Saturday, February 21, 2009

1950s Chart Meltdown, Week 8: A Woman with a Bad Case of the Blues

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

Thanks to the bad timing of work and some physical wobbliness, this post, which is already 16 hours later than usual, will be confined to true highlights of the week. Sorry about that.

February 19, 1955: Johnny Ace scored his only Top 40 pop hit, “Pledging My Love,” beginning this week. It will wind up a mid-level performer on all three charts, and many artists in that situation would go on to reasonable careers. Johnny, born John Alexander, would not. Between Christmas Eve sets in Houston, he pointed a pistol at a couple of people, then at his own head, and shot himself. Varying accounts call it a three-person game of Russian Roulette or a simple suicide, and some venture to say his label owner had something to do with his death. Johnny died on Christmas Day. “Pledging My Love” topped the R&B chart for 10 weeks.

February 25, 1956: Louis Armstrong and Billy Vaughn and His Orchestra both debut their versions of the Threepenny Opera theme, and that puts us one shy of having five versions in the Top 100’s Top 40, which will happen next week. I’ll give you full recording details then.

February 23, 1957: Charlie Gracie debuts the first of two versions of “Butterfly.” In a rare feat, the song will top at least one chart in two different versions, the other coming next week. Competing versions of “Cinco Robles” debut this week, thanks to Russell Arms and Les Paul & Mary Ford.

February 24, 1958: A couple of iconic tunes show up: “Sweet Little Sixteen” by Chuck Berry, and “Good Golly Miss Molly” by Little Richard. Their chart histories will differ quite a bit: When “Sweet Little Sixteen climbs to #2 on both sales charts, the Jockeys will take it to #5. By contrast, “Good Golly Miss Molly will reach #10 on the Top 100, but it will not chart with the Jockeys at all.

One Jockey phenomenon this week is “The Little Blue Man” by Betty Johnson. It spends just this week on the Jockey chart, at #17, but later it will reach both sales charts. I don’t know why radio jumped on this one, but you can try to figure it out for yourself by listening to the track here.

February 23, 1959: All huge hits start somewhere, and Frankie Avalon’s “Venus” begins its chart run, which will culminate in 5 weeks at #1, as a #28 debut. Its quick climb, 99-53-28, probably indicated to everyone that the song was bound for the top.

For your listening pleasure, how about the radio no-show, “Good Golly Miss Molly,” and “The Little Blue Man,” a song about attempted murder of a stalker who is rejected primarily because of the color of his skin? The voice of the Blue Man was at one time thought to be Hugh Downs, but it turns out to be Fred Ebb, who helped concoct this ditty.

Wednesday, I’ll take a big risk and post an entire album by a female artist I can’t quite get into. I want to see if you find her more compelling than I do. See you then!

Little Richard, Good Golly Miss Molly

Betty Johnson, The Little Blue Man

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


there is one story that does the rounds about Johnny Ace's death.
Big Mama Thornton was in the dressing room with him when he pulled the trigger.
They were both playing in the same show.
Two greatly underrated artists.