Hits You Never Heard Of, Part 2
by Chuck Eddy | April 27, 2012
So basically, this is the same concept as last time: I paged painstakingly through Billboard's second-half-of-the-20th-century Hot 100 pop-chart bible, aka Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1999, and took note whenever a listed song stopped me in my tracks, usually either because it sounded potentially interesting but I had no recollection of having ever heard it, or because I'd heard it but had no memory of it being an actual hit. If I liked it, I added it to the playlist. I cheated by including a few (such as John Eddie's goofy No. 52 1986 Jerseybilly Antmusic "Jungle Boy" and Crush's sticky No. 72 1996 Brit-bubblebirds-namedrop-Prodigy jam "Jellyhead") because I figured you might not recall them even if I did. But I was previously oblivious to most of these -- and I'm guessing that even if you were aware of some of them once, the 1999 cutoff means they've probably vacated your memory banks by now.
This playlist takes in artists whose names start with letters in the middle C's (namely, late-'60s pre- Raspberries Cleveland power-poppers The Choir) through the middle F's (i.e., late '80s Anglophile Boston-via-Detroit synth-poppers Figures on a Beach); the latter outfit's new romanticized remake of Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" (No. 67 in 1989) is appropriately followed on the mix by another electro-danced '80s cover of a '70s classic rock staple. Namely, 1986's No. 89 "Stairway to Heaven" from The Far Corporation, comprised of three moonlighting Toto members and sundry other studio jockeys working under the watchful eye of Frank Farian, who was caught between his Boney M phase and his Milli Vanilli phase at the time.
The mix opens with a bunch of formulaic but delectable pop rock unknowns, and ends with a trio of forgotten (by me, anyway) mid-'90s G-funk-era hip-hop one-hit wonders. But the craziest and most mysterious stuff comes in the middle. "Alabam," a 1960 hit by Ohio honky-tonker Cowboy Copas (who would die on the same 1963 plane crash that killed Patsy Cline), and 1970's "Welfare Cadillac" by Guy Drake both sound like a rhythmically talked species of white-blues country hokum from decades earlier -- maybe since both artists had been gigging since the '40s, or before. Charlie Drake's 1963 "My Boomerang Won't Come Back" betrays an offensive racial subtext: Australian aborigine blackface shtick (complete with the minstrel-giveaway phrase "black in the face" and didgeridoos) from a music-hallish British comedian. "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago" is yet another kind of old-timey tent-show vaudeville throwback -- credited here to Norman Greenbaum, it actually charted (No. 52, 1966) under the moniker of Greenbaum's quintet at the time, Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band.
New Yawk-accented doo-wop revivalists in 1964 were funnier, though, if The Detergents' washing-machined Shangri-Las parody "Leader of the Laundromat" and The Devotions' snoring-in-the-bowling-alley "Rip Van Winkle" are anything to go on. But the strangest song in this set might be "Open Up Your Heart (And Let the Sunshine In)." It climbed up to No. 8 way back in 1955 for the instructively named Cowboy Church Sunday School and featured, according to the Whitburn book, two of the producers' teenage daughters, "recorded at 33 1/3 rpm so that the record sounds like children's voices at 45." I had never knowingly heard it before, but it sounded familiar anyway; turns out Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm covered it on a Flintstones episode a decade later. I wonder if all its warnings about the devil creeped me out then as much as now. Don't say I didn't warn you.