The year 1968 is etched in the mind of many of us--for America it was a year of turmoil--the year of Mai Lai and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. For me, it was the year I learned how to read. This is why 1968 has stood out in my mind. Even though I was only six or seven years of age, I can remember a lot of these songs when they were popular.
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"Spooky" was the first top-10 hit for Dennis Yost and the Classics IV. The song has an intriguing melody and tells of an unpredictable girlfriend. I did not become familiar with this song until Atlanta Rhythm Section (a band containing several of the same members of Classics IV) covered it in the late'70s.
"Love Is Blue" was a hopeful-sounding instrumental I remember quite well because I always seemed to be building with Lincoln Logs when this song was popular. The song itself was a surprise hit--it was recorded by a French instrumentalist, Paul Mauriat, who never expected it to be a hit. The local MOR station played this song quite regularly that winter and spring. I can also recall the follow-up, the seldom-heard "Love In Every Room, which I also enjoyed.
"Young Girl" is one of the first songs I can recall hearing on an exact date--Apr. 20, 1968. This song had a springtime sort of yearning that propelled it to #2 on the pop charts. To me the song's melody was one that made you catch spring fever--I always associate this song with the warm, sunny month of April 1968. In my naivete, I had no idea about the suggestive lyrics.
"A Beautiful Morning" was another of my favorites from the spring of 1968. The song's melody and lyrics have a wistful feel to it--the sort you get during the first 70-degree day of the spring. This song was one that I could relate to--I was still a child and only nominally aware of the tumult occurring around the world. I knew there was a war going on in Vietnam and that President Johnson was not running for another term. However, this song provided a safe haven during that spring of upheaval. This song was one of the best efforts by Felix Cavaliere and the Rascals.
"Honey" was not one of my favorite tracks by Bobby Goldsboro. I found the track a bit treacly, but it was tolerable the last time listened to it. The song, which was #1 the week of my birthday in '68, tells of a mixed-up lover who did some foolish things but was loved anyway. Unfortunately, Honey died at an early age, which may qualify it as a "death-rock" song. Personally, I feel that Goldsboro had some stronger singles: 1969's "I'm a Drifter" and "Muddy Mississippi Line," as well as 1973's "Summer--The First Time." There's always one sappy song on these compilations, and "Honey" gets the nod for this 1968 disc.
"Classical Gas" was one of my favorite hits of the summer. It begins with the slow strumming of an acoustic guitar, then gradually builds to a crescendo. It sounded like the aural accompaniment to fireworks (yes, it was a hit around July 4!). Melodically, the song always reminded me of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man," a song which, curiously enough, was a hit both two years before and after Mason Williams's hit (in 1966 and '70). "Classical Gas" always gives me a nostalgic feeling for the summer of '68, a carefree, swim-filled one for me.
"Harper Valley PTA" was a song that reached #1 right after the school year began. I always associated it with the Mary Hopkin hit, "Those Were the Days," because both were out at the same time and always seemed to come on while we were riding in our car. This Jeanne Riley song, her only top-40 pop hit, tells the story of a single mother who was reprimanded for "immoral behavior." However, these charges do not hold water because the accusers are shown to be sanctimonious hypocrites. For me the highlight of the song was when she mentioned the title of one of my favorite books:
"This is just a little Peyton Place, and you're all Harper Valley hypocrites."
I used to think she was saying "hating place," because Harper Valley was a town of finger-pointers and stone-throwers. This song, a Tom T. Hall composition, hit the bull's eye with me because it skewered those self-righteous sort of people.
"Hush" was Deep Purple's first major hit, reaching the top five in the fall of '68. It was one of the first heavy metal-influenced songs to make the top 10. I used to think the song was called "Na Na Na/I'm Alive," because I first became familiar with the song when it was redone by Blue Swede in 1975 as "Hush/I'm Alive," a medley. The Deep Purple recording combined acid rock and metal into a heady trip.
Dion's "Abraham, Martin, and John" was a pop masterpiece. I can recall quite well hearing this song when it was a hit. Back then I thought the singer was talking to several of his personal friends. I felt flattered when he mentioned a "Bobby" toward the end. As time went by, I came to recognize the poignancy and social conscience of this song, which was dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., John Kennedy, and his brother Bobby. It was deplorable that these leaders, who had so eloquently fought for civil rights and economic opportunity for the disenfranchised, were gunned down. I especially liked the lyrics,
"Didn't you love the things they stood for
Didn't they try to find some good in you and me"
"Slip Away" was Clarence Carter's big pop and R&B hit from December (?) of that year. The song tells of a man's secret affair with a woman. This song explores the qualms the narrator has about having this relationship. The song is done in the soulful style of the late-'60s. Carter would have an even bigger hit two years later with "Patches," one of my favorite hits of 1970.
This ten-song disc will take you back in time 32 years, to a time when America was in upheaval. The music, however, was stellar and remains indelibly planted in our menories.
Read more product reviews on Billboard Top Pop Hits: 1968 by Various Artists (CD, May-1995, Rhino (Label))
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