Category Archives: The Supremes

Today’s Top 5: December 27th, 1969

It was a chilly December day in 1969 when my father, then 38, arrived home from Vietnam, where he’d worked the previous 15 months as an electronics field engineer attached to the 5th U.S. Marine Base at Da Nang. He maintained the Marine Corps’ communication system called TRC-97 at fire bases and outposts between Da Nang and the DMZ, and sometimes took sniper fire while riding a motorcycle from one site to the next. He wasn’t a G.I., having left the Army after serving in the Korean War the decade before, but an RCA employee.

According to the thorough family history written by my grandfather the following year, my dad left for Vietnam on Sept. 16th, 1968, and returned stateside on Dec. 15th, though I imagine he first touched ground in Hawaii or San Diego and, even if he flew straight through, made it home a day later. What I recall: my mom crouching beside me, who was all of 4 1/2, and pointing to a tall man dressed in fatigues walking toward us. “Daddy,” she whispered in my ear. I ran to him, arms outstretched, and bellowed the same.

Young children welcoming a parent home from war: It’s a scene played out many thousands of times every decade, it seems. And, as with me, I’m sure it’s the first memory many have of that parent.

I was reminded of the day by Herc’s thoughtful write-up of The Vietnam War, the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary series that recently aired on PBS. I haven’t watched it yet, though at some point I likely will, but it got me to thinking of December 1969 and the winter that followed – it’s the last time, I think, that I enjoyed snow. By the next Christmas we were in Saudi, and snow and frigid weather were non-factors for the next five years.

Anyway, Christmas of 1969, as I remember it, was great; the family was together and, in addition to my dad, I received one of the greatest gifts ever: Billy Blastoff. (It was an action toy, not a doll!)

To pull the magnifying glass away from me, major events of this month included, on the 1st, the initial draft lottery; on the 2nd, the 747 making its official debut; and, on the 6th, “Woodstock West,” aka the Altamont Free Concert, erupting into violence. Unemployment for the month was just 3.90 percent, but was about to begin a gradual climb to 6 percent by the end of 1970; and inflation was relatively high, at 5.5 percent.

(For more on 1969, see here and here, though each now features a clip that’s gone AWOL from YouTube.)

Movies released this month included A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Hello, Dolly!, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Topaz and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. Top television shows included Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Mayberry R.F.D. and Family Affair. Brady Bunch aficionados will know that the kitsch classic’s lone Christmas episode, when Carol came down with a bad case of laryngitis, aired on the 17th; another historic Christmas-tinged TV moment came 10 days earlier with the first airing of Frosty the Snowman.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: December 27th, 1969 (via Weekly Top 40):

1) Diana Ross & the Supremes – “Someday We’ll Be Together.” This, Diana’s final single with the Supremes, closed out the 1960s in spectacular fashion. (Producer Johnny Bristol can be heard harmonizing along, and giving Diana encouragement.)

2) Peter, Paul & Mary – “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I never knew this was written by John Denver until the mid-2000s, when I watched an excellent PPM biography on PBS. There’s this, too: PPM recorded it in 1967 for Album 1700, but didn’t release it as a single until October 1969. It promptly ascended the charts and, on Dec. 20th, became their only single to hit No. 1. This week, it dropped a notch to No. 2.

3) B.J. Thomas – “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” Written for the Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid film, this classic Burt Bacharach-Hal David song, which won an Oscar, has been covered more times than than ASCAP/BMI can count. (Just a joke.) Here’s B.J. Thomas singing it on Top of the Pops in February 1970:

4) Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Down on the Corner”/“Fortunate Son.” The double A-sided hit  – one of the best – dropped to No. 4 from No. 3 (its peak) this week.

5) Steam – “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” Who knew, as 1969 came to a close, that the chorus to this ditty – which topped the charts for two weeks in early December – would become one of the de facto sing-alongs at sporting events within a decade’s time?

And two bonuses:

6) Neil Diamond – “Holly Holy.” The No. 6 this week is this gospel-tinged classic, which may well be Neil Diamond’s greatest song. (And even if it isn’t, it certainly feels that way when he’s singing it.) Here he is performing on the BBC in 1971:

7) Gladys Knight & the Pips – “Friendship Train.” Topping out at No, 17 is this under-appreciated Norman Whitfield-penned call for peace, love and understanding. Here’s Gladys & the Pips performing it in 1972:

 

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Today’s Top 5: May 13, 1967

Fifty years ago today, the Summer of Love was in the offing for 16-year-old Wendy D. of Allegheny County, Pa., the home of Pittsburgh, three smaller cities and a bevy of boroughs and townships – but also a summer of love troubles, as often happens in teen romances. I’m sure she was vaguely aware of the former when she wrote the entry, but as for the latter? She wasn’t clairvoyant. (If she was, my hunch is she wouldn’t have continued to see Tom, who was but one of several suitors. Let’s just say things don’t work out so well between them and leave it at that…for now.)

The movie they saw, A Man for All Seasons, was released on December 12, 1966. In today’s world, of course, all but the biggest of blockbusters have left the theaters within five months and are prepping for their blu-ray/DVD release and/or PPV debut. Back then? Things stuck around. Movies routinely started small, at select theaters, and slowly widened in scope, hopscotching the country and media markets. (Mass distribution, where a movie opens on hundreds – if not thousands – of screens at a time, didn’t become commonplace until 1974 and The Trial of Billy Jack.)

The top TV shows for the 1966-’67 season were (in order) BonanzaThe Red Skelton Hour, Andy Griffith Show, Lucy Show and Jackie Gleason Show. The Lawrence Welk Show, which was in a four-way tie for No. 10, was a few spots higher than The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour.

On the music front: According to the Weekly Top 40, the Supremes’ “The Happening” was the No. 1 single on the charts.

I featured that song in the April 22nd, 1967 Top 5, of course. And, between that entry and the one for April 2nd, I’ve spotlighted the top five songs on this week’s Top 40 chart fairly recently. As a result, I’ll be digging deep into the chart for today’s countdown.

And, with that caveat out of the way, here’s today’s Top 5, May 13, 1967 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) The Happenings – “I Got Rhythm.” The No. 9 song this week is this…kitschy delight? It was one of four Top 40 singles the group scored from 1966 through ’68. This one, like their 1966 hit “See You in September,” topped out at No. 3.

2) The Mamas & the Papas – “Creeque Alley.” Jumping from No. 44 to No. 22 is this self-mythologizing song, which tells of the formation of the group.

3) Jefferson Airplane – “Somebody to Love.” Holding steady at No. 31 in its seventh week on the charts is this Summer of Love anthem from the Airplane, which would eventually fly into the Top 10. Here they are performing it at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 17th.

4) The Who – “Happy Jack.” One of the week’s Power Plays is this now-classic song, which jumped from No. 51 to No. 41.

5) The Marvelettes – “When You’re Young and in Love.” Another of the week’s Power Plays is this lovely Van McCoy-penned song, which would eventually reach No. 23. An interesting piece of trivia: It’s the group’s only single to chart in the U.K. Another piece of trivia: It was Wendy D.’s theme song… nah, I’m making that last bit up. But it should’ve been!

And two bonuses, both pulled from the “New This Week” section:

6) Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The first of the many classic Marvin & Tammi duets. Here, they perform the Ashford & Simpson-penned song on The Tonight Show:

7) The Grass Roots – “Let’s Live for Today.” Debuting at No. 87 is this ‘60s classic, which would eventually make it to No. 8. Who knew that it began life as an Italian pop song written by an ex-pat Brit beat group? Not me. Wikipedia gives the rundown of its complicated history.

Today’s Top 5: April 22, 1967

Fifty years ago today, everything was as groovy as it had been 20 days earlier. It was a Saturday, so 13-year-old Valerie S. of South Pasadena was able to join her mother on a gift-buying excursion for her older sister, whose birthday was the following day – but not before sleeping until about 10am. She also “watched” her hair.

As she says at the end of her diary entry, she had a good day.

Sixteen-year-old Wendy D. of suburban Pittsburgh also went shopping with her mom this day – but for herself. She picked the Barron’s SAT book to prepare for the exam, which was scheduled for the following month, plus a study guide for Wuthering Heights. But the day wasn’t a total scholastic-related enterprise. She also bought a pair of loafers. It may seem like a hum-drum life, and it was for her just now – but that would change in the coming months.

I share their experiences for a reason: Yesteryear was not as different from today as we sometimes make it out to be. The 1960s are oft-romanticized because of the music, drugs, free love, social movements and Vietnam War, and assassinations, but – just as today – the reality that most people experienced wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic as what is portrayed in the movies or TV, or even in the news accounts of the day. Discrimination and prejudice were much more pronounced, no question, but – regardless – most men and many women went to work every weekday morning, and worried about the mortgage, bills and kids. And life unfolded for most teens much as it does, still: They slept late on weekends, went shopping with parents, worried about and studied for school, and hung out with friends. Most didn’t run away from home or descend upon Haight-Asbury (though they may have worn flowers in their hair).

What has changed: instant communication. Instead of trading texts, instant messages and Snapchats, as is common now, kids traded notes in class and called each other at night, if at all; and instead of turning to YouTube or Spotify for their music needs, they turned on the radio. Here’s Wolfman Jack doing his thing on XERB-AM, the Big 1090, sometime late this April (or possibly early May – Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” can be heard at the end, and that wasn’t released as a single until April 29th):

Anyway, enough of the preamble. Here’s today’s Top 5, pulled from this week’s charts from Weekly Top 40. (It’s not a straight countdown, but a hop, skip and jump through the chart.)

1) Frank & Nancy Sinatra – “Something Stupid.” For the second week in a row, this fun father-daughter duet held the top spot.

2) The Monkees – “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.” Jumping from No. 5 to No. 3 in its fifth week on the charts is this Neil Diamond-penned pop song.

3) Tommy James & the Shondells – “I Think We’re Alone Now.” In its 11th week on the charts, this classic single climbed from No. 7 to No. 4.

4) The Supremes – “The Happening.” The title song to the flop movie of the same name is this fun little number, which clocked in at No. 11. It was the last single released prior to the group being renamed Diana Ross & the Supremes; and the last Supremes single with Florence Ballard.

5) The Platters – “With This Ring.” If you listened to the Wolfman Jack air check above, you already heard this single, which peaked this week at No. 14. It sounds like was airlifted in from 1959. (Side note: A movie could and should be made of this group due to its ever-churning lineup.

And two bonuses:

6) The Easybeats – “Friday on My Mind.” Jumping from No. 46 to. No. 30 this week is this classic ode to the weekend that was written by band members Harry Vanda and George Young. Here’s a piece of trivia: Young is the older brother of AC/DC’s Malcolm and Angus Young, and co-produced (with Vanda) many of their early albums.

7) The Young Rascals – “Groovin’.” New to the charts, at No. 79, is this signature song from the Rascals, which would hit No. 1 on May 20th.