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Top 10 Oldies of 1963

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This list was compiled by me, your Oldies Guide at About.com, from various sources -- chart positions, sales figures from time of release to the present day, critical standing, and historical importance. Only 45 rpm singles that peaked on the pop Top 40 in 1963 are eligible; artists are only allowed one entry per year in order to give a more balanced view of the cultural landscape. (Click on "compare prices" to find the song on CD and buy it if you like!)

1. The Ronettes, "Be My Baby"

Philles 116 (August 1963) b/w "Tedesco & Pitman"
recorded June 1963, Los Angeles, CA

Boom. Boom-boom. BAP. Boom. Boom-boom. BAP. The intro to this, quite possibly the apex of both Phil Spector's reign and the Girl Group genre, is by now part of the world's cultural DNA. And why not? Ronnie Bennett (later Spector) embodies all that is innocent about young love and all that's beautiful about innocence, while the sound, which drops back down for a dramatic conclusion, dares anyone to deny it.

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2. The Kingsmen, "Louie, Louie"

Jerden 712 (June 1963) b/w "Haunted Castle"
recorded April 1963, Portland, OR

Frat-rock was hardcore R&B until the Kingsmen hit big with this, perhaps the template for all garage rock to follow: sloppy, electrified, raw in extremis, and yet forceful enough to wring out every last drop of drunken passion. Speaking of which, there are no dirty lyrics in this cover, despite the legend. The drummer himself has testified to dropping an audible f-bomb when he hit his sticks together, though.

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3. The Crystals, "Da Doo Ron Ron"

Philles 112 (April 1963) b/w "Git' It"
recorded February 1963, Los Angeles, CA

Sometimes nonsense can make quite a lot of sense in rock and roll, which is all about feel anyway. So when session singer Dolores Brooks -- not Crystal Darlene Love, who'd angered producer Phil Spector and was removed from the recording -- confesses to her backing Wall of Sound about what happened "when he walked me home," well, mere words wouldn't cut it. As giggly yet deadly serious as teenage romance can be.

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4. The Chiffons, "One Fine Day"

Laurie 3179 (1 June 1963) b/w "Why Am I So Shy"
recorded April 1963, New York, NY

Carole King had cut this as a songwriting demo, but was mortified to learn that Laurie planned to release it just that way. Or maybe, some say, it was written for Little Eva. But the Chiffons got the nod instead, and their distaff doo-wop made this declaration of intent an irresistable summer single. King cut it two decades later and enjoyed a modest hit, but no one can hope to claim the original's knowing joy.

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5. Stevie Wonder, "Fingertips Pt. 2"

Tamla 54080 (May 1963) b/w "Fingertips Pt. 1"
recorded June 1962, Chicago, IL

Everybody say YEAH! "Little" Stevie Wonder was hired at Motown mainly for his harp skills, but when the Motortown Revue hove into view at Chicago's Regal Theatre, Stevie's impromptu encore of this jazz number stole the show. Fortunately, the show was recorded for posterity (sweetened a little in the studio) and for solid soul gold. Listen for the new band members asking "what key?" as Stevie comes back on stage.

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6. Roy Orbison, "In Dreams"

Monument 806 (February 1963) b/w "Shahadaroba"
recorded December 1962, Nashville, TN

The Big O had bigger hits, but few have stood the test of time like this mini-opera, which gets even more Wagnerian than his previous high-water marks. If you've ever dreamed you were with someone, only to awaken to cold reality, you should be able to find yourself somewhere in this suicidally dramatic weeper. This may be why it became the highlight of a legendarily strange Hollywood film ("Blue Velvet").

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7. The Drifters, "Up On The Roof"

Atlantic 2162 (November 1962) b/w "Another Night with the Boys"
recorded September 1962, New York, NY

Yet another Goffin-King hit straight from the Brill Building mill, this elegant smash mined the same sweet urbanity found on earlier Drifters hits. But this time the bliss was there in form, not just function: for city-dwellers before central air, the roof of their apartment building would indeed seem like just such a paradise, with clean air and bright stars. Romance was sure to follow.

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8. The Surfaris, "Wipe Out"

Dot 16479 (May 1963) b/w "Surfer Joe"
recorded December 1962, Cucamonga, CA

Recorded in Frank Zappa's studio (!), this was originally a b-side instrumental, using the chords from the flip. But add in the crazy laugh of their manager, a broken shingle for a busted surfboard sound effect, tribal drumbreaks right out of Preston Epps' "Bongo Rock," and lots of soloing, and you have a classic. Not the first surf instrumental by any means, and maybe not even the best. But it is the most enduring.

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9. The Four Seasons, "Walk Like A Man"

Vee Jay 485 (26 January 1963) b/w "Lucky Ladybug"
recorded November 1962, New York, NY

The Jersey Boys continued their winning streak with this elaborate offering, spiced up with a pointless (but entertaining) drum roll of an intro. The fact that Frankie Valli could sing with such authority about the code of masculinity in a bizarre falsetto should convince you of his power. Or maybe the ambience comes from recording in a building that was, at that time, on fire. (It's true; look it up.)

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10. Lesley Gore, "It's My Party"

Mercury 72119 (April 1963) b/w "Danny"
recorded 30 March 1963, New York, NY

The epitome of the petulant girl-group lament, even if the only group here is the sweetie-pie from Tenafly's double-tracked vocal. No other recording comes close to capturing the spoiled girl on the verge of womanhood -- having your own party doesn't mean you get to own a boy, after all, even your boyfriend. And those of you who sneer at this song, consider this: Phil Spector was about to record it with the Crystals.

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What do you think?

Got a song that you think should be on this list? Want to talk about the songs that did make it? Just make a post in our forum!
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