Top 5: Beyond the Classics

From our vantage point today, 1966 seems like a lost golden age. Look at some of the Number One songs in that year: “Monday Monday,” “Summer in the City,” “Cherish,” “Wild Thing,” “Paint It Black,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “The Sounds of Silence,” “Paperback Writer,” “Good Vibrations,” “Sunshine Superman”–it reads like the hot rotation at an oldies station. I pulled up a radio survey from 1966 today mostly because my brother is celebrating his 40th birthday next week and it seemed like a good hook for this post, but what I found beyond the 1966 classics everybody knows proved to be more interesting than the classics themselves.

The survey I chose was from WKNR in Detroit, the legendary “Keener 13,” which changed to a Top 40 format on Halloween 1963 and was Number One in the market by shortly after New Year’s. It was Detroit’s unchallenged rock radio leader in the fall of 1966–and it was as adventuresome as any radio station in the country at that time. Radio stations weren’t afraid to play local bands and/or create regional hits back in that day, and WKNR’s list from this week in 1966 is full of records that were huge in Detroit without becoming major national breakouts. Many are still beloved and sought after by collectors today, and here are five of them:

3. “Open Up Your Door”/Richard and the Young Lions. (holding) In which a New Jersey garage band goes psychedelic, with something called an African hair drum used on record for the first time. According to a history on the group’s website, after having seen the Young Lions outperform some of its acts in Detroit, Motown tried to sign them, but they couldn’t get out of their existing contract. (Thus Rare Earth became the first white act signed to the label.) To hear the band tell it, the Young Lions’ demise after “Open Up Your Door” (Hot 100 chart peak: 99) and a couple more regional hits was a case of a manager insisting on a direction contrary to the band’s best instincts, and getting his way because he controlled the purse-strings.

9. “Respect”/The Rationals. (rising) In which a Ann Arbor, Michigan, garage band covers Otis Redding’s original a full year before Aretha Franklin gets around to it. According to an online bio of the group, the Rationals’ version inspired Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records to have Aretha record it. (Hot 100 chart peak: 92.) At the end of 1966, WKNR listeners voted the Rationals Detroit’s most popular group. They, too, appear to have been victimized by bad management, and by 1970, split up after being continually booked into shopping malls rather than the concert halls and clubs it would have made more sense for them to play.

10. “Rosanna”/The Capreez. (falling) I can’t find much about this group. They were apparently from the Detroit area, too. Some websites call them a garage band, but “Rosanna” is mentioned by several soul-oriented websites, and one site splits the difference: “We expect this Detroit group is actually a rock group trying their hand at soul.” The Rationals did the same thing, although with more success. (Did not make the Hot 100.)

11. “Off to Dublin in the Green”/Abbey Tavern Singers. (falling) They were authentically Irish, and actually formed at a place in Dublin called the Abbey Tavern. This became a massive Canadian hit when it was used in a Carling beer commercial, so it was natural that it would be big just across the border. (Hot 100 chart peak: 94.)

17. “Gloria’s Dream”/Belfast Gipsies. (rising) A post-Van Morrison offshoot of Them, sort of. Two dueling versions of Them arose after Morrison’s departure, and their story, and how it resulted in the Belfast Gipsies, is a bit hard to follow, but if you’re interested, you can read it here. (Did not make the Hot 100.)

If I were any kind of blogger at all, I’d have at least one of these tracks to post for you, but I don’t. I suck, really.

2 thoughts on “Top 5: Beyond the Classics

  1. Bob Freedman

    As a founding member of Richard & the Young Lions, and the only member other than Richard (R.I.P.) to be in the group from beginning to end, I thought I ought to comment on what was written here about us with regard to the “Motown story”. I first heard this “Motown story” just a few years ago. I don’t know where it originated, but to my knowledge it is not true. I asked Richard about it when I first heard it, and Richard also did not recall any such offer from Motown back then, or at any time. I can only repeat, that no such offer was made, to mine, and Richard’s, knowledge.
    One other quick matter; not only did we chart nationally on Billboard at #99 (which always seems to get mention), but “Open Up Your Door” was also on Cashbox for 6 weeks peaking at #70 and on Record World Top 100 for 3 weeks peaking at #91 (as far as I know at this time…I continue to look for new information as it appears on the internet). Yet it charted across the US & Canada for 6 months, always reaching top 5, at least. Poor promotion indeed.
    Thank you.

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