Skip to main content

Hot 100’s Hottest Weeks, Aug. ’66: Beatles, Beach Boys & Birth of the Song of Summer

Since the first Hot 100, dated August 4, 1958, every week's chart has featured a few great, maybe even historic, music moments. It's just that some weeks have far more such moments than others.

Since the first Hot 100, dated August 4, 1958, every week’s chart has featured a few great, maybe even historic, music moments. It’s just that some weeks have far more such moments than others.

Our assignment: Shine the spotlight on those weeks. So far we’ve made stops in 1983 and 1999, and now we travel back to this week in 1966 for a pivotal point in pop music: the final days of AM radio owning rock ’n roll.

As more contemporary recording acts opted to make larger statements on albums rather than rely on singles, FM stations began to embrace a format less restrictive than top 40, allowing for the play of songs not yet or never released as singles. Several of those albums, such as the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the Beatles’ Revolver, are represented with songs on this particular week’s Hot 100. But the chart is also rich with R&B from labels other than Motown, transitional songs for artists previously stuck in one genre, the rise of experimental rock and, arguably for the first time in Hot 100 history, a bounty of summer-themed songs paving the way for our annual “song of summer” obsession.

As we’ve done in past “Hottest Weeks,” we’ll stop at each standout song, with occasional comments from either the artists or a legendary radio personality who played those songs at the time. 

If you’re ready, travel back with us to when the raging war in Vietnam was just becoming unpopular, a Ford Mustang would set you back $2,500, and spy-based dramas — including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a hit movie this summer, and I Spy, starring the not-so-popular-anymore Bill Cosby — dominated primetime TV.  

1. “Summer In The City” – The Lovin’ Spoonful (third of three weeks at No. 1)

Mark Sebastian, younger brother of the Spoonful’s lead vocalist and chief creative officer John Sebastian, was 14 when he wrote the first version of “Summer In The City.” “I was in New York City’s Washington Square, where once the sun went down, girls would come out who you could flirt with,” Mark says. 

It’s no surprise that “Summer,” which became the group’s fifth consecutive top ten and only No. 1 single, was recorded in New York, where all the band members lived at the time. “The studio setting allows you to do magical things,” John says. “[The group’s] Zally [Yanovsky] beat garbage cans to get that noise at the beginning of the song. The traffic sounds came from an old radio sound man with hundreds of 78s.”

Not only was “Summer In The City” the first Hot 100 No. 1 with “Summer” in its title to hit during summer, but this was the first week in chart history where, arguably, four of the top five were summer-related. “Summer” would be replaced at the top the following week by Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” (see No. 5).

“It was great revenge for little brothers everywhere,” says Mark, whose new album The Real Story has just been released. “Writing the only No. 1 your brother’s band ever had? That’s a feeling of power.”

2. “Sunny” – Bobby Hebb (peak position)

Dick Clark’s Where The Action Is — TV’s daily pop music showcase during the mid-60s, and the precursor to shows like MTV’s TRL or BET’s 106 & Park — gave exposure to charting acts such as Hebb, who performed “Sunny” on Action days after the issue of Billboard with this chart hit the newsstands. 

While “Sunny,” like “Summer in the City,” seemed the perfect summer song, Hebb actually wrote it as a eulogy to his slain brother. Although he never had another major hit, “Sunny” became the gift that kept on giving, having been covered by hundreds of artists including Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye and more recently, Mark Ronson and Nick Cave.

3. “See You In September” – The Happenings (peak position)

Completing the trifecta of warm-weather songs in the week’s top three was the chart debut from another set of Jersey boys produced by 4 Seasons mastermind Bob Crewe. In fact, Crewe’s arrangement of “See You In September” — the original version of which the Tempos took to No. 23 in 1959 – owed a lot to the sound of the Seasons’ hits at that time. It didn’t hurt that “September’s” lovers-separated-for-the-summer theme had already proven successful for Brian Hyland (“Sealed With A Kiss”) and Gary Lewis and the Playboys (“Save Your Heart For Me”) during the summers of 1962 and 1965, respectively. 

Starting with “September,” the Happenings’ entire Hot 100 output consisted of remakes of earlier songs, including “I Got Rhythm,” originally a hit in the early 1930s for artists such as Louis Armstrong, which also made it to No. 3 the following year.

4. “Lil’ Red Riding Hood” – Sam The Sham And The Pharaohs (peak: 2)

At the same time the top movie at the box office was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? –starring Hollywood’s hottest couple, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton — the story of the original wolf in sheep’s clothing became the second hit for this Texas band to stop at No. 2, following Billboard’s No. 1 song of 1965, “Wooly Bully,” a year earlier.

Unlike the 1933 hit of “Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?” this version of “Lil’ Red Riding Hood” was no fairytale. Lead singer Domingo “Sam” Samudio, cast as the wolf, expressed his desire for Red by paraphrasing the original story’s key dialogue (“What a big heart I have/the better to love you with”).

“Riding Hood” has indeed lived happily ever after, having been used in the movies Wild Country and Striking Distance, the TV show Grimm and featured in a commercial for Volvo.

5. “Sunshine Superman” – Donovan (eventual peak: 1, 1 week)

“By this time it was obvious our audience had become very sophisticated,” recalls SiriusXM radio personality and book author Bruce Morrow, who was “Cousin Brucie” on top 40 powerhouse WABC in August of 1966. “Listeners were starting to demand music that was more complex and more reflective of their lives.”

With its trippy lyrics and rumored drug references, “Sunshine Superman” — which for Donovan represented a quantum leap from the Bob Dylan-like folk songs he’d charted with prior — was a prime example of that change in musical direction during this chart week. The song’s sound, often cited as one of the first examples of psychedelia, was mainly a product of session guitarists Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, both later of Led Zeppelin.

“Donovan was really an intellectual poet, and a little scary to an AM jock like me,” Morrow says.” [‘Sunshine Superman’] was different than anything we’d ever played.”

6. “Wild Thing” – The Troggs (peak: 1, 2 weeks)

Given the current extent of sexuality in lyrics, vocal delivery and music video, most of today’s hits owe a huge debt to “Wild Thing.” Troggs’ lead singer Reg Presley’s borderline-raunchy interpretation of otherwise innocent lyrics, combined with a guitar hook every kid wanted to learn, struck a chord (pun intended) with teenagers while making their parents wonder what was next.

One kid who learned that hook well was Jimi Hendrix, who a year later performed “Wild Thing” at the Monterey Pop Festival, the first major multi-act outdoor rock concert. Several months later, as interest in the 1968 Presidential campaign began to heat up, a version of the song as it might have been performed by then-Senator Robert F. Kennedy (actually comedian Bill Minkin) reached No. 20 on the Hot 100.

7. “You Can’t Hurry Love” – The Supremes (eventual peak: 1, 2 weeks)

“During that time of racial strife, Berry Gordy Jr. and Motown taught us acceptance of each other,” Morrow says. “At Motown shows the audience was 50/50, black and white.” 

The Supremes, the jewel in Motown’s crown, landed the seventh of their dozen No. 1 singles with “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Actually, the gospel-based track was the first of four straight chart-toppers for Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and then-member Florence Ballard. “Hurry” is notable for its bassline, sped up from that heard in the Cookies’ 1962 No. 17 single “Chains,” and later adapted by Daryl Hall & John Oates in their 1983 No. 1 “Maneater.” 

Motown was represented with three other songs on this week’s Hot 100, all of which would eventually reach the top 10: Stevie Wonder’s version of “Blowin’ In The Wind” (see No. 11), the Temptations’ “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” at No. 62 and Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” at No. 69. 

8. “Yellow Submarine” – The Beatles (eventual peak: 2)

Would Ringo Starr have had a successful solo career after the Beatles’ breakup if not for “Yellow Submarine”? The song which inspired the group’s 1968 animated film of the same name became the only of their top 10 hits with Ringo singing lead. 

It came at a turning point for the band, as they were not only ending their concert tour of the United States but quitting live performing for good, with their last official show ever this same week in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park (which was demolished just this summer). Ironically, that decision may have been related to the story behind “Submarine,” which was co-written (without credit) by Donovan. “It’s about the life they had been forced into living, [being] insulated from the outside world,” Donovan said while discussing the song on Howard Stern’s SiriusXM program last year. 

Nearly three years into their unstoppable run at top 40, just how big were the Beatles? Consider the continued frenzy surrounding any new single. “Capitol [Records] would send a promotion man with a security guard. The record was locked in an attache case, and Cousin Brucie could not have it until 9:03 p.m. on the night it was delivered,” Morrow says. “Since WABC’s signal reached 40 states at night, whenever I played a new record, a station in Detroit or Cleveland would be playing it the next morning because they recorded it off the air from us. It got so crazy we had to say ‘Beatle exclusive!’ over the record so the competition couldn’t record it.” 

9. “I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love” – Petula Clark (peak position)

“Tony [Hatch] had a way of writing that seemed to ‘fit’ my voice, so I loved everything we recorded together,” Petula Clark says of the writer/producer behind her first nine consecutive top 40 hits in America, the seventh of which was “I Couldn’t…”. “‘Downtown’ had created a wonderful vibe around us, and Tony was writing such great material for me. I had complete confidence in him.”

In the modern era, with a glut of international female solo superstars, it’s hard to believe Clark had that field to herself in 1966, although that came with unique challenges. “I was married with two small children, trying to juggle a career on two continents. The drug scene was all around me, but frankly, I was not tempted. Music has always been my ‘high’.”

“I Couldn’t…”, which became the fourth of her six top 10 hits, still holds a special place in her heart. “In concert, I save it until last. It seems to sum it all up.”

10. “Summertime” – Billy Stewart (peak position)

The fifth summer-related song in this week’s top ten dates back to 1935, when composer George Gershwin included it in his opera Porgy and Bess and it became a hit for the legendary Billie Holiday. While artists such as Sam Cooke and Rick Nelson also charted with it, and there have been other notable versions from Janis Joplin, Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis, the only one to reach the top 10 came from Stewart, the R&B stylist from Washington, D.C. who had been discovered by Bo Diddley.

It was also by far the most unusual take on the song, featuring Stewart’s trademark scatting and an elongated breakdown, both rarely heard in pop records at that time.

11. “Blowin’ in the Wind” – Stevie Wonder (eventual peak: 9)

While Bob Dylan was headed back to the top 10 on Billboard’s album chart with Blonde On Blonde, one of his earlier compositions was on its way to being the second of three top 10 singles for Stevie Wonder in 1966, and was this week’s No. 1 R&B single. 

“Blowin’ In The Wind,” a No. 2 song for Peter, Paul and Mary in 1963, became just as powerful a statement in Wonder’s hands, especially given the backdrop of race riots that summer in Cleveland and Omaha, following the violence the prior summer in Los Angeles’ Watts district. One high point is Clarence Paul’s accompanying vocals, especially when answering Stevie’s read of the lyric “How many years can a man exist/before he’s allowed to be free?” with “Too many years have gone by already, now, Stevie.”

13. “Mother’s Little Helper” – The Rolling Stones (peak: 8)

Although the burgeoning drug culture was focused on youth’s experimentation, leave it to the Stones to deliver a hit about parents and drugs. “Radio station general managers spent many a sleepless night deciding whether to play a song about mother, the sacred part of our world, popping pills,” Morrow says. “How dare anyone do that, and yet we were all tickled by it.” 

It was a risk for a band coming off six consecutive top 10 singles, three of them No. 1 (“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Get Off Of My Cloud,” “Paint It, Black”), but then the Stones’ entire career had been about taking the road less traveled at top 40. “They realized there was an opening for something a little tougher than the music that was out there,” Morrow says. “The Beatles were the good kids, so the Rolling Stones became rock n’ roll’s bad boys.

“Change was happening, the Stones took a chance, and the audience accepted it.” 

15. “Land of 1,000 Dances” – Wilson Pickett (eventual peak: 6)

Clearly, it’s never mattered that the title neither appears in the song, nor that Pickett mentions only six dances. None of that stood in the way of this becoming “the Wicked’s” highest-charting Hot 100 single and third No. 1 R&B hit in little over a year.

16. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – The Beach Boys (eventual peak: 8)

“Paul McCartney would tell me how intrigued he was in the direction Brian Wilson was going in,” Morrow says. “Brian was equally in awe of the Beatles. They stimulated each other’s creativity, causing each other to go on different roads.”

For the Beach Boys that summer, that creativity took the form of Pet Sounds, their most celebrated album ever. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” which explored growing up and mature love over a Phil Spector-inspired “wall of sound” arrangement, represented a further departure from the group’s days of surfing, muscle cars and girls on the beach. 

23. “Bus Stop” – The Hollies (eventual peak: 5)

“The lyrics paint the perfect picture of innocence and young love that the band experienced when growing up in the rainy, industrial mill towns in the North of England,” Hollies drummer Bobby Elliott says of the song that became their first of six top ten singles in America. “It took the guys less than an hour to nail the song in the studio.” 

Written by Graham Gouldman, later of 10cc, “Bus Stop,” the tale of the shared umbrella that led to long-term romance, was the biggest hit the group scored during Graham Nash’s time in the band, prior to his departure in 1968 to form a new group with David Crosby and Stephen Stills. 

25. “Over Under Sideways Down” – The Yardbirds (peak: 13)

“The song was really about all the decadence going on at that particular time, but also probably represented our lifestyle as a band right then,” Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty says. “Culturally, so many barriers were being broken down.”

“Over Under,” featuring the “Hey!” chant that united a generation, was the last of five top 20 hits in the U.S. for the band whose revolving-door list of lead guitarists reads like a rock hall of fame all by itself — Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page — and who, with McCarty, kick off a tour of the U.S. this fall.

Beck did the honors on “Over Under,” which ranked No. 23 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time. “We played with Slash a few years ago. Apparently it was his favorite guitar riff,” McCarty says.

33. “I Saw Her Again (Last Night)” – The Mamas & the Papas (peak: 5)

“We all assumed Cass [Elliot] would be a big solo artist,” the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian says of the “head Mama” who sang about him, the Spoonful and how both groups came up together on “Creeque Alley,” the group’s autobiographical hit from the following year. 

Elliot did eventually score a few solo hits, but not before her vocals helped turn the Mamas & the Papas into one of 1966’s biggest success stories. Following “California Dreamin’” and “Monday, Monday,” art imitated life on “I Saw Her Again.” The group’s third top five hit in a row was inspired by Denny Doherty’s affair with John Phillips’s then-wife Michelle, all three of whom were in the group with Elliot.

34. “The Dangling Conversation” – Simon & Garfunkel (peak: 25)

“Until we came along, you didn’t combine rock n’ roll that swings with an English major’s sensibility,” Art Garfunkel says. But that’s what the duo, coming off their first three hits, all top five, did with the string-driven, classically-inspired “The Dangling Conversation,” which referenced Emily Dickinson and pondered whether the theater was really dead.

“Paul and I said, ‘We finally have the world’s attention, now what do we do?’ We were thinking, If the audience likes our first three, can they follow us if we go a little more left field? Turns out we didn’t get away with it.”

But while the song, albeit a pop masterpiece, stalled out at No. 25, Simon & Garfunkel lived to fight another day, with nine more hits from albums that weren’t afraid to push the envelope. “We made album-making more of an artistic, open-ended, interesting thing,” Garfunkel says. “It was a very special time, rock n’ roll was very exciting then. People had only recently bought their stereos, and when you bought an album, you brought it home, put it on the turntable and stopped everything.”

35. “Sunny Afternoon” – The Kinks (peak: 14)

And the summer hits just kept on coming in August 1966. With Ray Davies at the helm, however, this was no normal summer song, rather the story of a bloke who’s lost all his money and girlfriend. As was the case with so many songs on the Hot 100 this week, “Afternoon” was a major step forward for the Kinks following most of the guitar-driven lighter pop fare they’d connected with a year earlier.

36. “Lady Jane” – The Rolling Stones (peak: 24)

“Doing my show [on WABC] had a different feeling about it than in the early ’60s,” Morrow says. “We were getting nervous and saw an eventual end for AM radio as we knew it, with the advent of FM and an audience hungry for something they weren’t getting from the top 40 format.”

The new experimental album-based FM stations were playing songs like “Lady Jane,” the Rolling Stones’ attempt at baroque pop, featuring sitar and marimba, and lyrics inspired by the widely-banned novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover. “What a complete revolution,” Morrow says about the song that was on the “B” side of the “Mother’s Little Helper” singer (see No. 13).

“The FM stations that were allowed to play other songs — and longer songs — from albums got away with it then because there were less sets in use, so less commercials,” Morrow says. “They weren’t selling pimple cream like I was.” 

37. “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” – Napoleon XIV (peak: 3)

“It took me about six months to finish writing the words because I kept losing my confidence in its potential,” Jerry Samuels, aka Napoleon XIV, says about the song that turned top 40 on its ear for a few short weeks that summer.

When he was done, Samuels had recorded not just a novelty record but what some have called the original rap record, as the entire song was him talking against a pounding rhythm, which hadn’t been done in pop music prior to that point. 

But would a record with a siren in its chorus extolling the joys of “the funny farm, where life is beautiful all the time” fly at top 40? WABC’s Cousin Brucie decided to give it a try. “I got a tremendous response from listeners to play it again, but I also got letters and calls from doctors, psychiatric institutions and the clergy begging, even threatening me to take it off the air.”

Hence “They’re Coming’s” quick journey up and down the Hot 100, as it was banned in cities across the country while becoming the fastest-selling single in history to that time. “I still have nightmares about that record,” Morrow says. “I never had a song that caused more problems.”

39. “Wipe Out” – The Surfaris (eventual peak: 16)

Although the Beach Boys had moved on, clearly there was still an interest in surf music that summer. “I think our label, which had been recently bought out by Paramount, said, if a surf song can still make it 1966, why not ‘Wipe Out’?” Bob Berryhill, rhythm guitarist for the Surfaris, says. “So they reissued it.”

After reaching No. 2 in the summer of 1963, “Wipe Out” did anything but its second time around. “During that summer we were No. 1 or 2 in cities like Detroit, Cincinnati, Orlando and Toronto,” Berryhill says. “Radio stations picked up on it again as a great summer anthem.”

Not bad for a song that was recorded on the fly when the group needed something for the other side of “Surfer Joe,” a song with vocals that was supposed to be the hit. “When we wrote and recorded it, we knew it needed something else,” Berryhill says. “I brought in a piece of plywood from behind the studio and cracked it over the microphone for a sound effect. Then our manager did this laugh that sounded like Goofy going over the falls. And that’s how it happened.”

The rest, of course, is history: both “Wipe Out” and this week’s No. 1, “Summer in the City,” rank in the top three among Billboard’s top 30 summer songs. Did Berryhill sense the Surfaris and “Wipe Out” were destined for greatness in 1963? “At one of our early gigs, this radio DJ said, ‘These guys are amazing.’ That DJ was Casey Kasem.” 

51. “God Only Knows” – The Beach Boys (eventual peak: 39)

How was it that one of the most praised songs in pop history — No. 25 among Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time, and Entertainment Weekly’s best love song ever, just to start — wasn’t really a hit at all upon its release?

“I think it was just such a departure that we were all afraid to play it,” Morrow says. “We do not as human beings like a major change from what we love.”

“Departure” is the perfect word to describe “God Only Knows”: the use of instruments such as French horns and cellos, a chord progression that harkens back to classical compositions, even the then-unheard-of use of the word “God” in the title, pushed the recording way beyond normal top 40 fare in the summer of 1966.

“God,” the “B” side of the “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” single (see No. 16), was also on the Beach Boys’ most acclaimed album ever. “Pet Sounds helped change the nature of American pop music,” Morrow says. “Suddenly, other artists were up against the wall.”

53. “7 And 7 Is” – Love (eventual peak: 33)

Even punk’s earliest moments date back to this chart week in 1966. Even with its angry vocals, frantic drumming and explosive ending (literally), “7 And 7 Is” somehow made it to the top 40 of the Hot 100. 

65. “Eleanor Rigby” – The Beatles (eventual peak: 11)

Like Pet Sounds, the Beatles’ just-released Revolver album explored new sounds not necessarily friendly to AM radio. “Prior to Revolver [they] were making infectious rock n’ roll with melodic hooks,” Garfunkel says. “Now they cross the line to saying, ‘We’re going to be as arty as we want to be, and take the kids along on a creative trip.’”  

“Eleanor Rigby,” which appeared on the “B” side of the “Yellow Submarine” single (see No. 8), was part of that trip. “It was almost like an opera,” Morrow says. Indeed, with its double-string quartet and lyrics focused on the elderly and loneliness, this was not your typical top 40 hit.

66. “Cherish” – The Association (eventual peak: 1, 3 weeks)

“To say it changed our lives would be an understatement,” Terry Kirkman, keyboard player for the Association and writer of “Cherish,” says about what was perhaps the love song to end all love songs in 1966. “The word came up when doodling song ideas,” Kirkman says. “It had no special value to me regarding any particular person in my life.’

“Cherish” ran up against a key issue at radio at the time, but found a clever way around it.  “When we finished recording, it ran a full minute too long for radio,” Kirkman says. “We sped up our recording tempo up to make it faster. When that didn’t work, we lied about the playing time on the label. God knows what puzzlement this might have caused programmers.” 

As it turned out, the Association never needed to worry, as “Cherish” ascended to No. 1 in just five weeks. As a ballad and popular slow dance, “Cherish” played in stark contrast to “Along Comes Mary,” the group’s debut hit earlier that summer rumored to be about marijuana. “While being my big life game changer, ‘Cherish’ was never a favorite of mine,” Kirkman says. “Many of my more valued inventions have rarely been heard, something I actually cherish quite a bit.”

72. “Cherry, Cherry” – Neil Diamond (eventual peak: 6)

Although “Solitary Man,” Diamond’s first chart entry as an artist, stalled out at No. 55, it was “Cherry Cherry” that got the ball rolling, becoming the first of the Brooklyn native’s 13 top 10 hits and kicking off a recording and performing career that continues today. 

“Diamond sang about the basics of life in a way that was new and exciting,” Morrow says. “He was a writer and artist who knew exactly what was going on in the streets.”

83. “B-A-B-Y” – Carla Thomas (eventual peak: 14)

With artists like Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Booker T. & the MG’s and Eddie Floyd, the Stax label had established itself as a force in R&B in the mid ’60s. Carla Thomas, daughter of Rufus (who scored with the pop and R&B hit “Walking the Dog” in 1963) gave the label its biggest hit in three years thanks in great part to her seductive vocals on “B-A-B-Y.” 

84. “You’re Gonna Miss Me” – The Thirteenth Floor Elevators (eventual peak: 55)

Finally, one that’s hard to classify: If garage rock, psychedelia, punk and jug band music were all thrown together in a blender, this is what might have come out. Lead singer Roky Erickson’s shrieks and wails may have made this less accessible than it already was, yet it made it nearly halfway up the Hot 100 with top 40 play in a handful of markets.