Dawn Of A Remarkable Era:
The Music Part Four
Chubby Checker - He's the singer who I feel made the greatest impact of 1960.
"The Twist" was THE dance to do as it became a nationwide sensation.
Legend has it that during a Bandstand show in the summer of 1960, a black couple were spotted on camera doing some strange dance steps. A horrified Dick Clark ordered cameras off the couple, but after thinking about it, came to the conclusion that there may be money-making potential here.
Hank Ballard had previously written (in 1958) and recorded "The Twist" in 1959 with his group The Midnighters as a B side to "Teardrops On Your Letter", one of their big R + B hits. This peaked at no. 16, R + B. (On the momentum of the Checker hit, the group charted again at no. 28 with their original) and was the first record to place Ballard's name in front.
This is the same song that was done by Checker. (Check out the Ballard version; Checker recorded the song exactly the same, note by note!) It could be said that Chubby Checker was created by Dick Clark.
Checker first hit the Top 40 with the novelty "The Class" (1959), on Cameo Records, Parkway label, which was partially owned by Clark. (Checker also attended high school with Fabian and Frankie Avalon (Ah, connections, connections!). The company chose Checker to sing the remake and "Twist" was given very heavy promotion on American Bandstand.
The rest is recording, cultural, AND merchandising history as the dance took off nationwide and later, internationally.
The Twist became a No. 1 record in 1960; Checker became known not only as the "Twist King" but also the "Dance King" for popularizing The Hucklebuck, The Fly, The Popeye, and The Limbo.
The former chicken pucker, born Ernest Evans, even got his new name from Dick Clark's wife at the time, who said that he looked like a little Fats Domino, hence a Chubby Checker.
Brenda Lee, who had her 1st chart hit at 12 (!), debuted on the Top 40 with the no. 4 smash "Sweet Nothin's" (1960). Is it just me? I could have sworn that she's saying "sittin in bed , trying to read my book, my baby gives me that SPECIAL look". I checked for the lyrics and what I found was "sittin in classroom", etc. Every time I hear this song, I'm certain I'm hearing the word BED. Because if that's the case, how in the world did this song make it pass the censors? In the year 1960?
Hmmmm.....I'll have to research this further. I did (research further) and it does seem to be "sittin' in the classroom", etc. Maybe it's just the way the words are sung. Or I'm in dire need of a hearing aid!
"Little Miss Dynamite" went on to two No. 1s in 1960, "I'm Sorry" and "I Want To Be Wanted." "That's All You Gotta Do", "Sorry"'s B side, even charted at no 6. "Just A Little" reached no. 40, and then came "Rockin Around The Christmas Tree" to close out Lee's fantastic year.
"Rockin" went to no. 14; it was actually recorded in 1958, when Lee was 13! This song has become a total Christmas classic, (It's one of my personal holiday favorites) ensuring that future generations will always know Brenda Lee's voice.
And what a voice it is! It's rich, mature, and melodic. She can rock out with the best of them or do heartfelt ballads, and sing them both very well. I detect a touch of rockabilly or country to her sound.
I don't know if she had crossover success on the country charts at the time, but I DO know that later, she did have several country hits. And they're just as good as her Top 40 smashes! Check out "Johnny One-Time" and "Rock On Baby, Rock On", among others.
Lee, born Brenda Mae Tarpley, began her career at age 6, and began recording for Decca at 11, though she was billed as being 9. She was discovered by country star Red Foley in a talent contest, and appeared on his show "Ozark Jubilee" in 1956. So she was always rockabilly and country, with a tad of pop! (Lee also crossed over on the R + B charts; "I'm Sorry" was a Top 10 hit in August of 1960 and placed no. 34 of the Top 50 R + B hits of that year.)
Connie Francis (real name: Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero) was the biggest female star from 1958 to 1964. She ruled with 35 Top 40 hits, 16 in the Top 10. She also had a banner year in 1960: "Mama" was a Top 10 hit (no. 8), "Teddy" and "Jealous Of You" went to no. 17 and no. 19, respectively. "Many Tears Ago" was another Top 10 hit (no. 7), while "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" and "My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own" were no. 1 smashes.
Francis also recorded a number of albums in several languages, thus further endearing her to the European and other foreign markets, where she was always popular and in demand.
It was her father who suggested that she record "Who's Sorry Now", (a no. 4 smash in 1958) an old standard that catapulted her to stardom; her first ten singles for MGM Records were flops! (Perseverance CAN pay off.)
She also had crossover success on the R + B charts; "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" went to no. 5 in June 1960 and placed at no. 38 on the Top 50 R + B hits of 1960.
Francis was featured in a few teen-oriented movies, most notably "Where The Boys Are," also the title of one of her best-known hits, released in late 1960. I think "Where The Boys Are" is her masterpiece; this is a great example of the singer and the song matching perfectly.
The Everly Brothers were red-hot in 1960. Beside the no. 1 "Cathy's Clown", "When Will I Be Loved" went to no. 8, while "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)" and "Let It Be Me" were no. 7 hits. "Lucille" was a Top 40 hit for the duo, peaking at no. 21, while "Like Strangers" finished out the year, reaching no. 22.
Roy Orbison's first top 40 hit was also a no. 2 smash, "Only The Lonely (Know How I Feel)". "Blue Angel" was another top 10, coming in at no. 9. He had one of the most unique (and operatic!) voices of the decade and in rock-and-roll history.
"Handy Man" was a no.2 smash for Jimmy Jones. And his follow-up, "Good Timin'" was a no. 3 smash. But after this fantastic debut, he never charted on the top 40 again.
Bobby Rydell had a great year; "Wild One" was a no. 2 smash, "Swingin School" hit no. 5(from the film "Because They're Young") and that breezy, swinging "Volare" hit no. 4. "Little Bitty Girl" and "Ding-A-Ling" were Top 20 hits, no. 19 and 18, respectively. And the marvelous "Sway" moved its way to no. 14.
Also prominent in 1960, Jackie Wilson, though not scoring as high as some of the previously mentioned singers, still made an impressive dent: "Talk That Talk" was a Top 40 hit (no. 34), as well as "Am I The Man" (no. 32). "(You Were Made For)All My Love", and "A Woman, A Lover, A Friend" were both Top 20 hits at no. 12 and no. 15. "Alone At Last" was a Top 10 charter (no. 8), but two of Wilson's most memorable songs were the double-sided "Night" (a no. 4 smash) and "Doggin Around" (a no. 15 charter).
This double hit aptly showcased the musical versatility of the singer. "Night" is a lovely operatic Ballard, while "Doggin" is a slow-paced bluesy number. It almost sounds like two different singers; Wilson's range is that good.
Dubbed "Mr. Excitement" for his energetic performances, Wilson quickly became an audience favorite and R + B legend. (Another legend, Berry Gordy, wrote several of Wilson's early hits!. There will be more on this later.)
Jack Scott (Canadian-born; his real name was Jack Scafone, Jr.) was very prominent on he charts this year: "What In The World's Come Over You" was a no.5 and top 10 smash in Jan., as was "Burning Bridges" (a no. 3 hit in May), backed by "Oh, Little One" (no. 34 on May 30) and "It Only Happened Yesterday" (no. 38 , Sept) completed his streak.
It was a common practice at the time to put out as many as five or six singles and as many as four albums in a year by one singer. And these singers would often tour constantly, promoting the product. It was truly striking while the iron's hot!
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