When it comes to music, 1969 was quite the year. But that’s probably because 1969 was an incredible year in general. It was the year of Woodstock. It was the year that we put a man on the moon with Apollo 11. The Who released Tommy. Charles Manson was on the loose. The Stonewall riots took place. The Beatles gave their last public performance (on the roof of Apple Records). PBS was established. Funny Girl and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were in movie theaters. As far as epic pop culture years go, this was a big one. And believe it or not, it was all 50 years ago.
Here’s a roundup of some of the songs that were playing on the radio (and probably at Woodstock) when all of this went down:
6. Pinball Wizard — The Who
Featured on the rock opera album Tommy, this song was an instant hit among fans. While some say that the lyrics are clumsily written, the song is one of the most recognizable from this album.
Ain’t got no distractions
Can’t hear no buzzers and bells
Don’t see no lights a-flashin’
Plays by sense of smell
Always gets the replay
Never seen him fall
That deaf, dumb, and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball
5. Crimson and Clover — Tommy James and the Shondells
Word has it that the band came up with the title of the song before any of the lyrics or music were written. Tommy James said that crimson was his favorite color and that the clover was his favorite flower. But drummer Pete Lucia said that he thought of the title while watching a football game between Morristown Crimson and Hopatcong (green, like clover.) Nonetheless, the song hit number one on the U.S. charts and stayed on the charts for 16 weeks.
I wish she’d come walking over
Now I’ve been waiting to show her
Crimson and clover
Over and over
4. The Ballad of John and Yoko — The Beatles
This song tells the story of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s marriage and was written by Lennon while he was on his honeymoon with his wife. He was so inspired to create the song that he and Paul McCartney recorded it immediately and didn’t wait for George Harrison or Ringo Starr to return to town (they were away on vacation and filming a movie, respectively). This was the final number one hit for the band.
Honeymooning down by the Seine
Peter Brown call to say
You can make it O.K.
You can get married in Gibraltar near Spain
3. A Boy Named Sue — Johnny Cash
Not many people know that this song was actually written by poet Shel Silverstein and performed by Johnny Cash. It tells the story of a man whose father knew he would be absent from his son’s life, and named him Sue. Having the name Sue causes him great hardship throughout his life, but he has to learn to be tough as a result. He realizes, when he accidentally encounters him later in life, that his father did him a favor, since he wouldn’t have been there to teach him how to defend himself. In the end, though, Sue is still pretty annoyed with his old man.
And he didn’t leave much to Ma and me
Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze
Now, I don’t blame him ’cause he run and hid
But the meanest thing that he ever did
Was before he left, he went and named me “Sue”
2. Proud Mary — Creedence Clearwater Revival
When Proud Mary was released, it was an instant hit in the United States. It went on to reach the number two spot on the charts for Creedence. While this song was written by John Fogerty and originally released by Creedence, Proud Mary hit popularity again when it was recorded by Ikeand Tina Turner in 1970 with a different arrangement.
Workin’ for the man ev’ry night and day
And I never lost one minute of sleepin’
Worryin’ ’bout the way things might have been
1. Sweet Caroline — Neil Diamond
In a 2007 interview, Neil Diamond said that he wrote this song about John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline. He had seen a picture of her on the cover of a magazine, and the image stayed with him. The song is often played at sporting events in the United States, including in the middle of the eighth inning of every game at Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox.
Good times never seemed so good
I believe they never could