You don’t hear it much anymore, but back in the day, a lot of people spoke of the years between 1958 and 1962 as a bit of a wasteland for popular music. In ‘58, Elvis went in the Army, and Little Richard joined the ministry, while Jerry Lee Lewis saw his career nosedive when it was discovered he was married to his 13-year-old cousin. In ‘59, Chuck Berry was arrested on a trumpted-up Mann Act charge, while Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash. The main reason for this narrative, of course, is that it makes the appearance of The Beatles in 1963 seem like a moment that saved music. I’m not denying the power or importance of The Beatles, but there was a lot of great music before they arrived. Thus, a 1962 edition of the Random Ten.
1. Bob Dylan, “Freight Train Blues”. Dylan’s first album didn’t sell (5000 copies at the time). People listen to it now because they know what was to come, but that’s unfair … there is plenty to like, much of it unpretentious. Like “Freight Train Blues”.
2. Jimmy Reed, “I’ll Change My Style”. Jimmy Reed’s music was as basic as the blues could get, which may be one reason he was covered by so many rock and rollers over the years. His 1962 album, Just Jimmy Reed, is a long-time favorite, in large part because of the participation of “Mama” Reed helping out where she can. It’s a very casual album … at one point, you hear the engineer ask Jimmy to play anything that crosses his mind, and Reed concocts the song “Oh, John” on the spot. “I’ll Change My Style” is actually different from the usual for Jimmy, with its organ and horns.
3. Arthur Alexander, “You Better Move On”. Trivia note: Alexander is the only songwriter covered on record by the Beatles, Stones, and Dylan. I know it’s so, Wikipedia told me so. (I knew about the Beatles and Stones, but Dylan was a surprise to me.)
4. Gene Chandler, “Duke of Earl”. Nothing can stop the Duke of Earl.
5. Peter, Paul and Mary, “If I Had My Way”. Their first album came out in 1962. It made it to #1 on the Billboard charts, and they won two Grammies for “If I Had a Hammer”. But I’ve always been partial to this song.
6. Claudine Clark, “Party Lights”. A one-hit wonder who deserved better. Clark is a triple threat here: she wrote the lyrics, wrote the music, and sings the hell out of the song. On paper, it just seems like a plaintive attempt by a teenage girl to get her mother to let her go out to a party. But Clark sings those lyrics like her life is on the line. Rarely has more passion been poured into a song. If you only click on one video link, make it this one.
7. Dick Dale, “Miserlou”. Now and forever known as the Pulp Fiction song, “Miserlou” was an old, Middle-Eastern folk song (Dale had Lebanese heritage) that sounded different coming from the King of the Surf Guitar.
8. Barbara Lynn, “You’ll Lose a Good Thing”. Barbara Lynn was an anomaly in many ways. She was an R&B singer-songwriter who was also a fine, left-handed guitarist. “You’ll Lose a Good Thing” was her biggest hit, making #1 on the R&B charts.
9. Little Eva, “The Loco-Motion”. For a long time, I thought Little Eva was a fake name to hide the fact that Carole King was the vocalist. Listening to it now, I can’t hear King, and I don’t know why I ever had the notion.
10. Sam Cooke, “Twistin’ the Night Away”. Is this the greatest record that refers to The Twist in the title?