(Pictured: LBJ and Lady Bird welcome British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his wife to the White House in December 1965.)
I have written before about how 50th anniversaries capture our imagination in ways that 49th or 51st anniversaries do not. So nobody should be surprised that we’re going back 50 years on this day, to the issue of Billboard magazine dated December 25, 1965. Headlines on the front page include “Tijuana Sound Pacesetter for New Pop Music Style” and “‘Sound of Music’ Sells at 400,000 Monthly Clip”. Data inside the magazine confirms the headlines: Whipped Cream and Other Delights by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and the soundtrack from The Sound of Music are #1 and #2 on the album chart.
Inside, a story on the music NASA played for the astronauts aboard the Gemini 7 mission mentions Duke Ellington’s recording of “Fly Me to the Moon” “Star Burst” by Glen Gray, and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” (The nearly two-week flight splashed down on December 18th.) Astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, who will fly together again on Apollo 8’s fabled Christmas mission three years hence, disagree over styles: Borman says he prefers “quiet and restful” while Lovell likes “loud and noisy.” The music is not just for entertainment; it’s used to test communication systems. NASA’s DJ is astronaut Elliott See, who is set to command the Gemini 9 mission in the summer of 1966. He won’t make it, however. See and fellow Gemini 9 astronaut Charlie Bassett will die in a plane crash in February 1966 while flying to St. Louis for training sessions.
Billboard publishes a ranking of the top 40 hits in the 15 biggest radio markets. (These charts would be a fascinating area of research for somebody with a stronger work ethic than I.) Number-one hits include the Byrds’ “Turn Turn Turn” in Baltimore and Cleveland, the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” in Boston and Seattle, “Let’s Hang On” by the Four Seasons in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles, “I Got You” by James Brown in New Orleans, Philadelphia, and St. Louis, “A Taste of Honey” by the Tijuana Brass in New York, “No Matter What Shape” by the T-Bones in Detroit, and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” in Miami, San Francisco, and Washington. The #1 song on the Hot 100, however, is “Over and Over” by the Dave Clark Five. “We Can Work It Out” makes a mighty leap to #11 from #36 the previous week; in both cities where it’s currently #1, it was #22 the week before.
The chart of Top Christmas Sellers lists 30 singles and 60 albums. The top 10 singles are mostly perennials, although Buck Owens’ “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy” and Derrik Roberts’ Vietnam-themed “There Won’t Be Any Snow” are both new (and the latter is really . . . something). Outside the Top 10, Jimmy Dean’s “Yes, Patricia, There Is a Santa Claus,” was out the previous year as the flipside of “Little Sandy Sleighfoot,” but it’s charted on its own this year thanks to the new album Jimmy Dean’s Christmas Card. Other new albums include the Supremes’ Merry Christmas, which has two tracks on the singles chart, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Me” and “Children’s Christmas Song,” and The Ventures’ Christmas Album, on which the guitar group incorporates licks from familiar songs in ways that will delight rock fans for the next half-century at least.
Also new for 1965: “May You Always” by New York radio personality Harry Harrison. Harrison was one of the WMCA Good Guys starting in 1959; from 1968 through 1979 he would do mornings at WABC. In 1980, he took over mornings on WCBS-FM, a position he held until 2003. Every year at Christmas, he would either play or perform “May You Always” on the air.
“May You Always” is most appropriate for New Year’s Eve, but it’s the perfect way to end this Christmas Eve post—except to add my own wish that you get what you most want this Christmas, from those you’d most like to get it from.