Fifty Years Ago Today — Summer Songs of 1966

Every year has its share of summer hit songs, and Mister Boomer has written about some of the biggest he recalls (Boomers and Summer Songs: Will I See You In September?). Yet in Mister B’s estimation, none can compare with the Summer of 1966. Sure the Summer of ’67 had a plethora of hits, too (Aretha Franklin’s Respect, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s and The Doors’ Light My Fire, mainly), but there were so many songs released fifty years ago in the Summer of ’66 that went on to become rock classics that it is hard to imagine another summer coming close.

Not convinced yet? Check out this list of songs that became weekly number one hits in the Summer of ’66:

Paint It Black, Rolling Stones
Paperback Writer, The Beatles (and number one again the week after Sinatra)
Strangers in the Night, Frank Sinatra
Hanky Panky, Tommy James & the Shondells
Wild Thing, Troggs
Summer in the City, Lovin’ Spoonful
Sunshine Superman, Donovan

Mister Boomer heard these songs on the radio and at friends’ houses, from his brother’s 45 RPMs and on TV shows, including Hullabaloo, Ed Sullivan and Hollywood Palace. He has Brother Boomer’s 45s that include all of these. In 1966, the rock charts still made room for stars like Sinatra, Elvis, Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink, Petula Clark and more, in addition to the pop/rock hit makers of the day.

As the TV commercials say, … but wait! there’s more! It turns out, MUCH more sound was going down that summer. Here are just a few that were hits fifty summers ago:

Red Rubber Ball, The Cyrkle
The song had an infectious, upbeat, calliope-like sound that propelled it to the summer charts. It was written by Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley, of The Seekers. They intended it for The Seekers, but the band rejected it. When Simon was on tour, he offered the song to his bassist, who had a band called The Rondells. The Rondells became The Cyrkle when their manager — Brian Epstein — got the band to tour with The Beatles. John Lennon is said to have come up with the band’s new name.

I Am a Rock, Paul Simon
Ironically, Simon’s folksy ballad classic was climbing the charts at the same time as Red Rubber Ball.

They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Napolean XIV
A novelty hit in the Summer of ’66, some boomers — including Mister B’s sister — loved the craziness of the lyrics and sang along, much to the chagrin of Mister B’s family. The flip side of the record was the same song, recorded backwards.

Lil’ Red Riding Hood, Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs
The leering nature of the wolf in this song might be a bit much for today’s charts, but it peaked at number two in the Summer of 1966. Read what Mister B had to say when a car commercial co-opted the song a couple of years ago (Oops! They Did It Again, Boomers!).

God Only Knows, Beach Boys
One of the hits from the album, Pet Sounds, this was one the first records to use “God” in the title. Rolling Stone magazine put the song at number 25 on its list of Top 500 Rock Songs of all time. Mr. B preferred Good Vibrations, which was released that same year.

Mother’s Little Helper, The Rolling Stones
Things are diff-er-ent today, indeed. The Stones rocked the summer a second time along with Paint It Black. Mister B enjoyed this one, especially the phrase, What a drag it is getting old. He used to think it was funny. Now, not so much.

Dirty Water, The Standells
With one of the most recognizable guitar riffs of the decade, Dirty Water was a true example of garage rock, having been recorded in a garage in 1965 and released in ’66. Boston sports team still play the song, now 50 years old, despite the fact that none of the band members is from Boston.

Hungry, Paul Revere & the Raiders
You say you want a hard-drivin’ rock song for your summer? Take a listen to Hungry. All the teenage angst and desire of typical summer songs is pent up in that pounding beat.

See You in September, The Happenings
As breezy as a summer wind, this song reached number one in June of ’66. It was the king of boyfriend-to-girlfriend talks at the end of a school year, a plea to stay true and not run off with a summer fling. For that reason, it’s been named to several top 100 summer songs of all time lists.

Sunny, Bobby Hebb
The song was released by other artists before the songwriter, Bobby Hebb, debuted his own version in June of ’66, surpassing the others on the charts. There was actually a jazz version of the song released in 1965 on an album produced by Herbie Hancock. Since then jazz musicians and rock artists of all flavors have covered the tune, including Frank Sinatra (with Duke Ellington), Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Frankie Valli, Nancy Wilson, the Four Tops, Wilson Pickett, Dusty Springfield, and a host of others.

Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, The Temptations
Now considered a Motown classic, Barry Gordy didn’t warm up to the song until it hit the charts in the Summer of ’66. Eddie Kendricks was the usual vocalist for The Temptations, but after the band had a hit with David Ruffin singing My Girl, this song was given to him. The song was a little out of his usual range, but his audible vocal push only adds to the longing in the lyric that begins with I know you want to leave me…

Brother Boomer was a big Motown fan, so this 45 RPM made its way into the Boomer household as soon as it was available. The Rolling Stones covered the song in 1974.

Still not enough for you? Here are more hits from the Summer of 1966:

River Deep, Mountain High, Ike & Tina Turner
Bus Stop, Hollies
I Saw Her Again, Mamas & the Papas
The Pied Piper, Crispian St. Peters
A Groovy Kind of Love, The Mindbenders

Mister Boomer could go on, but thinks his point has been made. Will there ever be another summer so rich in musical history?

What are your favorite songs of the Summer of 1966, boomers?