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1969 The year in music

Being fifty years ago, this year has of course received a lot of attention. While I'm no historian, I will go back to some of the moments in 1969 music history and some of  the songs that are still being covered today. A good indicator of popularity at the time is my oft used reference of the 'Billboard' charts. However as I've indicated several times in past posts some of the greatest songs of our time did not chart well at all and many a number one song has long been forgotten. While this year-end #1 Billboard Hot 100 song is a lot of fun, it's hardly one of the most enduring songs nor of such substance we'd choose to immortalize.

"Sugar, Sugar" performed by the 'Archies' and written by Andy Kim and Jeff Barry. The original 'Archies' are an American fictional band consisting of Archie Andrews, Reggie Mantle, Jughead Jones, Veronica Lodge, and Betty Cooper from the 'Archie' comics TV series. The people that actually sang the song where; the lead by Ron Dante (of the Cuff-Links) with main backing from Toni Wine. Additional backing vocals from; Jeff Barry, Andy Kim, Ellie Greenwich, Susan Morse, Ritchie Adams, Maeretha Stewart, Bobby Bloom and Lesley Miller. Covered surprisingly I think by some big names as well and in total nearly 100 times. Bob Marley & The Wailers (1969), Wilson Pickett (1970), Gladys Knight & The Pips (1975), Ike and Tina Turner (1977), Cornershop (2018).

The #2 song was "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" performed by the '5th Dimension' and written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni (lyrics) and Galt MacDermot (music). Written for the musical 'Hair' it was recorded in two separate studios (for the album release) then mixed together with backing from the legendary 'Wrecking Crew'. This controversial hippie Broadway play produced other great songs as well; "Easy to Be Hard" was covered by 'Three Dog Night' in 1969 it went to #4.

"Good Morning Starshine" has been covered about 70 times, Andy Williams with The Osmond Brothers (1969), Gary Lewis & The Playboys (1969) and Serena Ryder from her album 'If Your Memory Serves You Well' (2006) which is a collection of covers of classic songs from Canadian writers. Galt MacDermot, the music composer of the "Hair" songs was born in Montreal.

Rounding out the top five are "I Can't Get Next to You" at #3 by the Temptations, written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. Cover by Savoy Brown (1971), Annie Lennox (1995), The cast from 'Ain't Too Proud' (2019). "Honky Tonk Women" #4 which I talked about in The Rolling Stones post. In 1969 there was a tragic incident at a Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, California, a fan was stabbed to death by some Hells Angels hired to provide security for the event.  At #5 "Everyday People" by Sly and the Family Stone, written by Sly Stone. Covers by Joan Jett and The BlackheartsAretha Franklin and Jeff Buckley.

By contrast if we look at the UK Charts for 1969 we do see "Sugar Sugar" again at number one but the #2 song was The Beatles with "Get Back" written by Paul McCartney (this song was #25 on Billboard). "Honky Tonk Woman" was #3 vs #4 on Billboard. A great song at #4 was written and performed by Peter Sarstedt, "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)" which only charted #70 in May on Billboard. And at #5 a song written by Serge Gainsbourg for Bridget Bardot "Je T'Aime... Moi Non Plus" performed by Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg. A song literally too 'hot' for the Billboard Hot 100! Other great songs to chart in the UK and not in the US top 100 that year where; #9 "My Way" by Frank Sinatra, and some personal favorites at #18 Thunderclap Newman with "Something In The Air" , #21 Desmond Dekker & The Aces with "The Israelites" and #41 The Hollies "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother".

The premier music event of 1969 was of course 'Woodstock' held August 15-18 at Max Yasgur's 600-acre dairy farm near White Lake in Bethel, New York. While coincidentally just 70 km away from a place called Woodstock N.Y. this had nothing to do with the name, it was the investment group backing the concert called "Woodstock Ventures". Apparently they are still attempting to commemorate this event with a concert this year but 'they' have been running into a multitude of problems including sponsorship withdrawal. This often referenced music festival has never been duplicated and was a pivotal moment in Rock and Roll. With 32 acts performing there are too many to list here. One critical act that once signed allowed promoters to obtain additional 'big name' artists was 'Creedence Clearwater Revival'. Their set was from 12:30 am – 1:20 am on Sunday. John Fogerty was very unhappy with the performance (and the sleeping mud covered audience) so the 11 song CCR set does not appear in the film or on the official soundtrack. Many people who were not there didn't and still don't even realize CCR was part of the festival at all.

Also that year Elvis Presley had returned to live performances in Las Vegas and would chart #1 on November 1 with "Suspicious Minds" written by Mark James. The Beatles charted at #1 twice that year with "Get Back" (with Billy Preston) and "Come Together/Something". The two songs marked a new policy for Billboard as they began to combine single releases (45's) A and B sides together to qualify for chart standings for the first time. The Beatles performed live for the last time on the roof of the 'Apple Corps.' music studio on January 30th. John and Yoko would marry March 20th in Gibraltar. (R&O!)

Other notable events; 'The Who' released the 'Rock Opera' album 'Tommy' on May 23, June 28th marks the start of the Stonewall riots in New York City. The Isle of Wight Festival featured the likes of 'The Moody Blues', Bob Dylan, 'The Who' and 'The Band' August 30 & 31. Deep Purple and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra perform the first live 'Rock Opera's on September 24th. Simon & Garfunkel would have a stellar year of concerts and a TV special. One of the last albums released that year was one of the strangest and most bizzare ever, a fairly credible band known as Spooky Tooth and their lead guy Gary Wright were teamed up against their wishes (thanks to the Record label) with electronic music composer Pierre Henry and produced a career ending mess called 'Ceremony'. Shame of it is there's a pretty good album underneath the other crap from Pierre Henry and the band tried to separate themselves from this abomination of record production.

The last song to hit #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 weekly charts on December 27 was "Someday We'll Be Together" by Diana Ross & The Supremes, written by Johnny Bristol, Jackey Beavers and Harvey Fuqua. This would be the final 'Supremes' song before Diana Ross launched her solo career. You may not know this was a cover of 'Johnny & Jackey' from 1961, Johnny and Jackey being the above mentioned songwriters as well.

Images: Creator:Jac. de Nijs / Anefo
Credit:Nationaal Archief

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  1. OK - A lot happened this year! I had no idea that Sugar, Sugar was originally from The Archies! And I always wondered why it was called "Woodstock". I guess I could have just asked you :P


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