What would the 1960s have been without all the fabulous music borne of that decade? Tremendous is the debt we owe to the hitmakers of those years for all the pleasure their sounds have given us even half a century later.
And certainly worthy of extra appreciation are the singers and artists whose discs got all the way up to Number One on the singles charts. We know who they were: the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Fifth Dimension, the Wildwoods, the Supremes, the… What’s that? You’ve never heard of the Wildwoods?
Oh. Okay, but certainly you’ve heard of the Association, the Monkees, the Kit Kats, the Doors, the… What? You’ve never heard of the Kit Kats either?
Hm, alright. Surely you know the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Soulbenders, Herman’s Her…Huh? You don’t know the Soulbenders either?
How could this be? All of those groups had Number One singles in the great decade of the 1960s. How could a group have possibly had a chart-topping single in that glorious, universally-loved and most-celebrated musical time, only to have their name draw a blank years later, even with the most dedicated of ’60s music aficionados?
Well, there is one little catch. Yes, all three of those unfamiliar bands did have Number One singles… but not on the national charts; rather, these bands had hits on surveys in local regions, usually but not always their own. These bands at one time (if only for a week) sold enough records to either knock a national hit out of Number One on their local station’s chart or prevent it from ever getting there, and for residents of those areas, these songs may be as essential to their teenage memories as the Beatles or Stones hits to which the entire country collectively grooved.
Here are 10 such cases of singles that all but bombed on the national Billboard Top 100, but which somewhere in the country landed all the way at the top of the hit parade of a local playlist.
1) “Hey Joe,” The Soul Benders (Phantasm, 1967)
Oh sure, the song itself should not be foreign to anybody, but unless you lived in or within driving distance of Grand Rapids, Michigan in late 1967, the Soulbenders probably would not be part of your answer should someone challenge you with “Name ten bands who recorded ‘Hey Joe.'” Fans and collectors of ’60s garage rock argue whether the number of bands who tackled the oft-told tale of the adulteress and the assassin is seven billion or only six billion, but hopefully both sides include the version by Grand Rapids’ local heroes the Soulbenders on their lists.
Their take, which tempo-wise begins similar to that of Jimi Hendrix’s popular version before, midway through, switching to the speed of the more common Byrds, Leaves, Love etc. versions of the previous year, bumped Lulu’s “To Sir With Love” out their hometown’s WLAV’s top spot on November 3, 1967 and remained there for four additional weeks, leaving national chart-topper “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees stuck in second place. Additionally, the single ruled the charts of two other Grand Rapids stations, WERX and WGRD. “Hey Joe” received one last boastable bonus at year’s end when it reigned WLAV’s ‘Top 34 Records of 1967.’ National success eluded the Soulbenders… or them it, being as they passed on an offer from Atco Records to join their roster, but the teens of 1960s Grand Rapids remember them well.
2) “Sleepy Friend,” The Road Runners (Morrocco, 1967)
From Fresno, California they came, and in Fresno they ruled… at least for a little while. The Road Runners became reigners on April 29, 1967, taking that “stupid” father and daughter record down a peg on the chart of Fresno’s KYNO. Jangly (but not twelve-string) guitar, organ and chimes dominate this enjoyable disc which brings to mind early Turtles. Though some of its lyrics aren’t easy to decipher, the song seems to present one friend inquiring another about his attempt of a certain then-in-vogue shortcut to paradise and enlightenment, so to speak. Only one week after “Sleepy Friend” slept soundly at Number One, the Young Rascals, by way of “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” did what Wile E. Coyote never managed and conquered the Road Runners.
3) “No Good to Cry,” The Wildweeds (Cadet, 1967)
At the same time the Road Runners were going and spoiling it all for Ol’ Blue Eyes and his booted daughter in Fresno, the Wildweeds were preventing Frank and Nancy from climbing higher than #2 in Hartford, Connecticut. Their “No Good to Cry” sent the Five Americans’ “Western Union” southbound on April 21, 1967 on WPOP’s charts, and held firmly at Number One for three weeks in total. Also like the Road Runners, the Wildweeds would also see that rascally young band from New York pull the plug on their achievement, although in the ‘Weeds case it was “Groovin'” that got them grieving.
Elsewhere in Hartford, the single also racked up four weeks in first place on WDRC, replacing Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” on April 17, 1967 before “Groovin'” revoked their standing there too. Stations in Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts also saw it rule the roost, while in New Haven it came in second place, unable to pass the Rascals’ roadblock. “No Good to Cry,” written by the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist Al Anderson (later of NRBQ) is a pleasant speedy bouncy soulful track which deserved better than its national placing of #88.
4) “Bring It Home to Daddy,” Fred Parris and the Restless Hearts (Atco, 1966)
A full decade of still nights after achieving national fame as the lead singer of the Five Satins, Fred Parris had a fair streak of records that did reasonably well in Connecticut, where he lived, but which made no real splashes nationwide. His most successful disc of this batch was the slow and soulful “Bring It Home to Daddy,” which toppled the Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll Be There” off the peak of New Haven’s WAVZ on October 22, 1966. Although Fred was no little girl, after he stayed there for second week the Happenings made him go away. New Haven’s WDEE also had him at the top of their ‘Pacesetter Survey’ on October 29th, when he derailed “Last Train to Clarksville” by the Monkees.
5) “Black On White,” NAIF (North Atlantic Invasion Force) (Mr. G, 1968)
NAIF (North Atlantic Invasion Force) may not have invaded the national charts, but on March 23, 1968, they forced “There Is” by the Dells out of first place on New Haven’s WAVZ. Their invasion only lasted one week before being thwarted by a young girl whom Gary Puckett was trying to get out of his mind. “Black on White,” which received a considerable but ultimately ineffective national promotional boost when featured on an episode of ‘American Bandstand,’ has a similarity in sound to Billy Joe Royal’s subsequent “Cherry Hill Park,” even though NAIF’s lead singer and the song’s author George Morgio doesn’t hear it.
6) “Under My Thumb,” The Dantes (Cameo, 1966)
As Maxwell Smart would have said, “The old ‘take a song by one of the biggest and most marketable groups in the world that they’re not releasing as a single themselves and get our own 45 of it out there’ trick.” Bands had already been pulling that stunt with the Beatles since 1963, taking note of the Fabs’ album-only tracks, hoping to find a surefire hit among the contents. By 1966, Rolling Stones albums had become prospective goldmines as well, and when the quintet released their classic ‘Aftermath’ album that year, in its wake came singles on both sides of the Atlantic by various artists tackling about half its selections (one, Chris Farlowe’s “Think,” even topping the British charts.)
So when a combo of Columbus, Ohio teens noticed one of the album’s finest (and in time one of the Stones’ most famous) selections just sitting there on the album ripe for the picking, they jumped on the opportunity, and by the fall had their own 45 of “Under My Thumb” to offer the world. Most of the world passed, but the group’s local station WCOL and its listeners gave “Thumb” the thumbs up. For three consecutive weeks beginning October 17, 1966 when the Monkees’ train was hijacked, thirty-nine records on WCOL’s Top 40 survey were under the Dantes’ thumb. The Dantes, who had scored a chart-topper on WCOL earlier that year with “Can’t Get Enough Love,” put forth a passable if tame delivery of the Stones’ classic. The Dantes would try a similar trick the following year, mining the Stones’ ‘Between the Buttons’ album and disconnecting “Connection.” Their fun, lively disc of it made the WCOL Top Ten.
But what and whom bumped “Under My Thumb” out of the peak position? Why it was…
7) “Going Too Far,” The Fifth Order (Counterpart, 1966)
Another Columbus combo, this quintet led by lead vocalist Billy Carroll had a very strong local following, hungry enough to eat up, according to legend, 18,000 copies of this 45 which topped the WCOL chart on November 7, 1966. Any hopes of a long stay on top, however, were scrambled a week later when the song was bumped into second place by the Nightcrawlers’ “Little Black Egg.” “Going Too Far” is a jangly bit of garage with a constant thumping bass drum beat that must have given drummer Mike Comfort a very uncomfortable foot by song’s end. The band’s Columbus popularity yielded them yet another Number One in their hometown the following August when their “A Thousand Devils” made Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe” jump off the top tier of the WCOL survey, although again, the Fifth Order only got a week’s worth of glory before being outranked, this time by the Ohio Express who rolled in with “Beg, Borrow and Steal.”
8) “We Can’t Go On This Way,” The Unchained Mynds (Buddah, 1969)
Time (and compilations) ultimately made Teddy and the Pandas’ 1966 version of this sunny gentle number the better-remembered rendition, but late ’60s residents of Milwaukee, Syracuse and Springfield, Massachusetts probably think differently, for in the Spring of 1969 the foursome from La Crosse, Wisconsin known as the Unchained Mynds saw their take of the song top the charts in those three cities. Originally released the previous year on Transaction, the single got picked up by Buddah, and it was that release that brought the group as close to the big time as they would get. Compared to the Pandas’ record, the Mynds go a wee bit slower (but seem to slightly speed up as the record progresses) but add a bit more electricity in the instrumentation.
On Milwaukee’s WOKY, the Mynds placed first for three weeks, bumping Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “You Made Me So Very Happy” and eventually losing their roles as kings of the local jungle to Ray Stevens’ “Gitarzan.” They were the head of the WOLF pack in Syracuse for a week, displacing Mercy’s “Love (Can Make You Happy)” before the Beatles made them “Get Back,” the very same record the Mynds ousted in Springfield on WHYN for a two-week turn on top ceased by Henry Mancini’s “Love Theme From ‘Romeo and Juliet.”
9) “Hey Conductor,” Sonny Flaharty and the Mark V (Philips, 1967)
As we’ve seen, the radio stations of Columbus, Ohio were mighty kind to local acts. At the same time, a little to the west on Interstate 70, Dayton’s broadcast houses likewise helped some of their hometown talent along as well. Sonny Flaharty and the Mark V found this out when they took a train ride to the top of the charts of WING on August 11, 1967, replacing the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and remaining in the lead for a second week. Sonny, who wrote the fast-paced number which showcases some killer overdriven lead guitar and splendid combo organ, asks the unspecified (but easy to guess within the ballpark) conductor to assist him with his desire to escape from the troubles of the world.
Upon having his request granted, Sonny thanks his source of enlightenment and pleads “Don’t make me come back down.” Despite this, WING gave the band a pretty harsh comedown on August 25th when “Hey Conductor” crashed from #1 all the way down to #31, plummeting faster than the title character in the song by Bobbie Gentry which knocked it out.
10) “Let’s Get Lost On A Country Road,” The Kit Kats (Jamie, 1966)
What does it take to knock a monster record like “Good Vibrations” out of Number One? Happenings-style sweet harmonies over a composition sounding like a bastard child of the Left Banke and the Association, with harpsichord and even banjo thrown into the mix? Well, that’s what it took in Reading, Pennsylvania, and the Kit Kats did just that on December 9, 1966, wiping out the Beach Boys on Reading’s WRAW Fabulous Forty survey. The Kit Kats were top cats for three weeks…then the Monkees saw their face.
Nationally, the single missed the Top 100, stopping at #119. Strangely, in the wake of the single’s release, the band issued instrumental versions of it on 45s under pseudonyms including the Pablo Ponce Four and the Tak Tiks. Not so strangely, these records didn’t have as much success as the vocal version.
Well, those are a mere 10 cases of selected parts of the United States having their own exclusive Number Ones. There were plenty of other examples, and down the line another 10 will be rounded up here in REBEAT for another listicle.