Classic Chart Check-In: 5 Underrated Gems in the Top 40 from 55 Years Ago This Week

What were you doing this week in 1969? Here’s the thing: Even if you weren’t alive back then, chances are you know some of the music that was denting the Billboard charts around that time.

Videos by American Songwriter

There were classic songs on the chart that week from artists like Glen Campbell, Simon and Garfunkel, and Aretha Franklin. We’re going to focus today on five songs that might not be that well-remembered after all these years, but are just as great as some of the era’s evergreens.

“First of May” by Bee Gees (No. 37)

This song might be better known today as the cause of friction within the Bee Gees. Robin Gibb wanted a song he had written to be the band’s single, but “First of May,” written by Barry Gibb, was chosen instead. It frustrated Robin so much that he left the band (although he would return the following year). In any case, “First of May” should get attention simply based on its charms as a recording. The strings are lush, the melody is gorgeous, and Barry’s singing is touching as he opines on how relationships can deteriorate over time.

“Atlantis” by Donovan (No. 25)

“Atlantis” eventually made it into the Top 10, but it doesn’t get as much airplay today as some of Donovan’s other classics. Perhaps it’s because it features a somewhat odd construction, with mostly spoken-word poetry accompanied by a soaring chorus. But it’s captivating, as those transitions within the song take place smoothly thanks to fine production from Mickie Most. If you’ve forgotten about this song, check out the scene in Goodfellas where Joe Pesci gets in a bloody bar brawl, as “Atlantis” is what’s playing over the carnage.

“I Can Hear Music” by The Beach Boys (No. 24)

For The Beach Boys to survive when Brian Wilson’s participation became more sporadic in the latter part of the ’60s, other members of the group needed to step up. Carl Wilson had truly started to come into his own. Case in point: “I Can Hear Music,” which was a cover of a song by The Ronettes that had been released to minor success three years earlier. Carl produces this track and also sings lead. It casts that classic Beach Boys’ glow, especially when it comes to the vocal arrangement—and it does so without any contribution from Brian.

“Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” by Neil Diamond (No. 22)

If this song is remembered at all, it’s as an oddity quite different from most of the rest of Neil Diamond’s catalog. It wouldn’t rise any higher than No. 22 on the charts, perhaps because it’s a bit of an unwieldy track. But Diamond deserves a ton of credit for trying something so different and putting it out as a single instead of burying it as an album cut. We’ll admit that, as a preacher, Diamond makes a good singer/songwriter. But the musical parts are never less than thrilling, with Diamond easily straddling the lines of pop and gospel.

“Traces” by Classics IV (No. 20)

This song actually made it all the way to No. 2 on the charts, although it and the band that recorded it don’t get a lot of publicity these days. Which is too bad, because it’s quite an affecting ballad (and these guys posted several hits). The arrangement is easy listening, but it goes down smooth with its melding of disparate elements like oboe and saxophone. Written by Buddy Buie, J.R. Cobb, and Emory Gordy Jr., the song itself finds a nice little bittersweet niche. And Classics IV lead singer Dennis Yost provides a touching lead vocal to top it all off.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Songwriters Hall Of Fame

Leave a Reply

Is There a New Episode of 'American Idol' Tonight, May 5, 2024? How to Watch

Is There a New Episode of ‘American Idol’ Tonight, May 5, 2024? How to Watch