1967 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast

It’s Flower Power and Hippies in California; urban riots everywhere else as Sgt. Pepper’s launches Album Rock and The Monkees take over TV and the Pop charts.

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Welcome to the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’m your host, Christopher Verdesi. Every week on Chartcrush, we do a deep dive into a year in Pop music and count down the top ten songs according to our recap of the weekly Pop charts published at the time in the music industry’s top trade publication and chart authority, Billboard magazine. This week we’re counting down 1967, the most geographically lopsided top ten in chart history. Of the ten records in our countdown, seven came out of just one place: Los Angeles, California, by six different Southern California-based acts.

L.A. in the ’60s, the epitome of a modern, forward-looking American city: drenched in sunshine, spectacular beaches, young, tanned, beautiful people everywhere, futuristic architecture, multi-lane freeways. And Cars! Cars! Cars! “Suburb as city,” sprawling by design, no building taller than the 28-story City Hall downtown by law until 1958, and none was until 1966.

And glamorous industries: aerospace, TV, motion pictures, and of course music, especially since American Bandstand moved there from Philadelphia, and L.A.’s homegrown record label, Capitol, with its cool cylindrical tower at Hollywood and Vine, embraced youth culture and started putting out records by The Beach Boys and Beatles. The title of Dick Clark’s L.A.-centric Bandstand spinoff had it right: L.A. was Where the Action Is.

But over 150 other U.S. cities saw a very different kind of action in 1967. Almost everywhere but California was a “Long, Hot Summer” of racial unrest and urban riots, the worst in Detroit and Newark, New Jersey in July: dozens killed, hundreds injured, entire neighborhoods looted and burned.

Emerging Black leaders weren’t talking about reforming the system anymore, but overthrowing it. In a CBS interview in late ’66, Martin Luther King, Jr., called riots “the language of the unheard” and admitted that the voting rights and anti-poverty measures he’d helped secure in ’64 and ’65 hadn’t made much difference. Cries of “Black power” were a reaction to White America’s reluctance to “make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality,” he said.

But he couldn’t and wouldn’t condone the violence, so he pivoted in ’67 to opposing the war in Vietnam as his core issue. Heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali had just forfeited his title and boxing license refusing his Army induction after being drafted.

The first major anti-Vietnam Peace protest was in New York in April, organized by Mobe (short for Spring Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam): a coalition of radicals, clergy, pacifists and MLK. Dozens of men burned their draft cards in Central Park and a crowd of 300,000 rallied at the U.N. A march the same day in San Francisco was only a third as big after Folk singer Joan Baez was quoted on the front page of the San Francisco Examiner urging people not to show up because the rally was really a cover for communist support of the Viet Cong.

But the protests put the Peace movement front and center, and soon, Mobe was hunkered down planning its Fall wave of protests in 30 cities in October, culminating with the main event in D.C.: 100,000 on the National Mall, then on to the Pentagon, where poet Allen Ginsberg led chants to levitate the building and “exorcise the evil within,” as chronicled in Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer-winning The Armies of the Night.

California though, with its new Republican governor, Ronald Reagan, seemed almost exempt from all the chaos and violence, and was a magnet. In May, folkie Scott McKenzie put out a record written and produced by John Phillips of the Mamas & Papas beckoning kids from “all across the nation” who were looking for “a new vibration” to come to “San Francisco,” and “be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” Tens of thousands did, descending on ‘Frisco’s Haight-Ashbury district to get in on what Time had already heralded two months before as “the center of a new utopianism, compounded of drugs and dreams, free love and LSD.”

Instead of a “Long, Hot Summer,” San Francisco had a “Summer of Love,” and down the coast, L.A. produced seven of the top ten hits of the year.

#10 The Turtles – Happy Together

The first of which we’re gonna hear right now at #10. No ’60s flower power compilation would be complete without it, and it’s been on over 200 of ’em. AllMusic.com’s Denise Sullivan called it “a most sublime slice of Pop heaven [that’s] bounced through decades of AM-car-radio-play unharmed.” It’s The Turtles, “Happy Together.”

“Happy Together,” The Turtles, #1 for three weeks in March into April and the #10 song of 1967. None of The Turtles’ hits until “Eleanor” in late 1968 were written by members of the group. “Happy Together,” written by two guys from a no-hit New York Folk-Rock outfit called The Magicians, whose demo was a stripped-down affair with just guitar and hand-claps, rejected by a dozen artists before The Turtles’ brand new bass player Chip Douglas came up with that brilliant Flower Pop arrangement to help set the stage for the Summer of Love.

#9 The Young Rascals – Groovin’

At #9, the first of the three songs in our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show for 1967 not from L.A. This group hailed from the New York area, and their first hits were frantic rockers. “Good Lovin’,” #1 in the Summer of 1966. But in ’67 they toned things down, first with mid-tempo Motown-y soul on “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” a top 20 hit in April; then with this mellow, sun-dappled stroll in the park, complete with singing birds and an arrangement featuring conga but no drums, and Caribbean rhythms.

At about the same time as Beatle George Harrison was discovering Indian music, Felix Cavaliere, was nurturing his fascination with Afro-Cuban sounds on what became The Young Rascals second #1 hit, for four weeks in May and June: “Groovin’.”

The Young Rascals, “Groovin,'” written, like all their hits after “Good Lovin’,” by bandmembers Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati. Atlantic label boss Jerry Wexler wasn’t too keen on “Groovin'” at first, but DJ Murray the K intervened, and convinced him it’d be a hit.

In mid-May as it was peaking on the Hot100, “Groovin'” also crossed over to the R&B chart, eventually getting to #3, prompting a front-page piece in Billboard about Black radio stations playing more records by non-Black artists, and Pop Rock stations playing more R&B hits.

#8 Nancy & Frank Sinatra – Somethin’ Stupid

Our #8 hit is a crossover too, but to a different genre chart. Billboard had just three of those in the ’60s for each of the top radio formats: Country, R&B and, since ’61, Easy Listening, where it was #1 for nine straight weeks, topping the Hot100 for four.

It’s the only #1 father/daughter duet ever, and both father and daughter were red hot coming into ’67. Dad, a superstar since the early ’40s, had just scored his first #1 in over ten years at age 51 with “Strangers in the Night,” just a few months after his daughter became an international Swingin’ ’60s “it” girl in ’66 with a tough, platinum blonde image on her hit “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” and her starring role alongside Peter Fonda in Roger Corman’s outlaw biker flick The Wild Angels. Here are Nancy and Frank Sinatra straddling the generation gap: “Somethin’ Stupid.”

C. Carson Parks, older brother of songwriter/producer Van Dyke Parks, wrote “Somethin’ Stupid” and cut it earlier in ’67 with his wife Gaile Foote. It didn’t chart, but ‘Ol Blue Eyes Frank Sinatra got a hold of it and Nancy’s mentor-producer Lee Hazelwood persuaded him to record it with Nancy. Obviously not written with a father and daughter in mind, so DJs had lots of fun joking around about incest. But fans mostly saw it, as one commenter on an internet forum put it, as “the equivalent of a father and a daughter singing karaoke at a party.” Not creepy at all.

Detour: The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Now we’ll get to #7 in a minute, but first, a little detour.

For the first time in three years, The Beatles didn’t have any songs in the top ten on the year. They were busy inventing Album Rock!

In the Fall of 1967, Billboard’s music editor since the ’40s, Paul Ackerman, observed on page one that albums by “underground” acts were selling in the hundreds of thousands “without the impetus of a hit single:” albums with “unconventional” material, promoted in “scores of underground publications” and via “posters, buttons and certain radio stations which are hip to the idiom.”

And even big AM Top 40 stations were getting in on it, like New York’s WMCA, auditioning album cuts as if they were singles. This had a profound impact on the charts. While it’s always been true that people don’t usually buy singles of songs on albums they already have, even if they are out as singles, after ’67 with albums taking center stage, Billboard could no longer claim that the Hot100 was a definitive songs ranking.

Eventually they tweaked the rules to allow Album cuts on the Hot100, with Charts Director Geoff Mayfield explaining that “The goal is deceptively simple: to reveal the most popular songs in the United States. Period. End of sentence.” But that was at the end of 1998. From ’67 until then though, popular album cuts, even ones getting airplay and moving boatloads of LPs, were a total blind spot on the Hot100, which remained a singles-only chart.

And that’s why none of the songs on The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album charted on the Hot100, among other glaring omissions, especially at the peak of Album Rock in the ’70s: they weren’t out as singles (as with Sgt. Peppers), and/or most people were buying the album and had no use for the singles.

Now The Beatles did release some singles in ’67: “Penny Lane” backed with “Strawberry Fields Forever” in March and “All You Need Is Love” in the Summer did well, but not “well” by Beatles standards, and that was thanks to the massive backlash against John Lennon predicting the demise of Christianity and saying The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” in the late Summer of ’66.

Practically overnight it became controversial to play Beatles records on Top 40 radio, and things got pretty tense on the road. So after wrapping up what turned out to be their final tour, they retreated to the studio, and ten months later, which is an eternity in Beatle time, they emerged with Sgt. Pepper’s, their all-in psychedelic, druggy rebuke to an increasingly hostile mainstream.

And right after it came out, Paul McCartney, who was actually the last of the four Beatles to try LSD, doubled down and became the first Pop star to admit it publicly. Lennon had been using LSD regularly for two years at that point!

#7 The Doors – Light My Fire

Back to our countdown, and #7: a new group plucked out of Hollywood’s thriving Sunset Strip club scene, and their debut album had been slowly scaling the Album chart all Spring. Just one problem: its biggest hit clocked in at over seven minutes! Well they weren’t The Beatles; they couldn’t just not release singles off their album, and Top 40 radio wasn’t playing seven-minute songs. So the label, Elektra, decided to edit out the song’s lengthy organ and guitar jam in the middle, and the result, just shy of three minutes, was the first “single edit” of an album cut on the Hot100. A song about fire, #1 for three weeks right in the middle of the “long, hot summer” of ’67, it’s The Doors, “Light My Fire.”

Another thing making headlines in the music trades in ’67: Texas radio mogul Gordon McLendon’s crusade against smutty and druggy lyrics. TV and radio, McLendon felt, was kids’ first contact with the adult world, and if that was making drugs and illicit sex attractive, “we’ve been just as guilty as those who do the pushing of drugs.” He even set up a panel of ex-prostitutes and junkies to help weed out suggestive records.

Well, a few weeks after “Light My Fire” hit #1, The Doors appeared on CBS’s Ed Sullivan Show, and a producer, who also happened to be Ed Sullivan’s son-in-law, asked them to change “girl, we couldn’t get much higher” in the song to “girl, there’s nothing I require,” and The Doors agreed to do that. The Rolling Stones had changed “Let’s Spend the Night Together” to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” and aside from Mick Jagger flubbing one instance and rolling his eyes on another, that’d gone off without a hitch. But then, on live TV, Doors front man Jim Morrison went ahead and sang the original line, “girl, we couldn’t get much higher,” and The Doors, who’d been negotiating to do multiple episodes of Sullivan, were banned for life.

#6 The Box Tops – The Letter

At #6 is the debut single and biggest hit by a short-lived blue-eyed soul group from Memphis, Tennessee: another of the three records in our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1967 not out of California. The lead singer, just 16. In ’67 though, his gruff vocals really stood out, and helped propel the song to #1 for four weeks in the Fall. And speaking of song lengths, it was the last #1 hit shorter than two minutes. No editing needed on that one! It’s The Box Tops, lead singer Alex Chilton, “The Letter.”

Box Tops, “The Letter,” #6 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 1967’s biggest hits, written by songwriter Wayne Carson, who wrote a couple more top 20s for them before they split in 1970, right around the same time Joe Cocker was scoring his first top ten hit, a slowed-down version of “The Letter.”

Box Tops singer Alex Chilton’s work in Big Star and beyond in the ’70s: a huge influence on ’80s Alternative groups like The Replacements, whose song entitled “Alex Chilton” is a highlight of their 1987 album, Pleased to Meet Me.

#5 The Monkees – Daydream Believer

So if anyone indirectly benefited from the backlash against John Lennon’s comments about Jesus and religion and The Beatles’ retreat to the studio and out of the public eye, it was our group at #5. The timing was perfect. Their first hit debuted in September ’66, right after The Fab Four played their last-ever U.S. gigs. And then, their weekly TV show premiered: a half hour goofball sitcom, Monday nights at 7:30 on NBC conceived as TV’s answer to The Beatles. How could it miss?

This song peaked in December ’67, well into season two of the show, so, one of their later hits, after they’d ruled the charts all year. It’s (who else?) The Monkees, “Daydream Believer.”

Mickey Dolenz, the singer on most of The Monkees’ biggest hits, but Davy Jones got the mic on “Daydream Believer,” The Monkees fifth top ten and third #1, all in less than a year and a half. And Monkeemania wasn’t just a U.S. phenomenon; in the U.K., The Beatles’ home turf, it was their sixth top ten! Over the summer, they’d drawn 10,000 to see their U.K. debut at Wembley’s Empire Pool in London, and according to Billboard, 90% of them were teenaged girls. By the end of ’67 The Monkees were bigger as a recording act than as TV stars, and Nesmith managed to wrest creative control of their music from the New York and Hollywood suits that had brought them together and made them stars.

“Daydream Believer,” the one song in our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1967 not in Billboard’s official published top ten for the year, because Billboard only counted chart action up to its December 16 issue. “Daydream” still had a week to go at #1, and six more in the top ten into 1968. At Chartcrush, not having to get an issue out before New Years, we get to factor every song’s full chart run for more accurate rankings.

#4 Bobbie Gentry – Ode to Billie Joe

At #4 is an unlikely hit by an until-then unknown singer based since her teens in, where else? L.A., but originally from Mississippi. And everyone who was around in ’67 seems to remember exactly where they were and how they felt when they first heard it. Janis Joplin felt nauseous. Right from the strummed intro, Otis Redding knew it was going to be “some kind of trouble.” And Bob Dylan called that same intro “primitive and searing.”

Capitol Records released it in July as a B-side on the singer’s first single with no fanfare, but it caught on and wound up displacing The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” at #1 at the end of August. Here’s Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.”

“Ode to Billie Joe,” #4 on our 1967 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show: just Bobbie Gentry, a stunning raven-haired beauty from the Mississippi Delta where the story takes place, and her acoustic guitar, with those dramatic strings overdubbed.

Gentry, who wrote the song, was quoted saying it’s a study in unconscious cruelty for the way the news of Billie Joe’s suicide doesn’t rise above the mundane details of life. But it leaves key questions unanswered, like what were the narrator and Billie Joe throwing off the Tallahatchie Bridge? On that and other points, she let listeners draw their own conclusions.

It only got to #17 on the Country chart. Country radio, not playing many “primitive” and “searing” records in the late ’60s, and there was a cover version in a more polished-sounding “Countrypolitan” style by singer Margie Singleton, but enough Country fans bought Bobbie Gentry’s album to propel it #1 for three weeks on the Country Albums chart.

Get this: both song and album cracked the top ten on the R&B charts, even with a competing version by Instrumental Soul star, saxophonist King Curtis. As they say in the biz: an “all-market sweep.”

Gentry stayed in the music biz ’til the early ’80s, when she retired back to her native Mississippi, just a couple hours’ drive from the site of the Tallahatchie Bridge, which collapsed in 1972.

#3 The Association – Windy

So we’ve heard The Turtles, the Sinatras, Doors, Monkees, Bobbie Gentry so far. That’s five of the California-based acts in our 1967’s top ten. #3 is the sixth, all the way to the mellow side of the Folk-Rock spectrum: a Harmony Pop Vocal group that came out of The Troubadour, the West Hollywood Folk Club where Elton John put himself on the map a few years later.

They’d already scored a #1 hit with “Cherish.” That’s our #6 song of 1966. Here they are repeating in the top ten for ’67 with this breezy hit that was #1 for the whole violent, fiery month of July, dislodged from the top by “Light My Fire.” It’s The Association, “Windy.”

Now you’d think “Windy” would’ve been all over the Easy Listening charts in ’67, right? Nope. Not a chance with thinly-veiled drug references like “stormy eyes,” “tripping down the streets,” “flyin’ high above the clouds.” Nah ahh. They didn’t get to do it on Ed Sullivan either.

Adult America, still for the most part allergic to Hippie sounds and messaging. The Easy Listening chart in ’67 (precursor to Adult Contemporary) reads like a who’s who of pre-Elvis Crooners and Pop Singers: Sinatra, Como, Martino, Patti Page, Frankie Laine, Margaret Whiting, all in their 40s and 50s, while the counterculture was saying never to trust anyone over 30.

The Association established their Hippie credentials beyond doubt by leading off one of the defining events of the Summer of Love: the three-day Monterey Pop Festival in June. “Windy” was allowed there, and later in the festival, among many other iconic moments, Jimi Hendrix poured lighter fluid on his guitar and lit it on fire to top The Who’s guitar smashing antics.

On the planning committee for Monterrey, Brian Wilson, and his group The Beach Boys was slated to headline day two, their latest #1 single “Good Vibrations” having received a resounding thumbs up from the Hippie press. But they canceled last-minute, and according to writer Jesse Jarnow on the music site Pitchfork, “the ascendant underground effectively wrote The Beach Boys out of the ’60s Rock narrative that followed.”

Sgt. Pepper’s entered the album chart the same week as Monterrey, and The Beach Boys’ hotly-anticipated psychedelic studio masterpiece Smile was eventually shelved.

#2 Lulu – To Sir, with Love

And that gets us to #2 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1967. It’s the theme song of a British movie about a black Guianan immigrant played by Sidney Poitier who takes a teaching job in a school in London’s tough, working-class East End to make ends meet while he looks for a job as an engineer.

Unexpectedly, it became one of the biggest films of the year, and the song sung by a teen British singer-actress who was in the movie was #1 for five weeks in October and November. The singer-actress? Lulu. And the song’s title? Same as the movie: “To Sir, with Love.”

The “Sir” in “To Sir, with Love” is Sidney Poitier’s character in the movie: the teacher who insists on being addressed as “Sir” by his unruly students: part of teaching them respect and manners.

Poitier had previously played a student in Blackboard Jungle, the 1955 movie that launched “Rock Around the Clock” to the top of the charts. And then he became the first Black man to win Best Actor at the Oscars (for 1963’s Lilies of the Field) and was a such an icon in the Black community that Lulu’s “To Sir, with Love” was also a top ten hit on the R&B chart just because it was in a Sidney Poitier movie. That crossover success, definitely a bright spot in a year of racial strife.

Lulu, the singer-actress, remained a big star in her native U.K., but “To Sir, with Love” was her only big U.S. hit. And it was the #1 song on Billboard’s year-end Hot100.

#1 The Monkees – I’m a Believer

But again, here at Chartcrush, our rankings don’t just measure chart action in a defined “chart year;” we count every song’s full chart run in whichever calendar year it scored the most points, so songs don’t fall through the cracks like they so often have in the history of Billboard’s year-end rankings.

Our #1 song: well, it didn’t exactly fall through the cracks; it’s #5 on Billboard’s ranking. But seven weeks at #1 and 12 in the top ten, mid-December ’66 to March ’67 make it the strongest chart run of any 1967 hit.

Their very first hit, “Last Train to Clarksville,” was on its way to becoming the #7 song of 1966 even before their TV show premiered, but then their second was an even bigger hit. We heard “Daydream Believer” from late in the year at #5; here again, The Monkees, doing Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer.”

All across America, hundreds of teen combos formed in the wake of the British Invasion, practicing in garages, basements and warehouses, playing high school dances and “Battles of the Bands” sponsored by local radio stations, maybe even putting out a 45 on some indie or vanity label. A few of them even broke out nationally. Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs “Wooly Bully” and Question Mark & The Mysterians “96 Tears” were both among the top ten hits in ’65 and ’66, respectively. Tom Hanks’ 1996 movie That Thing You Do! chronicles the story arc of a fictional combo from playing a pizza parlor on Main Street in Erie, Pennsylvania to national one-hit wonderdom.

But right when this so-called Garage Rock movement was at its frenzied peak in late ’66, The Monkees captured all the lightning in a bottle and unleashed it on TV and the Pop charts to become, not one-hit wonders, but the top recording act of 1967. Which definitely validated the movement, but since they were a TV fabrication, also marginalized it against the backdrop of Sgt. Peppers, Monterrey Pop and Album Rock.

Underground cred, the new coin of the realm in music, as dispensed by guys like Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone, just one of the dozens of upstart underground ‘zines. Henceforth, by editorial decree, or so it seemed, The Monkees and any group like them: summarily dismissed as “Bubblegum.”

Bands scrambled to adapt, especially The Monkees. After NBC cancelled their TV show in ’68, they attempted to update The Beatles Help! for the acid generation, and the resulting movie, titled Head, was an epic fail, along with its soundtrack album, and The Monkees faded fast.

Jann Wenner didn’t have to do or say much to hasten that fall, but after a Monkees revival got them back on the charts in the mid-’80s and beyond, according to Monkee Peter Tork, Wenner spent the next 30-plus years making sure The Monkees never got anywhere near being inducted into his precious Rock & Roll Hall of Fame!

So there you have ’em: the top ten hits of 1967 according to our exclusive Chartcrush ranking, which (again) is derived from Billboard’s weekly Hot100 charts, but using a ranking formula that’s the same for all years and factors every song’s full chart run.

Bonus: Frankie Valli – Can’t Take My Eyes off You

Now there’s only one song from Billboard’s 1967 year-end top ten that’s not in ours. In ’67 they started tweaking their year-end rankings with bonus points for songs that made it to #1, which does produce more accurate rankings.

Our Chartcrush method though? Well it’s a little more generous with the bonus points than Billboard’s was in ’67, so their #10 song, which never got to #1, comes out #13 on our ranking: one of the earliest examples of an artist who’s still a member of a group, putting out a solo song and album. From that album entitled simply Solo, it’s Four Season Frankie Valli with a record that’s equal parts ’60s MOR Pop and Jet Age Lounge Crooner: “Can’t Take My Eyes off You.”

Frankie Valli, “Can’t Take My Eyes off You,” #10 on Billboard’s year-end chart and the first of two bonus cuts here on our 1967 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. The industry in ’67 was buzzing about fans preferring solo acts to groups, so Four Seasons mastermind Bob Crewe wanted to see if a Valli solo record could chart at the same time as a Four Seasons single. Yes, it could! The Four Seasons’ “C’mon Marianne” was in the top ten at the same time.

Bonus: Aretha Franklin – Respect

You may have noticed this hour that there were no songs by Black artists among the top ten hits of 1967. Very unusual: first year since 1957 for that. So we’re gonna close out this week’s show with the #1 song of the year from Billboard’s 1967 year-end R&B chart.

It did top the Hot100 for two weeks in June, but its shorter-than-average run of just 12 weeks on the chart only gets it to #15 on our ranking. It’s a cover of a song that written and first charted by Otis Redding in ’65, but this singer transformed it into one of the great feminist anthems of all-time. It’s Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”

Aretha had been recording for Columbia Records since 1960, but it wasn’t until she moved over to Atlantic that she had her big chart breakthrough. R-E-S-P-E-C-T “Respect,” Aretha Franklin, closing out our action-packed 1967 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show.

I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. Hey, if you like what you heard, head on over to our website. It’s chartcrush.com, where you’ll find written transcripts and links to stream this and other Chartcrush shows on Spotify, plus chart run line graphs and other mondo extras. Every week, we count down a different year from the beginning of the charts in the ’40s all the way up to the present, so tune again, same station, same time, for another edition of Chartcrush.

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