Ten atrocious number-one songs from the 1960s

The 1960s produced a lot of different kinds of great music. These songs were not part of that excellence.
Musik aus Studio B
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Were I writing this list in 1970, I suspect it would be very different. For one thing, I was not yet ten years old and my musical tastes were not what they are today. More importantly, the times were very different. Some of what we thought back then was acceptable, or even cool, has not aged well.

That’s always a challenge for anyone trying to offer historical consideration on pop culture. How much do we consider the era in which the work originated? How should we apply modern understanding? I come from a background in film history where we commonly refer to this as the “Birth of a Nation dilemma.”

I’m going to repurpose that film debate for “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” a martial paean to fighting men from Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler (yes – that’s how he was credited) which hit the top of the charts in 1966. “The Ballad of the Green Berets” may be the most divisive song to ever ascend to number one in the history of the Billboard charts. Its jingoism in the face of the burgeoning counter-culture, anti-war movement in the mid-‘60s angered many.

Ten awful songs that hit number-one during the 1960s

From a historical perspective, it’s fair to argue that its popularity may have bolstered flagging support for a disastrous war. It may have actually prolonged US involvement in Viet Nam. Thus, it may not merely be the most divisive song. It may be the most pernicious as well.

But I don’t have it on my ten-worst list. If I was forced to listen to a song for 24 hours straight, there are at least ten other number ones from the 1960s that would drive me to madness before Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler. I am not saying “The Ballad of the Green Berets” is a quality piece of music. It is decidedly not. I’m just saying that there were worse in that most eclectic of decades.

The world was changing. Rock and roll was on the rise, but many vestiges of the past held on. That’s the thing about vestiges. And about the past. In lieu of a traditional Honorable Mentions list here, I want to toss out a few other number-one songs that I considered for inclusion, with a brief explanation of why they didn’t make the cut. In addition to “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” the 1960s saw the following songs climb to the pinnacle…

“THE STRIPPER” – David Rose (1962)

I’m not sure if anyone over the age of 40 still associates this short, brassy instrumental with its reputation as stereotypical stripper music back in the 1960s. Its roundabout and improbable journey number one is actually rather quaint when viewed from a distance. Not really much of a song, but not as soul-crushing as some others from the decade.

“RINGO” – Lorne Greene (1964)

Lorne Greene (of Bonanza fame) is light years better than fellow thespian-turned-recording-artist William Shatner, and I suppose the simple western story he intones in “Ringo” is light years-squared better than Captain Kirk’s “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” But Shatner never made it to number one. Greene did, and I don’t know why.

“Ringo” isn’t bad enough to make my list, but it was perfect fodder for a parody by Frank Gallop (doing a darn good Greene impression) called “The Ballad of Irving” on When You’re in Love the Whole World is Jewish in 1966. Irving could not outdraw "Ringo," but he got a better song.

“I’M HENRY THE VIII, I AM” – Herman’s Hermits (1965)

When they scored a number one record with “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” earlier in ’65, Peter Noone came off as a twee, sunshine pop cutie pie. Their follow-up hit, an old music hall gimmick, was ear-splittingly annoying to anyone over the age of 10. I cannot put it on my list of worst numbers because at the time, I was under ten, and it was without question my favorite song in the world.

“SOMETHIN’ STUPID” – Frank and Nancy Sinatra (1967)

This is the best song I will mention today. It’s a sweet, wise romance with a rolling melody that lulls you into humming along. And if it wasn’t for the fact that a father and daughter sang it to each other, it probably would not merit any attention almost sixty years later. But since a father and daughter did sing it to each other, it retains an ickiness that won’t wash off. Frank jokingly referred to “Somethin’ Stupid” as “the incest song.”

“SUGAR SUGAR” – The Archies (1969)

I despise “Sugar Sugar.” It’s the kind of pre-fab pop that the public is always getting force-fed. I’d take half a dozen Partridge Family songs before this one. I could be wrong but I don’t think the Archies existed. They were like the Monkees, only the Monkees could play music and sing. The Archies merely fronted some studio musicians.

It’s not on my list because I have to admit the melody is catchy enough, and the song doesn’t overstay its welcome. But when you consider that it was sandwiched between the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman” and the Temptations’ “Can’t Get Next to You” at number one, you get a better sense of why it is basically number eleven on my list.

OK, so much for the appetizer. On to the main course. The ten worst number-one hits of the 1960s, countdown style.