They say that history is written by the victors, and nowhere is that adage more apt than on oldies radio. As much as I enjoy oldies radio, the indisputable fact is that I am listening to the same 200 or so songs over and over ad nauseum, 200 songs that represent the upper echelon of the Billboard charts for the era.
Ostensibly the cream rises to the top, but the Billboard charts prove yet another adage, that one about another, less pleasant substance that floats. I’m not calling everything that rises to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 shit by any means, but I would posit that oftentimes, perfectly good songs become stuck in the lower rungs of the Billboard ladder. What this means for you, oldies fan, is a drive-time commute sorely lacking in minor hits.
The definition of a minor hit is purely subjective; it may be a song that scrapes the bottom of the charts, a one-hit wonder that zooms to the top of the charts, only to descend as quickly, or a song that hovers in the mid-range of the charts before disappearing entirely. The fact that the song charted at all gives it minor hit status, but the fact that its tenure on the chart was short or undistinguished means that it is often lost to history, and thus to the playlists on oldies radio, regardless of its worthiness.
I hereby introduce “You Be the Judge – The Minor Hit Edition,” wherein I ask you, gentle reader, to judge a minor hit on its merits alone, and decide whether or not the song deserves to be relegated to the cut-out bin of music history, shunned by all but the most adventurous radio programmers, unavailable for download, in most cases, and available for purchase only on a ridiculously overpriced import from Japan or Germany.
For this inaugural edition of “You Be the Judge – The Minor Hit Edition,” I bring you one of my favorite minor hits: “Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)” by the Hombres.
I’ll skim over the biographical details of the late lamented Hombres and instead delve directly into the awesomeness of “Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out).” Ranking number 69 on Billboard’s 1967 Top 100 list, “Let It Out” is the perfect example of a minor hit – a song unknown to most but revered by the true believers. You may have heard it on that Bible of forgotten 60s gems Nuggets, or you may have heard it in Cameron Crowe’s rightfully forgotten minor hit Elizabethtown. Likely you’ve never heard it at all, or if you did, you thought you were listening to a Hee Haw skit, what with that crazy “I’m about to preach dear friends about John Barleycorn, nicotine and the temptations of Eve” intro.
The bitter injustice of “Let It Out”‘s minor hit status is only magnified when you realize that the number one song on Billboard’s 1967 Top 100 list is “To Sir With Love” by Lulu, a song you’ve probably never heard of, and if you have heard, never want to hear again. I’m sure that “To Sir” has its merits, but whatever they are, they pale in comparison to the sheer wickedness of “Let It Out.” Yet, it’s easy to see why, in 1967 or any other year, for that matter, a song that reflects the free-association wordplay of Bob Dylan and predicts Beck by three decades would have languished in the middle of the charts while the twee pap of “To Sir” soared. It’s hard to cozy up to a song that sounds like the ramblings of someone who’s just smoked a bowl – unless you’ve just smoked a bowl.
A sample of the lyrics:
Saw a man walking upside down
My TV’s on the blink
Made Galileo look like a Boy Scout
Sorry ’bout that man
Let it all hang out
Deep, right? Yet it’s got a great groove, propelled by what sounds like a child’s toy organ. It makes you want to giggle and shake your moneymaker, and what more does pop music need to do if it can accomplish that?
Well, anyway. Decide for yourself – does “Let It Out” deserve it’s minor hit status, or should it have been a monster? I imagine you can guess my vote.
LISTEN: Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)