The Golden Age of Rock Turns 50, 1968 by Rich Paschall
Everyone will look back on their youth with the belief that the hit music of their time comprised the Golden Age of whatever genre was on top. We will, of course, make the same claim. In fact every genre of our time hit the pop charts. Many of those songs have not lost their golden shine 50 years later. I know you are eagerly awaiting my top ten list of songs having a golden anniversary. You will be pleased to know I initially wrote down so many (46), that I will have to give you a top 20.
Some iconic rock and roll acts had come to prominence and charted singles and albums. Rock legends Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Tommy James and the Shondells, The Doors, The Moody Blues, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Janis Joplin and many more were thrilling their fans as they pushed rock across new vistas.
Pop stars of the day Tom Jones, The Monkees, Beach Boys, Three Dog Night, Dion, The Fifth Dimension, Bee Gees, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Bobby Goldsboro, The Lettermen, The Turtles, and The Vogues were only a few of the acts to sing their way up the charts.
Irish actor Richard Harris scored with an unlikely hit (MacArthur Park). The Rascals wanted you to see People Got To Be Free. Archie Bell and the Drells told you to Tighten Up and the Delfonics explained La-la Means I Love You.
Acts like Cream, Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, Status Quo, Deep Purple and even Donovan gave us a commodity called Psychedelic Rock. On the other side of the pop spectrum we had something we dubbed “Bubble Gum Music” from artists like The Ohio Express, Tommy Roe and a group that helped bring on the title, The 1910 Fruitgum Company.
As always a couple of instrumentals were to be found: “Classical Gas” (Mason Williams) and “L’amour est bleu” or Love is Blue (Paul Muriat). These also fall into the category of one hit wonders.
The sounds of jazz came through the air with Herb Alpert, and Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66. The Mills Brothers found their first big hit in a dozen years.
Some movie songs hit the charts in 1968: “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” “Mrs. Robinson” (The Graduate), “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde,” and “Theme from The Valley of the Dolls.” You can add a couple of TV shows whose themes are well remembered, “Mission Impossible” and “Hawaii 5-0.”
It was a great year for hits from R&B and Soul music icons Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Sam and Dave, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Otis Redding, The Box Tops, The Temptations, Jerry Butler and a list that stretches all the way back to 1968.
Country Western singers had cross over hits that climbed the pop charts including Glen Campbell and Tammy Wynette. A song by Jeannie C. Riley, “Harper Valley PTA,” spawned a movie of the same name.
If you are quite ready, call the “Cab Driver” and come down to “Indian Lake” where we will be having our “Stoned Soul Picnic.” “Simon Says” it’s “A Beautiful Morning” and we will be joined by “Lady Madonna,” “Lady Willpower,” “Delilah,” “The Mighty Quinn,” and even “Suzie Q.” If you see “The Unicorn,” perhaps it is because of that “Bottle of Wine.” Feel free to play your “Green Tambourine” and “Dance To The Music.”
20. (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, Otis Redding
19. Wichita Lineman, Glen Campbell
18. I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Marvin Gaye
17. Elenore, The Turtles
16. Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, The Lettermen
15. Turn Around, Look At Me, The Vogues
14. Stormy, Classics IV
13. Crimson and Clover, Tommy James and the Shondells
12. White Room, Cream
11. Sealed With A Kiss, Gary Lewis and the Playboys.
10. Born To Be Wild, Steppenwolf. Released in 1968, this song became part of the soundtrack of “Easy Rider” the following year. I love this song so much I did it a number of times for karaoke. Fortunately, none of those performances exist today.
9. For Once In My Life, Stevie Wonder. A number of artists recorded the song prior to 1968 and Tony Bennett had some success with it, but it was Wonder’s upbeat version that scored big.
8. Hooked On A Feeling, B. J. Thomas. Released late in the year, you will find this song as a top hit of both ’68 and 1969. An electric sitar gave it a unique sound.
7. Everybody’s Talkin’, Harry Nilsson. This artist had minor success with the song in 1968. The following year it was featured as the theme song to the movie “Midnight Cowboy,” was re-released and became a bestseller.
6. One, Harry Nilsson. This song was written and recorded by Nilsson. Three Dog Night also recorded the song in 1968 and had a much bigger hit with it the following year.
5. Mony, Mony, Tommy James and the Shondells. Yes, Tommy James got the title from looking out his New York City apartment window and seeing the initials on top of the Mutual Of New York building.
4. Hello, I Love You, The Doors. Written by Jim Morrison, the song was recorded from February to May of 1968. Due to his excessive drinking, Morrison became difficult to work with and recording took time. The song hit number 1 in the US and Canada.
3. Jumpin’ Jack Flash, The Rolling Stones. The chart topping hit is reported to be the Stones most often played concert song. It was such a hit that it is always on their set list.
2. Hey Jude, The Beatles. Paul McCartney originally conceived it has Hey Jules, for John Lennon’s son Julian, but he claims he never actually gave it to him. Later he decided Jude would sound better and changed the lyric.
1. While My Guitar Gently Weeps, The Beatles. This hit was written by George Harrison, reportedly about the discord in the group. The Beatles VEVO music video contains the acoustic recording by the band. On the original single released in 1968, the distinctive guitar was provided by Eric Clapton. That’s the version below.
Click on any song title in the top 10 to go to the video or go to the entire playlist here.
Check out the top songs of 1968 at Billboard, wikipedia or others and let us know if we missed a good one.
Sources include: “Top 100 Hits of 1968,” www.musicoutfitters.com