Sunday, May 31, 2009

People Don’t Eat People; Purple People Eat People

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

I’m done teaching for the 2008-2009 school year! You might think that would give me a lot of time to write a music blog, or sleep, or things like that. I’m not to that point in the wrap-up process yet, and this will be a very busy summer regardless of how quickly I sort out everything at school.

A quick note: Sometimes I think about how cool it is that people come here from very far away. So, hello to my reader in Skopje! (Everyone else will get his or her turn later.)

Given how busy I’ve been, I’m hoping you won’t mind if I focus on the lighter side of 1950s pop in this installment of my perusal of the charts.

May 28, 1955: It’s week five at #1 on the Best Sellers chart for “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” by Pérez Prado and His Orchestra. The King of the Mambo also is getting the most airplay, but Georgia Gibbs still rules the Juke Box chart with “Dance with Me Henry (Wallflower).”

Tunes new to the Best Sellers are “Blue Star” by a One-Hit Wonder, Felicia Sanders, a cover of “Heart” by the Four Aces, and “Love Me or Leave Me” by S. Davis Jr. This would be Sammy, debuting his fourth-biggest Top 40 hit of eight. The biggest won’t come until 1972, when he scores a chart-topper with “The Candy Man.”

Bill Haley’s current hit is now a Top Ten single, climbing from #14 to #10 on the Best Sellers. He finally registers on the Jockey chart, at #20. Airplay is likely to fuel sales and really get this song moving.

June 2, 1956: There is finally a chink in the armor of “Heartbreak Hotel.” The Jockeys have turned their attention to “Moonglow and Theme from Picnic,” Morris Stoloff’s smooth instrumental. Elvis will not be completely done at #1 for a few weeks.

Some hot numbers just entering the charts will have lasting legacies. “It Only Hurts for a Little While” by the Ames Brothers is not one of them, but “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” by Elvis is. Apart from being a hard title to type, this song has jumped from #90 to #31 on the Top 100, and it enters the Best Sellers at #19.

June 3, 1957: “All Shook Up” is no longer the Best Seller #1, but it remains the favorite on the other three charts. Pat Boone has dislodged Elvis on the Best Sellers with “Love Letters in the Sand.”

There is an odd and not very resonant group of debuts this week. “Goin’ Steady” by Tommy Sands, “Freight Train” by Rusty Draper, and “Four Walls” by Jim Lowe make their first Best Seller appearances. Showing her street cred with the Jockeys, Patti Page debuts a two-sided hit on that chart, with “Old Cape Cod” leading the way, and “Wondering” following. Lieutenant Buddy Knox with the Rhythm Orchids debuts “Rock Your Little Baby to Sleep” on the Top 40 and the radio chart.

June 2, 1958: The Everly Brothers maintain the consensus #1 song, “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” Someone is sneaking up on them, but the Jockeys will give the Brothers the nod for a couple more weeks.

The Champs hope their latest debut single, “El Rancho Rock,” will maintain the magic of “Tequila.” Of course, it won’t, just as 1960’s “Too Much Tequila” will also stall at #30. Jerry Lee Lewis is hoping that “High School Confidential” will be his fourth consecutive Top Ten hit. The Jockeys won’t play the song, though, because they have been made aware that Jerry Lee’s wife is thirteen (13) (XIII) years old, and she is also the daughter of his bass player, his first cousin J.W. Brown. Sigh.

There are a couple of Spanish-themed tunes debuting on the Best Sellers: “Zorro” by the Chordettes and “Padre” by Toni Arden, the only Rock Era Top 40 hit for a singer whose hits go back to the 1940s. And that about wraps up the debuts for this week . . . oh, except for the #7 song on both the Best Sellers and toe Top 100, which even the Jockeys have catapulted to #10: “The Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley. And yes, it will be a huge #1 hit shortly.

June 1, 1959: We have a new #1 song, the history lesson I mentioned last week. Though the story is told in the first person, I do not believe Johnny Horton was old enough to witness the events of 1814, but he sings successfully about “The Battle of New Orleans.”

What’s new? A song for beatniks, “Bongo Rock” by Preston Epps. This One-Hit Wonder is joined by another, the Wailers, who are really hard to find via search engines unless you mention the name of their hit, “Tall Cool One.” For some reason, the song will rechart in 1964, but that doesn’t make them a Two-Hit Wonder in my book.

Also jumping into the Top 40 are “Crossfire” by Johnny and the Hurricanes, “Bobby Sox to Stockings” by Frankie Avalon, “I Waited Too Long” by LaVern Baker, “My Heart Is an Open Book” by Carl Dobkins Jr., “Along Came Jones” by the Coasters, and both “Lipstick on Your Collar” and “Frankie” by Connie Francis. Now, that’s a week chock-full of debuts.

For your listening pleasure, I can’t resist the obvious: here’s the huge 1958 debut by Sheb Wooley, a future 6-week #1, and a pop One-Hit Wonder nevertheless. If you check your country chart book, though, you’ll find that Sheb has 8 Top 40 Country hits to his credit. This novelty tune is not one of them.

For Wednesday, I’ll bring you the thrice-postponed discussion of a piano player many of us know by name—only. I’ve been delayed by work responsibilities and a desire to get this post just right. See you Wednesday!

Sheb Wooley, The Purple People Eater

Saturday, May 23, 2009

1950s Chart Meltdown, Week 21: Summer Songs, Beaches and Barbeque

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

Lots has gone on this week. On Monday, the initiative to remove parking meters in St. Cloud, Minnesota, passed the City Council unanimously. Since I was the guy who got the ball rolling, I was busy both before and after that meeting, and I spoke to the City Council that night. That had a lot to do with the lack of a Wednesday post, but it wasn’t my only task.

On my web site I have a page I devote to Famous Dave’s, my favorite barbeque restaurant. The company’s ad agency found my page recently. As a result, I am in the running with a few other “Famous Fans” to see who can come up with the best mini-promotion this summer. I figure that, to assure myself of victory (which would earn me free barbeque for a year), I pretty much need to conquer the barbeque-eating world, and the rest of the world as well. You can help!

It’s not hard: if you have a Facebook account, please join my group: BarbeQuest. You don’t even have to become my friend to do it. If you aren’t on Facebook, you can find the BarbeQuest on MySpace, Twitter and YouTube, though I haven’t gotten any video up there yet. I have put some details about my fascination with Famous Dave’s in a blog called BarbeQuest, which you can find via a link to the right.

What is the BarbeQuest? I have plans to travel to every Famous Dave’s location, which means I’ll be visiting 177 restaurants in 38 states. My count is at 32 right now. You can see the list here.

You can win prizes through my group as well. The ad agency, John Roach Productions of Madison, Wisconsin, also has weekly challenges, which I transmit via my networking pages. Weekly Challenge #1 is to write a haiku about the ’Que for Two Platter, one of three summer menu items. But the promotional push is available to you at Facebook or Blogger, so now, let’s get to the charts!

All winter, any contact with summery songs seemed like torture to me. Now that winter seems to have ended here, it’s appropriate that one of the premiere surf/car acts of the 1960s would make its inaugural chart appearance this week—in 1958.

May 21, 1955: In its fourth week atop the Best Sellers, “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” by Pérez Prado and His Orchestra has finally overtaken the competition to top the Jockey chart, but Georgia Gibbs still reigns on the Juke Box chart with “Dance with Me Henry (Wallflower).”

After starting its chart run on the Jockey chart, Eddie Fisher’s “Heart,” an eventual Top Ten hit, tiptoes onto the Best Sellers this week. Eddie is joined by the Sunnysiders, whose one Top 40 hit, “Hey, Mr. Banjo,” enters as the biggest Best Seller debut of the week. Despite their status as a One-Hit Wonder, the Sunnysiders include two former members of Spike Jones & His City Slickers, and another, Margie Rayburn, will have a solo hit in 1957.

In the Big Mover department, we have Bill Haley’s new hit climbing from #22 to #14 on the Best Sellers. There is neither Jockey nor Juke Box action yet, but this record could be as big as "Shake, Rattle and Roll," which reached #7 and spent half a year on the charts.

May 26, 1956: “Heartbreak Hotel” is still on top of everything. I get the impression that, had anyone had the foresight to rename a hotel as the single was released, it would have had a pretty good occupancy wake for a chunk of 1956.

Whereas there were no Best Seller debuts last week, this week there are three: “Picnic” by the McGuire Sisters, “Ivory Tower” by Gale Storm, and “Walk Hand in Hand” by Tony Martin. As insignificant as these titles may sound from an historic perspective, two of them are future Top Tens, and “Picnic” will reach #13.

May 27, 1957: Once again, “All Shook Up” is the consensus #1 song.

Some very recognizable debuts arrive on the Best Sellers: “Bye Bye Love” by the Everly Brothers and “It’s Not for Me to Say” by Johnny Mathis, for example. A dual Top Ten arrives, as Fats Domino’s Valley of Tears” checks in. Its flip, “It’s You I Love,” will get legs in a couple of weeks and start to compete with the A-side. A One-Hit Wonder, Johnnie & Joe, will reach the Top Ten with “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea,” which also joins the ranks this week.

May 26, 1958: Once again, the Everly Brothers have the consensus #1 song, “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” They should appreciate the moment, as they will soon be eaten alive by a huge novelty phenomenon.

Debuting on both the Best Sellers Top 40 and the Top 100 Top 40 is a couple of minutes of creepiness by Jody Reynolds, “Endless Sleep.” It’s not quite the “teen death song” that we will see surge around 1960, but it’s depressing enough as a precursor to the craze. It will be Jody’s sole Top 40 hit.

Another Best Seller/Top 100 debut marks the start of a huge career: “I Wonder Why” by Dion and the Belmonts. In the same vein, Jan & Arnie garner their first Top 40 hit, Jennie Lee. The song includes the voices of Jan Berry, Arnie Ginsburg, and Dean Torrence, but Dean was in the Army when Jan signed with a label. When Dean got out, Arnie joined the Navy, and Jan & Dean went on to become surf-rock pioneers.

Over at the Top 100, one huge debut is Bobby Freeman’s debut pop hit, “Do You Want to Dance,” which jumps into the Top 40 at #19. It’s also new to the Best Sellers Top 40, moving from #48 to #21 there.

May 25, 1959: Wilbert Harrison remains at #1, though he will give way to a history lesson next week. Among the debuts is a song with an iconic title, “Tallahassee Lassie,” Freddy Cannon’s first hit single. Fats Domino gets off to a good start with “I’m Ready,” which enters as the highest-charting debut at #29.

For your listening pleasure, I’m thinking you might not have heard the Jan & Dean prototype single before. Enjoy its faint resemblance to what is to come a few years later.

For Wednesday, I’ll bring you the twice-postponed discussion of a piano player many of us know by name—only. See you then!

Jan & Arnie, Jennie Lee

Saturday, May 16, 2009

1950s Chart Meltdown, Week 20: Unchain Me

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

All sorts of melodies, unchained and otherwise, make up an uneven weeks of debuts on the 1950s charts.

May 14, 1955: This week’s #1 songs show one of the curiosities of the pre-Hot 100 chart system. If you happen to research the hits of May, 1955, you will see that “Unchained Melody” by Les Baxter, “Dance with Me Henry (Wallflower)” by Georgia Gibbs, and “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” by Pérez Prado all reached #1. Only the fine print tells you that just one of these songs was ever the best-selling record in the nation.

Georgia Gibbs topped the Juke Box chart on May 14, and Les Baxter topped the Jockey chart. Neither song reached #1 on any other chart. So, kids played “Dance with Me Henry,” the DJs played “Unchained Melody,” and consumers bought more copies of “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” than any other record. Which is the most legitimate hit? The DJs’ playlists often involved politics and prejudice. Five cents for the jukebox was not much of an investment to make in a song. Plunking down the full price for one’s own copy of a single strikes me as the most sincere form of support for a song, so I think Pérez Prado can already claim to have the biggest hit in the nation this week.

The week’s debuts are among the most significant ever. First, June Valli brings us the fourth version of “Unchained Melody” to grace the Best Sellers. The other three are much higher, with Baxter at #2, Hibbler at #5, and Hamilton at #9. June is in fact a One-Week Wonder at #29; she doesn’t hit either of the other charts at all. She will be back with another Top 40 hit in 1960, and anyone who has heard an old Chiquita Banana commercial knows her voice.

Now that the charts are consolidated and artists get a period of time when they can promote a hit undistracted by cover competition, you have to wonder just how big the Les Baxter version of “Unchained Melody” would have been, had there been no drain on its sales. The Righteous Brothers version, still ten years away, with a resurgence in 1990, is proof of the song’s strength, no matter who sings it. Look for my version at iTunes shortly.

The other debut is really a re-entry that has taken a year to chart again. Recorded on April 12, 1954 and released on May 10 of that year, the single, Decca 29124, has been gathering dust after selling a reported 18,000 copies and charting at #23 for one week on May 29, 1954. In the meantime, the author of the song’s guitar solo has fallen down a set of stairs and died (on June 17, 1954), and an actor, Glenn Ford, has swiped the record from his son Peter’s collection to show the honchos of his next movie what kids are listening to. The film is The Blackboard Jungle, and the song is “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets.

In other news, Eddie Fisher debuts on the Jockey chart with “Heart,” from Damn Yankees, which also gives us “Whatever Lola Wants.” The Jockeys will give Eddie the #6 slot eventually, while sales will peak at #15.

May 19, 1956: This “Heartbreak Hotel” thing is starting to get old, but here we have Elvis atop all four charts again.

Talk about stagnation: the Best Sellers chart has no debuts, with a number of songs flipping and flopping but not dropping. Over at the Top 100, one Top 40 debut of note is “A Little Love Can Go a Long, Long Way” by the Dream Weavers featuring Wade Buff. This single is a One-Week Wonder, but the Dream Weavers can console themselves with memories of their previous Top Ten hit, “It’s Almost Tomorrow.”

May 20, 1957: Between the 1956 and 1957 charts, Elvis has 8 #1 spots. Not bad work.

Unlike 1956, we have some interesting 1957 debuts this week. First up is “Start Movin’ (In My Direction)” by an actor who is branching out, Sal Mineo. Sal will chart four songs (two as Best Seller flips), and this one will reach the Top Ten, but don’t let all that success lull you into believing that Sal sings well. He’s no Caruso, more like a Fabian.

An iconic group hits the charts for the first time this week. The Coasters debut “Young Blood,” with “Searchin’” as its flip, this week. Both songs will reach the Top 100 Top Ten, but in the fourth week on the Best Sellers chart, the record will flip, and “Searchin’” will be considered the A-side for the remainder of the run.

May 19, 1958: The Everly Brothers have made the #1 spots all theirs, as “All I Have to Do Is Dream” is the consensus #1 now.

As for debuts, the Best Sellers give us “High Sign” by the Diamonds, which will creep into the Top 40 on two charts for one week each; the mildly creepy “Teacher, Teacher” by Johnny Mathis, the intense “Rumble” by Link Wray, already a Top 40 hit on the Top 100, and, at an encouraging #18, “Secretly” by Jimmie Rodgers. Its flip is the future One-Week Wonder “Make Me a Miracle.”

May 18, 1959: Wilbert Harrison dashes the hopes of several potential #1 hits by leaping from #6 to the pinnacle. He will get two weeks at the top, and none of the songs he jumped will get there (barring the song he replaced, The Happy Organ”).

I’ll list all of the debuts, which can be noted for their lackluster qualities: “Lonely for You,” a future #24 peak for One-Hit Wonder Gary Stites; “Someone,” a future #35 underperformer for Johnny Mathis; and “I’ve Come of Age,” a future #28 hit, based on a melody from Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony, by One-Hit Wonder Billy Storm. As I said, there’s nothing amazing here, unless “hard-to-find” equals “amazing” in your world. In mine, it just means “annoying.”

For your listening pleasure, it’s time to celebrate the “Unchained Melody” phenomenon. All five of the hit versions, for your edification. I chose the stereo mix of the Righteous Brothers version.

For Wednesday, I’ll bring you the postponed discussion of a piano player many of us know by name—only. See you then!

Les Baxter and His Orchestra, Unchained Melody

Al Hibbler, Unchained Melody

Roy Hamilton, Unchained Melody

June Valli, Unchained Melody

Righteous Brothers, Unchained Melody

Sunday, May 10, 2009

1950s Chart Meltdown, Week 19: Chuck Willis’s Weeks

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

Long-running #1 hits and seasonal songs mark this week’s charts..

May 7, 1955: While “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” by Dámaso Pérez Prado and His Orchestra spends its second week at #1 on the Best Sellers chart, this monster is #4 on the Jockey and Juke Box charts. In fact, it dropped from #2 to #4 on the Jockey chart, an aberration that will correct itself soon. Radios and juke boxes are still cranking “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” by Bill Hayes more than any other single.

Two pop mainstays debut songs this week: Nat “King” Cole hits the Best Sellers with “A Blossom Fell,” and Frank Sinatra climbs aboard the Jockey chart with “Learnin’ the Blues.” Walter Schumann’s version of “Davy Crockett,” which has earned airplay since early April without showing much in the way of sales, is now a Best Seller, debuting at #29. It will drop to #30 next week, then disappear.

Lest I be less than complete with the 1955 debuts, I’ll note the arrival on the Best Sellers of “Boom Boom Boomerang” by the DeCastro Sisters, Peggy, Babette, and Cherie, who hail from Cuba. This gem won’t chart on the radio, but the populace will bypass the jockeys and take it onto the Juke Box chart shortly.

May 12, 1956: Elvis has elbowed his way past Perry Como’s “Hot Diggity” on the Jockey chart, and “Heartbreak Hotel” is now a consensus #1 hit. It will stay that way for three weeks, and then the Jockeys will opt for a slow instrumental as its successor. Everyone but the DJs will continue to keep Elvis atop the charts for a while after that.

The debuts this week are somewhat lackluster, with “The Church Bells May Ring” by the Diamonds and “Can You Find It in Your Heart” by Tony Bennett moving well on the Top 100. Neither song will reach the Top Ten anywhere. A song that will reach the Top Ten for two artists now has both versions on the Best Sellers chart: “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard and Pat Boone. For once, the unsanitized R&B version is making a greater dent on the Jockey chart, at least for now.

May 13, 1957: It’s “here we go again” time at #1, as Elvis tops all four charts with “All Shook Up.” It’s the third of 6 weeks as a consensus #1.

A debut that will not reach the Top Ten attains the bottom rung of the Best Sellers this week. It’s “C.C. Rider” by Chuck Willis. This event is interesting in a number of ways. First, while the single’s sales have elevated it into the Best Sellers, weak airplay has dropped it from #59 to #71 this week on the Top 100. It will rebound to #46 next week, but the huge drop must have given the Atlantic people a case of the sweats. Next, Willis is just eleven months away from dying at age 30 of peritonitis from a perforated ulcer. Two of his four pop hits will be posthumous. Also, “C.C. Rider” is an update of Ma Rainey’s 1925 hit, “See See Rider Blues.” Her hit features Louis Armstrong on cornet and Fletcher Henderson on piano. Willis took the song to #1 on the R&B chart, exceeding Ma Rainey’s #14 chart performance. LaVern Baker and the Animals will take the song into the pop Top 40 as well. Finally, “C.C. Rider” is the record that teens use to develop a new dance called the Stroll. And we all know what that led to.

May 12, 1958: This is a great week to be a #1 pop single. If you are one, you are either the lovely “All I Have to Do Is Dream” (Everly Brothers, Best Sellers), the romantic “Twilight Time” (Platters, Jockeys), or the bouncy, fun “Witch Doctor” (David Seville, Top 100). Not bad.

The Best Seller debuts this week reflect the free-wheeling playlists that made Top 40 radio so much fun for so long. One debut is “Torero” by Renato Carosone, a One-Hit Wonder from Napoli, singing one of the few Top 40 hits sung in Italian.

Right above Carosone is the debut of the posthumous, final Top 40 single from the aforementioned Chuck Willis. The single’s trajectory is an odd one. The song eventually considered the flip, “Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes,” charted first, entering the Top 100 on April 28, 1958, 18 days after Chuck died. Two weeks later, May 12, the other side, “What Am I Living For?,” entered the Best Sellers as the A-side, with “Hang Up” listed as the flip. Both songs are in the Top 100 now; “Hang Up” will stall at #24, but “What Am I Living For?” will reach #9. In August, Chuck’s final Top 100 single, “My Life,” will reach #46 on the Best Sellers.

Another debut in which I have personal interest is Pat Boone’s “Sugar Moon.” I owned this single as a child, but I chose not to feature it last year in my series of posts about my collection of 45s. It’s headed for #5, and it simply was one of the least quirky 45s in my collection, so it didn’t make the cut. If you really want my take on this record, ask for it, and I’ll give it to you.

A big jumper, debuting on the sales charts now after peeking into the Jockey chart last week, is “Big Man” by the Four Preps, an eventual #3 hit. This follows a #2 smash, “26 Miles (Santa Catalina),” and ensures that 1958 will be quite a year for the Four Preps.

The Top 100 sees a new kind of song reach its Top 40 this week. The first power chord, courtesy of the unlikely Cadence label (think Chordettes, Everly Brothers and Andy Williams), reaches our ears via Link Wray & His Ray Men, who bring us “Rumble.”

May 11, 1959: You can’t get any cheerier than this week’s #1 tune, “The Happy Organ” by Dave “Baby” Cortez. The #2 song, which will be leapfrogged by the next #1 hit, is about being sorry.

Debuts include a song that extols the virtues of (presumably) a woman and, 30 years later, will extol the virtues of a cooking oil. Lloyd Price’s “Personality” is destined to become a commercial for Wesson oil. It’s the only Top 40 debut this week.

For your listening pleasure, a celebration of the work of Chuck Willis, accompanied by the original “See See Rider Blues.” Note the spacious, clean recording of “C.C. Rider.” I’m not sure we’ve ever improved on the sound quality of the best analog recordings.

For Wednesday, I’ll discuss a piano player many of us know by name—only. See you then!

Chuck Willis, What Am I Living For?

Chuck Willis, C.C. Rider

Ma Rainey, See See Rider Blues

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Rare Peek Inside Sunshine Pop

A week ago, I was deeply involved in the task of eradicating parking meters in St. Cloud, Minnesota’s Downtown. The dust has settled a bit in that area, and now that we have all of the merchants on the petition and an endorsement from the newspaper, all I have to do is wait until the petition hits the City Council agenda in a couple of weeks. For now, I get to write a post I have anticipated for a long time.

A bit over a year ago, I wrote a post about a favorite song from my childhood, “Washington Square.” Shortly thereafter, I was able to converse with the song’s composer, Bobb Goldsteinn. We have become friends, and frankly, hanging out with such an artist in his hometown, in an area (South Street in Philadelphia) that certainly contributed to his composition, makes listening to the song a whole new experience.

Beyond “Washington Square,” though, my source for most of my early Bobb Goldsteinn data was a website devoted to the GoldeBriars, a fountain of pre-Mamas & Papas sonic delight that is now known as Sunshine Pop. The website tells a bit of the story: how Curt Boettcher, Dotti Holmberg, Sheri Holmberg, and Ron Neilson left Minneapolis for New York, signed with Epic Records, released a couple of LPs, and went about their business, leaving as their legacy the prototype for the Mamas & the Papas.

The website also mentions that Dotti was a thorough diarist and archivist of the band’s triumphs and travails—and that she had collected everything into a multimedia ebook.

Some aspects of the GoldeBriars’ story linked into my personal music experience: Bobb Goldsteinn, of course, who produced some of their recordings, and Curt Boettcher, who, you may know, has been acclaimed as the most innovative and talented vocal arranger ever. Ask whiteray what he thinks of a Boettcher-arranged vocal classic, “Cherish” by the Association.

With that incentive, I ordered the ebook, The GoldeBriars’ Story: Whatever Happened to Jezebel?. I promised Dotti that I would review it on this blog. The time has arrived for me to make good on that promise.

Thanks (or no thanks) to several editorial jobs and my participation in publishing ventures, I have been exposed to a lot of raw book manuscripts, as well as published works not vetted by major New York publishing houses. In many cases, the result is a less-than-spectacular offering that is hard on the eyes and ears of someone with an editor’s mindset. Such is not the case with Dotti’s book.

The organization of her thoughts is compelling, with an essentially chronological chapter structure that is interspersed with observations about the milieu in which the GoldeBriars performed and recorded. Dotti’s creative control takes the book far out of the realm of canned music biographies and makes for a refreshing change in music-history literature.

Dotti begins by telling how she left Hugo, Minnesota and met Curt Boettcher, who was singing in a Minneapolis coffee house. Dotti, Sheri, and their brother, Gary, had their own group, but when they joined in on an audience sing-along, the coffee-house manager made them take the stage with Curt, and thus began the GoldeBriars.

After their first management screw, the GoldeBriars learned to live on rice, and from then until they reached New York with a Minneapolis-based manager who cared about them, that’s pretty much what they ate. One day, they acquired a mascot, a carved idol named Jezebel, who give the book its title. Jezebel went everywhere with the GoldeBriars after her arrival.

The story is told primarily in Dotti’s voice, but there are excerpts from Curt Boettcher’s diary, as well as scans of newspaper articles, artwork that includes Curt’s cartoons, and numerous photographs. One rarity is a sketch of Curt and Dotti singing that was drawn by Rolf Harris, the Australian singer who scored a #3 hit here with “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” on Epic shortly before the GoldeBriars signed a contract with that label.

The GoldeBriars began their recording sessions on November 21, 1963. On this day, Bobb Goldsteinn’s composition was #2 in the nation, thanks to the Village Stompers. Bobb and the GoldeBriars had not yet met, but as label-mates of the Village Stompers, Curt and crew would soon do so.

The next day, prior to their evening recording session, the quartet walked around New York and noted the grief on everyone’s face. That was how they learned that the president had been shot. Dotti evokes the day in her memoir with grace and candor; she goes on to say that the band showed up for their recording session that night, as they felt they had to go on with their lives.

Epic Records rolled out a solid promo campaign for their first LP in early 1964, only to find that new folk-pop acts were shut out of the public consciousness with a bang when the first Beatles recordings hit the airwaves. Their LP sold reasonably well, but it wasn’t the monster hit it could have been a couple of months earlier.

The act did make it onto ABC’s Hootenanny, and the video of their appearance is on the ebook CD. From there, they were introduced to Bobb Goldsteinn. As Dotti puts it, they were dropped in Bobb’s lap “and he didn’t stand up fast enough.” He polished their stage act, gave them songs to add to their repertoire, and took them to Miami to perform. Not a bad deal.

Their schedule led them to a huge stay in Charleston, followed by Milwaukee. Eventually, they disbanded. (There’s a lot left out there.)

Part of Curt Boettcher’s musical expertise stemmed from his background in Japanese kabuki, which he studied when he lived with his family in Japan. As a result, the GoldeBriars developed a love for, and were loved by, the Japanese people. Dotti’s book shows great respect for the group’s entire fan base, as the PDF file of the text appears in both English and Japanese.

This chronicle of life on the road, of being almost a national phenomenon, as told through the words of a naïve Minnesota girl, is a fascinating collection of thoughts that goes far more deeply into the world of underpaid and physically neglected musicians than any sanitized biography you will find on the shelves of bookstores.

Between the scans of photos, clippings, and memorabilia, adding in the video of their TV performance of “Saro Jane,” which shows just how creative Curt was at arranging vocals (and how talented Dotti and Sheri were at producing the sounds he wanted), this ebook is a true gem, and I recommend it to everyone who loves this era in folk and pop music.

You can see the overview of the GoldeBriars story on Dotti’s website. There you will find Bobb Goldsteinn’s foreword to Dotti’s ebook. The link to a tribute to her brother, Gary Holmberg, including four of his recordings, is here. You can acquire the folk-music film in which the GoldeBriars appeared, as well as a CD compilation of Dotti’s solo recordings, here. And, finally, do yourself a favor and obtain the ebook at the same page. No work I have ever read gives a better street-level view of life in the music world of 1963-65.

Some video to whet your appetite:

Here you can see how relentless Curt was in making the most of vocals on even simple melodies. Truly amazing.

Dotti, from her compilation, singing a song produced by Curt.

Dotti again. Here I detect a touch of pre-Paula Abdul vocal inflection (which is a good thing).

And "Tell It to the Wind," a song from their second album. Bobb Goldsteinn wrote it with Jeff Barry, and Bobb produced it.

For Saturday, it’s Week Nineteen of the Great 1950s Chart Meltdown. See you then!

GoldeBriars, Tell It to the Wind

Sunday, May 3, 2009

1950s Chart Meltdown, Week 18: Dark Moons

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

Long-running #1 hits and seasonal songs mark this week’s charts..

April 30, 1955: An historic run begins atop the Best Sellers chart. “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” by Dámaso Pérez Prado and His Orchestra, from the film Underwater!, climbs from #2 to #1 there. The song is still stuck at #9 on the Juke Box chart, which has a slower reporting cycle, but it’s at #2 on the Jockey chart. It will be an eventual consensus #1, and even after a huge hit knocks it down to #2 on the Best Sellers in July, it will hold that spot for two weeks. Bill Hayes hangs in at #1 the other charts.

One song debuts twice this week, with the Crew-Cuts besting Nappy Brown in the race up the charts of “Don’t Be Angry.” The Crew-Cuts also have the advantage of a Best Sellers flip, “Chop Chop Boom,” which aids the overall sales of the single.

Riding on the Pérez Prado coattails is Alan Dale, who has persuaded the Jockeys to play his vocal version of this week’s #1 Best Seller.

May 5, 1956: “Heartbreak Hotel” still is not a consensus #1, as “Hot Diggity” moves from #2 to #1 on the Jockey chart. Radio will put Elvis over the top next week.

Among the debuts is “The Wayward Wind” by Gogi Grant, which begins its Best Sellers run at an inauspicious tie for #23. The romanticism of cowboys and other free spirits is still a recipe for success on the charts, and this tune’s destiny is to spend 8 weeks at #1.

Fats Domino comes aboard with a solid two-sided single, “I’m in Love Again” and “My Blue Heaven.” “I’m in Love Again” is destined to be Fats’s second-highest charting Pop single behind “Blueberry Hill,” reaching #3. “My Blue Heaven” is a revival of a 1927 Paul Whiteman hit.

The biggest debut is “The Happy Whistler” by Don Robertson, which climbs from #51 to #25 on the Top 100. Classified as an instrumental despite the pervasive human sounds, the song is one of the few Top 40 hits scored by an artist born in Beijing. Robertson will whistle his way up to #6.

April 29/May 6, 1957: The dating on the charts changes this week. Prior to the April 29, 1957 issue of Billboard, there was a ten-day gap between the end of a chart survey period and the issue date. As late as April 27, 1957, the magazine came out on Saturdays. They then produced an issue for Monday, April 29, which created a five-day turnaround on chart data. Billboard will be issued on Mondays until Saturday, January 6, 1962. The magazine will remain a Saturday magazine from that point on. This shift accounts for the fact that, in Whitburn, some songs debut on April 27, 1957 and others on April 29.

For both issues, “All Shook Up” sits atop all four charts. That will be the case into June, so there’s not much else to say about contenders.

The 1957 debuts are fun this time. Rolling around in various stages of debutness are four versions of a ditty called “Pledge of Love.” Johnny Janis will take this, his only Top 100 hit, to #63. Dick Contino, an accordion whiz who appeared with Horace Heidt in the 1940s, will almost break through, but he stalls at #42. Far more interesting to me is the Mitchell Torok version. His agreeable voice made a hit of “Caribbean” twice, and I featured him last year, thanks to a single of his called “(The Land of) Bobby Beeble,” which is still one of the creepiest songs I have ever heard. Torok takes “Pledge of Love” to #25.

And then we have the winner, the #12 version by a 20-year-old One-Hit Wonder named Ken Copeland. If you channel-surf thoroughly and pause for a few seconds on each channel, you will have run into a very intense televangelist named Kenneth Copeland. And yes, you would be listening to the same guy.

A competing version of a really good song, “Dark Moon,” has crept into the Top 40 of the Top 100. Gale Storm, of that successful cover label, Dot, will eventually take the song to #4, while Bonnie Guitar, née Buckingham, hangs in there with a peak at #6. I suspect that, free of the Storm cover, Bonnie Guitar’s version would have been a cinch to go to #1.

Beginning the road to a #2 peak is the Marty Robbins tune “A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation).” After some frustration at having Guy Mitchell cover two of his country hits, including “Singing the Blues,” which spent 10 weeks atop various charts in 1956-57 and undercut the Robbins version, Robbins hired Ray Conniff to produce “A White Sport Coat” for him. Eventually, this song would be iconic enough to merit mention in “American Pie.”

On May 6, we find the debut of a cover of a Fats Domino hit that is past its peak at #4: Ricky Nelson’s version of “I’m Walking” is his debut single, and it will equal the performance of the Domino version. Even better for Ricky is the upcoming emergence of the flip, “A Teenager’s Romance,” which will reach #2.

May 5, 1958: Sped-up vocal mania continues as “Witch Doctor” maintains its hold on the #1 Best Sellers and Top 100 spots. It won’t reach #1 on the Jockey chart, but it stays at #2 there for a solid amount of time.

The big 1958 debut is nothing less than Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” It leaps onto the Best Sellers at #22 and jumps 47 spots to #20 on the Top 100. This song will earn Chuck his fourth straight Top Ten hit, and it will be his last Top Ten peak for six years.

May 4, 1959: “Come Softly to Me” gives the Fleetwoods a four-week run at #1. They will be back in late 1959 with “Mr. Blue.”

The debuts run from the classy “Endlessly” by Brook Benton to the educational “Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton. Somewhere in the middle lies a typical pop number by one of the most versatile artists ever to hit the charts, Bobby Darin, whose “Dream Lover” will reach #2 as a precursor to a huge hit later this year.

For your listening pleasure, two looks at the Dark Moon, by Bonnie Guitar and Gale Storm, sound good. And for the quirkiness of the experience, let’s listen to future televangelist Ken Copeland’s take on “Pledge of Love,” which shows his voice to good advantage.

For Wednesday, look for the postponed musical book review that honors the Sunshine Pop era. See you then!

Bonnie Guitar, Dark Moon

Gale Storm, Dark Moon

Ken Copeland, Pledge of Love