Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1963

by Benjamin Ray

At the end of the '50s and beginning of the '60s, rock and roll had become safe, corporate, sanitized, a passing fad. A Decca record executive famously said guitar groups were "on the way out" upon hearing the Beatles in 1962. Something had to change, and in 1963, it did in a huge way.

Three major artists as we know them arrived this year –the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys – and kickstarted a revolution both musically and culturally. That would have been enough, but the rise of Motown, the slew of girl groups/singers and some great singles made this a truly fascinating year and the point where this Year That Was series begins.

The Beatles, of course, were the major event of the year in Britain; they had "She Loves You," Please Please Me and With The Beatles, and the strains of those hits (as well as "I Want To Hold Your Hand") that wafted into America were a sign of the whirlwind to come. Capitol labelmates the Beach Boys, meanwhile, wrote a string of songs about cars, surfing, girls and school, the sunny California sound and simple American pleasures seeping through in every note: "Surfer Girl," "Little Deuce Coupe," "Be True To Your School," "Surfin' U.S.A." Although Brian Wilson and Lennon/McCartney would write more sophisticated songs with increasingly complex structures and production, for many, these early songs define those bands.


Girl groups were a staple of radio this year, ranging from the Angels ("My Boyfriend's Back") to the Chiffons ("One Fine Day," "He's So Fine") to the Crystals ("Then He Kissed Me," "Da Doo Ron Ron") to Lesley Gore ("It's My Party," "Judy's Turn To Cry") to the Ronettes' "Be My Baby." That song and others bore an echo-heavy production by a new producer on the scene, Phil Spector, who would more or less trademark what would be known as the "Wall Of Sound."

Other hit songs from 1963 included the Four Seasons' "Candy Girl" and "Walk Like A Man," Jan And Dean's "Surf City," Martha And The Vandellas' "Heat Wave," Rick Nelson's "Fools Rush In," the Drifters' "On Broadway" and "Up On The Roof," Dion's "Ruby Baby," the Exciters' "Tell Him," Doris Troy's "Just One Look," Bobby Vinton's smooth "Blue Velvet," and Elvis' "Devil In Disguise." The ultimate garage rock anthem – pretty much the tune that started the whole movement – hit the airwaves when the Kingsmen released "Louie Louie," followed by the Surfaris' classic "Wipeout." And, of course, there was Allan Sherman's "Hello Mudduh, Hello Faddah."

The nascent Motown label saw the arrival of young Stevie Wonder, who had a hit with the jaunty singalong "Fingertips, Pt. 2," Mary Wells with "Two Lovers" and Marvin Gaye with "Can I Get A Witness." Sam Cooke also released the sublime Night Beat this year.


And then there was Dylan. Unpolished, timely, a hip and indestructible modern folkie, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan signaled the breakthrough arrival of a new talent and a voice that would help define a generation. Acolytes and imitators would soon cover his songs and spawn the folk rock movement (helped by Dylan himself going electric in 1965), but at the time it was just Bob, Trini Lopez doing "If I Had A Hammer" and Peter, Paul & Mary, who covered "Blowin' In The Wind" and wrote "Puff the Magic Dragon."

The excellent pairing of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman was released this year; other jazz highlights included Kenny Burrell's Midnight Blue, Eric Dolphy's Iron Man, Nina Simone's No Room For Squares, Charles Mingus' brilliant The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (his masterpiece), Bill Evans' Conversations With Myself, Thelonious Monk's Criss-Cross, Lee Morgan's Sidewinder and two Jackie McLean albums.

And that, friends, was the Year That Was in music.

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