1967 is a famously great year for pop music, but as I’ve said before (and will undoubtedly say dozens more times over the course of this project), even the best years have their low points. Between the crass copyists who were eager to make a quick buck by xeroxing the sounds of the British Invasion or Motown, the encroaching plague of easy-listening schlock that would soon flourish throughout the ‘70s, and the novelty riff-raff and doo-wop that was still gasping its last, there was plenty of music this year that could soundly counter any baby boomer chest-beating about how music was so much better in the 60s. Without further ado, from the throes of the psychedelic sixties, the 10 worst trips 1967 had to offer. On with the show!
#10: Lulu- To Sir With Love
The number-one biggest single of 1967, everyone. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little irked that that honor didn’t go to something a little more… Substantive, I guess? To be clear, “To Sir With Love” isn’t terrible or anything. Lulu is a decent enough singer, and the arrangement is fine too, if a little melodramatic. I’m tempted to focus on and drag the lyric, where the relationship being explicitly between a teacher and a student really sours the pointed romantic subtext, but honestly the bigger problem is that at only two verses and a two-line chorus, it feels lacking in a middle-eight or bridge to properly flesh it out or give it a little more weight. I don’t know, there’s just an odd sort of wrongness here that I can’t quite manage to pinpoint, a feeling of ‘not-enough’ that, on repeat listens, hurts the song a lot more than it seems to at first blush.
#9: The Royal Guardsmen- Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron
Honestly, at this point it’s hard to get pissed off over dumb novelty ditties like this. Maybe it’s because the first half of the sixties showed just how excruciating this genre could get, or maybe it’s because this actually is a lot closer to being genuinely enjoyable than the lion’s share of its ilk, but I really don’t hate “Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron” the way I was unreservedly expecting to. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s good or anything. The instrumental feels as thin and cheap as expected, especially the weedy keyboard lines and the weak percussion. The lyrics only manage a modicum of charm, and the guy shouting “hut, two three four!” in the background throughout the whole damn thing gets pretty irritating after a few listens. It’s redeemed ever-so-slightly by the decent main melody line and the obvious Peanuts references (it’s admittedly hard to hate anything involving Snoopy), but “Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron” is ultimately unable to rise appreciably above the cesspool that is its parent genre.
#8: Engelbert Humperdinck- Release Me
British easy-listening star Engelbert Humperdinck had a bit of a moment this year, emerging as something of a poor man’s Tom Jones. Humperdinck wasn’t so much a worse version of Jones as he was a blander one, unable to reach the levels of pomp and flounce that Jones did by virtue of being an overall less interesting vocal presence and singing much more rote, standard pop tunes. His biggest hit, “Release Me”, has a nasty reputation for being the song that kept “Penny Lane” off the top of the charts in the UK. Personally, I don’t think it’s entirely fair to hold that against the song, but I do get why it rubs so many people the wrong way. It’s a big, schmaltzy “whatever” of a song, and it’s all too easy to imagine critics seething in rage at the sight of Humperdinck’s doofy, sideburned mug perched smugly above the most beloved pop song of the year. Still, the song’s biggest crime in my eyes is just being painfully oversold. It basically has the same problem as BJ Thomas’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” cover from last year, in that the hammy vocal delivery and sugary orchestration make it come off as substanceless melodrama, even though the core of the song is actually fine.
#7: Bobby Vee- Come Back When You Grow Up
On my last relisten of this song, something occurred to me: I do not have the slightest clue who “Come Back When You Grow Up” is actually supposed to appeal to. In general, women don’t really want to hear a song about how they’re too immature to date the cute singer guy, least of all the women who fell for Bobby Vee back at the start of the decade who would, by ‘67, be mostly in their early-to-mid twenties. I can’t imagine anyone who finds themself in the narrator’s shoes would find any real value in it, either: It focuses almost entirely on chastising the girl, and the narrator’s feelings on the matter are more-or-less treated as an afterthought. It’s not energetic enough to dance to, it doesn’t offer much in the way of a hook or any memorable instrumentation, and Vee, though he’s thankfully grown beyond the horrid staccato vocal runs that plagued his earlier material, doesn’t really add a whole lot as a performer. All this just leaves me scratching my head as to how this of all things managed to momentarily revive the career of a has-been teen idol who hadn’t had a real hit in half a decade. If Vee’s precipitous drop back into obscurity after this is any indication, it’s just what it looks like: a total fluke.
#6: Neil Diamond- Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon
Neil Diamond is a bit of an odd duck for me. His origins as a behind-the-scenes Brill Building guy definitely show through in most of his material; even the songs of his I enjoy are about as slick and professional as it gets. From day one he was a pop music lifer with very little edge or grit to him. Yet, at the same time, his material is consistently more melodically interesting and compositionally distinct than the vast majority of his pop contemporaries, and the guy has a decent voice that can occasionally project some real pathos, too. Long story short, I respect the guy, even if I’d never call myself a fan. Even on this song, Diamond is a creative enough songsmith to save it from complete worthlessness; the verses here especially have a nicely satisfying cadence to them. But “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” is still without question one of his worst singles, mostly thanks to a truly torturous lyric where Diamond romances a girl who is, as of the song’s time frame, not yet a woman and I think you can draw your own conclusions from there. Even setting aside the extremely iffy implications of a substantial age gap, I just hate love songs where the bottom line is like, “You need a man/woman”. Good love songs make you believe in the strength of the narrator’s passion, or the magic of the bond two lovers share. Boiling it down to “you are girl, girl date man, I am man” is the worst kind of cop-out to me. It’s more than a little creepy and a resounding failure as a love song, even if there are a few moments that are sort of nice to listen to if you don’t think about it too hard.
#5: Bobby Vinton- Please Love Me Forever
Ahh, Bobby Vinton, the last chart-topper of the Pre-Beatles era. One would hope the arrival of the British Invasion and the rapid evolution of popular music would have, at some point, spurred Vinton to rise to the challenge and refine his craft a bit, but “Please Love Me Forever” finds him the exact same artist who released “There! I’ve Said It Again” four full years ago. In the time it took the Beach Boys to go from “Surfin’ U.S.A.” to “Heroes and Villains”, Bobby Vinton has not grown one single iota as a performer. It’s the same faceless, country-inflected traditional pop standards watered down for a mass audience and it’s the same bored, checked-out vocal performance. Looking back now, rock and soul may seem like they were the only games in town, but garbage like this is proof that, even in its golden years, the hot 100 was never safe from lazy, soulless lounge acts like this guy.
#4: Ed Ames- My Cup Runneth Over
Most people who still remember Ed Ames probably remember him as Mingo from Daniel Boone, but in addition to putting on redface for network television, Ames also had a fairly successful run doing a cut-rate Bing Crosby schtick for adult contemporary radio. In ‘67, at arguably the peak of his fame, Ames managed to briefly cross over to the pop charts with “My Cup Runneth Over”, and if you were hoping for any subversion of the stuffy, biblical phrasing of that title, well, prepare for disappointment. Ames has a solid enough baritone going for him, but it’s totally wasted on this paste-bland snoozer of a song, completely bereft of any lyric or instrumentation that might prevent it from fading from your memory the second the song ends. Bing Crosby released over 400 singles across his career, Sinatra nearly 300. If you have an appetite for traditional pop with some actual fire in its belly, trust me when I say there’s no need to subject yourself to the likes of this.
#3: Tom Jones- Green, Green Grass of Home
Right off the bat, it must be said that, yes, “Green, Green Grass of Home” is not as bad as “What’s New, Pussycat?”. The melody has a much more pleasant lilt to it, the instrumentation feels a bit more balanced, and Jones has dialed back on the vocal histrionics considerably. Especially if we compare it to, say, Paul Anka’s “My Home Town”, this song paints a far more detailed and affecting picture of a return to the pastoral simplicity of one’s childhood home. It’s still not good, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I can at least see how it could have been good, or at the very least decent. That said, “Green, Green Grass of Home” is, in fact, not good, and the reason why really does come back to Tom Jones himself. I just flat hate this guy’s voice. I can get behind some good old-fashioned belting every now and then, but when there’s so little grit or humanity to underpin it, it’s all too easy for the whole thing to become an exercise in masturbatory operatics, and that’s exactly what happens here. I genuinely do think a more down-to-earth country or folk vocalist could make this song shine, especially that grim twist at the end, but with Jones at the helm it’s just tiring.
#2: The Hombres- Let it Out (Let it All Hang Out)
“Let it Out” is, quite plainly, a spoof of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, aping the stream-of-consciousness lyrics and speak-singing vocal style. As a spoof, it fails in one major way: It doesn’t exaggerate the original style to a comedic degree, it just executes it worse and treats that as a proper lampooning. If you’re going to parody “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, put some legwork into it, for god’s sake. Cram more words into an even faster rhythm. Crank up the jittery energy to a full frenzy, go all-in on the bizarre imagery, have some damned fun with it! The Hombres do the exact opposite of all those things, delivering a pile of mid-tempo, mealy-mouthed babbling. The lyrics aren’t even that much more absurd than Dylan’s, they just make less sense. There’s an interview with band member Gary McEwen where he details how they came up with all the lyrics, and it’s just the most inane nonsense imaginable, all “well this line about the sandwich came to me when I was eating a sandwich”. Of course, the other problem is the same one that every 60s novelty song has, which is that it sounds like it cost all of five bucks to produce. The backing track here is just completely pitiful, there’s no punch to it at all. Making music that’s intentionally stupid is a delicate process, and this is one of many showcases of how disastrously it can turn out.
#1: Peter, Paul and Mary- I Dig Rock & Roll Music
I feel the need to preempt myself here and say that, of course, I do not think it’s off-limits or unacceptable to poke fun at rock music. Everyone from Weird Al to Kurt Cobain has done it, and goodness knows that the music Rolling Stone and the rest of the rockist cognoscenti has spent the past half-century fellating could stand to be taken down a peg every now and then. That said. If there’s one act I don’t care to be lectured on the shallowness and commerciality of rock by, it’s Peter, Paul and Mary, the most shallow, commercialized folk act out there. Wow, what’s that, Paul Stookey thinks the lyrics in rock songs are vapid and hollow? Well, perhaps he’d prefer it if they simply copied whatever Bob Dylan or Gordon Lightfoot was making, like he had been doing for the past three years! For all the attempts at comedic deflection, it’s clear that Stookey and his cohorts are furious that rock music is eating into their market share. They were the hot new thing in 1963, and now they aren’t, and their posture of “I’m not mad, I’m laughing actually” is no more convincing here than it was when The Four Preps did the same thing back in ‘61. Musically, there are a few moments that approach enjoyability- The harmonies are decent enough, and Peter Yarrow does a not-half-bad impression of Donovan- but this song is still far too petty and bitter to be worth anyone’s time. If there’s a real compliment I can give the band here, It’s that Peter and Mary made the right choice by refusing to ever play this thing live. Good on them.