Johnny Rivers: ‘Secret Agent Man’

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Johnny Rivers Album CoverThe great Johnny Rivers (born John Ramistella in 1942 in New York City) enjoyed nine Top 10 singles from 1964’s “Memphis” (which reached #2) to his last, 1977’s “Swayin’ To the Music (Slow Dancin’).” In between were such classic songs as “Seventh Son” (#7 in 1965), “Baby I Need Your Lovin'” (#3 in 1967) and 1972’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” (#6).

In 1966, he scored his sole #1 hit with “Poor Side of Town.” One of his best known songs, 1967’s “Summer Rain,” stalled at #14.

“Secret Agent Man,” written by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, at a time when TV series and films about spies were all the rage. His original vocal of just a verse and a chorus were first recorded in 1964 for a short-lived TV series, Secret Agent. Additional verses – and thus the 1966 single – were recorded afterwards. “They’ve given you a number and taken away your name….”

Rivers’ single, released in late February, peaked at #3 on April 23, 1966. The instrumental rock band, the Ventures, released their own version of the song at the same time as Rivers’. Though theirs was the first to chart, it peaked at just #54.

If you knew that Rivers started a record label – Soul City Records – and earned two Grammy Awards for producing the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius”/”Let The Sun Shine In,” raise your hand. And if you also knew it was legendary disc jockey Alan Freed who advised the teenage John Ramistella to adopt the stage name he did, we’re really impressed.

What a voice! Our Classic Video…

And here he is, performing it on Oct. 19, 1976, on The Midnight Special

Related: Our career-spanning feature on Rivers

Rivers was born on November 7, 1942.

And a bonus… Watch Rivers perform his first chart hit on American Bandstand in 1964

Related: Our Album Rewind of Johnny Rivers at the Whisky a Go Go

Many of Rivers’ recordings are available in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here.

Best Classic Bands Staff

7 Comments so far

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  1. Jagdriver
    #1 Jagdriver 8 November, 2017, 07:12

    Johnny was also a behind-the-scenes shaper of the Monterrey Pop Festival. We saw him in concert in the late ’90s; it was one of the very best concerts we’ve ever been to. He’s quite the entertainer!

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  2. JCB
    #2 JCB 8 November, 2019, 07:32

    To think this guy is not in the R+R Hall of Fame is sickening. A true legend in music is so many different ways.

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    • Chuckfan1
      Chuckfan1 23 April, 2023, 12:14

      Love JR
      Probably seen him 20+ times. Had a great convo with him once after a Vegas show, about Chuck Berry
      But RR HOF, no.
      Great performer, and interprets songs well. But covering other songs, doesn’t get you in the HOF, to me

      Reply this comment
  3. Zenguy1213
    #3 Zenguy1213 11 April, 2021, 15:31

    Realization is still one of my all-time favorite albums!

    Reply this comment
  4. 122intheshade
    #4 122intheshade 24 April, 2022, 00:43

    Rivers also signed Jimmy Webb to a publishing contract right before Webb’s songs blasted off in the late 60s. Later, Johnny let the contract lapse (unintentionally) and Webb took back his publishing. Johnny was not happy. He just didn’t know Webb would really go.

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  5. Andrew Masset
    #5 Andrew Masset 24 April, 2023, 06:21

    In 1968 I and a producer friend were invited to Johnny Rivers house up in the ‘Hills’ for drinks. Then we all piled into cars to head for dinner and his midnight show at the Whiskey’. I sat in his E-Type Jag, top down and his incredibly beautiful girlfriend on my lap while Johnny drove. It was a Fantastic evening. Liked him a whole lot.

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  6. safari bob
    #6 safari bob 24 April, 2024, 08:02

    Johnny Rivers – New York born, Louisiana bred, Italian rocker inspired all of us that we didn’t have to be British to rock out.

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