I was too young in 1968–four years old–to be aware of the King and Kennedy assassinations, the Chicago Democratic National Convention, Nixon’s election, the unrest over the Vietnam War, or any of the other events from that tumultuous year. (I suspect my parents did what they could to shield my young ears from the news on the television.) The major thing that happened in my own life was our family’s move from La Grange to Stanford, as Dad had found a new pastorate there; September 4, a Wednesday, is the date that stuck in my head long ago for when that occurred.
Even if I haven’t taken many deep dives into the music of 1968, my impression of its pop scene is pretty positive. A few of the singles my father bought back then are amazing, while there’s one that doesn’t exactly strike me as one of the year’s best. I wish I could talk with him now to argue over (erm, I mean discuss) that selection.
Roger Miller, “Little Green Apples” (#39, April)
It’s funny. I’ve known the line, “It don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime,” for seemingly forever, but there isn’t a recording of this song that I recognize as being something I heard growing up. Miller’s version, in which he manages to sound both sleepy and lecherous, made the charts first, with a run that included three weeks at #40 and then three weeks at #39. O.C. Smith would reach #2 six months later. Martha says the take by the guy with the next song in this post is the one familiar to her. Bobby Russell won a Song of the Year Grammy for it.
But what’s up with that second verse? Guy begs for a lunch date with his wife, “knowin’ she’s busy,” and then makes her wait for him? Big power play there, but I guess maybe small potatoes compared to what Russell came up with in…
Bobby Goldsboro, “Honey” (#1, April)
Goldsboro had a syndicated television variety show for a couple of years starting in 1973. It was on for a while in the Cincinnati market–I believe it ran on the NBC affiliate between 7 and 8pm one night a week–and that may well be how I first encountered him. These years I think about him only when a rebroadcast is playing either “Watching Scotty Grow” (I confess that one can make me tear up a little) or “Summer (The First Time)” (ugh).
According to Wikipedia, “Honey” was the top-selling single worldwide in 1968; looks like the Harris household contributed to that ignominious result. I know mores and norms change, but there’s WAY too much laughing at, ignoring of, and crying by Honey–am I the only one who’s thinking she must have committed suicide?
Russell’s other big songwriting success was the highly illogical “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” (he was married to Vicki Lawrence at the time it was a hit). He died in late 1992, in Nicholasville, KY, which is about as far south of Lexington as Georgetown is north.
Percy Sledge, “Take Time To Know Her” (#11, May)
This was Sledge’s second biggest hit on the pop charts, though it’s not familiar to me at all. Our narrator’s mother and even the minister at the wedding could see trouble coming, but he didn’t suss it out until it was too late. Another one that doesn’t quite match what I thought was my father’s style, but I’m learning…
Mason Williams, “Classical Gas” (#2, August)
Nice piece. Might have been in college before I really gave it much mind. The flip side is the #96-peaking “Baroque-a-Nova,” which sounds at least a little like Williams’s big hit.
Jeannie C. Riley, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” (#1, September)
Jim Bartlett has written before (I’m paraphrasing) about songs that have just always been there in your life. “Harper Valley P.T.A.” is one of those for me (we may meet a few others along the way in future installments). This could well be because of Dad playing this 45 multiple times on our console hi-fi, but whatever the reason, hearing it still transports me to times and sensations of long, long ago. I 100% adore it: Riley’s twang and righteous anger, the details behind each board member’s waywardness, the multiple modulations. Phrases like “little nip of gin” and “the day my mama socked it to…” have never not been a part of my consciousness.
I won’t be able to keep up semi-themed posts in this series forever, but I think I have still got a few more to go before we get to the hodgepodge entries.