Nineteen sixty-five would be a banner year for many of the greatest acts in the history of music. That year, the Temptations hit #1 with “My Girl”; the Beatles took “Eight Days a Week,” “Help,” “Yesterday,” and “Ticket to Ride” to the top; the Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda” went to #1 as did the Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Back in My Arms Again,” and “I Hear a Symphony”; the Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”; The Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself”; and the Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and “Get Off of My Cloud.” While all recording artists probably dream of this level of success, not all of them are so lucky. Many acts would make their chart debuts that year, all no doubt hoping that they’d be the next big thing.
Unfortunately, for many groups, that was not to be. What follows is a list of ten memorable songs by promising artists that debuted 50 years ago this year. Unlike the music-mainstays listed above, these artists who would never again have a Top 40 hit, despite the fact that all but one of these songs peaked in the Top 10, and the one that didn’t is a garage rock classic and maybe the best of the bunch.
1) “Liar Liar,” The Castaways
Billboard Pop #12
The ultimate one-hit wonder. The Castaways were a garage band made up of members James Donna, Robert Folschow, Dick Roby, Roy Hensley, and Dennis Craswell. Donna and Craswell wrote “Liar Liar,” and Folschow contributed the iconic falsetto vocal. The song is a garage rock classic, popularized by its inclusion in Electra’s original garage rock Nuggets collection and from being used in numerous soundtracks including Good Morning Vietnam (as well as by the group themselves appearing in a movie — they appear in the clip above — 1967’s It’s a Bikini World). But “Liar, Liar” was the pinnacle of their success; they never had another chart record. Led by James Donna, the group still performs today. And while “Liar, Liar” was lowest-charting of the songs on this list, it’s my favorite of the lot.
2) “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” The Silkie
Billboard Pop #10
Perhaps it’s really not that surprising that a group doing a cover of a Beatles song never had another hit, but this is the rarest of all rarities — a Beatles cover that may actually be better than the original (blasphemy, I know!). While that’s a tough claim to make, the harmonies on this are beautiful and producer John Lennon told Brian Epstein he thought the Silkie version would be a #1 hit. Actually, not only was Lennon involved as producer, but Paul McCartney played guitar and George Harrison played the tambourine on the recording. While the song didn’t reach the heights Lennon predicted (it peaked at #28 in the UK and #10 in the US), it did seem to promise big things for this English folk group. Their success was not to be repeated, however.
3) “Goldfinger,” Shirley Bassey
Billboard Pop #8
For many people, 1964’s Goldfinger remains the quintessential James Bond movie, and Bassey’s “Goldfinger” is likewise generally considered the best of the Bond film title songs. With music by John Barry and lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, the song has steadily become even more popular over the passing years; it was #53 in the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 songs in American film, and in 2008 it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Despite its success on the charts and as a film theme, Harry Saltzman, producer of the Bond films, hated it, reportedly calling it the “the worst fucking song I’ve ever heard in my fucking life.” Fortunately, it was too late to find a new title song, so the film was released with the song in place. The rest, as they say, is history. Despite dozens of UK hits and a like number of awards and achievements, “Goldfinger” would be Bassey’s only US Top 40 hit.
4) “The Boy from New York City,” The Ad Libs
Billboard Pop #8
Though Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are primarily known for the more than 70 chart hits they wrote, including “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock” for Elvis, “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King, “Yakety Yak” by the Coasters, “Love Potion No. 9” by the Clovers, “There Goes My Baby” by the Drifters, and many, many more, they were also producers. For a while, they seemed to have the magic touch, and when the Ad Libs’ first release, “The Boy from New York City” went all the way to #8, it seemed they had put their stamp on yet another group. But the quartet from Bayonne, New Jersey, could never seem to strike gold again, and their follow up records all tanked, the highest charting coming in at #100 later in 1965 — even though it, too, was produced by Leiber and Stoller. The group’s label dropped them, and though they released a number of singles on a variety of labels after that, other than a song that made the R&B charts a few years later, they never had another hit.
5) “You Turn Me On,” Ian Whitcomb
Billboard Pop #8
This song is not easily forgotten once heard, but perhaps not for the right reasons. Tiny Tim (of “Tiptoe Thru the Tulips” fame) considered Ian Whitcomb an influence, and listening to “You Turn Me On,” one can see why. It’s a bizarre song, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and as a result, it was somewhat like many novelty songs — you probably won’t build a catalog or a career on songs like this. Whitcomb himself told interviewer Gary James, “The thing is, it’s very hard to follow-up a novelty song like ‘You Turn Me On.’ It’s just a very odd-ball song. What do you follow it up with? You can’t go on panting all your life. And I had a lot of other kinds of music in my head that I wanted to record. I didn’t fit any particular category or genre. So, it was hard for me to have any more hits.” No better explanation for why he failed to chart again than the words of the man himself.
6) “The Jerk,” The Larks
Billboard Pop #7
The Los Angeles-based Larks actually started as the Meadowlarks, a group consisting of Don Julian, Ronald Barrett, and Earl Jones. They added member Glenn Reagan — who was white — and thus became one of the first integrated groups of the rock ‘n’ roll era. They had a popular R&B hit, “Heaven and Paradise,” in 1955, but their one and only Top 40 pop hit came nearly a decade later after they had changed their name. The membership had been evolving over the years with Julian the only constant, and by 1964 when they recorded “The Jerk,” the group had now become simply the Larks. Like many popular dance-based recordings of the time, the song was a hit, going to #7 on the Billboard charts as well as going to #1 on the Cashbox R&B charts. But like all dance fads, the Jerk’s popularity was brief, and further attempts to capitalize on the dance (they recorded the “Soul Jerk” and “Mickey’s East Coast Jerk”) met with no success, nor did any other releases by the group.
7) “Keep on Dancing,” The Gentrys
Billboard Pop #4
This Memphis, Tennessee, group came together as the Gentrys in 1963, and within just two years they were appearing on Shindig!, Hullaballoo, Where the Action Is, touring with the Beach Boys and Sonny and Cher, and appearing in the film It’s a Bikini World (as did the Castaways, above). Like the Larks, their moment in the sun was a dance-craze-based record “Keep on Dancing,” which went to #4 and mentioned dances such as the locomotion and the jerk; also like the Larks, the success of the song did not translate into a long, sustainable musical career. They disbanded in 1966, reformed, then disbanded again.
8) “Popsicles, Icicles,” The Murmaids
Billboard Pop #3
“Popsicles and Icicles” fits very nicely into the catalog of “I-love-my-boyfriend-and-he’s-a-dreamboat” music, the whole bobby socks and record hops ideal teenage world of the late ’50s and early ’60s. As such, and because as a group the Murmaids have a sound similar to groups such as the Fleetwoods, the Poni-Tails, and the Teddy Bears, it’s easy to see why the song was a hit. The Murmaids were a group of girls who had grown up singing together, but perhaps weren’t as committed to a life as recording artists as some of their contemporaries. In fact, by the time “Popsicles and Icicles” charted, two of the three had moved on to college. Though they recorded several more records, they never charted again, and later recordings by the Murmaids may not have been this same group of girls at all. Interestingly enough, “Popsicles and Icicles” was written by a then unknown young man named David Gates, who, unlike the group, would go on to a long and glorious career in the recording industry with Bread in the 1970s.
9) “The Birds and the Bees,” Jewel Akens
Billboard Pop #3
Based on his early career, one would think Jewel Akens was destined for anonymity a member of a group. In the ’50s and early ’60s he sang with the Fascinators, the Four Dots, John Ashley and the Voices of Allah, the Astro-Jets, Terry and the Tyrants, the Rainbows, the Turnarounds, and the duo Jewel & Eddie. None of these groups were very successful, but it was when he finally went out as a solo artist that he appeared to have found his niche. His first release on the Era label, “The Birds and the Bees,” would go all the way to #3 in March 1965 and would sell a million records. Yet despite nearly two dozen further releases on a dozen different labels, he’d never again have a Top 40 hit.
10) “Eve of Destruction,” Barry McGuire
Billboard Pop #1
“Eve of Destruction” was a P.F. Sloan composition that was connected to a lot of big-time ’60s groups: by 1965 it had been rejected by the Byrds and recorded by the Turtles and Jan and Dean, and the Grassroots would record it in 1966. Despite the involvement of so much rock hierarchy, it was little-known Barry McGuire, former lead singer for the New Christy Minstrels, who had a hit with the song, although it was recorded under circumstances that were laughable at best. The version that was a hit was actually a rough demo made in just one take, that was accidentally released less than a week later. McGuire claimed that the lyrics were written on a piece of paper so crumpled that he couldn’t read it, and so instead he sang “Ahh” repeatedly for the words he couldn’t decipher, figuring he’d get the actual lyrics down for the final take. Nevertheless, the song became a rallying cry for American youth disenchanted with the war in Vietnam and other forms of political injustice, and in little more than a month it topped the Billboard pop charts at #1. It would be McGuire’s only Top 40 hit.