The Hottest Hit In The World!
“I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ by The Beatles
It’s quite perfect really, that I’m starting my coverage of the 60s at the beginning of 1964, with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, with the arrival of The Beatles, and thus the supposed beginning of the 60s proper. Everything before that – as great as it was and all – was, I dunno, the Poppy Kennedy Interzone?
A good time then to ponder, what was it exactly that The Beatles – specifically the early “yeah, yeah, yeah” Beatles – brought to the table?
As any glance of an early Beatles lyric sheet will prove, it certainly wasn’t the lyrics. Any Brill Building teen pop hit you can name – “He’s A Rebel” for example, or “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” or even “My Boyfriend’s Back” – is Shakespeare compared to “Love Me Do.”
And it certainly wasn’t sex. As Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick complained, in the rock’n’roll history series Dancing In The Street…
(a great series, infinitely more entertaining that Netflix’s This Is Pop, even if the documentary voice-overs are a little pompous.)
“When I first saw The Beatles I thought, ‘aren’t they a little old to be having bowl cuts… “I Wanna Hold Your…” come on, please, you wanna dick her! You wanna hold her hand at age 25? It’s a little too cute.”Grace Slick
Grace Slick may have sung on “We Built This City.” But she raises some valid points.
The Beatles of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” were virtually sexless. Even compared to the teen idols that came before them – and especially compared to the girl groups – their songs, or at least their lyrics, were remarkably chaste.
I mean, even “It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore – of whom more about below – involves a scenario in which Johnny and Judy are, at the very least, giving each other a tongue-bath.
Was it the hair? Brian Wilson seemed to feel more threatened by The Beatles haircuts than their music.
He claimed that “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” wasn’t even that good a record – complaining that The Beatles made the Beach Boys look more like gold caddies than rock’n’roll stars.
Was it the one-liners?
When The Beatles in America arrived on February 7th 1964 they held a press conference. One of the reporters asked how they felt about people saying they were nothing but four Elvises – I’m not sure why this was framed as an insult, surely four Elvises are better than one? – and Ringo went straight into a freaky Elvis dance whilst protesting “that’s not true, that’s not true!” Funny guy, that Ringo.
There were also a lot of stupid questions about their hair:
I guess that leaves the energy levels.
The energy levels on those early Beatles records were exhilaratingly high! The early Beatles primary contribution to pop was primarily raising the bar of how exciting pop music could be, and how excited a band could sound to be playing it!
The Beatles seem to be playing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” as if they are excited about the very fact that they were in The Beatles.
Brian Epstein claims he told Paul and John to write a song for the American market. Quite what that means, I don’t know. But “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” seems perfectly engineered for teenage girls to scream along too.
Complete with designated – “I can’t hide, I Can’t Hide, I CAN’T HIIIIIDDDDEEE!!!!!!”- scream along moments! A lot of the early Beatles records would have that.
Given all of that, the famous Ed Sullivan performance is surprisingly, and ironically, lacklustre- and I’m pretty sure John’s singing is flat.
Although it’s nice to see that the screaming of The Beatles demographic stretched from gum-chewing nerdettes, all the way through to middle-aged pearl-necklace-wearing politician’s wives:
The studio version was obviously better. What it lacks in screaming girls, it more than makes up for in background handclaps:
“I Wanna Hold Your Hand” is a 10.
Meanwhile in Surfing Land:
“Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen
I am constantly confusing “Surfin’ Bird” with “Wipeout” by The Surfaris. It’s stupid, I know. The two songs have little in common.
“Wipeout” has only one word. Plus an evil laugh.
“Surfin’ Bird” has many words, even if many of those words are the same word. You know what word that is don’t you? I don’t need to tell you?*
I’m sure Duane would have been a surf guitarist if he had grown up in California. But he didn’t. He was an Arizona boy – not a lot of surfing done down there – so country-twanging would be his lot. Anyway, if you’d ever wondered who it was humming and hollering in the background of “Rebel Rouser?”
Apparently, it’s The Rivingtons:
So, The Rivingtons had a hit with “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow.” Which they describe in the song as “the funniest sound (they) ever heard.” And then they recorded another song called “The Bird Is The Word.”
Which was basically the same song. So much the same in fact, that The Trashmen seamlessly stuck them together, despite not being aware they were sung by the same band! It was simply obvious that those two songs belonged together:
Not only did The Trashmen stick the two songs together, they also sped the whole thing up until it virtually ceased to resemble music. It also ceased to resemble anything even close to sense.
What does make sense however is that The Trashmen would make a record about a surfing bird that has nothing to do with surfing. After all, they did come from Minnesota. Not a lot of surfing done up there.
“Surfin’ Bird” is a 9.
*It’s “bird.” “Bird” is the word. Why is “bird” the word? Based on the artwork to The Rivingtons’ record, “the bird” is of course, like so many things in the early 60s, a dance. It seems to be far more complicated than Mr. Trashman’s version, which is just flapping your arms and running around in a circle.
Meanwhile in One Hit Wonder Land:
“Popsicles & Icicles” by The Murmaids.
How much of a one-hit wonder were The Murmaids?
Well, they only did one TV performance. One of the Murmaids – Terry – thinks they may have done two. Also, only one concert. So, chances are, although you’ve probably heard this “Mr. Sandman”-esque confection your entire life, you probably have no idea what The Murmaids look like. Unless you live in Los Angeles. Although even then, probably not.
I am disappointed to report that they were not literal murmaids. Nor do they appear to have dressed up as murmaids in either of their rumoured television performances.
No. Instead, they were three teenage girls from North Hollywood, two of whom were sisters, children of some mid-level show-biz parents. Or at least that’s who The Murmaids were on their one hit.
There are other Murmaids records with completely different girls. File it under record company dickery. It will not surprise you to learn that they also did not earn any royalties.
Neither were they informed when their record became first a national, and then an international, hit.
“Popsicles & Icicles” are amongst the collection of interests and hobbies that The Murmaids’ boy is into. Those are two slightly surprising interests to have. Popsicles, I kind of get. But icicles? In Southern California? How did he have access to icicles in Southern California? Did he mention his love of icicles in his dating profile?
The result of his interests are pretty standard though: baseball, Levis, and drive-ins on Friday night.
All this: The Murmaids sing as though they are having a tea party with their dolls. I almost expect them to inform us that boys are made of slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails.
“Popsicles & Icicles” is a 6.
Sometimes I confuse “Popsicles & Icicles” with the far, far, far perkier, “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” (it’s a 9) by our next artiste…
Meanwhile In Feminist Anthem Land :
“You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore
Lesley Gore needed to reclaim her narrative.
Before “You Don’t Own Me”, Lesley’s narrative had been defined by her relationship with that cheating-arsehole Johnny. Also with Johnny’s extremely brief relationship with that stuck-up bitch Judy.
And sure, if it’s your party, and if you want to cry, you should be able to cry, if you want to. And sure, Lesley had gotten her own back on skanky-ho Judy in “Judy’s Turn To Cry”, because Johnny came back to Lesley. But that’s only after Lesley had kissed “some other guy,” at which point, Johnny hit, “some other guy.” Why? “Because he still loves me, that’s why!”
Sadly, this did not lead to an additional sequel in which “some other guy” cries because he’s just been hit by Johnny for kissing Lesley. A song which would probably go like this:
“Last night I went to a party, and I kissed Les-i-ley Gore,
But then Johnny came up and punched me, and now my face is sore.
Because I’m…. just some other guy, just some other guy, just some other guy…”Not Lesley Gore – 2024
After all of that, Lesley has now come to the realization that she’s in a terribly toxic relationship and that she needs to be her own woman. That she needs to define herself as something other than just one of Johnny’s “many toys: a line that suggests that Johnny wasn’t just sneaking around with Judy! How many girls was this guy dating at one time?!?!?
That Lesley is about to lay down some uncomfortable truth-bombs is evident from the extremely foreboding first note. Johnny had better be careful. Lesley’s first demand?
“Don’t tell me I can’t go with other boys.” Lesley, it appears, wants an open relationship.
At some point however, Lesley’s demands become something bigger than just her relationship with Johnny. “You Don’t Own Me” swells up to address Lesley’s relationship with the world!
Because she’s young! And she loves to be young! She’s free! And she loves to be free!
Whilst certainly not the world’s first feminist anthem – not in a world where Kitty Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” exists, not to mention the entire 1920s vaudeville blues scene – it was the first by a Baby Boomer, and that’s not nothing.
Particularly given how satisfying it is to hear Lesley kicking that bad boy Johnny to the curb. Even if she’s still obviously dating him.
“You Don’t Own Me” is a 10.
Meanwhile in Soul Land:
“Um Um Um Um Um Um” by Major Lance
Major Lance’s real name was Major Lance.
Imagine being born with a name like Major Lance! Imagine how that would feel! There’s no way you wouldn’t walk everywhere with a strut!
Major was good friends with Curtis Mayfield, who had already made a bunch of hit records with The Impressions and was already very clearly a genius. I mean, hell, he’d already written “Gypsy Woman.”
Curtis had also already written “Um Um Um Um Um Um.”
Curtis didn’t want to sing “Um Um Um Um Um Um” though, and you can kind of understand why. Curtis’ honeyed tones would simply be wasted just humming like that.
Also because: “Um Um Um Um Um Um” is silly. It makes no sense.
In some ways Curtis has always reminded me of his spiritual descendent, Speech from 90s hippy hip-hop collective Arrested Development. Both had a very similar way of looking at the world. In “Mr Wendal” for example – one of Arrested Development’s biggest hits – Speech doesn’t just assume that a crazy homeless man is a crazy homeless man.
Instead, Speech decides to become friends with “Mr Wendal”, so that he can learn from him:
Curtis doesn’t go that far on “Um Um Um Um Um Um.” But he does sit down next to a guy moaning “Um Um Um Um Um Um”, over and over again, and he asks him what it all means? The guy just moans “Um Um Um Um Um Um” once more. This does not clarify matters.
Finally however, Curtis – or Major singing the words of Curtis singing the words of the guy moaning on a bench – understands. A woman has broken the moaning guy’s heart.
This is some dark stuff for such a cheery song.
“Um Um Um Um Um Um” is a 7.
What a fascinating time to have been alive!
To hear these, and other 60s hits, tune into DJ Professor Dan’s Twitch stream on Wednesdays at 8pm (Melbourne time), 9am London time, 1am L.A. time (technically Tuesday, but really Monday), middle of the night New York time!!!
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