Originally posted November 24, 2007
My friend Sean and I spent part of Thursday evening wandering through a portion of the musical files he stores on his computer. His goal is to have a digital copy of every song that has hit the Top 40, a worthy challenge.
I don’t know how far along he is, but he’s deep enough into the project that a quick scan of some of his files from the 1970s and 1980s revealed numerous obscurities, one-hit wonders and one-week wonders (his term for a performer who had one song reach the Top 40 for only one week). But the song that caught my attention as we poked our way through 1980 was “Funkytown,” the hit credited to Lipps Inc. that spent four weeks at No. 1. My first reaction was a groan, and I opined that the tune was more than just a little lame.
Sean dissented, saying that he finds “Funkytown” a good single. (Is there a difference between a good single and a good record? That’s a question to chew on another day.) And I guess that’s so. I got weary of it twenty-seven years ago, when Minnesota stations overplayed it because it was local: “Funkytown” was the product of Twin Cities producer Steve Greenberg, assisted by vocalist Cynthia Johnson.
But hearing the song at Sean’s got me to thinking: Was “Funkytown” the most influential single recorded in Minnesota? A portion of Dave Marsh’s comment on the song in his book, The Heart of Rock & Soul might lead one to that conclusion.
“Sweet, soulful early (pre-Prince) Minneapolis dance-pop,” Marsh called the recording, which he ranked at No. 202. He added, “[E]ven club-footed listeners succumb to [its] pure playfulness. And, because it helped open an era, the record can’t be dismissed as a mere lighthearted novelty.”
Well. Marsh certainly liked it. I’m still less than pleased by it, but I will grant its influence. What other Minnesota-recorded songs might sack up against it?
I can think of four by Prince (whose talent and influence I acknowledge even though I have never listened to him frequently): 1983’s “Little Red Corvette” and the 1984 trilogy of “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Purple Rain.” Of those four, I think the most sonically interesting is “When Doves Cry,” but in terms of influence, maybe “Little Red Corvette” tops the list because it came first.
There have been other great singles to come out of Minnesota. I think of Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” in 1992, “Surfin’ Bird” by the Trashmen in 1963 and the whole run of singles from the SOMA label (which stands for “Sound of Mid-America”)* in the mid-1960s. My favorite, of course, is the Mystics’ “Pain” from 1969, but liking something doesn’t automatically make it great, and as it never made the national Top 40, it’s just a local hit. Along the same line, as good as the Lamont Cranston band was, it seems to have never made the charts
So, as I consider the question of the most influential single cut in Minnesota, I find myself coming back to a single recorded for a small label in 1963 by a singer by the name of Dave Dudley, from Spencer, Wisconsin.
Dudley’s only Top 40 hit went to No. 32 in the summer of 1963 (it reached No. 2 on the country chart), but it had, Marsh wrote in 1989, “about as much impact as any hit of the early sixties – it spawned a whole genre of truck driving songs that are not only the closest contemporary equivalent of the cowboy ballads of yore but have produced some of the best country records of the past thirty years.”
Marsh ranked Dudley’s single at No. 437 back in 1989. The most notable products of Dudley’s hit, Marsh wrote, included Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever,” Terry Fell’s “Truck Driving Man,” Red Sovine’s “Phantom 309,” Del Reeves’ pair of “Girl on the Billboard” and “Looking at the World Through a Windshield” and a few others, including Dudley’s own “Truck Drivin’ Son of a Gun.” Marsh added, “The truck driving song’s link to rock and roll, through the car song genre that extends from Chuck Berry to Prince, is also obvious and natural.”
So for me, the search for the most influential Minnesota record stops at Dave Dudley, although I have no doubt that I am overlooking some Minnesota-recorded singles that I should think about. (Tell me what they are, and I may revisit the topic.) But for now, Dudley’s only Top 40 hit is good enough for me. And that’s why “Six Days on the Road” is today’s Saturday Single.
Dave Dudley – “Six Days on the Road” [Golden Wing 3020, 1963]
*SOMA does not, in fact, stand for “Sound of Mid-America.” I’n not sure where I got that bit of misinformation, though I’m certain I read something somewhere. But as reader and pal Yah Shure pointed out quickly after I posted this piece, SOMA was simply a backwards rendering of the first name of the label’s owner, wholesale record distributor Amos Heilicher. Note added May 22, 2011.
Tags: Dave Dudley