Fifty Years of Vocal Groups

Where to start? Fifty years is a lot ground to cover, not to mention the limitless boundaries of genre, hmmmm…..

A great reference point is the Vocal Group Hall of Fame’s web site,, who for the past seven years has been inducting vocal groups of various eras, shapes and sizes.

After much deliberation, I finally decided to categorize the last fifty years of vocal groups in the following 10 segements:

  1. Doo Wop, the 50’s
  2. Early 60’s
  3. The British Invasion
  4. The Summer(s) of Love
  5. 60’s-70’s Soul Explosion
  6. The beginnings of change, the 70’s
  7. The MTV/VH1 era of the 80’s
  8. Major changes and challenges for 90’s till today
  9. One hit wonders
  10. Vocal groups who kicked around, and finally hit it big

Doo Wop, the ‘50’s

Ah, the good old days of hanging on the corner singing or hearing stories from relatives and friends about doo-wop tunes from the likes of the Platters, Dion & the Belmonts, The Ravens, The Skyliners, The Crows, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Ben E. King & The Drifters, and The Clovers. The music business was much simpler then, with virtually no television coverage other than perhaps Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and The Ed Sullivan Show. But there was the glorious mono AM radio, when if you stayed up late enough and had a decent transistor radio, not only could you pickup your local radio stations but you could also (crudely) pick up stations from as far away as 500-600 miles from home to hear and learn about music outside of your own regional area vocal heroes. And 78 records were still around, imagine how innovative it was when the 7 inch 45 hit the streets, and we are not talking about stereo or 33 & 1/3 LP’s just yet. It must had been interesting times for the music, far different than what we have available in media options and the information overload we have today.

The limited use of instruments and the great vocal harmonies are the essence of Doo Wop music, combined with easy to understand vocals and simplistic words which appealed to a vast majority of Americans, and people round the world. The street corners and school hallways gave birth to this form of music called Doo Wop, which is still heard today round the world, some fifty plus years later.

The Early 60’s

With the beginning of the 60’s the music scene from a mass media point of view was virtually unchanged, but by the late 60’s a lot of changes were on the way, especially with FM stereo radio looming.

The early 60’s were dominated by vocal groups like the Drifters who charted in 1960 with “Save the last Dance for me”, and the Tokens who scored with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, and who could forget Joey Dee and the Starliters “Peppermint Twist, Part 1” in 1962. But 1962 gave birth to the infamous Four Seasons, who released an onslaught of number one songs, first with “Sherry” & and followed by“Big Girls Don’t Cry” both in ’62, “Walk like a Man” in ’63, and “Rag Doll” in ’64. The Surf thing was happening out west, as Jan & Dean gave us “Surf City” in 1963, and the Beach Boys debuted “Surfing USA”, followed by their own flurry of # one scores with “I get around’ ’64, “Help Me Rhonda” ’65, and “Good Vibrations” in ’66.

Before we get on with the British Explosion, let us not forget that the early 60’s vocal group chart busters like, The Everly Brothers “Cathy’s Clown” 1960, The Shirelles “Will you love me tomorrow”, The Marvelettes “Please Mr. Postman, both from ’61, The Shirelles “Soldier Boy”, The Crystals “He’s a Rebel” from ’62, The Rooftop Singers gave us “Walk Right In”, Ruby and the Romantics delivered with “Our Day Will Come” and The Chiffons stepped up with “He’s so Fine” all from 1963. The Dixie Cups brought us to “The Chapel of Love” in ’64, and The Righteous Brothers handed us the timeless “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”. Jerry Lewis’s son delivered with “This Diamond Ring” in ’65, which was written by Blood, Sweat & Tears founder Al Kooper. American guitar bands started to appear, with the likes of Wayne Fontana & The Mind Benders “Game of Love”, the McCoys rousing classic “Hang on Sloopy” from Rick Derringer 1965, followed by The Young Rascals mega classic “Good Lovin’”, Tommy James debuted with “Hanky Panky” and The Throggs Hendrix like “Wild Thing” erupted on the scene in ‘66. But something was also happening across the pond, as well as in the Motor City, a completely new scene was groovin’ out west, having something to do with Flower Power. Lets look across the sea first.

The British Invasion

The first UK vocal group to score with a Number one hit stateside in the ‘60’s was and you guessed it, The Beatles with “I Want to Hold Your Hand’ in 1964, followed by “She Loves You”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “A Hard Day’s Night”, and “I Feel Fine” all in all, five chart toppers in their debut year stateside.

This feat opened the door for other fine Brit vocal bands in ‘64, such as Peter & Gordon who rose to the charts with “A World without Love”, and The Animals with Eric Burdon at the helm soared with the bluesy “House of the Rising Sun”. Chronologically, The Beatles opened 1965 with “Eight Days a Week”, Herman’s Hermits hit with light hearted “Mrs. Brown You’ve a Lovely Daughter”, and “I’m Henry the VIII, I am”. The Beatles countered with “Ticket to Ride”, and “Help”. Then the Rolling Stones suddenly appeared and gave us plenty of satisfaction with “I Can’t Get No, Satisfaction” and “Get off of My Cloud” only to be trumped by the Beatles with “Yesterday” to close out ’65. Also arriving on the scene in ’65 was the Dave Clark 5 who clicked with “Glad all Over” and “Over and Over”.

The Beatles continued their reign in ’66 with “We Can Work it Out” and “Paperback Writer” as the Stones got dark with “Paint it Black”.

The Stones struck gold first in ’67 with “Ruby Tuesday”, but the Beatles returned a one, two-three knock out punch with “Penny Lane” the psycodelic “All You Need is Love” and “Hello Goodbye”.

The UK explosion at this point had pretty much turned into a two horse race, and the DJ’s were having fun with call in contests as to which band was better, The Beatles or the Stones? But the Beatles were about to disband, and gave us only three number one hits in 68 & ’69, and “70 “Hey Jude”, “Come Together/Something” and “The Long and Winding Road”. Meanwhile, the Stones were just starting to warm up to their best work which I have fee took place in 70’s. The Stones closed out the 60’s with their classic show-stopper “Honky Tonk Women” in 1969.

I had a hard time trying to categorize the Monkees, were they UK band? Half and half, but no doubt The Monkees marketing team were taking dead aim at the Beatles. As the Beatles made good use of films for the movie theatre, the Monkees wisely positioned themselves with a weekly national television show. Number one hits for the Monkees were the Beatles like, “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I’m a Believer” from 1966, and “Daydream Believer” 1967.

The Summer(s) of Love

Vocal groups from the hippies? Yeah man, lets try to flash back. Well there was the Mamas & Papas, The Loving Spoonful, The Young Rascals, The Quicksilver Messenger Service had great vocal harmonies when Dino Valenti was the leader of the band, and certainly the Jefferson Airplane had own unique style of vocals with Grace Slick, Marty Balin, and Paul Kantner. Let us not forget the Roger McGuinn’s Byrds, Janis Joplin & Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jim Morrison and The Doors, Canned Heat, The Youngbloods with Jesse Colin Young, What a Beautiful Day, Cold Blood, Tower of Power, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young who were in part hanging out with the Grateful Dead and the Airplane during that hazy era from Bill Graham’s fabled Fillmore West.

Leading the way on the charts was the Los Angeles based The Doors who scored mightily with “Light My Fire” 1967. New York City’s John Sebastian’s Loving Spoonful had a huge hit with “Summer in the City” 1966, as did those other NY boy’s The Young Rascals who hit gold with “Good Lovin’” in ’66, “Groovin” 1967, and “People Got to be Free” in ’68. The Mamas and Papas stormed on to the charts with “Monday, Monday” in ‘66. And who could forget when the Jefferson Airplane first landed with “Somebody to Love” in 1967.

Underground FM radio hits came from The Youngbloods who had “Love One Another”, Quicksilver Messenger Service did very well with “Have another hit of Fresh Air”, A Beautiful Day’s “White Bird” was a late night FM radio staple, as was Canned Heat’s “Going Up the Country” and “Lets work Together”.

Probably fueled by the later mind expansive work of the Beatles, and the adoption of longer track time FM “Stereo” radio, came this pretty wacky period of music out from the hills near by to San Francisco, L.A, and NYC. One thing is certain, all the bands mentioned above all had a great vocal capabilities and superb harmonies, perhaps under-rated, but top notch no doubt.

60’s-70’s Soul Explosion

Soul was pretty much a new concept during the early ‘60’s, but that was about to change as Motown ruled the dance scene with a never ending bevy of vocal group artists such as the Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, and The Jackson Five whom all became superstars. There were other very noteworthy soul stirrers, such as Isley Brothers, Pointer Sisters, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Fifth Dimension, Rufus with Chaka Kahn, Earth, Wind and Fire, Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions, Sly and the Family Stone, and The Staple Singers who all became household names, and large selling vocal groups.

The very same year the Beatles kicked off the British invasion, The Supremes were the first Soul vocal group to hit gold in 1964 with three number one hits: “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me” all in ‘64.

The Temptations got their first gold, with “My Girl” in 1965, as did the Four Tops with “I Can’t Help Myself, Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch”. The Supremes were still on a roll in ’65, ’66 and ‘67 with, “Stop! In the Name of Love”, “Back in My Arms Again”, “I Hear a Symphony”, “You Can’t Hurry Love”, “You Keep Me Hanging On”, “Love is Here and Now You are Gone”, and “The Happening”. The Supremes became Diana Ross & the Supremes in 1968 and hit pay dirt with “Love Child” and “Someday We’ll Be Together” in ’69.

Sly and Family Stone got their first big hit in 1969 with “Everyday People”, followed by “Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Again) 1970, and finally with their last number one hit “Family Affair” in 1971.

The Jackson Five started their string of hits in 1970 with “I want you back”, “ABC”, “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There” all from the same year, but never reached the top of the charts as The Jackson Five thereafter.

The Temptations returned to glory in 1971 with “Just My Imagination (Running Away from Me) and “Popa Was a Rolling Stone” from the same year.

The Staples Singers got their first of two Number one hits in 1972 with “I’ll Take You There” and again in 1975 with “Lets Do It Again”.

The Ohio Players took soul to another level with two of their biggest hits, “Fire” 1975 & “Love Rollercoaster” in ’76, as did Earth, Wind and Fire who broke it all open with “Shining Star” in ’75. Wild Cherry was another new kind of Soul band with the 1976 smash “Play That Funky Music” as was Chic’s “Le Freak” from ’78, The Commodores kept the end of the 70’s soulful with “Three Times a Lady” in ’78 & “Still” in ’79.

Author’s Note: Starting around 1964 was a very fascinating time for music. As the British Invasion took place in 1964, soul was also being born, and that hippie/beat scene that was just starting to go through its mind- blowing expansion mostly from the left coast. This was an extremely strong era of “new” music created starting from 1964 through the early ‘70’s, the likes of which I am not sure we will ever see again. And of course this music was built around great vocal harmonies from the outstanding vocal groups who came into existence during this time frame!

The beginnings of change, the ‘70’s

The winds of change were upon us as music entered the 1970’s, the Fillmore’s East and West were closing down as Fillmore promoter Bill Graham no longer wanted to compete with the larger halls, as the more corporate minded bands wanted to perform in larger venues for more money. Thus music industry was just starting to become big business, and also less intimate. The business “suits” had arrived on the scene, and were able to capitalize on the potential revenues that were now for the first time obtainable with both larger venue’s to play in, and more lucrative record contracts that could be had, due to the explosive growth of FM radio, and the accessibility of national TV exposure that was being given to vocal and rock bands of this time period.

As previously mentioned the Motown and Soul explosion was a huge financial boom. The Jackson Five, Four Tops, The Temptations, The Supremes and their various spin offs were all riding high. The Brit bands also were big money making bands, as members of the Beatles went on to strong solo careers as well as The Stones were hitting their best creative stride. The Grateful Dead had a massive following, the Jefferson Airplane kind of sort of became the Jefferson Starship and would later have number one hits as The Starship in the ‘80’s, and even the Grateful Dead hit with “Touch of Grey” also in the ‘80’s.

New groups were popping up all over the place, as the music was really reaching the masses for the first time with its new-found media coverage and exposure.

Three Dog night became a big favorite with their fine vocal harmonies, hitting first with Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come” 1970, and “Joy to the World” in ’71. The Guess Who swooped down from the Great White North with “American Woman” 1970. The group America’s “Horse With No Name” was heard constantly on both AM and FM radio stations. Stories “Brother Louie” was a big dance hall classic from the year 1973. Grand Funk went to the top with “We’re a American Band” in “73. Steely Dan became the sweethearts of both FM cool programming and AM top of the charts with “Reelin’ in the Years” and “Do it Again” from their great debut recording “Can’t buy a thrill” from ’72. Looking Glass also had a neat summer hit with “Brandy” in 1972.

The Eagles also broke out of the box quickly with “Take it Easy”, “Best of My Love”, “One of these Nights” from 1975, again with “New Kid In Town” from 1977, and with the addition of Joe Walsh to the band “Heartache Tonight” ’79 became a big mega seller. The Doobie Brothers after several strong albums in the early 70’s rose to the top of their class with “Black Water” 1975, and with the addition of Michael McDonald rose again with “What a Fool Believes” in ’79. The band Chicago, another FM radio staple band noted for their long instrumental brassy tracks found success with “If you Leave Me Now” in 76, and again in ’82 with “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”. Fleetwood Mac who started as a blues band with Peter Green in the ‘60’s went through radical musician changes and connected big time with “Dreams” in 1977, as Bachman Turner Overdrive rocked on with “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” in 1974.

The Bee Gees, another kind of FM underground band from the early 70’s turned into a powerhouse hit manufacturer charting with “Jive Talking” 1975, “You Should Be Dancing” 1976, “How Deep is Your Love” ’77, and last but not least from the movie Saturday Night Fever, we almost never heard enough of “Night Fever” in 1978.

Hall and Oates, whose earlier albums from the earlier 70’s (especially Abandoned Luncheonette, which had sax great Joe Farrell on board) did well on the charts, but nothing like the string of hits such as “Rich Girl” 1977, “Kiss on My Lips” & “Private Eyes” 1981, and “I cant go for that” in ’82.

Later 70’s bands like The Bay City Rollers scored with “Saturday Night” 1976, The Knack’s “My Sharona” 1979, M’s “Pop Music” also from ’79, Styx “Babe” 1979, and Abba flew in from Europe and had a huge US hit with “Dancing Queen” 1977. Hard to believe that all of this paragraph’s vocal bands landed at the top of the charts!

The MTV/VH1 era of the 80’s

If you had thought that the 70’s media expansion was explosive, then as the Bachman Turner Overdrive said in 1974, “You ain’t seen nothing Yet” ba-ba-ba, baby!

MTV: What a great concept in its original offering, I was amazed with the amount of exposure some of my favorite vocal bands were receiving twenty-four hours of a day, seven days a week. As the 80’s progressed MTV spun off to a younger generation, and gave birth to VH-1 for the baby boomers, which was still kind of cool to watch, but not as ground breaking as the original MTV inception, where you could see the Stones, The Dead, J. Geils, and countless other bands I never would have thought to have seen on a video tape at that time, and far fetched in my mind to be seen on national television? How cool! Ah, but it was not to last, as Pete Townsend said, “The Music Must Change”, but was it for the better?

The early 80’s consisted of a wide variety of vocal groups, some of which were new artists like Blondie, KC & The Sunshine Band, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, The Human League, Men at Work, The Police, Toto, Duran Duran, Wham, and Tears for Fears who all came on the scene and connected with big hits. As we now know, some of these vocal bands were just flash in the pan’s, others went on to superstar status. One thing was clear, the listening audience was getting a wide array of choices to choose from. Lets take a look:

KC and the Sunshine band opened the decade with their “Please Don’t Go”, the UK’s Queen broke open with two smashes the roots rock “Crazy little thing Called Love” and followed with a completely different sound “Another one Bites the Dust”, both climbed straight to the top of the charts in 1980.

After many years of spacey art rocking Pink Floyd went ultra mega with “Another Brick in the Wall” ’80. REO Speedwagon captured the brass ring twice with “Keep on Loving You” ’81, and “Can’t Fight the Feeling” ’85. The J. Geils band with Peter Wolf handling the vocals were a good blues band from Boston often opening for bands at the Fillmore, but catapulted to the top of their peers with “Centerfold” a MTV classic video in 1982. After establishing themselves as a classic art rock band in the 70’s with a large following, YES got their claim to fame with “Owner of a Lonely Heart” in 1984. The remnants of the Jefferson Airplane put it all together in 1985 when The Starship hit with “We Built this City” and “Sara” in 1986. Phil Collins took over the singing chores from Peter Gabriel when Genesis really went on a roll after spending most the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s as mostly an underground experimental band and gave us “Invisible Touch” in ’86. It is interesting to note in that very same year ex Genesis vocalist the aforementioned Peter Gabriel also scored with “Sledgehammer”.

A brand new band Blondie featuring the vocals of Deborah Harry caught fire in the early ‘80’s with “Heart of Glass”, “Call Me”, “The Tide is High” and “Rapture”, and another lady rocked us out with “I love Rock and Roll” in ’82 by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

Survivor capitalized on the box office movie hit “Rocky” with “Eye of the Tiger” in 1982. Another one hit wonder Dexy’s Midnight Runners connected with good time feeling “Come on Eileen” in 1983.

From Down Under, Men at Work controlled the charts in ’82 & ’83 with “Who Can It Be”, and the appropriately titled “Down Under”. From across the pond The Police bulleted to the top with “Every Breath You Take”. The great Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart teamed up and formed The Eurythmics scoring with another MTV classic “Sweet Dreams” in 1983. Tears for Fears cemented their vocal legacy in ’85 with two hits that very same year, with their smooth melodies and harmonies with “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Shout”. Another MTV favorite Duran Duran suddenly appeared and scored gold with “The Reflex” 1984, and from the James Bond movie “A View to a Kill” ’85. Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits teamed up with Sting and went gold with the artsy “Money for Nothing” ’85.

With very few exceptions, the second half of the 1980’s were pretty much dominated by brand new vocal groups, such as Simple Minds, The Pet Shop Boys, Simply Red, Bananarama, Berlin, The Bangles, U2, Los Lobos, INXS, Guns n’ Roses, UB40, The Escape Club, Mike and the Mechanics, Fine Young Cannibals, and New Kids on the Block. It should be noted that most of these bands owe their claim to fame to the heavy exposure afforded to them on MTV and VH1, which was incredibly popular at this time. Lets take a closer look:

Though there were less than a handful of old time vocal groups which reached number one status during the second half of the decade, the most notable return to the top of the charts had to be the Beach Boys who returned to fame with the tropical “Kokomo” in 1988. The only other band who was not making its debut on the charts which went to number one was the band Heart who reached number one twice with “These Dreams” in 1986, and again in ’87 with “Alone”.

Times were definitely changing, as so many of the new vocal groups were taking control of the charts from the “established” bands of the early part of the decade as well as previous decades. Though with few exclusions most of these new bands were one hit wonders.

The Pet Shop Boys had a major hit with “West End Girls” ’86. Bananarama did a fun remake of “Venus” in 1986, Berlin scored with “Take My Breath Away” and who can forget the Bangles mega hit “Walk like a Egyptian” ’86. Other flashes in the pan included The Escape Club who took us to the “Wild, Wild West” in 1988, and Mike and the Mechanics who also connected with “The Living Years” 1989.

Vocal groups from the mid eighties who secured themselves a bit of a future included Huey Lewis and the News who gave us “The Power of Love” 1986, “Stuck with You” 1987, and “Jacobs Ladder” in 1988 (it should be noted that Huey Lewis and the News still make new recordings and tour the country extensively). Mick Hucknall and Simply Red stuck around for a while when they hit with “Holding Back the Years” in 1986. The great vocal group Boston soared to the top of the charts with “Amanda” in 1986. UB40 had some staying power with “Red, Red Wine” ’88, and “Can’t Help Falling In Love” in 1993. Guns and Roses went big time with “Sweet Child O’ Mine” in 1988. Roland Gift and The Fine Young Cannibals established themselves with “She Drives Me Crazy” and “Good Thing” both from 1989. New Kids on the Block became MTV sweethearts with “I’ll be loving you forever” 1989, “Hangin’ Tough” also from ’89, and ‘Step by Step” 1990.

The most significant new bands that emerged from the mid to later 80’s had to be U2, Los Lobos, Bruce Hornsby and the Range, and the ill fated INXS whose Michael Hutchence inexplicably committed suicide during its height in November of 1997, as the band had sold over thirty million records worldwide and performed in front of over twenty-five million fans. All of the above mentioned vocal groups including INXS (often with Terence Trent D'Arby on vocals) still record and tour today. Bruce Hornsby and the Range rose to the top of the charts in 1986 with “The Way It is”, Los Lobos scored with a re-make of ”La Bamba” in 1987 and recently released a new recording this year, INXS’s biggest chart buster was “Need You Tonight” 1988, and the always fashionable Bono and U2 broke through in ’87 with 2 number one tunes, “With or Without You” and “I still haven’t found what I am Looking for”.

Major changes and challenges for 90’s till today

The wonderful Billboard book of Number One hits, by Fred Bronson (which I used extensively for this article) offers a very short list of vocal groups from the period of 1990 through 2003. Thus creating significant challenges for previous established vocal groups, as well as for the Vocal Hall of Fame. Of the bands listed in Billboard it is obvious that the playing field has changed, and more limited. Vocal groups that made it to number one for the entire decade include: C + C Music Factory, Londonbeat, Extreme, EMF, Boys II Men, UB40, Ace of Base, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, The Spice Girls, Savage Garden, Usher, Next, Aerosmith, Barenaked Ladies, TLC, Destiny’s Child, Lonestar, matchbox twenty, N’Sync, and Nickleback. Not this writers familiar vocal bands, and only UB40 and Aerosmith who have charted hits made it into the 90’s are from the previous decade. It is also noteworthy to mention that in the last five years, less than ten vocal bands in total reached the honored status of charting a number one hit. Certainly, a lot has to do with the fact that many of the number one bands listed are solo artists, but what also is also striking is the hard cold fact that there aren’t as many new bands breaking through.

A random sampling from “The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits” reveals that in:

1959 - 5 vocal groups made it to number one
1969 – 10 vocal groups made it to number one
1979 – 10 vocal groups made it to number one
1989 – 8 vocal groups made it to number one
1999 - 2 vocal groups made it to number one

It seems like the industry has gone full circle, peaking out in the late 60’s through the late 70’s. What seems clear is that the opportunities for new bands (vocal groups or otherwise) are now much more limited. The Billboard charts of the last ten years show that the same groups chart over and over, and for longer lengths of time, making it increasing difficult for new groups and new music to be heard. Has the corporate culture of the large records labels with the mega stars limited the opportunity for new bands to breakthrough? I will let you be the judge of that question, but I must add that the numbers and stats don’t lie.

Just try to keep in mind that when you are out there shopping on the internet or at your local record store (whatever happened to our local record stores?), that your CD purchases are like voting in a election. The only way to affect change is to support the artists you enjoy by plunking down your hard earned dollars, so they can move up on the charts. The music business is like any business, as record sales dictate the opportunities for a specific vocal group means that they will have more dollars for advertising, thus allowing your favorite group the opportunity to be heard on the radio, cable/satellite networks, TV, and at larger venues. Finally, for obvious reasons, please don’t burn copies of CD’s for your friends and relatives!!!

One hit wonders

Okay time to lighten up, let’s look back at some of those one hit wonder vocal groups, and try to guess where are they today?

Starting with the 60’s, Joey Dee & the Starliter’s “Pepermint Twist, Part 1” 1962, Wayne Fontana’s “Game of Love” 1965, ? Question Mark and the Mysterians “96 Tears”, The Throggs “Wild Thing” 1966, Alex Chilton’s The Box Tops “The Letter” 1967, Gary Lewis and the Playboys “This Diamond Ring” 1965, The Lemon Pipers “Green Tambourine” 1968, The Strawberry Alarm Clock “Incense Peppermints” 1967,A Taste of Honey “Boogie Oogie”, 1969, and Steam’s “Na na na hey hey” 1969.

The 70’s yielded, Stories “Brother Louie” 1973, Looking Glass “Brandy” 1972, and the group M with “Pop Music” 1979.

The 80’s ruled with flash in the pan artists, how about Stars on 45 “Medley: Venus Sugar Sugar, No Reply, etc……” 1981, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” 1982, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “Come on Eileen” 1982, Pet Shop Boys “West End Girls” 1986, Bananarama “Venus” 1986, Berlin “Take My Breath Away” 1986, The Bangles (did’nt they try a comeback this year?) “Walk Like a Egyptian” 1986, Mike and the Mechanics “The Living Years” 1989, and the Escape Club’s “Wild, wild west” 1988.

The 90’s were much kinder, as the music industry consolidated, but how can we forget EMF’s “Unbelievable”, as incredible as that sounds!

Vocal groups who kicked around, and finally hit it big!

One of the most interesting thoughts that that hit me during the research portion of this article is was how many vocal bands kicked around the music scene with significant following and support, before breaking through to becoming a Number One charting vocal group. Lets look at a bakers dozen:

The Bee Gee’s were together for thirteen years before they broke up in 1969, then reunited in ’71, and struck gold with “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” which was originally written for Andy Williams.

Fleetwood Mac founded as blues band by ex John Mayall Bluesbreaker’s Peter Green, Jon McVie, and Mick Fleetwood, got their first number one hit after significant band member changes with more emphasis on vocals when “Dreams” went gold in 1977.

Genesis, had a strong following throughout the 70’s, but it wasn’t until Phil Collins took charge of the vocals that they had their first hit “Invisible Touch” in 1986.

YES, known for its great instrumentation and strong vocals by Jon Anderson throughout the ‘70’s, also made some lineup changes, and grabbed the brass ring with “Owner of a Lonely Heart” in 1984.

Pink Floyd, those spaced out boys of the 70’s from the UK, put it all together in 1980 with “Another Brick in the Wall”.

J. Geils, who spent many years as mostly a blues band, hit the big time with “Centerfold” in 1982. Do you remember the MTV video? Pretty hot stuff!

REO Speedwagon had several stong LP’s and a good following throughout the 70’s, but it wasn’t until 1981 that they reached the top of the charts with “Keep on Loving You”, and again in ’85 “Can’t Fight the Feeling”.

The Grateful Dead had a unbelievable following dating back to the mid 60’s, but did not hit the charts until “Touch of Grey” some twenty years thereafer.

The Doobie Brothers, made several strong LP’s in the early 70’s, and had a number one hit in 1975 with “Black Water”, but it wasn’t until Michael McDonald was added replacing Tom Johnston that the band gained its largest following off the huge number one hit “What a Fool Believes” in 1979.

Chicago had a series of great LP’s from the early ‘70’s with emphasis on their jazzy brass charts, but it wasn’t until 1976 that they had their first commercial success with “If You Leave Me Now”.

Grand Funk Railroad was another early on FM radio staple (remember Closer to Home?) that took several years to reach the top of the charts, which they did twice, first with “We’re an American Band” in 1973, and again with the remake of the Little Eva classic “Loco-Motion” in 1974 written by Carol King & David Geffen, and was produced by Todd Rundgren.

Perhaps the wildest ride back to fame had to be the Beach Boys, who immediately shot to the top of the charts in the early-mid 60’s, and did it again almost twenty-five years later with “Kokomo” in 1988.

The Jefferson Airplane did it backwards, when they hit the charts in ’67 with “Somebody to Love” then became FM sweethearts throughout the 70’s, never charting again until they re-tooled themselves as The Jefferson Starship, and later on as just The Starship when they scored three times with “We Built This City” 1985, “Sara” 1986 and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” in1987.

Well there you have it. The main source for information for this article (other than my memory banks) came from “The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits” (highly recommended reading) written by my friend Fred Bronson. For sanity purposes and due to the fifty years that were needed to cover, I did limit referencing vocal groups that mostly only charted number one hits, therefore I know that I may have left out some your favorite vocal groups, for those omitted, my apologies.

Happy Listening,

Bob Putignano,
President NY Blues & Jazz, and radio
host @ WFDU’s, “Sounds of Blue”