In 2015 I did a piece for REBEAT called “Week-By-Week Proof That 1974 Was the Worst Year in the History of Modern Music,” which probably had more comments and readers than anything I’ve ever written here. I made the claim that 1974 was the worst year in music solely based on the #1 songs that year — not debut albums, not what bands originated that year, not who was born that year, or anything else. It was a bad year because the #1 selling, chart-topping singles that year were, for the most part, wretched.
So after I did that, a friend asked me the obvious question — what did I think was the best year? Picking 1974 for the bad year was easy, but deciding on the best year was another matter. I figured it would be in the 1960s, just because — in my mind anyway — the overall quality of Top 40 music supported that. Simply put, in the ’60s, you had iconic movements, genres, and styles such as Motown, garage rock, girl groups, Stax soul, the British Invasion, surf music, psychedelia, the Wall of Sound, and more. By acknowledging my fascination with the 1960s, I’m admitting I obviously went in with a bit of bias, but my methodology upheld what I suspected.
Let me first describe my very unscientific method. I looked at the #1 hits of Billboard’s Pop Top 40 charts for every year between 1950 and 1979 (the REBEAT years). Then, I weighed them based on my own, obviously biased standards, mentally subtracting points for novelty songs, one-hit wonders, and songs that have not stood the test of time well.
As you might have expected, the 1950s were pretty spotty. Despite the fact that some great seminal songs went to #1, for every Elvis, Sam Cooke, and Buddy Holly hit, there’s a Pat Boone, Perry Como, and McGuire Sisters chart-topper. On the other end, although I was a teenager during the 1970s and there were a lot of great songs then, too, there was also a whole lot of garbage, and the decade seemed to be defined by a struggle to find a musical identity.
As a whole, the ’70s were a mess despite some really great songs, and so it wasn’t hard to eliminate those years, too. That meant that I was left with, as I suspected I would be, the 1960s.
First, you can toss out 1960, 61, and 62, mainly because they look a lot like the 1950s. Great hits by groups such as the Shirelles, the Four Seasons, the Drifters, and others are canceled out by way too many #1 songs by the likes of Lawrence Welk, Mr. Acker Bilk, Steve Lawrence, and Kyu Sakamoto.
In 1964, things get real, however; the Beatles, Beach Boys, Supremes, the Animals and others really took things up a notch. Nevertheless, the weight of number-one hits by Bobby Vinton, Lorne Greene, Louis Armstrong, and Dean Martin drag the year back down.
I dissected every year like this but ultimately, after examining the #1 hits on the Billboard pop charts for each year, I’d like to make the case that 50 years ago, 1967, was the best year in pop Top 40 music, ever. As you’ll see below and in the next , not only are there #1 songs by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Supremes, Aretha Franklin, the Monkees, and others, but the year can also boast that despite a few #1s by groups without the longevity those acts have had, there’s not a single dog in the whole bunch. That, as much as anything, gave 1967 the title.
So with no further ado, let’s take a look at the songs that topped the charts in 1967.
“I’m A Believer” by the Monkees
Weeks at #1: 6 (January 7-February 11)
What a way to start the year! Despite the clear preferences REBEAT’s staffers had for other songs by the group in last year’s poll ranking our favorite Monkees songs, this is my favorite. Micky Dolenz does a great job on lead, and Jeff Barry’s production is superb. Similarly impressive is the song’s pedigree, as it was written by Neil Diamond.
Let me point out that I mean the ’60- songwriting-Neil Diamond of “Solitary Man,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” renown, as opposed to the Neil Diamond of the ’70s who wrote AOR dreck like “Longfellow Serenade” and “Forever in Blue Jeans.” I think “I’m a Believer” was one of the great American songs of the 1960s and the Monkees’ best song by a longshot.
“Kind of a Drag” by the Buckinghams
Weeks at #1: 2 (February 18-25)
Buckinghams lead singer Dennis Tufano told me that after the group recorded “Kind of a Drag,” they’d started playing it live, and when it became obvious that their fans liked it, “We kept telling the record company to release it. They wouldn’t though, because they [USA Records] didn’t like it. They had all these excuses, like they said it was too slow.
“They kept releasing our [other] records, but none of them really did anything nationally. Finally, at the end of 1966, our contract was up and there were no more sides left except ‘Kind of a Drag,’ so they released it, dropped us from the label, and said, ‘We’re done.’”
Big mistake. The record shot to #1 and stayed there for two weeks, and although the group had the most popular song in America, they didn’t have a label. That situation wouldn’t last long though, and shortly thereafter, they’d sign with Columbia and that same year they’d follow up with “Don’t You Care” (#6), “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” (#5), “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song)” (#12), and “Susan” (#11).
“Ruby Tuesday” by the Rolling Stones
Weeks at #1: 1 (March 4)
The first song on this list to top the charts for only one week, but nevertheless, it’s a classic which was the Rolling Stones’ fifth #1 hit in the US. It may not be one of the groups’ greatest songs — I think there’s simply too much competition for that — but it’s a great period piece and has gone on to be one of their most recognizable ’60s hits.
There is a very long, complicated story behind the song, the gist of which is that Keith Richards wrote it about his girlfriend of three years, model Linda Keith, who eventually left him for Jimi Hendrix. Richards reportedly has always said she was the one who broke his heart, and the mournfulness comes across pretty clearly in the song,
“Love is Here and Now You’re Gone” by the Supremes
Weeks at #1: 1 (March 11)
It’s easy to imagine that, by 1967, the Supremes were starting to take their #1 records for granted. They’d had three #1s in a row in 1964, two in a row in 1965, then a third later that year, then two in a row in 1966. Consequently, “Love is Here and Now You’re Gone,” from the pens of the extraordinary songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, was the group’s ninth #1 hit. They’d have a tenth later that year, as we’ll see later. This is a classic Supremes recording with the group at their best.
“Penny Lane” by the Beatles
Weeks at #1: 1 (March 18)
As you might expect if you read the description above this one, there weren’t many groups that would surpass the Supremes in terms of most #1 records during the 1960s, and, in fact, only the Beatles would. “Penny Lane” was actually their thirteenth #1 record on the US pop charts, one of three singles they released in 1967, all of which would hit #1 in the US.
Despite the fact that it was written about a street in Liverpool and, as such, was full of references only locals would have known, it was a worldwide hit. As Beatles songs go, it was a good one, but probably more middle-of-the-road in terms of style. By that, I mean it is representative of that “middle period” of their music: They were no longer just the pop stars/teen idols of the early ’60s but hadn’t yet fully turned into the more complex, “serious” group that they would later on with “Let it Be,” “Hey Jude,” and other songs.
They’d make substantial progress towards getting there with their next #1 that year, however.
“Happy Together” by the Turtles
Weeks at #1: 3 (March 25-April 5)
The Turtles first charted with a great Top 10 cover of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” in 1965, and over the course of that year and 1966, they had a series of singles that either didn’t chart at all, charted in the lower reaches of the Top 100, or landed between #20 and #30 on the charts.
As such, as 1967 began, they seemed to be a serviceable group with a workmanlike approach to music, but based on their track record, they didn’t seem destined for anything special.
When “Happy Together,” their first release of 1967, topped the charts, though, it seemed as if they’d arrived at long last. When they followed this with another great song, “She’d Rather Be with Me” (#3), it certainly seemed as if the group would be a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, as good as “Happy Together” was, it represented not only the peak of their chart success but also the beginning of a downward trajectory as well. After 1967, they’d release more than a dozen singles but only two — the truly exceptional recordings “Elenore” and “You Showed Me” — would make the Top 40, with both peaking at #6.
Nevertheless, their success in 1967 did elevate them from their somewhat prosaic status to the point where they are now seen as a fairly important ’60s group after all.
“Somethin’ Stupid” by Nancy and Frank Sinatra
Weeks at #1: 4 (April 16-May 6)
I don’t think there’s any denying that it’s hard to hear Frank and Nancy Sinatra sing this song to one another and not have it come off as a bit weird. Originally recorded by the husband and wife team Carson Parks and Gaile Foote, their recording came to Frank Sinatra’s attention and he decided he wanted to record it.
Clearly, it is a duet for a man and woman, and he chose to record it with his daughter Nancy. From a popularity standpoint, perhaps this wasn’t a terribly strange decision: During the two previous years, only two solo female acts had topped the Billboard pop charts — Petula Clark and Nancy Sinatra. If you’re going to sing a duet with someone, make sure that person is the best, and it just so happened that at the time the most popular female solo artist in America was his daughter Nancy.
Despite the weirdness (Nancy Sinatra has apparently noted some people call it the “incest song”), it is a great song and perhaps the best of the adult-oriented songs of the 1960s.
“The Happening” by the Supremes
Weeks at #1: 1 (May 13)
One wonders to what extent this song reached #1 on the backs of the Supremes’ success up to this point; it’s not considered one of their best songs, nor should it be. Yet, like its predecessor that year, it hit #1, becoming their tenth song to top the charts. From “Where Did Our Love Go?” in 1964, up until this song, the group had reeled off 13 Top 40 records, 10 of which hit #1 and all but one of which made the Top 10.
But while this song was a hit like all the others, it also marked a departure point for the group from their earlier sound. For one thing, it was a theme song for a movie, and for another, it was more “poppy” and lacked the soulfulness of their earlier releases.
It also marked the last time the group would record as just “The Supremes.” For the remainder of Diana Ross’ time with the group, they would record as Diana Ross and the Supremes. Consequently, though a good song, it heralded a number of changes for the group, not the least of which was that over the course of their next dozen releases only two would hit #1 and only five would make the Top 10 before Ross left the group.
“Groovin'” by the Young Rascals
Weeks at #1: 2 (May 20-27)
“Groovin'” has a much different sound than the other songs on this list, and as such, it’s a little harder to categorize. What the song does do, though, is perfectly convey the laid-back, carefree atmosphere of “Groovin’… on a Sunday afternoon.”
There are lots of stories behind this song, but basically, it was written about how the songwriters really only had time to spend with their girlfriends on Sunday afternoons, with the predictable results that these were times of bliss. The song has such a distinctively ’60s feel that it is emblematic of the “make love, not war” mantra of the late 1960s.
This song also has one of music’s most famous mondegreens, in that, “Life would be ecstasy, you and me endlessly” has often been misheard as, “Life would be ecstasy, you and me and Leslie.” I heard an interview with Rascals frontman and co-songwriter Felix Cavaliere, and his response when asked about this was something to the effect of “I wish!”
“Respect” by Aretha Franklin
Weeks at #1: 2 (June 3-10)
When you’re on a list that includes the Beatles, the Supremes, and the Rolling Stones — not to mention the many other notable acts here — and you record what is perhaps the most iconic song of the year, that is an accomplishment indeed.
Yet, despite the fact that this is one of the best-known songs of the ’60s (if not all time), and is Franklin’s signature song, it wasn’t written for her. “Respect” was a cover version of a song Otis Redding had recorded a couple of years earlier, but Franklin added many of her own flourishes and really made it her song, such as the “sock it to me” and “take care, TCB” lines.
While Redding’s version barely inched into the pop Top 40, Franklin’s ran the table. It’s one of those songs that has come stand for a lot of different things for a lot of different people, and there’s no denying it is one of the greatest hits of the REBEAT era.