The First 10 (Or So) Songs I Loved

If you were going to have a special attachment to the music of any one year, 1967 would be a good one to choose. I like to think that you didn’t have to be there to recognize 1967 as a special moment. It doesn’t take much more than a litany of song titles to make the case. But I was there, and 1967 was the year that I became aware of what was on the radio.

The first current song I remember my father bringing home for me is “Bang Bang” by Cher. That song was a hit in spring 1966, when I would have been 3-1/2. In the fall of that year, I started to be vaguely cognizant of what was on the charts. The Washington Star published a compilation of local top 10 lists, so I knew the titles, but I didn’t always have actual songs to match them with.

Sometime in late December/early January 1967, that changed and I became very aware of what was on R&B powerhouse WOL Washington, D.C., the station where my father was based as public affairs director for the Sonderling chain of R&B stations. WOL is one of the indisputably great radio stations of all time — certainly as influential in both that market and the industry as WPGC was 20 years later. And I still remember Dad showing me this playlist from the station for the first week of 1967.

Throughout life, “What was your first single?” was a common icebreaker question, not just among similarly afflicted music lovers. It was a cultural touchstone for which you could expect anybody of a certain age to have an answer. What propelled you into geekdom was how many other songs you had a similar attachment to. Or for whether you had a specific place memory attached to almost every song.

I always answered that “Bang Bang” was my first single, but I always amended that with “but the first single I ever wanted for myself was … ” For years, I remembered that song as “Expressway to Your Heart” by the Soul Survivors, which certainly would have been a good one: an early showcase for producers Gamble & Huff; an early example of the power of songwriting metaphor, although the king of metaphors, Smokey Robinson, was himself extra-productive that year. But “Expressway” was fall ’67, and I’d been piling up singles on my parents’ sideboard for nine months at that point.

I began putting together a timeline of the songs that started it all for me — the first 10 (or so) important songs in my life. There are filters here. I heard more R&B radio than Top 40, at least at the outset. I tell people I knew who the Supremes were before the Beatles, by at least a few months, beginning in January with “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone.” The haunting spoken bridge made a particular impact on me at that age; perhaps Taylor Swift heard it many years later as well. As for the Beatles, I understood by year’s end that they were more than just another group, but I didn’t care about Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, not for at least a year. Friends of my parents bought me “All You Need Is Love” and I exchanged it for “You Know What I Mean” by the Turtles.

Also, I was 4-1/2 years old. The pop music I liked was mostly from that moment when garage rock was morphing into bubblegum. It was the music likely to be enjoyed by a little kid. And that goes even for the R&B song that I now believe to have been truly the first 45 RPM single that I wanted for myself.

Young Holt Trio, “Wack Wack” (January) – If you know them, it’s more likely for “Soulful Strut,” the later instrumental (as Young Holt Unlimited) that became a crossover hit, and was the basis of “Am I the Same Girl,” which endured into this century as a Smooth Jazz staple (until smooth jazz no longer endued). I’m sure the initial attraction to this song was that I thought they were saying “quack quack.”

Freddy Scott, “Are You Lonely for Me” (January) –Writer/producer/label magnate Bert Berns has gotten his due in books and documentaries lately, but I always knew who he was. One of the most devastating songs ever; the second verse, or thinking about the second verse, might choke me up in a public place even now. I understood this song immediately on some level as adult regret, even before I knew what that would be.

Aretha Franklin, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” (March) – “Respect” is the one that endures at radio; one of the few songs from that era that does. I would never deny it, or want to, but this was first and had more personal impact. The greatness of the song is in its build — from an opening as low-key as any of today’s EDM ballads — to an explosive moment at the end of the bridge and on the fade that is in no way showy. You don’t hear it coming because she gets there so effortlessly.

Music Explosion, “Little Bit o’ Soul” (May) – Sometime in late spring/early summer, we went to Chicago and I ended up watching a TV show called Kiddie A-Go-Go, a junior variant on American Bandstand on Channel 26.  Suddenly I had that second category of music: garage-meets-bubblegum. I could have easily put “Come On Down to My Boat” by Every Mother’s Son on this list. You may not connect it to the Aretha song in any way, but it also has a great end-of-the-bridge moment, which becomes a constant for songs I like throughout life. Watching that TV show daily for a week or so also gave me “Words” by the Monkees, which has made a few appearances in recent writings, partially because it also followed another Washingtonian through life.

Association, “Windy” (May) – Also a song I learned from Channel 26 (which, these days, is the flagship of the Me-TV network and playing many of the same songs on its very successful deep-oldies outlet, Me-TV FM Chicago). Impressive to me at the time for the harmonies at the end and for how they modulated on the fade, long before I could have described either of those things, of course.

Parliaments, “(I Wanna) Testify” (July) Back in D.C. and listening to WOL again. In most places, this wasn’t a crossover smash. In Washington and Detroit, it was as big as any record could be. And it would happen that when the Parliaments became Parliament/Funkadelic, Detroit and D.C. would be their biggest markets as well.

Frenchy & the All-Stars, “Rock-A-Cha” (July) – Then there was this, the first appearance of a truly local record in my world, on D.C.’s CapCity label. I remember it from WOL and from Teenarama Dance Party, an R&B Bandstand variant on local TV. Like “Wack Wack,” this is from that moment when Latin jazz and R&B were intersecting. So obscure that after I lost or destroyed my first copy, it took 20 years and a trip to a collectors’ store in Johnstown, Pa., to replace it.

Temptations, “You’re My Everything” (July)With a Lot o’ Soul is practically a Temptations greatest-hits album — “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” “All I Need,” “(Loneliness Made Me Realize) It’s You That I Need.” But this is the one that became my wedding song.

Jeanne & the Darlings, “How Can You Mistreat the One You Love” (August) – Another collectors’ oddity, thanks to WOL. I didn’t own this one until it showed up on the Stax/Volt Records box set two decades later. Writers Isaac Hayes & David Porter had no shortage of Memphis greatness in 1967 — Sam & Dave, “Soul Man”; Carla Thomas, “B-A-B-Y” — but even the second tier made an impact for me.

And here we are, more than 10 songs and they’re all before “Expressway to Your Heart” in September. It’s hardly an exhaustive list of personal favorites. There’s also Esquires, “Get On Up”; Four Tops, “Standing in the Shadows of Love” and “Bernadette”; Robert Knight, “Everlasting Love”; Arthur Conley, “Sweet Soul Music”; John Roberts, “Sockin’ (1-2-3-4)”; Buckinghams, “Don’t You Care” (another end-of-the-bridge moment); Strawberry Alarm Clock, “Incense & Peppermints.” In my iTunes, there are about 425 songs from 1967 alone.

  1. BillShane says

    It’s funny, when I first saw the headline for this story, I thought “who gives a s*** about Sean’s 1st Top 10 songs, but I hypnotically followed the story. I loved the article. Sure, part of it is about Sean’s top 10 list as a little kid, but I’m sure the purpose of the story is to have each of us think about what our top 10 list was when we were little kids. Now, I was not affected by music when I was 3 or 4 or even 8. Although I heard songs on the radio, they just didn’t creep into my world of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. But at age 9, somehow The Playmates made it into my head with “Wait For Me” a song that was played on New York City radio, but didn’t fair all that well on the Hot 100 (peaked at #37). I never bought the record, but Jimmy Dean tunneled his way into my brain with “Big Bad John” one year later and it turned out to be the first record I ever bought. From that day, I was off and running with music at the top of my list. My point is that Sean’s story is, in a way, probably everybody’s story. As it is, I did read with keen interest the songs Sean picked. You’re about 13 years younger than me, but a couple of the tunes you mentioned were also favorites of mine. Thanks for the trip Sean.

  2. wtk says

    A delightful and insightful column. My 1959 was the equivalent of Sean’s 1967, thanks to WEEP/Pittsburgh, a 1-kw daytimer that somehow held its own for years against the Top 40 big boys, KQV and KDKA. I was 6 that year, and while “my” first single was bought some time earlier (it may have been “Melodie d’Amour” by the Ames Brothers), the first that qualifies as rock ’n’ roll probably was 1959’s “Lucky Ladybug” by Billy and Lillie. In 1959 I started following and collecting the “WEEP Sheet,” and can go down a list — “Kansas City,” “Since I Don’t Have You,” “Sleep Walk,” “There Goes My Baby,” “Mr. Blue” — that includes, courtesy of WEEP and a local furniture store that ordered from its playlist, some relative obscurities: “Miss Rubberneck Jones” by Titus Turner (King), “Midnight Stroll” by The Revels (Norgolde) and my very favorite 1959 record to this day, “So Weak” by Jessie and the Sequins (Profile). I wasn’t lucky enough to have a dad who brought home records from work, but at least I had parents who indulged this kind of thing.

  3. borderblaster says

    Great topic, and I may have 2 answers. I credit my parents’ love of music for getting me started. My mom, who graduated in 1954 just before the seismic change in 1955 which brought Elvis, Chuck Berry, and all the greats. One of the 45s she handed down to me was Domenico Modugno’s “Nel Blu Di Pinto Di Blu (Volare):” Another was “Beechwood 4-5789.
    I clearly remember WOWO in Fort Wayne as the first radio station I listened to regularly, and though it was the news/farm/sports/personality full service station, instead of MOR crooners, it played the top 40. I first took notice of songs like “The Birds and the Bees”-Jewel Aiken, “Barbara Ann”-The Beach Boys, “My Boyfriend’s Back”-The Angels to name 3. I heard my first Beatles, Stones, Dave Clark 5, Four Seasons and Tommy James & the Shondells records on WOWO, along with Frank and Nancy Sinatra, and “Winchester Cathedral”. The real love came, like you Sean, in 1967. That year we moved from a small town in Indiana to a small town in Ohio, though still in WOWO’s big signal, also brought a new sound, playing out of the speakers at our local park and pool all day long. That was “Fun Radio 8″….soon to be “The Big 8 CKLW”. That’s where I first really discovered the Motown Sound and other soul. I bought the aforementioned “With A Lot O” Soul” with my very own allowance money. So I’ll also claim 1967 and these songs:

    More Love-Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
    You’re My Everything-Temptations
    San Francisco-Scott McKenzie
    Society’s Child-Janis Ian
    Blue’s Theme-Davie Allan and the Arrows
    Al Kent-You’ve Got to Pay the Price
    Stevie Wonder-I Was Made to Love Her
    Association-Never My Love
    Smokey Robinson and the Miracles-I Second That Emotion
    Bob Seger-Heavy Music

    “CKLW Motown Sound”

  4. ptocdj says

    Growing up near Philadelphia, and until I got my own personal radio, I was pretty much relegated to what Mom and Dad lsitened to on the old WIP. I grew up on a steady diet of Steve & Eydie, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee. The those 10 little transistors discovered WFIL and WIBG and my world was transformed. To this day, I believe Robert Knight’s “Everlasting Love” to be the perfect pop song, replete with fake strings, horns, background vocalists, bongos, a steady piano melody and even a triangle. It’s on my Top 10, along with:
    Baby, You’re A Rich Man – Beatles
    The Letter – Box Tops
    Light My Fire – Doors
    Expressway To Your Heart – Soul Survivors
    Sally Sayin’ Something – Billy Harner (still percolatin’ in South Jersey)
    Ode To Billie Joe – Bobbie Gentry
    You’re My Everything – Temptations
    Let’s Get Lost On A Country Road – Kit Kats (at that time, there were still a lot of country roads in South Jersey to get lost on)
    Carrie-Anne – The Hollies
    Great topic, Sean…keep ’em coming.

  5. Beachguy says

    DDamn, you nailed it, Sean. My list of songs may be a bit different, but 1967 was the very best, and I’ve always said so. I loved 1974 as well, but it was way behind 1967. As a 13 year old , I was listening to “The Mighty 690 WTIX” and 1060 WNOE in the Louisiana backwater town we lived in for a brief time. I remember always loving the radio when the Collins Twins were on WNOE- no other memory about them, though, other than their names and really liking them. And WTIX was the gorilla on the street. No other station sounded more like New Orleans than WTIX- how many other stations would play The Meters with “Hey Pocky Way” or “Cissy Strut?”

    Just mention “1967’s music” and you get a smile instantly from me. What a GREAT music year!

  6. BillyGTexas says

    Besides all the Disneyland, Peter Pan and other childrens records my parents bought me (that I quickly trashed on a cheap phonograph) the first Top 40 song I heard on the radio and wanted a copy of was the Turtles “Happy Together” in 1967 or 1968. I was either in kindergarten or first grade, so thats a pretty sophisticated choice. I was growing up in Goleta California and might have heard them on KIST or KACY, maybe in my parents car. I wish I was a radio nut then, so I could have listened to all the great LA stations in their prime. Some of my early favorites were “Come Together” by the Beatles (the first Beatles 45 I ever bought), The Ventures “Hawaii Five-O”, The Electric Indian’s “Keem-O-Sabe” and the Archies “Sugar Sugar” (it was the golden age of bubblegum).

  7. paxman356 says

    My first records were Eurythmics “Here Comes The Rain Again” and Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl”. I had to return the Billy Joel song because of a scratch, and I hate the whole album to this day.

    But picking a first 10 favorite songs? That’s hard. I can remember two that really stand out, because of the situation I listened them in. The first would be Diana Ross’s “Upside Down”. I was doing a little weekend homework, and listening to the radio while I did. I had heard the song several times before and knew the lyrics. I was singing along when my father came up and joked about how he wished I would spend as much time memorizing homework as I did lyrics to songs. Since the lyrics just came natural to me, I fired back, “But dad, then I would fail because I didn’t spend enough time!”

    The second in Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen”. My brother had a room in the back of the basement. The local radio station, U93, was always playing, and that song played often.

    It’s a blur after that. I’d have to consult charts and other things to figure out what fell where.

  8. BillShane says

    One other thing I neglected to mention was the stations I was listening to back in the early-mid 60’s. NYC had 4 top 40 stations for about 2 years: 570 WMCA “Home of the good guys.” 770 WABC “All-American.” 1010 WINS home of Murray The K who penned himself the 5th Beatle in 1963 and finally 1030 WMGM. I don’t remember what they called themselves. WMGM was the first of the four to abandon the format as they reverted to old call letters WHN. Thank God for transistor radios back then.

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