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.