Various Artists: Radio Hits of the 60s

Terrific collection of AM radio’s highly varied legacy

Rather than picking an artist or label or scene or sound, Legacy’s pulled together thirteen original hit recordings that show the range of music that AM radio brought to its listeners. Collected here is New Orleans R&B (“Ya Ya,” 1961 and “Working in the Coal Mine,” 1966), Dixieland Jazz (“Washington Square,” 1963), Easy Listening (“A Fool Never Learns,” 1964), Folk Pop and Rock (“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine,” 1964 and “In the Year 2525,” 1969), Garage Punk (“Little Girl,” 1966), Soul (“I’m Your Puppet,” 1966 and “Cherry Hill Park,” 1969), Bubblegum (“Simon Says,” 1968), Trad Jazz Vocal (“The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde,” 1968), and Vocal Pop (“Worst That Could Happen,” 1969).

Even within these individual songs you can often hear more than one genre exerting its influence, such as the steel guitar and horns that provide accents to the superb pop production of Merrilee Rush’s “Angel of the Morning.” In this day of highly balkanized music channels and individually programmed MP3 playlists, it’s hard to imagine such variety inhabiting a single mass-market playlist, but that was part of AM radio’s power to attract and keep a broad swath of listeners. Playing this collection will remind you how good record and radio people were at picking and making hits – the winnowing process disenfranchised many, but what got through the sieves, particularly what got to the top of the charts, was often highly memorable.

Legacy’s disc clocks in at a slim 35 minutes, but what’s here is a terrifically nostalgic spin whose songs stand up to repeated listening forty-plus years later. True, Andy Williams’ “A Fool Never Learns” might wear out its welcome before the other tracks, but it’s part and parcel of the ebb and flow of 1960s AM radio. This set isn’t meant to be an all-inclusive compilation of any one thing in particular, but a reminder of the breadth that once graced individual radio stations across the land. There was a unity to AM radio’s audience that’s been replace by the free choice of the empowered individual. That personalization carries with it many benefits, but the range of this set may remind you of what’s also been lost. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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