September 30, 2016

340 The Weavers “House of the Rising Sun” 1958

The Weavers (Ronnie Gilbert, Pete Seeger, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman) were “Like-minded musicians with progressive political views…Their voices, especially Ms. Gilbert's, were powerful, their harmonies were distinctive and their attitude was an enthusiastic embrace of the listener. Together those elements created a singalong populism that laid the groundwork for a folk-music boom in the 1950s and 1960s and its concomitant earnest strain of 1960s counterculture” (Bruce Weber, “Ronnie Gilbert,” New York Times, 6/8/15). 

The Weavers “House of the Rising Sun”

339 Ritchie Valens (1941-1959) “La Bamba” and "Donna" 1958

“on the eve of his departure for the Winter Dance Party tour, Valens went to Guardian Angels church with his mother, fan club president Gail Smith, and Smith’s mother. ‘Ritchie and I knelt down and prayed for a safe trip,’ Gail Smith told Beverly Menheim…Just before boarding the Chicago-bound plane, Valens walked up to his brother and put his arms around him. ‘I want you to take care of my mother,’ he said” (Larry Lehmer, The Day the Music Died, 1997). 

Ritchie Valens “La Bamba”

Ritchie Valens “Donna”

338 Conway Twitty (1933-1993) “It’s Only Make Believe” 1958

Born Harold Jenkins, he made up his stage name from towns in Texas and Arkansas. “I went to Canada. None of the southern-style rock singers had ever been up there…That’s where I wrote ‘It’s Only Make Believe’… So after I’d been with MGM for about eight years, I felt like I had lived long enough and had experienced enough of the things that a country song is all about to compete with the different country singers that I thought were great” (The Country Music Encyclopedia, 1974). 

Conway Twitty “It’s Only Make Believe”

337 The Teddy Bears “To Know Him Is to Love Him” 1958

The not-yet legendary producer, Phil Spector (1939- ), formed the group named after Elvis Presley’s hit, “Teddy Bear” and wrote the song to feature Annette Kleinbard’s voice. Record producer Lew Bedell asked Dick Clark to listen to the song. “‘He heard it, thought it over, then put it on ‘American Bandstand’ and boom—we wound up selling 1.4 million copies,’ Bedell said” (Ribowsky, He’s a Rebel, 1989). 

The Teddy Bears “To Know Him Is to Love Him”

336 The Swan Silvertones “(Oh) Mary Don’t You Weep” 1958

The group “changed their name to Swan Silvertones to advertise the Swan Bakery that sponsored their broadcasts…The audiences during the golden era of gospel (1945-1955) and into the 1960s wanted guitars, drums, shouting, moans, and breathtaking blends known as ‘first class house-wreckin’ gospel.’ The Swans gave them this excitement…” A line from the song “inspired Paul Simon to compose ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’” (McNeil, Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music, 2005). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

The Swan Silvertones “(Oh) Mary Don’t You Weep”

September 22, 2016

335 Huey “Piano” Smith (1934- ) and his Clowns “Don’t You Just Know It” 1958

“Just as they’d done at Princeton, Huey and the Clowns stole shows in theaters, too…And when it became obvious that the Clowns had stolen a show, Huey said, ‘somebody had to talk to whoever was supposed to be the star, because we had to close the show” (Wirt, Huey “Piano” Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues). 

Huey “Piano” Smith and his Clowns “Don’t You Just Know It”

334 The Skyliners “Since I Don’t Have You” 1958

The group’s manager, Joe Rock, “wrote the lyrics after his girlfriend had left for L.A. to become a flight attendant. He was so depressed over that on the way to our rehearsal when he was stopped at red lights he started jotting down lines.” Lead singer Jimmy Beaumont “wrote the music the next day” (Tady, Beaver County Times, 3/5/2009). 

The Skyliners “Since I Don’t Have You”

333 The Shirelles “I Met Him on a Sunday” 1958

“The four original Shirelles were from Passaic, New Jersey. They began singing together as the Poquellos, and their first live performances took place at high school talent shows. A fellow classmate, Mary Jane Greenberg, heard the group at one of these shows and convinced them to audition for her mother, Florence, who had recently launched a career in the music business. The quartet auditioned in Florence Greenberg’s living room, after which she signed them to a five-year contract with her fledgling Tiara label and took over as their manager” (Taylor, Contemporary Musicians, 1994).

The Shirelles “I Met Him on a Sunday”

332 Smokey Robinson (1940- ) and the Miracles “Got a Job” 1958

Robinson "was born and raised in Detroit, in the rough Brewster ghetto, where, as he recalled in People, 'you were either in a [music] group or a gang or both'"..."Robinson would not consider a professional career until he graduated from high school, and even then he tried barber school and courses in dentistry before giving his full attention to music. In 1954 he formed a rhythm and blues group called the Matadors; the name was changed to the Miracles three years later to accommodate a female singer, Claudette Rogers, who married Robinson in 1959" (Contemporary Black Biography, 2005). 

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles “Got a Job”

331 Cliff Richard (1940- ) and the Shadows “Move It” 1958

Drummer “Brian Bennett first met Cliff Richard in Soho's 2i's coffee bar, the birthplace of British pop, in the late 1950s. Cliff - then plain Harry Webb - would just turn up for a cup of espresso (price one shilling, or 5p), and hang around with all the other aspiring rockers, taking turns to play on the 18in-wide stage in the hope of being discovered.” The Drifters were renamed the Shadows, who “kick-started the British rock'n'roll revolution - George Harrison famously said of the band, 'No Shadows, no Beatles' - but they were clean-cut and well-behaved” (Spencer Bright, Daily Mail, 4/9/2016). 

Cliff Richard and the Shadows “Move It”

September 16, 2016

330 Louis Prima (1910-1978) and Keely Smith (1932- ) “That Old Black Magic” 1958

Prima “mastered a singing style the likes of which the world had never heard. It was, like his music itself, jazz-influenced, yet it struck one’s ears as decidedly strange.” He and his fourth wife, Keely Smith, “were one of the most popular acts in Las Vegas” in the 50’s. A decade later, he was “reduced to supplying the voice for King Louis, the cartoon orangutan in Walt Disney’s 1969 Jungle Book” (Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘n’ Roll). 

Louis Prima and Keely Smith “That Old Black Magic”

329 Elvis Presley (1935-1977) “Wear My Ring (Around Your Neck)” 1958

Despite its juvenile lyrics, “the R&B crowd loved ‘Wear My Ring’”…By the late fifties, “white artists found it difficult to compete with real R&B music.” Presley was “one of the few white singers who could do justice to the genre created by African Americans” (Collins, Untold Gold).  

Elvis Presley “Wear My Ring (Around Your Neck)”

328 The Platters “Twilight Time” 1958

Eddie Stovall of the contemporary remake group, the World Famous Platters, said: "The songs of The Platters and of decades past have substance, and that's the reason why they are timeless…I'm sad to say that today's music don't have as much of a chance to stand the test of time because they don't really make much sense” (The Manilla Times, 2012). 

The Platters “Twilight Time”

327 The Platters “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” 1958

“The Platters emerged from the Watts high schools in Los Angeles and the amateur nights at Club Alabam on Central Avenue, a scene that produced dozens of vocal groups. It was a ‘close-knit community of singers’…a hotbed of musical interaction among amateur musicians who were only one record away from being pros” (Albin Zak, I Don’t Sound Like Nobody, 2010). 

The Platters “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”

326 Johnny Otis (1921-2012) “Willie and the Hand Jive” 1958

“born John Alexander Veliotis to Greek American parents” and “raised in a predominantly African American suburb of West Berkely, California…Otis composed ‘Willie and the Hand Jive’ in response to British skiffle, a rhythmically driven, folk-inspired precursor of rock and roll. The hand jive is a dance that couples intricate hand gestures with percussive claps and slaps on the arms, legs, or torso” (Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia). 

Johnny Otis “Willie and the Hand Jive”

September 9, 2016

325 Ricky Nelson (1940-1985) “Poor Little Fool” 1958

With “Elvis getting drafted earlier in 1958, Ricky Nelson stood alone as the leading teen idol in the country, and Rio Bravo director Howard Hawks later estimated that Ricky’s presence alone meant an additional million dollars at the box office for his western,” Rio Bravo. John Wayne and Dean Martin tossed the teenager into a pile of manure on his birthday (Ricky Nelson Idol for a Generation). 

Ricky Nelson “Poor Little Fool”

324 Little Richard (1932- ) “Good Golly, Miss Molly” 1958

“Suddenly he quit…Richard was shaken by an airplane scare and quit the music industry to train as a minister in the Seventh Day Adventist Church” (Clayton Goodwin, New African, 2005). 

Little Richard “Good Golly, Miss Molly”

323 Little Anthony (1941- ) and the Imperials “Tears on My Pillow” 1958

“Tears was an instant hit for the Imperials, who became Little Anthony [Gourdine] & The Imperials when famed DJ Alan Freed called them that on the radio because of Anthony’s high falsetto” (Steve Jones, USA Today, 3/31/2009). “As a radio announcer, Freed coined the term ‘rock-and-roll’ [and] played a key role in expanding its appeal and in doing so earned the nickname ‘Father of Rock and Roll’” (Historical Dictionary of the 1950’s). 

Little Anthony and the Imperials “Tears on My Pillow”

322 Jerry Lee Lewis (1935- ) “Breathless” 1958

To increase sales of the record and Beechnut gum, the “Dick Clark Show” told its viewers it’d mail them a copy if they sent in fifty cents and five gum wrappers. The promotion worked so well that the post office made the show stop. “this was the only time Beechnut ever outsold Wrigley’s” (Hellfire The Jerry Lee Lewis Story). 

Jerry Lee Lewis “Breathless”

321 Connie Francis (1938- ) “Who’s Sorry Now” 1958

“she recorded ten singles that went nowhere; these, along with her failed auditions for radio and television shows and stage musicals, convinced the teenager to abandon performing and accept a scholarship in radio and television production offered by New York University.” In 1958, “With one disc left on her MGM agreement, Francis recorded ‘Who’s Sorry Now,’ a 1923 favorite of her father’s—backed, this time, with a gentle rock and roll beat. The single was a blockbuster hit” (Nancy Pear, Contemporary Musicians, 1994).

Connie Francis “Who’s Sorry Now”

September 2, 2016

320 Brenda Lee (1944- ) “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” 1958

“Lee’s impact can be summarized with a few statistics. She has sold more than 100 million records worldwide and charted in more categories – including pop, rhythm & blues, rock, easy listening and country – than any other women in the history of recorded music” (“Brenda Lee Biography,” rockhall.com). 

Brenda Lee “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”

319 The Kingston Trio “Tom Dooley” 1958

The song is based on the 1867 murder trial of Tom Dula. “Frank Proffitt, of Pick Britches Valley, had his rendition collected by Frank Warner in 1938.” However, “The public erroneously connected ‘Tom Dooley’ with Thomas A. Dooley, the Navy doctor recently in the news for his missionary and medical roles in Vietnam and Laos…Thus accidentally the trio reaped the fruits of anticommunism while they drew inspiration and songs from the Weavers and Gateway Singers” (Ronald Cohen, Rainbow Quest). Both versions of the song are listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

The Kingston Trio “Tom Dooley”

Frank Proffitt (1913-1965) “Tom Dooley” 1940

318 Buddy Holly (1936-1959) “Rave On” 1958

Written by Sonny West and Bill Tilghman, “Rave On’ is for many the ultimate Buddy Holly vocal, combining as it does a mood of total rock ‘n’ roll abandon…with a delivery of relaxed economy and elegance” (Norman, Rave On). 

Buddy Holly “Rave On”

317 The Crickets with Buddy Holly (1936-1959) “Maybe Baby” 1958

“Though Buddy usually had the original idea for the melody and the themes of the lyrics, the songs were often finished in the company of the other Crickets.” Joe Mauldin said, “We’d say, ‘Well, let’s put so-an-so’s name on that one.’ And I don’t think Buddy cared that he might be giving away money this way” (Goldrosen and Beecher, Remembering Buddy). 

The Crickets with Buddy Holly “Maybe Baby”

316 Bobby Freeman (1940- ) “Do You Wanna Dance” 1958

Born in San Francisco, “Freeman is generally recognized as his home city’s first rock ‘n’ roll star by virtue of ‘Do You want to Dance’…later immortalized by the Beach Boys and Cliff Richard…Freeman later elected to pursue his singing career at a local topless club” (Encyclopedia of Popular Music). 

Bobby Freeman “Do You Wanna Dance”