In case you haven't noticed, since Oct. 6, 2012 (the 50th anniversary of the release of "Love Me Do"), we've been on a half-century celebration cycle in which we are scheduled to relive every Beatles innovation, every release of the Beatles' landmark career in real time, right until the inevitable 50th anniversary of their breakup in 2020. Until that day comes, no day will pass that isn't The 50th Anniversary of Something.
Myself, I'm of the opinion that people who don't like the Beatles probably don't like kittens and Christmas and schnitzel with noodles, but I can see the haters' point of view on one thing. Every news cycle devoted to a 50-year-old group that is no more takes coverage away from breaking new artists. But I'm even more concerned about those other artists who had the misfortune of having a career the same time that the Beatles were rewriting the rule books. Those bandleaders who had to go toe-to-toe with the Beatles every day on every release only to still come out second best. If the 50th anniversary of the almighty Rolling Stones' first album came and went this week without so much as a cork popped, what hope is there for artists even lower on the food chain? Are they doomed to get eclipsed again, 50 years later?
It is in the interest of pointing out these parallel achievements to the Beatles that we are beginning a historical feature we are calling (cue thunderous music) The 50th Anniversary of Something Else!!
Two weeks ago, on April 4, we were reminded of the Beatles' historic takeover of the top five positions on Billboard's Top 100 with an additional nine Top 100 hits zooming up to meet them. It is a monumental achievement that no one -- not Mariah, not Boyz II Men, not Miley Cyrus -- is ever in any danger of repeating.
Those five songs? Starting with number one, they were "Can't Buy Me Love," "Twist and Shout," "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and "Please Please Me."
But does anybody even know which American artists held the bottom five slots of that same British-blockaded Top 100 that same week? Yeah, I thought so. So here they are, in order of downward descent:
96: "Vanishing Point" -- The Marketts
Cut from the same exotic cloth as the band's surf instrumental rendition of the Outer LimitsTV theme that was a Top 5 hit going into 1964, a month before the Beatles' Ed Sullivan appearance. Now, this follow-up could only hot dog it up to number 90. Had they not recorded another TV theme, "Batman," in 1966, this would've indeed been the "Vanishing Point" for the Marketts.
97) "How Blue Can You Get" -- B.B. King
Seriously, this signature B.B. King classic only got as high as 97? I guarantee you all the Robert Crays and Jonny Langs of this world learned about the blues from watching B.B. King play this very song on an episode of Sanford and Son. This 1964 recording eventually smuggled its way into the Top 10 32 years later when Primitive Radio Gods sampled King's cry of "I've been downhearted baby, ever since the day we met" for their 1996 hit "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand."
98) The Ronettes -- "The Best Part of Breaking Up"
Phil Spector rode on that first plane ride to America with the Beatles in February 1964, assuring the nervous mop-tops that they had what American teens wanted. Ironically, what teens were starting not to want was the girl group Wall of Sound recordings that Spector built his empire on. In a series of if-you-can't-beat-them-join-them moves, The Ronettes toured with the Beatles in 1966, and Ronnie Spector briefly became an Apple recording artist in 1971. As for Phil Spector, he added his heavy-handed touch to the Let It Be album and produced solo albums by George and John. And Vini Poncia, the guy who co-wrote this mid-charting Ronettes number, would go on to team up with Ringo and inflict "Oh My My" on an unsuspecting world.
99) "Hey Mr. Sax Man" -- Boots Randolph
Session saxophonist Boots Randolph couldn't get his "Yakety Sax" anywhere near the Top 40 after the Fab Four's arrival, but since he was an indispensable presence on so many records coming out of Nashville, maybe he didn't notice. Much the same way no one noticed when "Hey Mr. Sax Man" covered "Hey Jude" in 1974.
100) "People" -- Barbra Streisand
Barbra who? Never heard of her! Unlike other Tin Pan Alley divas, she would not attempt a Beatles cover until tackling the Ringo-sung "Good Night" and "With a Little Help From My Friends" in 1969, posing a serious challenge to Ringo's "Lovable Nose" title with her own considerable schnozzle.
Meanwhile, back in England...
"Diane" and "Ramona" -- The Bachelors
No one noted it at the time, but while the Americans put five Beatles singles in the top five, the Bachelors had two singles in the conservative British Top 10, including one chart-topper, "Diane." If Americans had been looking to England this month for new trends in sound, we might not have escaped the glut of Irish tenors that could have resulted from this tragic mistake. Ironically, the Bachelors were signed by Dick Rowe, the man who famously turned down the Beatles in 1963.
And meanwhile, back in the States
The Four Preps -- "A Letter to the Beatles"
Sour grapes don't get bitterer than this. Capitol's onetime Fab Four saw the writing on the wall and put it in letter form, griping about losing their collective girlfriends to those money-grubbing Brits. Not surprisingly, the Preps were history after this record, which only crested to number 89, but the musical director, Stu Phillips, would go on to record several albums of Beatles muzak for Capitol as conductor of The Hollyridge Strings. For a time, albums like The Beatles Songbook were flogged on the back of Beatles albums under the legend "More Great Albums for Your Beatles Collection."
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