Hilton Valentine – January 29, age 77
In 1964, the first year of The British Invasion, The Animals’ first single in the U.S. spent three weeks at No. 1 with their version of the traditional blues song “The House of the Rising Sun.” The ascending and descending guitar notes were played by Hilton Valentine, who passed away on January 29 at the age of 77. The group’s singer Eric Burdon stated, “It was really Hilton who made the early Animals a rock band because I don’t think the element of rock was in the band until we found him.”
The quintet achieved three popular hits the following year beginning with “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” which returned to the Top 40 in 1977 as a Spanish flavored disco hit by the studio group Santa Esmeralda Starring Leroy Gomez. Around Labor Day 1965, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” made its Top 40 debut and became an anthem for soldiers in the Vietnam War.
The Animals’ final Top 40 single that year was “It’s My Life,” with Hilton’s guitar not only prominently featured on the A side but continued in style on the flip side “I’m Going to Change the World,” written by Eric Burdon.
Flip side: I’m Going to Change the World
A side: It’s My Life
Top 100 debut: November 6, 1965
Peak position: 23
Hilton’s final time in the Top 40 happened the following year with The Animals’ “Don’t Bring Me Down.”
Hilton released a solo album in 1969, was reunited with The Animals for the late 1970s and early 1980s albums and was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with the other Animals, in 1994. In recent years, Hilton released the albums Skiffledog: It’s Fold N Skiffle Mate! in 2004, Skiffledog on Coburg St in 2011 and Merry Skifflemas! with Big Boy Pete in 2011.
Mary Wilson – February 8, age 76
In addition to The British Invasion, another popular musical phenomenon in the 1960s was the Motown sound, with that label’s biggest act being the trio known as The Supremes, featuring Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, and the one member who was with the group their entire career from 1959 through 1977, Mary Wilson, who passed away on February 8 at the age of 76. The trio achieved a dozen No. 1 singles in the 1960s, surpassed only by The Beatles, beginning with “Where Did Our Love Go,” in 1964, later covered by Soft Cell in the 1980s.
Mary wrote about the trio's mid-1960s success in her 1986 book Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme, “We were recording our hits in German and Italian, which we learned phonetically, recording new vocals over the original backing tracks, and were enjoying our fifth consecutive number one hit, ‘Back in My Arms Again.’” Mary, along with Florence, were mentioned in the lyrics. In the late 1970s, the song returned to the Top 100 for a second time by Genya Ravan, who had previously been part of the group Ten Wheel Drive. The song was covered three more times before the decade ended by the post-Grand Funk trio Flint, Nicolette Larson, and The Michael Stanley Band.
The flip side of The Supremes’ original recording of “Back in My Arms Again” was “Whisper You Love Me Boy,” a softer song, featuring bouncy lilting lines and a keyboard, similar in style to what Ruby and the Romantics showcased on “Our Day Will Come.” While Diana used a softer whisper on the lead vocals, Mary and Florence delivered strong backing vocals. This Motown composition, written by the Holland-Dozier-Holland team, like the A side and many of The Supremes’ hits, was originally intended to be a follow up hit for Mary Wells’ “My Guy,” but went to the Supremes instead.
Flip side: Whisper You Love Me Boy
A side: Back in My Arms
Top 100 debut: May 1, 1965
Peak position: 1
In 1967 Florence left the group, as did Diana in early 1970, with Mary as the sole surviving member in the 1970s for the Top 10 hits “Up the Ladder to the Roof” and “Stoned Love,” plus six more Top 40 hits.
Motown founder Berry Gordy stated, “The world has lost one of the brightest stars in our Motown family. Mary Wilson was an icon and was extremely special to me. She was a trailblazer and will be deeply missed.” Mary, along with Diana and Florence, were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.