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

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