1963 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast
Pop is trending younger and more global the year before The Beatles and Supremes, Girl Groups are everywhere and Surf sounds are California’s hot new export.
Welcome to the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’m your host, Christopher Verdesi. Every week on Chartcrush, we dive deep into a year in Pop music and count down the top 10 songs according to our recap of the weekly Pop charts published at the time in the music industry’s leading trade publication, Billboard magazine. This week on Chartcrush it’s 1963, The last year before The Beatles hit in February ’64 and everything changed in American Pop. Or so say most pop culture critics and writers since the ’60s, almost like an article of faith.
Beatlemania was a huge pop culture event, no doubt: a sudden mass hysteria over four English guys no one had even heard of just a few weeks before. And a lot did change, and very quickly. But the problem with looking at it like that, like some kind of BC/AD moment: everything that happened before matters less, or not at all.
As much as Beatlemania might’ve seemed like a random thunderbolt out of the sky, it didn’t happen in a vacuum; what was happening in ’63 and before set the stage. For starters, teenagers’ disposable incomes had been rising for years, and by the early ’60s there were millions to be made targeting them with their own movies, records, TV shows and products. This was already abundantly clear by 1963, and thanks to the Baby Boom entering their teens, there were going to be more and more teenagers every quarter as far as the eye could see. Over 14 million babies born in the last four years of the ’40s, and the first born in ’46 turned 16 in 1962. So it should come as no surprise that the average age of artists scoring #1 hits reached an all-time low of just under 23 in 1963. Both the youngest female and male solo acts ever to score #1 hits scored them in 1963. So the kiddos were preferring records by other kiddos. But they were also suddenly (before The Beatles) preferring records from other countries and cultures, with the Jet Age just beginning to bring nonstop transatlantic travel within reach for millions of Americans.
Billboard’s music editor from 1947 to 1973, Paul Ackerman, picked up on this in his feature story in the year-in-review issue for 1963, writing that the music scene is “richer and more varied than at any period in past history” and “more international than ever before,” ranging “far afield to acquire hit material from European countries.” Again, that was in late ’63, before The Beatles hit. Our countdown of the top ten hits of ’63 has not one, but two records that aren’t in English!
#10 Little Peggy March – I Will Follow Him
But kicking things off, the aforementioned youngest female solo act to ever score a #1 hit on the Hot100, beating Brenda Lee by about six months. Lee was also 15 when her first hit, “I’m Sorry” topped the chart in July of 1960. Some others have come close over the years. Tiffany had just turned 16 when her first #1, “I Think We’re Alone Now” peaked in 1987. Lorde was also 16 when “Royals” hit #1 in 2013. Teen chart toppers Debbie Gibson, Monica, Britney Spears and Olivia Rodrigo: all 17 when they notched their first #1s. No, the youngest remains our singer at #10, whose second single hit #1 in April ’63 just after her 15th birthday. It’s Little Peggy March, “I Will Follow Him.”
“I Will Follow Him” at #10 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show for 1963. Margaret Annemarie Battavio, discovered at just 13 singing at her cousin’s wedding by big-time RCA-Victor producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, who had their own distinctive “Hugo & Luigi” logo stamped on every record they produced. Hugo & Luigi, best known for producing all of Sam Cooke’s hits at RCA. Anyway, Margaret’s birthday was in March, so she became Little Peggy March. Later in ’63 into ’64, RCA followed up “I Will Follow Him” with four more singles in rapid succession, but nothing else cracked the top 20. She did, however, continue scoring hits in Germany, where she decided to move in ’69 and was a major star through the ’70s.
#9 Steve Lawrence – Go Away, Little Girl
At #9, an act whose appeal went beyond the teen market, having gotten his start in the mid-’50s as a regular singer—duetting with his future wife Eydie Gormé—on the first late-night network TV talk show, NBC’s The Tonight Show, co-created and hosted until 1957 by comedian Steve Allen, succeeded through the decades by Jack Parr, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon in that order. The singer had already established himself as a top Easy Listening talent by ’63 when Columbia signed him and his first record for the label became his first #1 hit on the pop charts. It’s our #9 song: latter-day traditional pop crooner Steve Lawrence, “Go Away, Little Girl.”
#9, Steve Lawrence, soloing without wife Eydie Gormé, on 1963’s #9 hit according to our ranking here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. The song, by Brill Building power songwriting couple, Gerry Goffin and Carole King. “Go Away, Little Girl” topped the Hot100 for two weeks in January ’63, and returned in 1971 in a cover version by teen heartthrob Donny Osmond. Since the Hot100 began in 1958, only nine songs have reached #1 by different artists, and two of them, written by Goffin and King. The other: “The Loco-Motion,” first a hit for Little Eva in 1962, then the hard rock version by Grand Funk Railroad in ’74.
#8 Kyu Sakamoto – Sukiyaki
Now the pop charts had been making nice with our former World War II enemy Germany since 1949 when two versions of “Forever and Ever,” the theme song of the German Luftwaffe, with new English lyrics, were among the year’s top 10 records. ’49, the year of the Berlin Blockade and then the Allies’ epic airlift of food and fuel that’d stopped West Berlin being absorbed into Soviet-controlled East Germany at the start of the Cold War. Other German songs had topped the charts since, as Germany remained a nexus of Cold War tensions. The biggest, English singer Vera Lynn’s “Auf Weiderseh’n Sweetheart” in ’52 and Joe Dowell’s “Wooden Heart” in ’61.
’63, by the way, the year of President Kennedy’s historic trip to West Berlin and his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” (“I am a Berliner”) speech. But it took a lot longer for the Pop charts to make nice with our Pacific Theater foe in World War II, Japan, and that happened, yep, in 1963, when one of the two foreign language songs in our countdown topped the chart in June. Disco group A Taste of Honey took their remake of it to #3 on the charts in 1981, but here’s the original: Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki.”
Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki,” the only Japanese language song ever to top the U.S. pop charts: #8 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1963. Now, just so you know, “Sukiyaki” isn’t actually the real title of that tune. The real title is “Ue O Muite Aruko,” which translates to “I Look Up When I Walk.” It got retitled to “Sukiyaki” by a British label exec worried that DJs might have trouble with the title, and Capitol Records followed suit when they put it out in the U.S. a few months later.
Now are you ready for this? In Japanese, “Sukiyaki” is… a beef stir-fry dish! But few Brits or Americans in 1963 knew or cared. They loved the song though, enough to make it not only the first song in Japanese, but just the second song in any foreign language to top the Hot100. Domenico Modugno’s “Neu del Pinto de Blu” in Italian (better known as “Volare”) was the first in 1960.
#7 Little Stevie Wonder – Fingertips, Part 2
So at #10 we heard the youngest ever female solo act to score a #1 hit, Little Peggy March’s “I Will Follow Him.” At #7 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1963, the youngest ever male solo act to score a #1. It’s the chart debut—just his fourth single—by an African-American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist musician and producer who entered the seventh decade of his chart career when “Where Is Our Love Song” made the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts in 2020. In that time, eight of his nearly 60 Hot100 charting singles have been #1s, starting with this one that reached the top of the chart when he was just 13. It’s also the first live record to hit #1. Here’s Little Stevie Wonder, billed by Motown as “the 12-year-old genius” (he was 12 when it was recorded), “Fingertips.”
#7, Little Stevie Wonder, “Fingertips” on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show for 1963—a two-part song that spanned both sides of the 45 it came out on. The hit we just heard was Part Two, starting with Stevie yelling “Everybody say yeah.” Oh, and guess who’s playing drums on that record? It’s Marvin Gaye, whose first top 10 hit was also in 1963, “Pride and Joy.”
#6 The Angels – My Boyfriend’s Back
OK, next at #6, we have the first record by a White Girl Group to hit #1. Black Girl Groups The Shirelles, Marvelettes, Crystals and Chiffons (in that order) had all done it previously. This group from the New York ‘burbs in Jersey scored their big hit with a song written and produced by one of the members’ boyfriends at the time, Jerry Goldstein, who with his partners Bob Feldman and Richard Gottehrer racked up a long, impressive list of writing and production credits in the ’60s and ’70s, including their own Pop group The Strangeloves in ’65. Their big hit, “I Want Candy.” At #6, The Angels on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1963: “My Boyfriend’s Back.”
#6, The Angels, “My Boyfriend’s Back,” counting down the top hits of 1963 on this week’s edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show: one of the most familiar ’60s Girl Group songs. But did you know that there was an answer song on the charts in ’63? Yep. Bobby Comstock’s “Your Boyfriend’s Back,” in which the rebuffed suitor who’s gonna be in trouble in “My Boyfriend’s Back” promises to produce pictures and letters to show Mr. Awful Big ‘n Strong and let him know what’s really up! Uh oh! The answer song, incidentally, also written and produced by Goldstein, Feldman and Gottehrer.
#5 Paul & Paula – Hey Paula
At #5 we have a song written by a college basketball player, Ray Hildebrand, while coach was letting him live in the gym over the summer. Now Ray didn’t live in the gym all year. When school was in session he stayed at a boarding house. And the landlord at the boarding house had a niece, Jill Jackson, who got a chance to sing live on the radio and tapped Ray as her duet partner—and they decided to do the song Ray had written over the summer in the gym. Well, a DJ at the radio station recorded the performance and started playing it on the air like it was a record. When requests started pouring in, Ray and Jill sought out a producer with a small label in nearby Ft. Worth, Texas to cut a record, and when that became a regional hit, it got picked up by Phillips for national release. But first, Ray and Jill had to change their names on the record to Paul and Paula so they’d match the names in the song. At #5, it’s “Hey Paula.”
Yeah, it might not have had the same impact if it’d come out under their real names, Ray and Jill. But as Paul & Paula, they scored the #5 hit of 1963, “Hey Paula,” and started a duet craze on the Pop charts as labels immediately scrambled to pair up, for example, Nino Tempo & April Stevens and Dale & Grace, who topped the Hot100 back-to-back in late ’63.
#4 Bobby Vinton – Blue Velvet
We are counting down the top ten hits of 1963 on this week’s Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, and we’re down to #4. It’s by a singer whose very first charting single in 1962 was a #1 hit and the #4 song of 1962. To follow that up, he decided to do an album of 12 songs, all with “Blue” in the title. “Blue Skies,” “Blue Moon,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Blueberry Hill,” “Little Miss Blue,” and so on. Ironically, the title of the #1 hit in 1962 that started it all was “Roses Are Red (My Love).” Here’s Bobby Vinton at #4: “Blue Velvet.”
“Blue Velvet,” Bobby Vinton, #4: a hit first for Crooner Tony Bennett early in his career all the way back in 1951. In the U.K., Vinton’s version did not make the charts until 1990, when it was used in a commercial for a certain brand of hand moisturizer that comes in a blue container, and went all the way to #2.
The song, of course, shares its title with and is featured throughout Twin Peaks director David Lynch’s 1986 cult film Blue Velvet. Vinton scored again late in the year with a cover of Vaughn Monroe’s 1945 hit, “There! I’ve Said It Again,” which is our Chartcrush #6 song of 1964, and the last #1 song before Beatlemania and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” swept America in February ’64.
#3 The Singing Nun – Dominique
So, back at #8 we heard the first of the two foreign language records in our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown: Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki.” At #3 is the second, and it’s in French. It’s also the last record entirely in a foreign tongue to top the Hot100 until Los Lobos’s version of “La Bamba” in 1987.
Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers was a Dominican nun in a convent in Belgium who liked to write songs and accompany herself on guitar. With encouragement from her fellow sisters, she cut an album that included this song about the saint who founded her order, St. Dominic, and DJs turned to it after President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas to soothe listeners, whereupon it rocketed to the top of the charts for the four weeks of December. Here’s “Sister Smile,” The Singing Nun: “Dominique.”
“Dominique” by The Singing Nun at #3. Now, the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963 initiated one of the most tumultuous (and unusual) couple of months in Pop history, late ’63 into ’64: a crucible in which the nation’s profound mourning, confusion and distress intermingled with the already-manifesting restlessness, seeking, and boundless energy of the emerging Baby Boom generation.
“Dominique” topped the charts for a whole month right after, followed by Bobby Vinton’s next hit after “Blue Velvet,” the cover I mentioned earlier of Vaughn Monroe’s massive 1945 hit that every older American knew: “There! I’ve Said It Again.”
For six of the combined eight weeks that The Singing Nun and Vinton were on top, the #2 song was The Kingsmen’s monumentally inept “Louie Louie,” propelled to its chart heights by teen Boomers investigating rumors of swear words and pornographic themes in the song’s hopelessly unintelligible lyrics. Then, in early February ’64, just like that, Beatlemania seemed to wipe the whole slate clean.
By the way, in ’66, a movie called The Singing Nun inspired by Jeanne Deckers starring Debbie Reynolds was a hit, in which Reynolds sings “Dominique.”
#2 The Chiffons – He’s So Fine
So maybe you’ve noticed: lots of female acts in our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1963. We’ve heard three so far plus a male-female duet, and our #2 song is another: a new high watermark for the ladies after coming up short at the top of the charts for most of the late ’50s and early ’60s. And it came the same year Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was published and JFK signed the Equal Pay Act into law: part of his New Frontier Program.
By our reckoning here at Chartcrush, ’63 was the strongest year for female acts in the top ten until 1977. We already heard from The Angels at #6; at #2, another Girl Group: The Bronx, New York’s own Chiffons, “He’s So Fine.”
Doo-lang doo-lang doo-lang, The Chiffons at #2 on the year 1963 with “He’s So Fine:” the plaintiff song in one of the first high-profile music plagiarism lawsuits against Beatle George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” his first solo hit and our Chartcrush #5 song of 1971. It took years for that case to wind its way through the courts, and The Chiffons even went back in the studio to do a version of “My Sweet Lord” to bolster the case. The ruling went against the former Beatle, but then it was many more years before Harrison had to pay up, about a half a million dollars. ♫ Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching!
By the way, 1963, not just an important year for women; Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was in August ’63, at the historic Civil Rights March on Washington. Exactly a year later The Supremes scored the first of their five consecutive #1s, and four of the top ten records of 1964 were by Black artists.
#1 Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs – Sugar Shack
Another development in pre-1964 pop that helped pave the way for Beatlemania and the British Invasion: the concept of Rock bands: young musicians working as a unit, playing instruments and writing songs. Until instrumental Rock and Surf groups started scoring hits, it was all soloists, orchestras and vocal groups on the Pop charts. The Champs’ “Tequila:” the first big instrumental Rock ‘n Roll hit credited to a band in early 1958, then The Virtues’ “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” and Johnny & Hurricanes’ “Red River Rock” in ’59, The Ventures’ “Walk, Don’t Run” in ’60, String-a-Longs, Tornadoes and Rebels in ’61 and ’62, and then, of course The Beach Boys—all pre-British Invasion. And the #1 song of 1963, a mostly instrumental group out of New Mexico who’d scored minor hits with instrumentals “Torquay” and “Bulldog” in 1959 and ’60, but found that they could increase their audiences’ attention spans by sprinkling a few vocal numbers into the set. And one of those became by far their biggest hit. It’s The Fireballs with Rockabilly singer Jimmy Gilmer, #1 for five weeks in October and November, “Sugar Shack.”
The #1 song of 1963, Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs’ “Sugar Shack,” on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show: a song about a coffee shop. Or about a girl who works at a coffee shop. Well I guess that depends on what time of day you’re listening, right? I don’t know about you, but first thing, I’m all about the coffee! What girl?
Coffeehouses had become hipster teen hangouts in the early ’60s thanks to Beatnik Folkie culture, but songwriter Keith McCormick wrote “Sugar Shack” while enjoying his morning joe, not at a hipster hangout, but at his aunt Faye’s house. And he gave her a songwriting co-credit on what wound up being a #1 hit, just for supplying the name of the sexy tight pants all the Folkie Beatnik hipster coffeehouse chicks were wearing. It’s in the lyrics: she’s got bare feet, and a black… “leotard.”
Later in 1963, a singer named Georgia Lynn recorded a soundalike answer record from the girl’s point of view: “Sugar Shack Queen.”
And that is our Chartcrush top ten for 1963 here on this week’s Chartcrush Countdown show.
Now for our bonus segment in the time we have left, we’re gonna do a mini-countdown: the top three from Billboard’s originally published 1963 year-end Hot100 chart, none of which made our Chartcrush top 10! Now admittedly, that does seem a little weird, that the top three on Billboard’s official year-end ranking are absent from our top 10, but in those days before there was a computer on everyone’s desk, Billboard was using a much simpler ranking method that tends to grossly overemphasize longevity on the chart, at the expense of songs that reached the top 10 or #1. Sure enough, none of the three songs (again, Billboard’s top three for 1963) ever made it to #1, and all had chart runs that were longer than the average for songs that reached the top 10 in ’63: 13 weeks. Well, with the benefit of technology we can apply a more modern ranking method like what Billboard evolved in later years retroactively to the weekly chart data and get a much more accurate ranking for 1963, and that’s exactly what we do here at Chartcrush.
Bonus: The Cascades – Rhythm of the Rain
So first up at #3, counting down Billboard’s top three that weren’t in our top ten countdown, a song that was on the chart 16 weeks but only peaked at #3. Group member John Claude Gummoe wrote the song on watch in the U.S. Navy during a thunderstorm and recorded it with his group after he was out of the service. Despite it being a massive hit, and their best efforts to follow it up, it was their only hit. Here are The Cascades, “Rhythm of the Rain.”
Cascades, “Rhythm of the Rain,” Billboard’s #3 song of 1963; #15 on our Chartcrush ranking. Like The Fireballs, whose “Sugar Shack” we heard at #1 on our countdown, The Cascades were originally an instrumental group called The Thundernotes. Inspired by fellow Californians The Beach Boys, they decided to add vocals, and changed their name to The Cascades after seeing, I kid you not, a box of dishwasher soap!
Bonus: Skeeter Davis – The End of the World
Next in our bonus segment here on our 1963 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, the #2 song on Billboard’s published ranking, again ranking high due to its longer-than-average chart run of 17 weeks. We have it at #17. It’s a female singer who’d been racking up top ten hits on the Country charts for five years, but didn’t cross over to the Hot100 at all ’til a DJ started spinning this record on one of New York’s biggest Top 40 stations, WABC. It’s Skeeter Davis, “The End of the World.”
You know, sometimes you have to read between the lines a little to figure out why certain songs became hits. “The End of the World,” of course, is about a devastating breakup; but it came out in October ’62, just as the U.S. and Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis. So doomsday fears, combined with the alarming title and Skeeter Davis’s innocent, childlike voice? Kind of the perfect ironic complement, to early ’60s Cold War tensions. It debuted on the Country chart in December, but didn’t start climbing up the Pop chart until the middle of January, whereupon it climbed steadily to its peak at #2.
Bonus: The Beach Boys – Surfin’ U.S.A.
And that gets us to the #1 song on our mini-countdown of Billboard’s top three hits of 1963 on its original published year-end Hot100 chart. Like “End of the World,” the song stayed on the chart 17 weeks but never got to #1. Our Chartcrush ranking puts it at #22 on the year. But it’s an important song by one of 1963’s top acts: The Beach Boys, “Surfin’ U.S.A.”
That California Surf sound was a pretty big deal the year before the British Invasion hit. One Surf song did make it to #1 during the year. That was Jan & Dean’s “Surf City” for two weeks in July, and at #13 it outranks “Surfin’ U.S.A.” at #22 on our Chartcrush ranking. But again, “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” #1 on Billboard’s published year-end Hot100 for the year.
Bonus: The Kingsmen – Louie Louie
OK, the top three from Billboard’s year-end ranking for 1963, none in our Chartcrush top 10 for the year. Very strange indeed, and in that spirit, we’re gonna wrap up our 1963 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show with a song I’ve mentioned a few times this hour: one of the most ineptly performed and recorded records ever to make the top 40, let alone the top 10, yet it sat at the #2 spot for six weeks, in the top 10 for nine weeks, and was of the songs that bridged the gap between the Kennedy assassination and The Beatles. Here now, the birth of American Garage Rock in the ’60s: The Kingsmen, “Louie Louie.”
National Lampoon’s Animal House prominently featured “Louie Louie” even though the writers knew the record didn’t exist yet in 1962 when the movie is set. But really, what other song could they have used as a backdrop for the drunken antics at Delta House fraternity during pledge week?
The early ‘sixties ’60s after the payola scandal in ’59 and ’60 had such a chilling effect on rock ‘n roll labels, radio stations and personalities: not many straight-up, gritty, sloppy rock ‘n roll hits to choose from. British Invasion acts like the Rolling Stones and Kinks usually get the credit for filling that void, but “Louie Louie” and American Garage Rock was there first.
And that’s gonna have to do it for our 1963 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. Check out our website, chartcrush.com, for written transcripts and streaming links for this and other Chartcrush countdown shows, plus chart run line graphs and other neato extras. We count down a different year every week from the beginning of the charts in the ’40s all the way up to the present, so tune in again next week, same station and time, for another edition of Chartcrush.