Saturday, January 31, 2009

Blossoms in February

For the background on this blog series, see this post.

This post will look a bit thin, because I’m writing it under unusual circumstances. All will be back to normal in a week.

January 29, 1955: It’s all about cover versions on this week’s Best Sellers chart. LaVern Baker’s “Tweedlee Dee” faces a challenge from Georgia Gibbs’s new single, “Tweedle Dee.” I guess dropping that final “e” from Tweedlee makes it all better. You can’t say it was a mistake for the McGuire Sisters to focus on “Sincerely” as the A-side of their current single, but now that the DeJohn Sisters are in the Best Sellers Top Ten with “(My Baby Don’t Love Me) No More,” it makes sense for the flip side of “Sincerely,” namely “No More,” to be pushed as well. The gamble will pay off, as “Sincerely” is bound for the top anyway. “No More” won’t do as well as its competition, but it’s still a decent chart hit. And the Crew-Cuts, who have made a career of covering R&B hits for white audiences, will have the tables turned, because they are first to the chart with “Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So),” but next week, another really white artist, Perry Como, will shove their version aside. Their response will be to cover the Penguins’ “Earth Angel,” but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Speaking of the Penguins’ version of “Earth Angel,” its Top Ten Best Sellers performance has finally helped it onto the Disc Jockey chart—for one pitiful week. By contrast, the Jockeys will take the Crew-Cuts’ version to #3 quickly, though the Penguins outsell their version.

Error to note: The Top 40 book says that “Earth Angel” by the Crew-Cuts entered the charts on 1/29/1955, but it debuted on 2/5/1955. The Hot 100 book confirms that fact.

February 4, 1956: Dean Martin continues to rule the four charts with “Memories Are Made of This.” The Top 100 shows some liveliness in its debuts: Both “Tutti Fruttis,” the Little Richard and the Pat Boone versions, chart this week.

Two really classy singles by “One-Hit Wonders” come aboard as well: “Lullaby of Birdland,” sung in French by New York native Blossom Dearie as part of the Blue Stars, and “April in Paris,” an instrumental by a guy who sounds pretty smooth for a Rock-Era One-Hit Wonder. His name? Count Basie. As you may know, William “Count” Basie charted 26 times from 1937 to 1948, and then twice more in 1954, just before the Rock Era began. “April in Paris” fits solidly into the Rock Era timewise, but the recording makes no concessions to Elvis or anyone else. Basie is Basie.

February 2, 1957: Guy Mitchell refused to yield the top spot on any chart. “Singing the Blues” logs its 9th week atop three charts, and its 8th atop the Juke Box chart. Coming on strong on the Best Sellers chart is “Too Much” by Elvis Presley. Note of interpretation: The flip of “Too Much,” “Playing for Keeps,” is listed in the Top 40 book as a 2/9/1957 chart entry, but that takes into account only the Top 100 chart. It is listed as a flip on the Best Sellers already chart this week.

Among the numerous Top 100 debuts this week is “Ain’t Got No Home” by Clarence Henry, nicknamed “Frog Man.” The song has already come and gone on the Best Sellers, but it will last slightly longer here, despite its late start. Clarence earned the nickname “Frog Man” because he claims on this record to be able to sing like a frog (which he does, for the third verse). However, he also claims that he can sing like a girl (which he does, for the second verse). So, I ask why no one nicknamed him “Girlie Man.” Or maybe “Girlie-Frog Man.” I wonder if he feels slighted to have just his frog-singing talents noted.

February 3, 1958: “At the Hop” by Danny and the Juniors maintains its stranglehold at #1. One notable debut, destined to be used in numerous commercials, is “Short Shorts” by the Royal Teens. Boasting one of the thickest East Coast accents you will find in a Top 40 hit, this bunch of Jersey boys will eventually cough up one member, Bob Gaudio, to the benefit of the 4 Seasons. An enduring Perry Como double-sided hit debuts on the Best Sellers: “Catch a Falling Star” and “Magic Moments.”

An unusual Disc Jockey debut is “A Very Special Love” by Johnny Nash, which sneaks onto the Jockey chart for one week but never makes the Top 40 on either sales chart.

February 2, 1959: The Platters hold steady at #1 with “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Ritchie Valens maintains his #3 grip with “Donna,” while “La Bamba” jumps 11 spots on the Hot 100 to #22.

A huge debut is “Tall Paul” by Annette, her first hit, and a step toward making her less of a Mouseketeer and more of a teen idol at age 16. What’s next? Ask Elvis: Movies! Fabian gets his recording career off the ground this week as well, with “I’m a Man.” At this point, he hadn’t really learned to sing, but if you live in Philadelphia and look like Dick Clark’s vision of a teen idol, you’re set.

It’s worth noting that this is the final Top 40 week for the debut season of “The Little Drummer Boy” by the Harry Simeone Chorale. Whew! I just figured out that Harry is responsible for another perennial, “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ballgame.”

Another newcomer is a sentimental favorite of mine, “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” by Johnny Cash. The single was taken from the LP The Fabulous Johnny Cash, which my dad owned, and I inherited (or perhaps stole) when I started being the family DJ. The album died in the 1972 Great Vinyl Meltdown, but I was very happy to learn that Columbia reissued the album on CD, complete with cover art and liner notes. I bought the CD immediately, of course.

For your listening pleasure, here are the two 1956 One-Hit Wonders. Blossom Dearie formed the Blue Stars in Paris, which accounts for the decision to sing “Lullaby of Birdland” in French.

Here’s a link to a video of Blossom Dearie, playing piano and singing, in the mid-1980s. Sorry, I can’t embed the video.

And how could we have a Count Basie debut and not include it?

Blue Stars, Lullaby of Birdland

Count Basie, April in Paris

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