Can you believe it? The Marvelettes’ classic hit “Please Mr. Postman” came out 50 years ago, making its debut on the national charts in September of 1961. Five decades!
Just where have all these years gone? I guess time flies when you’re listening to good music.
A substantial number of major hits have reached their 50th birthday. One additional interesting aspect is that most of the songs do not seem that old, in part because they are still heard in various places, including certain radio stations, TV and radio commercials, people’s homes, etc.
Also, because of that exposure, younger people, who were born decades later, are familiar with them.
Of course, on the other side of the coin, quite a few of the songs loved by so many at the time have been buried in history. But that is no reflection on their ongoing value.
In a distant time and place, famed poet John Keats made the astute observation that “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
So it is with music. Let the music play, whether it’s old, new or somewhere in between.
THE SHIRELLES, the first female supergroup, had not one, not two, but three classic hits in 1961: “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Mama Said” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”
One of the most played and re-recorded songs of all time is “Stand By Me,” originally sung by Ben E. King. And the group he emerged from, the Drifters, also had several hits that year, including “I Count the Tears,” “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Please Stay.”
But Ben E. King had a second song in 1961 that became a classic — “Spanish Harlem,” with its clever lyrics and unique structure.
The legendary Ray Charles had one of the biggest hits of his long and amazing career that year with “Hit the Road, Jack.” He also scored with “Unchain My Heart,” among others.
Bobby Lewis, meanwhile, had the whole country “Tossin’ and Turnin’” and Gary U.S. Bonds created a party atmosphere with his festive and rollicking “Quarter to Three” and stayed in that groove with “School Is Out.”
The iconic Sam Cooke continued his winning ways with one of his most-loved songs, “Cupid.”
Down in Memphis, Carla Thomas recorded the lovely “Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes).” She soon became the queen of Stax Records, where her labelmates included Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG’s, Eddie Floyd and her father, Rufus Thomas.
Another very popular song in 1961 was “Raindrops” by Dee Clark.
THE MIRACLES had one of their many superhits that same year with “Shop Around,” which is now one of their signature songs. It was actually released at the tail end of 1960 but had the greater part of its chart life in 1961.
Gladys Knight & the Pips, who would later be welcomed into the Motown family by the Miracles, had their first hit with “Every Beat of My Heart,” followed by “Letter Full of Tears.”
A group from Brooklyn who called themselves the Jive Five had a major hit in 1961 with “My True Story.” You may have seen them on one of the PBS fundraiser music specials.
ARETHA FRANKLIN was several years away from being crowned the Queen of Soul, but she had two Top 10 R&B hits, “Won’t Be Long” and “Operation Heartbreak.”
Nineteen-sixty-one was also a great year for a very large number of pop, rock ’n’ roll and White R&B-based artists, including Elvis Presley (“Little Sister,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”), Roy Orbison (“Crying,” “Running Scared”) and the Everly Brothers (“Walk Right Back,” “All I Have To Do Is Dream”).
Also, the Capris (“There’s a Moon Out Tonight”), Dick and Dee Dee (“The Mountain’s High”), Rosie & the Originals (“Angel Baby”), Tony Orlando (“Bless You”), Bobby Vee (“Take Good Care of My Baby”) and Michigan’s own Del Shannon (“Runaway”).
Shep & the Limelites made a strong impact with “Daddy’s Home,” now recognized as a standard from that era and beyond. It was a Top 10 hit for Jermaine Jackson in 1972-73.
BY 1961, Chubby Checker had become the king of dance. “The Twist” had been No. 1 the previous year and sparked a dance craze. But then, in late ’61, the twist became a worldwide sensation and “The Twist” reached No. 1 — again.
“The Twist,” it should be noted, was originally recorded by Detroit’s own Hank Ballard & the Midnighters and was a major R&B hit.
Once the twist caught on, it was one dance after another, and Chubby Checker had three additional big hits in 1961: “Pony Time,” “The Fly” and “Let’s Twist Again.”
Ike & Tina Turner enjoyed the third of many hits that year with “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” and the Impressions had a smash with the hauntingly beautiful “Gypsy Woman.”
Gene McDaniels was as smooth as silk with a soul/pop hit that had a Biblical foundation, “A Hundred Pounds of Clay.” Then he clicked with “Tower of Strength.”
A number of novelty songs found their way into the upper levels of the charts in 1961, among them “Mother-In-Law” (Ernie K. Doe), “The Boll Weevil Song” (Brook Benton) and the Marcels’ drastically different interpretation of the famous Rodgers & Hard song “Blue Moon.”
And last but not least, a group with a name that fit the era, Little Caesar & the Romans, enjoyed Top 10 success with “Those Oldies But Goodies (Remind Me of You).”