"He (Smokey Robinson) reminded me of me - so excited and passionate about his music,”
-- Berry Gordy

"Time" Man of the Year: John F. Kennedy

Oscar for Best Picture: "West Side Story"

Oscar for Best Actor: Maximilian Schell for "Judgment at Nuremberg"

Oscar for Best Song: "Moon River" Emmy for Best Actor in a Continuing Series: Raymond Burr for "Perry Mason" Emmy for Best Actress in a Continuing Series: Barbara Stanwyck for "Barbara Stanwyck Show"
Grammy for Record of the Year: "Moon River" by Henry Mancini Oscar for Best Actress: Sophia Loren for "Ciocciara, La" Best Seller -- Fiction: "The Agony & The Ecstacy" by Irving Stone
"Runaway" by Del Shannon
"Runaway" was the product of two forces that produced the Del Shannon sound. The first came from Charles Westover's high school days when he experimented with his guitar playing in the high school gym and his vocals in the showers, practicing his falsetto. The second came while he was appearing at the Hi-Lo Club in Battle Creek, Michigan. He was working with a keyboard player (Max Crook) who was using a "musitron" -- a new electronic organ. Crook was playing around and hit a chord change from A minor to G. The sound caught Shannon's ear (he had changed his name) and he began working it into a new song he was writing. He had previously had an unsuccessful recording session with Big Top Records in New York -- he contacted them and got another session. "Runaway" was released in February and climbed to #1 on April 24th -- it was the number one song for 4 weeks. The hard driving beat and Shannon's voice, combined with the organ make it my favorite song of 1961.
"Quarter to Three" by Gary "U.S." Bonds

Gary Anderson became Gary U.S. Bonds when LeGrand records released his first single ("New Orleans") and the owner, Frank Guida, changed his name on the label. After "New Orleans" reached #6, there was no going back. LeGrand had an instrumental group, The Church Street Five that had released a single, "A Night With Daddy G" (Daddy G was saxophonist Gene Barge) which wasn't having much success. They asked Gary to write some words for the song. He reportedly came up with the lyrics within about ten minutes and the group started jamming. The performance was recorded (some say accidentally) and "Quarter to Three" was released in June, reached #1 in July and is my selection for the best dance song of 1961. The clapping and shouting in the background throughout the record give it a very party atmosphere and give credence to the "accidental" recording theory. Bonds would have further success with records such as "Dear Lady Twist" and "School is Out," but "Quarter to Three" was his only #1. His career waned after 1962, but was rejuvenated in 1981 when Bruce Springsteen collaborated on an album with him and made a #11 Billboard hit with "This Little Girl." Springsteen had used "Quarter to Three" as a closing number for many of his concerts. Dion Dimucci stated that "Quarter to Three" was his inspiration for "Runaround Sue." Bonds claimed that Chubby Checker copied it for his hit, "Dancing Party" -- the issue was settled out of court. This song definitely makes you feel like there's a party and you should be dancing.

"The Way You Look Tonight" by The Lettermen
Tony Butala, Bob Engermann and Gary Pike formed The Lettermen in 1960 and had a couple of unsuccessful recordings for Warner Brothers Records. In 1961 they moved to Capitol and hit the charts, first with "The Way You Look Tonight," and then with the top ten, "When I Fall In Love." "That's My Desire" was the "A" side of their first release until disc jockeys started playing the flip side more. "When I Fall In Love" had been a top 20 record for Doris Day in 1952. Either of these could be the "Best Slow Song" for 1961. The Lettermen would have only four other top 40 single, but would have a long string of successful albums, all reflecting their mastery of the romantic ballad. In 1962 they released their first album "A Song For Young Love" that contained both of their 1961 hits -- it remained on the chart for 58 straight weeks.
"Shop Around" by The Miracles
Barry Gordy founded Motown Records and auditioned The Miracles in 1960. He released their single, "Shop Around" on his Tamla label. It made #1 on the R & B chart and #2 on the pop chart in early 1961. Subsequent releases would be credited to just "The Miracles," but this first release was "The Miracles, featuring Bill 'Smokey' Robinson. It would officially become "Smokey Robinson & The Miracles" in 1967. "Shop Around" is easily recognized as a hit sound from the early 1960's, from the"just because you've become a young man, now" to its punch line, "my mama told me, 'you'd better shop around!") And of course, the line, "don't be sold on the very first one."
"Every Breath I Take" by Gene Pitney
"Every Breath I Take" only made it to #42 on the Billboard chart but it had a very good pedigree as it was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and produced by Phil Specter. It is considered by some to be the first example of Specter's "Wall of Sound." Perhaps because Pitney wasn't that well known as a singer at the time (he had only just recently made the charts for the first time with "I Wanna Love My Life Away"), the record didn't get much air play. But I would rank it among the best of Gene Pitney's recordings -- had it been released a couple of years later, I would bet it would have met with much greater success.
"Cupid" by Sam Cooke
"Cupid" is another record by Sam Cooke that should have ranked much higher than it did. His release only reached #17. Johnny Nash's version would reach #39 in 1970 and Tony Orlando & Dawn would take the song to #22 in 1976. The Spinners topped them all with it as part of a medley that would reach #4 in 1980. But I find Cooke's version superior to all of them, and yet it faltered at #17. During that time, Elvis Presley's "Feel So Bad," Brooke Benton's "The Boll Weevil Song," and Adam Wade's "Take Good Care of Her" all made the top 5. Cooke's "Cupid" is far superior to all of those.
"Crazy" by Patsy Cline
"Big Bad John" by Jimmy Dean was easily the most successful country song of 1961. And "Sea of Heartbreak" by Don Gibson is one of the more memorable country offerings. But "Crazy" by Patsy Cline is the "best." The pop style of Patsy Cline made it easy for her records to cross over. "Crazy" was written by Willie Nelson and at first, Patsy didn't like it because of the way it sounded on Nelson's demo record. But producer Owen Bradley gave it a ballad style and it made it to #9 on the pop chart. It was ranked as #85 on Rolling Stone's Best 500 Songs of All Time and #63 on VH-1's top 100 song list.