Thursday, July 28, 2011

Forgotten Music Thursday: Five 60s Pop Bands

The recent passing of Rob Grill, the former lead singer of The Grass Roots, got me to thinking about how many great American pop-rock bands there were in the mid to late 60s. To any baby boomer glued to the radio during the golden age of Top 40 these hitmakers were a big part of your listening experience. Most of these artists had the usual shelf life of two to four years on the charts and, while many continued to tour and record, most took to the oldies circuit to survive (if they survived at all). So, as a tribute to Grill let’s take a look at some of these groups who haven't had a hit in over forty years and are mostly unknown outside of their generation.

We’ll start with Grill's own band. The Grass Roots were a quartet that didn't have a permanent horn section but most of their best singles featured horns. Early hits such as "Where Were You When I Needed You" and "Let's Live for Today," were produced with just the standard guitars, bass, and drums but they quickly became one of the earliest white, mainstream bands to regularly offer listeners a brass section. All of their vintage stuff had horns. Grill was a fine singer who had a little bit of blue-eyed soul in his voice. All of the group's assets meshed together nicely on records such as "I'd Wait a Million Years," "The River is Wide," "Sooner or Later," "Temptation Eyes," and their signature piece, "Midnight Confessions," a song they are lip-syncing here.

The Association, a septet best known for their vocals, had a brief run on the charts, and while they came to fame with the catchy riff filled rocker, "Along Comes Mary" and the bouncy, boisterous, wall-of-sound hit, "Windy," they were best known for their harmony laden ballads. "Cherish" is considered one of the most romantic songs of all time and it was played at virtually every wedding in the 60s. My personal favorite was the organ filled, "Never My Love." Other minor hits included the ballad "Everything That Touches You," and sunny soft-rockers "Time for Living," "Goodbye Columbus," and the psychedelic "Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies." Listen to "Never My Love."

Paul Revere and the Raiders were sometimes sneered at as a gimmick because of their leader’s name (His real name is Paul Revere Dick) and because they wore American Revolutionary War military uniforms on stage including the famous tri-corner hats popular during the colonial era. They also became TV stars with a regular gig on Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is. The slapstick comedy bits they performed on the show didn't help their reputation any but don't let any of that fool you. In 1965 they were one of the hardest rocking outfits around. Singles such as "Hungry," "Kicks," "Good Thing," "Just Like Me," and "Him or Me, What's it Gonna Be" flat out kicked ass. Later hits such as "I Had a Dream" and "Too Much Talk" were more pop oriented.  Eventually lead singer Mark Lindsey used both his good looks and his even better voice to become a solo star who charted with "Arizona." In the 70s The Raiders returned with the topical "Indian Reservation." Here are the Raiders in full slapstick mode rocking out to "Good Thing" with a Goldie Hawn lookalike dancing up a storm and then a slightly more serious performance of "Kicks."

Gary Puckett and The Union Gap mimicked the Civil War both on stage and in their photos. The band was really superfluous. On their singles they were drowned out by Puckett's very good but melodramatic lead vocals and a full orchestra the producers utilized on every one of their hits. The Gap's songs were very popular but they kept retreading the same territory on every record both with their sound and subject matter. Nobody seemed to mind in 1967 but by twenty-first century standards their lyrics appear downright creepy. Both "Young Girl" and "This Girl is a Woman Now" referred to potential forbidden love. What did Puckett want to do with those young ladies? On "Lady Willpower" he gave the woman an ultimatum: "It's now or never give your love to me." Not one of the better bands of the period but they were extremely popular for a couple of years. Other big hits included "Woman Woman" and "Over You." Listen to them on TV, in uniform, playing their best song here.

The Happenings were not a band. Instead they were a white vocal group that blended Beach Boy style harmonies, Do Wop, and Rock n' Roll into one of the biggest hits of the 60s. "See You in September" is hardly forgotten but they also took songs from pre-war America and turned them into smashes that fit their style. Most notable among them are the loudest versions of George Gershwin's "I’ve Got Rhythm" and Al Jolson's "My Mammy" that anyone had ever heard. They also had a hit with a cover of Steve Lawrence's "Go Away Little Girl." I saw them live a few years ago harmonizing in an oldies revue. Lead singer and founding member Bob Miranda formed a new version of the group in the 90s and he still has the same great voice that led the original members to the top of the charts way back when. Here they perform Gershwin's song on The Smothers Brothers Show.


  1. Of all these, my fondest memory is Union Gap's 'Young Girl'. A bit cheesy, I know, but one that stays in the memory. Great vocal.

  2. Gary Puckett and the Union Gap are one of those bands that, whenever I hear them on oldies radio, I shake my head and think "How did they ever get popular?" I don't care for any of their songs...except for "Over You." What a gorgeous production.