Started Humming a Song from 1962
Ever find yourself cruising along the highway, when just like Bob Seger in his 1976 song “Night Moves” you’ve "Started Humming a Song from 1962"? Well of course I have; I’m often humming or whistling along with a song from 1962. Here at Roadtrip-'62 ™ we try to play nothing but songs from 1962! That year saw some big changes in music, as the British Invasion was just beginning with bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones forming. And 1962 was rich in all genres of music: rock, country, folk, classical, jazz, Broadway and movie, pop, easy listening, TV themes, R&B, blues, Motown, bluegrass, novelty, Christmas, religious, beat, surf and drag, and on and on. So turn up your pocket transistor radio and listen along with me as we cruise.
Just what song was Bob Seger thinking about when he wrote those lyrics "Started Humming a Song from 1962" anyway? Bob has stated in a 2011 interview that what he had in mind was The Ronettes’ song “Be My Baby”. Seems his memory is not too good though, because they didn’t record the song until 1963! The Ronettes got their start back in 1957 when Veronica Bennett started singing with her older sister Estelle Bennett, and their cousins Nedra Talley, Diane, and Elaine under the name “The Darling Sisters”. They even added a male cousin, Ira, to the group and signed up for a Wednesday night amateur show at the Apollo Theatre not far from their homes in New York’s Spanish Harlem. The show didn’t go well and afterward, Ira, Elaine, and Diane left the group. The remaining girls renamed themselves "Ronnie and the Relatives" and began taking singing lessons two afternoons per week. They began singing at local bar mitzvahs and sock hops and soon met a producer at Colpix Records, where they recorded four songs in June 1961. Both singles failed to chart on the Billboard Top 100 and the girls filled in as dancers at The Peppermint Lounge behind Joey Dee and the Starliters, who had started 1962 off with the #1 song “Peppermint Twist”. They became a permanent act at The Peppermint Lounge, dancing The Twist and usually singing a song. We see the newly renamed Ronettes during 1962 when Colpix issued the singles “Silhouettes" and "I'm Gonna Quit While I'm Ahead”.
Silhouettes, by The Ronettes, released in 1962. I remember the bouncier version recorded by Herman’s Hermits several years later, as that version came out in my teenage years.
Though I mentioned that many musical genres were available during 1962, the music most remembered is the Top 40 radio format. This broadcasting approach is credited to Todd Storz, who owned KOWH in Omaha, Nebraska with his father. In the early 1950s, he noticed that certain songs were played over and over on jukeboxes and figured that if people were paying to hear those songs that often, he could play them that often on the radio also. So he created a music format that focused on playing the top 40 songs as played on jukeboxes. Todd also pioneered the practice of surveying record stores to find which singles were the most popular in sales, adding those records to his format. He bought additional radio stations to spread his new format idea and in the mid-1950s Todd coined the term "top 40" to describe it. As rock and roll blossomed, the format proved easy to duplicate and teenagers loved to hear their favorite songs frequently, so Todd Storz’s format soon went national.
Another feature of Top 40 radio was the jingles used to keep the pace lively and continually promote their Top 40 countdowns. The PAMS company of Dallas, Texas created these jingles for radio stations across the country, becoming the largest supplier right through the 1970s. For example, during 1962, the majority of these promotional jingles used by WQAM of Miami, Florida were produced by PAMS. R.H. Ullman and Futursonic also produced these jingles, along with time and temperature reminders. Press the button to hear one of these jingles for the “Number 1 Tune in Miami this week” that was used on WQAM, 506-AM, during 1962. (From collection of Steven M. Geisler, used by permission.)
And just how did listeners keep track of “Number 1 Tune in Miami this week”? By getting a copy of the list from the radio station, record store, or wherever else it was handed out. I remember getting these from a Kresge store when I was a teen, when I stopped in to buy the latest single. The list changed weekly and you could keep them on file and see the progress up and down the chart of your favorite songs and groups. I didn’t know at the time, but country music stations also used the Top 40 format and distributed weekly lists, like the one above from San Diego, California’s WKDO. In fact, there were also top 40 style charts published for R&B music and easy listening pop. Billboard magazine published all four lists, while competitor Cash Box appears to have published only one overall list. Music Vendor magazine also published a list. Here’s a sampling of information from all of these for the weeks of April 7 through April 28, 1962. (I couldn’t find lists for Cash Box’s country music and R&B music, or any lists from Music Vendor.)
- Billboard Hot 100
- April 7 - Johnny Angel - Shelley Fabares
- April 14 - Johnny Angel - Shelley Fabares
- April 21 - Good Luck Charm - Elvis Presley
- April 28 - Good Luck Charm - Elvis Presley
- Cash Box Top 100
- April 7 - Slow Twistin' - Chubby Checker with Dee Dee Sharp
- April 14 - Good Luck Charm - Elvis Presley
- April 21 - Johnny Angel - Shelley Fabares
- April 28 - Mashed Potato Time - Dee Dee Sharp
- Billboard Easy Listening
- April 7 - Don't Break The Heart That Loves You - Connie Francis
- April 14 - Don't Break The Heart That Loves You - Connie Francis
- April 21 - Stranger On The Shore - Mr. Acker Bilk
- April 28 - Stranger On The Shore - Mr. Acker Bilk
- Billboard Hot Country & Western Sides
- April 7 - She's Got You - Patsy Cline
- April 14 - She's Got You - Patsy Cline
- April 21 - She's Got You - Patsy Cline
- April 28 - Charlie's Shoes - Billy Walker
- Billboard Hot R&B Songs
- April 7 - Twistin' The Night Away - Sam Cooke
- April 14 - Soul Twist - King Curtis And The Noble Knights
- April 21 - Soul Twist - King Curtis And The Noble Knights
- April 28 - Mashed Potato Time - Dee Dee Sharp
As you can see, some music crossed over between genres. I remember that some radio stations played a range of genres, to try to have something for everybody. My parents usually listened to WKNX-1210 AM back then, and I heard everything above except maybe Charlie’s Shoes from the country list and Don’t Break the Heart That Loves you from the easy listening list. They were probably played too, but just not enough that I remember them. Stations like that, playing most musical genres, were pretty common back then, but began seriously splintering in the 1990s. As fully automated playlists became more popular to save stations the cost of live on-air staff, they focused ever more tightly on formats for specific markets and the wide array of genres that was previously broadcast began to disappear.
Elvis Presley performing “Good Luck Charm” from his 1962 single, which was #1 in early April.
One popular music broadcast that didn’t fit any genre was on television: Sing Along With Mitch. Looking back today, this was an unlikely show to have been a ratings smash, but it was. This series debuted as monthly specials in January, 1961 and was such a hit that the program went weekly after returning in the fall. The show ran on NBC on Thursday nights at 10:00pm Eastern time, during the 1961-1964 seasons. In the end, the show was still at the height of its popularity, but the show's audience skewed too much toward mature viewers and the advertisers were more interested in targeting the youth market. The odd feature of the show was that it was basically a sing-along, showcasing mostly old songs. The singers were not even the popular singers of the day, though a few appeared, but a large male chorale under the name "Mitch Miller and the Gang." The music was all Mitch Miller’s distinctive arrangements. Previous to the show, Mitch Miller had been a largely behind-the-scenes band leader and musical arranger. The sing-along portion of the show actually featured a forerunner of karaoke, with lyrics displayed at the bottom of the TV screen along with a bouncing ball to keep you on rhythm!
Classical music was a genre that, as today, struggled to find a place on radio in 1962. Most classical music seems to have been broadcast on stations in the nation’s largest cities, as they were the only places with large enough audiences to be profitable. Public radio, where most classical music is heard today, had not yet become a factor. One of the oldest stations with a classical format is WQXR in New York City, which went on the air in 1936. The station began on AM radio and later moved to the FM dial. In addition to recorded music, it also broadcast local concerts of classical music and this is where it became an early experimenter in stereo broadcasting in 1952. During some of its live concerts, it used two microphones positioned six feet apart. As part of complicated three-way deal in 2009, the station moved to a new frequency and became a non-commercial public radio station operated by New York Public Radio. As with most public radio, it still broadcasts classical music at some time during the day.
Another big city classical station began broadcasting in 1962. WCLV, Cleveland, Ohio, was established as a commercial, classical station that year and has been on the air ever since. They also changed frequencies and became a non-commercial station, now owned by non-profit WCLV Foundation. Detroit, Michigan was another hotbed of classical music in 1962, being the home station for Karl Haas’ “Adventures in Good Music”. The show began in 1959 on WJR 760-AM in Detroit and became radio’s most listened-to classical music program after becoming nationally syndicated in 1970. The host, Karl Haas, was born in Speyer, Palatinate, Germany in 1913 and being Jewish, left Germany in 1936 with the rise of Nazism. His broadcast career began in Detroit in 1950, where he hosted a weekly preview of concerts performed by the Detroit Symphony. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which broadcast just across the border, asked him to talk about the music on the air and eventually he began “Adventures in Good Music”. The show was awarded the Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting in 1962. Karl Haas was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1997 and is the only classical music host who’s been so honored.
George Jones performing “She Thinks I Still Care” on the Pet Milk Grand Ole Opry television show, February 12, 1962.
Country music, then known as country and western, was a big music genre in 1962, just as it is today. So big that United Record Pressing opened a record manufacturing plant in Memphis, Tennessee in 1962. They have since grown to become one of the 3 largest record pressing companies in the world, and are still located in the same building. I mentioned above that I didn’t remember hearing Charlie’s Shoes from the country song list above, but there are others I do remember because they crossed over to radio stations that played a bit of everything. Here’s just a few of the country hits of 1962 that I recall; my local station seems to have had a thing going for Burl Ives! In just two years, the whole country would know him as Sam the Snowman on the Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas Special.
- She Thinks I Still Care - George Jones
- Wolverton Mountain - Claude King
- Crazy - Patsy Cline
- It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin' - Johnny Tillotson
- PT-109 - Jimmy Dean
- Old Rivers - Walter Brennan
- Funny Way of Laughin' - Burl Ives
- A Little Bitty Tear - Burl Ives
- Call Me Mr. In-Between - Burl Ives
And of course, who can forget “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs? This theme song for “The Beverly Hillbillies” was played everywhere, as the show was watched by everyone. And I’m sure it brought a lot of new listeners to country and bluegrass music during 1962 and afterward. Another phenomena that brought a lot of new listeners to the genre was Ray Charles, who released “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” in 1962, against the wishes of his record label who thought he would lose all his established R&B fans. But Ray had a childhood full of the sounds of jazz, blues, gospel and country, and they melded into his unique style. The album gave him his third #1 hit, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and became the biggest-selling album of 1962, occupying the top spot on the Billboard album chart for 14 weeks. In other country music news of 1962, Loretta Lynn was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry and Roy Acuff to the Country Music Hall of Fame, becoming its first living member. Speaking of Loretta Lynn, she is one of the many country artists we discussed along our US-23 roadtrip episode “Country Music Along the Highway”.
Compilation of twisting dance scenes from the early 1960's with Peppermint Twist by Joey Dee & The Starliters.
Another award of note is Tony Bennett’s win of The Grammy Award for Best Record for “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, which was a top-10 single in 1962. The year was also known as The Year of The Twist, starting off with a bang when Chubby Checker’s 1960 hit “The Twist” returned as the #1 song in January. Many other artists recorded songs about the dance during 1962, with seven others becoming hits. These included “The Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee & The Starliters, “Twistin' The Night Away” by Sam Cooke, “Twist, Twist Senora” by Gary U.S. Bonds, “Soul Twist” by King Curtis And The Noble Knights, and “Slow Twistin' “ by Chubby Checker himself with Dee Dee Sharp, trying to keep his dance craze going.
The Beatles were still just an obscure group in Liverpool, England in 1962. In 1961, they had recorded with Tony Sheridan as the Beat Brothers. During early 1962, they were rejected for a recording contract after an audition with Decca records in the England. The Beatles came to their final form later in the year when they fired drummer Pete Best and replaced him with Ringo Starr. They recorded "Love Me Do" during September and released it in October in England, and within two years would take the United States by storm. The Rolling Stones, now the world’s oldest rock band, also formed that year, playing their first concert on July 12, 1962 at London's Marquee club. And Bob Dylan released his first album “Bob Dylan”, which contained folk standards and only two original compositions. Dylan would hit it big next year with an album of original songs including "Blowin' in the Wind". The Beach Boys hit the charts a year before any of them, however, releasing the album “Surfin USA” in 1962. There were several memorable hits from the album, including the title track and “409”. Along with Dick Dale, they got the California surf and drag genre established.
Fusing jazz and pop, Dave Brubeck and Tony Bennett perform “That Old Black Magic” at the White House Seminar American Jazz Concert on the Sylvan Theater grounds, Washington, DC, August 28, 1962.
One genre that didn’t get a lot of radio airplay was jazz. Plenty was happening there, though, that would influence music for decades to come. Albums were released by Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz And Charlie Byrd, John Coltrane, Herbie Mann, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, and others. And jazz had its place at the 4th Annual Grammy Awards, where Stan Kenton won Best Jazz Performance – Large Group (Instrumental) for “Kenton's West Side Story”. The Newport Jazz Festival was in its 7th year by 1962, held at Freebody Park in Newport, Rhode Island. The 1962 Festival is documented in a film and featured the Oscar Peterson Trio, Roland Kirk, Duke Ellington, and the Count Basie Orchestra, among many others.
In an odd offshoot of jazz, the Swingle Singers formed in 1962 and presented their jazzed-up, be-bop arrangements of classical music to the world. This was an a cappella group that used only their voices instead of instruments to perform the music of Bach, Mozart, and even contemporary songs. They were formed in Paris and became very popular in the United States, winning Grammy Awards in 1964 and 1965. The group was a double-quartet, consisting of Alice Herald and Anne Germain on alto, Christiane Legrand and Jeanette Baucomont on soprano, Claude Germain and Ward Swingle on tenor, and Jean Cussac and José Germain on bass. Their breakout album, “Jazz Sebastian Bach “, was recorded in 1962 and released the next year. The group still exists, though none of the original members are currently singing with it.
The Swingle Singers performing “Largo from the Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F minor” by J. S. Bach, recorded in 1962.
For information on some other musical genres, I suggest you try Roadtrip-'62’s ™ page Christmas in 1962 for Christmas songs. Some of the Christmas songs that charted during 1962 were re-releases from earlier years though, like Jingle Bell Rock from 1957 and the Chipmunks’ Christmas song from 1960. You might also check Happy 50th Birthday 1962! for some great party music or US-23 From Sea to Inland Sea - Day 18 for R&B artists like Little Richard. Motown Records was pumping out records, but they still hadn’t differentiated themselves from standard R&B music. Artists like Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, and the Temptations were trying and missing at getting to the top of the charts. One of the highest charting of the Motown songs from 1962 is The Contours’ “Do You Love Me”, written by Motown’s founder Berry Gordy, Jr., which peaked at #3 on October 20.
So, if I were to start humming a song from 1962, what song would it be? Tough choice; there a lot of good songs that year and I remember many of them. So here’s my personal Top 62 from the year, taken from the weekly Billboard Top 100 lists and presented alphabetically by artist. And since I was only 9 years old, the list includes quite a few songs I remember my parents listening to. There’s also something you don’t see in modern playlists: a lot of instrumentals. Good musicians were still in demand back then. So now you know what I’m listening to as I take Roadtrip-'62 ™ to the next destination down the road!
Vince Guaraldi Trio performing “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” on their 1962 single. And yes, it’s the same guys who brought us the wonderful music of A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965.
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2018 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2018 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.