We continue excerpts from the History section of the Celebrate Good Times book with a retrospective of the Top 100 Soul Singles of 1961. Our previous dips into the Sixties soulful goodie-bag has revealed the Top 100 Soul Singles of 1962 and 1963 respectively. This latest journey into the archives presents a selection designed to celebrate the greatest rhythm & blues records of the year previous. Again, they feature records only released in the UK on 45.
Black harmony groups had been around for a long time, initially singing gospel. Recording groups like The Mills Brothers and The Ink Spots took a more secular approach, singing ballads, pop and jump tunes. They made an incredible impact on the global music scene during the Thirties and Forties and were hugely successful and influential. Their style spawned many imitators which in the late Forties gave birth to what we now know as ‘doowop’ – a vibrant and exciting vocal form which saw harmonized back-ups help to create a thrilling rhythmic backdrop and counterpoint to lead vocals. These type of groups became especially prominent in the Fifties which is considered to be the golden era of the genre. A pivotal record in 1959 by The Drifters – There Goes My Baby – saw the addition of lavish string arrangements, which announced the arrival of a new ‘soul’ sound. This drifting soul sound is earmarked in the selection by four of their classics – Room Full Of Tears; a Brill Building masterpiece written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin entitled Some Kind Of Wonderful; Burt Bacharach’s Please Stay and a song revived a few years later by British group The Searchers – Sweets For My Sweet. The doowop sound had already reached its peak by 1957 and the final years of the Fifties saw a diminishment in its popularity. However, in 1961 it had something of a revival which saw the reissue of some classic tracks (the new ‘oldies’) and a whole spate of new groups cashing in on the act. They were often one-shot combos with one massive hit.
Some of those fantastic tunes are included in our 1961 selection – including biggies by The Jarmels (A Little Bit Of Soap), The Cleftones (Heart And Soul), The Stereos (I Really Love You – a personal favourite!), The Halos (Nag), The Velvets (Tonight Could Be The Night) and The Marathons (Peanut Butter). Ones that got away include lesser known tunes by the likes of The Dream-Timers and The Strollers. Classics include Shep & The Limelites’ follow-up to 1956’s A Thousand Miles Away (when they were then known as The Heartbeats) called Daddy’s Home. The Jive Five’s My True Story is another seminal doowop classic which topped the US R&B charts and even reached No.3 on the US pop charts. The Sensations had been around since the 50s and made a brilliant record in 1956 called Please Mr. Disc Jockey. Unusually, the group had a female lead vocalist – Yvonne Baker, who also wrote their 1961 smash Let Me In. With its catchy “ooweoo” refrain it remains one of the very best records of the era. The Dreamlovers’ When We Get Married is another thriller.
By far the biggest doowop record of 1961 was the revisionist revival of a 1934 song written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart – Blue Moon. With its nonsense “bomp-baba-bomp” and “dip-da-dip” phrases it completely transformed the song from a lush ballad to a raucous dance number. I understand that Richard Rodgers thought it was an abomination of his tune – though he probably didn’t mind the royalties that came flooding in, for the record was a huge success. It was a rare transatlantic No.1 (three weeks at the top spot in the US, two weeks at the pinnacle in the UK) and is credited as one of the records that helped shape rock & roll. Of course, the inimitable Ella Fitzgerald had already recorded the definitive version of the song in 1957 for Verve. The Marcels’ drastic reworking of another standard – Summertime – barely scraped the UK pop charts, peaking at No.46.
Of course, it perhaps goes without saying that the success of Blue Moon in the UK was a one-off, where the record was seen as something of a novelty. Although, it must be said that it wasn’t the first doowop record to reach No.1 in the UK. That honour had already gone to Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers when their New York masterpiece Why Do Fools Fall In Love topped the chart in 1956. But the fact is that apart from The Marcels, no other doowop records were hits. In actual fact, out of the 100 records selected only 14 actually reached the UK pop charts at all – with only 8 of those making the Top 10. Other records in the doowop style but not by groups include Gene Chandler’s Duke Of Earl (another US chart-topper) and Don & Juan’s great duet What’s Your Name. Cornell Campbell’s reggae version of the former is absolutely brilliant too and recommended.
Few groups were able to survive the transition from doowop to soul but some were already making some inroads in that direction – these include 1961 records by The Impressions, The Coasters, The Spinners (later known in the UK as The Detroit Spinners) and The Pips (who had revived The Royals’ 1952 song Every Beat Of My Heart and featured a young Gladys Knight). Lead vocalist of The Showmen (It Will Stand) went on to front Chairmen Of The Board in the late Sixties – General Johnson.
The dance-craze culture was very much prevalent at this time in the US – some of the best examples of the genre are represented by records like Pony Train by Titus Turner, The Watusi by The Vibrations, You Can’t Sit Down by the Phil Upchurch Combo, The Continental Walk by Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, I Like It Like That by Chris Kenner and the best foot-stomping tune ever: Foot Stomping by The Flares. Chubby Checker had a tremendous hit in the UK with Let’s Twist Again (reaching No.2) which has become something of a party anthem over here. It was re-released in 1975 and was a hit all over again, climbing all the way up to No.5. His other classic record from ’61 is The Fly.
The girl groups were still a growing phenomenon in 1961 and weren’t to reach their peak until a couple of years later. But some stand-out hits picked for our Top 100 include The Ikettes’ I’m Blue (The Gong Gong Song), The Chantels’ gorgeous Look In My Eyes, an early Phil Spector production – The Crystals’ awesome There’s No Other (Like My Baby) – and the massive first US Motown chart-topper, The Marvelettes’ Please Mister Postman, famously covered by The Beatles a couple of years later. It also reached No.1 in its 1975 incarnation by The Carpenters. The Shirelles are so good, three of their records had to be included in the list – including another track later covered by The Beatles: Baby It’s You.
A few instrumentals were deemed too essential to leave off the compilation – Eddie Harris’ great jazzy lick of Exodus, Ace Cannon’s Tuff, The Mar-Keys’ early Stax classic Last Night and Ray Charles’ fantastic big-band version of One Mint Julep.
Ray Charles features as a vocalist on his incredible Hit The Road Jack (on the reggae scene, a ’76 No.1 smash for Big Youth) which was his first UK Top 10 hit, reaching No.6. The lovely Them That Got and the under-rated Unchain My Heart were both UK flops but not on this list.
There are many other male singers on the list – the most successful of which was Clarence “Frogman” Henry who reached No.3 with But I Do and No.6 with You Always Hurt The One You Love (previously a big smash for The Ink Spots). The former was a hit all over again in 1993 when it reached No.65. It was memorably featured in a 1999 TV advertisement for Fiat’s Cicquencento car.
Former Drifter Ben E. King has the most songs in the list – including Stand By Me. It was a modest UK hit at the time (peaking at No.27) but was a UK No.1 smash in 1987 after being used in the film of the same name and a Levi Jeans advertisement. Amor, Amor was a staple at family parties growing up and is probably still my favourite song of his. Though the double-sided Spanish Harlem/First Taste Of Love must come pretty close too. Here Comes The Night couldn’t be left out either.
Familiar names whose success continued into the 60s and sometimes 70s include Jackie Wilson, Brook Benton, Lee Dorsey, Marv Johnson, Fats Domino Solomon Burke, Sam Cooke and Jerry Butler. Lesser known acts like James Ray (If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody was later covered by Freddie & The Dreamers), Jimmy Breedlove (singing the excellent You’re Following Me), Bobby Parker (Watch Your Step) and Lenny Miles (Don’t Believe Him Donna) have every right to be here too. Dee Clark’s Raindrops from 1961 turned out to be his biggest and best. As did Bobby Lewis’ US chart-topper Tossin’ And Turnin’.
Gene McDaniels made a couple of classic records in 1961 – A Hundred Pounds Of Clay and Tower Of Strength, the latter being a Burt Bacharach song which topped the charts in an inferior UK cover by Frankie Vaughan. He later changed his style and became known as Eugene McDaniels, seriously making his mark with 1971’s Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse album which didn’t find favour at the time but found popularity decades later when its brilliance was finally realised.
Roy Hamilton’s You Can Have Her was later covered by Dionne Warwick and Timi Yuro. Timi’s stunning rendition of Hurt definitely had to be included in the Top 25 – it remains one of the most emotional and soulful performances put on wax. Dinah Washington was one of the few jazz vocalists who bridged that gap over into the R&B market and had a massive pop success with September In The Rain – another regular spin at our family parties when I was growing up. Barbara George’s I Know is now considered a soul classic as is the No.1 spot on the list by Etta James – a double-sided smash coupling At Last with I Just Want To Make Love To You. Her other double-sider Dream/Fool That I Am is a must as well.
As before, in the book all of the original US labels and UK catalogue numbers are listed. For the purpose of space, they are not listed here. In all, 1961 produced some amazing rhythm and blues records. We call it soul. These are they:
1. AT LAST/I JUST WANT TO MAKE LOVE TO YOU | Etta James | Pye International
2. PLEASE MISTER POSTMAN | The Marvelettes | Fontana
3. DUKE OF EARL | Gene Chandler | Columbia
4. GYPSY WOMAN | The Impressions | His Master’s Voice
5. FOOT STOMPING | The Flares | London
6. STAND BY ME | Ben E. King | London
7. LET ME IN | The Sensations | Pye International
8. WHAT’S YOUR NAME | Don & Juan | London
9. BUT I DO | Clarence “Frogman” Henry | Pye International
10. MY TRUE STORY | The Jive Five | Parlophone
11. BABY IT’S YOU | The Shirelles | Top Rank
12. DADDY’S HOME | Shep & The Limelites | Pye International
13. SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN | Dinah Washington | Mercury
14. IT WILL STAND | The Showmen | London
15. EVERY BEAT OF MY HEART | The Pips | Top Rank
16. HIT THE ROAD JACK | Ray Charles | His Master’s Voice
17. RAINDROPS | Dee Clark | Top Rank
18. I KNOW | Barbara George | London
19. A HUNDRED POUNDS OF CLAY | Gene McDaniels | London
20. YA YA | Lee Dorsey | Sue
21. LET’S TWIST AGAIN | Chubby Checker | Columbia
22. HURT | Timi Yuro | London
23. SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL | The Drifters | London
24. CUPID | Sam Cooke | RCA
25. THERE’S NO OTHER (LIKE MY BABY) | The Crystals | Parlophone
After the best of the best, the rest of the best:
THE WATUSI | The Vibrations | Pye International
TOSSIN’ AND TURNIN’ | Bobby Lewis | Parlophone
A LITTLE BIT OF SOAP | The Jarmels | Top Rank
AMOR, AMOR | Ben E. King | London
I DON’T WANT TO CRY | Chuck Jackson | Top Rank
SPANISH HARLEM/FIRST TASTE OF LOVE | Ben E. King | London
REVENGE | Brook Benton | Mercury
IF YOU GOTTA MAKE A FOOL OF SOMEBODY | James Ray | Pye International
I’M BLUE | The Ikettes | London
WHEN WE GET MARRIED | The Dreamlovers | Columbia
EXODUS | Eddie Harris | Columbia
QUARTER TO THREE | Gary U.S. Bonds | Top Rank
A LOVE OF MY OWN | Carla Thomas | London
YOU CAN’T SIT DOWN | Phil Upchurch Combo | His Master’s Voice
THE FLY | Chubby Checker | Columbia
UNCHAIN MY HEART | Ray Charles | His Master’s Voice
THE DANCIN’ LADY | The Dream-Timers | London
I REALLY LOVE YOU | The Stereos | MGM
COME TOMORROW | Marie Knight | Fontana
SWEETS FOR MY SWEET | The Drifters | London
THAT’S WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE FOR | The Spinners | Columbia
ROCK-A-BYE YOUR BABY WITH A DIXIE MELODY | Aretha Franklin | Fontana
I LIKE IT LIKE THAT | Chris Kenner | London
SUMMERTIME | The Marcels | Pye International
JUST OUT OF REACH (OF MY TWO OPEN ARMS) | Solomon Burke | London
HEART AND SOUL | The Cleftones | Columbia
LAST NIGHT | The Mar-Keys | London
WATCH YOUR STEP | Bobby Parker | London
TURN ON YOUR LOVE LIGHT | Bobby “Blue” Bland | Vogue
TUFF | Ace Cannon | London
COME ON OVER | The Strollers | London
YOU’RE FOLLOWING ME | Jimmy Breedlove | Pye International
A CERTAIN GIRL | Ernie K-Doe | London
READY FOR YOUR LOVE | Shep & The Limelites | Pye International
IT’S UNBEARABLE | Dorothy Jones | Philips
YOU’RE THE BOSS | LaVern Baker & Jimmy Ricks | London
LOOK IN MY EYES | The Chantels | London
READY FOR YOUR LOVE | Shep & The Limelites | Pye International
ONE MINT JULEP | Ray Charles | His Master’s Voice
IT KEEPS RAINING | Fats Domino | London
HIDEAWAY | Freddie King | Parlophone
PLEASE TELL ME WHY | Jackie Wilson | Coral
BLUE MOON | The Marcels | Pye International
TOWER OF STRENGTH | Gene McDaniels | London
DON’T BELIEVE HIM DONNA | Lenny Miles | Top Rank
PONY TRAIN | Titus Turner | Oriole
RAININ’ IN MY HEART | Slim Harpo | Pye International
MOON RIVER | Jerry Butler | Columbia
YOU CAN HAVE HER | Roy Hamilton | Fontana
THE BREAKING POINT | Chuck Jackson | Top Rank
TONIGHT (COULD BE THE NIGHT) | The Velvets | London
WHAT A SWEET THING THAT WAS | The Shirelles | Top Rank
NAG | The Halos | London
PLEASE STAY | The Drifters | London
LETTER FULL OF TEARS | Gladys Knight & The Pips | Sue
THAT’S IT, I QUIT, I’M MOVIN’ ON | Sam Cooke | RCA
FIND ANOTHER GIRL | Jerry Butler | Top Rank
PEANUT BUTTER | The Marathons | Pye International
YEARS FROM NOW | Jackie Wilson | Coral
THE CONTINENTAL WALK | Hank Ballard & The Midnighters | Parlophone
MAMA SAID | The Shirelles | Top Rank
DEAR LADY TWIST | Gary U.S. Bonds | Top Rank
FOR MY BABY | Brook Benton | Mercury
SURE NUFF | Ruth Brown | London
THEM THAT GOT | Ray Charles | His Master’s Voice
GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS | The Coasters | London
LET THE FOUR WINDS BLOW | Fats Domino | London
DREAM/FOOL THAT I AM | Etta James | Pye International
MERRY-GO-ROUND | Marv Johnson | London
DO RE MI | Lee Dorsey | Top Rank
MUSIC, MUSIC, MUSIC | The Sensations | Pye International
ROOM FULL OF TEARS | The Drifters | London
THE WAY I AM | Jackie Wilson | Coral
YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE | Clarence “Frogman” Henry | Pye International
HERE COMES THE NIGHT | Ben E. King | London
What are your favourites? Do let me know!