A Baker’s Dozen From 1961

Originally posted January 16, 2008

We watched the film The Good Shepherd the other evening, the Matt Damon/Angelina Jolie film about one man’s career in U.S. intelligence, from the OSS to the CIA, from 1940 or so to about 1962. Much of story took place in 1961, with Matt Damon’s character and others in the agency trying to find out who had leaked to the Communists – Russian or Cuban – the plans for a U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

While the film’s story is interesting – lots of historical detail done right, for those who enjoy that sort of thing (I am one of them) – and the acting is impeccable, especially Damon’s, what I found most fascinating was the movie’s portrayal of 1961, the details of a time that stands shrouded in mist at the edge of my memory. The look of the city buses, the household décor, the clothing – for men, women and children – all of it was familiar.

One of the film’s details that struck me was men wearing hats: snap-brim fedoras, panamas, trilbys. I remember watching my dad retrieve his hat from the closet shelf moments before heading out the door each morning. I’ve seen pictures of crowds, usually baseball games, during the 1950s and early 1960s, and nearly every man is wearing a hat. Not a cap, a hat. Modern lore has it that the end of the hat as an essential accessory for men began in 1961, when President John Kennedy delivered his Inaugural address outdoors, bare-headed in Washington’s January chill. The hat as an accessory hung on for a while after that, but – according to those who catalog such things – its remaining time was short.

So much of what I saw of 1961 in The Good Shepherd was familiar, but I really recall very little about the year, which was the year I turned eight. I do remember talk about the Berlin Wall going up in August. What else? Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in April, and a month later, Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space. In October, Roger Maris hits his 61st home run, eclipsing Babe Ruth’s 1927 record by one.

To state the obvious, it was an incredibly different time, and the year’s pop culture reflected that just as much as the events of the year. The top-rated television shows for the season that began in the autumn of 1961 – and yes, there was such a thing as a television season – were:

Wagon Train
Bonanza
Gunsmoke
Hazel
Perry Mason
The Red Skelton Show
The Andy Griffith Show
The Danny Thomas Show
Dr. Kildare
Candid Camera

According to Billboard, the year’s top five singles were:

“Tossin’ and Turnin” by Bobby Lewis
“I Fall To Pieces” by Patsy Cline
“Michael” by the Highwaymen
“Cryin’” by Roy Orbison
“Runaway” by Del Shannon

That listing, in some ways, baffles me. The Lewis, Shannon and Highwaymen singles all went to No. 1 during the year, and Orbison’s single went to No. 2. But “I Fall To Pieces” went no higher than No. 12 on the chart during a ten-week stay. I imagine there’s some explanation, but the presence of the Cline record is especially baffling because the second-longest stay at No. 1 during 1961 was the five weeks by Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John,” which missed the top five. Any chart mavens out there know how that happens?

A few other songs that hit No. 1 for more than a week were: “Wonderland by Night” by Bert Kaempfert, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, “Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk, “Pony Time” by Chubby Checker, “Surrender” by Elvis Presley, “Blue Moon” by the Marcels, “Travelin’ Man” by Ricky Nelson, “Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, “Take Good Care Of My Baby” by Bobby Vee, “Hit The Road Jack” by Ray Charles, “Runaround Sue” by Dion and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens.

And here’s what 1961 sounds like when I listen:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1961

“Spoonful” by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua, Chess single 1771

“It Will Stand” by the Showmen, Minit single 632

“Crying in the Rain” by the Everly Brothers, Warner Bros. single 5250

“Voodoo Voodoo” by LaVern Baker, Atlantic single 2119

“One Mint Julep” by Ray Charles, Impulse! single 200

“Catfish Blues” by B.B. King from My Kind Of Blues

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens, RCA single 7954

“Too Much Monkey Business” by Elvis Presley, Flaming Star EP (RCA 128)

“Gypsy Woman” by the Impressions, ABC-Paramount single 10241

“Shake for Me” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess single 1804

“Night Train” by James Brown, King single 5614

“I Done Somebody Wrong” by Elmore James, Fire single 1031

“Honky Tonk, Part II” by Earl Palmer, Liberty single 55356

A few notes:

“Spoonful” came from the pen of Chess studio legend Willie Dixon and was first recorded and released as a single in 1961 by Howlin’ Wolf. Five years after James and Fuqua released their version, the English trio Cream recorded it on Fresh Cream and it became a performance staple for the group, with live versions often going longer than fifteen minutes.

In The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh writes: “‘It Will Stand’ was . . . a boldly defiant stroke. Asserting that rock and roll was great was one thing, but this song actually implied that rock would last because it had meaning. This was far from Danny & the Juniors’ declaration of three years earlier that ‘Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay’ because Danny and the boys explicitly declared that they didn’t know why. [Lead singer General] Johnson’s faith was deeper and his record is an anthem that will last as long as rock and roll is heard.” As to General Johnson, he showed up at least once in the Top 40 – “It Will Stand” went to No. 62 –as the lead singer for the Chairmen of the Board in 1970 when “Give Me Just A Little More Time” went to No. 3.

The Ray Charles single, “One Mint Julep” must have some kind of story behind it. It’s one of two regular singles – according to the generally accurate website Soulful Kinda Music – that Charles released on the Impulse! label, evidently between his stays at Atlantic and at ABC-Paramount. The flip side of “One Mint Julep” was “Let’s Go,” and the other single – also in 1961 – was Impulse! 2002, with “I’ve Got News For You”/“I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town.” In addition, there was a DJ promo release of “One Mint Julep.”

Latter-day listeners might be more familiar with other versions of at least two of the songs here. In 1970, Brian Hyland had a No. 3 hit with his cover of “Gypsy Woman.” And fans of blues artists John Hammond might recognize Howlin’ Wolf’s “Shake for Me” from Hammond’s 1969 album Southern Fried. (Legend Duane Allman sat in on four tracks from Southern Fried, including “Shake For Me.”)

I’ve wondered for years as to whether Earl Palmer’s record is titled “Honky Tonk Part II” or “Honky Tonk Part 11,” as the letters on the record label sure like like a pair of 1’s to me. Or it could be “Honky Tonk Part 1” with a mistaken extra digit. I’ve gone with the Roman numeral here. It’s not something I’ve lost a lot of sleep about, but whenever I see the 45, I wonder. This is one of those 45s I’ve had likely since it came out, when my sister would occasionally come home from the record store with a bag of ten 45s for $1.25 or something like that.*

*The single is clearly “Honky Tonk Part II,” and I knew that. My comment was a lame attempt at typographical humor, as the title mistakently uses Arabic numerals and reads “Honky Tonk Part 11” instead of “Honky Tonk Part II.” Note added June 4, 2011.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: