Okay, so, tell me if you haven’t done this. You’re driving down the road and this great oldies song comes on the radio and you yelp, “Whoa! I haven’t heard that in forever!” and you crank it up, basking in the nostalgia of days gone by when FM radio was only played after 10:00 p.m. and having a reel to reel on a plywood and cinder block shelf was considered seriously cool. Oh, yeah, those were the days.
Then, when you get home, you run to the computer and type in a lyric of that great piece of nostalgia only to find out that it was the only song that artist ever did. No? Well, it happens to me more than I care to admit. In fact, it happened again recently. I heard this great classic song by a band I hadn’t heard in eons. Turns out they are now part of another elite group called “the one hit wonders”.
Tragic for some, I suppose, but not always. Especially if your one hit manages to find its way into lucrative commercials and television soundtracks that continue to pay you royalties, year after year. The others just go down as great music, I guess, even if it’s just one song. There are hundreds of them, probably thousands, but here are four that I dug up from the 1960s and 1970s that remain classics to this day.
Smith – Baby it’s You(1969)
I was actually surprised to learn that this song was written and composed by Burt Bacharach. If you don’t know who Burt Bacharach is, he’s an American pianist, composer and song writer who is, um, how shall we say it, a bit “white bread”. Or put another way, when you talk about soul-music, Burt Bacharach isn’t exactly the first name that pops into your head.
The song was first recorded by The Shirelles in the early 1960s (yawn) and a little band from England who was first starting out at the time, The Beatles, actually recorded it too. (Two ho-hums) The 1970s pop duo, The Carpenters did a real snooze version of it. And then, finally, a band by the name of Smith, featuring singer, Gayle McCormick, got a hold of it and finally made something out of it – a hit.
What had been lacking in every previous version, Gayle McCormick brought, which was emotion, passion and some serious soul. So much soul in fact, that many believed Gayle McCormick to be the only voice who could challenge Janis Joplin for the greatest blue-eyed soul voice of the 1960s. Listen to her belt-out “Baby it’s You” and you’ll understand exactly why.
Norman Greenbaum – Spirit in the Sky(1969)
You know, with a name like Norman Greenbaum, this guy probably never stood much of a chance. But, then, when you have one hit that has sold over 2 million copies worldwide and is now inextricably woven into pop culture, getting a little jazz for your name is probably not all that bad.
The song is particularly impressive because he sings about Jesus of all people. Not exactly your typical pop/rock song topic. But, every now and then somebody comes along and says pop culture be damned and they let it rip. Which is exactly what Norman Greenbaum did and the result is a hit song that is still making the guy money 40 years later.
You can hear “Spirit in the Sky” in Taco Bell commercials, American Express commercials and on numerous and sundry television and movie soundtracks. Not bad for a guy with one seriously goofy name.
Shocking Blue – I’m Your Venus(1970)
Jon Bon Jovi once said there are some songs that you just don’t mess with. Meaning, they are so good and so classic, that to tamper with them in the form of a remake is like, you know, sacrilegious. Of course, he was talking about one of his own songs mind you, but I still thought it pretty good advice; particularly if you’re talking about “I’m Your Venus” first recorded in the late 1960s by Shocking Blue, a quirky band from the Netherlands.
Personally, I loved it then and I love it now. I didn’t love it, however, when a silly girl band from the 80s, Bananarama, recorded it. But, they managed to carve out quite a hit for themselves with it, so I guess all is well that ends well. But, I still think Shocking Blue’s version of it is way cooler. Besides, with a name like Shocking Blue, how could it not be?
Jonathan Edwards – Sunshine(1971)
Here’s the thing about protest songs: they’re only good when there is something to protest. After that, well, you pack up your guitar case and head on home. Which I guess is what Jonathan Edwards did after he wrote his Vietnam War protest song, “Sunshine” in 1971. Well, at least he did for a little while.
Jonathan Edwards has been remarkably prolific as a singer/songwriter all these years, as it turns out. But, unless you are a diehard, folk music aficionado, you might not know that. He is currently touring Colorado and the New England states with his daughters, Grace and Brenda and has turned into quite a PBS art show, darling. Who knew?
Forty years is a long time for someone to continue making music, particularly if you haven’t experienced the kind of success that his single, “Sunshine” brought him. But, apparently, that old hippie spirit is still alive and well within Jonathan Edwards and he’s all about the art and less about the Western Society model of success – big money.
You’ve got to admire somebody like that, I think, who’s taken the ole’ Jimmy Buffett song lyric to heart…“I know that it may sound funny. But, money don’t mean nuthin’ to me. Instead of making music for money, I’m gonna make my music for me”
I can’t vouch much for the other music that Jonathan Edwards has done since then, but, I can say with a certainty that “Sunshine” is still as good as it gets.
Spirit in the Sky.com