In 1966, the successful songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King found themselves living in suburban New Jersey. The only problem is, they were city kids at heart. And with the counterculture brewing, they lashed out at the staleness of suburbia with “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” named after Pleasant Valley Way in the West Orange neighborhood where they lived — “status symbol land,” with “rows of houses that are all the same and no one seems to care.”
In the hands of the Monkees, who had a hit single with it the next year, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” is … well, pretty pleasant. An upbeat pop song that hides its message behind a smile. This may be the gentlest, most hummable protest single, ever.
Now listen to the 1966 King-sung demo, below, in which she projects a sense of suburbia-induced ennui that’s very different from the Monkees’ effervescence. This track — released in 2012, on her album, The Legendary Demos — seems a bit ahead of its time. In the Singer-Songwriter Era (the early- to mid-’70s, when King became a huge star as a recording artist, not just as a songwriter), her mellow rendition might have fit on Top 40 radio. But in 1966 … probably not.
On Aug. 19, 1967, the Monkees’ version of “Pleasant Valley Sunday” reached its highest position on Billboard magazine’s pop chart — No. 3, behind The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” and The Doors’ “Light My Fire.”
Other artists in the Top 10 that week included Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Procol Harum and the Young Rascals. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 1967 was the best year for popular music, ever.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.