what it is in the Comments. Enjoy!