Some background to the songs
Originally this was going to be recorded by composer Carole King herself, till she changed her mind and offered it to Dusty Springfield. Dusty went on to have an international hit with the song and consequently, it is her version that is considered the most well-known. Many other artists have recorded it including The Byrds, Marianne Faithfull, Nils Lofgren, The Move, The New Seekers, The Pretenders, Diana Ross, Phil Collins and Bon Jovi as well of course as Carole King herself. Even Freddie Mercury had a crack at it.
Laughter in the Rain
Neil Sedaka; released in 1974, hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on 1 February 1975. The song also spent two weeks at the top of the adult contemporary chart.
By the 1970s it seemed like Neil Sedaka’s long and fruitful career was petering out. He’d hit stride in the early 1960s when he had 11 Top 40 hits in just three years. But after the Brits began their famous musical invasion – virtually zilch. Things had got so bad for him in America that initially, Laughter in the Rain was only released in England, on an album named with delicious irony Overnight Success. Fortunately, when Laughter finally got to the US it re-ignited Sedaka’s career and by 1977 he’d had six more Top-40 hits.
Personally I never liked his early doo-wop stuff and that unusual almost counter-tenor voice, but what he was doing about this time really rang bells. I saw him live in London a year or two back and he’s still got it!
First recorded by Simon & Garfunkel for their album Bookends released on 3 April 1968.
‘Kathy’ is Paul Simon’s long-time girlfriend Kathy Chitty – who also features in Kathy’s Song. At the time he and Kathy were ‘coming to America’ (moving from England).
Simon’s singing partner Garfunkel described this as “the most beautiful song Paul had ever written”.
Ahhh, the magic of the Greyhound.
I’m sure the reality is somewhat less romantic.
Released by The 5th Dimension in 1969, holding No. 1 slot on the US Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart for six weeks. Paired with Let The Sunshine In it became the first medley to top the American pop charts and was eventually certified platinum.
Aquarius was originally written for the 1967 rock opera Hair, which for some reason glorified young people who grew their hair out, protested against the US government and did very little else except drugs and sex.
Ah, those were the days.
But seriously – it’s kind of sad that the hope and idealism of the lyrics lasted about as long as it took for the next cultural fad to come along.
The Age of Aquarius is when the sun is in the constellation Aquarius during the springtime. The next time that this will happen is 2448.
San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)
I’ve paired Aquarius with this, one of the big hippie hits during the Summer Of Love in 1967. Many peace activists and folkies wore flowers in their hair.
It was written by John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas in 1967 to promote the Monterey Pop Festival which he was helping to organise The hit version was sung by Scott McKenzie.
The Times They Are a-Changin’
Also the title of Bob Dylan’s third studio album, released in January 1964. The title track is one of Dylan’s most famous; many felt that it “captured the spirit of social and political upheaval that characterized the 1960s”.
A self-conscious protest song, it is often viewed as “a reflection of the generation gap and of the political divide marking American culture in the 1960s”. Dylan, however, disputed this interpretation saying “Those were the only words I could find to separate aliveness from deadness. It had nothing to do with age.”
A friend visiting Dylan’s apartment in 1963 saw an early manuscript. After reading the words “come senators, congressmen, please heed the call”, the friend reportedly asked Dylan: “What is this shit, man?”, to which Dylan responded, “Well, you know, it seems to be what the people like to hear”. Certainly it was a very deliberate (dare we say commercial?) attempt to create an anthem of change for the moment.
He told an interviewer “This was definitely a song with a purpose. It was influenced of course by the Irish and Scottish ballads …’Come All Ye Bold Highway Men’, ‘Come All Ye Tender Hearted Maidens’. I wanted to write a big song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time.”
Last Train To Clarksville
Debut single of the manufactured-for-TV group The Monkees, released in August 1966. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 in November that year.
Clarksville Tennessee is the closest stop to Fort Campbell – home base for the 101st Airborne Division which served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. So essentially, Last Train to Clarksville is a protest song.
From those loveable Monkees?
The zany guys in US Army recruiting quickly spotted an opportunity and used the song in a film for new inductees. It played over a scene showing new recruits arriving and getting off the train. Apparently it always got a big laugh from the men watching…
I guess it depends on your sense of humour.
Written by Joni Mitchell and introduced by her in 1969.
The song was inspired by Mitchell’s room in the Chelsea neighbourhood of New York City.
The inspiration for the first verse comes partly from the distinct décor of her apartment. While in Philadelphia, Mitchell and friends had made a mobile from shards of collared glass they had found in the street and wire coat hangers, which filtered the light coming into her room through the window and created the “rainbow on the wall”.
During coffeehouse performances of this song in the late 1960s, Mitchell explained that the famous stained glass was rescued from the salvaged windows of a demolished home for unwed mothers.
Bill and Hillary Clinton have both said they named their daughter Chelsea while in the Chelsea area of London… they said the song Chelsea Morning by Judy Collins inspired them to do so.. they got it wrong …. On both counts!
Out In The Country
Written and sung by Paul Williams in 1972.
Paul is one of those artists better known for the songs he wrote for other acts. In fact if you’ve never heard of him, you’ve almost certainly heard some of his songs – including Three Dog Night’s An Old Fashioned Love Song, Helen Reddy’s You and Me Against the World, David Bowie’s Fill Your Heart, and the Carpenters’ We’ve Only Just Begun and Rainy Days and Mondays. Not forgetting his contributions to films, such as writing the lyrics to Evergreen, the love theme from A Star Is Born, starring Barbra Streisand, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Song; and Rainbow Connection from The Muppet Movie.
He also had a variety of high-profile acting roles in films including the highly successful 1977 action-comedy Smokey and the Bandit, and Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (which he also co-scored, receiving an Oscar nomination in the process), as well as television, theatre, and voice-over work for animation.
Recorded by The Temptations for Motown in 1965. Written and produced by The Miracles members Smokey Robinson and Ronald White, the song became the Temptations’ first US No. 1 single.
Robinson’s inspiration for the song was his wife, Miracles’ member Claudette Rogers Robinson.
It was also something of a partner for My Guy, the song Smokey had written for Mary Wells a year earlier.
Released by the British pop band The Hollies in 1966. It reached No. 5 in the UK Singles Chart and provided their first US hit, reaching No.5 on the Billboard charts.
Composer Graham Gouldman went on to form the band 10cc.
Graham Nash, a member of Hollies at the time, recalls “we had a manager named Michael Cohen and he says ‘You know, I got this little Jewish kid who lives down the street, he said he’s a song writer. Would you come and see him?’ His name was Graham Gouldman, and later became a very famous man in his own act, but at this time he was only a 16 year old kid. So we go in and we go ‘Ok, so what do you got?’ He goes, ‘Well, I got this one…’ and we went ‘Okay, we’ll definitely take that one. What else do you got?’ It was a truly and astounding thing to see this 16 year old kid who was a fabulous songwriter.”
I (Who Have Nothing)
First released in English by Ben E. King in 1963. Shirley Bassey’s melodramatic version later that year, which peaked at No. 6, is probably the best known in the UK although Tom Jones stole her thunder in the US, reaching No. 14 there.
I (Who Have Nothing) is actually based on an Italian song Uno Dei Tanti, music by Carlo Donida and lyrics by Giulio ‘Mogol’ Rapetti.
Uno Dei Tanti was released by Joe Sentieri in 1961. The English lyrics were written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who produced the Ben E. King record using the backing track from Joe Sentieri’s record. I guess that was a saving.
Since then it’s been covered by many artists including myriads of ‘search for the stars’ contestants.
My Eyes Adored You
This was originally recorded by The Four Seasons as a group in early 1974.
After their label balked at the idea of releasing it, Frankie Valli bought the rights and shopped it around various other labels. He finally found a taker but the owner of the label wanted only Frankie’s name on the label.
The song, finally released in the US in November 1974, became a huge hit (topping the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1975) and revived Valli’s career.
It’s Too Late
A song from Carole King’s 1971 album Tapestry. Toni Stern wrote the lyrics and King wrote the music. It was released as a single in April 1971 and reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts.
It won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1972, and the song is included on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
It actually started life as the B side of I Feel The Earth Move. But once DJs starting giving It’s Too Late equal airplay, people decided that was the track they preferred.
Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa
Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David this became a hit for Gene Pitney in 1963. Its success in the UK enabled Pitney to become an international star.
Jay and the Americans covered the song and Dusty Springfield did a version too.
In his biography of Bacharach, Michael Brocken says this song about a man who gives in to temptation was “originally intended as a hit in the cowboy vein as per Liberty Valance, but without a movie plot. Hal David was required to come up with his own ‘film noir.'” It is, he says, “a piece of American Gothic par excellence.”
Burt Bacharach loved the lyrics to this song too. “Just listen to 24 Hours from Tulsa,” he said in an interview. “Hal writes story lyrics, like a miniature movie.”
Absolutely reprehensible behaviour. This guy just cheated on his girlfriend,
is leaving her to run away with this new love,
and he is playing the victim? What’s with that?
You’ve Got Your Troubles
Written by Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook this became a No. 2 UK hit for The Fortunes in 1965.
Apparently it was used as a code by the 1960’s UK pirate station, Radio City. When the song aired, it meant the people at the station’s studio, an offshore fort on the Thames Estuary needed practical assistance from home base on land in Kent.
The Hungry Years
Features on the album of the same name released by Neil Sedaka in 1975. It’s been covered by many artists – The Captain and Tennille, Rita Coolidge, Andy Williams, Engelbert Humperdinck….
A song I came across while working with Simon – one he co-wrote with Fran Landesman. Fran was essentially a beat generation poet who moved over to song writing. Her work has been recorded by all sorts of celebrated jazz artists including Bob Dorough, Miles Davis, Georgie Fame, Richard Rodney Bennett and Dudley Moore.
Roberta Flack, Ricki Lee Jones, Gil Evans and Keith Jarrett all recorded her Ballad of the Sad Young Men while Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most continues to be a much sung, much recorded and much requested jazz standard
Fran and Simon met in 1994 and they remained collaborators till she died in 2011.
In 1996 the BBC received a number of complaints after Fran Landesman appeared on Desert Island Discs and requested a supply of cannabis seeds as her luxury item.
SONGS IN THE LIVE SET BUT NOT ON THE CD
Another Dylan song, it appeared in two versions (one slow, one uptempo) on his 1974 album Planet Waves. It’s blessing from a parent to a child – presumably his child, because Dylan had taken an extended break from touring and in that time, become a father.
Rod Stewart recorded a song entitled Forever Young that was released as a single and included on his Out of Order album in 1988. The song was remarkably similar to the Bob Dylan song of the same title, sharing not only a similar melody but many of the same lyrics. Stewart agreed to share his royalties with Dylan.
Most recently (2009) it was remixed by will.i.am for a Pepsi commercial.
From Joni Mitchell’s third album, Ladies Of The Canyon, released in 1970. It was one of her early signature songs and the recording featured background vocals from Crosby, Stills Nash and Young.
The song has quite a history: in her late teens or early twenties, before she got famous, Joni bore a daughter out of wedlock. It was a time when unwed mothers were practically shunned. She gave the baby up for adoption and no one in Joni’s family ever knew about it, till decades later.
The older women of her family, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, had sacrificed their hopes, dreams and creativity for husbands and children, at times leading lives of hard work and drudgery. Joni wanted to rise above that and allow her creative side to develop, not just for herself but as a tribute to those women who came before her.
At midlife, Joni and her daughter reunited. Joni never had another child.
Apparently an older woman sang this at her own concert, and afterward Joni went back stage to meet with her. Without telling the woman that she was the writer, Joni said, “Wow, it sounds so much better when an older person sings it.” (Clearly there’s hope for me yet!) The woman seemed offended, but Joni laughs at this now.
Summer (The First Time)
This 1973 reminiscence of a 17-year-old boy’s first sexual experience with a 31-year-old woman was a Top 20 hit in the US and reached No. 9 in the UK. It was at one point apparently voted the all-time greatest summer song in England’s history.
For all that, the song was suggestive enough to spark some controversy.
Written and introduced by Bobby Goldsboro who, amongst other things, was Roy Orbison’s guitarist for several years. He wrote a number of other hits, including the tearjerker Honey, had his own TV show in the US and is now, apparently an ‘accomplished’ oil painter.
Apparently the song is a true story in Bobby’s life. It is supposed to have happened in 1958 when he was 17, most likely in the panhandle of Florida since Bobby was born in the area.
Released by The Kinks in 1967. Reached No. 2 in the UK and was a top 10 hit in Europe and Australasia. Failed to make any headway at all in the US.
The lyrics, describing a solitary narrator watching (or imagining) two lovers passing over a bridge, are rumoured to have been inspired by the romance between two British celebrities of the time, actors Terence Stamp and Julie Christie.
Composer Ray Davies denied this in his autobiography and claimed in a 2008 interview, “It was a fantasy about my sister going off with her boyfriend to a new world and they were going to emigrate and go to another country. It’s about the two characters – and the aspirations of my sisters’ generation who grew up during the Second World War and missed out on the 60’s. It’s about the world I wanted them to have. That, and then walking by the Thames with my first wife and all the dreams that we had.”
It was originally called Liverpool Sunset but was changed after the Beatles released their own tribute to the town, Penny Lane.