The Hits of 1964: Moptops and Girl Groups

Hearing the History: the Songs of 1964

1964 was the year of Lyndon Johnson, Vietnam, and the Beatles. Sure, other things happened that year, very important things, but history decided to gang up on '64 in a big way, and it was a big year in many ways. An attack on American ships by Vietmnamese torpedos in the Gulf of Tonkin resulted in a Congressional declaration of war, and the War in Vietnam was officially on. Johnson was re-elected by a landslide later in the year, but before that he started the war on poverty and approved the civil rights amendment after death and violence had brought the whole country to a realization that it had to stop. And a rock and roll group from the seaside port city of Liverpool England became the world's darlings, and took America by storm. We didn't know what hit us until it was too late.

What happened in 1964's Music?
Somehow - no doubt due to sinister machinations and manipulations in back rooms and places of power all over the world - it wasn't just the Beatles that hit it big, but a whole list of English groups who washed up on our shores. It was a genuine invasion that would never be repeated because it was a one-time event, a watershed in the history of pop music. A look at the top 5 songs world-wide really tells the most of the story of the year. The Beatles had #1,# 4 and #5, Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman was #2, and a cover by the Animals of an old song  - House of the Risin' Sun - was #3. Bob Dylan had done that tune on his first album in 1961, and the Animals' version was essentially a rock and roll copy of his arrangement. But he wasn't worried, because he had his own thing going. Dylan released 2 albums during 1964, as did the Beatles (or maybe 3 - it was a weird year), and the Supremes. It was a year for the musical history books, that's for sure.

The Fab Four
On February 7, 1964, the four long-haired lads arrived at Kennedy Airport and were greeted by the advance battalion of the Beatlemania army. The word "Beatlemania" and images of thousands of screaming fans (mostly girls, it must be said) were soon common knowledge to anyone who watched TV in America - which means just about everyone. While parents and Sunday school teachers shook their heads in dismay, young people knew a good thing when they saw and heard it. Over 3 successive weekends in February, the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan's variety show. If there was anyone who hadn't heard of the English moptops, they  had no choice after that historic run of shows. During the year the group released 2 albums, had 13 singles on Billboard's Hot 100 charts at the same time, had the top 5 of the top 40 American singles, and paved the way for an invasion of hairy Brits.

Those Other Englishmen
English groups that released albums in 1964 included the Rolling Stones (their first - it took them a while to catch up with their buddies), the Animals (with their worldwide smash about the best little whorehouse in New Orleans), the Dave Clark Five, the Hollies, Peter and Gordon (who had a hit with Lennon-McCartney's World Without Love), Gerry and the Pacemakers (a group from Liverpool, too!), the Kinks, Manfred Mann, Herman's Hermits, Freddy and the Dreamers, and the Yardbirds. And it was only the beginning of the British Invasion.

The Supremes Do It Supremely
The fledgling Motown label, with the crack songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland on board, showed the world what true talent and teamwork could do. In a way, the Supremes were an evolutionary step forward from what Phil Spector had done with the Ronettes, the Crystals, and other female studio recording groups. But the Supremes were a real group, they had Diana Ross, a real personality and telegenic singer,  and they were singing fantastically catchy pop songs that sounded like Spector's records sounded, but better. When their second album, Where Did Our Love Go was released, they made history by having 3 top of the chart number ones from the same album, and having the highest rank reached by an all-female group. In short order, everyone who listened to the radio and bought records knew what the Motown sound was, and they liked it. It stayed on the Billboard charts for 89 consecutive weeks, another record-setting achievement. Safe to say that if the Beatles hadn't arrived, it would have been the year of the Supremes.

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