As it turns out, America's infatuation with sometimes kooky summer tunes is an old one.
With the summer nearing its end, people will undoubtedly soon begin making statements on what the song of the summer of 2014 was. While three months offers some degree of hindsight, it pales in comparison to our ability to see which songs defined the summers of decades previous. Fifty years ago, there wasn’t much media attention devoted to what songs ruled the charts during the warmest months, but thanks to the Billboard charts, we can look back and see what they were. So let’s take a listen to the songs of summers in the '60s.
It seems hard to believe in these child-star obsessed times that people found it hard to believe that a fifteen year old could sing as well as Brenda Lee. This is the song that made her famous, but her biggest selling single is still 1958’s “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”, the fourth most-downloaded Christmas song in digital history.
The summer of 1960 belonged to teen idols, with the Everly Brothers (“Cathy’s Clown”), Elvis Presley (“It’s Now Or Never”), and Connie Francis (“Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”) raking in number one hits.
“Tossin’ and Turnin’” held the top spot on the pop singles chart for an astounding seven weeks straight. At the time, the only other artists who did better than that were Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, and Guy Williams. In fact, it was the best-selling single of 1961. Lewis wasn’t a one-hit wonder, but he only had one other single (“One Track Mind”) before disappearing from the charts.
Other songs that hit number one that summer were “Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, Ricky Nelson’s “Travelin’ Man”, and Roy Orbison’s “Running Scared”.
Ray Charles’ version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You” became so iconic that many people didn’t know that it was a cover version. Originally written and recorded by Don Gibson in 1958, Charles’ version became the lead single off his Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music album.
The summer of 1962 would prove to be a romantic one, with Bobby Vinton’s “Roses Are Red (My Love)” and “Soldier Boy” by The Shirelles also enjoying multiple weeks at the top of the charts.
Two very different songs had three week runs at number one that summer in 1963: a mostly instrumental live recording from a child prodigy and a Japanese love song re-titled after a beef dish. But let’s give the song of the summer title to Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki”, because it’s the first of four versions of the same song to chart, and it reigned throughout the month of June instead of August. Little Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips (Pt. II)” comes in at a very close second, with Leslie Gore’s “It’s My Party” also making waves in 1963.
The summer of 1964 was full of musical trends. The British invasion saw “A Hard’s Day’s Night” and “A World Without Love” grab number ones. The Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” proved that surf rock was still a big deal. Even rat-packer Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody” snagged the top spot for a week. But the month of June is known for weddings, and most of those weddings must have played the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love”. Fifty years later, it’s still a popular choice for those ceremonies and receptions.
The Beatles or the Stones? Well, in July of 1965, Billboard’s answer to that question was definitely Stones. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was the highest selling 45 in the US for a solid month, until “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” came along. So, Beatles, Stones, or Herman’s Hermits?
It’s a little surprising that only one song on this list has the word “summer” in its title; it’s not surprising, however, that this song takes the spot. If you are making a movie that takes place during summertime in the late '60s and you don’t use this song, then you have no idea what you are doing.
Elsewhere, the summer of 1966 was really British: the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black”, the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer”, and the Troggs’ “Wild Thing” all reigned at the top of the charts.
The year 1967 was a psychedelic time: the Doors' “Light My Fire” stormed the charts. It was also an easy-going time: “Groovin’” by the Young Rascals was a number one hit for four weeks straight. Furthermore, it was also an upbeat time: “Windy” by the Association held number one for the same length of time. So how did a confusing country song about a teenage boy’s suicide reach the top of the charts? Perhaps the mystery of why Billy jumped, what he threw over the Tallahatchee Bridge, or if this was a true story or not propelled its success. Or, maybe, people just liked the way it sounded.
You can’t say that there wasn’t plenty of variety on the pop charts in 1968. The summer months saw Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”, the Doors' “Hello, I Love You”, and Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s in Love With You” all compete for chart space. But the artists formerly known as the Young Rascals racked up more weeks at the top with this pop anthem for peace and understanding, which became their biggest success.
You might be surprised to find that the biggest summer hit of the last year of the 1960’s was not the Beatles’ “Get Back”, the Rolling Stones’ “Honkey Tonk Women”, or even Zager and Evans “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”. Instead, it was the theme song for a Saturday morning cartoon.
The Archies may have just been cartoon characters, but the studio musicians Andy Kim (of “Rock Me Gently” fame), Ron Dante, and Toni Wine who comprised the “group” still had a highly rated TV series and the biggest selling single of the year. “Sugar, Sugar” went gold, selling over one million copies, not to mention the thousands more that were printed on the back of “Super Sugar Crisp” cereal boxes.