Song Of The Day 4/28/2014: Dale & Grace - "I'm Leaving It Up To You"


Pre-Fab Four: Last week I read an entertaining, very short e-book from Michael Tomasky, a journalist with The Daily Beast, called Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Beatles and America, Then and Now.

The book's premise is very straightforward: to describe how the cultural, social and musical environment of 1963 America set the stage for the Beatles' sudden meteoric rise, and to explain how challenging and innovative they were. (And not just from Rubber Soul onward, but from the very get-go. Tomasky makes some great arguments I hadn't yet considered in support of the musical adventurism of the Beatles' early stuff.)

To illustrate his point Tomasky briskly and deftly recounts what the U.S. pop music landscape was like just before "I Want To Hold Your Hand" became the Beatles' first American hit in January 1964:  
In demography and technology and publishing and film and science and politics, the things that became the enormous changes that we now call “The Sixties” were tentatively getting their new clothes on. But in pop music, not so much; after the raucous mid-’50s, the industry softened itself... for the most part, the music that dominated the charts was candied, bleached of anything that might produce in its pubescent listener an impertinent or certainly a sexual thought...

By and large, pop, both musically and lyrically, was polite. Guitar groups, to the minimal extent they had existed, were out. Some of the songs that topped the singles charts in 1963 tell the story. A few do have their charms. Most are just unremittingly awful. But whether good or bad, all are light as a soufflé, radiating asexual whiteness in every note.
I'm gonna guess some of you just figured out my action plan for this week.

Tomasky's right. Most of the heat in the Top 10 in 1963 was generated by uncompromising R&B from Memphis or pop crossover hits from Detroit. With few exceptions (The Kingsmen's version of "Louie Louie" for example), the gritty early rock swagger and implied lust from Elvis, Gene Vincent and Little Richard had been tamped down. Rock and roll might even have been declared dead at some point. The pop charts briefly returned to the kind of pillowy pablum that existed before (and briefly co-existed with) the noisy explosion of 1955. Gentle sentiments, wafting auras, expressions of love or muted disappointment. Either that or uptempo, not-always-bad Brill Building efforts like Lesley Gore's "It's My Party."

So Tomasky's book got me thinking -- what was America's music fans getting off on (so to speak) in the weeks just prior to the Beatles taking over the charts for the first time and changing music forever? What songs immediately fell from the "toppermost of the poppermost" when the Beatles came in and pushed their inertia around?

I've decided to investigate those last frail lighthouses of that immediately bygone aesthetic. This week I'm playing five songs that all charted in the Billboard Top 10 in the eight or so weeks before "I Want To Hold Your Hand" hit #1. They aren't all bad. But I think they'll demonstrate just how flippin' easy it was for the Beatles to shake it up (baby now). To be blunt, these are the songs the Beatles were sent from heaven (well, Liverpool) to destroy. But it wasn't personal, it was business.

The first is from Dale & Grace, whose soothing sonnet of emotional surrender "I'm Leaving It Up To You" was the #1 hit in the country on the day JFK was assassinated. That event clearly put the kibosh on whatever marketing efforts Dale & Grace's label had planned for their record.

Tomorrow I'm bringing some banjos.


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