It was 50 years ago today, more or less. I was in the car with my parents, somewhere in Oregon, en route from our home in the Bay Area to the Seattle World’s Fair. The Top 40 station broke in with the news that Marilyn Monroe had died.
A shock of course, but one gradually absorbed as the freeway pavement flew by and I resumed my intrepid monitoring of the radio. Since we’d left California I’d been desperately hoping to catch a reprise of a new record the San Francisco stations had just started playing. I didn’t know its title, or the group that recorded it, but one exposure to its soul and tough momentum instantly hooked me—and who knew, if it didn’t draw sufficient audience response, I might never hear it again or even know what it was. It opened with something you hadn’t heard since the doowop Fifties, a spoken intro: “You broke my heart ’cause I couldn’t dance…”
The Contours’ “Do You Love Me” was but one of many audio delights grabbing air in 1962. It comprised, along with Marvin Gaye’s no less propulsive “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” the Miracles’ “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” and Mary Wells’ three Smokey Robinson-penned Top-10 sides, Motown’s first full round of hits.
The year also marked the start of several careers and partnerships that would define popular music for decades: the debut of America’s two longest running pop institutions in the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ Safari” and the 4 Seasons’ “Sherry,” and the collaboration between Burt Bacharach, Hal David and Dionne Warwick that tore up convention in the apocalyptic “Don’t Make Me Over.”
The dance floor shook too. Not since the Twenties heyday of the Charleston, Black Bottom and Varsity Drag had so many dance crazes crowded the charts: Little Eva’s “Loco-motion,” Dee Dee Sharp’s “Mashed Potato Time,” the Orlons’ “Wah-Watusi,” Joey Dee’s “Peppermint Twist” and Chubby Checker’s terpsichorean trifecta (“Slow Twistin,’” “Limbo Rock,” “Popeye the Hitchhiker”). While girl-group sounds had broken through the previous year, and wouldn’t dominate till two years later, 1962 is when the genre’s genius, Phil Spector, first asserts himself, with spellbinding results in “Uptown” and “He’s a Rebel” by the Crystals and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” by Darlene Love.
There were even a couple of curious imports that year. Frank Ifield’s yodel-delic “I Remember You” played as we rolled into Seattle in the rain that summer, and the year would close out with the Tornadoes’ whirring, Joe-Meek-produced “Telstar.” Both of these records came from the U.K., maybe the last place on earth America’s teenage audience considered a fertile pop field; the last accredited bundles from Britain were Chris Barber’s fruity “Petite Fleur” (1959), Lonnie Donegan’s “Rock Island Line” and Laurie London’s “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” (both 1956). But that notion would soon be upended.
They broke late in the States (January ’64), but the Beatles really arrived in 1963, clicking in their homeland first with “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” and following up with two No. 1’s: “From Me to You” and “She Loves You.” And when they did storm America—with a rush of singles issued on six different labels that still couldn’t satisfy consumer demand—they displayed a profound respect for the pop that preceded them, a great deal of it from 1962.
We most often recall the Beatles as the first self-contained rock ’n’ roll band to write and play its own material (technically wrong; Brian Wilson’s and Buddy Holly’s respective crews had done it). What’s easily overlooked is the Beatles’ pre-fame dues-paying as a working bar band, one that had to hammer out the hits of the day if it wanted to work. Also to be considered: the pressure upon them, once they hit, to quickly supply a super-sizable quantity of product—which they did by raiding their stage repertoire; and the peculiar tastes of hipster Liverpool (both its bands and their audiences), which placed a high premium on B-sides and rarities.
Among the Beatles’ covers of songs from ’62, Dickie Barrett’s “Some Other Guy” and the Donays’ “Devil in Her Heart” likely spring from the latter source; R&B songwriter and producer Barrett (Frankie Lymon, the Chantels, the Valentines) was also the artist behind another set-stalwart of other Mersey-bands, “Tricky Dicky.” Other components of the Fabs’ shows were contemporaneous hits: the Cookies’ “Chains,” the Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout,” the Shirelles’ “Baby It’s You,” Little Eva’s “Keep Your Hands Off My Bay” (the sequel to “Loco-Motion”), “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” the Crickets’ “Don’t Ever Change,” and “Anna” and “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues” from soul pop-legend Arthur Alexander (the Stones cut his “You Better Move On”). And the widely dismissed “Mr. Moonlight” and “A Taste of Honey”? The former’s the flipside of another ’62 Scouse fave, Dr. Feelgood and the Interns’ “Doctor Feel-Good.” The latter, the title theme of a Fifties/early-Sixties play popular in the U.S. and U.K., was penned by Bobby Scott, who later wrote the Hollies hit “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”
Uncovered but not unnoticed: “Hey! Baby,” the ingratiating chart-topper from Texas’ Bruce Channel. The record’s signature harmonica playing was done by future blue-eyed-soulster Delbert McClinton, who gets credit for later having taught John Lennon how to play the modest little instrument.
And the Contours’ once-elusive 1962 single? I heard “Do You Love Me” just last week, in my local supermarket.