Livin’ the Life

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(Pictured: an unusual view of Brother Ray in the studio, 1964.)

Digging into the list of songs that spent a single week in the Billboard Top 40, we find some pretty big stars. We already mentioned the Beatles, Beach Boys, Elvis, and Bob Dylan in an earlier installment, but they’re not the only Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who are on the list. In the next two installments, we’ll deal with the others.

Most of the songs on this list clocked in at #39 or #40. Two of them, however, made their single week’s appearance up at #34, pretty high for a list of chart-scrapers. The first is “I Miss You So” by Little Anthony and the Imperials, which is co-credited to the 101 Strings. It went from #41 to #34 (for November 6, 1965) to #43 on the Hot 100, and it made the Top 10 in only a couple of medium-sized markets. Little Anthony sings the hell out of it, but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. “Inside-Looking Out” by the Animals also spent its lone week in the Top 40 (April 2, 1966) at #34. (It went from #41 to #34 to #44.) It’s a rambling, jammy record heavy on bass and organ, which Eric Burdon says was based on “a Mississippi prison song.”

Two versions of Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do” peaked on the Hot 100 in the same week, August 21, 1965. Cher’s version was up at #15; the Byrds’ original sneaked in at #40. According to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), Sonny and Cher heard the Byrds perform it in a club on the Sunset Strip a few months before the release of the Mr. Tambourine Man album in 1965, and Columbia rushed out the Byrds’ version in hopes of beating Sonny and Cher to the punch.

James Brown’s “Get It Together” sounds like a cross between “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (and it actually name-checks the latter). It runs nine minutes in all; part 1 reached #40 on November 26, 1967, although it was a Top 10 hit in New York, Boston, Detroit, New Orleans, and Philadelphia.

Like Brown, the Isley Brothers often took many minutes to say what they wanted, requiring their singles to appear in “part 1” form. “Livin’ in the Life” is not one of those, although the original version was cut from 6:30 to 4:15. In either form, it’s a burner. The single spent the week of August 6, 1977, at #40 on the pop chart, although it was a #4 R&B hit. Also burnin’: “Kung Fu” by Curtis Mayfield, which hit #40 for the week of August 3, 1974.

“Jennifer Eccles” by the Hollies features some bubblegum steel guitar, and it reached #40 for the week of May 18, 1968. If can be believed, Jennifer was the name of Allan Clarke’s wife and Eccles was the maiden name of Graham Nash’s wife at the time.

As mentioned in a previous installment, several artists have two entries on this list. B. B. King’s “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss” made it to #39 for the week of May 25, 1968; “Ask Me No Questions” made #40 for the week of April 3, 1971. (“Ask Me No Questions” is shown at #13 on a survey from R&B station WWRL in New York City from February 1971, and sweet mama look at the songs in front of it.)

Ray Charles very nearly made it onto this list with two sides of the same single. “My Heart Cries for You” charted for two weeks and peaked at #38, while its B-side, “Baby Don’t You Cry” spent a single week (March 21, 1964) at #39. Charles called the swing/bossa nova hybrid of the latter “swingova,” a style inspired by a concert tour he made to Brazil in 1963.

That’s about half of the Hall of Famers. Read about the other half in the next installment.

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