1964 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast
The Beatles and Supremes flood the charts as the Baby Boom arrives and Motown, the British Invasion and the concept of the “Rock band” reshape U.S. Pop forever.
Welcome! I’m Christopher Verdesi and this is the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown show. Every week on Chartcrush, we dive deep into a different year in pop music history, and count down the top ten records according to our recap of the weekly pop charts published at the time in the music industry’s top trade publication, Billboard magazine. This week we’re counting down the biggest hits of 1964, which kicked off with one of the most significant events in pop history: Beatlemania, February 7, when four mop-topped guys from Liverpool, England touched down at New York’s international airport, which had just been renamed for President John F. Kennedy—assassinated just a few short weeks before.
The Fab Four’s first major label U.S. single was already the #1 song in the land when they got off that plane, and to highlight the contrast to what came before on the charts, much has been made over the years about records that preceded The Beatles at #1. “Dominique” by The Singing Nun: #1 for four weeks in December ‘63 (a song sung entirely in French, by the way) and then teen idol Bobby Vinton’s cover of Vaughn Monroe’s hit from 1945, “There! I’ve Said It Again”—#1 for the four weeks of January 1964: very tame, MOR Easy Listening stuff—which tends to happen in all eras after major national traumas: folks looking to music for calm and reassurance. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, there were The Beatles: their mop-top haircuts, their goofball Merseyside charisma and humor, and throngs of screaming kids mobbing them everywhere they went. Jarring to say the least.
But an important detail that gets lost in that narrative is: for six of the weeks that The Singing Nun and Bobby Vinton were at #1 right before Beatlemania, the #2 song on the Hot100 was the gloriously sloppy “Louie Louie:” recorded in just one take in a primitive studio by an Oregon garage band, The Kingsmen, and propelled up the charts to become the first “underground” hit thanks to rumors about swear words and sex in lyrics that were so indecipherable that even the FBI couldn’t suss them out. Kinda takes the air out of the whole Beatle-centric narrative of what happened in those months, doesn’t it?
Well nothing against The Beatles, but Beatlemania, like “Louie Louie” at #2 for six weeks, was a symptom, not a cause, is my point. A new generation was coming of age: The Baby Boom: by far the largest generational cohort in American history, before or since, and the most culturally consequential. The oldest Boomers born in 1946 just after World War 2 were seventeen at the start of 1964, and the generation before, called the “Silent Generation,” had left their big teen culture upheaval, rock ‘n roll, in the rear-view as they graduated to adulthood, a lot like Gen-X did after making their mark in the early ’90s with grunge and hip-hop, and then jumping aboard the technology train and leaving the pop culture to Millennials.
Now “Louie Louie’s” chart run was split between 1963 and 1964, so it didn’t rank very high on either the ’63 or ’64 Billboard year-end rankings, and it just misses our Chartcrush top ten for 1964 at #12 despite our policy of factoring every song’s full chart run in whichever year it earned the most points.
#10 The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go
But our #10 song did get in under the wire, of course, and it’s a great way to kick off our countdown: the first of five consecutive #1 singles by the other group that took the charts by storm in 1964 and, like The Beatles, kept it going through the rest of the decade. They were the only other act in the ’60s besides The Beatles (and Elvis Presley) who logged over 100 weeks in the top ten on the Billboard Hot100. And they did it with just over half the charting records of The Beatles. Here are The Supremes with lead singer Diana Ross, again, the first of their five consecutive #1’s in ’64 and ’65, “Where Did Our Love Go.”
Berry Gordy Jr’s Motown label, including its subsidiaries Tamla and Gordy, had notched about a dozen top ten Hot100 hits before The Supremes, whose first #1 song we just heard, “Where Did Our Love Go,” #10 on our 1964 Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown. Another girl group, The Marvelettes, scored Motown’s first #1 in 1961, “Please Mr. Postman.” But it was The Supremes that took things to a whole ‘nother level and cemented Berry Gordy, Jr’s empire. Of Motown’s 14 #1 hits in the second half of the ’60s, only five were not Supremes records.
#9 Mary Wells – My Guy
At #9 we have another Motown record and our third female vocal in a row. She was Motown’s first female star going back to early ’61, but her earlier stuff is in a rougher, bawdier R&B style than the polished classic Motown-y sound of this song we’re gonna hear. She left Motown at the peak of her fame, still just 21, to sign with 20th Century Records hoping to expand into movies. But she never cracked the top 20 again, and this was her last, but biggest hit. Here’s Mary Wells: “My Guy.”
Written and produced by Smokey Robinson, who wrote a lot of songs for Motown acts, not just for his own group The Miracles: Mary Wells’s “My Guy,” #9 as we count down the top ten songs of 1964 here on The Chartcrush Countdown Show.
Whether Smokey knew that the studio session group that did “My Guy” was ripping off the riff from pianist Eddie Heywood’s “Canadian Sunset” for the intro and break? Unknown. But the culprits, trombonist George Bohanon and session boss Earl Van Dyke, did. Exhausted at the end of a day, they noticed that it worked perfectly with what they’d already come up with, so they mashed it together with some bass-notes from another Heywood recording: his version of the Jazz standard “Begin the Beguine,” and voila!
Van Dyke later told Mary Wells’ biographer: “We were doing anything to get the hell out of that studio. We knew that the producers didn’t know nothing ’bout no ‘Canadian Sunset’ or ‘Begin the Beguine’ and we figured the song would wind up in the trash can anyway.” But “My Guy” became one of Motown’s biggest hits ever, and the second #1 on the chart after the first tsunami of Beatlemania receded.
#8 The Beatles – Can’t Buy Me Love
Which occurred when our next song dropped to #5 the week of May 9, ending The Beatles’ lock on the top spot, which they’d held with three different singles since February 1st—14 consecutive weeks. The third of them is our first Beatles song, recorded while the Fab Four were in Paris for a string of shows just a week before they got on that Pan-Am 707 and came to America. And it rocketed to the top spot in just its second week on the chart: “Can’t Buy Me Love.”
Beatles, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the #8 song on our ranking of the top ten hits of 1964 here on the Chartcrush Countdown Show. Paul McCartney singing lead on a single, without harmony vocals from his bandmates—a first for The Beatles. Instead he double-tracked his vocal. That’s a studio trick where two unison takes are layered one atop the other for a fuller sound. Buddy Holly and his producer Norman Petty pioneered it for Rock ‘n Roll records, and The Beatles did it on almost all their earlier stuff.
#7 The Beach Boys – I Get Around
Again, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the third of the three singles that kept The Beatles at #1 for 14 weeks in that first Beatlemania wave, which broke in May. They were back on top in August with “A Hard Day’s Night” (the movie and the song), but another record that got to #1 in that early summer Beatlemania lull at the top of the charts is by a group that’s all about summertime. They first cracked the top ten with “Surfin’ U.S.A.” just as the weather was getting nice in May of ’63—months before Americans had even heard of The Beatles. But of course, the weather’s always nice in their native Southern California, and our #8 song was their first #1. It’s The Beach Boys, “I Get Around.”
“I Get Around,” the #8 song on our 1964 Chartcrush Top Ten countdown. Like The Beatles, The Beach Boys were a band. Hard to imagine, but bands were a new thing on the charts in 1964: groups of young musicians working together under a single brand, not just singing on their records, but playing the instruments and writing songs, crafting a unique sound and identity. From the late ’40s to early ’60s, nearly all big hits, even Rock ‘n Roll hits, were written by professional songwriters and credited to solo acts, duos or, if a group, a vocal group with separate instrumental backing by an orchestra leader who worked for the label.
Starting with Instrumental Surf music in the early ’60s (Ventures, Surfaris, Chantay’s), then The Beach Boys, The Kingsmen (with “Louie Louie”) and culminating with the The Beatles and the British Invasion, the band became one of the main configurations for Pop records for the rest of the ’60s and beyond.
The Beatles and Beach Boys were both on the same label, Capitol, and beginning an incredibly productive back-and-forth competition that continued for years to push the creative limits of what this new musical configuration, the modern band, could accomplish, especially in the studio.
#6 Bobby Vinton – There! I’ve Said It Again
At #6 is a song I mentioned at the top of the show talking about the #1s that immediately preceded Beatlemania on the Hot100 and kept “Louie Louie” out of the top spot. There was “Dominique” by The Singing Nun, #1 for four weeks in December ’63, with “Louie Louie” at #2 for two of those weeks. Well this is the song that was #1 all four of the weeks in January ’64 that “Louie Louie” was #2, and it also happens to be the very song The Beatles replaced at #1 with their first American smash. It’s Teen Idol Bobby Vinton’s remake of the 1945 hit by crooner-bandleader Vaughn Monroe, “There! I’ve Said It Again.”
Teen Idol Bobby Vinton’s #1 cover version of the 1945 hit “There! I’ve Said It Again,” #6 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1964, an even bigger hit than Vinton’s previous single which was also a cover, of crooner Tony Bennett’s 1951 top 20 hit “Blue Velvet”. That one was our #4 song of 1963.
Vaughn Monroe first took “There I’ve Said It Again” to #1 in 1945, 19 years before 1964: the year World War Two ended. Most folks in their mid-’30s or older in ’64 already knew the song. A little perspective: Lenny Kravitz’s 1999 cover of The Guess Who’s “American Woman”—29 years removed from the 1970 original. And 23 years had elapsed between 1987’s Dirty Dancing soundtrack and The Black-Eyed Peas rejiggering of “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” on their 2010 hit “The Time (Dirty Bit).” Greatest Generation 40- and 50-somethings in 1964 would’ve appreciated Vinton dusting off wholesome good-timey classics from their youths and repackaging them for their kids.
#5 The Supremes – Baby Love
Well, we’re down to #5, and it’s the second of this Motown girl group’s five consecutive singles to reach #1, a record for a female artist that stood until Whitney Houston in the late ’80s. We heard the first, “Where Did Our Love Go” at #10. That topped the chart in August, and then this one peaked around Halloween. Here again: Detroit natives Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Diana Ross: The Supremes: “Baby Love.”
The Supremes, “Baby Love,” the #5 song on our Chartcrush Top Ten countdown for 1964. Written and produced like most of their other hits by Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland: Holland-Dozier-Holland, Motown’s main songwriting and production team.
Now, timing, of course, is key when releasing singles for the charts, especially at the height of Beatlemania. Both “Where Did Our Love Go” and the song we just heard (“Baby Love”) peaked between Beatles chart-toppers: “Where Did Our Love Go” after “Can’t Buy Me Love” faded, and then “Baby Love” right as “A Hard Days Night” dropped off in August. But then at the end of the year they went head-to-head when new singles by The Supremes and Beatles entered the top ten within a week of each other. The Supremes’ “Come See About Me” (our #4 song of 1965) kept The Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” at #2 the week before Christmas, then dislodged it from the top spot in January after its three weeks at #1. Eh, we’ll call it a draw.
#4 Roy Orbison – Oh, Pretty Woman
At #4, the second #1 hit by an artist who in the mid ’50s, dented the charts with a Rockabilly record on the same label that launched Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis: Sam Phillips’ Sun Records out of Memphis. But that was it for him on the charts as a Sun artist, and by 1958, he was in Nashville, writing Country songs for the publisher Acuff-Rose behind the scenes. Now this was right at the time when Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley were pioneering the so-called “Nashville Sound,” or “Countrypolitan:” Country music with strings, background singers, polished production. No twangy Honky Tonk. Country that could make the pop charts was the point, very much like what Berry Gordy, Jr. was doing with R&B at Motown. Well, as it turned out, that was just what our failed Rockabilly singer needed to find his voice, and in 1960 he scored two top ten hits in an intense, vulnerable, complex style that Bob Dylan and others compared to Opera. By ’64 though, after a steady stream of those hits, he was ready to return to his roots. Credited on the record to Roy Orbison and The Candy Men, it’s “Oh, Pretty Woman.”
Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman,” the #4 song of 1964 here on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown. The line “Pretty woman, yeah yeah yeah,” lifted straight from The Beatles’ “She Loves You,” of course. Things happened fast in those days!
Van Halen had a hit with their cover of “Pretty Woman” in 1982, and then it became the title and the theme song of the smash movie with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in 1990.
Despite other big hit covers of his songs over the years by big name artists, Roy Orbison lost his chart mojo after “Pretty Woman.” And he didn’t get it back ’til the mid-’80s when he teamed up with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty in The Traveling Wilburys. Sadly, Orbison died of a heart attack at just 52 in 1988, but “You Got It” posthumously became his first chart hit in 22 years.
By the way, common misconception about Orbison: despite always wearing those dark sunglasses, he was not blind! In 1963, he left his glasses on a plane and was forced to wear his clunky prescription shades for a show, and the look stuck.
#3 The Beatles – She Loves You
At #3 is the song that broke Beatlemania wide open in the U.K. in 1963, and was the third of three Beatles singles released in the U.S. on small indie labels before Capitol saw them as even marketable stateside. (By agreement with the Beatles’ U.K. label, Parolophone, Capitol had first option). So even though it was recorded and released on that indie label three months before The Fab Four’s first Capitol single, it wound up being their second U.S. #1. Here they are again: John, Paul, George and Ringo, The Beatles: “She Loves You.”
Beatles, “She Loves You,” #7 on our countdown for 1964 here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. That ending vocal chord, a sixth chord, made Beatles producer George Martin cringe at first. He thought it corny and dated: a throwback to the Big Band Era. And when EMI engineer Norman “Hurricane” Smith saw “yeah yeah yeah” on the lyric sheet setting up the mics in the studio, he shook his head. But that’s the thing about The Beatles. So much of what they did wasn’t supposed to work. It just did. Spectacularly!
Now how and why Beatlemania developed in Britain: that’s a question for social psychologists, but when crowds of screaming fans at airports and hotels and everywhere else the Beatles went started getting in the way of the important work of business and government? Well that was news—and not entertainment news either, but news news. And dry TV correspondents like NBC’s Edwin Newman were at a loss to explain it, describing The Beatles as throwbacks, not to the Big Band era (Newman might’ve liked that), but to something else that in his mind had come and gone more recently: Rock ‘n Roll. “One reason for the Beatles’ popularity,” Newman snarked against a backdrop of girls screaming at a Beatles concert, “may be that it’s almost impossible to hear them.”
As I mentioned before we heard the song, “She Loves You” first came out in the U.S. in September ’63 on an indie label, Swan Records out of Philadelphia, because Capitol, who had first option, had passed on it. And it was reviewed in Billboard and featured on American Bandstand‘s “rate-a-record” thanks to Swan’s relationship with the show, also based in Philly. But “She Loves You” didn’t cause even a ripple on the charts, on radio, anywhere—until those news stories just weeks later.
#2 Louis Armstrong – Hello, Dolly!
And we’ll pick up that thread again after our #2 song. Which was #1 for just one week, but on the chart and in the top ten longer than any other record in 1964. It’s a Show Tune performed by one of America’s most beloved music figures since the 1920s. At almost 63, he became, and remains, the oldest artist ever to score a #1 hit after his manager persuaded him to come out of semi-retirement and cut a demo of the song to promote the musical, which was about to debut on Broadway. Kapp Records put out this supposed “demo” in January right at the start of Beatlemania, whereupon it inched up the charts and replaced “Can’t Buy Me Love” at #1 for the week of May 19, ending The Beatles’ 14-week stranglehold on the #1 spot. The original cast version is by star Carol Channing, but here is Louis Armstrong. The biggest chart hit of his storied five-decade career, “Hello, Dolly!”
That instantly recognizable gravelly voice of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. And of course his trademark muted Dixieland trumpet, on the #2 song of 1964. “Hello, Dolly!” was Armstrong’s return to studio recording after suffering a heart-attack in 1959. He hadn’t set foot in a studio in two years, and it ended up being the biggest hit of his career. Welcome back, Satch!
#1 The Beatles – I Want to Hold Your Hand
So at #3, we heard The Beatles’ “She Loves You” which Capitol Records had passed on, so it came out on an indie label in September of ’63—to a deafening silence. But over in the U.K., Beatlemania was disrupting airports and overwhelming police, and that got the attention of the U.S. news media, prompting Ed Sullivan to invite The Beatles to appear on his top-rated Sunday night CBS variety show. Now once word got out about that, Capitol relented and rushed The Moptops’ next single into production. And it shot to #1 in just three weeks, stayed for seven weeks, and is the #1 song of 1964. Here again, The Beatles: “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Seven weeks at #1 starting February 1st, and the #1 song in our 1964 edition of the Chartcrush Countdown Show: “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Star: The Beatles.
34% of America’s 192 million people watched them on Ed Sullivan. They notched 19 top 40 hits in 1964. And the week of April 4, all of the top five records on the Hot100 were Beatles records. Now that’s just a few of the stats, but here’s something you may not have heard before that really underscores how massive and deep The Beatles phenomenon was. In December of ’64, a Country single about an old West outlaw was the #1 song on the Hot100. No Country record had topped the Hot100 in nearly four years, and there was nothing at all exceptional about this one by Bonanza star Lorne Greene, except that the outlaw’s name, which was also the title of the song, was “Ringo.” With stuff like that happening, it’s no wonder that labels scrambled to sign any British act they could in the wake of Beatlemania: The Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, The Kinks, The Animals, The Rolling Stones, Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, Gerry & The Pacemakers (also from Liverpool): all made the charts in 1964. The British Invasion.
So Billboard of course publishes a year-end Hot100 each year based on its weekly charts. But its ranking algorithm varies year-to-year. And so does the cutoff date for the weeks they count, thanks to press deadlines. Here at Chartcrush, our countdowns factor all 52 weeks using the same point system for every year, so there are differences from Billboard’s official year-end top ten, and in the time we have left, we’re gonna spin some of the songs that made Billboard’s year-end top ten, but not ours.
Bonus: Dean Martin – Everybody Loves Somebody
Starting with the song that Billboard had it at #6 (#13 on our Chartcrush ranking). It’s an important entry though because it’s one of the last big hits in the Pop Singer or Crooner Era that preceded Rock ‘n Roll. The very last: Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” in ’66. But in the year of Beatlemania, Dean Martin scored with “Everybody Loves Somebody.”
Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody:” #13 on our ranking of the top hits of 1964, on the Chartcrush Countdown Show, but it was #6 on Billboard’s recap. Fresh from recording that song, Deano told his 14 year-old Beatles-obsessed son, “I’m gonna knock your pallies off the charts.” And he did. Dean Martin’s first top ten hit since 1958, and his first #1, since 1956.
Bonus: Gale Garnett – We’ll Sing in the Sunshine
In the seventh Grammy Awards, the nominees for Best Folk Recording included Peter, Paul & Mary, The New Christy Minstrels, Woody Guthrie, Harry Belafonte and Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” But the winner was our next cut that was #8 on Billboard’s 1964 ranking and #22 on ours. It’s the first and biggest hit by New Zealand born Canadian singer Gale Garnett, “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.”
“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine,” Gale Garnett: the Grammy winning Best Folk Song for 1964. Kind of an early free love anthem with its no-strings attitude about relationships. It was #4 for two weeks in October and the #8 song of 1964 according to Billboard’s recap. Our ranking puts it at #22.
Bonus: J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers – Last Kiss
Next up in our bonus segment here on the Chartcrush Countdown Show for 1964, a tragedy record. Also called “tear-jerkers” or “death discs”, these are songs that tell a story with a melodramatic, tragic ending, and several of them charted in ’64. Our ranking doesn’t have any of them in the top ten, but Billboard ranked this one #9 on the year. Pearl Jam did a version of it in the ’90s. It’s J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers: “Last Kiss.”
J. Frank Wilson, Cavaliers, “Last Kiss,” Billboard’s #9 song of 1964, #19 on our Chartcrush ranking. A song about a fatal car wreck. People forget, roads were dangerous in the mid-’60s: hair-pin turns, bad or nonexistent markings and signage. And car safety? What’s that? Cars weren’t even required to have seatbelts until 1966. So not surprisingly, traffic fatalities saw their sharpest increase ever in the years between 1961 when the original version of “Last Kiss” came out by the Rockabilly singer who wrote it, Wayne Cochran, and 1964 when the J. Frank Wilson version we just heard was a hit. Fortunately, those numbers have been declining steadily; they’re less than half what they were in the mid-’60s.
Bonus: Barbra Streisand – People
Now besides The Beatles and Supremes, another artist who made her chart debut in 1964 became an Adult Contemporary mainstay, with major Pop crossover—especially when she was in a movie and sang the theme song, or teaming up with the likes of Donna Summer, Neil Diamond or Barry Gibb. She’d already been on Broadway and TV variety shows for a couple years, and her first album won a Grammy, all before making the pop charts with this song that peaked at #5 and was Billboard’s #11 year-end song. On our recap it came in at #33. It’s Barbra Streisand, “People.”
From Broadway’s Funny Face, which she starred in, Barbra Streisand’s first hit, “People.”
And that’s gonna have to wrap things up for our 1964 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. Thank you for listening, and be sure and visit the chartcrush.com website, where you’ll find written transcripts and streamable Spotify versions of this and other Chartcrush countdown shows, plus chart run line graphs and other ace extras. We count down a different year every week from the beginning of the charts in the ’40s all the way to the present, so tune again, same station, same time, for another edition of Chartcrush.