Top Five: 1966 Mix Tape
Looking back, the top five songs from the Billboard chart during this week in 1966 wouldn't be a bad start for a '60s mix tape, really.
1. "96 Tears"/? and the Mysterians. This record is now recognized as an important ancestor of punk rock, but it started life as a poem called "Too Many Teardrops," which was eventually set to music (that eerie, Morse-code organ) and recorded in the living room of the band's manager. Back in those days, one hardworking person could get a record on the radio, which is precisely what Question Mark did--he went from station to station in Michigan to get them to play it. When one of the big stations in Detroit picked it up, so did a national record company, and the song was on its way to legendary status.
2. "Last Train to Clarksville"/Monkees. This song, inspired by the Beatles' "Paperback Writer," hit the charts the same week The Monkees TV show was first shown on NBC (the same week Star Trek also premiered). For something intended to be disposable entertainment, it's incredibly well-made. You'd have to put this and "Pleasant Valley Sunday" high on the list of '60s artifacts that get no respect.
3. "Reach Out I'll Be There"/Four Tops. "Black Dylan," Phil Spector is said to have called this. When I was standing in the control room at Motown's Detroit headquarters, now the Motown Museum, what gave me the deepest chill was the thought that this record was recorded there.
4. "Poor Side of Town"/Johnny Rivers. I heard Johnny Rivers singing a version of "Secret Agent Man" on a Walmart TV ad the other day, and it made me want to go and get out some of his other stuff to wash away the memory of the Walmart jingle. This was the biggest hit of Rivers' career, so it's a good place to start.
5. "Walk Away Renee"/Left Banke. The Left Banke's thing was pop music influenced by light classical, which seemed like a good idea only in a brief window of time after the British Invasion and before Sgt. Pepper made it possible for rock music to be classical on its own. Later on in the '60s and early 1970s, rock/classical fusions would get heavy and pompous, but "Walk Away Renee" was definitely not.
After those five, you could flesh out the mix tape with songs from Revolver, which was riding the album charts the same week along with the Monkees' and Mamas and the Papas' debut albums and Supremes A-Go-Go (but only "You Can't Hurry Love"). Also high on the album charts: the soundtrack from Doctor Zhivago and What Now My Love by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I'm guessing nobody owned them all.