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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Garage Bands of the '60s: A Top Ten Song List

If you played in a garage band in the '60s, you likely know about rehearsals in the family garage or in a family basement. During the 1960s, garage band music was not recognized as a separate music genre and had no specific name.

High school students and college-aged folk formed these groups and played a venue of songs consisting of popular covers and "psychedelic" originals, mainly 3-4 chord progressions heavily influence by surf rock, the British Invasion, and what people now call "Nuggets" -- national and regional hits featuring guitars distorted through one of the first effects known as the fuzzbox.

By the early 70's, the style largely disappeared from the national charts. But, garage music is widely held to have inspired Punk music of the mid to late 70s as groups like the Ramones, the MC5, and the Stooges took up the banner of the gritty, primitive style.

Garage music during the '60s flourished as every community produced young musicians eager to join the ranks of rock and rollers. The groups played their music at dances, local clubs, and organized "battles of the bands." The simplicity of the songs lent to the relative ease of many emerging groups learning and creating unique, raw covers of chart hits by the name bands.

Then, the age of the rock group was young, exciting, and alive as new musicians found inspiration in their idols while listening to transistor radios and watching television programs such as "Where the Action Is," "Shindig," "Hullabaloo," and the ever-popular "American Bandstand." Garage bands brought popular, trendy music to the masses while creating some great rock milestones for new sounds.

Granted, the performances of young garage bands were often amateurish with typical themes revolving around the traumas of high school life -- love, lust, lost girlfriends, and counterculture concerns. But, great, aggressive lyrics and dynamic delivery became trademarks for the garage bands, and the scope of styles they employed was pretty diverse, especially considering the lack of technical sound reinforcement. The "grit" and roughness of surface made many a garage band song a rock classic with an undeniable gutty simplicity.

Successful groups often cited as garage bands include The Remains, The Knickerbockers, The Electric Prunes, Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Kingsmen, The Beau Brummels, The Standells, The 13th Floor Elevators, The Cryan Shames, The Seeds, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Question Mark and the Mysterians, Sir Douglas Quintet, The Standells, The Shondells, The Troggs, The Leaves, and many, many others.

Much of the early work by the British "beat groups" is widely considered garage music. These songs featured a harder, blues-based attack. At first, British bands such as the Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, The Animals and The Yardbirds relied heavily on the garage sound as did American folk-rockers such as the Byrds and Bob Dylan.

Soon, new styles had either evolved out of garage rock or replaced it, such as heavier psychedelic rock, progressive rock, heavy metal, country rock, and even bubblegum pop. Most garage bands were destined for obscurity, but the fervor for the music never waned, and to this day, many critics consider garage music to be authentic, heartfelt rock still attune with the masses. It seems periodically a garage rock revival occurs and features new groups earnestly trying to replicate the sound, style and look of the '60s bands.

Today I thought I would review some basic garage classics. Choosing a garage band Top Ten Songs List is pretty tough. So much good music exists, and much of it has been restored and remastered by catalogs such as Rhino. Old timers, if you haven't updated your collection, you should consider shopping for superior sound. For the novice listener and the garage band enthusiasts, I am going to create a list of some of my personal favorites. Again, for me, this task of creating a list is difficult. Personally, I have hundreds of these songs readily at hand on my computer. Click on the addresses to watch the YouTube videos.

Top Ten Garage Band Songs

1. "Louie, Louie" by the Kingsmen

Every amateur and professional garage band at one time in their existence played "Louie, Louie" because it was elemental and because audiences demanded the song. It became the garage band anthem. You can read an entire book about this one song my rock critic Dave Marsh titled Louie Louie: The History and Mythology of the World's Most Famous Rock 'N' Roll Song.

The song was written by an R&B singer named Richard Berry in 1955. On December 8th 1963, "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen peaked at #2 (for 6 non-consecutive weeks) on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart on November 9th, 1963 and spent 16 weeks on the Top 100...It re-entered the Top 100 again three years later in 1966 for a two week stay, peaking at #97...
John Belushi covered it in 1978; his version reached #89 and was on the Top 100 for 4 weeks.

The words to "Louie, Louie" are almost impossible to understand, and are rumored to be obscene.The FBI tried to track down Richard Berry, The Kingsmen, and various record company executives. They were never able to determine the actual lyrics used. No real dirty lyrics -- it was a sea chantey of sorts.

Chorus: "Louie, Louie, oh no. Me gotta go. Aye-yi-yi, I said. Louie Louie, oh baby. Me gotta go."

2. "Wild Thing" by The Troggs

"Wild Thing" was written by a songwriter named Chip Taylor, who has made tons of money from it because it has been recorded by many artists and is constantly being used in movies and TV shows. It was first released in 1966. Taylor told Mojo magazine in September 2008: "'Wild Thing' came out in a matter of minutes. The pauses and the hesitations are a result of not knowing what I was going to do next."

That crazy whistling instrument in the break is an ocarina, which is an Eastern instrument that dates back thousands of years. 

Of course, Jimi Hendrix released a famous version of "Wild Thing." This is the song Hendrix played at the Monterey Pop Festival footage when he sets his guitar on fire. But the Troggs version is best known as the song for immortalizing "I think you love me, but I wanna know for sure."

"Wild thing you make my heart sing. You make everything groovy, wild thing."

3. "Wooly Bully" by Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs

There aren't many lyrics in this song that don't contain the words "Wooly" or "Bully," but one line managed to capture a fleeting piece of '60s slang: In the line, "Let's not be L-7, come and learn to dance," "L-7" was an unhip person - someone just not with it. More literally, it means let's not be squares. If you put an L and a 7 together you get, more or less, a square.

The Mexican rhythm helped bring that sound into the mainstream. Songs like "Tequila" and "La Bamba" did so in the '50s, but this may have been the bridge between those songs and "Macarena." Recorded in Sam Phillips' Sun Studios, "Wooly Bully" was the best-selling song of 1965 in the USA despite not making #1.

4. "Just A Little" by the Beau Brummels

"Just a Little" debuted at number 81 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in April 1965 and peaked two months later at number eight to become the band's highest-charting single. Written by guitarist Ron Elliott with frequent collaborator Bob Durand, the song was produced by Sylvester Stewart, later known as Sly Stone.

Elliott said that the band's folk rock sound was a coincidence, not intentional. He explained, "We only had acoustic and electric guitars, so every chance we got, we'd try to add some variety. We couldn't do it much with playing or style differences, because everybody had limited chops, including myself. The only way you could get variety was to go [to] a harmonica during the song, or get an acoustic in this space, get different moods that way." What a great recording!

5. "Hanky Panky" by Tommy James and the Shondells (I have to give you the Joan Jett cover. Tommy's  not sharing on YouTube.)

"Hanky Panky" was written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, which is the team responsible for the hits "Be My Baby" and "Leader of the Pack." Barry and Greenwich recorded it themselves as The Raindrops, and released it as the B-side of their 1963 single "That Boy John."

Shortly after the release of the Raindrops' version, 13-year-old Tommy Jackson, who would later become Tommy James, slipped into a club in South Bend, Indiana and listened to a local band, the Spinners (not the hitmakers of the '70s) play the song. After hearing "Hanky Panky" drive the crowd wild, Tommy wanted to record it for his second single - he had released one locally the previous year. He and his group, The Shondells, recorded the song at a radio station in his hometown of Niles, Michigan.

The song was released on the tiny Snap label, the first issue of the record label owned by a DJ friend of Tommy. It sold well in the Midwest, then faded into obscurity. A year and a half later - in 1965 - Tommy Jackson graduated from high school and the Shondells went their separate ways.

In late 1965, a Pittsburgh DJ started playing the two-year-old single and touted it as an "exclusive." Another Pittsburgh DJ played HIS copy of "Hanky Panky" at various dance parties and the resulting demand caused a "Hanky Panky" war as bootleggers sold an estimated 80,000 illegal copies of the record.

The band did sign with Roulette and did a great job promoting the record, which hit #1 in the summer of 1966. Tommy James was 19 years old and a year out of high school.

6. "Dirty Water" by the Standells

"Dirty Water" was written by Capitol Records producer Ed Cobb, who was with The Standells at the time. In spite of the fact that the Standells were in California, this song is about the city of Boston and Boston Harbor and Charles River, which were notoriously polluted at the time. Its Boston and Charles River references are reportedly based on an experience of Cobb and his girlfriend with a mugger in Boston in the mid-1960s

This was the Standells first hit single. And, ironically, "Dirty Water" actually first became a hit in the state of Florida, breaking out on WLOF in Orlando in January 1966.

The line, "Frustrated women have to be in by twelve o'clock" refers to the curfew observed by Boston University co-eds at the time. "Dirty Water" also includes a passing mention of the Boston Strangler -- "have you heard about the Strangler? (I'm the man I'm the man)."

Here is some trivia -- drummer and lead singer Dick Dodd bought his first snare drum from fellow Mouseketeer Annette Funicello for $20.

7. "96 Tears" by Question Mark and the Mysterians 

"?" was Rudy Martinez, the composer of the song and the band's frontman who wanted to be anonymous. At one point he referred to the individual band members only by three-letter names. The mystery helped market the group, who wore dark glasses to add to the intrigue. All five members of the group were from families who migrated from Mexico to work in the Saginaw Valley in Michigan.

During a 1981 interview in Goldmine magazine, ? revealed that the band had used a Vox Continental organ when they created the sound for "96 Tears," although legend maintained that sound had been made with a Farfisa. The trashy bar band sound of "96 Tears," released in 1966, still causes a rush of nostalgia for those of a certain age. Some say the sound was the foundation of the later punk movement.

The song plays a prominent part in Stephen King's 1999 novella Hearts in Atlantis.

8. "Surfin' Bird" by the Trashmen (A classic video)

"Surfin' Bird" is a medley made up of the choruses of two R&B classics by the '60s Doo-Wop group The Rivingtons: "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" and "The Bird's the Word," which was influenced by Red Prysock's "What's the word? Thunderbird!" The brainchild of Trashmen drummer Steve Wahrer, the song was a quirky and consumable hit, boldly combining Surf music with novelty R&B.

The Trashmen were a garage band from Minneapolis, which isn't surfing territory. Despite critical acclaim, they managed just one more minor hit before disbanding in the late '60s: the 1964 #30 "Bird Dance Beat."

It was recorded at Kay Bank Studios in Minneapolis in 1963. Local disc jockey Bill Diehl entered it into a local battle of the bands competition and it won. It was then sent to a battle of the bands competition in Chicago where it also won. This led to the group being signed to Garrett Records with the single being quickly released. It reportedly sold 30,000 copies in its first weekend before going on to national success, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

When the song became a hit, The Rivingtons were awarded writing credit for the song, since it was based on their compositions. This was a huge financial benefit, as they receive royalties every time the song is used in a movie, TV show or commercial.

9. "Little Bit of Soul" by the Music Explosion

The Music Explosion was an American garage rock band from Mansfield, Ohio, discovered and signed by record producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, who would soon help create bubblegum with acts like the 1910 Fruitgum Co. and the Ohio Express. This sound had a much harder rock beat.

"Little Bit O' Soul" was written in 1964 by British songwriters John Carter and Ken Lewis, who also wrote Herman's Hermits' big hit "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat." It peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967 and was awarded a gold record by the RIAA.

The song was a classic featuring a strong bass organ riff. It was later covered by several bands, including The Ramones, Dodging Susan, and 2 Live Crew, who sampled the melody.

10. "It Could Be We're In Love" by the Cryan Shames

The Cryan' Shames is an American rock group fron Hinsdale, Illinois. They released "Sugar and Spice," a Tony Hatch song that was a hit in 1963 (everywhere but in the US) for the English group The Searchers, in 1966.  The Shames' version reached #49 in the USA (while reaching #4 on local radio WLS).  tight vocal harmonies

The group signed to Columbia in 1966, and while they never were to become a national success, their singles and albums continued to sell well in the Chicago area. They featured great musicianship and tight vocal harmonies.

"It Could Be We're In Love" was released in June, 1967. It showcases the talent of the group and remains a favorite Shames song. The song also shows the diversity of garage band music with a great melody and a nostalgic mood.

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