Tag Archives: The Beach Boys

Be Good Johnny: The “Doe” Re Mi Of Chart Ditties

From dusk 'til "John".

From dusk ’til “John”.

The latest single from B.o.B is a collaboration with Priscilla on a song called “John Doe”. For the North Carolina rapper, it’s his sixth top 40 hit on the CHR chart as a main credit act, while it becomes the second for the singer who once charted as Priscilla Renea. (You may remember her minor 2009 entry called “Dollhouse”.) Sometimes, it’s all in the name, and in this case, a first name that’s been used in a lot of other hit singles throughout the decades. Considering that it was the 75th most popular name for boys last year, there’s quite a few more of them in the world.

So, with all the “John” song titles out there, I’ve limited it to just those that hit the top ten. After all, we can only hope that “John Doe” rises to the same region this summer. There’s some classic tunes among the handful of titles, plus a few fluffy numbers that are just so sugary sweet. Get ready to take attendance, because the pop pupils are all here:

Chuck Berry, “Johnny B. Goode” (#8, 1958)
He’s an icon and a pioneer of early rock ‘n’ roll music in the 1950’s. Released during the summer of 1958, “Goode” peaked just a few weeks before Billboard introduced its Hot 100 chart and climbed to #8 on what was then known as the Top 100.

Jimmy Dean, “Big Bad John” (#1, 1961)
Before breaking into the Breakfast business, Dean was a Country singer, and his biggest single topped that chart along with the Hot 100. After a string of hits in the 60’s, he would last break the Hot 100 in 1975. Dean passed away in 2010 at age 81.

Shelley Fabares, “Johnny Angel” (#1, 1962)
Known for her role on The Donna Reed Show, Fabares went from actress to singer and scored a #1 hit with her debut chart single. She managed another moderate hit for Colpix Records, a followup called “Johnny Loves Me”, which peaked at #21.

Joanie Sommers, “Johnny Get Angry” (#7, 1962)
The singer from Buffalo, NY broke into Billboard’s top ten in 1962 with what’s considered one of the more unusual songs in her catalogue of jazz and standards. It was her only top 40 single, and by the 1970’s, she began to pursue commercial work.

The Beach Boys, “Sloop John B” (#3, 1966)
Now, this “John” obviously isn’t a person; it refers to a sail boat of sorts, and it cruised through the chart waters to the high tides of the top 5. The origins of the song date back to the 1920’s. “Sloop” has been covered by several acts since it charted.

Dion, “Abraham, Martin and John” (#4, 1968)
After a string of flops, the former teen idol turned to religion, got clean, and recorded the original version of this tribute to four important American figures. It was a much-needed comeback, becoming his biggest song in five years and going Gold.

In 1971, a medley of this song along with “What The World Needs Now Is Love” went to #8 in a unique composition by disc jockey Tom Clay. It also featured interviews and clips from political figures of the time.

The Beatles, “The Ballad Of John and Yoko” (#8, 1969)
As “Get Back” topped the Hot 100 for five weeks, this tune was released as a followup to it, spending three straight weeks at #8 in July. Some radio stations at the time objected to playing the song due to religious issues. Of course, it’s all fine today.

El DeBarge, “Who’s Johnny?” (#3, 1986)
After leaving his family group at the end of their most successful era, he scored as a solo act in 1986 with a single from the film Short Circuit. Neither of the two followups from a self-titled album out later that year on Gordy Records went top 40.

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REWIND: The Quintessential Summer Song Turns 50

The true Boys of Summer.

The true Boys of Summer.

When you think summer, especially the music of the summer, you might think of a reggae act, like Bob Marley. He transcends the generations with his classic songs like “Get Up, Stand Up” and “Three Little Birds”, which fill the senses with summer even in the coldest months. You may also think of a country act, like Jimmy Buffett. His catalogue of fun novelties like “Cheeseburger In Paradise” and “Margaritaville” could make anyone want to join the nation of Parrotheads in their eternal poolside party. However, at least for me, the act most synonymous with the summertime is The Beach Boys, those five guys from Hawthorne, California who crowded the radio and the beaches with their hot mix of surf pop and psychedelic sounds beginning in the 1960’s. Today, we reach a milestone for one of their first big hits, a rocking and rolling boogie on a boogie board down the coast of the Golden State.

On this date back in 1963, “Surfin’ U.S.A.” reached its highest peak on the Hot 100, climbing a notch to #3, ultimately blocked out by Little Peggy March‘s “I Will Follow Him” (#2) and “If You Wanna Be Happy” by Jimmy Soul (#1). At the time, it was the group’s biggest single to date, having just hit the top 40 the previous year for the first time with “Surfin’ Safari” (#14). “Surfin’ U.S.A.” was the only song from the parent album of the same name to hit the Billboard charts, while the album itself did one spot better with a #2 peak on the Billboard 200.

If you’re a fan of music from the 50’s, you know that this classic is based around the melody of the Chuck Berry hit titled “Sweet Little Sixteen”. It went to #2 in 1958. The song was published under the same company that Berry used, Arc Music, except the only songwriter listed was member Brian Wilson. Wilson states, “I started humming the melody to ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ and I got fascinated with the fact of doing it, and I thought to myself, ‘God! What about trying to put surf lyrics to ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’s melody? The concept was about, ‘They are doing this in this city, and they’re doing that in that city.'” Several years later, the song’s writing credits were updated to include Berry. Arc still holds the copyright to the song. (Berry also says that he likes it.)

So, why is it the quintessential summer song? Look at any list of the definitive songs of the season and you’ll find this tune on it. It’s the energetic guitar line. It’s Mike Love’s vocal. It’s the “inside, outside, U.S.A.” chants by the other members on background. It’s all those hip hangouts they namecheck. It’s the high harmonies at the end of the chorus. It’s Carl Wilson’s guitar solo. It’s the kind of song that will leave you “pickin’ out a route” to feel the warmth of the sun and all of summer’s positivity. Even if you didn’t grow up in California or didn’t know how to surf, the song made you want to. If you were a young boy back in those days, you know you wanted to impress the girl you had a crush on by hanging on the most waves. Admit it. Yes, there were other popular songs about surfing: “Surf City” by Jan & Dean (co-written by Brian Wilson), “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen, etc., but “Surfin’ U.S.A.” was the one that popularized the genre and led to all the other hit songs ranking highly on the charts during that year. In fact, in 1963 alone, ten titles to the Hot 100 contained the word “surf” or a variant, up from three the year before. It was a phenomenon and a youth anthem all in one.

Even though it achieved its greatest fame in 1963, “Surfin’ U.S.A.” charted several other times, including cover versions. The song was re-released in the summer of 1974 to promote the compilation Endless Summer, a twenty-song effort of the group’s biggest hits and then some. It included a new b-side. The album was #1 for a week on the album chart while the single itself managed a #36 peak in its second go-around. A cover by then-teen singer Leif Garrett became his first top 40 hit in 1977, rising as high as #20. It’s been covered a number of times since then and on most of The Beach Boys tours ever since the song came out. I mean, it’s hard to overlook a song that started a top ten streak for them and remains popular fifty years after the song peaked out.

It may have missed the #1 spot by a few positions, but you know you wanna wax down your board and run to the crystal blue water when you hear it. Happy 50th anniversary, “Surfin’ U.S.A.”, and keep serving up those tasty waves on the airwaves.

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