For the background on this blog series, see this post.
Bananas abound, and La Bamba comes aboard, in this third week of the 1950s chart years.
January 15, 1955: A quiet week on the charts, “Mr. Sandman” by the Chordettes holds the #1 spot for the 7th week on the sales chart. On the coin-op and radio charts, it has been overtaken by Joan Weber’s “Let Me Go Lover.” The sales debuts are, on the surface, of mild interest: The Four Coins log a One-Week Wonder with “Love You Madly”; the Charms debut with a version of “Ling, Ting, Tong” to compete with the Five Keys’ version that debuted on December 25, 1954. The song, which deals with a rockin’ Chinaman, shows that racial stereotyping isn’t limited to Mexicans.
LaVern Baker, billed with the Gliders on her first Top 40 single, “Tweedlee Dee,” will soon learn the frustration of having a white performer cover her song, with the arrangement of the cover matching hers almost note for note. The anger will lead to a lawsuit, and the courts will decide that identical covers are legal. The ramifications for LaVern Baker and other artists is huge, whereas the songwriters and publishers may even benefit from having a song on both the R&B and the Pop charts.
January 21, 1956: Dean Martin rules on three of the four charts with “Memories Are Made of This,” while “Sixteen Tons” by “Tennessee” Ernie Ford is in its 8th week atop the coin-op chart. Otherwise, nothing remarkable is happening this week. Bobby Scott debuts his only Top 40 hit, “Chain Gang,” on both sales charts. This is not the same song as the Sam Cooke “Chain Gang” from 1960.
One surprising chart discrepancy does appear this week. Eddie Fisher, a very radio-friendly singer, just now debuts on the radio chart with “Dungaree Doll.” The song debuted on the sales charts on December 24, 1955, and it’s a Top Ten hit on the short sales chart. Everything will balance out in the end, but the radio delay is puzzling.
January 19, 1957: Guy Mitchell reigns on all four charts, in some cases for the 8th week, with “Singing the Blues,” which he’s not doing. His future competition looms, with “Young Love” by Sonny James at #4 on the short sales chart, and an even stronger version by Tab Hunter debuting there at #12. Rushed out by Dot Records to compete with James, the Hunter version will outrank James, though both will reach #1 at some point.
A much-anthologized song, “Love Is Strange” by Mickey & Sylvia, debuts on the long sales chart this week. This is their only Top 40 hit together, but Sylvia Vanderpool will come back in 1973 with the sensuous “Pillow Talk.”
Finally, all of the “Banana Boat” covers are on the long sales chart, with Steve Lawrence, the Fontane Sisters and Sarah Vaughan joining the Tarriers and Harry Belafonte this week.
January 20, 1958: “At the Hop” is the #1 “dance sensation that’s sweeping the nation,” except on radio, where the DJs are propping up Pat Boone’s “April Love.” Even they will give Danny and the Juniors a #1 hit soon.
A pair of One-Hit Wonders debut on the sales charts, with the Crescendos “Oh Julie” seeing less long-term fame than “Get a Job” by the Silhouettes. Radio is making a hit of “Magic Moments” by Perry Como, the B-side of “Catch a Falling Star.” Both are prominent radio hits, but they won’t see the sales charts until February 3.
January 19, 1959: This week’s #1 song almost was not recorded. The Platters’ version of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” was challenged by the publishing owners, as the song would then be associated with a black artist. When the money started pouring in, presumably the R&B association became less problematic.
Among the debuts, it’s time to push a Ritchie Valens song, “La Bamba,” to coincide with his national tour as part of the Winter Dance Party. Being matched up on this tour with the likes of Dion and Buddy Holly and the Crickets is quite the career boost for this young Mexican-American singer.
A future school-band favorite debuts this week as well: Ray Anthony’s “Peter Gunn” theme. It’s one of just two instrumentals on this chart, along with Reg Owens’s “Manhattan Spiritual, but the instrumentals are doing better here than they were in 1957, when, as of next week, none will be on the sales charts.
For your listening pleasure, I am including three versions of the “Banana Boat Song.” I would give you all five, but the Lawrence and Fontane versions didn’t make it here in time. The Tarriers version is scratchy. To make up for that, here are Sylvia’s two forays into the Top 40. Yes, it’s the same girl.
For Wednesday, I’ll explore spoken-word comedy from the early days of music. See you then!
Tarriers, Banana Boat Song
Harry Belafonte, Banana Boat (Day-O)
Sarah Vaughan, Banana Boat Song
Mickey and Sylvia, Love Is Strange
Sylvia, Pillow Talk
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